And remember, “mud” spelled backwards is “dum”

There is only one way to begin this blog:

Variety reported earlier this week:

Happy Birthday, Bugs Bunny!

The world’s favorite rabbit turns 75 this month: July 27, 1940, saw the debut of the cotton-tailed character’s first cartoon short “Wild Hare,” directed by Tex Avery.

There won’t be much hoopla to celebrate, because Warner Bros. doesn’t observe the birthdays of animated characters. And there’s some logic to that, especially in Mr. Bunny’s case.

There had been earlier variations: A wisecracking rabbit, voiced by Mel Blanc, debuted in the 1938 “Porky’s Hare Hunt” but the speech patterns and look were very different. In the next few years, WB’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons featured other rabbits.

But the 1940 “Wild Hare” was the first one where Bugs looked like himself, sounded like himself and, significantly, it was the first time he uttered the immortal words “What’s up, Doc?”

Don’t be misled by those earlier rabbits. On Sept. 10, 1940, Variety ran a brief item about the “new character Bugs Bunny” that WB was booking into Fox West Coast theaters. Bugs’ name appeared onscreen for the first time the following year, in “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit,” directed by Chuck Jones. By 1946, WB took out an ad in Variety proclaiming that moviegoers named him their favorite cartoon character in a poll by Showmen’s Trade Review.

Photo Credit: Variety

Like all great stars, his popularity had creative peaks and valleys. Highlights include the 1949 “Long-Haired Hare,” directed by Jones, in which Bugs battles with a self-important singer who’s performing an aria from “The Barber of Seville” at the Hollywood Bowl; and Jones’ 1957 “What’s Opera, Doc?” with Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a Wagner spoof that was selected for National Film Registry in 1992. Only Bugs could bring opera to the masses. And then there is the 1955 “Rabbit Rampage,” a meta toon in which he feuds with an unseen animator. A few years later, “Knighty Knight Bugs,” co-starring Yosemite Sam, won the Oscar for best cartoon short.

In 1987, many decades after his debut, another Variety ad touted that “The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show” was ABC’s No. 1 kids show, under the headline “Wabbit Wins Watings Wace.”

Over the years, Bugs survived the bluster of Yosemite Sam, the gun of Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Daffy Duck’s competitive streak and dozens of other challenges. If you were in a scrape, Bugs is the cartoon character you’d want by your side — a combo of MacGyver and Groucho Marx, able to build any contraption in a moment’s notice, and throw off wisecracks to boot. And, as a bonus, he might get into drag and sing to you.

How universal is Bugs? When my age had one digit to it, my father would get my brother and me up to watch Bugs, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn — I say Foghorn — Leghorn, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and the rest of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters.

Those cartoons are art. The Verge explains:

Let’s start with the cartoons themselves. If you want a semi-formal study on why Bugs and his Looney Tunes brethren are so great, you should probably start with Chuck Jones. Jones was one of the most important animators of the last century (he won three Oscars for his work, not that that really matters) and understanding him is to better understand what made Bugs so irresistible:

Jones gave us the classic “Hunting Season Trilogy” along with what What’s Opera, Doc?, which is widely considered one of the finest cartoons ever made. But he was just one artist who touched on Bugs as a character. Others like Friz Freleng and Bob McKimson also directed classics like Knighty Knight Bugs and Devil May Hare, respectively, that expanded on Bugs’ character. Each one built on the myth. Bugs, minding his own business, would run into some adversary who wanted his hide. Faced with a challenge, Bugs would inevitably triumph with wit and grace.

And the myth is everything. As a character, Bugs Bunny is king, and he’s as close to an animated culture hero as we’re going to get. Think about it. He’s the person you want to be — the smartest one in the room who’s still effortlessly cool. He’s quick-witted, funny, and even a little cruel, but only to his tormenters. He could hang with Wagner and Rossini, but you never forgot he was from Brooklyn. And he’s the guy you want in your corner when the bullies come calling, because he didn’t need brawn to win. In effect, Bugs embodies a kind of American icon that’s simultaneously exceptional but still the underdog. You can’t help but root for him even if you know he’s going to win.

