Just read “Schulz and Peanuts” by David Michaelis

And I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I stop reading this book?

First, the good stuff about the book: In giving the background of his family life it showed how some of his habits and concerns came from his family. It also did a good job of reflecting how the turmoil from the first marriage seemed to enliven his strip during the earlier part of the strip, with a special focus on the years during the divorce (and the part on the stomach ache was a sharp insight).

Now onto my misgivings:

First off, in short-selling the post-1972 era of his work (222 pages deal with life until the first Peanuts comic strip, 260 deal with the era of his first marriage, and LESS THAN A HUNDRED PAGES deal with the rest of his life) we miss a lot. (more on that below)

Second, it appears that the Mr. Michaelis had in mind a book he wanted to write, and when he came across stuff that went counter to his thesis (or didn’t help), he ignored it. Indeed, he seemed to be a bit too deeply in love with the following motifs:

  1. Them Evil Redhead
  2. Like parent, like sibling
  3. A Man Ahead Of His Time, Doomed to Suffer until society catches up ™
  4. The artist as naturally depressed, fearful and worrying.™
  5. The Successful Artist Myth (which involves a constant market for your wares, millions of fans, acolytes that can be shat on occasionally without worry of losing their worship, all the attention you can get from others (sexual or otherwise) and a lover/spouse who knows better than to get in the way of the attentions. That last part is especially important)
  6. The artist can only talk about what he intimately knows: His Life, and the painful parts are the only interesting parts.™

There are a few insights that work wonders. Mr. Michaelis, however, uses them to force his viewpoint down our throats.

Like his focus on Lucy. Agreed that in many ways she was probably the most important character in that she set the tone for the rest of the strip’s characters. However, I find it disturbing that he then proceeds to dismiss everything after 1972 in six pages, (Lucy gets neutered, in short) and then give us cursory glances at “Peanuts the Phenomenon” and “Schulz as both Elder and Kid-wannabe.” Nothing about the development of the Peppermint Patty/Marcie relationship, little about Sally’s Struggles with School outside of the Building/Jean link, nothing about Lila (Wish fulfillment? Red Haired Girl in a Camp Setting? that’s my thinking), little about Rerun (a gold mine Mr. Michaelis missed because of his fixation on Lucy) or Snoopy’s siblings, and NOTHING about the changeover from a strict four-square to a more flexible format in the mid-eighties (saved the strip, IMHO) — and I’m sure there’s other things that could have been commented on but which I’m unaware of.

Then there was the comment about the size of the strip, in which Mr. Michaelis blithely hints that Peanuts destroyed the big story strips because of its small size and great influence. This despite the steady decline in newspapers, which even Mr. Michaelis noted. Did he stop and think that, as newspapers went out of business, the remaining papers responded by putting in more comics and, as they wanted them to fit in the same space they’d always used, the comics had to grow smaller (and get rid of details in the process)? Simple economics in an industry suffering a long decline, but Mr. Michaelis was too deeply in love with his “Man Ahead Of His Time” motif to pick up on the obvious.

But then, it seems that Mr. Michaelis didn’t seem to have too tight a handle on facts to begin with. As the family members and long-time friends who have shown up on this board have noted, the book is shockingly filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods. I can handle a skewered view of someone successful yet severely unhappy (that’s what “grains of salt” are for) and even a small amount of fictionalizations inserted to make a piont, but when the writer can’t even be bothered to get the details right it only proves there’s something wrong at the core of the book.

One can only hope that someone is willing to take a look at the whole of Schulz’s ouvre and make a detailed analysis of what he was trying to do throughout the whole of the strip. Until then, I’d cherry-pick this book. There’s enough insight in the pre-Peanuts years to make that part of the book worth reading and some insights that can be mined during the Joyce Years. Enough to justify a trip to the library or a fried crazy enough to have bought the book’ but not enough to buy.

An Ottoman Warning for Indebted America

What’s interesting is that we’re talking about a shift back from one balance of the world to an older balance here.

Seriously.

Consider that, starting in the year 476 A.D. (and in actuality quite a few years before) Western Europe was the backwater of civilization, a penninsular area that the rest of the world turned its back on as a land too far. Even as they organized under the Catholic Religion (headed in Rome), other areas went forward and gained knowledge. China had empires and writing (and even knew about America on occasion), India created the concept of Zero as a number (instead of a placeholder), Timbuctu was the African center of higher learning, the lands around Mecca became centers of culture; Europe advanced mainly by bringing these innovations onto their shores.

Then Europe started advancing on its own. From Spain to the Netherlands to England to France and Russia, Europe came to straddle and own the world. Only Japan (And the United States, who turned the Western Hemisphere to their own backyard) was able to keep from going under the thumb of a European power.

The last of the independent lands (outside of Ethiopia) was the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, they were considered a portion of Europe, even if they were sick. Between them and the Egyptians (powerful enough to have some independence, even as they were nominally under the Ottomans), they kept northern Africa from being conquered by the obvious European powers (Italy, France and Spain).

