Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Feast of Saint Lucy

My Fellow Comedists,

This week sees the feast of Saint Lucy, the 99th anniversary of the birth of Lucille Ball. Born in upstate New York, she moved frequently as a child because of her father's job until he died and she was sent to live with her grandparents back in New York state. Her grandfather loved vaudeville and frequently took Lucy to see performances.

When she dropped out of high school and started dating the son of a gangster, her mother shipped her to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City, but only lasted a few weeks. She decided to go into show business the hard way and found work as a chorus girl, a fashion model, and ultimately the poster-girl for chesterfield cigarettes. Trying and failing to make it into parts on Broadway, she moved to L.A. where she got a small part in one of Eddie Cantor's movies which led to a non-stop string of bit parts that included work with The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. these turned into larger parts and she became "the Queen of the B movies."

But then she made the move to radio and in 1947, she became Liz Cugat, the wacky housewife in "My Favorite Husband," which in many cases became her later tv show word for word. CBS was in the midsts of populating its new television network with versions of its successful radio shows and Lucy demanded that "My Favorite Husband" have one major chance, the husband on tv would be her real life husband, Desi Arnaz, who as a bandleader was always on the road straining their marriage. At first, the network balked because the idea of a white woman and a Cuban husband was worrisome to them in 1950. But Lucy displayed the toughness in the boardroom she would need later and got her way and "I Love Lucy" was born.

The success was unparalleled. They formed Desilu Studios which gave Lucy complete creative control and she created years of the best comedy on television for a decade. "I Love Lucy" in some ways launches many of the standard aspects of modern situational comedy, but is also the end of vaudeville recycling some classic bits for the next generation. Clever writing combined with slapstick, Lucy did it all. She became the first woman to run a studio in Hollywood and was known as a tough negotiator and a careful and caring boss turning out hits like "Mission: Impossible" and "Star Trek."

But it was Lucy Ricardo that makes her immortal. One word: Vitameatavegemin.

what's your favortie Lucy moment?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 30, 2010

Name that Bud

Anheuser-Busch just lost a critical trademark case in Europe. A Czech company named Budvar has received the sole rights to use the name "Budweiser" for their alcoholic beverage in Austria and Germany. The name in German literally means "from the city of Budweis" of which Budvar's bier is, but Anheuser-Busch's "beer" is not.

So, Bud cannot be called Bud in Germany. It needs a new name. This is where we come to the rescue. Name that "beer." What should Bud be called in Europe?

My suggestion is to pull from the classic Monty Python philosopher's song sketch and say that since Bud is a lot like making love in a canoe it be renamed "Dasani." Other suggestions?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Single Sex Classrooms

In Pittsburgh, public schools are considering single sex classrooms:

Separating boys and girls is a long-established practice in private schools. In public schools, it is a still-controversial notion that has gotten a foothold in districts across the country in the last decade.

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials have entered the debate with plans to create two such programs at Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School next year in an effort to turn around the persistently low-performing school. The proposal, part of a plan to improve the district's high schools, could come up for a vote as soon as Wednesday.

Proponents argue that single-gender schools can raise self-esteem and improve aptitude, particularly among historically disadvantaged student groups.

Critics, who over the years have included the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women, counter that students ought to learn in a diverse environment, with gender as much a part of the equation as race, ethnicity and socioeconomic background.

Derrick Lopez, assistant superintendent for the city's secondary schools, said the proposed Westinghouse concept aims to engage parents and students in a model that has proven itself in the private sphere.

"We see the evidence at schools like Oakland Catholic, Central Catholic or The Ellis School," he said.

The single-gender model is premised on the idea that assigning students of only one sex to a classroom fosters a better learning environment by eliminating social pressures that can affect academic performance.

Under that theory, teachers don't have to deal with distractions created by students trying to navigate the intricate social balance of a coed environment. Students are free to express themselves without worrying about the pressures of impressing the opposite sex.

Detractors argue that the education process includes acquiring social skills needed in the coed world outside the schoolhouse. They say single-gender schools may well foster stereotypes and sexist sentiments about how boys and girls learn and may stunt their social maturity.
As someone who spent two years in a public high school and two years in a single sex high school, I am of two minds. The mixed high school had better classes and the presence of males and females, even at that hormonally highly charged age did not affect the level of academic intensity. But then, it was a very special group that I was with and I'm not sure I want to extrapolate from them as normal.

