The Most Lunatic Legacy of the Cold War

Why the U.S. Government and the Prez in particular are more important than what they govern.

From Dr. Strangelove onward, little bits of these horribles kept floating around as a nightmare undercurrent to my youth.

On Thermonuclear War, the creepiest book I know, was my most thorough exposure.


PS: Here’s a piece that explains how Kahn was one of the earliest “politically incorrect” tyrants.

What Charlie Said —

I have to quote this sentiment which articulates a tormented feeling I’ve had for ages and ages:

There are a lot of dangers to self-government, and one of those dangers that’s done a lot of damage in my lifetime has been the feeling that the American people are such fragile ornaments that we don’t dare risk telling them the truth of something lest they fall to the floor and shatter to pieces.

From this valuable essay.

I would only add that there’s no question now that it reflects a shift from treating the American people like civilians to regarding them as peasants.

Roman Holiday #3 — Cards

As I’ve indicated before, I collect tarot card decks (waaaay slowed down during the last 10-15 years — but cool decks have become increasingly rare over the same span). I wasn’t sure about the riches in Rome, but even New Age joints basically skip tarot nowadays, so I had modest expectations. As usual, among the things I found out was how little I knew. Cards in general and Tarocco in particular are sold in tobacco shops (no, I was not going to buy a Disney version from their damn store). I did know that the company Modiano dominates but did not realize how completely.

After visiting several shops I also concluded that the era of arty-fancy Tarot is more or less over, even in the country where they first took off. I looked at several decks that had aspirations, but they seemed far cheaper and more perfunctory than many decks I already had. Asking the friendliest tobacco store guy (I noticed the cards were almost always sold by their own person) what I could do to get a truly Italian deck — he uncovered another spot of my ignorance and informed me there was such a thing as Sicilian Tarot:

tarot sicily

with some fascinating variations: The Tower remains intact, there’s a card called “The Unfortunate” that is not quite the Beggar, The Sun includes two people fighting viciously under it and the Hanged Man is, yeah, literally hanged from a tree. (Draw your own conclusions about Sicilian consciousness.) A serious treat — the prime gift to my collection.

Next I got a regular double-deck Modiano set of playing cards — very cleanly printed with sharp detail, a little pencil and scoring pad and a lovely metal box. This is the one I would get out if my Mom’s ghost came for a visit to play Bridge.

[Before I go on, I should note that two of the pervasive 2018 calendars on sale everyfreakingwhere where (a) cutie-pie/studly young priests and (b) cutie-pie/studly guys dressed up as gladiators.]

At the Coliseum gift shop itself I snapped up a 54-cared playing deck done with Coliseo-related themes, including battles with men and beasts and armor and musicians and rituals and architecture and various moments of construction and supply. Small, but exquisite pictures as you would want from an excellent illustrated kids’ book. Not expensive. Includes essential bonus cards that explain what the images are — in five languages. Prime gift to my non-Tarot collection.


“National Lampoon” (What, Again?!?!)

Almost all of these depressing and catastrophic developments were news to me.  As I said earlier, in what has proved to be the most surprising frequent topic in this blog, I stopped paying much attention to the operation and its spin-offs after 1978 or so. (I’ve never even seen a “Vacation” movie since I regard Chevy Van Chaser as toxic unfunny.) But the NatLamp story is still enlightening on several levels.

One, in the contest to revive a once-notorious outsider magazine, Punk and CREEM now have to give up the Botch Crown to National Lampoon. Obviously no other publication has fallen as far or squandered so much energy.

Two, this is further confirmation of a most peculiar failure of understanding: reviving a brand is weak and lazy. It’s just throwing out an imitation. Inventing a hit brand is a lot harder, but the real task at hand.

Third, the piece touches on a crucial transformation: NatLamp started as a mixture of the subversive and the sophomoric. And it eventually went with the easier option. Part of that whole horrible wave where racist and sexist and generally bigoted humor was considered “bold” or “rule-breaking,” whereas the opposite type of satire was and is the tough way forward.

Yeh, I know — it’s cheap fun to satirize the squares and the Establishment. But those are extinct. The powerful and smug and cruel and hate-mongers and anti-thinkers are the targets of our time, and they can be fired upon.

The NY Times’ Freaky Fixation on the Clintons

Charlie provides an invaluable reminder of the weirdest case of journalistic fixation I can think of. Welcome note of what a rodent William Saffire was, too. I though he might be the last of a dying McCarthyite breed, but nooooooo.

The broadest explanation I’ve run across is a regional/cultural disdain that grows ever more repulsive: who do these Arkansas lumps — her with the fumpy dresses, him with the fast-food and shades and saxophone — think they are trying to run a country that’s crowned by Manhattan? They’re too seedy to not be guilty of something. And we’ll find out what that is if it takes 50 years and we have to make it all up.


Chuck Berry — And the Whole First Wave of Rock and Rollers — Have a Right To Be Pissed

Can’t be said often enough about a peculiar phenomenon I have never understood. The sex-terrified reactionaries of the ’50s wanted rock and roll to just go away — by banning if necessary. Send that monster Elvis into the Army. Send that threat to white women Chuck Berry to jail.

And damned if it didn’t work in a funhouse-mirror way. The rock of the British Invasion and later (up to a point) is annoyingly present (just consider the nonstop soundtrack we had to put up with while the car was worked on this Sat. — maybe the single most painful part was the inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” like it was the hit it shoulda been). But the whole original wave of rockers is neglected except for oldies moments.

C’mon everybody (ahem), you can program that stuff right in with the Boss and related acts.