Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Vapor Sword

Last night, I dreamed I was being handed what I can only describe as a vapor sword, something largely invisible in the shape of a Roman short sword that was sketchily outlined in broken wisps of cloud stuff. I take it as a message from my unconscious that the weapon on which I can rely is not physical, but intellectual, if not spiritual.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No True Christians

Sorry, no, you're not "true Christians" either, I'm afraid, Valley Baptist Tabernoids. It's a little-known fact that only 22 actual Christians exist, and they all attend a shoebox church just outside Findlay, IL. There, each Sunday and Wednesday, they rub themselves with glee thinking how much they are going to enjoy watching every other human being fry in hell forever.

Ruthlessness and Ruin

The most powerful man in the world used his family and friends ruthlessly, decade after decade, in schemes to secure his political dynasty.
Augustus, who famously said, “Let them hate, as long as they fear,” permanently exiled his daughter for sexual transgressions. He forced his stepson to divorce a woman he loved and marry a woman he loathed. He may even have inadvertently turned his wife into a serial poisoner.
“Over the years, the princeps had allowed his household to be corrupted into a court where a family’s ordinary loves and tiffs gradually mutated into a political struggle,” wrote Anthony Everitt. “Maybe this was an inevitable development, but it was Augustus who set the inhumane tone. His insensitivity to the feelings of others (one thinks of Tiberius’ thwarted love for Vipsania), his treatment of his relatives as pawns, created a deadly environment. It would not be surprising if, in time, blood relations came to bloody conclusions.”
The irony is that all Augustus’ political scheming, for which he paid everything, came to nothing. The lesson is that ruthlessness in the name of power finally consumes everything of value that the power was supposed to protect. To exercise power without humanity is to erect an imposing palace on quicksand.
Source: “Augustus” by Anthony Everitt

Your Words for the Day

Here are two words it's extremely useful to know in order to understand contemporary American society. Here's how to pronounce "solipsism" and "anomie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

On the Road to Effington

Ben Folds
One of my students, Paul Durante, clued me in to the fact that there’s a song about my hometown of Effingham written by Ben Folds. Though vulgar, it’s not even particularly insulting, and quite pretty, I think.
There’s even a reference to “Normal,” as in the famous Illinois headline: “Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Toward Happiness

Check your existential compass bearings, my friend. You will find that the destination of happiness always lies somewhere in the direction of self-control.
“Part of the reason for this is that a good day is not necessarily compatible with a happy life,” wrote Jennifer Michael Hecht in her book “The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right is Wrong.” “TV and beer is fun now, but good grades are bigger joy, and they require some resistance to TV and beer.
“The big desires have always been food, wine, sex, revenge, riches, products and fame. The danger — beyond fat, stupidity, syphilis, narcissism, taxes, clutter and gout — is meaninglessness. These desires and the hunt to fulfill them feel meaningless because they are only intrasubjectively sensible: while you are in a fit of wanting, planning and satisfying a desire — for revenge, say — it all makes sense. However, the moment after the gun goes off, or the moment after someone snaps you out of your thrall, you can see that the whole thing is a small, dark, crazy mess, like a tangle of seaweed on the beautiful beach of a majestic continent.”
And when you finally see those weeds for what they are, she writes, “…you will see that you have been wasting your time on something without any real merit or, worse, something that harms yourself and others.”
The four central virtues for the Stoics were intelligence, bravery, justice and self-control, a list that always brings me the rather rueful reminder that Christianity simply ignores the first, and doesn't pay too much attention to the other three, either.
But despite the fact that our narcissistic, consumption-crazed culture actively discourages self-control, it remains a necessary condition of our happiness. No wonder so few are happy.
“Why do I not seek some real good; one which I could feel, not one which I could display?” wondered the stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca. “What nature requires is obtainable, and within easy reach. It is for the superfluous we sweat.”
“You feel good, you feel bad, and these feelings are bubbling from your own unconsciousness, from your own past,” Osho wrote. “Nobody is responsible except you. Nobody can make you angry, and nobody can make you happy.”
But the stoics had a suggestion on how to get there — take the good that comes your way, and use the bad as best you can. “The good things of prosperity are to be wished; but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired,” wrote Seneca. “Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.”
Sources: “The Happiness Myth” by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Friday, October 25, 2013