At the same time, as a teacher I see the effect that contemporary gender roles have on students, especially young women who -- sometimes intentionally, other times unintentionally -- dumb themselves down. The girls would be the ones benefiting from single sex classrooms because they wouldn't have to put up with the disruptions which usually come from the males and would feel freer to engage in higher level work.

So, are single sex classrooms something that ought to at least be an option in failing schools? Separate is never equal. Should that cut off the option right there? Is there something inherently wrong with the segregation or should it be considered as a legitimate tool?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Turing Tests and Tongue Twisters

When Doug Hofstadter came to visit last year, he made a point that I've continued to marvel at. When we think of artificial intelligence, we usually think in terms of machines being able to do well what we do well. The usual standard is what is called the Truing test wherein if you cannot tell the difference between a person and a machine when you are interacting with it, and it happens to be a machine, then we can call it intelligent. The difficulty of the Turing test is generally thought to be creating a machine that is up to our level. But Hofstadter's point is that to pass the test it would also have to be down to our level as well, that is, it would have to make the sort of mistakes that we tend to make.

Our brains are wired to do wonderful things, but there are also things that trip it up, often quite simple ones. The kids have been playing with tongue twisters lately and they are something quite amazing. They are simple arrangements of syllables, but ones designed to exploit our neurological shortcomings. There is a reason why some strings of sounds are hard to say and a machine would likely not fall prey to them.

The latest favorite has been:

You know New York. you need New York. You Know you need unique New York.

But the one that is the most amazing to me is the bathroom humor classic:
Three smart fellows they felt smart.
All tongue twisters cause predictable mispronunciations, but the incredible thing about that one is that the way the brain errs causes a second different string of sounds that forms a distinct, but meaningful sentence. It's almost like a palindrome of error. Does anyone know any other that works that way?

If not, what are your favorite tongue twisters?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Meanings of Food

Doing the dishes last night, it struck me how differently different people see food. To TheWife, for example, food is medicine. The purpose of eating is to change the body's chemistry and cooking is an apothecary's art, preparing something to correct and improve health. Foods make you sick or better and the point of cooking ought to be to create that which makes you better.

LilBro, on the other hand, sees food in a radically different way. He's a gourmet and to him food is an artistic medium. The point of food is to look and taste pleasing. Color, texture, presentation are all part of the experience in a way TheWife would not consider. The ingredients are paints on a pallet and the kitchen a studio.

A friend of ours in the army sees food as nothing but fuel. It's just what you put in he tank and he doesn't much care about the taste and isn't much concerned about the content. Eating is just something you have to do, so get it done.

Acquaintances we have at the organic co-op where we shop see food as a political tool. Eating is a way to change the world. When you buy food like non-organic produce or processed "food" like Kraft macaroni and cheese at a traditional grocery store from farmers who grow crops for major agribusiness megacorporations, they argue, it is tantamount to making a political donation to a conservative PAC. When you eat organic, local, and vegetarian or free-range non-vegetarian it affects the entire system and changes the state of the country.

For my Mom, food is a gift you give to someone you are cooking for or for yourself. It is a chance to pamper or indulge. It is an opportunity to take time out of your day to do something nice for yourself or someone you care for.

Other senses?

Monday, July 26, 2010

RIP Daniel Schorr

One of my heroes has passed away. Daniel Schorr died in D.C. this weekend at 93. He was one of the Murrow Boys, working for CBS news from 1953. His gumption and intelligence allowed him to rise through the ranks until he became chief of the Moscow bureau during the height of the Cold War. His reporting rankled the Kremlin to the point where his visa would not be renewed by the Soviets. But he was loathed by nationalists on both sides and when he broke the story of Nixon's enemies list, reading it aloud on the air, he was shocked to find his own name there.

When Ted Turner created CNN, Daniel Schorr was the first on air person hired. While there, he not only helped create cable news, but showed dedication rarely seen in any field. An overhead light exploded just before he was on camera and sparks set alight his trousers. While many of the politicians he reported on metaphorically had their pants on fire, Daniel Schorr gave us the news with his literally burning.

His voice lived on for years as a senior news analyst for NPR where he served the role as elder statesman and the converse of Cokie Roberts, giving thoughtful, insightful, and contextualized understanding to the events of the day often bringing stories to the discussion that perfectly explained how things came to be what they are. There are few voices that commanded full attention as soon as they are heard, Daniel Schorr's was one. Whenver you heard that deep, slow, intelligent voice, you had to listen carefully because you knew whatever was about to be said was well worth hearing.

