Code of Hammurabi and Sledgehammer

I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?  Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college.  The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know). 

I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world.  Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”

What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago.  And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too.  Are you ready for this?

“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi,  which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury,  real or imagined, shall be avenged.  Somebody’s going to be real sorry. 

Bombs away – or whatever.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.”  What kind of a man was that?  Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi,  would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”

And later…

Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago. 

We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully,  violently,  to every insult or injury.  In this, the Age of Television,  they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers,  to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.

Fires, explosions.  Come look.  Oh my gosh – hey wow.

To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”

It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road,  but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of.  One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS.   It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight. 

I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid.  It was called Sledgehammer,  and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force.  I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy.  In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper.  Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest. 

Oh my gosh – hey wow.


Someone dancing inside us
Learned only a few steps:
The “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,
The “What-Do-You-Expect” waltz.
He hasn’t noticed yet the woman
Standing away from the lamp,
The one with black eyes
Who knows the rhumba,
And strange steps in jumpy rhythms
From the mountains in Bulgaria.
If they dance together,
Something unexpected will happen.
If they don’t, the next world
Will be a lot like this one.

By Bill Holm

“The Conformist”: An unsettling political masterpiece returns

“The Conformist”: An unsettling political masterpiece returns via @Salon

This article in Salon made me really want to see this movie.  It is also nice to see a long form piece about a work when so many reviews are becoming shorter and shorter. 

Cultural Apocalypse

In reading Hampton Sides’s excellent In the Kingdom of Ice I came upon the story, only a side story in the book, of the Yupiks, a native population in Alaska.  They were destroyed when the white man came along and killed their food source and supplied them with alcohol.   In their case it was the walrus and not the buffalo. 

It was the Arctic version of a story well known to Americans, the story of the buffalo and the Indians of the Great Plains.  Here, as there, the wholesale slaughter of a people’s staple prey had led, in a few short years, to ruinous dislocations, terrible dependencies – and a cultural apocalypse.  

I have read a good deal of history books.  I was a History Major and eventually an American Studies Major.  Yet, this slaughter is something I have never heard of.  It took place as late as the 1880’s,  hardly ancient history.  That is less than 150 years, the span of two human lives. 

When we, as a people, go into a region, such as we have in Iraq, do we really know the history of what went on there?  There is so much we don’t know about our own history.  There is so much that we don’t know period.  How do we make informed political decisions, especially when human life hangs in the balance? 

The Birds of St. Marks

Jackson Browne, one of my favorite songwriters, has a new album coming out in October.  This is the first song released from the record, The Birds of St. Marks.  I’m glad that it sounds like he is in top form.  HIs last studio album, Time the Conqueror, was one of the best albums of 2008.  There are few songwriters that can match intelligence and emotion in equal measure as he has done throughout his career.  

Why Comics are Self-Destructive and Other News

I thought the above article was an interesting read.  It’s by Dana Gould, in the wake of Robin Williams, and it is about why comics are so self-destructive.  

I’m between tours right now and am a little upside down.  I’ve been trying to think of topics to write about, but my focus is lacking.  Tomorrow the Shinyribs band heads on a three day run that starts Little Rock, Arkansas.  You can get details at

I’ll also be performing my first solo show at Strange Brew in Austin, Texas on September 21st at 4pm.  More details to be announced soon!  

In the future when all’s well…


Only an Expert Lyrics


Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So if theres no expert dealing with the problem
Its really actually twice the problem
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now in America we like solutions
We like solutions to problems
And theres so many companies that offer solutions
Companies with names like Pet Solution
The Hair Solution. The Debt Solution. The World Solution. The Sushi Solution.
Companies with experts ready to solve the problems.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only and expert can deal with the problem

Now lets say youre invited to be on Oprah
And you dont have a problem
But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem
So you invent a problem
But if youre not an expert in problems
Youre probably not going to invent a very plausible problem
And so youre probably going to get nailed
Youre going to get exposed
Youre going to have to bow down and apologize
And beg for the publics forgiveness.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now on these shows, the shows that try to solve your problems
The big question is always How can I get control?
How can I take control?
But dont forget this is a question for the regular viewer
The person whos barely getting by.
The person whos watching shows about people with problems
The person whos part of the 60% of the U.S. population
1.3 weeks away, 1.3 pay checks away from homelessness.
In other words, a person with problems.
So when experts say, Lets get to the root of the problem
Lets take control of the problem
So if you take control of the problem you can solve the problem.
Now often this doesnt work at all because the situation is completely out of control.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So who are these experts?
Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now sometimes experts look for weapons.
And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons.
And sometimes when they dont find any weapons
Sometimes other experts say, If you havent found any weapons
It doesnt mean there are no weapons.
And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids.
And refrigerator rods. And small magnets. And they say,
These things may look like common objects to you
But in our opinion, they could be weapons.
Or they could be used to make weapons.
Or they could be used to ship weapons.
Or to store weapons.
Cause only an expert can see they might be weapons
And only an expert can see they might be problems.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And sometimes, if its really really really hot.
And its July in January.
And theres no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities.
And hurricanes are everywhere.
And everyone knows its a problem.
But if some of the experts say its no problem
And other experts claim its no problem
Or explain why its no problem
Then its simply not a problem.
But when an expert says its a problem
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And even though a county can invade another country.
And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country
If the experts say that its not a problem
And everyone agrees that theyre experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals
This is also not a problem.
Unless theres an expert who says its the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Only an expert can see theres a problem
And see the problem is half the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

