Given my decision to retire from writing Pillage Idiot after more than four years, I thought I'd leave you with a sampler of my writing, organized by subject matter. This is mostly a matter of vanity for me, a kind of proof of my own existence. And since it took me a while to retrieve all of this, it's nice to have it in one place.
I. Political Humor
A. Photo Comics
I was never a big admirer of Bill Clinton while he was in office, but I truly enjoyed writing Bill Clinton photo comics. I sort of imagined I was inside his head, expressing what he would have said candidly after about, oh, a half dozen beers. He was a little afraid of Hillary, but he had complete disdain for her political abilities -- she was "politically tone-deaf," and he, after all, was the politician par excellence. Still, she was his ticket back to the White House, and he had to put up with her. He hated Obama, who had arrogantly and falsely accused him -- the real first black President -- of being a racist, and yet Bill somehow couldn't stop himself from saying a bunch of vaguely racist things. And, of course, he was always looking for women. I also had him make a joke in each comic where he was smugly pleased with himself, and I used the same image of him half-smiling and half-smirking over it as the next frame, with no text.
So, first, Bill tried to get contributions for Hillary's campaign by arguing that she'd be really tough with our enemies. ("And then, she'd kick [Assad] in the nuts and take his wallet.") He mocked her plan for national health care. ("It's excruciating watching someone related to me -- even by marriage -- being so damn clueless. I feel my own pain.") But he stood up for her, sort of, when the Post's fashion critic wrote that Hillary had shown cleavage on the Senate floor. ("That's not cleavage. THIS is cleavage.") As the campaign went on and on, and Hillary's future looked bleaker and bleaker, he began to show the strain by verbally abusing a six-year-old girl interviewing him for her elementary school newspaper. ("What the hell am I doing talking to a kid who probably still wets her bed at night? Hmmm?") And he snapped back at the New York Times for criticizing the way he was campaigning. ("I'm gonna say this again: I did not have purple faced, squinty-eyed, finger-shaking tirades in this campaign.") Finally, after the primary votes were in, he agreed to campaign for Obama in the general election, but first he made him, figuratively, eat a poo sandwich. ("And then, I made him sing 'Swanee River' over dessert.") And once Obama had won, Bill explained why he'd forced Hillary on Obama as Secretary of State. Hint: We haven't seen the last of the former president.
Hillary was a less enjoyable character to use, possibly because, once you got past her total contempt for you and everyone else ("I'm a Yale-trained lawyer who lived worked in the White House for 8 years. This is my 7th year as a senator. And what have YOU done? Clean toilets in an office building?") and her disgust for "that son of a bitch I'm married to," there wasn't all that much there. But those themes were good enough for three comics -- her remixed speech announcing her candidacy (which somehow involved cow flatulence); her response to Kate Michelman's claim that John Edwards would be the first woman president ("Just because you're effeminate it doesn't make you a woman."); and her indignant response to Obama's claim she was making racist statements ("This is MY bus, and I intend to sit in the front. If Barack wants to be on the bus, he can damn well sit in the back and wait his turn.").
John McCain didn't appear often in my photo comics, because the only interesting thing about him was how much he despised conservatives. Hence, my comic of his speech at the CPAC convention in which he "reached out" to conservatives. The comic contrasted his actual speech with his own internal thoughts about how he hated the people he was addressing. And naturally, he got a little confused at the end about which was which.
George Bush showed up a few times. Yes, he stumbled over his words, as in this meeting with Putin. ("We all have the goal of reducing detentions -- uh, tensions -- in the world. So I'm pleased to announce that Pootskiy and I have reached an agreement to amelier -- ameri -- amerialate those tensions.") He struggled with crises, as in this conversation with the Chief of Control. (Bush: "Have you been reading the newspapers?" Chief: "Not exactly, sir. I've been dead for about 30 years.") And he had absolutely nightmarish dreams before meeting the press. (Reporter: "Mr. President, what Americans want to know about this wire-tapping is when I'm having phone sex with my boyfriend in New York, is it true the NSA can listen in?" Bush: "Your boyfriend wasn't in New York that night. I mean, what am I saying? Of course not!")
Perhaps I should mention at this point that Bush's two Supreme Court appointments come in for some action: the ever-correct, ever-proper John Roberts and the can't-take-the-blue-collar-out-of-him Samuel Alito.
