Short of Short

Is Martin Short really a comic genius?  I had had him pegged as a very weak Jerry Lewis wannabe.  And that is a very low bar.  But Vanity Fair says he’s fabulous: he’s the funniest guy at the party.   He is well-liked by the comedy establishment in Hollywood and New York.   Talk show hosts can’t wait to have him: he makes it easy for them, taking on the entire burden of being witty and funny and entertaining.

Am I missing something?   Other than those parties?

The comedy I remember from Martin Short always resembled the stuff your older, untalented brother would do to taunt you, and the biggest hits from Oasis.    That whining, sneering, wildly effeminate voice and dippy moronic body language.    All of it modeled– disgustingly– on the gestures of a person with a mental and physical disability.  I have always found that kind of humor repellent, for obvious reasons.  It’s broad and offensive.  It’s the Gomer Pyle of stand-up comedy.

Short seemed unusually taken with deformity and otherness, with lots of wonky eyes, oddly recessed hairlines, and androgyny.

Decent human beings do not mock or ridicule people who were born with disabilities or defects.  You just don’t.   First of all, it’s not really funny.  If you can’t help but fail, and it’s not your fault, it’s not funny.

What is funny is, for example, a capable person thrust into challenging circumstances through his own fault– a character flaw– and then failing to keep his dignity.

Secondly, it’s an affront to human dignity.  We all know that– you don’t laugh at other peoples’ misfortunes.  But because Jerry Lewis did not have a disability– other than bad taste– people thought it was okay to laugh at him when he imitated people with disabilities, some of the very people his famous annual telethon was supposed to help.

When he’s not making fun of people with disabilities, Short sometimes plays a more complex character, Jiminy Glick, a talk-show host.   Short does the sleaze part fairly well, but where is the humor exactly?  It’s mostly humor about the humorists– narcissistic comedy.  I feel the same way about it that I feel about a mediocre novel about a novelist, or a mediocre movie about Hollywood, or a mediocre  song about a singer.  It’s not that they are bad novels or movies or songs– even if they are– it’s that these artists have chosen to make an artwork about themselves.  With a few exceptions, these works are boring.

Oh, but there’s more:  there’s bodily function and sex jokes.

There’s not much real political or social commentary: Short doesn’t want to offend half of his audience.  In an interview on PBS (where he was accompanied by Steve Martin, with whom he is touring), he was clearly a bit discomfited by the idea of political humor, probably because he knows the most respected  comics out there are political but the most commercially successful are not.

Short is personally popular– I have no problem believing that he is a nice guy.  He will get monuments and awards and banquets and honors, because he has quietly carved out an undistinguished but visible profile among establishment entertainers in Hollywood– the kind of elite that give each other prizes while they are alive.

Now, you might expect a tail here: but the real edgy comedians don’t get awards until they are dead.  It’s a little strange to me, but a few years ago George Carlin was honored at the Kennedy Center with the “Mark Twain” prize.   George Carlin himself must have read the invitation and checked his own pulse before accepting.



The Highwaythugs

“The Highwaymen” is a retelling of the Bonnie and Clyde story from the point of view of the lawmen. I thought, that’s interesting– how are they going to show the ambush that brought down Bonnie and Clyde? It doesn’t fit the mythical honor code of Texas lawmen you know, courage and integrity, and honor and crack shots. Confronting the bad guy with your demur manliness and demanding surrender. Texas lawmen don’t hide in the bushes and open fire without warning on an unsuspecting target– especially a woman.

 So they had Frank Hamer, the “courageous” and “honorable” former Texas Ranger step out in front of the car and demand their surrender first. That never happened, not in any of the many accounts of that day. They hid in the bushes and fired– something like 139 shots– at Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, using guns they knew to be able to pierce metal. Everyone agreed that the first shot hit Barrow in the head, so they were mainly shooting at Bonnie Parker from then on.

