A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Constitution Says What...?

The Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party has risen up this year funded by conservative billionaires, aided and abetted by Fox News, and is usually portrayed by its critics as a bunch of angry, old conservatives. They hope to make a strong showing in the mid-term elections next week. Perhaps we should examine the caliber of one candidate which the Tea Party is endorsing — Christine O’Donnell — so we can see if they have snowball’s chance in hell of making a difference in Washington.

What do we know about Christine? Well, she has made a career in the sphere of conservative political activism; she is against abortion, considers masturbation a form of adultery, and may or may not have been a witch. Oh, yes, one other tiny detail has come to light about Christine: she doesn’t possess a fundamental knowledge of the United States Constitution, a document which she would be expected to defend if she is elected to the US Senate next week.

The snowball has melted!

O’Donnell’s command — or lack thereof — of this country’s most important document was revealed in a debate against the Democratic nominee for Senator from Delaware, Chris Coons. In trying to make a point about creationism or intelligent design being taught in public schools, she challenged Coons to show her exactly where the words “separation of church and state” are in the Constitution. Coons tried to explain to her — between her own interruptions — that the concept of separation of church and state is not stated word-for-word, but is rather implied in the First Amendment.

O’Donnell remained skeptical, even as the audience of lawyers and law students giggled and gasped. Coons even pointed out that O’Donnell lacks the knowledge of the Constitution which many people might assume is required for someone aspiring to a Congressional position. Why she is grasping for such a literal interpretation of the Constitution is anyone’s guess.

Another implied right is in the Second Amendment, which is so fondly hacked apart and quoted in segments to justify people owning guns. The amendment only states that Congress shall make no laws abridging a citizen’s right to bear arms. There’s another part mentioning a “well regulated militia”, but this is almost always ignored by both sides of the debate over gun rights. Still, the way some people carry on, one would swear that the amendment actually says: “The gov'mint better not pry my cold dead fingers offa my huntin’ iron or they’ll be hell to pay.” No one will find these words in the Constitution; the right is implied.

Or take executive privilege...please! (ba-dump ching!) These exact words do not appear in the Constitution, but Nixon Administration Justice Department lawyer William Rehnquist saw that it was implied in Article 3: the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Every president has understood that the concept was available to them when they wished to preserve candid communication between members of the executive branch or to maintain certain elements of national security.

Washington used it. In more modern times, Truman and Eisenhower used it. Nixon tried to claim it also, but his credibility was so shot to hell by that time that the whole idea became suspect. For many years, I myself have been unable to see it within the language of Article 3, but it is there!

Actually, if O’Donnell knew the history behind the separation of church and state, then she might stop questioning it. The idea grew out of the fact that each individual colony had adopted its own religion. The Puritans settled Massachusetts, the Quakers ruled Pennsylvania, Roman Catholics founded Maryland, and so on. If your religious preference was different from the one that was adopted for the colony in which you happened to live, you ran the risk of persecution, or even execution.

In other words, Ms. O’Donnell, if you allow the separation of church and state to be repealed — as some claim the Tea Party want to do — then you might want to avoid going to states like Massachusetts. You might get burned at the stake as a witch! Fortunately the beauty of the Constitution isn’t in what it says, but more in the flexibility of what it doesn’t say.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember, witches should never be burned. It’s rude, and besides they’re not good with ketchup!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post Season Playoff Fatigue

Dear Playboy,

I’m a middle-aged man with a full head of hair living in southeastern Pennsylvania. I don’t have any problems involving erections or orgasms, but I just wanted to drop you a short note thanking you for your exuberant confidence you displayed for my hometown baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Please remember that you chose my team to play in the World Series and win the championship once again.

As I’m sure you’re aware of by, things happened.

All of us knew that the series with the San Francisco Giants was going to be a tough one. I expected it to go seven games, naturally hoping that my Fightin’s would take the series in four wins. Alas, this didn’t happen.

Everyone has offered reasons for my team's collapse. The offense picked the worst possible time to go into a hitting slump. We could get men on base, but we couldn’t get them home. Our fielding was off too; it seemed that our fielders suddenly forgot how to close their glove around a caught ball during one inning of game six. These two factors gave the Giants enough of a lead to take the game and series.

