Bob Schwartz

Category: Humor

Putin Wants to Capture Little Alaskan Island

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin may want to capture a little island sitting in Alaskan waters. This has nothing to do with geopolitics and everything to do with his love of a Greek hero.

The Diomede Islands are in the middle of the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska: Big Diomede is a Russian island, Little Diomede is a U.S. island.

It is thought by some that Putin became fascinated with ancient history and Greek mythology while studying law at Leningrad State University (LSU). As a student he had to join the Communist Party. He believed that his interest in these matters might be misunderstood and frowned upon by the Party, so he kept it secret—and it remains little-known to this day.

While reading ancient texts, Putin discovered the legendary warrior and king Diomedes. Among his achievements, as a relatively young man Diomedes won a reputation as one of the great military leaders in the Trojan War. A figure in both Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, Diomedes is celebrated for his boldness, courage, and intelligence.


Diomedes was also known for his take-no-prisoners attitude. It is reported that once when he was slaughtering Trojans, an old man pleaded for mercy. Diomedes replied, “Old man, I look to attain to honored age; but while my strength yet exists, not a single foe will escape me with life. The brave man makes an end of every foe.” Diomedes killed the old man.

All this may have had a profound effect on Putin. He vowed that one day he would take back Little Diomede Island, the namesake of his hero. Now that Putin’s expansionist program is in motion, could this be the time for him to strike?

There is an apocryphal story about Putin’s response to Sarah Palin’s remark during the 2008 campaign about Russia: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” She was of course referring to Little Diomede. “She will see more than Russia,” he may have said, “she will see Diomedes himself. She will see me.”

April 1, 2014

This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) is just about the best editorial cartoonist in America. He won this year’s Herblock Prize, named for the dean of modern editorial cartoonists.

Here is the current edition of This Modern World

TMW Current

If you would like to be delighted by a collection of all from this past year or so, visit The Nation.

It’s hard to pick out just one more to show off. This is Tom Tomorrow’s review of 2012
TMW 2012 1TMW 2012 2

Joke Break: Duck Walks into a Drugstore…

Duck Drug Store
We need a break. So here’s one in a continuing series of jokes from the joke file, a well-traveled manila folder containing about three pounds of clippings and copies from all kinds of sources.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t stupid, tragic and completely unnecessary things going on in this country and the world. That’s exactly what’s going on—but we still have to live. And laugh.

Great jokes don’t have to offend sensibilities, but they sometimes do. So a blanket apology in advance if you are put off or offended—or if you don’t find a particular joke very funny.


Duck walks into a drugstore, asks for some Chap Stick. Guy behind the counter says, “That’ll be fifty-nine cents.” Duck says, “Put it on my bill.”

Next day, the duck walks into the drugstore, asks for a package of condoms. Guy behind the counter says, “Would you like me to put that on your bill?” Duck says, “Hey, what kind of a duck do you think I am!”

Some Republicans Want to Kill the Dog

National Lampoon - Kill the Dog
It is as famous and funnily outrageous as any magazine cover ever: the January 1973 National Lampoon that threatened “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican threat in Congress: agree to every piece of legislation we’ve been unable to pass over the past few years, or we will kill the country—by not passing a budget resolution or not raising the debt ceiling or both.

National Lampoon wasn’t serious, which is what made it funny. If it was a real dog, a loaded gun and a crazy shooter, it would be a crime and a tragedy. Especially if we didn’t buy the magazine and the dog was actually killed.

Some Republicans aren’t exhibiting any sense of humor about this—or sense of perspective or history or citizenship. There is a loaded gun and there is a serious intention to pull the trigger, despite any likely harm. Which would be a crime and a tragedy and not very funny at all.

Yom Kippur: A Serious Day for a Serious Man

A Serious Man
This evening begins Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the last of the ten Days of Awe that starts a new year. The mood is somber. It is the most serious day on the calendar, a day of fasting and reflection, a day to contemplate the actions and inactions of the year past, and to commit to a better year ahead.

Which is why it is a day to recommend a darkly comic movie.

A Serious Man (2009) from Joel and Ethan Coen has never been taken seriously enough (playlist of clips). It was nominated for two major Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, but none of the cast members were invited to the festivities until the last week before the event. That is an ironic nod to the movie itself.

