Am I Charlie? Or am I just paying lip service?


“The Untouchables 2” – You mustn’t mock us!

In light of the recent tragedy in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a discussion sprung up on Facebook when a friend of mine, in reference to this article at the Daily Beast, asked the question, “where does humour cross the line into something rather ugly, threatening and repellent?”

I commented as below:

In some ways, Charlie Hebdo is the Westboro Baptist Church of the literary world. It’s a partially flawed analogy because WBC produces nothing positive whatsoever except hatred and misery, while Charlie Hebdo satirizes many things that deserve satire. Are they offensive? Absolutely… but then so is South Park, which show is afraid to pillory nothing. Mad and Cracked back in the 60s and 70s were very similar [1]; the French outfit simply doesn’t have the same restraints on them as American television or magazines, so they’re free to add all the crude sexual [and religious and political and social] humor they want. It may be this “crossing of the line” that some people find so offensive rather than the actual satire itself.

Nonetheless, the same principles of free speech apply here:

1) You’re free to say and publish what you want, and the government can’t come after you for it.
2) You are *not* free from the consequences of your speech.

In this sense, I agree with the thesis of the article. Charlie can be pretty nasty; just look at the comments of Dutch cartoonist Bernard Holtrop (Willem):

“We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. It really makes me laugh,” Bernard Holtrop, whose pen name is Willem, told the Dutch centre-left daily Volkskrant.

“Marine Le Pen is delighted when the Islamists start shooting all over the place,” said Willem, 73, a longtime Paris resident who also draws for the French leftist daily Liberation.

He added: “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.”

The authors and cartoonists who work at Charlie Hebdo are not necessarily nice people, but they know who they are and they know the risks they are taking by being deliberately offensive. Unfortunately, this week some of them paid the price for taking those risks. This is sad, and unconscionable, and they didn’t deserve to die… but in the grand scheme of things this was not totally surprising.

I remember buying some of the first editions of Charlie when I was living in Italy in 1970. There was a parallel publication in Italian called, interestingly, “Linus.” I now wish I still had them – they’d be worth quite a bit.

As part of the discussion, another member of our community indicated she could identify with Willem’s disgust, citing the world leaders who are marching in Paris while pursuing national policies of destruction and/or oppression. And that’s a valid debate. I replied,

It is another debate entirely, and one that needs to continue. There are many who see the outpouring of support for Charlie as a good thing, others see it as superficial lip-service. And certainly, In that crowd of thousands marching in Paris, you would find thousands of reasons for being there.

In this particular case, I see Willem’s reaction (and those of many, many others in the blogosphere) as a confirmation of the axiom that reality is perception. We see things not as they are, but as we are.

Charlie Hebdo in many ways crosses the boundaries of responsible journalism into the realm of “we’re going to be assholes  just because we can.” And while that aspect of satirical organs is repugnant to many, even those not the targets of their caustic commentary, it is and must remain protected – because if you shut them down, where does the censorship stop?

What happened in Paris is a tragedy of immense significance, and it has ignited a vigorous debate on the nature and aims of the Islamic extremist movement. In these attacks some have seen more than just revenge for offensive cartoons; journalists and analysts all over the world have chimed in suggesting that the true motive was to actually inflame hatred for Islam, making it easier for the terrorist groups to recruit the uneducated and the ideologically susceptible.

In the end, Charlie Hebdo is a pretty lowbrow publication, but I will defend to the death their right to be that way (as Voltaire’s biographer stated, although not Voltaire himself) – because if I don’t, it clears the pathway to the censorship of all writing, including my own, just because it happens to offend somebody, somewhere. And by the same token, I’m free to read it or not read it, and free to choose whether or not I will be offended.

So, yes. As Albert Uderzo so elegantly said by coming out of retirement:


“I’m Charlie too.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Check out this tasteful ad for a revival of Disney’s Snow White from Mad’s December, 1970 issue:


John Cleese to quit movie making

And that’s sad. But in a larger sense, there is a time and a season for everything.

Cleese’s announcement was made public in The Mirror, reflecting comments made at a promotional event at the Cheltenham Literary Festival at which time he said in typical style, “I have only got five or six years left and I will be gone – I won’t have to worry about ISIS or Ebola, I am looking forward to it.”

A few more years and I'm outta here

Sorta the same sentiment as the above, although the honored Mr. Cleese is nowhere near this decrepit. He’s 74, about 11 years older than myself, and I’m looking forward to as many good years as I can squeeze out of this body before I have completed my work on this earth. But there comes a time when one is ready.

