Is Nixon Underrated?

Today is Nixon’s 100th birthday. I wrote this piece about him about 5 years ago and think you might dig it.

Much has been made of Nixon’s gross errors, paranoid delusions, and chicanerous deceptions. But it is unfair to judge his entire presidency by his mistakes. There were numerous successes and some visionary policies. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the most succesful presidents in American history. He is the only man to ever be elected President twice and Vice President twice, and his victory in 1972 was one of the biggest landslides in American history. He was President when man first walked on the moon. Relations with Russia and China were both greatly improved during Nixon’s tenure. He was an impressive compromiser, able to succesfully push numerous bills through a Democratic Congress.

“If liberals were pressed to say something nice about Nixon, they’d probably mention his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and support for the clean water act, school desegregation, and affirmative action,” says Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor at Temple. “By current-day standards, Nixon’s domestic policies would be considered centrist, if not left-of-center.” In fact, renowned left wing activist Noam Chomsky once called Nixon, “Our last liberal President.” And Hunter S. Thompson, who despised Nixon all his life and who worked feverishly to assist George McGovern in 1972, offered him faint praise a few years ago. “Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?”

As for conservatives? “Conservatives, on the other hand, would probably point to Nixon’s foreign policy as his positive side,” continues Arceneaux. “Neo-conservatives are especially pleased with his willingness to expand the powers of the presidency to pursue aggressively U.S. foreign policy goals, even if it meant keeping Congress in the dark or treating concerns for civil liberties as secondary.”

Hunter Thompson said this about him in an otherwise scathing obituary in 1994. “He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death…It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.”

He was a fighter, a compromiser, the son of an impoverished grocer who rose to be the most powerful man on Earth. He was also a crook. But to paint his entire Presidency with the broad brush of the Watergate fiasco is simply not fair.

Stu Bykofsky Defends Blackface

Another Mummers Parade has come and gone, leaving those of us with a modicum of common sense and common decency both bewildered and embarrassed (I wrote a piece defending the Mummers a few years ago. I made some fair points, but after what I saw yesterday, I was wrong.)  The Mummers decided to really amp up the racism this year, and the result was embarrassing for the city. But Daily News writer Stu Bykofsky thinks we just lack a sense of humor if we don’t find blackface or mockery of Native Americans funny.

Out there in the twitverse – that’s not a typo – some donkey sees blackface in the Mummers Parade and – kazaam! – as many as nine people on a couple of different “platforms” are finding other forms of “racism” in the parade, drawing insipid conclusions from their aggressive ignorance.

In other words, Stu Bykofsky thinks it’s not only perfectly acceptable in 2013 to have a float called “Bringin’ Back Those Minstrel Days” in a downtown parade in one of America’s largest cities, complete with giant wooden depictions of blackface (seen below), but that those of us who don’t “get it” are ignorant. He continues.

If you’re offended, here’s a buck. Try to buy a sense of humor.

See, here’s the problem with your simple logic, Stu: there is a very hard and fast rule in comedy…if you’re going to say or do something making fun of a race that isn’t your own, IT BETTER BE FUNNY. That’s the social contract that anyone doing comedy has with their audience. You can say whatever you want when it comes to race, but it better be funny or the crowd will probably turn on you and you’re going to look like a total jackass. I’ve seen comedians walk both sides of that line, and it is remarkable to see the people who are good at it pull it off, to the degree that the people they’re making fun of are laughing their heads off. It is an amazing skill, one that very few comics are capable of. And it is cringeworthy when the others can’t make it work, and the crowd turns, and the comic is up there all alone, twisting in the wind because their joke was some idiotic, simple lampooning of race.

In other words, race and culture and class and America’s history of racial and social conflict are all on the table for comedy and satire in the Mummers Parade. All of it. But here is what is truly so offensive about the Mummers: they’re not funny. Mocking call centers in India, then confusing Native Americans with Indians…not funny. Mocking people by posting giant wooden caricatures of blackface…pathetic and simple. Why can’t the clowns be funny? Why can’t a string group as obviously talented as the Ferko’s (Who have finished in the top 5 a whopping 83 times) express themselves creatively without “bringin’ back” to life something the country pretty much agreed was overtly racist over 100 years ago? That doesn’t mean that these groups need to appeal to my personal aesthetic, or even anything close to it, but for the love of God is it too much to ask that they stop trying to appeal to Mississippi rednecks of the 1950s?

And don’t come after me for not appreciating Philly’s history and tradition. I love this city’s history and tradition. I run a freaking website about Philly’s history. But appreciating history doesn’t mean we have to keep repeating it. Blackface was wrong. There’s a reason it stopped being socially acceptable. And if a Mummers troupe in 2013 isn’t creative enough to do a production without incorporating it, then they shouldn’t be in a major parade in one of America’s great cities. It’s really that simple.

If you find blackface funny, or that skit above funny, you are quite simply anti-social. That humor is not funny. It’s simple and it’s lame. If you want to know why blackface isn’t funny, pick up a U.S. history book. If you still want to defend it, Stu, go right ahead. But just be aware that you’re on the other side of that line, the one where no one is laughing. You’re just twisting in the wind, joking about blackface in a room of people who think that you just don’t have a clue.

John Kensil Tweets

As I’ve told you before, the most hilarious tweeter in Philadelphia is John Kensil. Here’s a few more of my favorites that he’s posted recently.

Just watched a special on David Copperfield’s tricks, know how he does them? He’s the devil.

Hey The Apple Dumpling Gang is on! Grab some soda, popcorn, candy and a nice long belt and a strong 2nd floor banister!

Boy that #walkingDead show sure is full of nutty characters, running around , acting all sorts of nutty, I wish Arsenio hall was on it.

One Time I tried to carve Jack O Lantern out of a basketball, It exploded & blew my clothes off my body, Well that’s what I told the cops.

The worst part of an Ice Cream truck driver’s funeral? Listening to “Pop Goes The Weasel” on bagpipes.


My Mom Goes to the Bob and Barbara’s Drag Show

The Lovely Cookie and I just got back from a two week vacation in Hawaii. While we were away, my mom house and pet-sat. I asked her to write a few short snippets about her visit to the big city. The first one deals with her trip to the Bob and Barbara’s Drag Show.

Back in May when my son Johnny asked me to pet and housesit for two weeks I jumped at the chance. You have to understand where I was coming from, literally and figuratively. Go to the most rural and isolated part of Virginia, turn down a long dirt road into a farm, go through a small forest, and there you will find our house. Come in and go to every window. Climb onto the roof. You will not see a person, a house, or a car. The only sound you will hear is frogs croaking.

I craved the fun and challenges of being in the city, and my time spent in South Philly with three cats and a dog more than met my lofty expectations.

The first couple of days went by rather uneventfully, other than locking myself out of the house a couple of times. The first time I locked myself out I tried to alert a police officer of my plight:  a locked out out-of-towner with no keys and no phone and just a bag of dog poop, and he really didn’t know what to tell me. (Johnny’s neighbor had a key and let me in a little bit later).

Then one of Johnny’s friends (Chet Bumstead) invited me to a drag show. I called Johnny to see if Chet was kidding. He wasn’t. Then I found out that the show started at 11:30 p.m. I haven’t been to a party that started at 11:30 p.m. since college! I tried to renege, but Chet wouldn’t hear of it.

If you have not been to Bob and Barbara’s on a Thursday night it’s high time you went. The crowd was enthusiastic and fun. Between the lip synchers on stage, people from the audience would go up on stage and dance in the spotlight.

I had edged my way to the front of the crowd so that I could fully experience the night life of the city. Suddenly, the hostess who was emceeing the show approached me and said, “I’ve been watching you all evening.” She took my hand and beckoned me with the other hand to the dance floor. “No I really can’t,” I said. “We’re all family here,” she responded. And the next thing I know we were dancing together in the spotlight before hundreds of adoring fans!

Quizzo Regular Going on Jeopardy

(Photo courtesy Baltimore Sun) You old timers all know Palestra Jon from his epic battles with Bob T. But Palestra was also quite a decent quizzo player in his own right. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His daughter Sarah is going to be on Jeopardy on Friday night as part of their College Championship. Sarah has played quizzo with her dad since she was in high school, though we haven’t seen her much lately since she’s gone away to school. Well, she recently did an interview with the Baltimore Sun about her experience on Jeopardy, and it’s pretty daggone funny. Of course, she’s not the first quizzo player to star on the small screen. Celeste DiNucci (who, incredibly, once won a pack of blunt rolling papers for finishing last at quizzo) actually won over $250,000 in a Jeopardy Tournament of Champions a few years ago and I got this great interview with her. And our buddy Sam, who has played in several Quizzo Bowls and used to play at the Bards semi-regularly won a million bucks on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And who can forget Steve-O’s ridiculous performance on Name That Video, where he won a car for naming 10 videos in like 15 seconds? We don’t know how Sarah has done, since she can’t tell, but be sure to watch this Friday on Jeopardy to find out!

Ravens, Franklin, and Goats

A question on Thursday/Mondays quiz in the Edgar Allan Poe round had to do with the bird Grip. “The bird that inspired The Raven was named Grip and actually belonged to this writer, more famous than Poe at the time. Who was that famous writer?” The correct answer was Charles Dickens. If you haven’t already read it, please check out this piece I did recently on that very bird. The stuffed bird is actually at the Philly Free Library. I think it’s pretty damn interesting that a single bird inspired two of the most famous authors of the 19th century (though I’ll personally take Poe over Dickens any day of the week).

Last week I did a piece on 5 things you didn’t know about Ben Franklin. They ended up discussing it on 1210 AM. Did you know that he hung out with Satanists, was in the Chess Hall of Fame, and left the city of Philly $200 million…in 1991?

On Sunday, two men became immortals for all the wrong reasons. Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff both came up small at the end of very important games. I decided to look back at Philadelphia athletes and coaches who choked…and what Williams and Cundiff can learn from how #1 reacted to it.

This Dude Sounds Kind of Awesome

I don’t do a lot of food and drink stuff on here, but I do like to share when I find interesting people. And this guy sounds pretty interesting. He is known simply as Lêe, and he’s opening a bar on 10th and Race soon called the Hop Sing Laundromat (named after a characer on Bonanza). The whole thing seems to be shrouded in mystery. It was supposed to open like a year ago, and it still doesn’t have an opening date. There are thousands of pennies on the floor, and thousands of nickels on the bar, there will be complimentary shoe shines at the door, and there will be over 1,000 types if liquor available. Here are a few choice lines from an interview Lêe recently did with Philly Eater.

…we’ve moved the bar from one side of the room to the other in the middle of the night because we thought the employees should have a better view of the room…If Hop Sing Laundromat lives up to the expectation of our guests and the media, then it is just pure luck. And, if this whole thing goes south, then I and I alone will be the biggest idiot in town for trying, and rightly so…My biggest fear, actually, is dying before I get to open Hop Sing Laundromat. Honestly…Your time spent here should remain private and not end up on a website. There are no recording devices of any kind allowed in the main room, and that includes cellphone cameras…To point your phone camera at someone not in their best light is demeaning at best. Privacy is a privilege and not a right in 2012, which is really strange. I believe in those values. I understand there are people who need to be updated instantly on what’s going on in their world at all times, but they won’t be doing it at Hop Sing Laundromat..What I’ve learned on my research trip, driving 33,000 miles in 70 days through 48 states, is that every cocktail bar thinks their version of a classic cocktail is the best version ever made. They all stock their establishments with a limited selection of spirits to make their own versions of these cocktails. That’s a mistake. Our guest’s version of any cocktail is and always will be the best version of them all. The perfect drink.

Would Richard Jewell Have Been Tortured Under NDAA?

On July 27th, 1996, one person was killed and 114 were injured when a terrorist set off a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. The disaster would have been much worse if not for one American hero. A security guard named Richard Jewell saw the suspicious bag, contacted the police, and moved people away from the area. His quick thinking doubtless saved many lives. And thanks to the utter incompetence of the American media and FBI, his heroic actions made him a villain. The FBI made him a prime suspect, and the piranhas in the national media instantly attacked, assuming that Richard Jewell was guilty until proven innocent. Fortunately, Richard Jewell had the right to an attorney. Fortunately, the FBI was forced by law to do a more comprehensive study. After a few months, it was obvious that Richard Jewell was a hero, not a criminal. He was exonerated by the FBI, though not by the nation. His rightful place as an American hero was denied, but he was found innocent of the false charges against him.* 9 years later, the actual bomber, Eric Rudolph, would be found.

If such a thing happens again, people like Richard Jewell would be best served to not tell anyone about a suspicious package. Because if they are seen as a suspect, the incompetence of CNN will be the least of their worries. If someone sees a suspicious package and tells the police, and if the FBI thinks that makes them a suspect, there will be no reason to investigate further. There will be no trial, nor will there need to be. Thanks to President Obama signing the most horrific law of his Presidency, the next Richard Jewell won’t be scapegoated to save the Olympics, then exonerated a few months later. The next Richard Jewell will be stripped of his American citizenship, then shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, where he will either be held indefinitely with none of the rights he was born with under the Constitution, or be tortured until he tells his torturers what they want to hear.

So despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to trial, the Senate bill would let the government lock up any citizen it swears is a terrorist, without the burden of proving its case to an independent judge, and for the lifespan of an amorphous war that conceivably will never end.

President Obama has, with one stroke of his pen, made the concepts of “guilty” and “innocent” archaic. Now, there is only “dangerous” and “non-dangerous” and you better get in line on the right side. Bush famously said, “You’re either with us or against us in the war on terror.” He was speaking to nations. Obama has just said the same thing, except he was speaking to every American citizen. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you are “with us” or “against us”, it only matters if the government thinks you are against them. It is almost as if Obama is honoring Kim Jong-il by enacting a law that you would think would only be allowed in a totalitarian state.

As we saw with Richard Jewell, in determining the right from wrong, the black from the white, mistakes are sometimes made. It no longer matters. Those mistakes will simply disappear into the black hole of secret prisons, never to be heard from again. The next American hero who is the wrong place at the wrong time will simply disappear. The flight from Atlanta to Guantanamo is a short one. George Orwell was off by 28 years.

*Perhaps it makes me a conspiracist, but I’ve always thought that the FBI knew all along that Jewell was innocent, but wanted people to think they had the bomber in custody so they’d feel safe at the Olympics, by far the most corporate-laden Olympics in history. There was far too much money on the line for the stands to be empty.

My Ultimate Philly Cocktail party

I somehow made the list for the Ultimate Philly Cocktail party (which isn’t actually happening, unfortunately) put together by Philly Mag. Needless to say I was flattered to be included. Now, if this party were to actually happen, I would probably spend most of my time hanging out with Michael Solomonov and Gonzo, hoping that Gonzo would introduce me to Victorino, who I would then try to impress by speaking pidgin in the hopes that he would find out that I used to live in Hawaii and then we would be great friends and then us and our wives would always go out on double dates and talk baseball. (Yeah, so my man crush is on Shane. So what? Yours is on Chase.) I would also make an awkward attempt to patch up my differences with ?uestlove (strange but true fact: because of something I wrote a few years ago, he won’t let me follow him on twitter) who probably won’t remember who I am, making for an awkward apology since he won’t have any idea what I’m apologizing for.

Alright, well I respect their list, but now it’s time for my own. I have purposely excluded anybody I actually know fairly well. I am lucky enough to know a lot of people through quizzo who have actually been incredible cocktail and garden party guests, but here are 10 people I’ve either never met or barely know who I think would be fun to talk to at a cocktail party:

Inga Saffron– Just for her spot-on destruction of the Pepto Bismol building on Broad Street, I’d love to talk to her about her favorite and least favorite buildings in Philadelphia.

Meek MillsWould love to talk to him about how his experiences. Coming from such dire circumstances into fame and money, would love to know his outlook on life.

Jimmy Rollins– J-Roll and Shane are my favorite players, and following Jimmy on twitter makes him seem even cooler. Would love to knock a few back with him and talk baseball.

DJ Jazzy Jeff. When I worked in Hawaii, I had a chance to meet numerous famous people. In Philly, I’ve had a chance to meet some almost sort-of famous people. It’s been my experience that the sort-of famous people are a lot more interesting. I think Jazzy Jeff would be a bit more fun to hang out with than Will Smith.

Howard Eskin. The Ric Flair of local sports radio, I’d love to talk sports with Howard. I know a lot of people hate him, and I love how bad Charlie showed him up in that press conference, but he’s damn interesting and smarter than 99% of the guys on sports radio today.

Buzz Bissinger. I’ve hung out with Buzz a couple of times and even did an interview with him. A fascinating dude, a brilliant writer, and certainly a “wild card” at a cocktail party.

Nicole Cashman. What, I can’ try to network at this thing? It’s my party, remember?!

Eve– My wife would not be happy with this pick, seeing as how Eve and I have a history (and by history, I mean I’ve had a crush on her for years and she has no idea who I am). But I’m winning this argument (for once). Eve is on the list!

Neil Stein. No knock on Garces, Vetri, Solomonov, et al. I love all their places. But I feel like Stein just gets a cold shoulder since his fall from grace, and not nearly as much respect as he deserves. Without this dude, you’re not eating at any number of the hippest restaurants in town, because there are no hip restaurants in town. You’re in the suburbs, complaining about how awful Center City is. Neil could easily paraphrase Dr. Dre, “I’m the one who started this foodie shit, and this the motha f***in’ thanks I get?” I’d love to talk to Neil about Philly in the 90s. In fact, I think I just gave myself a story idea.

Phoebe Esmon. Renowned mixologist at Farmer’s Cabinet (and formerly of Chick’s) makes some of the best and most interesting drinks in town. Who better to invite to a cocktail party?

So who else should I add to the guest list?


Charles Darrow: Mount Airy’s Millionaire Monopoly Thief?

We had a question this week about the board game Monopoly. As I often do, while researching the question, I got sucked into reading more about the history of the game. It’s incredibly fascinating, and it’s got Philly all over it, so I thought you might dig it too. (If you’re a fan of local history, check out quizzo regular GroJlart over at Philaphilia or check us out at

The Great Depression hit Germantown (now Mt. Airy) resident Charles Darrow hard. He lost his job as a domestic heater salesman, and with a bunch of free time on his hands, started tinkering around on a piece of oilcloth with a new game that was formulating in his mind. He tinkered with rules, made little houses and hotels, and invited friends over to try his new game. They were enthralled. With little money of their own during the Great Depression, the idea of playing a game that gave them money and power was an instant hit. Darrow saw that he had created something special, and started selling the game out of his house. Orders came pouring in, so he went to Parker Brothers to see if they could manufacture it for him. They weren’t interested, so he sold it to Wannamaker’s himself. The game flew off the shelves in Philadelphia that holiday season. Parker Brothers reconsidered, bought the game from Darrow, and paid him royalties that within a year had made him a millionaire. See, a little elbow grease and originality, and the American Dream can come true for anyone!

At least that’s the official story that Parker Brothers told for 40 years after the game was invented. And parts of it are true. But like most stories, it was a hell of a lot more complicated than the “official” version. Darrow positively did not create the game. He was just the guy who hustled it and made the money off of it. The woman who invented it, Lizzie Magie, is like the dude who invented chicken nuggets according to DeAngelo in the Wire. A quick history of the game after the jump, according to

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