There is probably a lot of grumbling about one of our highest paid hitters today, Ryan Howard. He was the last Phillie to step to the plate in the ninth inning with two men on base. Fans have been bewildered as to why he didn’t attempt to swing at the pitch that was called a third strike against him. My guess is he knew that pitch was a ball (a feeling borne out by a post game videotape analysis of the play) and fully expected to be called as such. The umpire called a strike — thereby fueling even more suspicion from fans, sportswriters, and play-by-play announcers that several of today’s umpires are grossly incompetent.

Okay, so maybe this sounds like sour grapes. The ending was heartbreaking, but I have no complaints about the rest of the season. It was a great ride, and as has been noted, this was the fourth year in a row that the Phillies made it to the post season.

The Phillies have achieved the cycle during these last four years. Year one, they were eliminated in the first round by the Colorado Rockies. Year two, they went all the way, winning the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays. Last year, they returned to the October Classic, only to lose to the New York Yankees. This year, they were eliminated in the second round of playoffs.

Yes, my team has been there and done it all! We should have no regrets! Ha ha ha ha (ad nauseum into diabolical laughter).

While it was nice to see the Phillies in the post season again, the nagging feeling emerged that, well, maybe this was all old hat. Many fans will decry this as blasphemy, but truth be told, there was an unusual high level of anxiety with this post season. For example, the father of one of my neighbors was hospitalized with a suspected heart attack just after he settled in to watch the final game.

So, was the anxiety worth it? Atlanta Braves fans adopted the “been there done that” post-season ennui years ago. Surely, fans of the New York Yankees - who have won over a quarter of every World Series ever played - could also relate to this odd feeling of déjà vu. The Phillies winning in 2008 was a wonderful feeling, but if it happens year after year, then this once-in-a-lifetime feat loses its unique magic.

Thank you again, Playboy for believing in our team, since many of us were skeptical. Now it’s time for my team to clean out their lockers and rest and plan for next year. Likewise, we fans will put our team colors away and try to keep ourselves warm in the afterglow of a post season cut short. Time also for you to go back to what you do best — publish photos of beautiful women, wonderful short stories, advice columns for the modern man (and woman), and provocative articles.

In other words, Playboy, don’t give up your day job! Your future in sports prognostication is bleak!



(Thank you for reading! Thanks also to Charlie Manuel and the team for a great season! Til next year...ha ha ha ha (ad nauseum into diabolical laughter)!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Down With Deer

News item: In an effort to cancel the state of Pennsylvania’s plans to thin deer herds at Valley Forge National Park via sharp shooter hunting, one group has suggested using coyotes to keep the deer population in check. These cousins of the wolves could be encouraged to breed and grow, taking care of the overpopulation in a natural manner. In this season of political causes being canvassed door-to door, the following scene could play out at door steps all over southeastern Pennsylvania.

Arteejee (answering a knock at the door): Yes? What do you want?

Chai O’Yote: Good morning, sir! My name is Chai O’Yote and I am a member of a group called CHUD, Chewing Herds of Undesirable Deer...

Arteejee: O’Yote?

O’Yote: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. All right, I’ll admit it - I’m Irish. Anyway, my group advocates for the natural, humane method of hunting down huge, ungodly hoards of deer in Valley Forge. I should remind you, sir, that large herds of deer can cause great damage to the local forests and private property. Excuse me, I have an itch behind my ear.

Arteejee: Wow! That’s amazing how you’re able to use your legs to scratch behind your ear. Are you double-jointed?

O’Yote: Actually, no. It comes naturally to us.

Arteejee: You said you’re pushing for a natural and humane way to hunt deer? How is your method more natural and humane than shooting them?

O’Yote: Fair question, sir. Let’s look at a simple comparison between the two methods. Method one: the human hunter goes into the park loaded with rifles and bullets, waits quietly in a very cold early autumn morning for a great buck or gentle fawn to walk by and BLAM! A hideous hole appears in the deer’s neck and they fall over, weak from the sudden trauma of being shot.

Arteejee: And your group...?

