Pith Helmet

Alas, Poor Tintin
July 21, 2007, 12:04 pm
Filed under: Books, culture

The world of Tintin may be gone, but that’s why we like it

Ray Cassin
July 20, 2007

THE adventures of Tintin, the globetrotting boy reporter with the ludicrously improbable hairdo and preposterously Edwardian attire, has always been something of a guilty pleasure for those of liberal inclinations.

Tintin’s comic-book career stretched from the gloomy 1930s, when the Western democracies so often seemed in danger of being eclipsed by the rival totalitarianisms of left and right, well into the Cold War era, when notions of an international order and universal human rights gradually became ascendant.

Yet somehow Tintin himself always seemed resolutely stuck, in mentality at least, in the decade of his first appearance, when the several European empires still held sway over most of the world.

Wherever the young Belgian went, whatever exotic evils beset him, his triumph over them seemed to assume the superiority of the culture that produced him.

It is no great surprise, then, that Borders, the international chain of bookstores, has finally succumbed to complaints about one of the earliest of his adventures, Tintin in the Congo. Since its first publication in 1931, the book has been a target for campaigners against racism and defenders of endangered wildlife.

In the ensuring decades Tintin’s creator Herge conceded their case. He acknowledged – perhaps ruefully, perhaps peevishly, and certainly out of a desire not to lose sales – that Tintin in the Congo reflected the “purely paternalistic spirit” of the time in which it had been written.

So the most offensive episodes were recast. Instead of Tintin lecturing bemused Congolese on the history of “their fatherland, Belgium”, in a 1946 version he gives them a mathematics lesson. There’s safety in numbers. And the youthful great white hunter was made less predatory after a request from Herge’s Scandinavian publisher: a bizarre scene in which Tintin dispatches a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was replaced by one in which the animal dies when his rifle accidentally discharges.

These patchy and pallid concessions to liberal sensibilities have not, however, preserved Tintin in the Congo from the ire of Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, which this year demanded that the book be withdrawn from sale. A commission statement declared that “it beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell Tintin in the Congo. The only place that it might be acceptable for this to displayed would be in a museum, with a big sign saying ‘old-fashioned, racist claptrap’.”

So should Tintin go the way of Noddy, who in the 1980s was banished from lending library shelves around the world because the Golliwog who made his life a misery was a racist stereotype? Does Borders’ response to the critics of Tintin in the Congo, namely transferring the book from the children’s to the adult sections of its stores, amount to continuing by devious means the sale of “racist claptrap”?

In truth, the rhetoric of both Borders and the thought police seems to contain a hefty dose of claptrap. Of course, Herge never completely removed the racism inherent in Tintin in the Congo, as a glance at the artwork will attest: the thick-lipped Congolese he depicts bear a closer resemblance to the infamous Golliwog than they do to any real African. And the excision from the original narrative of one exploding rhinoceros still left behind rather a lot of dead, provoked or otherwise molested animals.

But literate adults, as Borders has decided, can surely be trusted to work all this out for themselves. It is in the prissy tone of the book chain’s announcement that its particular line of claptrap may be found: “We believe adults have the capacity to evaluate this work within historic context.”

So we do, Borders, so we do. And yes, the sensible response to those who would ban the book is simply to remove it from the shelves most frequented by those who might take the wrong lesson from Herge’s celebrated, if tainted, ligne claire images. But there is more. There is that guilty secret.

The truth is that these days Tintin is largely an adult taste anyway. Many children no doubt enjoy the comic books simply as ripping yarns, but their appeal lies most of all in the nostalgia they evoke. Tintin’s world is a lost world, like the world of Indiana Jones, or, for that matter, that of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.

Which is precisely its appeal, exploding rhinoceroses and all.

Ray Cassin is the former editor of the Opinion page.

[ source: The Age ]


Blogrolls of The Rich & Famous
July 15, 2007, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

h/t blackfive

To mark the tenth anniversary of blogging, the Wall Street Journal went around to twelve different movers-and-shakers and got them to comment on the blogs that they read. They spoke with everyone from BG Kevin Bergner to Mia Farrow. My sources at the Journal tell me that all twelve initially listed Pith Helmet as one of their favorite blogs, but those Brahmin bastards, the Bancrofts, had ’em kill any mention of this vast repository of historical obscura, linkbloggery, and memeage.

