There Aught to Be a Law


A 2014 “Brickbats” spot out of Reason magazine.

A court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced Shezanne Cassim to one year in prison and a fine of $2,700 for posting a parody video to the Internet. Cassim’s video poked fun at local young people who have adopted American hip hop style. Authorities have refused to say exactly what law the video broke, but Cassim’s family say he was charged with endangering national security.

They don’t know what the law is but they know when you’ve broken it. As they say, show us the man and we’ll come up with the crime.

Filed 4/21/17

One From the Torah-Ha-Ha


Another old spot from 2000. Had something to do with comedians amongst the chosen people. Though one wonders what exactly the Jews were chosen for or whether that was such an honor. After all, you could be chosen for a suicide mission, eh what? Scapegoats are chosen, too. Still, a lot of comedians are Jewish. And a lot of them have German names. Though Germans aren’t generally considered to be all that funny. Groucho Marx, pretty funny. Friedrich Nietzsche, not so funny.

Anyway, those are the stereotypes. One supposes they wouldn’t persist if there wasn’t at least a grain of truth to them. Besides, folks only dismiss stereotypes when they’re negative. They embrace them when positive. Crafty Jew, bad. Funny Jew, good. So it seems positive bigotry is OK. We call that cultural heritage and ethnic pride.

Filed 4/13/17

Did the Splash Page Look Wrong to You?


Don’t know why, but the opening animation on the splash page doesn’t work quite right in every browser. Since it’s a throwaway bit we’re not going to sweat it. Still, it irks us. Though it does make two days running where we’re confused about technology. Be that as it may we’re chucking in an old art spot from PC World of 1998 which is only tangentially related, but kinda fits.

Filed 4/5/17

Let the Critter Cursing Begin


Here’s another old spot of art done in my prime, 1999. Or at least the year I was most busy as a beaver work-wise. Though that’s not a beaver in the pic. Might be a squirrel, the object of my ire as per the headline. For some reason the little buggers chose to dig about a hundred holes in the front yard over the fall and winter. Whether they were putting stuff in or taking stuff out I don’t know. Either way it’s now a patching the grass job for me. #%@&! squirrels.

Not much of a story, but at least it’s a change of pace for the reader from all those spinning bits of last week.

Filed 4/3/17

Another Movie Poster Via the Wayback Machine


Another old art spot from Fortean Times of 1997, an imaginary poster for an imaginary film that’s a combination horse and space opera. Though why opera when nobody sings in them? Who knows? Still, the outer space theme goes with the opening pointless animation splash page. Or does (did) depending on when you’re reading this because our splash pages have a habit of disappearing in short order.

All the same, don’t ask what this art spot was about, it ran twenty years ago. Also, don’t ask us how the moon got out to Mars. Nor why the alien is wearing a sombrero. These are questions we have no ready answer for. That’s just the way science fiction is. You start to question things and you get sidetracked into ideas that don’t really matter.

Like, why do you need to swing a light saber? Couldn’t you just point it and turn it on for a thrust at the speed of light? And couldn’t a light saber be 100 feet long? After all, being made of light it wouldn’t weigh much, would it? With a 100 foot saber you could wipe out an entire platoon with a single swing. Maybe. All the same, it’s not really a saber, it has a straight blade and no hand guard. It’s more like a really long, glowing switchblade.

To ponder more sci-fi imponderables, when people transport in Star Trek, are the disassembled bits temporarily dead during transport and brought back to life upon reconstitution? Could you store transporter reassembly information and transport yourself younger? In other words, revert to saved?

Despite our questions, sci-fi still makes more sense than opera. After all, who going through the trials and tribulations of life suddenly bursts out into song about it?

Filed 3/25/17

Poster for the Movie You’ve Never Seen Though You Have


Doesn’t it seem like every movie is a remake? Or a sequel. Or a retelling of the same old story in a different time and place. Or, as in the case of the art you see, a rerun. From Fortean Times of 1997.

In a way, every story is a disaster story of sorts. Sometimes a small disaster looms, other times the end of the world as we know it is in the cards unless the protagonist averts it. If it’s a comedy they succeed. Which is the oldest meaning of comedy, a happy ending. If they fail it’s a tragedy. One or the other. That’s what the old Greek comedy and tragedy masks for the theater are all about.

Anyway, if there were no trouble brewing there’s really not much of a story to engage people. Why bother watching things happen that make no difference one way or another? So, while they say there are only seven basic plots, (or whatever the number is) maybe there’s really only one. Disaster looms and they escape or they don’t. Fin.

