Mention of Peter Basch in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

Can’t believe I found this! Thanks to the Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins Index, and my editor’s eye (astigmatic, but indefatigable), see it below (thanks to the folks who compiled this index for their permission). You’ll see my dad mentioned in the left column. And see my prior post for the picture of Stan Lee he shot on that occasion!

I didn’t notice it at the time (that is, when I was 14), but Kenneth Koch, the famous poet is mentioned at the top of the column. I have a poem in his book, Rose, Where Did You Get that Red. He came to my school, the Lycée Français de New-York, and taught a workshop where we wrote poems in both French and English, inspired by Verlaine’s Voyelles.

Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

My dad’s photo of Stan Lee

Back in the day, in what we now call “mid-century,” my late father, the photographer Peter Basch, would glance quizzically at me and what I was doing and wonder what was going on in this strange foreign country that was his son.

He saw that I was enthusiastic about Mattel toys, such as Creepy Crawlers  and Vacuform, so he bought stock in it. (He liked to buy individual companies, and even liked to keep stock certificates.)

He saw that I enjoyed Marvel Comics, especially X-Men and Spiderman, so he thought, huh, maybe other people like that stuff, too. So in his energetic and entrepreneurial way, he went over to the Marvel offices and took some pictures. I remember how excited I was to see a mention of my dad in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins (I think that’s what it was called). I had heard that my dad was well-known, but seeing it the pages of The Fantastic Four made it real for me. Can anyone help me figure out which month it was in? I’d be grateful. It had some joke about how we’d see pictures of Stan the Man on post office walls.

Here’s the picture I have of Stan Lee (note our brand-new registered trademark!):

Stan Lee by Peter Basch®

Stan Lee in the 60s, photographed by Peter Basch

Mad Max (1979) after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road

I just saw Fury Road with my stepson. He wanted to know about the George Miller oeuvre, so I suggested we watch the movie that spawned it all, the 1979 Mad Max.

Very interesting to see the little hints that remain in the current movie, such as guys using high bendy poles to land on top of cars. Anthony Lane speculates that the notion comes from Buster Keaton. Cool!

The most hilarious part of the old Mad Max is the terrifying biker gang. What, apparently, is so terrifying about them is that they are slightly fey. Homoeroticism seems to be code for deviancy, which is code for danger. I mean, my god, some of them seem to be wearing eye shadow! Who knows what a man wearing eye shadow is capable of! But the way they caper and dance after getting off their bikes, or pose artistically while setting up for a victim, rather undercuts their supposed deadliness. My stepson said that they seem more like a traveling theater troupe than any biker gang he ever saw. They reminded me of the Anglo Saxon Messenger in Through the Looking Glass.

Hey, for $2.99 on Amazon, and at 90 minutes, it’s worth reviewing.

A Modest Proposal re Abortion

The 20 weeks about foetuses seems to be that they can survive… or maybe just that one has survived… outside the womb after only 20 weeks’ gestation. Somehow that has led to proposals to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks.

I don’t get it – if the baby can survive outside the womb after 20 weeks, then shouldn’t it be perfectly okay for a woman to end her pregnancy? Let her end her pregnancy, and let the medical establishment do their best to save the feotus for eventual adoption.

This rule – that the woman can end her pregnancy whenever she wants (up to a month post-partum, if you ask me; after that, they assume full parental responsibilities for the usual 18 years plus) and, if the newborn survives, it can be adopted, and if it doesn’t, there can be mourning; but in either case the foetus’s survival is not the mother’s responsibility – this rule solves everything. The mother has all of her privacy rights intact, the doctor can be portrayed as in the business of saving innocent babbies’ lives (instead of just saving the mothers’ lives, which doesn’t seem to garner many cheers on the ‘pro-life’ side – after all, she’s an icky grown-up person).

In fact, let’s retire the term “abortionist” and call them “baby-savers”. When they fail, they can shrug disconsolately at god’s mysterious plan, and when they succeed, pro-lifers can cheer. No more will their lives be threatened by heavily-armed zealots. Now those same heavily-armed zealots would protect the Baby-Life Clinics™.

We’re not dealing with the question of Who Pays the Bills, of course. If it were up to me (and, again, it doesn’t seem to be), every pro-life organization would have to put their money where their mouth is and pay for all that wildly expensive premature neonatal care. They’re pro-life, aren’t they? The should cheer at the chance. Right? And then they should insure adoption of the few actually living babies who emerge from the new chain of Baby-Life Clinics™.