Just recently someone pointed me to Cleese’s wonderful eulogy at Graham Chapman’s memorial service:

Should I be fortunate enough to outlive John Cleese – we never really know when the bus will come for us, after all – I will be most curious to see if someone can eulogize him in the same irreverent manner or as appropriately.

Of interest was a comment that Cleese made revealing that the Python team were never “huge friends”.

John said: “The key to understanding Python now is we have all driven off in completely different directions. Michael [Palin], as you know, makes those travel programs that I put on any time I can’t sleep. Eric Idle is very good at lyrics so he is writing songs. Terry Gilliam is off trying to raise money for one of his plotless ­extravaganzas. And Jonesy [Terry] is just insane – he writes children’s books and recently went to Lisbon and directed an opera about vacuum cleaners.”

Their recent reunion and grand farewell in London is an event that I was very sad not to be able to attend. These gentlemen, Chapman included, brought me many a belly-laugh and much joy in the theater of the absurd. While all of them but Chapman are still with us, in ten years or so, most of them will probably have gone on to the grand cheese shop in the sky. And I may be there with them; I hope they have some of that Venezuelan beaver cheese available.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

After an Internship (courtesy of the reddit community)

reddit is a strange beast. Tailor your subreddits and settings carefully to avoid the dark side and the NSFW (not safe for work) stuff, and it can be a source of valuable information as well as good entertainment. If you like cats, paving your floor with pennies (don’t forget the sealer), using bananas for scale, and a host of mad references, you may find it a congenial place. But I digress.

Recently redditors began posting pictures of what it’s like after an internship at [company name.] I found these amusing – and revelatory – so I have collected them here for your reading pleasure.


At Google


At Microsoft




At Apple



At Comcast


At reddit

And, of course, what it’s like after an internship at pretty much anywhere these days:

homeless person sleeping in cardboard box


The Old Wolf has spoken.

Don’t send in the clowns… give them love.

The recent and tragic passing of Robin Williams has spawned a flurry of tributes and analyses, and many of these focus on the issue of mental health. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s unfortunate that it takes the death of a beloved actor to focus the public’s ephemeral attention on an ongoing problem. At the same time, it’s not like the issue has been unknown or has been being ignored all this time; my very first encounter with the issue of depression came from the classic poem:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
– Edwin Arlington Robinson

When I read this poem for the first time (probably around 9th grade, which would have been 1964) I thought, “How could someone so rich and powerful and enviable do that?” Then I lived with depression for 30 years. Not mine, but someone else’s, and I learned that this is not something that is tied to external circumstances, and it’s not just something you “get over.” No matter how hard some people work, no matter how much therapy, no matter how many meds, that blackness just doesn’t  go away. You can’t regrow a leg by thinking about it, you don’t make ALS disappear just because you want it to, and depression is just the same. And sometimes it just hurts too badly to keep going.

In 1967, Dave Berg wrote “The Lighter Side of the Mating Game” for MAD magazine. He had his finger on the pulse of the insecure comedian:

Dave Berg Georgie


A much darker, but no less accurate summation was created by Nicholas Gurewitch, the creator of the Perry Bible Fellowship:

Perry Bible Fellowship - We Need the Funny


In a recent ABC News article, Dr. Rami Kaminski, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine was quoted as saying, “The reason so many comedians are at risk for mental illness is because being funny is not the same thing as being happy.”  He also said he believes many comedians mine humor as a way to escape depression and anxiety.

Several articles and blogs which appeared pursuant to Williams’ death are worth reading:

The Death of Robin Williams, And What Suicide Isn’t – Elizabeth Hawksworth

Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish – Dean Burnett at The Guardian

David Wong, over at, wrote a savagely honest article about the relationship between comedy and internal suffering (he’s a humorist himself, and  speaks from experience, although this is obviously only one scenario, and doesn’t apply to all cases):

  1. At an early age, you start hating yourself. Often it’s because you were abused, or just grew up in a broken home, or were rejected socially, or maybe you were just weird or fat or … whatever. You’re not like the other kids, the other kids don’t seem to like you, and you can usually detect that by age 5 or so.
  2. At some point, usually at a very young age, you did something that got a laugh from the room. You made a joke or fell down or farted, and you realized for the first time that you could get a positive reaction that way. Not genuine love or affection, mind you, just a reaction — one that is a step up from hatred and a thousand steps up from invisibility. One you could control.
  3. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you — a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.
  4. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.