The Lincoln Channel

Friends and relatives have teased me continuously about watching The History Hitler Channel. Granted, I am the sort of person who would actually sit down and watch Famous Mess Sergeants of The Luftwaffe, but I honestly believe that if The History Channel has earned the epithet: The Hitler Channel, I think that C-SPAN2 should rightfully change their name to The Lincoln Channel. Every weekend there’s another dang Lincoln book!

Today, at 4:00 p.m. EST, C-SPAN2’s Book TV will be showing the 2007 Abraham Lincoln Institute Symposium Panel Discussion. Included in today’s panel are James Swanson, author of Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, Jennifer Weber, author of “Copperheads – The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents, Hanging Captain Gordon author Ron Soodalter, and Douglas Wilson, the man who wrote Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words.

I’ve Got All The Fugazi

h/t Boing Boing

During the years that I placed waaayyy too much importance on pop music, I bought a number of those books about artists. I’ve held on to a few: R.E.M., Public Image Limited, and The Smiths, but now, after a long hiatus, there’s one I just may have to plunk down the money for: Glen E. Friedman’s Fugazi – Keep Your Eyes Open.

The Nuge Rocks Wall Street
July 14, 2007, 8:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Summer of Drugs
Forty years ago, dirty, stinky hippies converged on San Francisco to "turn on, tune in and drop out."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love. Honest and intelligent people will remember it for what it really was: the Summer of Drugs.

Forty years ago hordes of stoned, dirty, stinky hippies converged on San Francisco to “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” which was the calling card of LSD proponent Timothy Leary. Turned off by the work ethic and productive American Dream values of their parents, hippies instead opted for a cowardly, irresponsible lifestyle of random sex, life-destroying drugs and mostly soulless rock music that flourished in San Francisco.

The Summer of Drugs climaxed with the Monterey Pop Festival which included some truly virtuoso musical talents such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both of whom would be dead a couple of years later due to drug abuse. Other musical geniuses such as Jim Morrison and Mama Cass would also be dead due to drugs within a few short years. The bodies of chemical-infested, brain-dead liberal deniers continue to stack up like cordwood.

As a diehard musician, I terribly miss these very talented people who squandered God’s gifts in favor of poison and the joke of hipness. I often wonder what musical peaks they could have climbed had they not gagged to death on their own vomit. Their choice of dope over quality of life, musical talent and meaningful relationships with loved ones can only be categorized as despicably selfish.

I literally had to step over stoned, drooling fans, band mates, concert promoters and staff to pursue my musical American Dream throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I flushed more dope and cocaine down backstage toilets than I care to remember. In utter frustration I was even forced to punch my way through violent dopers on occasion. So much for peace and love. The DEA should make me an honorary officer.

I was forced to fire band members and business associates due to mindless, dangerous, illegal drug use. Clean and sober for 59 years, I am still rocking my brains out and approaching my 6,000th concert. Clean and sober is the real party.

Young people make mistakes. I’ve made my share, but none that involved placing my life or the lives of others at risk because of dope. I saw first-hand too many destroyed lives and wrecked families to ever want to drool and vomit on myself and call that a good time. I put my heart and soul into creating the best music I possibly could and I went hunting instead. My dream continues with ferocity, thank you.

The 1960s, a generation that wanted to hold hands, give peace a chance, smoke dope and change the world, changed it all right: for the worse. America is still suffering the horrible consequences of hippies who thought utopia could be found in joints and intentional disconnect.

A quick study of social statistics before and after the 1960s is quite telling. The rising rates of divorce, high school drop outs, drug use, abortion, sexual diseases and crime, not to mention the exponential expansion of government and taxes, is dramatic. The “if it feels good, do it” lifestyle born of the 1960s has proved to be destructive and deadly.

So now, 40 years later, there are actually people who want to celebrate the anniversary of the Summer of Drugs. Hippies are once again descending on ultra-liberal San Francisco–a city that once wanted to give shopping carts to the homeless–to celebrate and try to remember their dopey days of youth when so many of their musical heroes and friends long ago assumed room temperature by “partying” themselves to death. Nice.

While I salute and commend the political and cultural activism of the 1960s that fueled the civil rights movement, other than that, the decade is barren of any positive cultural or social impact. Honest people will remember 1967 for what is truly was.
There is a saying that if you can remember the 1960s, you were not there. I was there and remember the decade in vivid, ugly detail. I remember its toxic underbelly excess because I was caught in the vortex of the music revolution that was sweeping the country, and because my radar was fine-tuned thanks to a clean and sober lifestyle.