That you want to root for him is key. As a culture hero, Bugs punches up. He’s the hunted one, the one tending to his garden when the white guy with a gun or Confederate soldier comes along to ruin his day. He’s rarely ever in an empowered position. So often, he’s lost and disoriented when the bullets start flying. But he is uniquely able to take on the establishment and win. He even cut Florida away from the Union, just to show people he could. Do you really want to mess with him?

Well, as always, if you had a staff of writers working for you, you also could do the right thing and say the right thing at all times.

The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons entertain all ages because they weren’t written for kids. In the pre-TV days, they were often the first thing someone coming to a movie theater would watch. Warner Bros.’ orchestra, the same musicians who did music for its movies, did the cartoon music as well.

I once suggested back in my business magazine days that our theme music should have been “Powerhouse,” written in 1937 by Raymond Scott …

… for obvious reasons.

And you cannot mention Looney Tunes without mentioning its greatest voice, Mel Blanc:

Uproxx has a list of Bugs’ greatest moments that includes …

“Baseball Bugs”

Believe it or not, there was once a time when baseball was the most popular sport in America. You know, back when people didn’t really have options. In “Baseball Bugs,” our favorite hare faces off against the over-sized Gas-house Gorillas when he takes his heckling a step too far. By breaking both the laws of physics and at least 15 baseball regulations, Bugs plays all nine positions and comes out at the end with a 96-95 victory and one hell of a catch.

“Super Rabbit”

Whenever I read old comic books, I usually hear the narration in the same, over-the-top delivery you’ll hear in the classic “Super Rabbit.” (To be honest, that’s mostly because I’m doing it myself; it’s more fun that way.) But if you thought that superhero storylines today were clichéd and campy (Clark really could’ve saved his dad from that tornado), you have no idea how far they’ve come. Even Bugs Bunny cracked a joke at the idea of a pair of glasses being a good way to hide a secret identity.

“Rabbit of Seville”

This classic cartoon predates every sitcom you’ve ever watched that decided to randomly throw in a musical episode to switch things up. In “Rabbit of Seville,” Bugs and Elmer Fudd take their never-ending chase to the next level in song.

“8 Ball Bunny”

Celebrity cameos aren’t a new concept, by any means. When “8 Ball Bunny” was released in 1950, Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. So everyone in the audience immediately recognized him when he showed up in the same outfit from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and asked Bugs for some spare change. If you want to see how much times have changed, bet a millennial to see if they even know who the guy in the fedora is. I’m calling dibs on 20 percent.

“Knighty Knight Bugs”

Out of the hundreds of appearances that Bugs Bunny has made in the past 75 years, his work has only gotten one Oscar. In 1959, “Knighty Knight Bugs” won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. Apparently, the Academy loved seeing Bugs take on Yosemite Sam and his pet dragon in medieval times. Who wants to start a petition for Game of Thrones to add magical rabbits to the story?

My two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons are “Hair Raising Hare,” in which Bugs first takes on Gossamer the seven-foot-tall monster with red fur and white sneakers …

… and “Operation: Rabbit,” in which Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius, figures that maybe rabbits are easier to capture and eat than road runners …

… and is proven wrong, prompting the headline of this blog. (You’d think after a while the Supergenius might figure out to switch providers from Acme, but apparently not.)

As for non-Bugs cartoons, my favorite is “Three Little Bops”:

There are too many things to be said about the rest of Looney Tunes, including such characters as Daffy Duck (whose lack of additional mention no doubt would make him proclaim “You’rrrrrre des-PIC-able!”) …

There is only one way to end this blog:

 

The historical oxymoron that is “Brewers pitching”

On Wednesday, the Brewers traded center fielder Carlos Gomez to the New York Mets for pitcher Zack Wheeler and infielder Wilmer Flores … for about one hour.

In one of the more bizarre moments of social media-era baseball, the trade was reported as a done deal, and then it became undone because of, depending on whom you ask, concern about (1) Gomez’s hip or (2) Wheeler’s recovery from Tommy John surgery or (3) the Brewers’ disinterest in adding money to the deal.

