Category Archives: Art

Gomez Addams, positive male role-model

The Addams Family did well on Broadway, in the movies, and on TV, but got predictably bad reviews in all three forms. Ordinary people like it; critics did not. Something I like about the series that critics didn’t appreciate is that Gomez is the only positive father character I can think of since the days of “Father knows best”.

Gomez is sexual, and sensual; a pursuer and lover, but not a predator.

Gomez is sexual, and sensual; a pursuer and lover, but not a predator.

In most family shows the father isn’t present at all, or if he appears, he’s violent or and idiot. He’s in prison, or in trouble with the law, regularly insulted by his wife and neighbors, in comedies, he’s sexually ambiguous, insulted by his children, and often insulted by talking pets too. In Star Wars, the only father figures are Vader, a distant menace, and Luke who’s just distant. In American shows, the parents are often shown as divorced; the children are reared by the mother with help of a nanny, a grandparent, or a butler. In Japanese works, I hardly see a parent. By contrast, Gomez is present, center stage. He’s not only involved, he’s the respected leader of his clan. If he’s odd, it’s the odd of a devoted father and husband who comfortable with himself and does not care to impress others. It’s the outsiders, the visitors, who we find have family problems, generally caused by a desire to look perfect.

Gomez is hot-blooded, sexual and sensual, but he’s not a predator, or violent. He’s loved by his wife, happy with his children, happy with his life, and happy with himself. As best we can tell, he’s on good-enough terms with the milk man, the newspaper boy, and the law. Though not a stick-in-the-mud, he’s on excellent terms with the rest of the Addams clan, and he’s good with the servants: Lurch, Thing, and for a while a gorilla who served as maid (none too well). One could do worse than to admire a person who maintains a balance like that between the personal, the family, the servants, and the community.

On a personal level, Gomez is honest, kind, generous, loving, and involved. He has hobbies, and his hobbies are manly: fencing, chess, dancing, stocks, music, and yoga. He reads the newspaper and smokes a cigar, but is not addicted to either. He plays with model trains too, an activity he shares with his son. Father and son enjoy blowing up the train — it’s something kids used to do in the era of firecrackers. Gomez is not ashamed to do it, and approves when his son does.

Gomez Addams, in the Addams Family Musical, gives advice and comfort to his daughter who is going through a rough stretch of relationship with a young man, and sings that he’s happy and sad.

Other TV and movie dads have less – attractive hobbies: football watching and beer-drinking, primarily. Han Solo is a smuggler, though he does not seem to need the money. TV dads take little interest in their kids, and their kids return the favor. To the extent that TV dads take an interest, it’s to disapprove, George Costanza’s dad, for example. Gomez is actively interested and is asked for advice regularly. In the video below, he provides touching comfort and advice to his daughter while acknowledging her pain, and telling her how proud he is of her. Kids need to hear that from a dad. No other TV dad gives approval like this; virtually no other male does. They are there as props, I think, for strong females and strong children.

The things that critics dislike, or don’t understand, as best I can tell, is the humor, based as it is on danger and dance. Critics hate humor in general (How many “best picture” Oscars go to comedies?)  Critics fear pointless danger, and disapproval, and law suits, and second-hand-smoke. They are the guardians of correct thinking — just the thinking that Gomez and the show ridicules. Gomez lives happily in the real world of today, but courts danger, death, law suits. He smokes and dances and does not worry what the neighbors think. He tries dangerous things and does not always succeed, but then lets his kids try the same. He dances with enthusiasm. I find his dancing and fearlessness healthier than the over-protective self-sacrifice that critics seem to favor in heroes. To the extent that they tolerate fictional violence, they require the hero to swooping, protecting others at danger to themselves only, while the others look on (or don’t). The normal people are presented as cautious, fearful, and passive. Cold, in a word, and we raise kids to be the same. Cold fear is a paralyzing thing in children and adults; it often brings about the very damage that one tries to avoid.

Gomez is hot: active, happy, and fearless. This heat.– this passion — is what makes Gomez a better male role model than Batman, say. Batman is just miserable, or the current versions are. Ms. Frizzle (magic school bus) is the only other TV character who is happy to let others take risks, but Ms Frizzle is female. Gomez’s thinks the best of those who come to visit, but we see they usually don’t deserve it. Sometimes they do, and this provides touching moments. Gomez is true to his wife and passionate, most others are not. Gomez kisses his wife, dances with her, and compliments her. Outsiders don’t dance, and snap at their wives; they are motivated by money, status, and acceptability. Gomez is motivated by life itself (and death). The outsiders fear anything dangerous or strange; they are cold inside and suffer as a result. Gomez is hot-blooded and alive: as a lover, a dancer, a fencer, a stock trader, an animal trainer, and a collector. He is the only father with a mustache, a sign of particular masculinity — virtually the only man with a mustache.

Gomez has a quiet, polite and decent side too, but it’s a gallant version, a masculine heterosexual version. He’s virtually the only decent man who enjoys life, or for that matter is shown to kiss his wife with more than a peck. In TV or movies, when you see a decent, sensitive, or polite man, he is asexual or homosexual. He is generally unmarried, sometimes divorced, and almost always sad — searching for himself. I’m not sure such people are positive role models for the a-sexual, but they don’t present a lifestyle most would want to follow. Gomez is decent, happy, and motivated; he loves his life and loves his wife, even to death, and kisses with abandon. My advice: be alive like Gomez, don’t be like the dead, cold, visitors and critics.