O’Yote: My group’s method is simplistic. Me and a bunch of my friends run buck naked through the park until we come upon a herd of deer. One of us jumps on their hind quarters, inflicting multiple lacerations with our teeth and claws. Most times the deer is weakened by the loss of blood and falls, at which point the rest of my pack leaps onto a nice meal of raw venison.

Arteejee: That’s humane?

O’Yote: Oh yeah, definitely! Sometimes we have to dig our fangs into their necks and use our massive forearms to crush the life out of them, but regardless we always try for a kill that is as painless as possible.

Arteejee: Digging your fangs into their neck is painless?

O’Yote: Well, it’s painless for us. Unless one of our fangs breaks off if we bite into a, that hurts like hell! I HATE when that happens!

Arteejee: You said “us” earlier. Is your group from around here?

O’Yote: Actually, no. My pack is originally from Minnesota. Um, by the way, sir, are you done with that cat?

Arteejee: What?

O’Yote: I see a black cat in your window. Are you done with it?

Arteejee: What do you mean, “Done with it?”

O’Yote: Are you going to eat it? See, I’ve been walking all over town all morning and I’m getting a little hungry.

Arteejee: That is Steven! He’s my pet, my companion, and no, I am NOT done with him!

O’Yote: You give names to your pieces of meat? Weird!

Arteejee: He is NOT a piece of meat!

O’Yote: Pity! I could fillet, bread, and bake him with a nice barbecue sauce...

Arteejee: Okay, that’s enough...

O’Yote: On the other hand, there’s nothing like tucking into a nice carcass of feline road kill! Hmm! Good eating!

Arteejee: Okay, this conversation is over.

O’Yote: Ummm, okay, sir, if I could just leave one of our pamphlets for you to look over...

Arteejee: No, I do not want to look at it! Not only do I find your group's aims revolting and disgusting, but you’re proposing to come in from out-of-state and take jobs away from our local predators! I can’t encourage that type of immigration at all!

O’Yote: Sir, please! You make it sound like we’re just a bunch of wild animals...

Arteejee: OUT!

(Another knock on the door)

Arteejee: Yes? What do you want?

Volunteer: Good morning, sir! I’m working for the Tom Corbett campaign and we would appreciate your support on Election Day and our goal to put down unemployed Democrats.

Arteejee (sighs): If only I had a job, I wouldn’t have to sit at home and answer this @#$%* door!

(Thank you for reading. Please remember...Steven! Come back! Daddy was only kidding...!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Corbett in Their Pocket

The state of Pennsylvania is in the throes of a very nasty campaign for governor at the moment. The governor’s mansion has been occupied for the last eight years by Ed Rendell, a fellow who rose up through the ranks of Philadelphia’s district attorney office and mayor before winning the Pennsylvania governorship. Until recently — before he halved his daily appetite — Rendell was both figuratively and literally one of those fat cat politicians that presided over state politics much to the consternation of his political enemies (i.e., the Republican Party).

As his term winds down, so does southeastern Pennsylvania’s influence over the rest of the state. This is doubly true as both candidates to be the next governor are from western Pennsylvania, more specifically from Pittsburgh. The Democratic nominee, Dan Onorato, served as Allegheny County executive, and is virtually unknown in the heavily Democratic populous area of Philadelphia and environs. Then there is the Republican nominee, Tom Corbett, who has shown much promise in ferreting out corruption in Harrisburg and, like many of his GOP counterparts at the national level, has displayed a remarkable talent for putting his foot in his mouth.

I previously wrote about Corbett’s faux pas regarding the state’s unemployed.* At that time, he attempted to justify his party’s blocking of unemployment benefit extensions because it encouraged people to keep collecting until their benefits were exhausted while employers had open positions that remained unfilled. He had a valid point, although the words he chose offended many unemployed Pennsylvanians, and even worse, when called upon to name his source, Corbett clammed up! His silence prevented the unemployed from finding the prospective employer, thereby perpetuating the dismal economic situation he is so fond of denigrating.

Corbett gave an encore performance a few weeks later. This time, Corbett proclaimed that there were hundreds of job openings advertised in a newspaper somewhere in the state, and therefore an extension of jobless benefits were not needed. What newspaper? True to form, he didn’t reveal his source and everyone in the media figured it was pointless to demand that he furnish proof of his declaration.