Then the movie showed Frank Hamer turning down money for an interview as if he was above that sort of thing– which also was not true (he fought for a bigger share of the reward money for years). 
It is unfortunate that the police were never clever enough to even really attempt to arrest Clyde Barrow without getting into a gun battle.  That would have required planning and skill, and it would have been very risky.  Here’s why: Clyde Barrow had a terrible, terrible experience in the Texas prison system and he had firmly decided that he was never, ever going back.  So, yes, whenever anyone tried to arrest him, he would resist.  Given a choice, he’d rather die in a gunfight than return to prison. 
Was there a way the police could have arrested him without taking a lot of casualties?  It would have been extremely difficult.  If they had had intelligence about a planned robbery or rendezvous with family, perhaps they could have planted lawmen near enough to wrestle him down to the ground before he could pull a weapon. 
Frank Hamer was famous for having killed over 50 bad guys in his career as a Texas Ranger.  We are expected to believe that in over 50 interactions with bad guys– suspects, you understand (of course– none of them were convicted yet of the crimes for which he was trying to apprehend them), Frank Hamer, we are told, out-gunned them fair and square in the process of trying to arrest them.   Think about that.  Over 50 times. 
Could be they were really stupid criminals, trying to outgun a famous Texas Ranger. 
Could be Frank Hamer didn’t like to bother with due process.
Later in life, Frank Hamer worked as a union-buster for some oil companies.  
I don’t mind the film making the argument that any attempt to arrest Bonnie and Clyde would have resulted in a gun battle.   But we don’t tolerate an out and out ambush nowadays.  The police are expected to at least make an attempt to arrest a suspect before shooting him or her.  Well,– they are expected to at least make it look like they did.
I just mind the BS about Frank Hamer being more heroic or smarter or honorable than he really was.

The 2020 Election Debate

I hope the Democrats don’t fall into the trap of debating what Trump says he will do vs. what they say they will do.  That’s not the heart of the matter.  The heart of the matter is this: Trump says he will do many things, most of which he will not or cannot do.  His followers think he will get North Korea to get rid of their missiles, bring peace to the Middle East, get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan without giving it back to the Taliban, solve Venezuela, stop immigration from Central America, build new roads and bridges, cut taxes for the average American, reduce the budget deficit, strengthen the military so that it’s strong enough to confront endless imaginary threats, drive Russia out of the Ukraine, move better high-paying jobs to America from overseas,  get a better trade agreement with China, and give everyone access to a better health care plan than the ACA.

He is not even close do doing any of those things.  Why debate, for example, a Republican health care plan when it doesn’t exist?  Why debate policy towards the Ukraine when Trump has no intention of pushing the Russians back out?  Why debate Trump’s approach to income inequality when Trump has no policies that will affect it?

If the Democrats are wise, they will stick to the character of the man in office, knowing full-well that 30% of Americans adore that character.  What a character!  Did you hear Trump today?  He says he invented time!  That’s my guy.

So, have a coherent policy outline, but stick to the salient matter: you really want this embarrassment representing the U.S. to the world?  Okay, you can have him.



Post PTSD Syndrome

“In many cases, more deliberate attempts to process the trauma – for example, trying to think it through or talk it through with friends and family – were actually associated with worse PTSD. The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why.


No, it’s not.  Researchers have hit upon the amazing observation that when well-meaning therapists, parents, teachers, and others make obsessive efforts to treat children for conditions that do not exist but which are projected onto them actually make things worse.  “You’re in shock.”  “No, I’m fine.”  “You’re in denial.”  “No, I’m just fine.”  “Oh, now you’re repressing it.  You need to get it out or you will have symptoms.”   “I don’t have any symptoms.”  “You pathetic human being: you won’t even deal with your issues.”  “Well, maybe I am having a few symptoms.”

Did you know that many high schools where there has been a shooting actually require students to be “treated” by a therapist in order to “process” their trauma?  This is justified with the pathetic medical analogy argument: would you allow a person who comes into a hospital with a broken leg to leave without getting a cast?   No, but your hospital will have him leave with a broken arm, a fractured pelvis, and a broken leg.  If he came to the hospital with a depression, he would probably leave with anxiety, PTSD, BPD, and an addiction.  And depression.  And medications, some of which treat the side effects of other medications.


Have you ever heard of “grief counsellor”, which is my nominee for the stupidest phrase ever coined in the last fifty years?


You Will Be Found … and nauseated

This is a video promoting the Broadway show “Dear Evan Hansen”.  If you thought it was a video of cult members singing a hymn to their incredible founder, you would be wrong.  It is an absolutely horrible video; the entire thing is dubbed from a studio recording and lip-synced with the wandering camera —  blissful triumphant faces insisting that all is well and wonderful and sweet.

“Dear Evan Hansen” looks like a good play.  I bought tickets for my wife and I: we’re going.  But these ads bug me because they indulge in a peculiar form of fraud.  Most of the time, these videos are blatant dubs: pleasing videos of singers and musicians obviously lip-syncing to studio recordings of the music.  But these ads purport to show the performers actually recording the audio.  They are not: they are posing, hamming it up for the camera, creating contrived shots intended to make it look like they are really feeling the drama of the song.

This is from a “serious” musical?  Everyone is smiling as if they just overdosed on Prozac.