Robert Buxbaum, December 22, 2017.  Some years ago, I gave advice to my daughter as she turned 16. I’ve also written about Superman, Hamilton, and Burr; about Military heroes and Jack Kelly.

Military heroes, Genghis and confederate

genghis-khan-statue-complex

This 13 story statue of Genghis Kahn looks over the plains of Mongolia.

All military statues are offensive, as best I can tell. Among the most offensive, is the 131 foot tall monument to Genghis Kahn in central Mongolia. Genghis Kahn is known for near-perfect military success, and for near-total disregard for non-Mongols; he treated them as cattle, to be herded, slaughtered, raped or pillaged. I imagine this statue is offensive to Chinese, Russians, Koreans, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Poles, and Germans — people he slaughtered by the millions. For some Mongols too, I imagine this statue is offensive as a sad reminder that Mongolia no longer rules the eastern world. But the monument is not for the maudlin, nor is it intended to offend. Like other military statues, the Genghis monument is a rally point for soldiers, old and new. It’s a way to inspire Mongols to be great leaders of men, military and not. Such will see, in Genghis, a man who made tough choices, and carried through to great achievements. That he killed and oppressed others will be justified by noting he did it to keep his Mongols from being killed or oppressed. The grand size is chosen to encourage Mongols to think big.

Genghis appears in fictional form as the villain, Shan Yu, in Mulan. There, his motivation is he doesn’t like the wall. Mulan and the Chinese army stop his Mongol attack by burying them at a snow-covered mountain pass. Historically, a Chinese army did meet Genghis and his army at a mountain pass, but the Mongols were not defeated. Instead they bypassed the Chinese and captured their supplies. Genghis then offered the starving Chinese a choice: join or die. Those that joined had to fight those who did not. A few months later, Peking fell, and in a few years, the rest of Asia. Few of the turncoats survived. Given the same choice, Genghis’s men never turned on him.

General Lee planted a maple tree on this spot in Fort Hamilton, New York. in 2017 the  plaque is removed as it's considered offensive.

General Lee planted a maple tree on this spot in Fort Hamilton, New York. in 2017 the plaque is removed as offensive.

Genghis’s most famous saying is that one arrow is easily broken, but a bundle will overcome any adversary. Similar to this, he is supposed to have said that, if you treat your soldiers as sons, they will follow you even into death. Such words are nonsense to non-soldiers and professional complainers: those who do not imagine themselves going to war. Those who go to war as generals know this is how to behave; those who go as soldiers hope for a leader who values them as sons, and not as cannon fodder.

In the US we’ve begun removing all monuments to the southern forces of the Civil War. This may be a mistake, but it seems irreversible. We’ve kept our monuments for Northern generals including William Sherman, known for his tactic of total destruction, and for Phillip Sheridan, equally known for total war, and for the saying: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” But we no longer tolerate Confederates. Among the reasons is that we claim to ease the pain of black people — a pain I feel looking at the Genghis Kahn monument. Another reason, we’re told, is that the statues are “dog-whistles” to racists and white supremacists — a particular danger now, evidenced in the election of Donald Trump. A danger, I think, that’s been largely trumped up as a way to keep politicians and newscasters politically relevant.

For these reasons, or politicians have removed every last confederate monument in Florida, the last being a large grave-stone in the Woodlawn cemetery. Virginia’s governor has similarly declared his intention to remove them all from his state. The city of Baltimore removed all four civil-war monuments in the middle of one busy night, August 18, 2017, and the University of Texas did similarly, working at night. New York City removed a plaque remembering Robert E. Lee for planting a tree at Ft. Hamilton, And, last week, an honorary window at the Washington cathedral where Lee had been a deacon.

Statues of Robert E. Lee are a particular target. There are quite a few in Virginia where his family was prominent — it was Richard H. Lee’s motion in the Continental Congress that carried as independence; his home now serves as Arlington Cemetery. While Lee opposed slavery and freed his slaves before the war, he fought for the Confederacy, so clearly he didn’t oppose slavery as totally as we would like. And Lee only freed his wife’s inherited slaves in 1862, fairly late, though Grant still had slaves at that time. Besides, in 1852, Lee caused an escaped slave to be whipped. I imagine he did the same to runaway soldiers. Historians used to praise Lee, but now call him a cruel racist. In hindsight, we imagine we would have done much better.

General Lee statue being removed from University of Texas.

General Lee statue being removed from the University of Texas.

As best I can tell, Virginians still remember Lee fondly, particularly soldiers, veterans, and those who imagine themselves leading men in difficult situations. When I try to put myself in Lee’s position, I find I can’t imagine myself doing better or achieving more. His life involved thousands of divisions and hundreds of inspiring actions. In the choice to fight for Virginia and not for the north, I note that Lee was given the same no-win choice as Genghis’s trapped Chinese: join the Union army and kill your brothers, or be killed by that army. The exchange appears in this movie. I admire Lee’s courage to stand by his brothers; it seems the more honorable of two bad choices. Early in his life, Lee committed himself to only honorable behavior  — according to his conception. This is all I expect from myself, and the most I hope for from any other person.

Another thing is Lee’s surrender. I find it a model of how to end a war so that lasting peace is achieved. It’s remembered in Johnny Cash’s song, “God Bless Robert E. Lee.”  Another song, “The night they drove old Dixie down” calls Lee “the very best.” I would be hard pressed to find a better US general: one who won more or was better loved.

Japanese resettlement.