Death due to drugs and the social carnage heaped upon America by hippies is nothing to celebrate. That is a fool’s game, but it is quite apparent some burned-out hippies never learn.

Mr. Nugent is a rock star releasing his 35th album, “Love Grenade,” this summer.

Roger that, Nuge!

Review: Rothenberg, Kelly. Hitler in Progress. 2000. San Jose: Writers Club Press, 2000.
July 14, 2007, 4:38 am
Filed under: Books

Back in 1993-94, I was in grad school. One afternoon, my friend Kelly Rothenberg and I decided to “make a run for the border.” I was sitting down with my Seven Layer Burrito when I spied a young woman who looked like Klara Pölzl. I pointed it out to Kelly. Little did I know that he’d turn the incident into a published short story: “Hitler in Progress,” one of the strangest in a short story collection of the same name.

Hitler in Progress begins with a short story entitled “One Last Dance at The Discotech of The Damned.” If Shirley Jackson had lived long enough to have frequented The Danceteria in the early eighties, this is the story she would have written.

This tale is followed by “Keeping Mike Together,” one of Kelly’s two stories about Army nurses during the Vietnam War. Both this story and “Losses” are excellent pieces of China Beach fanfic with a dark twist.

Hitler in Progress also includes two stories about Sin Eaters, people who, “through ritual means, would take on by means of food and drink the sins of a deceased person, thus absolving his or her soul and allowing that person to rest in peace.” The first, “Mississippi Sin-Eating,” is the story of a Vietnam vet who returns from the war with a “special” talent — sort of Coming Home meets Stephen King’s “The Lawnmower Man.” The second Sin-Eater appears in “Perdigo,” a story in which a travelling Sin-Eater comes to town to save a Mexican village.

“Mother’s Love” is the story of a mother’s undying love for her baby, while “Rawhide” is the story of one man’s quest for shoes and the ultraviolence he finds in the process.

Whoever compiled this collection saved the best for last. “Lifestyles of The Quick and The Dead” reminds me of Stephen King, in that the story is as good as anything a reader would find in Night Shift or Skeleton Crew. However, the pick of this litter is “Tattoo You.” Some of Kelly’s best nonfiction was on tattoos, and his love of the art-form really shines in this story.

Hitler in Progress isn’t a bed-time story for the kiddies. The language and extremely detailed violence guarantee that it probably should only be picked up by the least squeamish readers. A former colleague of mine used to tell his classes that if the characters in their works weren’t interesting, “maim them.” That is a variation of Stephen King’s oft-quoted advice to writers: “”If you can’t legitimately scare them, go for the ‘Gross Out.'” And while there is an awful lot of maimed characters and pure “Gross Out” in these pages, there’s also a great deal of solid story-telling.

Although his website, www.undeadremains.com, went down after his death, those curious about Kelly can still get a glimpse of it, thanks to archive.org.

Review: Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. 1925. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
July 12, 2007, 2:41 am
Filed under: Books

Reading the assembled vignettes and short stories of In Our Time, “Hemingway’s American debut,” is like taking a look at an artist’s working sketches that eventually evolve into masterpieces. The reader finds all of the usual denizens of Hemingway’s world: anglers, ex-patriates, toreadors, soldiers, men and women who are in love, and those who have fallen out. And, of course, Nick Adams. In these tales, Hemingway demonstrates the superfluousness of semicolons and the superiority of spartan sentences for which he is famous.

While it isn’t my favorite of Hemingway’s works, it makes a good sampler for those wishing to get short doses of Hemingway, especially for those whose only exposure to Hemingway was reading The Old Man and The Sea in high school.

In Other Hemingway Related News
Pamplonan Women Say, “What’s Good for The Bull Is Good for The Heifer.”

Women in Pamplona, Spain, a city made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s association with its bull-running festival, are calling for a feminized version of the run, in which women will run with from cows instead of bulls.

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Think Globally. Hunt Locally.
July 9, 2007, 4:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“I can’t wait to start pawing through my garbage like some starving raccoon!”
–C. Montgomery Burns, on recycling

The eighties were a simpler time for simpler minds. I liked it much better when we were the world, we were the children, and we were the one’s who made a brighter day. It was so much easier to tackle a problem like African famine than it is to try to ward off Global Warming. Back then, all you had to do to “make a difference” was listen to some U2 or a Bruce Springsteen album and refuse to play Sun City. Oh, wait. That was a different cause du jour. Nevermind. Back then, all teenage pop music fans had to do was heed the call of those de facto Ethiopian ambassadors Bananarama and save some of the money they usually spent on Bartles & James and qualudes, and write Bob Geldof a check so that he could buy bags and bags of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain.