You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That’s not the real you. So you’re protected.

The full article is rather coarse so I don’t quote most of it here, but if you’re not offended by such things, you can visit the source.

For me, the takeaway from all of this is that much more needs to be done in the area of treating mental illness. When people get sick, they visit a doctor without hesitation. But let a person suffer from depression, and it’s usually hidden away in the closet and discussed in hushed whispers using euphemisms like “chemical imbalance.” Those who suffer usually manage to function in society, but are rarely free of judgment; most often heard from others who have no clue are things like “happiness is a choice, just snap out of it.” This and about 100 other platitudes, things that are never helpful to say to someone with depression, can be found at PsychCentral.

The other important point is that there is nothing that you can do for a friend or loved one who suffers from the blackness. Depression is still poorly understood, and there is no “cure.” The same source above provides a list of things that can be done, but this list – while accurate – is highly clinical and omits the two most important things you can do: Love and accept. People with depression need a community of friends who can provide support and acceptance without judgment. Even this won’t make the blackness go away, but it’s the best thing friends and family can offer.

In conclusion, two beautiful tributes to the life of Robin Williams:

Patch Adams: ‘Thank You for All You’ve Given This World Robin, Thank You My Friend’

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Geography: The revenge of Europe

Over at BuzzFeed, they asked Brits to label a map of the USA. Most of them didn’t do very well.


This one is funny – others were abominable. Squaresies?

Turnabout is fair play, so they also asked Americans to label a map of Europe:


But the question got more personal when I decided to see how well I would fare instead of pointing the finger of scorn at the poor showing of others. So I did the following maps with no prompting or cheating, and here is the brutal result:


I started with Europe, which I have spent a good part of my life crisscrossing for work, study and pleasure. I swapped Kosovo and Montenegro, reversed Sardinia and Corsica – Ocatarinetabellatchitchix would never forgive me, I’m off to hide in the maquis – and got Lithuania and Latvia backwards. I did remember to put Malta and San Marino in, but forgot Monaco and Gibraltar, although I know they’re there. Totally zoned out on Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova, and anything eastwards there be dragons. I give myself a B+, but I should have done better.

Then I came back home to see how well I would do with my own country.


For as many times as I’ve driven across this nation I should have these down cold. Kansas and Nebraska got reversed; I’m sure I’m no longer welcome at my cousin Laura’s place in Olathe. I have been in Kentucky but only a few times passing through, and I couldn’t dredge up its name to save my soul. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa simply vanished from my memory; even trying to recite Wakko’s song about the capitals didn’t help, i could only get halfway through. I put Michigan on the wrong side of the lake, and reversed Vermont and New Hampshire. Thank Mogg I know where Maine is or I’d be sleeping in the gutter tonight. I do know where Rhode Island is, but I just forgot to write it in.

Again, probably about a B+. Shameful.

I thought about trying Africa, but looked at an outline map and promptly threw up. I could place Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. I could do Egypt, Libya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the DRC, and Madagascar. Given all the princes and government officials who have contacted me, I should know exactly where Nigeria is, but frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. [1] Beyond a couple of random others, it would be just like that “Sorry, No Idea” above. I know there are lions and tigers, but only in Kenya. [2]

How about trying to identify the provinces of Canada? Well, BC’s out west, then moving east I know there’s Alberta and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, and Newfoundland; Nunavut’s up in the frozen north, and I know I’ve missed a few, but I haven’t spent a lot of time up there. Australia? Geez. I could probably place Queensland, NSW and Canberra, because I’ve been there, and I know where Tasmania is – the rest of the country is Kangarooland for all I know. 

Asia? Too many “-stans” that I couldn’t even begin to identify; China, Mongolia, India, Tibet, Pakistan, and Bangladesh I know; I could place Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Viet Nam, but would probably mix up Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and any others that happen to be out there. And as for the islands of the sea, I can name a lot of Pacific and Caribbean countries, but would get an “F” if I tried to place them on a map.

This all popped up over at Facebook, and a comment my son left is germane: “What’s the point?”

Well, there are a few good reasons for knowing this kind of thing. First and foremost is winning bar bets and getting karma on reddit. Specialized knowledge would be useful for specific careers – say, if you work for the Census Bureau, or FEMA, or certain other government agencies, or the UN High Commision for Refugees, or the merchant marine, or things like that. Or if you’re a Geography teacher.