Japanese resettlement in WWII. Our history is full of painful decisions by people we admire. Let’s try to not repeat our mistakes or pretend we don’t make them.

A killer complaint lodged against Lee, and against all the confederates, is that they were traitors. If so, George Washington and Ben Franklin were traitors too. In England, Benedict Arnold is honored as a patriot with a statue on Trafalgar square, but we do not honor him, rightly I think. He turned on his friends and brothers. I think it’s politics that’s motivated the current spate of removal. Most of the confederate statues stand (stood) in Democrat-leaning cities of five Republican-leaning states: Virginia, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi. The white, non-college country-folk of these states are being pitted against the darker, college-educated city folk in a fight for their hearts and pocket books.

As for my guess at interpretation of the statues themselves. I’m inclined to suggest that the statues and their inscriptions do not appear racists to me, so much as soldierly. The statues were largely erected between the Spanish-American war and WWII with soldierly (to my eyes) comments. Baltimore monument to Jackson and Lee, reads on one side: “STRAIGHT AS THE NEEDLE TO THE POLE JACKSON ADVANCED TO THE EXECUTION/ OF MY PURPOSE” and on the other side: “SO GREAT IS MY CONFIDENCE IN GENERAL LEE THAT I AM WILLING TO FOLLOW HIM BLINDFOLDED.” Another Baltimore inscription: “THEY FOUGHT AS GENTLEMEN.” To me this latter is a swipe at Sherman and Sheridan, who did not. Removing these statues is a swipe at the honor of southern soldiers. The statues now read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” a slogan I read as anti-police, anti-Trump, and anti-white.

The remnant of Baltimore's Lee- Jackson statue, showing the old inscription and the new.

The remnant of Baltimore’s Lee – Jackson statue with the old inscription and the new..To me, the old inscription is military, mostly, and not as racist as the new.

The pain of black America is real, but the thing that’s missed is that it is similar to the pain of rural white America. Both have been left behind. I’ve noted that urban black Americans and rural whites have virtually no savings, It could be the two poor cultures don’t realize they have much in common. Or it could be (I think) some folks purposefully fermenting dissension. What is needed, at least is better financial sense, and a recognition that race isn’t racism, but to listen to CNN or read the New York Times, such understandings seem unlikely. The Trump election shocked everyone, I think, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — and perhaps even Trump himself. Hillary, it seems had already bought a house in DC to house her staff. The surprise is not a reason to turn on one’s fellow. I can hope that Trump will prove to be a great president. For now, he is the president, and we are faced by nuclear enemies. It hardly helps to see half of our electorate call the other half racists and deplorables. As with a bundle of arrows, we have strength in union, weakness in disunion. May we all be blessed for a good, sweet year of peace and brotherly love

Robert E. Buxbaum. September 24, 2017. Perhaps my fondness for Lee is because I’m named after him. Here’s my theory for why Mongol arrows flew further.

Japanese zen art – just go away

Japanese zen spiral -- it's a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward.

Japanese zen spiral — it’s a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward. Cute.

The purpose of art is not generally to show the world as it is, but to show a new, better way to look at the world. As such, my take on Japanese zen art, is that it is a very cool, fun way to say “just go away.” What follows are some nice (to my eyes) examples, with my commentary.

As with most Japanese art, the zen art looks simpler and more free-form than western religious art. In a sense that is true: there are far fewer lines, but the paintings take as long to make, to a good estimate, since they only appear to have been made with casual ease: flicks of the wrist and waves of the hand. In actuality the artist had a vision of what he wanted, and then made free-hand waving copy after copy until he had some correct, free-looking ones ready for delivery. Because of this, you can look for a meaning in every wiggle — something that you would not do with US free-form abstracts, or with religious paintings of the 1600s. Take daVinci’s last supper — the grand layout is clearly planned and meaningful, the details of the wrinkles, not really. With these, though, no detail is accidental, and the non-accidental sense, as I see it, is “just go away.”

Buddhist Master. I can imagine this work is effective at keeping guests from over-staying their welcome.

Buddhist Master. Art like this keeps away guests.

Take the spiral at left. It’s sort of cool, and claims to be an allusion to meditation. Mystic, no? As I look carefully a the spiral, the first remarkable thing I see is that it circles in on itself at both ends. At a simple level, I think that’s an allusion to the inward nature of meditation, but note that, at the top end of the coil there’s a wiggle that looks like a face. I take that to be a monk’s face, looking away. The geometry of the coil then suggests the legs and thighs of the rest of the monk (sitting?). If that’s the image (and I think it is) the fact that the monk is facing away from you, leaving you behind suggests to me that the owner has no desire to have you join him. I see nothing in this that would cause another person to want to meditate either. There is nothing attractively persuasive as in western religious art. Here’s an essay I wrote on meditation.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I also imagine these artists living on an industrial treadmill, making painting after painting in his shop and throwing most away because, for example, the monk’s back extended past the paper. Western expressionism also sometimes puts many paintings on a single canvas, but the hidden image stays, at least in a sort-of half shadow. And the wiggles strive to be less learned, even if the faces of some western religious art is distant –even more distant often. At right, above, you’ll find another popular zen-art approach. It shows a zen master in nearly full face. As with most zen art, the master (Buddha or a disciple) looks calm -ish with a sense of the put-upon, as if he were Christ carrying the cross of you being there. Perhaps the intent was to make you go off and meditate, or to see society as worthless, but I think the more-likely message in the master’s look is “why me Lord.” The master looks like he isn’t unhappy with life, just unhappy with you being there. I imagine that this work was placed in a noble’s living room or study for the same reason that many American today put up a picture of Yosemite Sam, sometimes (for those who don’t get art) “Keep Out! This means you.”