I got into a discussion on Facebook over the merits of this trade, including getting a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery, getting a .250 hitter, and the Brewers’ historically poor pitching. This was before the trade was canceled because of concerns with either Gomez’s hip or Wheeler’s recovery. I preferred a different Mets pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, though reportedly the Mets aren’t trading him. (Of course, this trade “reportedly” was taking place before it didn’t.)

I have stated here before that the Brewers pitching is bad far more often than good. In 46 years of existence, the Brewers have, remember, exactly four playoff seasons — 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011. They have had 12 seasons beyond those four with winning records, plus two .500 seasons. Those winning seasons, by the way, are the only seasons where the Brewers scored more runs than they gave up.

Admittedly, runs vs. runs given up is about all aspects of the game. So consider the Brewers’ earned run average and the team’s rank in its league. The Brewers have led their league once — 1992 — in ERA. The Brewers have finished second in their league in ERA twice, 1988 (a winning but non-playoff year) and 2008 (the wild card year). The Brewers have never finished third in their league in ERA, and they’ve finished fourth in ERA three times, all non-playoff years. I don’t know how you get in the playoffs with the 12th (1981), sixth (1982) or seventh (2011) best ERA in the league, but somehow the Brewers did.

In contrast, the Brewers have been 10th or worse in their league in ERA 20 times. (This year so far, they’re 12th; they were 10th last year.) The Brewers have led their league in one stat — games pitched, which combines appearances by starters and relievers — 27 times.

Admittedly, ERA is an imperfect measure of pitching. In WHIP — walks plus hits per inning — the Brewers have led their league twice, 1988 and 1992. The Brewers’ pitching is a historical failure in most seasons by any measure you care to use.

Who were the best Brewers pitchers? In the span from Jim Abbott to Jamey Wright:

  • Wins: Jim Slaton, 117. (He’s also the leader in games pitched, innings pitched, and believe it or not, shutouts.)
  • Win-loss record: C.C. Sabathia, who was 11-2 in his half-season in 2008. Zach Greinke was 25-9 in his two seasons, 2011 and 2012. Not surprisingly, only 111 of the Brewers’ 413 pitchers have winning career records. (Slaton does not.) The Brewers have more pitchers who never won a game than pitchers who won more than they lost.
  • ERA: Sabathia had a 1.65 ERA. Rollie Fingers had a 2.54 ERA. (Pitchers with 0.00 ERAs included Terry Francona, Jim Gantner, Mark Loretta, Martin Maldonado and Lyle Overbay, none of whom were actually pitchers.)
  • Saves: Dan Plesac, with 133.

Pitching is the most important part of baseball. So the Brewers’ chronic inability to develop pitching, or trade for pitchers who perform more than a year or two, means the Brewers are doing something wrong, and have been doing something wrong for a long, long time.

Pitching is a challenge for other franchises too. (Look about an hour and a half south of Milwaukee for other sad examples.) On the other hand, the Dodgers have been able to develop pitchers for decades. The Orioles once had four 20-game winners on the same team. In the 1990s, the Braves had Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz (acquired as a minor leaguer) and Greg Maddux (free agent signing) for their starting rotation, and dominated the ’90s. The Mets now have the best young starting rotation in baseball, which is why they can try to upgrade their weak offense and apparently poor defense. The Cardinals never lack for starting or relief pitching.

It is rather unbelievable that Brewers general managers dating all the way back to Marvin Milkes couldn’t generate much home-grown pitching of any quality. The Brewers have had more success importing pitchers (Mike Caldwell from Cincinnati, Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers from St. Louis, Don Sutton from Houston, Ted Higuera from the Mexican League, Sabathia from Cleveland, Shaun Marcum from Toronto) than they have developing their own guys long-term. That approach is more expensive, and lasts less time. (Off that list, only Caldwell lasted as long as eight seasons.)

Particularly in this free agent era with baseball’s bad economics, in a small market you have to get it right much more often than those markets where you can throw good money after bad. Whatever the Brewers have been doing to develop pitching, it isn’t working.