But more importantly, broad knowledge is a symptom rather than an end in itself.

In Synergetics, Buckminster Fuller said,

“We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable. Consequently, society expects all earnestly responsible communication to be crisply brief. . . . In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others.” 

And in The Roving Mind, Isaac Asimov said that

“Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.”

But by far my favorite quote about specialization and the expansion of knowledge comes from Robert Heinlein, in Time Enough for Love:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

 At the age of 14, I was described by my camp counselors in the following words:
“However unorganized his body of knowledge may be, he is still a source of many bits of information, and despite his mere 85-lb. bulk was one of our most determined and energetic trippers.”

The older I’ve gotten, the worse it gets. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know – and I want to know more. I want to know and understand it all. And having a mind that has remained as scattered and disorganized as it always has been, one which can remember some of the most arcane and useless facts imaginable and still forget where the hqiz I put my keys 10 minutes ago, doesn’t help one bit.

Focus is definitely a challenge, because we only have a limited time on this green earth, and there are things that need to be done. As a youth I was admonished to concentrate my efforts into sufficiently few lines of endeavor that I might become proficient, giving me strength in my position in life. In some ways, I have done that. In others it’s been really …

bigpreview_Red Squirrel


The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] He said “my dear.”
[2] That’s a joke.

Lies, Spies, and Videotape.


Edward Snowden. Hero? Traitor? Irrelevant?

It’s a big deal, and the calls for lionization, incarceration, exculpation, evaporation, and a lot of other “-ations” are beginning to ring from coast to coast and across the world.

I have no doubt the NSA, CIA, FBI, and Mogg knows what other hush-hush agencies would like to see this man suffer in the fiery heat of Satan’s hottest furnace for eternity. On the other hand, civil libertarians are calling for an immediate pardon for a man they see as a brave and fearless national hero.

It appears that Snowden certainly broke the law in releasing the information that he did, but in so doing it also appears that he brought to light an even greater violation of principles than he himself is guilty of. So where do we draw the line?


“As usual, if you or any member of your IM force is caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

Sean Connery as James Bond

License to Kill

Spies are paid to lie. Governments who employ them lie on a regular basis. The popularity of the action/spy thrillers on TV and in movies proves that we expect, nay, demand it. In real life it may not be right, but it becomes a matter of national security in some cases; nations simply don’t operate along the same moral lines as we would like them to. Can you imagine what would happen if governments were  completely open, honest, and transparent with one another? [1] The “good guys” are pretty much obliged to resort to deception and subterfuge to combat the “bad guys,” and keep their nations safe. That’s what the NSA and the CIA are there to do. For what it’s worth, we even spy on our friends. Don’t ask me how I know… I’d have to lie to protect certain other people.

Unfortunately, the CIA and NSA and other alphabet-soup agencies have also been tasked with things that have much less to do with keeping our nation safe than with keeping it rich, at the expense of other governments and peoples. If you’d like a glimpse into that shadowy world, read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins; it will most likely raise both your eyebrows and your conscience. An extract of Amazon’s review:

“John Perkins started and stopped writing Confessions of an Economic Hit Man four times over 20 years. He says he was threatened and bribed in an effort to kill the project, but after 9/11 he finally decided to go through with this expose of his former professional life. Perkins, a former chief economist at Boston strategic-consulting firm Chas. T. Main, says he was an “economic hit man” for 10 years, helping U.S. intelligence agencies and multinationals cajole and blackmail foreign leaders into serving U.S. foreign policy and awarding lucrative contracts to American business. “Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars,” Perkins writes. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is an extraordinary and gripping tale of intrigue and dark machinations. Think John Le Carré, except it’s a true story.”

What has been revealed by Snowdon goes far, far beyond keeping our nation safe from external evils; it has much more to do with controlling a domestic population, and despite groans and sobs of denial from those in the know, I can’t believe – I refuse to believe – that this massive accumulation of data can and will not be used for financial and potentiary gain by those in a position to access and use it.

And the fact that this mind-boggling misuse power was authorized years ago by the “patriot act” does not make it any more right. I’m glad it came to light, and I’m glad there’s a dialog going on, and I hope that some people are going to get their feet held to the fire, and I hope that what comes out of it is more transparency, and better for the citizenry of our country than for the power brokers.

