Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A tale of synchronicity and Charles Schulz

Recently I was reading the Abrams book, Only What’s Necessary, Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts, when I came across a scan of the original artwork for this 1954 Sunday page:

According to the book, the sequence, an experiment continued over four Sundays, was considered a failure by Schulz. It was never published in any of the subsequent paperback collections of the comic strip. Not until the Fantagraphics collections, The Complete Peanuts, that is, published by Fantagraphics after Schulz’s death.

Here is where synchronicity came in. A couple of days after seeing the page in the book, I was in an antiques mall in downtown Salt Lake City, and found a couple of issues of Tip Top Comics from the mid-fifties. I bought them and when I opened up issue #200, from 1956, I found the entire sequence, reprinted in a comic book format.

When you read the whole sequence you can see why Schulz considered it a failure. It introduced adults to Peanuts, and it seems completely wrong, based on what later became a major theme in the comic strip: the war between Charlie Brown and Lucy. Looking at this storyline, appearing within the first four years of what went on to be a 50-year run, is jarring. Charlie Brown supporting Lucy? Lucy as a golfer? Uh-uh. Better to think of it as a dream sequence, and be glad he didn’t consider it a success and change the interactions between the two characters. I cannot imagine Peanuts without Lucy jerking the football away from Charlie Brown, and so this was one of those moments in a lifetime of working on the strip when Schulz thought better of it.

All Peanuts Copyright © 1954, 1956, UFS

Monday, October 02, 2017

The unhit target

Today my wife and I made some home improvements purchases at Lowe’s, over $1000 worth. I was happy to get a 10% discount because I am a veteran, which saved me some money.

I had to show my DD214, and those of you who were in the military will recognize that as the discharge form. It proves I was in the U.S. Army for two years. It has been 49 years since they handed me that discharge, but by god, I still have it for the occasional benefit being a veteran brings to me.

Looking at the DD214 after many years in my files, something caught my eye, something long forgotten.

The box above shows my “medals” from the firing range. My last time shooting at a target to qualify with my weapon was about two months before my discharge. Former soldiers will remember the three degrees of shooting achievement: Expert, Sharpshooter, and Marksman. Even a lowly Marksman has to hit the target 23 out of 40 tries, so it is a passing grade. A Sharpshooter does a bit better, and the Expert best of all. I never got an Expert badge, but then I was the kind of guy who was satisfied with a passing grade.

Shooting the M-14 rifle earned me a Sharpshooter badge, but firing the .45 automatic pistol got me a Marksman. The odd thing is I am sure I missed the whole target when shooting the .45. I was unfamiliar with the pistol, had never fired it until someone handed it to me on the range and said, “Here, qualify with this.” As I recall I was humiliated when examining the target that I had “boloed” — a word that meant I had zero hits.

Imagine my surprise to see that whomever scored the targets for the purposes of the qualification saw fit to give me a rating as Marksman. Fortunately, that happened to me more than once on tests during my two-year Army career.Someone would give me a pass when I didn’t earn it. In retrospect I believe it had to do with orders coming down from the top: No one must fail on the firing range! It makes us look bad. So a bolo like mine would be changed to the minimum, yet still passing Marksman.

All these years later it doesn’t matter, but if someone looks at that part of my DD214 they will surmise, “That guy did okay, not great, with a rifle, but only the minimum shooting a .45.” That is, if anyone cares at all, and I am sure they don’t. I am just lucky I didn’t get sent to Vietnam, where I might have encountered an enemy running toward me shooting. If so, my name would be on that memorial wall, and I would not be telling you this story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

As a matter of fact, the sky IS falling!

Cartoonist Walt Kelly was the man who came up with the slogan, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It is a pithy way of referring to people causing an ecological disaster, and trashing the planet. I don’t usually care much for bumper stickers as philosophy, but that one is an exception. He was correct, probably even beyond his wildest imaginings. He died in 1973, so he did not get to see what an enemy we really are to ourselves.

“Chicken Little” is a story Kelly did for a book, Uncle Pogo’s So-So Stories, in 1953. It is original to the book, and has all Kelly’s piquant humor. Kelly was just making a funny story out of an old tale. But to me, Chicken Little was right: the sky IS falling! Chicken Little just got off to a bad start with a false warning, and then his credibility was crushed. The sky is falling (metaphorically), because our continued disrespect and abuse of our planet has caused it to turn on us in ways the planet can...by wind, flood and fire.

We have been hearing about climate change and global warming for several years now, and yet we have been slow to react. Some of it has to do with outright denial. Some influential people — whose fortunes were made on pumping stuff into the atmosphere that is causing us troubles now — continue to say that there is no problem; it is all just cyclical stuff, they say...Earth will make the necessary corrections and things will go back to the way they were, they say.

I’d say if there is even a 50-50 chance the top climatologists in the world are correct (and I believe the chance is actually 100%; after all, since they are the experts), then we should have been busy doing something about it for a long time, now. When the president of the United States, protecting his fellow million-and-billionaire buddies and their dirty industries says “It’s a hoax,” and 1/3 of the American population believe him, then he begins dismantling government agencies that have traditionally helped with efforts to take the crap out of the air, we know we are in serious trouble.

I scanned the story from a secondary source, from the humor anthology, Houseful of Laughter, edited by Bennett Cerf.

Copyright © 1963 by Random House.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Intersection of Religion and Politics

Illustration by Par Holman. Copyright © 2017 Par Holman

I read that a few days ago some evangelical types did a laying-on-of-hands for Donald Trump, praying for him. Trying to jump start his spiritual battery, I suppose. Trump is not exactly what I would call a religious type, but in this case he probably figured what-the-hell. What did he have to lose? Presidents, no matter if religious, find that catering to the faithful among the citizens is good politics.