A Set of Informal Heuristics for Winning “Bluff the Listener” on Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me


After listening to the NPR news quiz show, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me, one begins to notice certain patterns in the featured game, Bluff the Listener. I have collected a list of informal heuristics to aid listeners at guessing the answer. I consider these “informal” because I have not gathered supporting metrics, merely guessed at patterns.

The Rules of the Game

A guest introduces themself by announcing their name and location. After a brief period of witty banter, led by the host, Peter Sagal, and abetted by impromptu comments from the panelists, the theme of that week’s game is introduced. For instance, on the show of Sunday, May 17, the theme was “Things people have done to get back at Russia”. Each panelist then reads a purported news story on that topic, one of which is pulled from the week’s news. The other two are fictional and written (presumably) by the panelists themselves. It is never explicitly stated that the panelists (rather than, say, Mr. Sagal or a staffer) wrote the fictional stories, but they seem to reflect the panelists’ interests.

After each story is read, Mr. Sagal briefly recaps all previous stories. After all three are recapped, the guest guesses which is the true story. Mr. Sagal then asks them to confirm their guess. Sometimes he will imply by tone that they would be wise to change their guess. Once their guess is confirmed, an audio clip is played revealing which is the true story. If the listener’s guess is correct, they win WWDTM’s only prize, Karl Kassel’s voice on their device of choice. The panelist whose story is chosen, whether or not it is the correct one, is awarded a point.

Heuristics for Guessing

  1. Longer stories tend to be fictional. The made-up stories tend to be longer and more convoluted than the true stories. The panelists put a high premium on being amusing, sometimes more than being plausible. Plausible is often rather dull. [Note to future researchers – data needs to be collected correlating length of stories with their veracity.]
  2. Non-American stories tend to be true. If two stories take place in the United States, and one elsewhere, the foreign story tends to be the true one. [Again, I have not collected data to confirm this. Feel free.]
  3. PJ O’Rourke is utterly transparent. The presence of Mr. O’Rourke on the panel gives the guest better odds of winning. When he writes a fictional story, it tends to be both utterly implausible and centered on his wheelhouse of “oh, those silly politicians.” If the story is about martini-swilling, rich Republicans, or overly-sensitive, improvident Democrats terrified of offending, then it is fictional. If his story is even slightly plausible, or concerns any other area of life, it is likely to be the true one. [While I have not actually collected data, come on – you know this is right.]
  4. Look for jokes. Almost all the panelists are comedians or humorists. They enjoy writing jokes. Jokes tend not to happen in real life. If the story features a clever joke, it is less likely to be true.
  5. More as I come up with them…


Lest this researcher be accused of sucking all the fun out of the show by exposing its workings so ruthlessly, I wish to say in my defense that one may enjoy a blue sky even if one knows that the color derives from the light-scattering properties of nitrogen, or a rainbow even if one is aware of the refractive characteristics of clouds of water droplets. WWDTM is a brilliant show, and Peter Sagal has the highest WEQ (Wit/Elocution Quotient) of anyone in broadcasting, or indeed in show-business. Bill Kurtis’s voice is like a comforting, protective blanket, if that blanket were also muscular (I know, a disquieting image). The panelists feel like old friends, even PJ; especially when he is hurt or sad (as he was when Amy Schumer was the celebrity guest), I feel like mixing him one of my White Manhattans and reminiscing fondly about William F. Buckley, Jr.

Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Investigation by Eric Kaplan

I first read an op-ed piece by Eric Kaplan in the New York Times, called What Role Do you Want to Play? I thought it was charming and funny. And he’s a writer on the Big Bang Theory, so that’s a hell of a credit. I went looking for his other writing, and found his blog, and his book, Does Santa Exist?

Simultaneously, I was discovering the Overdrive Android app, which enables you to borrow library ebooks and e-audio books. Since I have library cards for Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Pasadena/Glendale, there’s a trove of stuff out there to borrow without the chore of actually visiting a library (I love visiting libraries – I think they’re probably the single best thing in modern civilization, after, perhaps, the closed sewer). And I found Does Santa Exist? in audiobook form.

Here’s what I learned. Eric Kaplan is not just smarter than I am, he’s so much smarter than I am that I am actually moved to base feelings of envy. I’m reasonably smart, but I lack certain qualities such as energy and drive. One thing I’ve learned, working around people compared to whom I am slightly below average (JPL/Caltech) is that they are marked not just by processing power but by focus, drive, and energy. If you can work through fatigue, and stick to a goal without regard to immediate payoff, you are wayyyyy ahead of the game, even compared to a smarter person who needs a lot of sleep and can’t seem to get going.

