Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mussolini and Vanderbilt

Time magazine, Feb. 23, 1931:
Cornelius ("Neely") Vanderbilt Jr. … stated that it was he who had supplied the rambunctious General with the anecdote of Il Duce's alleged hit & run motor drive, for relating which the General was reprimanded by the Navy Department (TIME, Feb. 9; 16). But the imaginative young publicist was very wroth because General Butler "took a story of mine, twisted it around to score a point for himself, and made me the goat." Mr. Vanderbilt then gave newsmen the "real truth": "I was riding with Mussolini, who drove. A small child ran in front of the machine … and was hit. I looked back to see if the child was hurt. Mussolini placed his hand on my knee and said: 'Never look back, Vanderbilt, always look ahead in life.' "

As "twisted" by the General, the child was killed, and Il Duce's comment was: "What is one life in the affairs of a state?"

Monday, December 07, 2009

It (the press) has scoffed at religion till it has made scoffing popular. It has defended official criminals, on party pretexts, until it has created a United States Senate whose members are incapable of determining what crime against law and the dignity of their own body is—they are so morally blind—and it has made light of dishonesty till we have as a result a Congress which contracts to work for a certain sum and then deliberately steals additional wages out of the public pocket and is pained and surprised that anybody should worry about a little thing like that...
Mark Twain, License of the Press, an address before the Monday Evening Club, Hartford (1873)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BACKWORD by Stan Freberg

(from the paperback compilation Inside Mad, Ballantine Books, 1955.)

(The following appears on page vi.)

Foremost among the song parodists is a young Californian who has rocked the nation with such hits as “John and Marsha,” “Try,” and now “Rock and Roll Around Stephen Foster.” You’ve seen his writing in Mad, Colliers, and other influential media. Now it gives us great pleasure to present this special Backword by Stan Freberg. Mr. Freberg. . .


Where is he?

I don’t see anybody.

Hold it. HOLD IT! You kids want to read Stan Freberg, don't you? Sure you do! Tell you what you do, then. Stan’s Backword is around in the back of the book. Lets all turn to page 183 in our MAD books. Got that—page 183. Ready?

Start turning!

(page 183)

BACKWORD by Stan Freberg

That fortunate legion of us tuned in on the MAD wave length, and therefore receptive to the mighty impulses radiating from its Furshlugginer-active1 pages, will immediately recognize the wisdom of a Backword. I feel, therefore, that no explanation is necessary. True, a few preoccupied shoppers may whisk the book home thinking it is Norman Vincent Peale or at least “The Mollie Goldberg Cookbook.” No matter. These people, being too pseudo-blasé or just plain dull to receive the MAD radiations, will (a) suffer an intense migraine headache four pages in, and (b) fling the book out of the window.

So that takes care of them.

This leaves a number of non-MAD-addicts who, because of their superior intelligence, will (a) see instantly the brilliant lampoonery that is MAD, (b) curse themselves soundly for having been behind the door when MAD was handed out, and (c) howl all the way through. By the time they will have reached the Backword, their brain-pans will have been conditioned to accept such things without a question. They will have become “MADDICTS” and therefore one of us. And we don’t need any explanation of a Backword, do we? So the sooner you get it through your potrzebie that there won't be any explanation the better—and that’s final now! Crimenentles!

Where was I? Oh, yes, the Backword. For the uninformed, MAD started out three years ago as a comic book kidding only other comic strips. It has graduated today into a first-rate humor magazine, kidding not only comic strips but movies, TV, novels, commercial ads or anything it feels like. Merely to say that I am a fan of this magazine would be like saying that Gina Lollobrigida is “sort of interesting.” I am addicted to MAD like the Aga Khan to starches. Why? Because it makes me laugh, and I am fond of laughing.

Fortunately, MAD loves to laugh at the same things I do—that is to say, we are both completely insane. MAD does the same thing in a literary (or illiterary) form that I try to do on phonograph records, which is to point up some of the absurdities of mankind through the medium of satire. In a world where things get a shade ridiculous at times, satire is a very important thing to mental health. It lets a little of the air out of people and things who take themselves too seriously and deserve to be brought back down to earth. It also gives everyone a good healthy laugh into the bargain.