His information could very well have been correct. Many newspapers will advertise an abundance of job openings, but there are several caveats. Are all the jobs within their subscription area, or were many of these job openings listed in any number of Internet job sites linked to the paper (example, for areas from around the country? Are the unemployed in the subscription area skilled for the work being advertised, or are they able to readily relocate for one of the “hundreds” of positions Corbett claimed exist? Again, we will never know because Corbett kept mum on his information.

The other big issue associated with Corbett is his stand on natural gas drilling from the Marcellus shale deposit underneath most of the state. The GOP nominee has accepted mucho bucks from the drilling industry, and this fact is reflected in his position on a proposed tax for the drillers. Naturally, being Republican, Corbett is against the tax, which he claims will discourage drillers from coming to the state and hiring Pennsylvanians (unemployed and otherwise) to man the rigs.

Make no mistake: the state of Pennsylvania desperately needs industry, any industry, and the natural gas drillers are exactly the type of economic development the doctor has ordered. Unfortunately, natural gas drilling is a high maintenance child. Drilling techniques have been widely reported to have an adverse effect on the state environment and, more specifically, the drinking water supplies for the state’s residents (again unemployed and otherwise). The state would need revenue to clean up any environmental calamities and infrastructure damage caused by the drilling companies. Currently, the state is cash-strapped, thus the validity of the tax proposal.

In his campaign ads, Corbett explains that he’s against the tax because it would discourage development, employment, blah blah blah, and put the tax revenue into the hands of Harrisburg bureaucrats. Harrisburg could mismanage the revenue, which is a point on which even I agree. Corbett further claims that he would “make the oil drillers understand” that they would be liable for any damage to the state’s environment.

Make them understand? Oooooh, I bet the oil drilling industry is trembling at this idea! The tax could supply a steady revenue source of money to clean up the environment in a timely manner. Liability suits, after the fact, could be more costly and time-consuming if the industry’s lawyers have anything to say about it. Economic justice for Pennsylvania residents could come 10, 20, or 30 years after said residents have died from drinking poisoned water. Corbett has somehow forgotten how slowly the wheels of justice grind forward.

Tom Corbett makes a nice fit inside the driller’s pockets. As a recent victim of American big business mocking the Protestant work ethic, I’m not prepared to spread any sugar their way at the moment. Pennsylvanians deserve good, long term economic opportunity. Pennsylvania taxpayers also deserve to drink a glass of clean water once in a while. Everyone — private citizens and big business — should be prepared to chip in their fair share to have both.

*The Whole Story, Part One: The Opaque Tom Corbett (July 27, 2010).

(Thank you for reading. Please remember it is not impossible to live prosperously and healthy within the same lifetime. Seriously, it can happen...)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Very Long Weekend

Today marks two occasions — one happy, the other bittersweet. I turn 51 today. This day also marks the end of my gainful employment in the health insurance industry. I have been laid off, along with twenty of my co-workers.

This was my 20th year working in health insurance. I’ve seen many changes during that time period. HMOs were common, but preferred provider networks (PPOs) were just gaining momentum. Referrals from primary care physicians to specialists were the norm, and it wasn’t unusual for a plan to require pre-authorization on what appeared to be thousands of procedures. Now HMOs and PPOs exist side by side, referrals are still practiced, but authorizations don’t seem to be as widespread as years ago.

During this same time period I had made it my personal goal to inject as much common sense into the health insurance industry as I — a lowly processor and later auditor - could do. It may seem like a Don Quixotic quest at times, but there were a few battles won over the years. Overall, though, I don’t see much improvement in regards to the application of everyday common sense to the implementation of health care coverage during the last twenty years. In other words, the health insurance industry is winning...for now.

Emotionally, I’m torn between hiding in the darkness under the covers of my bed and a mood I will call “delusional optimism”. I can best describe this feeling by recalling the finale from the science fiction classic This Island Earth. At this point in the story, the alien Exeter is returning his captive Earth people to their home. One of the humans invites Exeter to come back with them, but the alien refuses. He ruminates on the idea that he is free now to explore the vastness of the universe. At this point, the human party pooper points out that Exeter's ship doesn’t have enough fuel for such a journey. Sure enough, moments after the earthlings escape, Exeter’s space craft crashes into the Pacific Ocean.