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don't touch, the moon seems to say.

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don’t touch, the moon seems to say.

As with the Warner-bros. classic, there is a flowing look to the brushwork, but a fair amount of detail. As with the Warner Bros. cartoon, the casual lines seem to serve the purpose of keeping the viewer from taking offense at the message. Sort of like, “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” Cool, but I also like Western cartooning.

As one last example, at left you’ll see a painting illustrating a zen parable. in this case it’s the parable of the monkey’s and the image of the moon. Shown is the moon’s reflection in the water of a well — moon is that big round face. A monkey is about to touch the moon-image, and as we can expect, when the monkey touches the image, it disappears. There are several understandings to be gained from this, e.g. that all is illusion (similar to Plato and his cave), or suggesting that it is better to look at life than to interact with it. Which is the main meaning? In this picture, my sense is that the moon seems put-upon, and afraid. Thus, the lesson I take from the picture is one of inaction: “don’t touch the reflection.” Once again, the choice to depict a frightened moon rather than an impassive one, seems to be the painter’s way of saying “please go away.” Very cool image, but as messages go, that’s the one I see in most Japanese zen art.

Robert Buxbaum, August 17, 2017. I’ve also written on surreal art (I like it a lot, and find it ‘funny’) and on Dada, and conceptual (I like it too, playfully meaningful, IMHO). If you like zen jokes (and who doesn’t) here’s a story of the Buddhist and the hot-dog vendor, and how many zen Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb? Four. See why.

West’s Batman vs Zen Batmen

“Holy kleenex Batman, it was right under our noses and we blew it.” I came of age with Adam West’s Batman on TV and a relatively sane Batman in the comic books. Batman was a sort of urban cowboy: a loner, but law-abiding, honest, and polite – both to the police and to the ordinary citizen. He was good, and he was “nice.” As with future Batmen, no one died, at least not from the Batman.

bat-buddah

More recent Batmen have been not nice, and arguably not good either. They are above the law, trained in eastern monasteries by dark masters of kung fu, with a morality no one quite understands. One could say, quite literally, “He was a dark and stormy knight.”

Well, a few days ago, I found the item at left for sale on e-Bay, a plastic Batman-Buddha, and I started wondering about the meditations that produced Batman, and that Batman expounds on life and crime. It wasn’t pretty. They are not pretty. A quick check from the movie versions suggest the Zen Batman is pretty messed up, something that psychologists have noted.

Here’s a quote from the goofy, Adam West Batman of the 1960s: “Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.” Believing yourself to be normal helps improve sanity, and helps you relate to others. Calling yourself an American implies you keep American laws. Here’s another quote: “A reporter’s lot is not easy, making exciting stories out of plain, average, ordinary people like Robin and me.” It’s nice to see that the Adam West Batman feels for the other peoples’ problems, respects their professions, and does not profess to be better than they. By contrast, when a more recent Batman is asked: “What gives you the right? What’s the difference between you and me?” The Dark Knight responds, “I’m not wearing hockey pads.” This is a might-is-right approach, suggesting he’s above the law. The problem: a self-appointed vigilante is a criminal.

Here are some more quotes of the recent, eastern Batmen:
“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”
“That mask — it’s not to hide who I am, but to create what I am.”
“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

These quote are at least as messed up as the hockey pad quote above. It sometimes seems the Joker is the more sane of the two. For example, when Batman explains why he doesn’t kill: “If you kill a killer, the number of killers remains the same.” To which Joker replies: “Unless you kill more than one… but whatever you say, Batsy.”

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept.

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept; if that’s not Adam West, if could be.

The dark, depressive Batmen tend to leave Gotham City in shambles after every intervention, with piles of dead. West’s Batman left the city clean and whole. Given the damage, you wonder why the police call Batman or let him on the streets. Unlike West, the current Batmen never works with the police, quite. And to the extent that Robin appears at all, his relationship with Batman is more frenemy than friend or ward. Batgirl (mostly absent) has changed too. The original Batgirl, if you don’t recall, was Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. She was a positive, female role model, with a supportive, non-sexist parent in Commissioner Gordon (an early version of Kim Possible’s dad). The current Batgirl appears only once, and is presented as the butler’s daughter. Until her appearance that day, you never see her at Wayne Manor, nor did she know quite what her dad was up to.

Here are some West Batman / Robin interactions showing an interest in Robin’s education and well-being:

“Haven’t you noticed how we always escape the vicious ensnarements of our enemies?” Robin: “Yeah, because we’re smarter than they are!”  “I like to think it’s because our hearts are pure.”

“Better put 5 cents in the meter.” Robin: “No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.”
“This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.”

Robin: “You can’t get away from Batman that easy!” “Easily.” Robin: “Easily.”
“Good grammar is essential, Robin.” Robin: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

Robin/Dick:”What’s so important about Chopin?” “All music is important, Dick. It’s the universal language. One of our best hopes for the eventual realization of the brotherhood of man.” Dick: “Gosh Bruce, yes, you’re right. I’ll practice harder from now on.”

“That’s one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities.”

“Even crime fighters must eat. And especially you. You’re a growing boy and you need your nutrition.”