Harry Reid played his repeated role as a funeral director, and others always seemed to be getting the better of him -- Harriet Miers and Nancy Pelosi, for example.
There were some characters I used only once: Ned Lamont running his miserable, losing campaign for Senate against Joe Lieberman after beating him in the primary, Al Gore objecting to everything, John Kerry meeting Bush at the White House to play a game of "nut wrestling," General Michael Hayden preparing for his CIA confirmation hearings by letting it drop that he had the goods on everyone, Barney Frank being Barney Frank, and Tom Friedman showing what makes him tick.
The single-frame photo comic about Cindy Sheehan that started it all is right here. (With follow-up by Condi Rice.)
And finally, in the non-comic but almost-comic category, here is a photoshop I did of the toast between Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong-Il, which tends to suggest that, from our perspective, the toast did not turn out very well. Also, this proto-photo comic involving George Bush and sweat (yes, sweat) from the last couple of days of the 2004 presidential election won me my first large infusion of visitors, though not an instalanche. (Glenn Reynolds did respond to my email, however, with one word: "Heh!")
B. Other Political Satire
It's not just the liberal TV comedians who think Obama isn't very funny. I've had a hard time doing any satire of him.
I did have a multi-part series called "If Barack Obama were Jewish, instead of the Second Coming of Jesus," in which the running gag was that a Jewish Obama was having a loud conversation on his cell phone with someone, usually his mother. This is a typical one with his mother. Here's one with his rabbi around the time Obama tried to disown Jeremiah Wright.
Obama did a few things during the campaign that could be poked fun at. When he sneezed during a speech and blew his nose, people actually applauded. When Bush spoke in Jerusalem, Obama narcissistically assumed something Bush said was directed at him, so I posted Obama's "responses" to the Gettysburg Address and two other famous speeches in history. After the vice-presidential debate, Obama practiced his wink to keep up with Sarah Palin. When Obama suddenly dropped some of his associates of his in light of bad publicity, I had him send a note to Sasha's second-grade teacher sort of disowning her. His national-security advisor recommended a study of Winnie the Pooh, so I came up with his next text based on another well known children's book. And in a parody of the Washington Post's "Date Lab," I reported on Barack and Michelle's blind date.
Naturally, Bill and Hillary also went on a blind date. I'm not sure which blind date scenario was more realistic. In my satire, Bill rarely appeared outside the photo comics, but I occasionally used Hillary. After she cited Obama's third-grade essay during the primaries to show how ambitious he was, I discovered her own third-grade essay. Because she was fighting on against all odds (some say, all reason), I listed milestones in the Hillary for President campaign but later gave 17 reasons for her to remain in it. My own personal favorite was a spoof of her exaggeration of her trip to Tuzla, where she claimed to have come under sniper fire. I had her coming under fire at the 7-Eleven in Chappaqua.
McCain came in for some ribbing about his "me too" political views: he and Obama played "The Price Is Right." When McCain did well in the Saddleback "debate," some people with the Obama campaign accused him of cheating, so I made a list of ten ways in which McCain has cheated over the years.
I had a few items about Nancy Pelosi when the Democrats took over the House in 2006, including her to-do list, and a cartoon about what I saw as the likely outcome. On the more general subject of the Democrats' taking over the House, I did a Mark Foley spoof in the style of the Capitol Steps.
Then, there was a series of posts, modeled on the old NY Daily News feature called "The Inquiring Photographer," in which a question was posed and various random citizens were photographed and asked for an answer. In my series, it was the politicians who answered. The first, and probably the best, was called "The Inquiring Photographer: Where will you invade?" (Sample answer: "California. There aren't any Mexicans left in Mexico any more. You know that, right? They're all in California." Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado) Bonus: I grossly "misunderestimated" Barack Obama.
Remember Ron Paul? I wrote a four-part series called "Ron Paul chats with his cocker spaniel." The joke was that "Dr. Paul" would hold a one-way dialogue with his dog, in which he'd confide his feelings about his campaign, and the dog would be silent in response -- at least, until the very end, when the dog would make some sarcastic or cynical comment. Here's an example, the second installment in the series. Later, when Paul endorsed the Republican candidate in a highly Democratic congressional district in Maryland, I had the candidate chat with Ron Paul's cocker spaniel. In one of my stranger experiences at Pillage Idiot, the candidate actually emailed me to complain about the piece. (Footnote: He received a whopping 13% of the vote in November -- through no fault of mine.)