These days, it’s not so simple. In fact, there is so much stuff the Earth-Firsters want you to do (77 things, to be exact), they had to make The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook.

Instead of joining hands across America with Dionne Warwick and Ed Begley, Jr., today’s celebrities want their fandom to Plant A Tree (Solution #39). I’d like to plant a tree to save the planet. I really would. But, planting a tree involves digging in the gummy clay that passes for dirt in my backyard, and the only time I ever do that is after I’ve been cajoled into it by my wife. And until Madonna starts threatening to toss my TiVo into the backyard if I don’t Plant A Tree, I, for one, won’t be digging any holes.

I am certain that something like Live Earth will inspire anyone who can afford tickets to a concert in Antarctica, but the Earth-Firsters really need to do something to lure in those Howard Dean called “guys with Confederate flags and gun racks in their pickup trucks.”

I live in the rural South. In fact, my state is so “red,” blue is purple. People aren’t usually inspired to action by pop stars down here. Sure, folks hereabouts will go see a musical act when they pass through town, but beyond flicking their lighters upon hearing the first five notes of “Freebird,” they usually don’t answer to any kind of call-to-action by musicians.

Which is why I propose something that will appeal to those of us in the Bible Bandoleer: The First Annual Live Earth Celebrity Quail Hunt. Hunts bring in big money out here in fly-over country. This year, the “Aiming for a Cure” celebrity hunt raised $60,000 to support the Children’s Miracle Network and the Children’s Hospital of Iowa. The American News Celebrity Pheasant Hunt historically raises between $8,000 and $18,000 each year for Camp Gilbert, a camp for diabetic children in South Dakota. Back in 2000, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes’s Governor’s Quail Hunt raised over $40,000 for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. In 2002, a Quail Hunt organized by the Kiwanis Club in Watonga, Oklahoma brought in $2350 for their summer youth program, and that was without a single celebrity present!

Imagine the money and awareness that could be raised if people could see Alicia Keys laying her cheek against the stock of a Mossberg. Dave Matthews firing birdshot at a covey of Baker County Bob-Whites. Or a profusely sweating Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan in camouflage trekking along behind an English Pointer through the briars to find a plump, wounded hen.

The organizers could encourage celebrity participation by offering up x number of carbon offsets for every quail a celebrity bags. It would be the perfect way to help offset all of the horrible carbonic karma pop musicians have created private-jetting it back and forth to play their set at the Live Earth concerts.

The Live Earth web-site even has a “Create Your Own Event” page, where those concerned about the “climate in crisis” can register their own grass-roots event. Unfortunately, “Celebrity Quail Hunt” is not one of the options provided.

Review: Peterman, John. Peterman Rides Again: Adventures Continue with The Real “J. Peterman” through Life & The Catalog Business. 2000. Paramus, NJ: Boston: Prentice Hall Press, 2000.
July 6, 2007, 3:21 am
Filed under: Books

The Great Cham had James Boswell to capture his life in words.
Al Stump ghostwrote Ty Cobb’s My Life in Baseball.
Then, there’s Plutarch who managed to scribe twenty-three dyads of Greco-Roman biographies.

John Peterman, however, decided to tell his own story. Most people know J. Peterman as the fictional character on Seinfeld, Elaine Benes’s eccentric employer who globe-trots for garments. There is an element of truth to John O’Hurley’s caricature; however, as is always the case, fact is overwhelmingly more interesting than fiction.

The real Peterman turned a mail-order duster company into a thriving multi-million dollar operation through the use of a unique business style and a catalog that made use of whimsical vignettes rather than typical ad copy and Bill Hagel watercolors rather than photos.

Peterman’s story takes his reader from the batter’s box to the boardroom and from The Chiang Mai river market to Chapter 11. It is one-part travelogue, one-part biography, one-part business guide, one-part tale of rags-to-riches-to-rags, and two-parts adventure story. Even the business parts of this story are as exciting as watching a barnstormer perform an Immelmann turn

Peterman Rides Again: Adventures Continue with the Real “J. Peterman” through Life & The Catalog Business (No. 0-7352-0199-4), by John Peterman. 225 pages of text and photos follow the career of the Merchant-Poet himself; cover photo by Stephen Kennedy shows him in The J. Peterman Coat (No. 1001).
Price: $25.00