Rest in peace Daniel Schorr, you will be missed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Feast of Saint Red

My Fellow Comedists,

This week is the feast day of Saint Red -- not to be confused with Saint Redd. Red Skelton was the son of a clown. His father passed away while his mother was pregnant with him, but at a young age, he too became a clown. Selling newspapers as a 15 year old to bring in money for the family, vaudeville legend Ed Wynn who happened to be in town spotted him and added him to his traveling troupe. Skelton worked everywhere he could, eventually joining the circus his father had worked for years earlier. The training never left him. He went on to star in films, on radio and television, but while he did sketch and stand-up, he was always a clown. Not one for clever, witty, and subtle language, his trade was his face which he would change and change back with lightning speed.

He created a number of characters, most memorably Clem Kadiddlehopper, the blank staring, dim witted country bumpkin. Skelton was convinced that the voice for Bullwinkle the Moose was a Kaddiddlehopper impersonation and considering suing, but ended up not.

He was a comic of a by-gone age, physical and silly.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

A federal judge has ruled out competitive cheer as a sport. Athletic programs at colleges and universities across the country have been considering it as one in order to meet Title IX requirements to fund male and female sports at commensurate levels. The argument is that it is a competitive activity that requires strength and precision in the same ways that gymnastics do. Since gymnastics is a sport, so too is competitive cheer.

The suit was brought by the Quinnipiac University women's volleyball team that was cut for financial reasons and the school tried to use the cheerleading move as a fig leaf. There's no doubt that this move was slimy, but the underlying question remains. Is cheerleading a sport?

The judge in the case argued that,

"Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganised to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students."
A peculiar argument. Why is the development of a competitive community a defining characteristic of whether the activity is a sport? One would think that the essential properties would be internal to the activity. If synchronized swimming is a sport, then it seems, so is cheer.

But one could argue, on the other hand, that it is a physical artistic not sporting activity. No one claims that marching band competitions are athletic events, yet they are physical and competitive in similar ways. They require coordination and stamina as well as precision and creativity in ways that are quite like cheerleading.

So, is cheerleading a sport?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Roots of Nerd Rock

There are a set of bands that are comprised of and have music aimed at nerds. Go to see Moxy Fruvous, They Might Be Giants, or Weezer and you'll be comfortably in the company of nerds galore. How far back does this movement go? Who are the founding fathers of it? Talking Heads would be an earlier case. One might argue that Steely Dan is a place where it splits of from art rock. There were a number of Dr. Demento type novelty records back in the 50s and Spike Jones in the 40s, but might be more parody than nerd fare. Lord Buckley in the late 40s/early 50s put out albums of verbal performance art set to music, but I'm not sure one could draw a straight line from one to the other. So, where would you put the roots of nerd rock and whose work belongs in the genre?

A little Lord Buckley:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Coerced Sample Pools

Every college, university, and research hospital has what is called an institutional review board to oversee every proposed experiment involving human subjects, screening them for ethical problems or concerns. This all started with the uproar over Stanley Milgram's experiment in the early 60s showing that people will obey authorities, even when it means causing harm to others that one would ordinarily not consider oneself capable of causing. As a result, there is now a set of stringent policies in place regarding treatment of subjects, confidentiality of data, and how long one can keep one's samples and records before destroying them out of concern for the privacy of those contributing to the experiment.

Yet, despite the psychological experiment that started it all off, an experiment that is taught in every psych 101 class, psychology departments often have a policy for those very 101 students that they have to participate in some number of experiments run by members and other students in the psychology department. When I took psych 101 in college, it was five experiments throughout the semester. We were always read the post-Milgram statement that we were free to leave the experiment at any time if we felt uncomfortable. but how free were we really? After all, it was a Milgramesque authority who told me to go there in the first place. I need five of these to pass this class, am I really going to walk out? Would it get back to my prof? Would it cause harm to my grade?

Is there an ethical problem with this sort of sample pool or is the facts that the experiments are vetted by the IRB and students can leave sufficient to overcome the problem?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You Must Be This Tall...

Bringing your baseball glove with you to a professional ballgame when you are well beyond 12 years old: optimistic, dorky, or safety conscious?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sperm Banks and Moral Responsibility

When a man impregnates a woman accidentally through the usual means, he takes on responsibilities for the well-being of the child. The argument is that he acted in a way that he knew or should have known that this was a possibility and when it occurs, one has responsibilities for ones offspring. Why then is this not the case for sperm donors? They know that their action in making the donation will likely lead to a child, why do they not have any responsibility for its welfare? Is it that a contractual element exists? Can one really do away with such obligations contractually?