We have reached a new low.  For years, I have been suggesting that a good music video would be a simple recording of the artists in the studio actually performing the song instead of the usual ridiculous lip-sync.  Well, someone thought that was a cool idea, and now we have videos of the artist supposedly  in the studio and being all dramatic and earnest in expression– but instead of hearing the actual recording of that performance,  we hear a highly edited and homogenized different studio recording.  The mic is a prop.  They couldn’t bear to show the real recording sessions because then they wouldn’t be able to get all cutesy with the wandering camera, the faces, the cutaways, and so on.  They would have microphones blocking a view of the mouth.  They would have artists concentrating on their technique instead of their facial expressions.

The facial expressions here are intended to show and audience what it thinks serious musicians who are feeling the drama would look like.  Watch a real musician perform: they look nothing like this.

This is a stunning new low in pop music.  It is beyond fake.

I am perplexed by what I hear and see about “Dear Evan Hansen”, including this line:  “Once you’re outside of the theatre, the entire story feels ickier and creepier than it ever did from the plush seats of the Royal Alex” from the favorable Toronto Star review of the Toronto Production.

I listened to some samples of it on Youtube: it sounds like superior factory pop.  Well, at least it’s not rap or hip hop.

From the New York Times:  “Rarely – scratch that — never have I heard so many stifled sobs and sniffles in the theater.”  Are we reviewing theatre or a therapy session here?  They continue:  “The musical is ideal for families looking for something yeastier and more complex than the usual sugary diversions.”  And yet that sample video above is pure meringue.

Here’s another video:  utter dreck.   Once again, we are supposed to think we are seeing the actual artist’s performance, but it clearly is not the actual performance.  It is a bunch of actors hamming it up in the studio.  Nobody looks like they are actually concentrating on holding pitch or tempo or rhythm: they are all posing for the camera.

I understand the market for this.  There are a lot people who want to believe that the french fries they are consuming are actually green beans or spinach.  They want to believe the art they enjoy is actually substantive and original and authentic.  That’s what the videos are supposed to look like.

Finally, the promotional materials for this production emphasize the phrase (and the song) “You will be Found”.  It doesn’t sound like the play is really in tune with this sentiment, which might be a good thing: “You Will Be Found” sounds like a desperate attempt to be inspirational and anesthetizing.  It sounds like something Oprah would promote.

Solved a Crime Did We?

The headline of this story  brags that “a determined squad of detectives finally solved a notorious crime after 40 years”.  If you believe that Lloyd Lee Welch isn’t an idiot who loved to brag and hold the attention of the police by making up stories about his family’s involvement in the abduction and murder of the Lyon sisters, Sheila and  Katherine, in March 1975 in Maryland, then yes, those heroes, those police officers, should all get medals.

Mr. Welch is a perfect suspect: he already has a conviction for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.  He gave a crazy statement to the police a few days after the kidnapping that was so incoherent and inconsistent that they gave him a lie detector test (which means nothing anyway) which he failed.

It’s not hard to sell all that to the police as a terrific incentive to focus on this suspect.

What you really have is a poorly educated possibly senile and foolish older man being manipulated, bullied, and tricked by a few cynical police officers into making so many wildly inaccurate but incriminating statements that they were able to indict him for the kidnappings and then persuade him to take a plea by threatening him with the death penalty.

In none of the accounts, did I notice the mention of a lawyer representing Mr. Welch.  Where is the lawyer?  Did they allow him to represent himself?  Did a judge, seriously, accept all this?

A good lawyer could probably have cut this case to shreds, which is why– it is safe to presume– the police did everything they could to get a guilty plea.

Ah but the “blood” that showed up in the basement under the light!

The samples they removed were identified as potentially being blood, prosecutors would later write in court papers.   The Spec

Is this some kind of joke?  This passes for forensic science in the U.S. in 2014?  Potentially blood.  This is presented to the public and the Lyon family as evidence?  What exactly is the scientific description of “potential blood”?

Once investigators began to focus on Welch, more evidence began to emerge

Inevitably.  Because they didn’t begin to focus on Welch because they had evidence.  They had a suspect: that’s the hallmark of bad policing.  Suspect first, twist arms, then evidence.

Mr. Welch told the police that he saw other relatives actually commit the crime.  Nobody else has been charged or arrested.  If they believe that he has implicated himself, why was no one else arrested?

Detectives investigated the uncle who Welch had claimed was in the basement by spending months listening to phone taps, talking to people who knew him and probing his past before prosecutors determined there was not evidence to seek an indictment.

There is, essentially, the same evidence as there is against Welch: none.

One article on the affair stated that the police had found bones on the property where it was alleged the bodies were burned.  That tidbit disappears from other, later accounts.   Perhaps what they actually probably had were “potential bones”.  Obviously, that too proved to be less than useful and I would have loved to have seen a good defense lawyer take that on in court.

