Phos Reviews...

The Cartoon History of the Universe, Book 2, by Larry Gonick, Doubleday, 10/94, $14.95, 304pp.

I've been here at MIT quite a few years. They keep my IV bottle filled here at Voo Doo because I know how to use the camera in the darkroom. Before twelve years of Reagan and Bush, I walked into my neighborhood head shop and discovered the Rip-Off Press sold in the back room, out of sight, past the glass case with coke spoons and hash pipes. One of my favorite features was Larry Gonick's Cartoon History. I had a lot of fun following it through the 80's when I was an undergrad. Today, comics are sold in front, ``head'' supplies include metal hardware that passes through one's tongue, and the Cartoon History is still going strong.

In his first seven volumes, published together as Tome 1, he covered 4-1/2 billion years from the Big Bang to Alexander the Great. Evidently around 1990 he needed a change of scene, because he published five or six other books: The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, Physics, Statistics, Computer Science, U.S. History, etc. etc. If this guy ever drops his pen, they'll have to stop it with a bazooka.

Gonick has just published a new volume that covers the next thousand years, roughly from years 500 BC to 500 AD. Whipping through ancient Indian history (you gotta see his Baghavad Gita in 3 pages), he launches into the history of China which goes on for over 100 pages, beginning in the ice age and running through the Han Dynasty. That's the first half of the book. The second half covers the entire history of the Roman Empire.

The Rip-Off Press was started by Gilbert Shelton and Gonick derives a lot of inspiration from him. I'm not saying that Christ is a dead ringer for Phineas, but we're talking serious artistic heritage here.

Gonick is a serious book addict and draws his material from the respected literary sources. What this means a lot of the time is a lot of unspeakable slaughter, but he is able to piece together a generous helping of human-scale drama as well. He walks a very thin line between accurately representing the real history and punching it up with gags and one-liners. He's not afraid to take chances: I don't think anyone has ever done a funnier New Testament.

I went to Harvard Square and looked around for it: it was at Million Year Picnic on Mt Auburn St. and at Wordsworth just around the corner. IT WAS NOT at Newbury Comics, New England Comics, and LearningSmith. Evidently his distributors are going for the highbrow market, and MYP is just a great shop. LearningSmith doesn't seem to classify history as a form of learning, but they do carry other Gonick books. To extrapolate, it's almost certainly at the BU Bookstore, and Comicopia in Kenmore Square ought to have it. The COOP at Harvard said they had it, and the MIT COOP had it backordered. Newbury Comics in the SC said they had gotten two copies to stock but they had been sold. Duuh.

Oh, did I forget to mention? GONICK IS AT MIT!! He's here on a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship. I met him at a party last Friday. I knew if I hung around MIT long enough something worthwhile would happen. I felt like Li'l Abner meeting Lester Gooch.

- Jim Bredt

Bands Lunachicks and Thumper at Strat's Rat, October 6th, 1994.

Imagine an all female Misfits led by Barbarella the aerobics instructor. For a long time or a short time on the 6th of October, the Lunachicks jumped around the stage in La Sala de Puerto Rico and looked grumpy. And it was cheap too. Good old-fashioned straight ahead music. They reminded me once again that a real song doesn't have to be about anything. Real punk rockers can spew about slugs or coat hangers or differential equations. They don't need to wail about love or childhood memories or any of that Cranberry-ass shit.

The singer boldly asserted her dykedom in a hilarious manner, showing that, guess what, an adverserial stance in coming out, an exclusive rather than inclusive attitude about being queer, is unproductive, ludicrous, and indeed only belongs in a punk/glam Garbage Pail Kid-esque send-up of stupid snorting riot grrrls who, unlike the Lunachicks, cannot actually play their own instuments or cultivate the cords to sing like Glen Danzig. Um... actually, the singer never out and out, if I remember now, said she was a dyke. She sort of implied it, as part of a joke. I guess it really doesn't matter. I guess I just wanted to flame about GaMIT. Oh well.

Thumper was an absolute treat. The band is technically superior to anyone else playing that night. Their incredibly funny fusion of ska and tongue-wagging heavy metal, combined with perfect timing and split-second tempo changes, was stunning and full of spectacle. The crowd was either too tired, or too fucking mainstream, to dance, unfortunately. The guys from Fruvous Leghorn or whatever seemed shocked by Thumper's performance. I saw one gazing at Thumper, his wide eyes and gaping, smiling mouth reflecting the thought, ``Maybe if we didn't take ourselves seriously, people would dig our idiotic forgery of a dead form of music!'' Alas.