Scholars have spent papers—entire careers—explaining why Jews try to be funny and why so many succeed. One of the stock rationales is that Jews are an historically beleaguered people, and the humor is a natural response. Another related thought is that Jewish attempts to make sense of it all have come to nothing, and so absurdity is the only possible answer.

A Serious Man is grounded in those ideas and more. Larry Gopnick is a physics professor in the 1960s. In his academic life, he is up for tenure, a student is trying to bribe him, and even as he lectures on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, there is a sense that he really doesn’t understand uncertainty at all. Things are worse in his personal life, much worse. As his son prepares for bar mitzvah, Larry discovers that his wife is having an affair with his friend, his brother is caught in a gay bar, his dentist espouses weird mystical tooth theories, and there is a question whether Larry may have a serious health problem.

Larry looks for answers in faith, but the mysterious Rabbi Marshak, the older spiritual head of the congregation, is impossible to see. At the bar mitzvah. Larry’s son Danny, who at the start of the movie had his transistor radio taken away at Hebrew School, goes off to see this rabbi. He finds him in an inner sanctum, where Rabbi Marshak explains it all through the Jefferson Airplane and with a powerfully simple piece of advice:

Marshak is an old man staring at him from behind a bare desktop. His look, eyes magnified by thick glasses, is impossible to read.

Danny creeps to the chair facing the desk. He gingerly sits on the squeaking leather upholstery, self-conscious under Marshak’s stare.

Marshak’s slow, regular, phlegmy mouth-breathing is the only sound in the room. The two stare at each other.

Marshak smacks his lips a couple of times, wetting surfaces in preparation for speech.


When the truth is found. To be lies.

He pauses. He clears his throat.

. . . And all the hope. Within you dies.

Another beat. Danny waits. Marshak stares. He smacks his lips again. He thinks.

. . . Then what?

Danny doesn’t answer. It is unclear whether answer is expected. Quiet.

Marshak clears his throat with a loud and thorough hawking. The hawking abates. Marshak sniffs.

. . . Grace Slick. Marty Balin. Paul Kanta. Jorma. . .somethin.
These are the members of the Airplane.

He nods a couple of times.

. . . Interesting.

He reaches up and slowly opens his desk drawer. He withdraws something. He lays it on the bare desk and pushes it across.

. . . Here.

It is Danny’s radio.

. . . Be a good boy.

The movie closes with a note taken straight from the Book of Job. A tornado approaches. Will it be the voice of God out of the whirlwind? Or will it just be one more inexplicable disaster, one more serious touch of uncertainty?

Who knows? Yom Kippur and every day, listen to Rabbi Marshak: Be a good girl or boy.

Holiday from Politics or Holiday with Politics?

Harry Reid Kathy Griffin
Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in.

New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a politics-free zone. Actually, we assume that, but can’t be entirely sure, because it honestly never came up before.

We needed the break. So what was Congress doing on our New Year’s Eve broadcasts?

Was it maddening to have Sen. Harry Reid et al competing with Ryan Seacrest, Carson Daly, and a bunch of pop stars lip-syncing their hits to preposterously overexcited audiences? Not really. Watching Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin on CNN was a complete antidote.  After six years of their improbable New Year’s Eve partnership, they are one of the great unscripted couples in television history.

Theirs is an unforced chemistry, an obviously loving friendship that viewers get to watch. Kathy is professionally outrageous, determined to say and do anything, the more embarrassing the better. Anderson is famously private, so Kathy aggressively pokes around his peccadilloes, making him demur, squirm, giggle and half-heartedly try to uphold CNN network standards.

Among this year’s highlights was a surprise visit by Psy, who understood little English, so that when Kathy congratulated his success by saying he had “money coming out of his butt,” he graciously replied, “That means so much coming from you.” But nothing beat Kathy’s relentless attempts to go down on Anderson, a sequence prompted by CNN’s report about the custom in Eastport, Maine of “kissing the big sardine” on New Year’s Eve.

Comments indicate that some found this, and much of what Kathy does to/with Anderson, to be crude, vulgar, distasteful, pointless, etc. It is edgy, but also good-natured and even sweet. Watching Anderson, one of the most respected journalists in America, protecting his private parts from her advances is just funny—especially when he made it clear that it was not something he was interested in.

Apparently those objecting to distasteful and pointless on New Year’s Eve were not aware of what was going on in Washington that night. Thank God for Anderson and Kathy. They were way more fun.