Presty the DJ for July 31

Today in 1964, a Rolling Stones concert in Ireland was stopped due to a riot, 12 minutes after the concert began.

Today in 1966, Alabamans burned Beatles products in protest of John Lennon’s remark that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” The irony was that several years earlier, Lennon met Paul McCartney at a church dinner.

Continue reading →

War now, or nukes later

Norman Podhoretz:

Almost everyone who opposes the deal President Obama has struck with Iran hotly contests his relentless insistence that the only alternative to it is war. No, they claim, there is another alternative, and that is “a better deal.”

To which Mr. Obama responds that Iran would never agree to the terms his critics imagine could be imposed. These terms would include the toughening rather than the lifting of sanctions; “anytime, anywhere” nuclear-plant inspections instead of the easily evaded ones to which he has agreed; the elimination rather than the freezing of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; and the corresponding elimination of the “sunset” clause that leaves Iran free after 10 years to build as many nuclear weapons as it wishes.

Since I too consider Mr. Obama’s deal a calamity, I would be happy to add my voice to the critical chorus. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly with the critics that, far from “cutting off any pathway Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon,” as he claims, the deal actually offers Tehran not one but two paths to acquiring the bomb. Iran can either cheat or simply wait for the sunset clause to kick in, while proceeding more or less legally to prepare for that glorious day.

Unfortunately, however, I am unable to escape the conclusion that Mr. Obama is right when he dismisses as a nonstarter the kind of “better deal” his critics propose. Nor, given that the six other parties to the negotiations are eager to do business with Iran, could these stringent conditions be imposed if the U.S. were to walk away without a deal. The upshot is that if the objective remains preventing Iran from getting the bomb, the only way to do so is to bomb Iran.

And there’s the rub. Once upon a time the U.S. and just about every other country on earth believed that achieving this objective was absolutely necessary to the safety of the world, and that it could be done through negotiations. Yet as the years wore on, it became increasingly clear to everyone not blinded by wishful delusions that diplomacy would never work.

Simultaneously it also became clear that the U.S. and the six other parties to the negotiations, despite their protestations that force remained “on the table,” would never resort to it (and that Mr. Obama was hellbent on stopping Israel from taking military action on its own). Hence they all set about persuading themselves that their fears of a nuclear Iran had been excessive, and that we could live with a nuclear Iran as we had lived with Russia and China during the Cold War.

Out the window went the previously compelling case against that possibility made by authoritative scholars like Bernard Lewis, and with it went the assumption that the purpose of the negotiations was to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

For our negotiating partners, the new goal was to open the way to lucrative business contracts, but for Mr. Obama it was to remove the biggest obstacle to his long-standing dream of a U.S. détente with Iran. To realize this dream, he was ready to concede just about anything the Iranians wanted—without, of course, admitting that this was tantamount to acquiescence in an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them.

To repeat, then, what cannot be stressed too often: If the purpose were still to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, no deal that Iran would conceivably agree to sign could do the trick, leaving war as the only alternative. To that extent, Mr. Obama is also right. But there is an additional wrinkle. For in allowing Iran to get the bomb, he is not averting war. What he is doing is setting the stage for a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.

The reason stems from the fact that, with hardly an exception, all of Israel believes that the Iranians are deadly serious when they proclaim that they are bound and determined to wipe the Jewish state off the map. It follows that once Iran acquires the means to make good on this genocidal commitment, each side will be faced with only two choices: either to rely on the fear of a retaliatory strike to deter the other from striking first, or to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.

Yet when even a famous Iranian “moderate” like the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has said—as he did in 2001, contemplating a nuclear exchange—that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality,” how can deterrence work?

The brutal truth is that the actual alternatives before us are not Mr. Obama’s deal or war. They are conventional war now or nuclear war later. John Kerry recently declared that Israel would be making a “huge mistake” to take military action against Iran. But Mr. Kerry, as usual, is spectacularly wrong. Israel would not be making a mistake at all, let alone a huge one. On the contrary, it would actually be sparing itself—and the rest of the world—a nuclear conflagration in the not too distant future.