“What took you so long, Batgirl?” Batgirl: “Rush hour traffic, plus all the lights were against me. And you wouldn’t want me to speed, would you?” Robin: “Your good driving habits almost cost us our lives!” Batman: “Rules are rules, Robin. But you do have a point.”

And finally: “I think you should acquire a taste for opera, Robin, as one does for poetry and olives.”

Clearly this Batman takes an interest in Robin’s health and education, and in Batgirl’s. Robin is his ward, after all, rather a foster child, and it’s good to seem him treated as a foster child — admittedly with a foster-father whose profession is a odd.

Perhaps the most normal comment from a non-West Batman is this (it appears in many posters): “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” It’s, more or less, a quote from Karl Jung (famous psychologist) and can serve as a motivator providing pride in one’s art, but job-attachment goes with suicide, e.g. when you lose your job. The far healthier approach is less identification with job; just be proud of doing good and developing virtue. West’s Batman finds Catwoman, a woman with her own moral code, odious, abhorrent, and insegrievious, and says so. The only difference between her and The Joker is the amount of damage done; he should find her insegrievious. Sorry to say, recent, Zen Batmen and Supermen are just as bad. To quote Robin: “Holy strawberries, Batman, we’re in a jam.”

Robert Buxbaum, June 26, 2017. Insegeivious is a made-up word, BTW. If we use it, it could become part of the real vocabulary.

Sewage jokes, limericks, and a song.

I ran for water commissioner (sewer commissioner) of Oakland county, Michigan last year, lost, but enjoyed my run. It’s a post that has a certain amount of humor built-in. If you can’t joke about yourself, you’ve got no place in the sewer. So here are some sewage jokes, and poems, beginning with an old favorite; one I used often in my campaign:3b37b9cab2d27693de2aa7004a3d90ef

Why was Piglet staring into the toilet?
He was looking for Poo.

Last week someone broke into the police station and stole all the toilets. The cops are still searching. So far, they have nothing to go on.paperwork

On administration: In life as on the toilet, the job isn’t done until the paperwork is finished.

Speaking of toilet paper: do you know why Star Trek is like toilet paper? They both go past Uranus and capture Klingons. I wrote an essay on Toilet paper — really. 

Here’s my campaign song and video. It’s sung by Art Carney (I’ve no rights, but figure they’ve expired). The pictures are of me, my daughter, and various people we met visiting sewage treatment plants around the county. Great men and a few great women who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. 

septic12

The Turd Burglar, We’re No.1 in the No. 2 business. What a motto!

And now for sewage Limericks:

There once was a man named McBride.
Who fell in the sewer and died.
The same day his brother
Fell in another,
And they were interred side by side.

There is a double intent in that Limerick, in case you missed it

By the sewer she lived, by the sewer she died. Some said t’was disease, but I say, Suicide

sewage treatment

sewage treatment plant in Pontiac, MI — the county’s largest.

How do you describe a jocular sewage joker? pun gent.

Life is like a sewer, what you get out of it is what you put into it (Tom Lehrer). And sometimes it stinks.

Robert E. Buxbaum, June 4, 2017. There is just one more sewage joke I know, but I thought I’d leave it out. It concerns the sewage backup at the prom. Unfortunately, the punchline stinks.

Edward Elric’s Flamel

Edward Elric, the main character of a wonderful Japanese manga, Full Metal Alchemist, wears an odd symbol on his bright-red cloak. It’s called a Flamel, a snake on a cross with a crown and wings above. This is the symbol of a famous French author and alchemist of the 1300s, Nicholas Flamel who appears also, tangentially, in Harry Potter for having made a philosopher’s stone. But where does the symbol come from?

Edward Elrich with Flammel on back.

Edward Elric wears a snake-cross, “Flamel” on his back.

s03_ama

Current symbol of the AMA

A first thought of a source is that this is a version of the Asclepius, the symbol of the American Medical Association. Asclepius was an ancient Greek doctor who, in 85 BC distinguished between chronic and acute disease, developed theories on diet and exercise, and cured parasitic snakes under the skin by wrapping them around a stick. In mythology, he was chosen to be ship’s doctor on Jason’s voyage, and was so good at curing that Hades told Zeus he revived the dead. Zeus then killed him and set him among the stars as a constellation (the snake-handler, visible in the winter sky between Scorpius and Hercules). Though the story shows some similarities to Full Metal Alchemist, the Asclepius symbol don’t look like Elric’s Flamel. Asclepius had two daughters, Hygeia (hygiene), and Panacea (drugs?); the cup of Hygeia, below, is similar to the Asclepius but not to Ed’s Flamel.

The cup of Hygia, the symbol of pharmacy.

The cup of Hygeia, the symbol of pharmacy.

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Another somewhat-similar symbol is the Caduceus, symbol of Hermes/ Mercury, left. It was the symbol of the AMA until 2005, and it has wings, but there are two snakes, not one, and no cross or crown. The AMA switched from the Caduceus when they realized that Hermes was not a god of healing, but of merchants, liars, and thieves. Two snakes fighting each other is how the Greeks viewed business. The wings are a symbol of speed. The AMA, it seems, made a Freudian mistake picking this symbol, but it seems unlikely that Flamel made the same mistake.

