Mad Magazine, RIP

We read that Mad Magazine has announced it will soon stop offering new content, and it’s perhaps the most disheartening obituary we’ve read in a while. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the “usual gang of idiots” at that comic book rag was one of the formative influences on our lives.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when Mad was at its peak readership we were exactly the school age and exactly the pretentiously intellectual type that the magazine targeted. It was all cartoons and captions, except for the brilliant Cold War tale of “Spy vs. Spy” feature that had no words at all, but for a precocious sixth- or seventh-grader it was satisfyingly literary. The magazine lampooned the politics of the time, respectfully assuming its young readership was well-read enough to get the jokes, and did hilarious parodies of the vast wasteland of television as well as old movies we’d watch on late night TV and the new movies we weren’t allowed to see, and it generally conveyed a smart-alecky attitude about everything.
Some of our friends’ parents wouldn’t allow them to read Mad Magazine, as they considered it subversive, which it undeniably was, but our parents were always willing to pay the 50 cents or so per month to buy us a copy of the latest edition. They’re both big Bob and Ray and Coen brothers fans with sophisticated senses of humor, and they’re both inveterate readers who encouraged their children to read anything they might come across, and they also got an occasional chuckle from Mad.
It worked out well for us, as far as we’re concerned. Mad made satire our favorite literary genre, and we wound up reading Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh and all the great satirists of the English language, and writing our attempts at satire. Along with W.C. Fields and Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers and “Laugh-In” they formed our sense of humor, which has often come in handy in this world of troubles, and we think it makes us less susceptible to whatever nonsense the current politics and popular culture are peddling. These days there’s more than enough subversive satire around to jade any youngster, but that’s largely due to Mad magazine.
Before we hit high school we had graduated from Mad to the National Lampoon, which had the same subversive and sophisticated satire as Mad but also lots of words and complex sentences and gratuitous profanity and nudity that we’d have to hide from our parents. That led to Saturday Night Live and modern comedy, with the “Airplane!” movies and Mel Brooks spoofs mimicking Mad’s movie parodies, which we can’t say has worked out well, but we don’t blame Mad for that.
One way or another, we hope the youngsters will learn to read and get wise to all the nonsense that politics and popular culture are peddling.

— Bud Norman</p<

Our 10 Percent Solution to the Latest Partial Government Shutdown

In the satirical spirit of the great Jonathan Swift, we propose a “Modest Proposal” to end the latest partial government shutdown. The idea first came to us when we heard President Donald Trump bragging on Wednesday to the troops at an airbase in Iraq about the 10 percent raise he’d given them after the past many years of no military pay raises at all.
As a matter of objectively provable fact, all of it was typically Trumpian balderdash. For the past many years of Republican and Democratic administrations everyone in the military has annually received a slight but slightly-ahead-of-the-inflation-rate pay hike, and although the latest 2.9 percent bump was a bit more than usual it’s still a full 7.1 percent less than what Trump bragged about. Even so, many of the troops and most of the fans back home were applauding Trump’s principled generosity to our brave men and women in the field. The die-hard Trump fans have always been willing to believe what balderdash Trump tells them, and dismiss the objectively provable facts as “fake news.” In the run-up to the mid-term elections Trump also promised a 10 percent tax cut to the middle class, which came as quite a surprise to the Congressional Republicans who were then in recess, and although it never came to pass it was widely applauded by the true believer.
Which leads us to our modest proposal to end the third partial government shutdown of Trump’s administration. If you’ve been following both the “fake news” and Trump’s “Twitter” feed you know that Trump won’t sign any spending bill or resolution to keep the government open that doesn’t include billions of dollars of funding for a big and beautiful sea-to-shining-sea wall along the Mexican border, the damned Democrats don’t want to pass any spending bill or resolution that funds any significant border wall, and with the Democrats poised to seat a House majority in a week or so the impasse is likely to linger for a while.
The most obvious solution, then, is to claim that the big beautiful border has already been built and victory has been won. For more than a year Trump has falsely been claiming that the wall is being built, and although that’s typically Trumpian balderdash the die-hard fans have been believing it, so they’ll also probably buy that the project has been completed.
Back during the campaign, when Trump was promising that no Democratic votes were needed because Mexico would happily pay for his promised border wall, he also said the wall should be transparent enough that we could see what those wily Mexicans were up to on the side and that any Americans walking around the border wouldn’t be hit on the head by any of the bundles of drugs they were tossing over the wall. So why not claim that the wall has been completed with Mexico’s happily provided funding, and that you just can’t see it because it’s so splendidly transparent? The die-hard fans will probably buy it, even if the majority of the country buys into the “fake news” reports that as a matter of objectively provable fact a wall doesn’t exist, and at least it would temporarily end the latest hubbub about the latest temporary government shutdown.