Mad is an example of pure and honest satire, written brilliantly by my friend Harvey Kurtzman, and drawn hysterically by Jack Davis, Bill Elder and Wallace Wood. I cannot praise their combined efforts enough. This volume, for example, is taken from several issues of the original MAD and is all written by Harvey. My favorite is “Smilin’ Melvin.” You may like “Superduperman.”2

In closing, let us remember that someone once said “Laughter is the best medicine.” It is a true fact that a friend of mine had an acquaintance who fell into poor health and proceeded to decline a little each day until the doctors could do nothing for him. Upon being told that the patient was beyond medical help, my friend called one day at his bedside and on a hunch told him a very funny joke he had just heard regarding three wild animals and a man who played the violin.3 As he reached the punch line, the pale man opened his eyes and laughed for the first time in months. Color returned to his face, and would you believe it?—within forty-eight hours. . . he was dead. the laughter had overtaxed him. This shows how much the guy knew who said “Laughter is the best medicine.” HOO HAH!

It is possible, of course, that he meant “Laughter is the best tasting medicine.” This really shows you what a nudnick he was! I know of some much more daring medicines. I know of a cough sirup, for example, that tastes just like Manischewitz Wine when you pour it over the rocks. (It doesn't taste bad over ice, either.) Make this simple test at home: Pour first the cough sirup into a tall glass, then the laughter. See how much of a belt you get out of the laughter! I rest my case.

It seems pointless to go on because I think I have covered the subject adequately, and also because we are running out of paper. Those wishing to read the conclusion of my Backword will find it (with a fine magnifying glass) on the edge of this page in Sanskrit. The body of my message has been put across by now anyhow, which is simply that MAD is my favorite pastime (next to girls) and I hope you have enjoyed INSIDE MAD as much as I did. I boiled mine for dinner.

(photo of the back of Stan's head)

Notes (in original)

1. Similar to “radio-active” but with fewer commercials.
2. You may like it but you won’t get it, it’s in another collection. What do you expect for 35¢ anyway?
3. This joke is available on request.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

These are some of the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that were the occasion for riots around the world. I've only included the ones I think are the best. I am NOT avoiding the others because they might be offensive.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saturday Night Fry - Cutlery Exhibition

This is a transcript of a sketch from episode 3 of Stephen Fry's radio comedy series, "Saturday Night Fry", not his later programs of the same name.  Audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V22NdMydqbg#t=4m37s

Stephen Fry: And as the prelude to act 3 of Wagner's Lohengrin fades away, it's time once more for our reports. Now then, young Hugh, you've been out and about, I understand?

Hugh Laurie: That's right, Stephen. As you probably know, the Skylight Gallery in South Molton Street has just reopened with a retrospective exhibition of modern cutlery by the group of new cutlers working in and around the Leighton Road area.

Stephen Fry: In London, is it?

Hugh Laurie: (Coldly, quietly) Yes. London, obviously. It's Kentish Town. Leighton Road, as I said. (Normal) I went to the gallery to talk to the exhibition's designer, Bothwell Crant.

Hugh Laurie: (on location) We're in front of some cutlery here entitled simply, "International Place Setting with Extra Butter Knife." Bothwell, take me through this work.

Bothwell Crant: Yes, certainly. This installation, as the artist prefers them to be called, was conceived in 1986 by the neo-classicist cutler Medusa Stoppit in response to an incident in her own personal life. She was entertaining to dinner a number of close personal friends when she discovered that she had no utensils with which the food could be eaten. So she hit upon the idea of creating out of simple everyday materials like drop-forged steel, electroplated nickel-silver and Britannia plate a number of what she calls oral ingestment instruments.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): (with Italian accent) Eh, ready to order, sir?

Bothwell Crant: Oh, yes. Minestrone, I think, and the lasagna al forno. Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: tonno e fagioli, please, followed by soliola al limone.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Very good, sir. To drink?

Bothwell Crant: Acqua minerale, okay by you, Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: Yes, fine. You've arranged, Bothwell, this whole exhibition rather like -- rather like a restaurant.

Bothwell Crant: That's right! It was very much the idea to see the work in situ, as it were, rather than lifelessly hung on walls.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. I'd like to bring Medusa Stoppit in, too, if I may. Medusa, this cutlery, we're about to use it. I have to say it certainly seems very functional. It all fits well to hand. I'm using a bread knife at the moment and I must say it appears to be working perfectly.