Okay, obviously that was a poor example for me on which to draw to illustrate my delusional optimism. So, like Exeter, I’m more delusional than hopeful at this point, but that doesn’t make me dangerous...necessarily.

Still the idea of exploring the vastness of economic opportunity elsewhere sounds at once intriguing and frightening.

I have several ideas to get me through. I may temp for awhile and complete a few business classes at the local community college in the meantime. I now have the time during my impending very long weekend to set myself up as an independent contractor and seek out contacts in the voiceover industry.

I may even return to the health insurance industry given my many years of experience. It would be a shame to let that experience fade away, but it would be equally shameful to allow this opportunity to pass without my attempt at doing something else in my life. Part of me wants to continue doing what I know and yet another part of me wants to walk out of the health insurance industry today...and never return.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember, whether I’m rich or poor, working or idle, this blog will continue.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The US Supreme Court started its new session last week and there was much speculation as to what their agenda would be in the coming months. The most prickly one involves a First Amendment suit brought by the Reverend Fred Phelps of Topeka, KS. Phelps claims that he is perfectly within his freedom of speech rights to picket funerals of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mourners of the soldiers originally sued Phelps for invasion of privacy.

Sadly, tragically, ironically, he may be right.

I believe this is probably one case the Supreme Court wishes would go away. Phelps' free speech claim in his case presents a thorny dilemma. Unfortunately, he does have a strong case, but the court now has to decide if his protests interfere with a private event: a soldier’s funeral. Phelps has drawn a rather convoluted argument comparing the soldiers deaths to the United States tolerating homosexuality. He believes that their combat deaths are a result of America’s tolerance for gays. (Editor's Note: insert sound of cuckoo clock here.)

I’ve written about Reverend Phelps before (A Prayer for Rev. Phelps, 10/11/2006). At that time, I humbly petitioned God Almighty to give the good reverend a sign that his protests were not nice and not very Christian-like. Unfortunately, God has not answered my prayer yet. Actually it was more of a request that the good reverend and his followers should feel the wrath and weight of a Mack truck running over them. Well, it’s time to try again. This time we’ll leave God and the Mack truck out of it. Now is the time to call a spade a spade and a jerk (and I do mean jerk) a jerk!

The radicals in the Republican Party have been railing against the so-called RINOs (Republican In Name Only). They are the candidates who affiliate themselves with the Republican Party, but don’t tow the party line, or so the radical tea party group believes. In this spirit, I propose that Reverend Phelps is a CINO: Christian In Name Only.

He professes to be a follower of Christ, yet his actions run counter to Jesus' teachings. Phelps' flock hold up signs like “God Hates Fags”, and have also displayed a photo of two men engaged in a sex act at their protests. This display is not only hateful and disgusting, but it also exceeds all boundaries of public decency and common sense.

Yet, it is indeed protected by the First Amendment.

I refuse to believe that Jesus Christ would denounce a people in the vile language that Phelps has chosen for his protests. Christ taught love and forgiveness, not hatred. You do remember that part of the Holy Scripture, don’t you, Reverend?

Even if he doesn’t, we the people who disagree with Reverend Phelps tactics do have an alternative. We could give the good reverend a taste of his own medicine and loudly denounce his brand of hate Christianity with protests across the street from his church while he is holding services. Perhaps this demonstration of the First Amendment has been happening already, and if so, more power to those progressive thinking people who have taken the initiative. Regardless, the Supreme Court now has this hot potato issue sizzling in their laps. I hope they rule wisely...

(Thank you for reading. Please remember the thoughts and emotions we project will reflect back on us in ways we may not want.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Libra! Libra! Libra!

It’s time to celebrate the many wonderful people born under the Zodiac sign of Libra. For those who may have forgotten, this includes anyone who celebrates their entrance into the world between September 22 and October 22. Of course, this includes moi!