The true source of the Flamel, I think, is the Bible. In Numbers 21:8-9, the Jews complain about the manna in the desert, and God sends fiery serpents to bite them. Moses prays and is told to put a bronze snake on staff as a cure – look upon it and you are healed. While one might assume the staff was a plain stick like the Asclepius, it might have been a cross. This opinion appears on a German, coin below. The symbol lacks wings and a crown. Still, it’s close to the Flamel. To get the crown and wings, we can turn to the New Testament, John 3:16-17. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up … “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The quote seems to suggest that the snake itself was being lifted up, to holiness perhaps or to Devine service. In either case, this quote would explain the crown and wings as an allusion to Jesus.

German coin, 1500s showing Jesus, a snake and cross on one side. Christ on the other. Suggests two sides of the same.

German “taller” coin, 1500s showing Jesus on the cross on one side, a snake on the cross on the other. Suggests two sides of the same holiness.

I should mention that Flamel’s house is the oldest still standing in Paris, and that it contains a restaurant — one that would be nice to visit. Flamel died in 1418. His tomb has this symbol but was found to be empty. A couple of other odds and ends: the snake on the cross also appears in a horror story, the curse of the white worm, by Bram Stoker. In the story (and movie), it seems there are serpent-worshipers who believe it was the serpent who died for our sins. If you re-read the lines from John, and take the word “Him” to refer to the serpent, you’d get backing for this view. Edward might have adopted this, either as part of his mission, or just for the hell of it. The following exchange might back up Ed’s desire to be controversial.

Roy: I thought you didn’t believe in gods, Full metal.

Edward: I don’t. That’s the thing. I think they can tell, and it pisses them off.

salvation-army

As for the color red, the color may allude to blood and or fire. In this direction, the Salvation Army symbol includes a red “S” on a cross with a crown and the words “Blood and Fire.” In the manga, life-blood and fire appear to be the ingredients for making a philosopher’s stone. Alternately, the red color could relate to a nonvolatile mercury compound, red mercury or mercuric oxide, a compound that can be made by oxidation of volatile mercury. Flamel claimed the symbol related to “fixing the volatile.” Either that’s making oxide of mercury, or putting a stop in death.

Robert E. Buxbaum, February 9, 2017. I’ve also opined on the Holy Grail, and on Jack Kelly of Newsies, and on the humor of The Devine comedy. If you have not read “Full Metal Alchemist,” do.

Cornwallis attacks. Washington goes to Princeton.

In the previous post, I asked what you would do as a general (Cornwallis), December 27, 1776. You command 30,000 troops, some 12,000 at Princeton of at total 50,000 against Washington’s 3500. Washington is camped 12 miles to the south just outside of Trenton with a majority of his men scheduled to leave in three days when their enlistments expire.

In fact, what Cornwallis did, is what every commenter recommended. He attacked at Trenton, and lost New Jersey. Cornwallis left 2-3000 troops at Princeton and marched south. Despite fallen trees, swollen rivers, destroyed bridges — all courtesy of Washington’s men –Cornwallis reached Trenton and attacked. By the time he got there, 2000 of Washington’s men had left, partially replaced by untrained militia. After a skirmish, Washington set up 400 militia to keep the fires burning, and without telling them where he was going “Fall back if the British attack”, he took the rest of his forces east, across frozen fields and swampland, then north to Princeton along the Quaker-bridge road. He later said the reason was to avoid looking like a retreat.

He split his forces just outside of Princeton, and a detachment, led by Hugh Mercer and 350  regulars had the first battle as they ran into the 17th and 55th British regiments as they prepared to escort supplies to Trenton. The British commander, Lt.colonel Mawhood, seeing how few men he faced, sent the 55th and most of the supplies back to Princeton, and led his men to shoot at the Americans from behind a fence. Mercer’s men fired back with rifles and cannon, doing little. Then, the trained British did what their training demanded: they rose up and charged the rebels with fixed bayonets. Mercer, having no bayonets, called “Retreat!” before being stabbed repeatedly, see painting. Mawhood’s men seized the cannon, turned it on the fleeing remnants of Mercer’s men.

General Mercer defeated at Princeton, as Washington shows up.

General Mercer defeated at Princeton, as Washington shows up.

It looked like a British victory, but then General Nathaniel Greene (the fighting Quaker) showed up with several hundred Pennsylvania militiamen. The militiamen had never seen battle, and many fled, after shooting into the British lines with rifles and another cannon and grape-shot. At this point it looked like a draw, but then, Washington himself joined the battle with two brigades of regulars: Hitchcock’s 253 New Englanders and Hand’s 200 Pennsylvania riflemen.

Washington managed to rally the fleeing Pennsylvanians; “Parade with us, my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we will have them directly!” And Mawhood, now without most of his officers, ordered a last bayonet charge and fled down the Post Road to Trenton. Washington rode after for a bit “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!”

James Peale, 1783. John Sullivan and his forces at Frog Hollow. Battle of Princeton

James Peale, 1783. John Sullivan and his forces at Frog Hollow. Battle of Princeton

The rest of the British along with Mawhood, met the rest of Washington’s men, lead by John Sullivan, at a place called Frog Hollow, near where Princeton Inn College (Forbes College) now stands. The Americans opened with grape-shot and the British put up little resistance. Those who did not surrender were chased into town, taking refuge in Nassau Hall, the central building of the university. Alexander Hamilton’s men (he’d been rejected by Princeton) took special enjoyment in shooting cannon into the building. A hole remains in the college walls and a cannonball supposedly decapitated a portrait of George II. About then the New Jersey militia broke in a door, and the British surrendered.