Eric Kaplan is out there with the likes of Atul Gawande (surgeon and professor at Harvard, writer for the New Yorker, and, if you go by his articles, fine human being), Amanda Hesser (food writer for the New York Times and just ubiquitous and prolific), and a few others who I can’t even remember (my fault, not theirs).

There are wonderful writers out there who don’t make me feel small and inadequate; Tim Kreider and Heather Havrilesky, both of whom have been featured in the New York Times. They are funny, expressive, humane writers, but they’re not also surgeons, astrobiologists, TV writers, or bestselling authors.

Okay, back to Does Santa Exist? Very exciting book, though I recommend the written version over the audiobook. It takes some focus, and the whole idea of audiobooks is that you can do something else. If I’m going to sit quietly and listen to an audiobook and not do anything else, I might as well read a damn book. So there are certain portions, particularly about formal logic and the kabbala, of which I missed pieces.

There is one part toward the end, where he asks about why there is such a thing as a “point” to life, which I think makes too much of what amount to certain thoughts. He says (I’m paraphrasing here, so, sorry) that some people believe that matter has no point, that people assign points to things (this is what I believe). He argues that this fails because it implies that the universe is dualistic – made up of things without point and other things, people, with a point. I disagree: “points” are just thoughts, and thoughts are computational, and based on material brains. They are higher-order aspects, or products, of people and no more magical or esoteric than the color blue or happiness or envy. Which are all wonderful, and part of life, and so on, but not anything other than any other thoughts.

Anyway, Happy Mothers’ Day!

Spam comments…

I assume that nobody reads this blog, so I don’t worry about making it entertaining (which pretty much guarantees that nobody will read it). So imagine my delight when I got an email offering me comments to curate! [not “curate”… what’s the word? There went my brain… I could feel it deliquesce…]

It seemed to be some anodyne comment like, “Good information! keep up good work! Hope to read more!” from someone named Christian Louboutin.

Further comments, equally boring, came from Timberland, Rolex, and Tag-Heuer (Wow! They’re reading me in Switzerland?).

Then, finally, came the comments from someone who had techniques for changing the size of my organ of generation.

That made me suspicious. This is a clean blog.

Then I finally realized – my audience were the Deadly Sins! I had heard from Envy, Pride, and Lust. Then Greed wrote in with exciting information on how to work from home.

Haven’t heard from Anger or Sloth yet. Looking forward to that.


I was in a situation last night that I’ve been in many times before – surrounded by comedy sharks. “Comedy shark” is not a derogatory term. It describes a person who does not let an opportunity to make a joke pass them by. They voraciously attack any incongruity, absurdity, self-importance, righteousness, and flip it into a joke. Of course, not all of the jokes work, but if the pace is swift enough, a lot do. That is a fun evening.

I love being around comedy sharks, because I love to laugh. And I contribute too, though I usually feel slow – the opportunities pass by, and while I’m going “umm…” someone else has grabbed it.

Then the check came, and I let them all decide how to divvy it up. I don’t like to be parsimonious, or to seem parsimonious, so I just agree. Which is fine. Ten bucks here, ten bucks there, it’s not going to break me. I’d rather have harmony.

Then today, I was mulling it over, and realized, my god, I’m passive! And I’ve been passive since early childhood. And being passive has led me to situations where I feel dissatisfied. Not always, though – sometimes being passive has led me into wonderful relationships with more active people which would otherwise have been acrimonious.

I used to pursue an acting career, and being passive scuttled that. I waited for the phone to ring – I saw my career as dependent on others, rather than as something to build. I saw it as dependent on my talent and training, when any idiot watching TV or going to the theatre knows that isn’t the only thing, or even the main thing. Being active is cousin to being persevering.

I work in a place noted for its brilliant people. A standout characteristic is not that they seem to quickly know the answer, but that they work at knowing the answer, they grapple with the problem until it’s solved. For hours – starting early, working late, over weekends.

I know! It sounds horrible! But they are at the top of their field, and admired by all. There may be smarter people who lack that will or ability to keep going, who don’t make it here.

Anyway, if you Google “how can I be less…” or “how can I be more…” you’ll encounter a well of dissatisfaction and sadness. I don’t recommend it. Just made me feel like a sick person, which is not how I typically feel.

I’m starting an improv class tomorrow (at UCB) and maybe I can tease out some of the strands of this mental state, even at this late-ish stage of life.