By Laurie Anderson.  I posted a link to the video of Laurie Anderson performing this song on David Letterman the other day, but I thought the lyrics were worth reprinting in and of themselves.  She has a mind like a laser beam.  


Southern Culture

I’ve been reflecting on my experience at Michael Berry’s Redneck Country Club in Stafford.  If you want to know what I am referring to you can read my blog on it here:

Why is it that a certain percentage of people champion redneck culture?  There are rednecks in every part of the country, although many people seem to focus on the south when they think of the term.  For the time being, because of this, I am going to focus on the south as well.  

In my blog above I talked about how to me, being part Irish, saying you were proud to be a redneck was like an Irishman saying that he was proud to be an alcoholic.  It’s basically like saying you are proud to be ignorant.  

It’s not as if the south has nothing to hang their hat on.  Many of my favorite writers and musicians are from the South.  Below I will list just some of the many contributions to our culture by southern artists.  I’m leaving it at ten a piece as there are a ridiculously high number of people that you could list.  

Writers:  Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Kate Chopin, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry

Musicians:  Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison

Those lists could go on and on and on.  Can you imagine American life without all of those contributors?  I wouldn’t want to.  

My point being is that there is so much vibrant amazing culture in the south.  Why do these people, who live amongst an extraordinary richness of culture, choose to champion the ignorant?  

Only an Expert Can Deal With the Problem

I should note that the above video is different from the original recording.  It is shorter and features different lyrics.  If you would like to see the lyrics in the full recorded version go to this post:

I’m finally back from tour.  I haven’t had internet for the last few days so posting was not an option, other than sending a few brief thoughts out from my phone.  One of the things that I love about blogging is how you can use it to create different idea colleges from different sources.  Above I posted the video for Laurie Anderson’s Only an Expert.  The song is pretty self explanatory.  We often hold people in high regards due to either wealth or fame without asking too many tough questions.  I’ve been reading Hampton Sides’s In the Kingdom of Ice while on the road.  In it there are several high ranking cultural figures that are completely batshit insane behind the scenes.  Here is a brief look into the life of James Gordon Bennett, the owner of the New York Herald during the late 19th century:

He was “Bennett the Terrible, the mad Commodore, the autocrat of the transatlantic cables,” one biographer wrote; he saw himself as “one of the lords of creation.”  A longtime Herald editor later remarked of his boss that he “was a ruler over a domain of romance; he himself at times a romantic ruler.  If impulse called he obeyed, and no rule existed but to be broken.  

Bennett had a habit of strolling into one of the finest establishments in Paris or New York and snatching the table linens as he proceeded down the aisle, smashing plates and glassware on the floor, to the horror of the dining patrons, until he reached his reserved table in the back.  (He never failed to write a check for the damages.)  Once after a musical show in Amsterdam, he invited the beautiful lead actress and the entire cast to tour his yacht.  Then he quietly slipped out to sea and for several days cruised the Atlantic, essentially holding the cast hostage and demanding repeat performances – all the while attempting to seduce the young starlet.  Upon returning to shore, Bennett gladly paid an enormous sum to the Amsterdam theater to cover its losses.  

It was difficult to keep track of all of Bennett’s fiercely held likes and dislikes.  For breakfast, he insisted on plover’s eggs.  He would not allow facial hair to be worn by any man serving on his yachts.  He owned hundreds of thermometers and barometers and was fascinated by the slightest change in the weather.  He and a doting love for Pomeranians – he kept dozens of them and served them only Vichy spring water to drink.  Bennett believed his happy little pooches were such astute judges of character that he would sometimes hire editors, or choose not to, purely on the basis of his dogs’ reactions when the prospective employee walked into the room.  (Some job candidates, having learned of Bennett’s odd deference to his dogs, would arrive at interviews with their coat pockets stuffed with morsels of raw meat.)  Bennett also had a fetish for owls – he kept them everywhere: living owls, pictures of owls, busts of owls, owls on cuff links, owls on stationery.  They decorated his brownstone, his yachts, his country houses.  Something about their winking, swivel-headed, nocturnal ways struck his deepest fancy.  

This was one of the masters of the universe of that time.  What are the masters of our universe up to in their spare time?