Friday, July 16, 2010


My Fellow Comedists,

TheWife and I took the kids up to Cooperstown this week and in the gift shop I saw an amazing t-shirt:

T-shirts are a classic Comedist medium. My favorite was red with a black image of Groucho, Harpo and Chico with the caption, "Sure, I'm a Marxist."

This week's question to those who also spent many hours with the Northern Sun catalogs (back when we had catalogs) -- what's the funniest t-shirt you've ever seen?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Like we ever need an excuse to add this:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Concerts and the Health of the Music Industry

Off to my annual B.B. King show tonight with Lil Bro and the Old Man tonight. It's always a good time with good music and usually the only concert I go to over the course of the summer. It's not always been that way. I've seen a lot of shows, and I mean A LOT of shows. But because TheWife isn't much for music and especially because of the price of tickets, live music in large venues is something that has ceased to be a part of my life.

There have been a couple articles in the last week (one in The Washington Post and one in The Wall Street Journal) about the significant drop in ticket sales leading to the canceling of dates by acts like The Eagles and Limp Bizkit and the cancellation of entire tours by U2 and Simon and Garfunkel for health reasons. Sure the aging of baby boomer performers makes for good irony (hope I die before I get my 401k spent) and yes, concert ticket prices are nothing short of absurd. It has gotten so bad that Ticketmaster/Live Nation (evil scum that they are) are selling discounted tickets to shows that are only half sold -- $10 tickets for acts like Santana that they tried to sell for $50.

But I'm wondering whether this is an unintended consequence of the changes in the music industry due to the internet. When record companies controlled who made albums and who got radio time, there was a limited number of acts. But with file sharing, and the ability to post on YouTube and My Space, there is a much greater ability for small acts to reach listeners they could not have reached a generation ago. This however, does not necessarily lead to a following in the traditional sense. From the Wall Street Journal piece:

As aging musicians gradually exit the stage, few younger acts can consistently fill larger venues the way their predecessors could.It's not that young listeners aren't going to shows. About 8% of people aged 18 to 29 said they go to a concert once a month, more than any other age group, according to a Rasmussen survey from earlier this year. But considering how many young fans acquire and listen to music, the music seems to have less sticking power. For instance, 70% of the music obtained by 13-to-24-year-olds isn't paid for; instead, it's pulled from peer-to-peer networks, or ripped and copied from friends, according to the NPD Group. "They get so much free content, a lot of it they don't really value," says NPD entertainment analyst Russ Crupnick.

When 18-year-old Gordy Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., wants to sample new music, he typically grabs it for free at a free-music site ("It may be illegal. I don't know," he says). He intimately knows the 5,000 songs on his computer, but he rarely visits the sites of current artists in his collection, and thus rarely knows when they're releasing new music or embarking on a tour. "There's no way to keep on top of all that," he says.
Is the relationship that fans have with music the same as it was? When there were only three networks, those shows captured huge audiences. But now with hundreds of cable channels, each niche becomes smaller and more focused. Is the same happening with the music industry? Is the democratization of access to listeners also meaning the end of the big venue shows?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Can We Stick a Fork in Him Yet?

So a tape of racist, sexist, anti-Semite, drunk driver and wife beater Mel Gibson's verbal abuse has been released as they are going through divorce hearings. Why is he still working? Is it that he's good looking? Is it that his fame is pre-established before the world came to know that this son of a Holocaust denier is the scum bag that he is? Or is it that Christian conservatives are held to a different standard? As long as you are conservative, you are given a cultural get out of jail free card=. Rush Limbaugh, after his drug addiction scandal paid no price. Is this more of the same? The saying in the blogosphere is IOKIYAR -- it's o.k. if you are Republican -- conservatives can run people out of town for small slips if they are liberal and the press will act as their enforcers, but for conservatives? Of course not. He made a Jew hating movie about Jesus, he must be a good man. How much of a jerk does Mel Gibson has to be before we can finally be rid of him?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ownership of Public Acts of Creativity

Interesting question emerging out of the Senate race in Nevada. The Nevada Republican candidate, Sharron Angle, is a complete nut job who won to the chagrin of party leaders because of Tea Party support. After the primary, she was convinced that she needed to seem more moderate, at least something approaching sane, and so she took down her web site filled with radical views and embarrassing quotations and replaced it with something more boilerplate. Harry Reid's campaign is reposting her old web pages in a "know the real Sharron Angle" move. Angle is threatening to sue Reid, arguing that it is her intellectual property. You cannot take someone else's work without his/her permission. This is not a case of plagiarism since the entire point is to attribute words to their author. It is a question of whether or not you maintain control of something's public presentation when you create it and take it public. We hear of musicians frequently taking legal actions to stop politicians playing their music at political rallies, most recently RUSH had their legal council contact Rand Paul's campiagn to have him stop using their music (and quoting their lyrics) at his campaign appearances. Is it the same thing? If royalties were paid to the artists, should musicians have control over who plays their songs in public? Should politicians be able to control who republishes their old webpages?