A pair of political "top tens": The top ten signs that Josh Bolten, Bush's chief of staff, is Jewish ("3. Condoleezza Rice beats him up for his lunch money."), and the top ten signs that (former) senator George Allen's mother is Jewish ("2. Picked his campaign slogan: 'It would hurt you to vote for him?'")
I wrote a radio commercial for Justice Kennedy, advertising in support of his single-minded pursuit of justice . . . or whatever: "If you think your rights have been denied, call Justice Kennedy at 1-800-KEN-NEDY."
I came up with some political anagrams. First, miscellaneous anagrams. Then, anagrams for Samuel Alito. (As a result of this, I was mocked by the Columbia Journalism Review for not having a life. Really. My response: "Who spent the time trolling the blogosphere for Alito anagrams? Not I.") More recently, anagrams for Obama and Biden and McCain and Palin. Did you know that "Barack Obama/Joe Biden" can be made into "Rabbi made a bacon joke?"
And in my final political satire piece, last month, I spoofed the dealings between Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and Rahm Emanuel. A news item indicated there were tapes of multiple conversations between the two, and I "transcribed" the appropriately foul language they exchanged. Don't worry; it all ended well.
II. Non-political silliness
Take a look at the Pillage Idiot Advisory System. My theme here is immaturity, or to put it more accurately, I'm immature personally, and that virtue of mine fairly permeates my humor writing.
Starting with code yellow (juvenile), I related my conversation with Julie, the voice of the automated scheduling system at Amtrak. When she complained to me about the garbage she has to put up with on a daily basis, I actually felt sorry about her plight, until she turned out to be sort of an anti-semite.
I made a list of things I've learned in my life, which started with "10. Your wife is right." It also included one of my profoundest insights ever: "5. Men get older, but women stay the same age, and pretty soon they're the same age as your daughter." If you're a middle-aged guy, you'll know what I mean.
When the TV series "Commander-in-Chief" was announced, the premise of which was that a woman, played by Geena Davis, had become President, Drudge posted a somewhat revealing photo of the actress, and I raised the question whether the Constitution permits the President to show cleavage. Part 2 of "President Cleavage" has the sophisticated constitutional analysis, but part 1 has the photo.
Also related to women: Many people have wondered about the female sense of humor. Why is it that women don't find things funny that obviously are funny, like The Three Stooges? I discoursed on this scholarly subject here, in a post that began with the joke about how many feminists it takes to screw in a light bulb. (Answer: "That's not funny!") After Christopher Hitchens wrote an article arguing that women weren't as funny as men, Gene Weingarten invited various women to respond in his Washington Post magazine column. As I pointed out, they weren't funny.
Speaking of women, how come women don't know how to take part correctly in a flush-a-thon? In a post that combines my interests in baseball and toilets, I looked at the flush-a-thon the Nationals engaged in at their new stadium before it opened, testing the ability of their plumbing to cope with the beer-drenched demands of their fans. ("Ladies, it's not one toilet every 10 seconds; it's every toilet every 10 seconds.") I'm still steamed that I wasn't invited to take part.
If the Post can write about flush-a-thons, why can't the New York Times business section write about body odor at work? It can! It can! And I, too, expounded upon the subject for longer than you might care to know. (One tip: "Don't walk into [the co-worker's] office or cubicle holding your nose. Instead, ask him politely whether it's possible that a dead rat is living in his office. When he says no, you reply, 'Well, process of elimination means it's you.'")
At one point, I had an occasional series of posts called "Naked News," discussing news stories involving odd things done by naked people. I used to say it was a shameless attempt to increase my site traffic. But it was, on the whole, so dumb that I won't even link those posts here. Instead, I'll merely mention some others that are not in the series: "Naked before God (and naked without Him)," concerning Christian nudists and nude campers, and "Naked before God (dyslexic version)," involving naked dog-walking. Last, in case you've ever wondered whether dead relatives can watch you from heaven, including when you're nekkid in the shower, a medium has now answered this profound question.