In that way we mix religion with State.

On a more personal note, the adage of keeping out of trouble by avoiding the topics of religion and politics in conversation is true. It has caused a major rift in my wife’s family, some of whom are speaking, some not. My wife’s brothers are, like me, anti-Trump and unreligious. My wife’s sister and her husband, as well as some of their children, are evangelicals and pro-Trump. Like most families you find both kinds at the family reunions, except in this case there are no family reunions. The only mixing we have done with that side of the family was at a wedding several months ago, and we decided to handle it with smiles. We were comfortable, the other side of the family was not.

The pro-Trump brother-in-law wrote one of my anti-Trump brothers-in-law, publishing it on Facebook for the world to see, and criticized him for acting like he thought people who voted for Trump were ignorant and stupid.

Okay. I am guilty of those feelings, too. How else can I be, when the parade of idiocy passes in front of my eyes every day as Trump comes up with one outrage after another? Why would I think anyone who would vote for Trump was ignoring common sense and decades of stories about the man and his childish behavior?

The morning after the 2016 election one of the members of the family’s pro-Trump faction posted on Facebook, “When Trump won, God won.” That person is not on my Facebook page, so I heard about it second hand. Despite knowing their evangelical gusto and spread-the-gospel zeal, I could not see how they equated Trump with God. I believe that Trump could be the poster child for what not to do to lead a religious lifestyle. But then, maybe I should not be surprised. I live in Utah, where the state is not only solid Republican, but the lawmakers are almost all Latter-day Saints. Despite their core religious beliefs, they come in all types, and some of them make Trump’s chicanery seem childish. Not for nothing does Utah have the reputation for being tops in having the faithful suckered by con men.

As churches, evangelicals are spread out over Utah, but they are a minority in the larger Christian community.

Back to Trump. The guy has a reputation for being crooked in so many areas that he reminds me of the types that Jesus supposedly ran out of the temple. Why is it that some of the poorest people in this country are putting their faith in Trump, whose business acumen is mainly how to borrow money, declare bankruptcy, hire out his name for shoddy products (Trump Steaks, Trump University), and stiff contractors when they have completed their work? As mentioned before, Trump has more lawsuits against him than any other real estate mogul. He is not a religious icon, he is just this side of criminal, and maybe if we knew more about him we might see him to be more criminal than saint.

One of the things the Facebook letter said to my brother-in-law was that “liberals” are a sad and unhappy bunch. Well, maybe some are. I am only sad because Trump is president, and for some reason the Democrats could not get it together enough to beat the Republicans, losing the House, Senate and presidency. Other than that I am not unhappy, because karma, or judgment from god notwithstanding, things do tend to even out. Had Trump not run for president he could have enjoyed without much scrutiny his life of opulence and pleasure on the backs of little people. But now that he is in the white hot spotlight, everyone is focused in on him and his family of ne’er do wells. I go back at least 30 years in reading stories about Trump. He gloried in his reputation as a philanderer.  He took pleasure in his reputation as a business shark. I guess what the guy who wrote the Facebook letter to my brother-in-law missed out on is that Trump will never be presidential. There is nothing that will restrain him from being his own worst enemy.

Remember the Spider-Man credo? “With great power comes great responsibility.” Great power also comes with the eyes of the world fixed on the powerful. Everything that person does is under constant scrutiny.

So what to do about those religious people, like those in my wife’s family, who are still imbuing him with attributes he does not have, i.e., conscience, fair play,..a soul (even if I do not believe such a thing exists)? Nothing I can say to them will shake their faith or make them think less of him. It actually has the opposite effect. Because liberals like me, my family and my brothers-in-law don’t like their idol it gives them further fuel for their paranoid conspiracy theories, that the “left” along with the “fake news” is out to get him in some sort of witch hunt.

 I guess the best thing to do is sit back and watch as all of the shady acts of Trump’s life come back to get him in the end. Might be sooner, might be later, but as my religious neighbors might say, good Lord willin', it will get him.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

L. Frank Baum, father of the Wizard of Oz

Lyman Frank Baum created a whole world in his Oz series for children. Published originally in 1900, the original Oz book has gone through countless printings, and the 1939 movie based on it is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. This article, by Daniel Mannix, which appeared in the December 1964 issue of American Heritage, is a tribute to both the man and his creation.

Copyright © 1964 American Heritage

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The hungry, haunted house

Haunted house stories in fiction can be very entertaining, even if you don’t believe in ghosts and wandering spirits or demons.

I don’t know if Robert Bloch believed in the supernatural. But he was a writer who wrote all kinds of fictional weird tales, including stories of hauntings. He made his living writing stories like “The Hungry House.” I am presenting the scans from its original appearance in the magazine, Imagination, April, 1951. So, whether you believe in ghosts or not...boo!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hollywood Rule: Between facts and legend, show the legend

I watched The Revenant again recently. This time I felt the need to look up what is known of the mountain man, Hugh Glass, an attack by a grizzly bear, and the truth of his quest for revenge on men who left him to die. During my second viewing I thought the story seemed too good to be true, more Hollywood than fact.

Such is actually the case. Or what little is known of it. Glass’s encounter with the bear happened in the wilderness in 1823, which was a long way from any newspapers or traditional ways of telling the story. The historical accounts I was able to find don’t mention the son of Glass, killed by the slimy Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), as shown in the movie version.

This cartoonist’s version of the Glass story, taken from an old pulp magazine (sorry, I don’t know which one), has Glass going after the men who left him to die, but then forgiving them. In the movie he exacts a gory and violent revenge, which makes a lot better cinema, but impugns Glass’s real-life character.

Click on it to make it big.

This article, "A Difficult Man to Kill" from True West magazine, tells what is known of the facts of the story.