I don’t condone illegal behavior. But I do believe in the principle of the “greater good.” I think Mr. Snowdon has recognized that his actions would carry a heavy price, and it was a price he is willing to pay to act according to the dictates of his conscience. I have no idea how all this is going to play out, but for me, at this moment, I’m keeping him in the plus column.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] Somewhere out there is a science fiction story (or perhaps creative fantasy) about a special blend of coffee that mutates somewhere, and has the stunning effect of making people reasonable. After drinking some of it, the French delegate to the UN stands up and shouts, “It’s all balls!” In the end, the entire world has partaken, and governments actually start acting with decency and common sense, for the good of all the people of the world. I have never been able to relocate this story. If it sounds similar to Mark Clifton’s 1952 story “The Conqueror,” that’s not surprising – instead of coffee it was a mutant pychotropic dahlia root that changed the world:

“So it came about that one by one the members of the Politbureau tasted of the dahlia, even to the leader himself.

All of this took much time, and meanwhile heads of other nations who were not so suspicious of every shadow, and not so inaccessible, were eating regularly of the dahlia.

When finally the sincere word of peace and goodwill came ringing from Moscow to all the world, it was echoed back with all sincerity.”

A lovely story. Read it, if you’d like a smile.

Flooding in Central Europe

Massive flooding throughout central Europe has cost 10 lives and wreaked incalculable damage… and the water is still rising. My thoughts are with all those affected by this widespread disaster. I share some photos from Austria, as I know the country best of all the others currently being affected.


Marbach on Tuesday, June 4th.


Emmersdorf in the neighborhood of Melk.


Building a portable high-water barrier in Spitz. Notice the house in the background.

Hochwasserschutz, Weißenkirchen, NÖ, Wachau

The same house a week later. Without the barrier, it would have been under water.


B138 near Lofer.


Hüttau suffered massive damage.

Click through for a full picture gallery with 103 images.

Seen in the rubble in Moore, OK.



It’s true. No one can appreciate this more than those who have lost things, or those who have lost people. Many individuals lost their lives in Oklahoma today, and many families are grieving. Words like this are scant comfort for them, and only time will – hopefully – transform the bitterness of loss into the sweetness of memory.

Far more people kept their lives but lost everything they had, and their hardships are none the less – but I am sure there is much gratitude being felt by those who survived the ordeal, realizing that things can be replaced and that, in the end, nothing truly belongs to us. We can only preside over our goods for a short time, and then they pass into the hands of others.

My thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Oklahoma and other areas affected by these devastating storms. I have done what I could, and wish only that it could be more. If you want to help, one good place is the United Way of Oklahoma.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Happy Anniversary


Three years ago today, in Palmyra, New York, the most wonderful lady in the world became my bride.

The subsequent three years have been “interesting times” in the “Chinese Curse” sense of the word[1], but I would not trade them for anything. Among other things, we worked for the Census, made new friends, fixed up and sold a home, bought a home, had my elderly mother with us for a year until she moved to a nursing home, endured some injuries, got chickens, raised gardens, suffered through underemployment and discouraging job hunts, held yard sales, endured night-time work schedules, traveled around the country (never rent a Budget truck unless you have a death wish), had children come and go and come and go, painted the house (halfway done!), installed a bathroom in our basement, made countless trips to Savers and Deseret Industries to get rid of stuff (and, unfortunately, pick up more), adopted cats, cooked wonderful things to eat, learned new skills, hosted knitting nights…  and done our best to love, honor and build one another up.

I wouldn’t exchange a minute of it.

Both of us were married before, and we’re happy to have “gotten it right” the second time around. (Cue Ol’ Blue Eyes here.)

To the love of my life: Thank you for three wonderful years – may the next forever be even more amazing.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] It is said that an old Chinese curse intones, “May you live in interesting times.” I am fully aware that no such curse exists, but it’s a great way of expressing an idea. Hush.

Tight times, 5 years later

Posted this over at Livejournal on 11/22/2008, but things haven’t changed, so it’s worth a rerun.

Lor’ lumme, times is tough all over. People are actually starting to seriously use the “D” word for the first time since WWII. Today’s “Overboard” was funny, but also caused a cord in my heart to be plucked, because in some ways it’s not funny at all.

I remember reading this book to my kids when they were little, and it made me cry. Today, more folks than I care to count are really struggling, and I even feel the cold breath of economic terror from behind the door on occasion.

I’m hoping and praying that whoever is able to pull the economic strings in our country over the next four years can keep us from total meltdown, because folks, we’re only a couple of degrees away from an economic China Syndrome.

The Old Wolf has spoken.