For some reason, flatulence was a theme of some of the humor here. Some day, someone will have to explain the fascination. Maybe it's that certain herring couldn't survive without flatulence, because that's how they confuse their predators, with flatulence. I've also wondered what it would be like to be a recognized expert on flatulence or to have an unusual name that shows up in Google only regarding a question the person posed about flatulence. It couldn't possibly be as bad as making a career out of being "Mr. Methane." Paging Sarah Palin: Moose flatulence as a cause of global warming? Then there was a lawsuit for patent infringement involving "farting dolls." I analyzed the opinion of the federal court of appeals and linked to (and quoted) the oral argument in the matter. A local court in West Virginia considered charges brought against a suspect who deliberately passed gas on the officers booking him for DUI -- not a smooth move, by the way. Finally, I issued a warning about eating the wrong kinds of food before flying but, more important, about trying to cover up the crime by lighting matches on board the plane.
I guess we're into code orange (puerile) or red (infantile) by now. Anyway, I'm not sure why guys seem to be fascinated with stories about what I call MMM (male member mutilation). Is it, "There but for the grace of God go I"? Is it, as I suggested in a discussion about condom sizes, that the issue is relative -- as in, "if half a billion Indian men got the short end of the stick, you personally just moved way up on the scale, relatively speaking"? Whatever the reason, I've noticed that MMM sometimes happens when you do your business outdoors. I've even coined a new adjective to describe that activity: "externomingent." (Google it.) If you want to know what the dangers are of externomingent acts, check out these two posts. More serious cases of MMM are found in Thailand, an American convenience store (turned out to be fake), and on the streets of Baltimore. Also, you know you're really in trouble when the doctors say that your "quality of life was severely affected." And perhaps my most profound rumination on the general subject, reflecting on the differences between men and women, concerns a case in Moscow, which raised many troubling questions, including this one: "Why was this man sitting naked in front of a woman he'd divorced and obviously didn't exactly get along with?"
III. Serious and semi-serious topics
It seems appropriate to begin locally with a discussion of issues in this state, which has veered well to the political left in the 20-plus years I've lived here. Four days after Governor O'Malley took office, a light dusting of snow turned I-95 into a parking lot and prevented me from getting Mrs. A and our daughter to the airport. So I suggested we need to impeach the governor. After some people on a news forum at the Baltimore Sun's web site began discussing my suggestion in total earnest, I had to add a note explaining that I wasn't serious. At least I wasn't serious at the time. Later.... I did a photoshopped political cartoon about the Governor's plans for the special legislative session in 2007, which I called "Gov. O'Malley's budget math." The Governor's "to-do list" included passing a huge tax increase, adding spending, and showing courage by doing these two things. Of course, O'Malley is far from the only Maryland official worthy of mockery. I suggested a "You Can Be A Prosecutor Correspondence Course" based on an incident involving Doug Gansler, who at the time was our county's top prosecutor and now, as a result of the Peter Principle, is the Maryland Attorney General.
Maryland is just a strange place. The state thinks it can effectively repeal the law of supply and demand by requiring all government contractors to pay their employees a "living wage." It thinks it can reduce its budget deficit by allowing slots. (I offered a much better idea.) And it thinks -- at least, Gov. O'Malley thinks -- that it needs a progressive tax code in order to make the rich pay a lot more than the poor.
I wrote more than a few times about crime statistics in Maryland, especially in Baltimore, and about the death penalty. A few highlights: "Looking for bias in all the wrong places" examined the fallacious argument that Maryland's death penalty discriminated against black murderers, an argument not justified even by the study it relied on. More on this subject, when I criticized our former governor, Parris Glendening, for making himself a race hustler. (My response to another argument that "too many" black men are in prison included this: "When you invoke race in order to reduce the black population in prison, you are consigning law-abiding blacks to an increase in violent crime.") Our current governor announced he was in favor of abolition of the death penalty, and I tallied up the murder and violent crime statistics for the state. Shortly thereafter, the legislature narrowly missed enacting abolition, and I again did a statistical analysis, pointing out that the governor's grandstanding was irresponsible. And just to be fair to Gov. O'Malley, I also criticized the current mayor of Baltimore for her simplistic attitude toward violent crime, concluding, in a reference to O'Malley, the former mayor: "But it all boils down to one of the central reasons that government exists: to protect people from each other. If the government can't even do that, then the answer is obvious: Vote the politicians into higher office." (As a footnote, this phenomenon isn't limited to Maryland. I wrote about "Kerryism" in New Jersey, the effort to turn us into European elites, by abolishing capital punishment.)