Nun Dare Call It Sensible

By Dan Hagen
What’s black and white and treads all over the country?
That would be the musical “Nunsense,” a 1985 show that, with its sundry sequels and spin-offs, is really more an institution now. It’s even been converted to a drag show — “Nunsense A-Men.”
Therese Supple Kincade as the Reverend Mother
Dan Goggin’s musical didn’t start as a show, either, but as a line of greeting cards.
Its durability springs from the awe and fear Catholic schoolchildren have for nuns, and its comedy depends — as so much of comedy has from the beginning of time — on the subversion of authority figures. That subversion soothes any ill feelings left over from hands that might once have been smacked by rulers.
But it’s the gentlest of subversions, one that finally doesn’t undermine the stature of its targets. This isn’t the acid of Christopher Durang’s “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.” As directed by John Stephens, it’s just a little lemonade, a tart, light evening’s refreshment.
Goggin’s songs are unmemorable, for the most part, but the cast at the Little Theatre is not. We have Melissa Jones as Sister Mary Leo, Jamie Finkenthal as Sister Robert Anne, Kara Guy as Sister Mary Amnesia, Sophie Grimm as Sister Mary Hubert and Therese Supple Kincade as the Reverend Mother Sister Mary Regina, leader of the sadly decimated band known as the Little Sisters of Teutopolis.
The kinetic energy of these theatrical pros magnifies them to about 120 percent larger than life on stage, and holds the audience’s attention even when Goggin’s book and music might not.
You probably remember the setup — the nuns are putting on a show to raise money to bury the four “blue nuns” in the freezer, the victims of botulism from vichyssoise poorly prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. (By the way, the real French Chef, Julia Child, sniffed that vichyssoise was a mere American invention, not French at all).
Kincade opens the show by apologizing to the audience for the set, left over from a middle school production of a 1950s rock musical that she thinks is titled “Vasoline.”
The sentimental songs like “Lilacs Bring Back Memories” and “Growing Up Catholic” probably wear out their welcome quickest, sentimentality always seeming somewhat out of place in a farce. But most of the numbers are brisk and funny toe-tappers like Grimm’s “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” and Kincade’s “Turn Up the Spotlight.”
The hilarious “So You Want to Be a Nun” features Guy playing Edgar Bergen with what is essentially Charlie McCarthy in a habit, the smart-mouthed “Sister Mary Annette.” And Grimm effectively becomes Sister Mahalia to belt out “Holier Than Thou,” the rousing gospel tune that closes the show.
Guy is particularly delightful as the scatter-brained Sister Mary Amnesia, squinchy-eyed and big-voiced, as alternately loud and shy as a child, radiating an irresistible and benevolent innocence.
Kincade is another assured comedienne, and, with her natural statuesque authority, first played this role on this stage 15 years ago. She’s got this part so well down that she can simply wing it as Sister Mary Regina for a couple of hours with no script, just as she did at a recent Little Theatre fundraiser. Never missed a beat.
Nor does she here in what is probably the show’s best scene, not a song but a bit in which the mother superior ends up sniffing amyl nitrate to hilarious effect.
“Nunsense” brought the audience to its feet Sunday afternoon.
Incidental Intelligence: “Nunsense” runs through Oct. 27 at the Little Theatre, with scene design by Stephens and David Scobbie, lighting design by Chris Benefiel, costume design by Grand Ball Costumes, production stage management by Jeremy Phillips, musical direction by Kevin Long and choreography by Guy. For tickets, call The Little Theatre on the Square Box Office at (217)-728-7375 or go online at www

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Augustus and the Eels

Even the emperor Augustus had limits to how much cruelty he would put up with.

Yes, the emperor Augustus was a ruthless bastard, but he wasn’t the worst of the Roman lot.
“Vedius had tanks where he kept giant eels that had been trained to devour men, and he was in the habit of throwing to them slaves that had incurred his displeasure,” wrote biographer Anthony Everitt.
“Once, when he was entertaining Augustus at dinner, a waiter broke a valuable crystal goblet. Paying no attention to his guest, the infuriated Vedius ordered the slave to be thrown to the eels. The boy fell to his knees in front of the princeps, begging for protection. Augustus tried to persuade Vedius to change his mind. When Vedius paid no attention, he said: ‘Bring all you other drinking vessels like this one, or any others of value that you possess for me to use.’
“When they were brought, he ordered them all to be smashed. Vedius could not punish a servant for an offense Augustus had repeated, and the waiter was pardoned.”
The moral: Contrary to the Republican mythology, it’s not the poor but the rich and the powerful who develop a sense of entitlement, and its potential enormity apparently has no limits.
Source: “Augustus” by Anthony Everitt