Medusa Stoppit: Thank you. You'll notice that one edge is sharper than the other.

Hugh Laurie: Yes! Yes, I have noticed that, yes.

Medusa Stoppit: This is quite deliberate. Although all knives are essentially double-edged, it seemed important to me to ensure that one edge was keener. This reflects a sense in which the choices in life, though endlessly varied, relentlessly ambiguous, must ultimately resolve. One view of the world is in the end truer, one action juster, one decision wiser, one edge must be sharper.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. It also presumably reflects a sense in which bread is resistant to a blunt edge as far as slicing goes.

Medusa Stoppit: (Pause) (coldly) I think that's rather a shallow observation.

Hugh Laurie: Thank you. I also couldn't help noticing that each of the edges of the knives has printed on it "Firth and Sons, Sheffield, stainless steel, dishwasher-proof".

Medusa Stoppit: That's right. In a very real sense they were the makers of the instruments.

Hugh Laurie: I see. You commissioned the canteen of cutlery from them to your own design.

Medusa Stoppit: Well, I bought the set from Peter Jones, actually.

Hugh Laurie: Peter Jones the department store in Sloane Square?

Medusa Stoppit: No, Peter Jones the actor and "Just A Minute" star. Yes, of course, the department store.

Hugh Laurie: But I thought you were responsible for the actual manufacture and design.

Medusa Stoppit: I'm an ARTIST! It would take years to learn the skills involved in cutling. I haven't got the time between private viewings and press interviews to start acquiring vulgar skills. That's for ARTISANS. I BOUGHT the cutlery. Surely that's enough. If YOU had selected it it would've remained cutlery! As it is, I bought it and it's become, as you can see, something remorselessly OTHER!

Bothwell Crant: I think what Medusa is trying to say is that materials, design and function are subservient to MEANING. Meaning, of course, is connotational and independent of prescribed DENOTATION. It is her election of a meaning that is relevant, not the notionally determined and ultimately arbitrary dictates of manufacturers.

Hugh Laurie: Right. I see.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Eh, who is having the minestrone?

Bothwell Crant: Thanks.

Hugh Laurie: What's happened here is you've got me to buy you all lunch in a restaurant in the middle of Kentish Town on the pretext of you inventing a new art form.

Bothwell Crant: Well, I think that's putting it a trifle accurately.

Hugh Laurie: I've been taken for a ride.

Medusa Stoppit: Nonsense! If we'd been genuine, you'd have had a few boring hours of art talk which would've meant nothing to no one instead of which you're having a charming Italian meal with two fascinating and engaging artists.

Bothwell Crant: Con artists, admittedly, but artists nonetheless.

Hugh Laurie: Well. With that, it's back to you in the studio, Stephen.

Stephen Fry: (chuckles) Well, lovely report, Hugh. I hope you're none the worse for your ordeal.

Hugh Laurie: Nothing that a hot bath and the skills of an exceptionally gifted orthopedic surgeon couldn't cure.

Stephen Fry: Excellent! Right.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stan Freberg - Elderly Man River

Stan wrote this prescient sketch for his 1957 radio comedy show. It was performed on episode 6 and reprised on the last episode in a slightly different version. This transcript is an amalgam of the two versions.

Freberg: Well, it's great to be with you tonight. We have a—

Tweedly: Pardon me Mr. Freberg, but my name is Tweedly.

Freberg: Well, we all have our problems.

Tweedly: I'm the censor from the Citizens Radio Committee. And uh, I feel—

Freberg: You are from the Citizens Radio Committee, you say?

Tweedly: Exactly what I said, yes. I—

Freberg: And what is your purpose in being here?

Tweedly: I must OK all the material used on your program here. And I think the best method is to just sit back here and interrupt when I feel it's necessary.

Freberg: You mean you plan to stop me every time I do something YOU think is wrong?

Tweedly: Exactly. I'll just sound my little horn like this :HONK: and then you stop and I'll tell you what's wrong.

Freberg: Somehow I can tell this is going to be one of those days.

Tweedly: You just go right ahead, Mr. Freberg. Don't mind me.