Monday, July 12, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbiord and Cultural Relativism

This is the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most important American literary works of the last century. A magnificent piece on many levels, one of the most important philosophical elements is the way it undermines the ethical view called cultural relativism.

When you teach ethics, something you hear all the time from students is "that's the way I was raised" or "that's what I believe because I am a _____." The idea is that ethical judgments are based upon cultural beliefs and practices. That's not how it is done here, so it shouldn't be done here. If they do it differently over there, then so be it, it is fine for them but not for us. Ethics is a matter of cultural norms and one culture should not judge any other. It is an attempt to be open minded, to realize that there may be more than one way to look at an ethical system and to establish moral claims on something empirical, sociological facts, widely held and enforced beliefs within a society.

Yes, cultural imperialism, where one culture takes over another in order to enforce its way of being, is problematic and has a long and troubled colonial history. But that does not mean that there is no way to ethically judge the norms of one's own or other cultures. There are and that is one of the morals of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Atticus Finch and his children pay a price when he defends Tom Robinson, a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. By standing up for an African American, by giving him the same vigorous defense that a white person would receive, is counter to cultural norms, norms that are enforced. What Atticus did certainly violated the social rules of Alabama in the 30s. But the point of the novel is to show us the moral bankruptcy of those accepted social mores. It is the upstanding Atticus Finch and the oppressed Boo Radley who see the ethical problems of the normal way of life in the post-Civil War South and who act in accord with moral dictates, not socially expected patterns of behavior.

We obey two masters. There are those rules of behavior that come from the culture and those that come from morality. They are not the same, although we hope that they come to overlap more and more as time goes on, it is not always the case. Sadly, it is often the pressure to be normal, and to avoid the shunning and humiliation that comes from running afoul of it, that overruns the power of moral rightness. What we hopefully learn from To Kill a Mockingbird is to realize that these two notions of right and wrong are not identical and that we need to think critically and rigorously about both.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Passing the Plate: Marriage Edition

My Fellow Comedists,

It is time to once again pass the plate. Other religions ask you to donate money, but we Comedists tithe jokes. So dig deep and be generous. This weekend is my wedding anniversary, so what better time to ask for marriage and relationship jokes?

My contribution is a classic:

A husband and wife were drinking their coffee after breakfast when the wife asks, "If I died, would you remarry?" Not looking up from his paper, the husband says, "What?" "If I died, would you remarry?" "I don't know. I guess." "Would you live in the house?" she asks. "I don't know," says the husband, "I guess. It's paid for. Why buy another house?" "Would you sleep in our bed?" she asks. "You have to sleep somewhere, it's just a bed." "Would you let her use my golf clubs?" "No." he said decisively. "You would live with her in our house and sleep with her in our bed, but you wouldn't let her use my golf clubs?" "No," replied the husband, "she's left-handed."

So, take my wife, please, or at least take this opportunity to give us your best relationship joke.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 09, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Artist's Responsibility

Is art an activity engaged in by the artist or is it a relationship between the artist and the viewer. If it is the first, then it would seem that the artist's only responsibility is to the art itself. If it is the latter, then it seems like the artist has a responsibility to the viewer, to try to make the artistic relationship meaningful. Consider, say, Andy Kaufman whose comedy was so far out that audiences were left speechless at best, angry at worst. Is catering to your audience cheapening the art, turning it into mere entertainment or is it an essential part of engaging others artistically? Does the artist have to consider his audience at all?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Government Mandated Veggies

In Elena Kagan's Supreme Court hearings before the Senate's Judicial Committee, Oklahoma's Senator Tom Coburn asked whether it would be constitutionally permissible to pass a law requiring Americans to eat vegetables. Clearly a grandstanding libertarian question, but it does raise interesting questions. Given that this nation faces a severe public health crisis related to obesity which is itself in significant part a result of the normal American diet, what can the government do to help?