On a somewhat lighter note, I repeatedly made fun of the folks I called the "cucumber people," a group in Montgomery County who wanted to change the sex ed curriculum to include a video demonstrating how to put a condom on a cucumber. Seriously. You might think that it's pretty obvious how to put on a condom, but then, you're probably not a right-thinking, left-leaning, good-government-espousing resident of Montgomery County. ("The letter writer, an adult with teenaged children, insists that her children's college-aged friends had no idea how to put a condom on (the subject of a controversial video that was supposed to be part of the sex-ed curriculum). More amazing, this woman apparently had no idea herself how it was done before watching the video when it was screened for parents.") So I had a pretty good time mocking these people, and I even drew a simple instruction sheet for condom installation using MS-Paint, thereby rendering the curriculum and video unnecessary. What can you expect from folks who say there are three types of abstinence?
Last, I wrote a fairly lengthy criticism, complete with photos, of a new bicycle bridge in Rockville, where I live. Nothing wrong with the bridge, except that it was hugely expensive and connected parts of the city that can be reached over other bridges. I called it the bicycle bridge to nowhere.
B. Jewish politics and religion
My first-ever post at Pillage Idiot was called "Jew in America." I guess you could call it a love letter to the United States. I discussed what it was about the founding that made Jews welcome here, told a story about my immigrant grandmother's love for America, and suggested that American Jews should be grateful to God for having made us Americans.
Given the fact that the Jews are now well established in America and are subjected to only relatively minor social discrimination, the question necessarily is why Jews vote so differently from almost all other Americans. I don't think anyone has a very good answer for this, although I've certainly tried to figure it out. I've thrown around the term "shtetl mentality," by which I mean "a view that, just as on the shtetl in Eastern Europe, Jews in America are somehow at risk of death, or at least forced conversion, from the neighboring gentiles." It's not a totally satisfying analysis, but it does begin to account for the Jews' inability to see the danger of anti-semitism on the Left, a subject I discussed in "Boiling the Frog."
American Jews overwhelmingly choose to live in communities that are part of "blue" states (those that went for Gore in 2000) -- 75% of American Jews, to be precise. One of my possibly original thoughts was that, instead of being amazed that Jews vote predominantly "blue," maybe we should start with a benchmark for the Jewish vote of 75-25. In fact, exit polls in 2004 showed about 75% of the Jewish vote for Kerry, but based on my personal experience and a lot of anecdotal evidence, I argued that there was a hidden Jewish vote for Bush, perhaps as high as an additional 5%. In 2006, the polls showed about 26% for the Republicans, a figure well in line with my benchmark. More on the subject here.
Nearly all of my Jewish friends are liberals, and I have a lot of respect for them as people. But some political positions drive me nuts. I've asked several times how Jews can be so big in calling for action in Darfur at the same time they've been so much against the war in Iraq: "If we can stop genocide, by all means let's do it, and do it now. But where were these people when we were trying to rally support for toppling Saddam Hussein, who was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, for gassing the Kurds, and for numerous other unspeakable acts?" And just what kinds of solutions are they suggesting for Darfur? American troops? As for Iraq, I discussed a small bright spot in the Jewish response, a Reform Jewish dissenter on Iraq.
On Israel, one rabbi said American Jews are schizophrenic. I responded: "American Jews aren't 'schizophrenic'; they're nuts." I wrote during the 2008 Democratic primaries that "Israel's security does not depend on superficial support from American politicians. It depends on American power. A strong America indirectly benefits Israel. A weak America, an America that that is constantly running away from confrontation, indirectly hurts Israel." There are fewer and fewer friends of Israel on the Left, but still the Jews haven't adequately appreciated those conservative Christian philo-semites who are strongly pro-Israel. In fact, some Jews have gone out of their way to criticize them, despite our having few other pro-Israel allies. As I suggested, "Some Jews think their left-wing political views are far more important than support for Israel." One Jewish liberal who did show appreciation was the late Congressman Tom Lantos, whom I quoted in "Christian Zionists and left-wing anti-semites." The question of how to respond to Christians whose dogma excludes Jews from salvation is even more controversial among Jews, and I may in a real minority here, but my view is that our response on dogma should be, "Go ahead and believe whatever you want," while our response on conversion should be, "No, thanks." We need to focus on making Judaism more meaningful for Jews; it's secularism more than Christianity that's the threat. And here's why Jews should say "Merry Christmas." (To Christians, that is, not to other Jews.)