Filed 3/21/17

Coming Up Soon


It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s pointless animation. It’s a gag. It’s a pun. No, not a pun exactly. Maybe a syllepsis, where a word or phrase can have both a literal and a figurative meaning. Whatever it is it’s a rerun of old art, only animated this time around. Call it the art director’s cut. Yeah, that’s the ticket. A way to milk a little more mileage out of old work.

Filed 3/6/17

Now, 0.01% More Correct!


As said recently we try to be accurate, but sometimes commit blunders. We lately found a real boner and set it right. We won’t say what. We’re underhanded that way. Plus, we can pretend it never happened. That’s the magic of the web, the ability to presto-chango the past. No need to send out recall notices, simply flush every embarrassing bloomer down the memory hole with a keystroke or two.

We thought this spot from 1998 would fit the bill as an illustration of “Oops.” Anyway, if Star Trek can pretend Klingons were always boney foreheaded worm eaters and the original greasy-looking guys sporting Van Dykes and Fu Manchus never happened, we expect the reader will allow us similar leeway.

Filed 2/26/17

Maybe It’s Pirate Month


We just can’t seem to resist. Here be a pirate “Brickbats” spot from the January 2015 issue of Reason magazine.

If you are holding a Talk Like a Pirate Day celebration, you might expect some­one to show up dressed as a pirate. But when one employee at North Carolina’s Richlands Elementary School saw another worker dressed as a pirate, the first staffer reported a suspicious person. Officials then locked down not just the elementary school but all schools in the area.

After which everyone was sent to a safe area for counseling and further dosing.

Filed 2/24/17

How to Fake It Like a Pro


Another old spot from the archives for which the manuscript is long gone. So I’ll just have to fake it. It’s a joke. Get it? OK, not much of a joke, but I need an intro to get to the point at hand. Which is an old joke I never really understood until I began studying piano. Here goes, in a pared down version.

Two jazz musicians are walking along a pier. One falls over the edge into the water and cries out, “Help! I don’t know how to swim!” The other musician yells back, “Fake it.”

This joke really only works if you know musician lingo. What they mean by fake it. This is when you’re in a jam session and you don’t know the tune you can still play along by faking it. This doesn’t mean pretending to play, like a Hollywood actor moving his hands over the keys not actually playing anything. It means you pick out the tempo, key, and chord progression and play along with whatever you can manage that fits. Going through the tune you learn the melody and bridges at whatnot and can then play those, too. Well, if you’re any good you can, which leaves me out. Of course, it helps than most jazz, blues, rock and pop music have pretty much the same basic and fairly simple structure.

Anyway, this term, fake, also lends itself to what they call a fake book. This is not an imaginary book, but sheet music written with a shorthand musical notation system. You are likely familiar with classical music notation, those five line staffs with all the notes, clefs, rests, sharps, flats and what-have-you. These leave nothing to chance, every note (quaver) played is jotted down. Usually. Sometimes you can toss in your own flourishes, but mostly everything is there.

A fake book is different. All you have is a barebones melody line and shorthand key signatures through the progression, or changes as they say. So, instead of putting down all the sharps and flats and the notes that make the chord they’ll just put down something like F-7 (F minor seventh). The player knows what notes are played in that scale and how to play some version of the chord. Same goes for the melody line, you can fill in notes around it, mostly under, as long as you hit the melody line on the right beats. In simplistic terms the key signature tells you the bottom note, the melody line tells you the top note and you make up everything in between with whatever works in the scale.

The difference between classical and fake book notation reminds me of an anecdote from long ago. My mom was trying to work out on the piano how to play a popular tune of the day. Being trained in classical notation she was writing down every note in the chords and so on and so forth. A rock musician friend of mine tried to help her out by explaining how to do it the fake book way. “You’re doing it the hard way. Just write down the chord notation and insert the chords as you go along.” Or something to that effect.

Which is easier, if you’re used to playing that way. With lots of practice you get to the point where the left hand moves through the chords without much effort or thought really. It practically becomes automatic, muscle memory or something. Still, simply being told to do it that way and mastering it is quite a different thing believe you me. Whether my mom ever got the hang of it I can’t say.

So then, for any non-musician readers who have heard that old joke and didn’t really get it, as I didn’t for many years, now you know.