No, we can't mandate better eating habits, but it doesn't mean that the government is powerless either. In part, the government is responsible for our diet. We subsidize corn to the point where it is cheaper to buy than it is to grow. This means that we can cheaply produce all the processed crap that we see on the shelves of traditional grocery stores and we can feed it to cattle who grow bigger than they would on grass which is what they are supposed to eat. (It also increases exposure to e coli which is rampant because of the unnatural diet of our cattle. If an animal is put on a grass-fed diet in just the last week of its life, it reduces the amount of e coli bacteria in the animal by 90%, but doing the right thing is not something our beef industry takes too seriously.) Tax payers pay to make bad food cheaper than good food, which then causes us to have to spend more on health care. Why not cut corn subsidies and increase those on broccoli? (Hint: the first presidential caucus is in a state that rhymes with miowa.)

What else could we do as a nation to encourage better health? More sin taxes are one option. There is now, to John Boehner's sorrow, a new tax on tanning salons, something that contributes to melanoma. On the other side of the ledger, I've long thought that gym memberships and exercise equipment should be tax deductible. Belonging doesn't mean you will go and having it in the garage or basement doesn't mean you will use it, but it does make it more likely.

There is urban planning and development which could focus on making us less car dependent and make options like walking and biking more attractive.

What else is there? How could we use government to help make us more healthy instead of less?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Reflections on the 4th

Why is it that we treat the 4th of July as a martial holiday? With everything there is about this country to celebrate -- our advances in science and technology, our arts in terms of both high and popular culture, our geography, our diversity -- why is it that we focus on the military? I understand that the country began with the Revolutionary War, but it equally well started with smart people reflecting on the writings of Enlightenment philosophers and thinking hard about the nature of governance. Why is it only the fighting that we prize and not all the other things that we as a nation have created or model that we would be justifiably proud of?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Feast of Saint Rube

My Fellow Comedists,

This weekend is July 4th, not only the birthday of the United States of America and our own Gwydion, but also cartoonist Rube Goldberg. A native of San Francisco, he attended Berkeley and worked for a short period as an engineer before becoming a cartoonist. After a brief stint as a stand-up comic on the Vaudeville circuit, he worked for San Francisco papers drawing a number of strips including Mike and Ike after which the candy was named, and drew political cartoons which during the lead up to and during World War II earned him such hate mail that he had his sons change their names for safety's sake.

But he is most famous for his drawings of the inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts (a play on his own middle name, Lucius). It is for these cartoons in which simple tasks were accomplished automatically through incredibly complicated multi-step machines often including bombs, mice, and bowling balls that his name has become an adjective. He won the Pulitzer Prize as well as many other awards for these strips and the cartoonists' award, "The Reuben" is named for him (although the sandwich is not). Here's one from the Rube Goldberg site showing the easy way to tee up a golf ball:

It is a little known fact that Rube Goldberg wrote a film script, Soup to Nuts, which not only featured a number of his machines brought to life (he was also a sculptor and the scuptures in the second clip are Goldberg's own work), but also featured for the first time on screen Shemp and Moe Howard and Larry Fine. Yes, it was Rube Goldberg who gave us the Three Stooges.

From all of us who love your strips, the Stooges, and the board game Mouse Trap, thanks Rube.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Of Magnums

If I want to legally operate a Dodge magnum, I need a license that requires a training class and an exam. The same is true in many states -- to the chagrin of gun advocates -- to legally operate a Colt magnum.

When I take my Dodge magnum for a drive, it needs a license plate, something that uniquely identifies my magnum from all others in case of wrong doing or accident. We can do the same for the Colt magnum, requiring etchings in the barrel that uniquely identifies the source of any recovered bullet. Yet this measure -- the Ammunition Accountability Act -- is being fought by gun advocates.

To put my Dodge magnum on the road, I need insurance in case I am at fault in an accident or in case my car gets stolen. This is a suggestion I've not yet heard, but want to put forward. Why shouldn't gun owners also have to carry insurance? The costs of gun related accidents and crimes are staggeringly high and the damage from stolen guns is extremely unfortunate. Why shouldn't they be responsible for covering at least part of those losses that come from police investigations and trials? Why shouldn't victims have a better chance at some sort of remuneration for their injuries and deaths of loved ones? Gun owners should have to carry insurance against indemnity. Just because I have the right to drive does not mean that I should not be required to be able to cover damage done by my driving. Similarly, just because one has the right to bear arms does not mean that they should not be required to be able to cover damage done by their guns.