I was raised in a Conservative Jewish synagogue, and my level of observance should make me comfortable there today, so why am I not? Could it be the way politics has infiltrated the religious sphere, as in, for example, the decision to ordain gay rabbis? When you deal with the place of homosexuals in the synagogue under Jewish law, you need to address the issues not only with a good deal of sensitivity toward the people but with proper respect for the law. I've always liked what I read in a newspaper article some years ago. An Orthodox homosexual was quoted as saying that God gave us 613 commandments, and He can't be too upset if I observe 612 of them. So I refer to them as the 612 Club -- people who recognize who they are, without insisting that the law be changed to suit them. And what's the other great issue of politics that finds its home in the Conservative movement? Environmentalism, of course, to the point of strangling the economy. A rabbi who's the top fundraiser at the Jewish Theological Seminary wishes we could celebrate a lack of oil, not regret it. I couldn't believe she was so clueless she didn't understand "why donors have money in the first place: They have money because they engage in commerce." The environmentalist rabbi, of course, invoked "tikkun olam" in support of her efforts to kill the economy, but this is part of a widespread abuse of the concept of "tikkun olam" that I discussed in connection with a remarkable essay in Commentary by Hillel Halkin.
If you've ever spent the days before Passover frantically preparing your kitchen, and your house, for the holiday by removing the chametz, and suddenly you have to deal with the issue of kitniot, perhaps my essay "The four stages of kitniot" will speak to you. For the record, the four stages of kitniot are denial, anger, fear, and humor. "The fourth and last stage is humor. Unfortunately, most people do not reach this stage. Psychologists will tell you how hard it is to get beyond the fear of kitniot. (See generally Markowitz, On Transforming Our Fear of the Non-Chometzdig Yet Asur, 14 Journal of Kitniot 245 (1995))." I owe my friend Martin a great deal of thanks for lending me his hilarious letter to kashrut.com, which I quoted in its entirety.
On a personal note, after my father died in early 2006, I spent the next 11 months going to shul two or three times a day to say kaddish. Attending services so often led me to make some religious and sociological observations, and I'll leave you with two of them. The morning service (shacharit) started at 6:30 a.m. or earlier, in order to allow people to get to work on time, and it seemed a little repetitive to me, so I distilled it into a "One-minute shacharit," only six words in English. Toward the end of the 11 months, I started computing how many times I'd end up saying the kaddish. Answer: A lot.
1. One topic I wrote about fairly often was classical music. I'm a classical music fan, a former French hornist, and a little bit (little?) of a smart aleck.
My wife and I like to say that the average age of the folks at the concerts we attend is "deceased." So I wrote about an essay I read that discussed the cause of death of classical music. (Bonus: Bugs Bunny has something to do with this topic.) The following year, I did a postscript, discussing Allan Kozinn's argument that the rumors of the death of classical music are greatly exaggerated. I'm not so sure I'd put much stock in Kozinn, however, based on his attack on French horn players, which I took up in a post called "Splat!" It includes a discussion of why hornists make mistakes.
If you're not a fan of classical music, you might think that it's a deadly serious endeavor, but it's not. As with any form of art, we should be able to recognize that some classical music -- and here I'm referring to Mahler's First Symphony -- really sucks (eggs). Any form of art, that is, with the possible exception of painting: "Walk around any major museum and eavesdrop on the conversations of people looking at the paintings. Tell me whether you ever hear anyone say, 'This painting sucks.' And I don't mean that pimply 14-year-old wearing his cap on backwards and being led around by the scruff of his neck by his angry schoolteacher." I'm not totally sure I'd say that Haydn's Symphony #94 ("Surprise") sucks eggs, but it's pretty close to suckitude, as I explained in "Dissin' Papa Haydn." By the way, the nickname "Surprise" "apparently stems from an incident in which Haydn's wife unexpectedly returned home one afternoon while Haydn was in the middle of banging some fortissimo chords in the dominant."