Filed 2/17/17

Tips to Write More Betterer


A bit of art from the 2000 archives about plagiarism that befits our picking up some writing advice from Business Insider.

How to improve anything you write in 2 minutes

  1. Delete the word “that” –The word “that” can be removed from your writing at least 90% of the time, and it will instantly make your sentence stronger.
  2. Delete the words “I think” –It adds nothing. Remove it to strengthen your point.
  3. Avoid words that end in “-ing” –In most cases, the “-ing” softens your word and adds no value. Your writing will read better if you avoid it.
  4. Short sentences, short paragraphs –Most sentences can be cut in half. Don’t be afraid to have a two- or three-word sentence.
  5. Shrink your opening sentence –Make it compelling, but keep it short and conversational.

We find ourselves agreeing that elimi­nating “that” from sentences is something that works well. Or rather, we agree eliminating “that” from sentences works well. See, a lot of what they say really works. Still, there can be exceptions.

For instance, adding “I think,” “I imagine,” “I suppose” and the like are qualifiers to let readers know what follows are opinions and not facts or certainties. Which might be important depending on the context and subject. If you’re writing for comic effect a long sentence full of asides, insertions, diversions, and looping around verbiage is the stuff to feed the troops. We think.

Still, overall their advice is sound. Especially for business communication, memos, directives, email, that sort of thing. Also for directions and when conveying complex information. Chop it up into easily swallowed little bites rather than force feeding heaping helpings in one go. That’s the way to feed the troops.

Filed 2/15/17

What the Hell, Again?


Here’s an old spot from Fortean Times of 1998. Does the color treatment and subject remind you of anything you’ve seen here recently? What can I say, people tend to repeat themselves. Even if they don’t realize they are doing it. They say great minds think alike. Well, mediocre minds think alike, too. Especially when it’s the same mediocre mind thinking alike itself.

Filed 2/7/17

A Post Which Took Seven Tries to Spell Hieroglyphics Right


Another mystery spot from the old art archives. This one from 2000. What could a post-apocalyptic Borg cockroach be about? Was somebody working on this sort of thing back at the turn of the millenium? Is there a covert operation Gregor going on? Just what the heck is the CIA spending taxpayer dollars on anyway? We want answers! Even if we got answers, would they be true? How can we believe people whose job it is to deceive? Do they even tell the truth to each other? Once down the rabbit hole, is there a way back?

OK, OK. We’re pretty certain the Frankenroach had nothing to do with any of that. Maybe something about bio-engineering? We just can’t figure it. It’s like trying to decipher the hieroglyphics of a long gone people and language. How do they do that anyway? If there were an apocalypse and all that remained was graffiti, what would a race of roach-bots make of it? Ever think of that? Niether did we.

Filed 1/27/17

The New Age of Reason


Here’s a recent bit of art from Reason magazine’s “Brickbats” department. The old rag got a new art director recently who, as new art directors often do, wanted to revamp things a bit, including the color pallet throughout. So we came up with a new three-color scheme for the spots. Of course, it’s really printed in CMYK so it’s three-color from four-color. The scheme is black plus two colors and tints of those two colors which change from month to month.

The new art director originally wanted me to revert to an old drawing style I used in Cracked about twenty tears ago. As seen in Roller Coaster Mania. I convinced her this was the preferable option. Besides, I’m not sure I could go back to that old style. New habits die hard. Anyway, as is the customary pratice here’s the text for the spot:

France is the first country to ban disposable plastic cups and plates. The new law requires “all disposable table­ware to be made from 50% biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home by January of 2020.”

Filed 1/20/17

Wherein We Pirate a Pirate Pic from Ourselves


A slight variation of our usual suspect methods, a snippet from the terry colon dot com archives befitting the Pirate Treasure Hunt splash page. Here’s where it first appeared:

Are Pirates Sea-lubbers?

If you’d rather not bother covering old ground, here’s something new. Our red-bearded pirate sports beard braids, fashioned after the infamous Blackbeard who also went about with smoldering fuses sticking out from under his hat to set off cannons. Though we suppose only during battle and not as some kind of everyday pirate fashion statement.

Speaking of cannon, in days of wooden ships and iron men not all the ship’s big guns were cannons, which were a specific size and shape of big gun. There were also demi-cannons, culverins, demi-culverins, carronades, and paixhans guns. For landlubbers cannon is pretty much a generic term for them all. Though we’re still not sure if the plural for cannon is cannon or cannons.

Filed 1/9/17

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