Washington had captured, killed, or destroyed most of three English regiments, took a wagon train of supplies, and left going north following a bit of looting. “Loyalists” were relieved of coins, liquor, shoes, blankets. They ate the breakfast prepared for the 40th, and were gone by 11 AM, heading north — to where?. Cornwallis returned before noon “in a most infernal sweat — running, puffing, blowing, and swearing.” His men looted the town again, but now what?

Was Washington headed to New Brunswick where a handful of British soldiers guarded Cornwallis’s supplies and a war chest of £70,000? He didn’t go directly, but perhaps by a circuitous route. Cornwallis went straight to New Brunswick and jealously guarded the place, its money and supplies. Washington meanwhile ran to safety in the Watchung Mountains outside Morristown. Cornwallis’s 17th claimed victory, having defeated a larger group, but Cornwallis gave up Princeton, Trenton, and the lives of the New Jersey loyalists. Rebels flocked to Washington. Loyalists were looted and chased. Hessians were shot in “a sort of continual hunting party.” Philip Freneau expressed the change thus:

When first Britannia sent her hostile crew; To these far shores, to ravage and subdue, 

We thought them gods, and almost seemed to say; No ball could pierce them, and no dagger slay.

Heavens! what a blunder—half our fears were vain; These hostile gods at length have quit the plain.

 

Robert Buxbaum. December 21, 2016. So now that you know what happened, what SHOULD Cornwallis have done? Clearly, it’s possible to do everything right militarily, and still lose. This is an essence of comedy. The British had a similar Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill. I suspect Cornwallis should have fortified Trenton with a smaller force; built a stockade wall, and distributed weapons to the loyalists there. That’s a change in British attitude, but it’s this dynamic of trust that works. The British retreat music, “the world turned upside down“, is a Christmas song.

What I liked most about superman: the disguise

Superman's costume, like Clark's, is mostly affect.

Superman’s costume, like Clark’s, is his affect.

Like many people my age, I find that the current movie versions of Superman miss the points that I most liked in the comics and movies of the 60s and 70s. The thing that most impressed me about Superman was the disguise, or the lack of one: it was mostly his affect. Though Clark Kent wore glasses and a conservative suit, this only accentuated his main disguise, that he kept his head down. This shlumpy affect was the main reason, as best I could tell was what kept people from realizing he was super strong and from a different planet. Superman, by contrast, wore a fancy outfit of bright, primary colors and stood with his chin bizarrely up. Superman was careful to keep his hands on his hips or outstretched in front when he flew. Standing and dressed this way, they didn’t recognize him as Clark Kent, and they instantly liked him; everyone except for Luthor, it seemed. It’s a fantasy: being able to blend in when you want, and being able to stand out for the good when you want. As best I could tell, this was the main (Jewish) fantasy of the series: to think that you’d be liked if you stood erect and affected confidence, and that you could pass un-noticed if you wore a suit and slumped over. The current movies get rid of all of this affect and all this fantasy. He no longer flies with his hands out, and Clark is no longer a schlump. You have to wonder why no one suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. And I have to wonder what people find attractive about the movies. Where’s the fantasy?

This didn't happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

This didn’t happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

Another fun aspect of the comics that the movies have dismissed was the love triangle of Clark, Superman, and Lois. Or, if you like, of Superman, Supergirl, and Lois. In the comic books of my era, it was clear that Lois is attracted to Superman but feels nothing but feminist revulsion for Clark. Meanwhile, in the comics, Superman clearly felt no attraction for Lois, not in his guise as Superman nor as Clark Kent. There is a sort of paternal affection, but nothing more. Humorously, this paternalism attracts Lois when it comes from Superman, and repeals her when it’s from Clark, the sexist schlump. There’s probably something Freudian there, and it makes perfect sense in context too: You, the reader, know that Lois is of a different species. Clark/ superman would just as soon fall for her as for an orangoutang or a rare potted plant. It’s funny and comforting that he cares nothing for her physically in the comics since she’s such a weaker species that, if they were to mate, the Super Sperm would probably cut Lois in half, or impregnate the entire city. It’s funny because Lois is entirely oblivious to how hopeless her case is and this causes narrative tension. All this tension is removed in the current movies and comics: Lois and Clark, as it were, are a sexual pair, and there is no super sperm disaster.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, just as normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a morality lesson here.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, while normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a moral lesson here.

Highlighting the humor of the interspecies romance, occasionally Superboy or Supergirl would show up in the comic books of my day. The comics of my day showed a chemistry between the two supers that did not appear between Lois and Clark/ Superman. Furthering the humor, it is clear that Supergirl does not share Superman’s affection for mankind. She has an alien morality and it shows. Supergirl generally can’t understand why superboy/ superman takes such care of the humans, and Supergirl finds Superman’s “Truth, Justice, etc. ” morality childish. It’s like she sees him as a grown man playing with toy soldiers or with an ant farm. Super girl makes sense here, by the way. Why would someone from a distant planet share the same morality that we have unless they shared Clark’s Kansas upbringing.

Lois, true to form, is totally oblivious to the interspecies morality difference, and is jealous of supergirl. It’s super fun, made somewhat better when super-dog shows up (he’s a dog in a cape). There is no super-dog in the movies, and no super girl or superboy, so far. Super girl is supposed to appear soon, but it’s hard to guess why.

Mr Mxyzptlk gets superman to say his name backwards. Why? It’s fun.