Beethoven's music not only doesn't suck eggs; it's astonishingly brilliant and often is based almost entirely on themes, harmony, rhythm, etc., that are unremarkable in themselves. When I wrote about the donation of a manuscript of Beethoven's piano four hands transcription of his "Grosse Fuge," I discovered that the Japanese translation is "large Hu moth."
Finally, in response to Tim Page's list of 25 top 20th century compositions, some of which are hardly even music, I offered my own list of great 20th century music.
2. As the product of a brand-name college and law school, I developed a deep antipathy to the attitude that a lot of these colleges display, a sense that they are better than you and above the law. (Example: "Yale under scrutiny.") So I had an occasional series either criticizing them or making fun of them, mostly the latter. Harvard redefined plagiarism by allowing its professors to use a bunch of student ghostwriters, some of whom were less than meticulous with their sourcing. A magazine catering to Harvard alumni had a list of the top 100 Harvard alumni of 2007 and put Al Gore above George Bush. (The magazine's writeup of Bush was unremittingly negative, to boot.) When Harvard was looking for a new president, I wrote a poem recommending a candidate. (It began, "I think that I shall never see / At Harvard University...") And considering that both Yale and Harvard were doing their usual outrageous things (like defending the admission to Yale of a former spokesman for the Taliban), I set forth the moves and counter-moves as the two rivals headed toward nuclear confrontation. Yale, of course, being the "Hooters of the Ivy League." Most recently, I showed utter lack of concern with Harvard's shrinking endowment by joking that Harvard was going to seek a bailout from the federal government.
On a more serious note, I had a report with photos sent by a source at the Columbia protests against Ahmadinejad and a long critique of writings of Harvard professors who misunderstand what America is all about.
And my disgust really wasn't limited to strictly Ivy League schools. I wrote about how Tufts recruits by politics, offering applicants an opportunity to include a politically loaded essay. Also, many if not most colleges game the system in order to improve their admissions numbers.
3. In the "really miscellaneous" category, a little law and a little political theory. I rarely wrote about law, because I considered it a busman's holiday. But I came up with two legal innovations, one sort of serious and one sort of not too serious. The sort of serious one was about "John Doe immunity," for people reporting suspicious activity. I suggested that statutory immunity probably couldn't be made effective enough to keep John Doe defendants from having to pay for lawyers, and that we really needed an organization that would have a relationship with seasoned litigators willing to work pro bono on behalf of John Does. My sort of not serious innovation was a remedy for flag burning that doesn't involve a constitutional amendment. My idea was to provide "a defense to a charge of simple assault for someone who reacts to a flag burner by slugging him." It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. The rules are: "No excessive violence is allowed. No weapons, no serious injury. That is, no aggravated assault. If you're charged with simple assault for roughing up a flag-burner, you have a defense."
On the subject of law, it's hard to omit the story of a woman who was arrested for going topless in Manhattan one night. She then sued and obtained a settlement based on a New York court decision holding that ordinary topless women are not, uh, covered by a law banning topless waitresses. A concurring opinion argued that by specifying women the law violated equal protection, and I gave that opinion a skeptical look.
The final law-related item I've chosen had to do with the very large chip on Justice O'Connor's shoulder. She's "increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress and some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups on judges" and thinks it threatens the independence of the judiciary. Way to go! No one's allowed to criticize the judiciary! So she's working on teaching materials for the schools that will teach students . . . that they should never criticize the judiciary.
Last, in an essay about July 4, I expressed conservative reservations about celebrating our revolution. Even though it was a successful one, establishing a free republic, not a tyranny, it was still a revolution, and there's just something not very conservative about revolution. But I went on to discuss a totally deranged commentator named Cynthia Banas, who advocated marching on the Fourth carrying flags upside down. You won't be surprised to learn that she was active in the Iraq Peace Team, which tried to prevent the invasion of Iraq (but denies acting as human shields).
So again, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading what I wrote even a fraction as much as I enjoyed writing it.
January 06, 2009
Given my decision to retire from writing Pillage Idiot after more than four years, I thought I'd leave you with a sampler of my writing, organized by subject matter. This is mostly a matter of vanity for me, a kind of proof of my own existence. And since it took me a while to retrieve all of this, it's nice to have it in one place.