— Bud Norman

Stranger, and Worse, Than Fiction

Pity the poor fool who tries to write a legal potboiler or political satire novel these days. The most fervid imagination might devise a plot that combines Russian intrigue, Playboy centerfold models and a pornographic video actresses, ruthlessly efficient prosecutors and comically inept defense attorneys, a petulant and impulsive president with plenty of other subplots, and a slew of conspiracy theories to explain it all, but the publishers will find it hackneyed.
The combined talents of John Grisham and Jonathan Swift couldn’t top the last couple of days of headlines in your local newspaper.
Acting on a tip from the special counsel investigation looking into the “Russia thing,” federal agents have lately executed an extraordinary search warrant on the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” who has admitted paying $130,000 to a pornographic video actress in exchange for her silence about an affair the president denies ever happened. The payment can be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, as well as a reported similar payment of hush money to a Playmate centerfold model through the National Enquirer tabloid, which no fiction writer would have ever thought of, and there are reports the lawyer was also suspected of illegally dealing once-lucrative New York City taxi medallions, but what they find in the voluminous records that were seized from Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” might also shed some light on that “Russia thing.”
The petulant and impulsive president griped at length about it in front of all the network news cameras on Monday, prior to a cabinet meeting ostensibly about a response to Syria’s recent chemical attack on its own people in a Syrian civil war that Trump had earlier announced we’ll soon be pulling out off. He criticized his own Attorney General and deputy attorney general and pretty much the entirety of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the independent judiciary that had signed off even those extraordinary search warrants and indictments. He repeatedly used the words “disgrace” or “disgraceful,” hinted that people might be fired, and later “tweeted” that he was the victim of “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!”
You don’t have to delve into the depths of right-wing conspiracy theory sites to to hear sites to hear sympathetic arguments. Several of the hosts on influential Fox News network and several prominent talk radio hosts argue that a raid on a lawyer for information about one of his clients is an egregious violation of the sacred lawyer client-relationship, and is further proof that the “deep state” of professional employees in the DOJ and FBI and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy are conspiring are conspiring to overthrow a duly elected American president. It is highly unusual for a search warrants to be executed any old defense attorney, there is indeed a more-or-less permanent federal bureaucracy which doesn’t much like the president, and all of them have their flaws, so there’s something to it.
Being the sorts of old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republicans that we are, though, we’re not at all convinced that our duly constituted system of government’s carefully considered laws and the independent judiciary that enforces them is more a “disgrace” than our petulant and impulsive president. So far as we can tell the legal concept of lawyer-client privilege is still well respected by the system, and that the duly-appointed prosecutors had to provide some pretty damned convincing evidence to the duty appointed judges to get such a warrant on the highly unusual exception where criminal activity by the lawyer is involved, and we note that almost everyone involved in the process is a Republican of longer standing than the president.
We’ll not dare venture a guess about what comes next, but the president is conspicuously hinting he’s going to fire people, has made quite clear that his longtime lawyer and “fixer” is on his own regarding that hush money to the porn actress, and he’s short another inept lawyer against those ruthless prosecutors who have thus far won warrants and indictments and guilty pleas from the independent judiciary, and has been having trouble finding suitable replacements. There’s no telling how this stranger-than-fiction tale might turn out, but our limited imaginations can’t see how it turns out well.

— Bud Norman