Then they ran up debt. Then they found their monies going towards interest payments. Then they sold their money-making properties to Western Europe to keep making the payments. That led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, right up to the point after WWI where plans to chop up the Turkish peninsula itself were ratified by the Turkish Government then in power.

– – – – – – – – – –

So how does America match up? The article from which I stole the title for this blog entry limits their considerations to the recent purchases of financial interests by China and various Middle Eastern interests, however there’s more stuff going on.

Consider that Abu Dabhi was about to purchase seven port operations from the United States Government before the American People forced Bush to rescind the sale. Consider that the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Roads were handed over to an Australian Toll Road company for 99 years (or thereabouts). Consider that Indiana and Illinois are considering privatizing their Lotteries (I have thoughts about them, but more later). Meanwhile banking companies chop up and mix mortgages and sell the mess to people in Europe, China and the Middle East.

And also consider that the only barrier that keeps citizens from the United States from being enslaved is The Thirteenth Amendment, and neither China nor the Middle East bans slavery. Indeed, I could see a situation where a new amendment allowing slavery to be instituted with articles banning discrimination for or against people by race, sex or birth (i.e. no laws banning the ownership of whites by blacks) pushed through the states and congress as a quid pro quo to help payment of debts. Debtors and those who crossed the RIAA and MPAA would, of course, be the first ones sent off; but one could see the expansion towards a general sending-off, with the discrimination-banning articles conveniently ignored (or unlearned).

Also, don’t be surprised if we start exporting factories to China. That’s right, people will come along, cut the stuff apart and ship the factory parts over to China for rebuilding.

– – – – – – – – – –

Whether we’re able to start catching up on our debts remains to be seen. Debt payoff and saving requires the ability to earn more than one spends, and The USA may not be able to do so anymore. Consider that what an average American earns in a day (after taxes) would allow a Chinaman and his family to live prosperously for a month and you see the draw of cheap construction. A computer that costs $1,000 to make in the USA costs only $75 to make in China; is it any wonder few computers are made in the USA anymore?

Consider this: many health plans are now setting up shop in Mexico and other foreign nations, betting that it will be cheaper to pay for a first-rate hospital and all the hospital workers AND a vacation in Mexico than for the client to spend a few days near their home in an American hospital. Imagine: If you had oversight, excellent care, and a few days to take in the sights and sounds (and touches, depending on the place you were sent) for about the same price as decent care near your house, you’d be tempted to go overseas yourself.

That was the logic of Wal-Mart, who decided to hold onto their profits and the wealth of the family members. That’s the logic of sex tourists who travel halfway around the world to enjoy what cannot be gotten in their lands (not so much the sex, but with whom and for how much):

Get what you can, cheaply, and never mind the neighbors or your fellow nation-men; for that money may not be there for you tomorrow and tomorrow’s money may make whomever owns it secure and powerful.

And thus nations send themselves to hell.

Interesting that much of the Ottoman debt was created by the creation of such things as new palaces and the world premier of operas. Similar stuff is happening here, with sub-cardboard housing built out in the middle of nowhere. All that gilt and glitter, all for nothing……..

Local Radio: What It Was, What We’re Missing

Kinda disturbing, looking at the billboard advertisements and realizing all the radio stations around here are either owned by Clear Channel, Infinity Broadcasting, Bonneville International or some other multinational, with a smattering of local-owned stations. Needless to say, the music from these stations has been getting lamer and plainer over the past few years.

Mind you, I had been complaining almost non-stop about the crapification of music radio since the late seventies, when I found myself writing such stuff as “Tacky Radio, KTAC” and other items about being bored by the radio. WWCK (105.5 FM) was the target of much of my mutterings against radio, the reference to WTAC in the lyric quoted otherwise.

But what was wrong about the music on the radio back then? Was it the music? Was it the apparent condescention that seemed to come from their having control over our music?

Heck, I remember that WWCK used to try to figure out what the next hit was by playing five or six tracks the minute they got a new record. WFMK used to try to get six months to a year ahead of what other radio stations were gonna play, sometimes it actually succeeded.

And WTAC? Every so often I’d hear something along the lines of this:

Tanya Roberts, please call your parents. Tanya Roberts, please call your parents.

Think of it: A radio station would call out names of people whose parents were worried about them. A radio station that parents felt safe in calling a station to find out where their children was.

And this was a Rock-n-Roll station. You know, Satan’s Music?

The fact is, I listen to stations which have stars over all the time for their morning shows. They give the weather and sometimes tell of school closings (probably the one thing still in the law), but if someone’s kid was missing you’d be hard pressed to hear the above announcement on the airwaves. Sure you might find it on some “Family Friendly ™” station, but name one teenager listening to one of those stations who’d cause enough trouble for a parent to call. And usually you hear of such problems on such stations long after the kid started straying, in a “Please pray for me, I think my son has gone off the deep end.”

And, back to my subject, it’s such local touches that I miss about today’s radio. Not just the regional scenes and local music that got played, but the touches that made you know they were part of the community — not just a station there to take money from your community.