I spoke with the singer of Thumper after his set. We compared clothing that we had bought in thrift stores or found in alleys. This boy really is crazy. But that's okay. He was really glad to here how skilled I thought his band was. You could clearly hear each instrument playing a different part, the vocals were well mixed, and the whole band smiled. It was just great. The Student Center Committee is just great. All this for $2. Yaaaay.

-Jason Bucy

Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. October 6th, 1994 in Kresge.

The Ig Nobels were pretty funny this year. The hecklers shut up for the most part, and were more than outdone by the pathetically unfunny jackasses near whom I was seated in the Press Pit/Mosh Pit. Except for the other Voo Doo folks. I guess. Anyway, I would like to congatulate the MIT Museum and the Annals of Improbable Research for a fine show, and express a great deal of appreciation for the press passes.

By the way, I had a dream last night about the harpist for the Ig Nobels. She was TAing a class on marine artifacts taught by my old geophysics professor. He was out of class, and we were supposed to meet her at the pier next to the Institute at 7 am to join our professor on a boat going to the site of the marine archaeological find. The Institute appeared to be set up like a supermarket, however, with aisles and automatic doors all over, and the classrooms all looked like the Voo Doo office. I went to the TA's office to explain that it was already 2:30 am (yet as bright as an overcast day at noon) and that I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of missing the field trip. She quickly typed a 100-odd line C program that displayed a weird game that showed people walking around on that etching of ``The Belvedere,'' but soon turned into her electronic appointment book. ``Oh!'' she exclaimed. ``Looks like the boat left at midnight! I'm taking the rest of the day off!'' And then she tried to sell me a leather jacket.

-Jason Bucy

Yet another October has come and gone, and this, of course, means yet another slew of Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded to those individuals whose achievements ``cannot or should not be reproduced.'' And speaking of should not be reproduced, here are some of this year's prizewinners. Full results, including other perhaps more interesting stuff, will be printed in the upcoming Annals of Improbable Research. For more info, contact or their lackeys at the MIT Museum.
BIOLOGY - W. Brian Sweeney, Brian Krafte-Jacobs, Jeffrey W. Britton, and Wayne Hansen, for their breakthrough study, ``The Constipated Serviceman: Prevalence Among Deployed US Troops,'' and especially for their numerical analysis of bowel movement frequency.

PEACE - John Hagelin of Maharishi University and The Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy, promulgator of peaceful thoughts, for his experimental conclusion that 4,000 trained meditators caused an 18 percent decrease in violent crime in Washington, D.C.

MEDICINE - This prize is awarded in two parts. First, to Patient X, formerly of the US Marine Corps, valiant victim of a venomous bite from his pet rattlesnake, for his determined use of electroshock therapy -- at his own insistence, automobile sparkplug wires were attached to his lip, and the car engine revved to 3000 rpm for five minutes. Second, to Dr. Richard C. Dart of the Rocky Mountain Poison Center and Dr. Richard A. Gustafson of The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, for their well-grounded medical report: ``Failure of Electric Shock Treatment for Rattlesnake Envenomation.''

PSYCHOLOGY - Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore, practitioner of the psychology of negative reinforcement, for his thirty-year study of the effects of punishing three million citizens of Singapore whenever they spat, chewed gum, or fed pigeons.

PHYSICS - The Japanese Meterological Agency, for its seven-year study of whether earthquakes are caused by catfish wiggling their tails.

CHEMISTRY - Texas State Senator Bob Glasgow, wise writer of logical legislation, for sponsoring the 1989 drug control law which make it illegal to purchase beakers, flasks, test tubes, or other laboratory glassware without a permit.

ECONOMICS - Jan Pablo Davila of Chile, tireless trader of financial futures and former employee of the state-owned Codelco Company, for instructing his computer to ``buy'' when he meant ``sell,'' and subsequently attempting to recoup his losses by making increasingly unprofitable trades that ultimately lost .5 percent of Chile's gross national product. Davila's relentless achievement inspired his countrymen to coin a new verb: ``to davilar,'' meaning, ``to botch things up royally.''

MATHEMATICS - The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama, mathematical measurers of morality, for their county-by-county estimate of how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent.