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.