Freberg: Yeah. Now I'd like to sing— :HONK:

Tweedly: You forgot to say "Thank you", Mr. Freberg. Politeness is an essential in radio programming. Your program goes into the home, we must be a good influence on children.

Freberg: I see uh... that's a nice little horn you have there.

Tweedly: Mm-hm.

Freberg: Thanks very much, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: I'd like to sing a old river song in honor this week of National Mississippi River Boat Paddle Wheel Week. Mr. May, if you please.

Tweedly: Very polite, Mr. Freberg.

Freberg: Thank you.
:sings: Old Man River, that Old :HONK:
:speaks: All right Tweedly, politeness I dig, but what in the world is wrong with "Old Man River"?

Tweedly: The word "old" has a connotation some of the more elderly people find distasteful. I would suggest you make the substitution, please.

Freberg: I suppose you insist?

Tweedly: Precisely. You may continue.

Freberg: OK, music. :HONK:

Tweedly: You forgot to say "Thank you".

Freberg: Yes, okay. Thank you, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're quite welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: :sings: Elderly Man River, that Elderly Man River,
he must know somethin' but he don't say nothin :HONK:
:speaks: All right, hold it, fellas. Now what, Tweedly?

Tweedly: The word "something". You left off the "g".

Freberg: But that's authentic, "somethin', somethin'," that's the way people talk down there.

Tweedly: I'm sorry, the home is a classroom Mr. Freberg.

Freberg: I know, you said that.

Tweedly: Keep in mind the tiny tots. And furthermore, think back. You'll recall that you said, "but he don't say nothin". That was in quotes. Now really Mr. Freberg, that's a double negative. Do you mean "he does say something"?

Freberg: No I just wasn't using my head I guess.

Tweedly: I mean, after all, it should be grammatically correct. Keeping in mind—

Freberg: The tiny tots, yes.

Tweedly: You probably mean "he doesn't say anything".

Freberg: I-I-I I suppose I mean that, yes, I guess. All right, fine, you win. All right, Billy, music. :HONK: Thank you! Thank you.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Freberg: :sings: Elderly Man River, that Elderly Man River,
he must know something but he doesn't say anything,
he just keeps rollin', rolling, he just keeps rolling along.
He don't :HONK: doesn't plant taters, potatoes, he doesn't plant cotton, cotting,
and them, these, those, that plants them are soon forgotting,
but Elderly Man River, he just keeps rolling along.

Tweedly: Excellent!

Freberg: :sings: You and me :HONK: :speaks: The tiny tots again was it?

Tweedly: Exactly.

Freberg: Sorry about that, here we go.
:sings: You and I, we sweat :HONK: perspire and strain,
bodies all achin' and racked with pain—
:speaks: Well, we got by that one.
:sings: Tote that barge! Lift that bale! You get a little—
:speaks: Take your finger off the button, Mr. Tweedly. We know when we're licked.
Well, that concludes "Elderly Man River." Now turning to the sports page here :HONK: Oh yes, and thank you for being with us, Mr. Tweedly.

Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Wells, Hitler, and the World State" (excerpt), George Orwell (1941)

What has Wells to set against the ‘screaming little defective in Berlin’? The usual rigmarole about a World State, plus the Sankey Declaration, which is an attempted definition of fundamental human rights, of anti-totalitarian tendency. Except that he is now especially concerned with federal world control of air power, it is the same gospel as he has been preaching almost without interruption for the past forty years, always with an air of angry surprise at the human beings who can fail to grasp anything so obvious...
...What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves...
What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London streets at this moment...
The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jane Austen on nice people

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
letter to her sister Cassandra (1798-12-24)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Severn Darden - Oedipus (Oedipus Rex) - transcript

Professor: Good evening, students.

I see there are a great many of you here this evening, which most probably means that you are missing Dr. Bettelheim's lecture, which is entitled "Some Positive Aspects of Anti-Semitism". And it's a good thing that you're missing it, too.

Now, this evening, if you will remember, we are to discuss eleftheros [ἐλεύθερος eleutheros] and ananke [ἀνάγκη anangke]: free will and necessity.

Now necessity is when you want to do something very, very, much, and the way is open so you can do it and nothing stands in your way, you couldn't do it. Whereas free will is where you want to do something, and everything in the entire universe makes it impossible for you to do it, you do it anyhow.