Before we start dropping names, we should enumerate the qualities — good, bad and indifferent - of the typical Libran. We are known to balance all options of any decision we are about to make. (That’s my theory as to why our sign is represented by a pair of scales.) This is very good when it comes to making diplomatic decisions on a global scale which could affect the lives of millions. On the other hand, this quality is a pain in the ass when you can’t decide to get your bacon triple cheeseburger with fries or not because the oil-drenched potato side dish is not heart healthy!

Don’t take my word for it! Just ask my wife, Anne Marie. Just make sure there are no small children around when she answers.

We are artistically inclined, and many of us find our creative outlets in music. Arguably this creative quality is many times fueled by periods of deep depression and feelings of insecurity. Let’s face: we Librans are a moody lot.

Over the years, I have observed and concluded that many Librans are sensitive...very sensitive. So sensitive, that we crumble into an emotional pit of despair if another person so much as look at us the wrong way. Yes, many of us Librans have egos constructed of tissue paper.

Two Librans who I idolize were both sensitive souls with quick acid wits and mother issues. Groucho Marx celebrated his day on October 2, with John Lennon coming into the world on October 9. These two men entertained millions during the course of their lifetimes. Their words and music continue to entertain people all over the world. The comedy troupe Firesign Theatre said it best when they famously declared, “All hail Marx and Lennon!” (I wonder how long it will take for members of the Tea Party to jump on that line!)

American comedy teams are well represented in October. Straight man Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello was also born on October 2. Two of the six men who would find fame as The Three Stooges were Libras: Larry Fine (October 5) and Jerome “Curly” Howard just making it under the October 22nd deadline.

Librans have made great leaders, famous for their advocacy of peace and social justice. Gandhi (also the 2nd) and William Penn (October 14) immediately come to mind. While we’re talking about a leader of activism, we shouldn’t forget musician Bob Geldof (October 5).

Dwight David Eisenhower (the 14th) led Americans to victory in World War II, and led the country itself during a time of peace. That was the 1950s, when everyone would wear clothes, listen to music, and watch a new-fangled invention called television that a future generation would envy. Of course, getting all weepy-eyed at this nostalgia overlooks a few things. One thing was the pervasive paranoia caused by Senator Joseph McCarthy finding a commie under every rock. Then there was the underlying terrifying anxiety that the commies in Moscow would bomb us back to the Stone Age at any moment. Happy days, indeed!

Libras are well represented in literature. America’s greatest playwrights - Eugene O’Neill (the 16th) and Arthur Miller (the 17th) were born Libras. Another literary lion, Oscar Wilde, was also born on the 16th.

There are many others I could mention, but time and space doesn’t permit me to do that. So my apologies to Brigitte Bardot, Deborah Kerr, George Peppard, Julie Andrews, Franz Liszt, Sarah Duchess of York and many, many others. Needless to say, I’m just so proud of all of these wonderful, talented Libras that it makes me want to do an interpretive dance...

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Gunther is unable to complete this entry owing to injuries sustained while doing his “interpretive dance”. We would have filmed it for posterity, but trust me on this, it wasn’t worth preserving. Let’s face it: he’s a middle-aged white man with no sense of rhythm at all. The good news is he will survive to blog again. Even more fortunately, our cat Meredith is quick on her feet. Otherwise it would have been a disaster.)

(Thank you for reading. Please remember today is a great day to be a Phillies phan!)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Slapstick – Alive and Well in the 21st Century

I had the opportunity last weekend to help out at the Stoogeum in Lower Gwynedd, a three story monument and memorabilia storehouse in honor of The Three Stooges.

Arguably they were the most successful proponents of slapstick comedy, a violent form of humor that gradually gave way to edgier forms of comedy over the last 50 years. Many people would consider their work passé — although don’t tell that to the many fans who showed up at the monthly open house. Their type of humor may not be as common as it once was, but its influence is still with us.

For example, consider a back-to-school television ad produced for the Staples office supply chain this summer. The Staples ad shows an African American teenage boy approaching his mom with a list of school supplies he’ll need for the year. Apparently this is an annual ritual for the boy, who looks forward to his mother’s registrations of shock to the high cost of giving her child all the tools he needs to succeed.