Last nights dream

I dreamed last night that I was looking at the moon, and saw, to its right and a little closer to the zenith, a fantastically bright spot of light. I thought at first it must be a supernova. The point of light moved toward the moon, taking only a couple of seconds to move what to my view looked like about an inch. The object landed on the moon with a tremendous momentum, spewing up a mushroom cloud of regolith. In a second installment of the dream, I saw an explosion on the moon, obviously of tremendous force, throwing up huge gouts of dust and smoke.

Quite literally, a disaster, or “bad star.”

Definitions, and “Growing Christian”

I have a great job, and I feel lucky to have it – and I hope I keep it as long as I can work! Or until I find something as good, but much closer. So I check job boards… semi-regularly. Maybe Rand will post something for a Technical Writer Editor. If I got that, I could bicycle to work, not to mention work near the beach!

A recent job posting for a related job was to work with Reasons to Believe, which turns out to be a Christian apologist (apologetic? doesn’t sound quite right…) site, focusing on scientific questions and how they justify, or at any rate fail to contradict, Christian tenets. The focus seems to be on emphasizing that no matter how small the Gap seems to be (from God of the Gaps), there still is one, and it will always be there. A statement with which I don’t think any reasonable person would argue, by the way. In fact, with better and better instrumentation, the gaps, namely questions and the unknown, seems to grow. (And how wonderful is that, by the way!)

I thought that would be an interesting job (though an atheist, I am interested in religion as I am in other human cultural products). But one of their criteria for applicants is “Growing Christian.” Sort of confusing phrasing… if I already had that job as editor, I would ask, did they mean “having had a Christian childhood”? Or maybe “becoming more and more Christian every day”? Hints at a lot of things, doesn’t mean anything much – but maybe it’s a sort of jargon that is used in Christian communities, and is intended to exclude me.

So that disqualifies me. I was raised in a secular, half-Jewish and half-lapsed-Catholic household, and I am a stone atheist today. In fact, for anyone who cares (and why should anyone, but this is a blog post), here’s my “statement of faith” – I think a Biblical God is vanishingly unlikely; moreover, I find it surprising that anyone would turn to ancient texts to explain phenomena at all. Turning to those texts, or any texts, for moral guidance, historical interest, or insight into human nature, makes perfect sense – I’m not sure what else one would turn to but human cultural products (part of my statement of faith is that the Bible is a human cultural product, and a central one, right along with other great literature, Beethoven symphonies, and Monet’s paintings) to determine what it is to be human and how to live a good life. Along with introspection.

But to determine what life and death are? To probe the beginnings of the universe? For anything phenomenal at all? Might as well read Moby Dick – you’d learn something about the ocean and whaling, but not enough to crew a ship. On the other hand, you’d learn quite a lot about hubris, humility, and what it is to be human in extremis.

So, just as an interesting article on probes various meanings of the word evolution, I thought I would probe the word “Belief”:

Phenomenal Belief: Say I believe that matter bends space, and makes light waves curve. I do the math, and decide that, if that is the case, a star which one would expect to appear at a particular point in the sky (from many prior measurements) will appear at a different point in the sky due to the intervention of a massive object. I publish this prediction. Others point their telescopes to that point in the sky and, lo and behold, they see the star at the spot I predicted. From then on, they start to believe what I have written as the explanation – namely, that mass bends space, and that light takes the shortest distance, which in curved space isn’t exactly a straight line. This belief, contingent as it is on observation of phenomena, I’ll call phenomenal belief.

Situational Belief: A softer version of the above. I believe day-to-day things that I expect to happen because they happened yesterday – this belief is often upended as products I buy vanish from shelves, businesses close, people move or die, etc. Until they are gone, I have a convenient belief that they will continue.

Allegiance Belief: People believe what their team believes. If your community – ethnic, religious, familial – has a credo, you’ll tend to claim belief in it, which strengthens the bonds in your community. Either we’re better for some reason, or we have a task to perform, or we have certain characteristics (favorite food; weakness for certain sins; resistance to certain other sins). These beliefs are generally partly true, partly silly. Random chance indicates that there will be individuals all over the map vis-a-vis stereotypical characteristics. My childhood exposure to a “nice Jewish family” with a violent, drinking father inoculated me to the Allegiance Belief that Jewish men didn’t drink or beat their family. Maybe they cheated on their wives, certainly they gambled, but no hitting or boozing. Where these stereotypes are concerned, we have strong confirmation biases, supporting our belief that the “vast majority” of whoever conforms to the stereotype, and those who don’t are “rare exceptions.”

More later… have errands to run.