Now this evening we are going to examine free will and necessity in the light of the play that you were to have read, which is entitled "Oedipus Rex", which means "Oedipus the King". Now for those of you who may not have read it, the plot is a very simple one (in a confused way).

Oedipus is an orphan who doesn't know who his parents are. And one day for some or other reason, God knows why, he sets out on a journey. And in the road, on the journey, he meets a king. And the king says, "Move over, Oedipus, so I can get by!" (it was obviously a very narrow road or something). And Oedipus says "No!" (for some reason of his own). And the king says, "Move!" And Oedipus kills him in a fit of pique. And the king, being killed, dies.

And Oedipus goes on down the road, and he meets up there with a Sphinx. Now a Sphinx is an animal which is part lion, part woman, and very, very neurotic, heh! And who wouldn't be in such a situation! And so she proceeds to ask him the riddle of the Sphinx, which is, "What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" And Oedipus answers, quite simply, Man. Because as a child you walk on all fours, and as a man you walk on two legs, and as an old man, you walk with a cane. So the Sphinx, hearing this, leaps over the cliff and destroys herself (for some neurotic reason of her own).

And then he goes into the town of Thebes where the townspeople meet him. And they say, "Oedipus, you have killed the Sphinx, therefore you must marry the queen." Cause and effect. [unintelligible] Anyhow, he marries the queen and he has four lovely little children.

And suddenly a pestilence falls on the land and people are getting sick and then there is a drought and the crops are failing. And out from the crowd steps a blind seer—another anomaly—whose name is Tiresias. And he says, Oedipus, that man that you killed, that king, that was your father, that woman that you married, that was your mother, and these four lovely children, God knows what relation they are to you.

And at this point from offstage is heard a scream. And he learns that Jocasta, the queen, has hanged herself in her own garments. And Oedipus, knowing this, rushes and he takes the pins from the garments and plucks out his own eyes and lives happily ever after in the garden.

Now, keeping in mind free will and necessity, we are going to see what would have happened to Oedipus if he had read the book before going on the journey. Free will and necessity, ja? Watch.

King: Make way for the king!

Professor: Certainly, your majesty! Go right past. Aha!

King: Not so fast.

Professor: What?

King: Why are you trying to curry favor with me, hah?

Professor: I wouldn't curry you.

King: Oh yeah? Why are you trying to butter me up?

Professor: I wouldn't butter you. What am I, a cook? What is this?

King: Why did you get out of the way so fast, then?

Professor: Well, I'll move back. I was [unintelligible]

King: Ah, just a minute now. I'm surrounded by two types of people, plotters and people who are trying to get in tight with me and get some—

Professor: [unintelligible] I happen to be a teacher.

King: I have a bad heart and I'm a very old man and if you excite me, I'm liable to go at any mo—oh—

Professor: Take an aspirin!

King: oh dear—oh, my heart—

Professor: Oh no! Please! He died of a heart attack! It wasn't my fault! I didn't do it! You see that!

Sphinx: Oedipus, you've come!

Professor: Good grief, a Sphinx!

Sphinx: All hail, great Oedipus!

Professor: Hello, schatzie, what can I do for you? What's happening?

Sphinx: Answer my riddle and you will marry the queen and become king of all Thebes!

Professor: Ah, I don't want to answer the riddle!

Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus, please? What walks on four legs in the morning—

Professor: four legs in the morning—

Sphinx: two in the afternoon—

Professor: two in the afternoon—

Sphinx: And three in the evening?

Professor: Three in the evening. Some sort of hideous monster, ha ha ha ha!

Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus—

Professor: What?

Sphinx: think of the power—of the glory—

Professor: I don't need power and glory, I'm a full professor. What do I need power and glory for? Ridiculous. What is it?

Sphinx: Yes, you are, yes, and you're a smart—man. MAN.

Professor: Oh, I'm a full professor but I'm not a real smart man.

Sphinx: MAN! You've guessed the magic word! [exits shrieking]

Professor: No, I said it by accident! I didn't mean to say that! Good grief, what a mess that Sphinx made of herself down there!

Chorus leader: Hail Oedipus!

Chorus: Hail Oedipus!

Professor: Hello there. What can I do for you?