Please note: there was no trial.  There was no competent defense lawyer carefully developing arguments against the evidence.  There was no evidence.  There was a man threatened with the death penalty if he did not confess.  He “confessed” though he didn’t really confess (read the details: he implicated others but did not claim that he himself was directly involved).  His girlfriend was threatened with charges too, which, if you read about these cases a lot, you will immediately recognize as an attempt to recruit her as a witness against her boyfriend.  (Kenneth Starr famously used this strategy against Julie Hiatt Steele in relation to Kathleen Willey’s claims of sexual assault in his investigation of Bill Clinton.  Linda Tripp collaborated Steele’s claim that Willey was actually actively seeking a relationship with Bill Clinton, and bragging about it.  When Steele refused to change her story, Starr indicted her; the case was tossed out in the end, but not before wrecking havoc on Steele’s life.)

The only connection to the crime is a rambling, incoherent statement he apparently gave at the time of the girls’ disappearance.  The fact that the police then did not feel fit to charge him with anything tells you volumes: they didn’t believe him in the immediate aftermath of the crime– why would different police 40 years later have better judgement?  There is also a sketch of a suspicious male seen in the mall on the day of the disappearance.  Once again, police at the time did not regard Welch as a suspect, but the police today assert that he strongly resembles the sketch.

The police get to put a massive feather in their caps.  They hate it when they have to stand in front of the public and admit they couldn’t solve the disappearance and probable murder of any child.  Just hate it.  They have ample motivation to fudge this investigation, proclaim themselves victorious and award themselves medals.

The sad part is how tempting it must be for the Lyon family to believe them.

Even sadder: a recent book calls the police work “a masterpiece of interrogation”.  Well, that it is, having achieved the desire result.

[I haven’t read the book.  I just scanned through a dozen reviews and, as I surmised, not one of them alludes to any kind of physical evidence; Mark Bowden seems dazzled by the success of the police in befuddling Welch into making stupid admissions with which the police threaten to seek the death penalty.  I hope Welch acknowledged (it is suggested he did, obliquely) that without any corroborating physical evidence they really don’t have a case.  They have a psycho.]

Janet Jackson Gets Her “Due”

According to the New York Times, Janet Jackson has been unjustly deprived of accolades and esteem because of the scandalous event known as “nipplegate” in which a piece of her wardrobe fell away from her breast while Justin Timberlake was trying to put it back during a performance at the Superbowl in 2004.

No– the act was Justin Timberlake pulling the wardrobe away from her breast.  But what was supposed to happen– after the audience got their titillation out of the way– was that the pulled away fabric would just reveal more fabric.

The Superbowl is already a triviality, a monument to nothingness, a mammoth orgy of absurdly boring sport and vulgarity.   The half-time performances are already obscene: most artists lip-sync and gyrate to inane pop inanities while tanned boobie commentators ravish them with praise.

The song Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake was performing was about getting somebody naked.  Why was that acceptable but the real thing was not?  Because there is nothing in the world more appealing to hypocrites than titillation– literally!  The enjoyment of things they believe to be taboo without the actual thing.  Janet Jackson’s sin was that for a brief moment she dispelled the illusion that millions of viewers thinking deeply about tits would be exposed as actually thinking deeply about tits.  The secret about “nipplegate” is that the real offense was exposing just how dirty America’s minds really are.  Someone will have to be crucified in order to expunge this dirty secret and restore middle-America’s sense of respect and decency!  I will not tolerate a naked breast on tv!  I am a moral person!  But, go ahead and dance and wiggle your clothed hips and sing about getting naked– I love it– but I am a decent, moral person who will only vote for non-outed political candidates.

Was there “blame”?  What are you talking about?  They were doing exactly what the audience wanted.  The costumes, the lyrics, the gyrations, the rhythm– all were aimed at creating the largest sense of arousal possible while pretending to be enjoying the music and the artistry– and the sport– instead.

Shunned because of “nipplegate”?  I am astonished that anyone really cares about the wardrobe malfunction, for many reasons:

  • it was trivial– there is nothing horrifying about the human body, to children or adults;
  • Janet Jackson is trivial: there is not, among her products, not a single performance of anything, that matters in any sense: she is merely a pop artist of no particular originality or insight;
  • attributing indifference to an artist who is a woman and black can’t always be blamed on the fact that she is a woman and black: for heaven’s sake, she never was or is anything other than a pop artist of mediocre achievements;
  • how did she get to be an artist in the first place?  Did someone in the music industry notice this very talented singer somewhere and decide she should be a star?  Or, could she have had some privileged connections?  Do you need to ask?
  • Even Janet Jackson, or mediocre artistic achievement, deserves better than to be treated like that for a trivial indiscretion, even if it was intentional or her fault.

The Bush Administration tried to punish CBS for not preventing the mishap.  Last I heard, the courts had thrown out the case.