A short series of flashbacks — from previous years - ensues in which mom is holding one of several ingredients to bake a cake. In the first year, mom drops a dozen eggs on the floor. Year two, she drops an open bag of flour, and the flour billows up so that it (and this is significant) nearly hits her face. A quick cut-away to the third year when she drops an open carton of milk, and the contents splash up and land on her face. The message portion of the ad ends with the teenager’s presentation of this year’s list to Mom. This time she promptly displays the Staples Easy button, while she ices a now completed cake. The final punch line is delivered by the teenager’s smart-alecky, but wise beyond her years, little sister.

I’ll overlook the obvious question — like why did it take this woman four years to bake one cake — and note the similarity between the flour scene in the ad and its use in a number of silent comedies. One in particular came to my mind: Larry Semon’s The Barnyard (1923), in which his frequent African American costar Spencer Bell, dived into a barrel of flour and emerged coated from head to toe. Whether or not Semon intended this “white face” gag to be a comment on the minstrel show tradition of black face performers is a discussion for a future blog.

For now, the flour sight gag in the Staples ad (available for viewing, like everything else in the world, on youtube) seems more relevant. The editing was expertly done. As it is shown, the billowing cloud of flour rises up and obscures the actress's face, before it cuts away to the next flashback. The punch line of the scene is left to the viewer’s imagination: mom will undoubtedly have a coating of flour dust on her face within moments. Ending the gag here is effective — the humor of the situation is communicated and the commercial proceeds to the next scene. If the scene lasted a few seconds more, it would be a disaster. The sight of the woman’s coated face would ruin the effect built up in the viewer's mind. Also, it may also set Reverend Al Sharpton on the warpath, and God only knows we don’t need that now!

The old tried and true slapstick comedy style may seem quaint today, but actually it never went away. The influences of the old masters — regardless if their name was Chaplin, Keaton, Chase, Semon or Howard, Fine and Howard — are felt today as strongly as ever. More importantly, the movers and shakers in America media will continue to dip back into this past for a very long time to come.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember, we might as well sit back, relax, and have a laugh at our own expense regardless of what skin hue God gave us.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Snort Notes – October 2010


One trend moviegoers have been unable to avoid during the last 10 years or so is Hollywood’s taking old ideas and dusting them off. Sequels abound and big screen versions of old television shows have become a lucrative cottage industry in of itself. Then there’s the special case of George Lucas, who quit making sequels decades ago, but he is now tweaking his original successes with every new film technology that comes along.

George, didn’t we give you enough of our hard-earned cash in the 70s? What will the original Star Wars be called now? Star Wars, Chapter 4.0, A New Beginning? Will I leave the theater convinced that I have strands of Chewbacca or Ewok hair all over me (I’m sure they must shed)?

Will I be led to believe that I can reach out and touch Jabba the Hut? (Ewwwww!) Will I believe that a scantily clad Carrie Fisher in “Return of the Jedi” (Chapter 6.0) is not a two dimensional image on the screen, but rather a full-bodied woman me? Hmmm, that might be worth the price of admission right there!
Go, George, go!


Honestly, I can think of worse things that can happen to American literature, but at the moment I can’t think of any of them. Fortunately, there is an antidote to anticipating any written tome from Nicole “The Bounce” Polizzi (I’m suddenly tired of calling her Snooki). Another up and coming writer known for his satirical acid wit will be releasing a book later this month. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome (drum roll please) the one, the only, Mark Twain!

Um, okay, so he’s not exactly up and coming. Yes, I know, he has in fact been dead for 100 years. However, his autobiography will be published for the first time on October 28. He dictated the book in the last years of his life, but stipulated that it could not be printed until 100 years after his death.

Imagine reading Twain’s comments on politics, organized religion, and life in general for the first time! What can “The Bounce” write about? Getting drunk and falling down? No doubt Twain could write on those subjects as well. It’s too bad he isn’t around to see the likes of “The Bounce” and “The Situation” cavorting across our cultural radar. I’d love to see what he would think of them.


Nawww, just kidding.

(Thank you for reading! Please watch for “Star Wars – Chapter 1.9: The Phantom Menace” in hologram to be released in 2022!)