Chorus leader: You've killed the Sphinx!

Chorus: the Sphinx!

Professor: the Sphinx.

Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!

Chorus: The queen!

Professor: The queen, ja, cause and effect, I know. I wouldn't do it, ha ha ha!

Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!

Chorus: the queen!

Professor: I won't marry the queen.

Chorus leader: If you don't marry the queen, we'll kill you!

Chorus: kill you!

Professor: [subdued] I'll marry the queen.

Chorus leader: Jocasta! The queen!

Jocasta: You have a lovely smile, Oedipus.

Professor: You know, by all rights, this should be my mother, but my mother's at home in Barbaria. Besides, she's a dwarf.

Crowd: [moaning] Oh! Oh! Oedipus!

Professor: Ja? What is it?

Chorus leader: the drought is on the land!

Chorus: the land!

Professor: It didn't rain. Cause and effect.

Chorus leader: The people are dying of the plague!

Chorus: the plague!

Professor: You didn't inoculate them.

Chorus leader: The crops have failed!

Chorus: have failed!

Professor: You didn't rotate them.

Tiresias: Oedipus!

Professor: Heavens, a seer!

Chorus leader: Tiresias!

Tiresias: Oedipus, I have a message for you. Come here.

Professor: What is it you want to say?

Tiresias: [whispers to Oedipus]

Professor: I'm a what?? What did you call me?? I'll hit you, that's what I'll do!

[Jocasta screams offstage]

Professor: What was that scream?

Chorus leader: The queen has hanged herself! Here are her pins. Put out your eyes.

Chorus: Your eyes.

Professor: My eyes. [increasingly dramatic music] Wait a minute. [music stops] I told you I was going down the road, the old man died of a heart attack, you knew he had heart trouble, only likely. That Sphinx was a twisty character, she tricked me into saying it. And then you forced me to marry the queen.

Chorus leader: That's true.

Professor: It's not my fault!

[crowd mutters]

Crowd: [shouting] It's not his fault!

Professor: [shouting] It's not my fault!

Crowd: It's not his fault!

Professor: It's not my fault!

Professor: So you see, my dear students, the lesson that we learn from this is that Man has free will, but tragic poets do not, and Art is not Nature.

Severn Darden - Metaphysics lecture - transcript

Intro [Eugene Troobnick]: And now, ladies and gentlemen, Professor Walter von der Vogelweide will present "A Short Talk On The Universe."

Darden: Now, why, you will ask me, have I chosen to speak on the Universe rather than some other topic. Well, it's very simple, heh. There isn't anything else!

Now, the Universe we examine through what Spinoza has called "the lens of philosophy". He called it this because he was a lens grinder. Heaven knows what he would have called it had he been, for example, a pudding manufacturer.

Now, into three branches is philosophy divided: ethics, esthetics, and metaphysics. Now, ethics is that branch of philosophy which is neither esthetics nor metaphysics. Esthe—well, I think you follow.

This evening I have decided to take the jump. Heh heh. Metaphysics.

Now, metaphysics is—what IS everything—ANYHOW? And what's more—is more than what's less—generally. Now, in the universe we have time, space, motion, and thought.

Now, you will ask me, what is this thing called time? [7 seconds of silence] THAT is time.

Now, you will ask me, what is space? Now this over here—this is some space. However, this is not all space. However, when I said that was time, that was all the time there was anywhere in the universe—at that time. Now, if you were to take all of the space that there is in the universe and CRAM it into this little tiny place, this would be ALL the space there was! Unless of course, some leaked out. Which it could—and did! Heh. Hence the universe!

Now, the early Egyptian astronomers (there were no late Egyptian astronomers) looked up at the stars and with these they measured time. But the Greeks, who were very exact—sometimes to the point of tediousness—came along with this question: is time the measure of motion, or conversely, is motion the measure of time?

Viz. I have in my hand a stopwatch—imaginary—and coming through the room is a railroad train—also imaginary, heh heh. If it was a real railroad train it would kill us (and besides, it would be very expensive). Now—I'm timing the train now. Is time the measure of motion—click—[makes train noise and runs across stage]—click—or is, conversely, motion—now I'm going to be for you a grandfather's clock [swings arm]—tick—tock—tick—tock—the measure of time? Now, with the arrival in the 20th century of Planck's constant and the theory of quantum mechanics and with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle—I think—we still don't know.