And then there are the villains. In the comics of my day, the villains were there to develop the humor. Except for Luther, they were aliens and thus didn’t need a real motive for their mischief. Take Mr Mxyzptlk, a favorite of mine and of may others. He meant no harm, but was an alien from the 5th dimension who just wanted to have fun (don’t we all?). Like Superman, Mxyzptlk was super powerful, and Superman had to defeat him with his wits.

Another favorite super villain was Bizzaro Superman. He was a Superman variant of another planet or dimension and , as seemed perfectly reasonable, he has a completely opposite morality from Superman. He’s happy go lucky, robs banks and does other crimes (why would you think otherwise — it’s normal on his planet.) Interestingly, Bizzaro does not keep his head up, and has none of Superman’s charisma, Bizzaro is there, I think, to emphasize the fantasy of Superman’s non-disguise and semi-human morality. And as such he was a favorite.

These musings on the morality and charisma are all left out of the current movies. There is no Bizzaro, or Mxyzptlk. Instead, Lex Luther is the universal villain and he’s crazy-evil. In the current movies, it’s hard to guess why Lex Luther doesn’t like superman as strongly as he does, or why he puts so much effort into fighting him to no effect. In the comics of my day, Lex’s job was much simpler, get kryptonite and hit superman with it, and his motivations seemed reasonably normal. I’d be put off too by a super-strong flying guy in blue tights who foils my illegal plans. As soon as Lex discovers kryptonite and realizes Superman has an Achilles heal, Lex goes about using it. It seemed normal enough to me then. Why does Luther now have to be a psychopath now.

Robert Buxbaum, October 20, 2016. The original super-costume was super Freudian too. It was supposed to be his baby blanket sewn by his mother in Kansas with design input from dear old dad. As a result the original costume looked soft and puffy, like a baby blanket. Nonetheless, Superman wears it with pride — in the open when saving the world and under his Clark Kent clothes at all other times. it seems he’s a momma’s boy clutching his baby blanket. It what way are the modern movie changes better than the original Freudy cat.

Of grails: holy, monetary, and hip

The holy grail is pictured as either a cup or a plate that Jesus used at the Last supper. It either held the wine or the bread upon which he said: this wine is my blood and this bread (or cake*) is my body. The British have a legend, or made-up story, that this cup or plate made it to England somehow, and because of divine grace was revealed to king Arthur. The story is important because it underlies the idea of divine grace favoring the English crown  — that God favors England, and English royalty over other nations and the common folk.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

What makes this item holy is that, by oral tradition, but not the gospels, Jesus’s blood was saved into the same plate or cup that he’d used at the last supper, but what about this plate or cup makes it a grail.

As it turns out, there are many unholy grails on runs into. The edges of many US coins are engrailed. That is, they are decorated with cut lines at the edges. They are there for decoration, and to make it unlikely that someone would cut off a piece. I suppose these coins are monetary grails, though I’ve never seen them described literally that way. They are engrailed, and one can presume that the holy cup or plate was engrailed the same way. Perhaps as decoration like on the coins, or perhaps for some aspect of use.

The grille on the front of a Ford is not only for decoration; it allows air to flow through. Some plates, and most broilers have grilles like this to that allow crumbs or gravy to drop through.

The front grille (or grill) on a Ford. It allows air to flow through. Broilers and some plates have through-slots like this; did The Grail?

The front end of most cars include a grille, or grill, an area cut all the way through to allow air to flow to the engine. Some plates and most barbecues are made this way to allow crumbs or blood from the barbecue to flow through. If this is flow through grill were the holy grail, it might have held Jesus’s bread, but not his wine or his blood.

And finally we come to an entirely modern type of grail, or grill, the one on the mouth of some rappers. The point is not entirely decorative, but to make one think more highly of the rapper. Clearly, a person with teeth like this, is a person to be respected. Clearly successful, the idea is make you think of the fellow as chosen by God to be a leader. There is a certain magic in wearing a grille.

Wholly Grilled, not the holly grail.

Wholly Grilled, but not the holly grail.

Robert Buxbaum, July 8, 2016. One of my Grad School chums, Al Rossi, tells me that, in the original Greek version of the gospels, Jesus says ‘this cake is my body.’  The normal version, ‘this bread’ comes from the Latin translation of St. Jerome. He also tells me there is no comment about this being Passover. As for how Jesus could celebrate passover with bread or cake and not matzoh, he claims it’s an example of having one’s cake and eating it too, as it were.

Ginsberg poem about Bernie Sanders

It’s 30 years to the day since Alan Ginsberg wrote “Burlington Snow” a poem inspired by Bernie Sanders, the socialist mayor of Burlington Vermont. It’s a snapshot of the wonder and contradiction of socialist government. And now Bernie is running for president.

Birlington Snows, April 24, 1996

Burlington Snow, February 21, 1996 by Alan Ginsburg.

“Socialist snow on the streets. Socialist talk in the Maverick Bookstore. Socialist kids sucking socialist lollipops. Socialist poetry in socialist mouths — aren’t the birds frozen socialists? Aren’t the snow clouds blocking the airfield social bureaucratic apprentices? Isn’t the socialist sky owned by the socialist sun? Earth itself socialist, forests rivers, lakes, furry mountains, socialist salt in oceans? Isn’t this Poem socialist? It doesn’t belong to me anymore.”

Dr. Robert Buxbaum, February 21, 2016. If anyone would write a poem about me, or water commissioner (I’m running) or pollution or drinking water, or anything like that, I’d be awfully honored. It doesn’t have to be complimentary, or even particularly good.