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Me on TV

Duska Cornwell, the host of WEIU-TV's collectibles show, interviews me about comic book heroes. Watch it here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Crash of the Crazies

How very disappointing for the Cruz crowd. Turns out the Tea Baggers' billionaire owners weren't in the least interested in seeing the world economy wrecked. You see, they own that too.
My friend Paul Loop instantly got the point, it, as usual: "Debt default is part of the surrender to the higher power of authoritarian rule. The Tea Party Christian jihadists have a sick romance going with destruction and resurrection. They see the salvation of their souls and the economy within the same apocalyptic frame."
And the old fools who voted Republican learned from sages like George Will that Republicans failing to raise the debt ceiling would be no problem at all. The government could pay the interest on the national debt merely by stopping Social Security checks, he helpfully explained.  The seniors may learn that it's harder to take the knife out of your back than it was for you to put it there.
The Rev. Pat Robertson says that Haitian earthquakes are caused by pacts with the devil and that mighty hurricanes can be diverted by his prayer magic. But even he and Rush Limbaugh, the porcine pontiff of Republican  fascism, turned on the GOP today. The Tea Baggers went too crazy even for the crazy peddlers.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Four Elephants of the Apocalypse

The Republican clown show continues, but now they're desperately trying to ignore the fact that they’ve set the circus tent on fire.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Day Democracy Self-Destructed

The oddest thing of all about the economic disaster that will follow a default on the national debt is that it will have been completely voluntary. No crisis or emergency or massive deregulated financial fraud will have precipitated it. This suicidal outcome will have been freely chosen by a political party whose members either hope to pull power from the wreckage caused by chaos, or are simply stupid enough to chainsaw the very branch on which they sit, laughing like hyenas and demanding "respect" while they do it.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fox News Has Two Faces, And Both of Them Lie

By Dan Hagen
During the October 2013 Republican Party-engineered government shutdown, Fox News reported that President Obama had personally funded a “Muslim cultural museum.” But I have to contradict Media Matters here. Fox News didn’t “fall for” the story, confusing an obvious, labeled satire with actual news. They were just bald-faced lying in a smear campaign, as per usual.
The oh-so-very complicated news crawl of Fox News: “The government shutdown engineered the GOP is a great thing, really only a ‘slimdown,’ hooray, except whatever parts of it you don’t like, which are terrible and Obama’s fault. He's black, you know. Black, black, black.”

Sound Familiar?

The right wingers work overtime to put guns in the hands of toddlers, lunatics and criminals, but of course want to make sure art is outlawed. Fascism on parade.

When the Right Attacks...

They forgot Superman (for not saying "the American way" enough) and Wonder Woman (the harlot dared to change her costume).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fox News Engineers, Cheers, Jeers Shutdown

The oh-so-very complicated news crawl of Fox News: “The government shutdown engineered the GOP is a great thing, really only a ‘slimdown,’ hooray, except whatever parts of it you don’t like, which are terrible and Obama’s fault. He's black, you know. Black, black, black."

The World of Books

By Dan Hagen
The orange card was still in the pocket of the hardcover copy of John Cheever’s The World of Apples that I picked up at the Mattoon Library sale yesterday.
It’s a thin yet somehow substantial-feeling third edition, illustrated with a painting of an enormous green apple filling a room. Printed in June 1973, this short story collection proved to be a popular companion, and was first due back home at the library in July 1973.
The library loaned it out 34 times, those lendings filling the front of the orange card and part of the back.
“Put down your lendings,” the naked off-Broadway theatre cast and audience chants at the embarrassed narrator in the collection’s first story, The Fourth Alarm. He was willing to get naked with them but unwilling to surrender his car keys and wallet. So he walks, alone and rejected, back out of the theatre into the freshly falling snow, grateful after all for his clothes and his snow tires.
The book’s lendings ended Nov. 4, 1991. Now, wanted again, it will find a retirement home on my bookshelf, no longer wandering the world, no longer feeling the rough, interested caress of literate strangers.