However, we might very easily turn to the pre-Socratic philosophers (who were always good for a laugh) for assistance.

Now, take Heraclitus. Dr. Jose Benardete, by the way, has said in his book "Coming and Becoming", he has quoted Heraclitus incorrectly as saying that "time was a river which flowed endlessly through the universe." He didn't say this at all. He said, "time was LIKE a river which flowed endlessly through the universe." Aha, there you are, Benardete!

Nonetheless, he discovered this one day, and he went home to his wife, Helen. That was her name, Helen Heraclitus. That's two H's, like Hugo Haas—Herman Hesse—Harry Haller—Herbert Hoover—Heinrich Himmler—oh, that whole crowd, ja.

Anyhow, he went home to his wife, Helen, and he said "Time is like a river which is flowing endlessly through the universe, and you couldn't step into the same river twice. Helen."

And she says, "What do you mean by that, Heraclitus? Explain yourself." That means you could go down to the Mississippi River, for example, and you could step in, and you could step out, and then you could step in again. But that river that you stepped in has moved downstream, you see, it's here. And you would only be stepping in the Mississippi River because that's what it's called, you see? Not only all that water, but if something were on top of the water—for example, a water bug—if it was there, it would be downstream. Unless, of course, it was swimming upstream, in which case it would be older and it would be a different bug.

So, anyhow, Heraclitus went home to his wife with this news, and he said "Time is like a river which flows endlessly through the universe, and you couldn't step into the same river twice."

She said, "Don't be an ass, Heraclitus. You could step into the same river twice—if you walk downstream at the same rate as the river."

He was amazed!

So he went down to the agora, or marketplace, where there were a lot of unemployed philosophers (which means philosophers who weren't thinking at that time). And they had a few drinks first and they went down to the river, and into the river they threw a piece of wood just to test how fast the river was going. And so Heraclitus saw how fast the wood was going. So he stepped into the river, and ran and stepped and ran and stepped and ran, and finally he ran out into the Aegean Sea and was drowned.

So much for time.

Now we come to another pre-Socratic, Zeno, for time and motion, and Zeno's Paradox. Now, a paradox is something which when it isn't, it is, paradoxically. And Zeno's Paradox is that if Achilles, the great Greek hero and athlete, were to get into a race with a tortoise, that he couldn't win. Silly, isn't it.

Well, if, for example, the tortoise was here and he would give the tortoise, say, a 10-foot head start, just to be fair to the beast, and there would be—it would take, say, Achilles, 1 second to go 1 foot. So at the end of 9 seconds, he would have one foot to go in one second, ja? And in a half of a second, he would still have a half of a foot to go, you see? And in a hundredth of a second he would have a hundredth of a foot to go. And in a millionth of a second, he would have a millionth of a foot to go. And since time and space are both infinitely divisible, he would never pass the turtle! Heh heh.

But this is ridiculous! Anyone in this room could win a race with a turtle, you know, and we're not great heroes and athletes. Even for example, some old, very dignified person, like Bertrand Russell, HE could win a race with a tortoise. And if he couldn't win it, he could outsmart it, ja?

Nonetheless, I have discovered possibly the meaning for this paradox. I was reading recently a book called "Greek Pots In Polish Museums" by John Davidson Beazley. 8vo, $9.75 and worth every penny of it. Big wide margins—er, I'm getting off my point. Anyhow, in there is a picture of a pot that has on it a picture of a ripe archaic tortoise of the kind that Zeno would have known about. Now, it isn't a little, flat American tortoise. IT'S A LITTLE BULLET-SHAPED TORTOISE WITH LONG, SINEWY LEGS, ABOUT 4 FEET LONG, AND IT COULD RUN LIKE CRAZY!

Now this would seem to explain it, ja? But it doesn't! Because Homer, who never lied about anything, said that Achilles could, if he wanted to, beat any man or beast in a foot race. Now what does this mean, "if he wanted to"? You know how some people can't step on the line in the sidewalk? Achilles couldn't pass a tortoise! He was a very sick hero!

Now, thought.

For centuries philosophers have told us that thought cannot be seen, it cannot be heard, cannot be felt, smelled, cannot be tasted. It is not in the key of G—or F. And it is not blue—nor is it mauve. It is not a pot of geraniums. It is not a white donkey against a blue sky. Or a blue donkey against a white sky. Nor does it have aspirations to become archbishop. It is not a little girl singing an old song. Thought is not a saffron-robed monk pissing in the snow. IN OTHER WORDS, PHILOSOPHERS CAN TELL YOU MILLIONS OF THINGS THAT THOUGHT ISN'T, AND THEY CAN'T TELL YOU WHAT IT IS! AND THIS BUGS THEM!

But you are out there and you're thinking and I'm up here and I think that you're thinking, and we think, and we think that the Sun comes up in the morning, pouring forth its beautiful bounty of light, and as Shakespeare said, "What a piece of work is man!"

Are there any questions?


Thank you.

I would really like to answer any questions that you might have. Now, I don't have anyone planted in the audience. Occasionally friends of mine who are in the audience throw up some hideous thing. They know the areas in which I am weak! Only in this sense do I have someone planted. So if you could ask me anything that you might not know about the universe.

Q: What is the relation between space and time?

What is the relation between space and time? Well, let's see, I thought I had covered that. Now the relation—well, space, for example, it is a thing which is occupied by matter. Ja? Whereas time occupies space, as we all know. Have you ever, for example, had any time pass when there was no space? I mean, have you ever been no place for a long time? It couldn't happen! It could, theoretically, of course. But I mean, even with a lot of equipment it would be difficult.

Could I have another question?

Q [Bill Mathieu]: Do fish think?

Well, that's a very good question, but it's not in the realm of metaphysics. Now I had a fish once—name was Louise, as a matter of fact. Small, fat fish. And every day at the same time I would go to the edge of the pond—a little iron tank in my house—and throw it a bunch of grapes. You know? Every day at the same time the fish would be there. After a few days she knew at 1:45, grapes, bam! Fish! However, I began making it 15 minutes later every day, you see. And then when I was there at 2 o'clock, she'd be there at 1:45. She was 15 minutes behind. After a while she was hours and days behind! And she starved to death. Yes, fish think—but not fast enough!

Could I have another question, please?

Q: [German accent, much thicker than Darden's] Professor, what is truth?

What is...?

Q: Truth.


Q: Truth.

Oh, ja. Mm-hm. An accent.

Well, truth is very difficult to explain. It is not merely the opposite of falsehood. When I say I am here, that is true temporarily, but it is not always true. And certain truths are immutable. Like for example, I am not elsewhere, which is just as true here [walks across stage] as it is over here. You see? I am still not elsewhere. No matter where I go I can't get away from me! Sort of frightening—that that should be called truth!

Could I have another question?

Q: Will the Sun rise tomorrow?

Yes. Next question?

Thank you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Severn Darden

Below are links to recordings of his classic routines at Second City from 1961.

Transcripts on Google Groups. Also in succeeding posts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

miscellaneous quotes

History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells "Can't you remember *anything* I told you?" and lets fly with a club. --John W. Campbell

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, chapter 17

A man who is not a republican at 20 has no heart; a man who is a republican at 30 has no brain. (Ne pas être un républicain à vingt est preuve de veulent du coeur; être un à trente est preuve de veulent de la tête.)

François Guizot (French statesman, 1787-1874)

Be not over just: and be not more wise than is necessary, lest thou become stupid.

Ecclesiastes 7:16 (Douay-Rheims translation)

"Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of feminism." - Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (First Harvard University Press, 1989), p.10 (not found in Google Books version)

"A world where men and women would be equal is easy to visualize, for that precisely is what the Soviet Revolution promised." - Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York, Random House, 1952), p.806

"The Women's Caucus [endorses] Marxist-Leninist thought." -- Robin Morgan, Sisterhood is Powerful, p. 597 (not found in Google Books version)
I've often heard my liberal colleagues, after an election that the Democrats have lost, say "I don't understand. I don't know a single person that voted Republican".

Michael Munger, Professor, and Chair, Departments of Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy, Duke University in the documentary "Indoctrinate U." at about 0:52

To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless.

Gustav Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, August 3, 1846

Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, "What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone--your interference is doing him a positive injury.

Frederick Douglass, At the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, April, 1865