The Resurrection of Al Capp’s Joe Btfsplk

Ed Raymond

The other day I heard a heart-warming story on National Public Radio about a mother elephant trying to rescue her newborn son from a very deep hole he had fallen into near an African desert waterhole. It seemed to be an impossible task for her because of her size and the depth of the hole. A Land Rover filled with safari passengers came along and they saw the mother’s plight. They brought ropes and a cable to the hole, tied them to the baby elephant, and pulled and winched him out of the hole. When the Land Rover had pulled up next to the hole, the mother had backed off about 50 feet to watch. Somehow she realized they were there to save her baby. As soon as the good Samaritans took the ropes and cable off, the mother and son rushed to each other, embraced trunks, and trumpeted. End of story. Well, not quite. Elephants have often demonstrated they have as much empathy as many “religious” human beings.
   But out of the recesses of what is left of my mind, the image of Joe Btfsplk appeared, the Li’l Abner guy with the wide-brim hat and the ever-present black cloud floating over his head. Whenever Joe showed up in Al Capp’s comic strip, disastrous “stuff” happened. Joe was probably there when the baby elephant fell in the hole. If he had stayed around to watch the rescue, the ropes would have broken, the cable winch would have jammed, and the Land Rover would have ended up in the hole. That’s what Joe does.

Capp Had Over 60
Million Fans For His
Cartoons and
Comic Strips

   In 1918 when he was nine, Al Capp was run over by a streetcar and lost a leg. Al’s father, an artist in his own right, convinced Al to become a cartoonist. Although he died in 1979, he is still considered to be the greatest cartoonist and comic strip writer of all time. I never missed Li’l Abner because of his amusing characters who popped in and out of his very cogent stories. His political characters seem to fill practically all the seats in Congress. Senator Jack S. Phogbound is a Congressional dead-ringer, described as a filibustering, good ol’ Southern politician who was a corrupt, conspiratorial blowhard. It’s much easier to name those who don’t fit the description.
   Al Capp’s hometown of Dogpatch had only one hero. Civil War general Jubilation T. Cornpone’s statue in the town square recognized his abilities with these themes: “Cornpone’s Retreat,” “Cornpone’s Disaster,” and “Cornpone’s Rout.” Capp inspired this song in the Broadway musical “Li’l Abner”: “When we fought the Yankees and annihilation was near, who was there to lead the charge that took us safely to the rear? Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone, old toot-your-own-horn pone.”
   Capp created a ruthless vulture capitalist in General Bullmoose. Bullmoose’s motto was “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA,” a take-off of what Charlie Wilson, head of General Motors, said to Congress about the “goodness” of General Motors.
   Capp’s creation of “the world’s dirtiest wrassler,” the bearded and barrel-chested Earthquake McGoon, certainly forecast the obscene growth of the World Wrestling Entertainment and the SmackDown.

In Today’s Political
Climate, We Desperately
Need An Al Capp

   It seems that Joe and his hovering black cloud travel at warp speed these days, dashing from one disaster to another. He is often accompanied by another Capp creation, Evil Eye Fleegle, who could power up a quadruple whammy that could “melt a battleship.” There seems to be conclusive evidence that Joe Btfsplk and Evil Eye are alive and well and are creating disasters around this country at a record pace:

(1) The Pew Research Center has reported that 20 percent of Americans are no longer members of a traditional religious denomination, up from 8 percent in 1990. That means that about 60 million no longer kiss rings, wear different colors on Sundays, handle poisonous snakes, or kill chickens. For affiliated groups, 48 percent say they are Protestant, the rest strung out among Catholics, Tennessee Snake Handlers, Scientologists, and others of that ilk in about 2,600 different “sects” around the U.S. One statistic in the Pew studies (no pun intended) tells me that Joe and Evil Eye must be busy on Sundays surrounding some churches with black clouds and evil spells. Pew says that 79 percent of the religious say they attend church on Sunday. Other researchers indicate that if 45 percent of the affiliated actually attended church, all of the church pews in the country would be filled. I don’t know who counted all the pews in the country, but National Public Radio reported it on Wednesday, October 24th. Looks like Joe and Evil Eye are continuing their work. Can you imagine religious people lying about church attendance to researchers? If true, this puts the U.S. on par with church attendance in Europe! Now that’s a disaster!

(2) In my formative years, I spent 27 years in the Roman Catholic Church. I attended catechism class regularly, entered confessionals reluctantly, bargained over sins, and sang in the choir. As a Marine I even went to Catholic services while on Navy troopships. Since that time I have learned more about the church, even though I have left it. I have been a life-long news junkie.
   The other day the Star Tribune published an article by Jason Adkins, the executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, who was trying to defend the position of the Vatican and its bishops on the topic of same-sex marriage and the so-called Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment. I was simply astounded at a pronoun he used to defend the church. I have read millions of words about the Roman Catholic Church, but this pronoun was new to me. He used “she” to describe the beliefs of the Vatican, the pope, cardinals, and bishops in such lines as “The Catholic Church... ‘she’ believes in human dignity and the common good.”  “She” bases belief on human truths “rooted in right reason, justice, and a complete vision of the human person.” “She” works for pregnant women with no one to support them. “She” believes that same-sex marriage “would effectively transform marriage into something else altogether, a system of love licenses.” (Whatever that means. What’s the matter with love?)
  So here’s a church run totally by old men, where women are banned from the pulpit because they couldn’t travel with the Apostles to preach the Word. I am assuming that women even served the courses at The Last Supper. Where is the Gospel of Ruth? Of Mary? Of Maureen? Of Naomi? The pronoun “She” is a hot pronoun to use in a completely patriarchal organization.  Could God be a “She”? Joe and his black cloud must be in the Catholic jet stream. Women have always been considered property of the church to provide scut work and heirs. Look what some inquisitorial bishops are trying to do with nuns who do the work of the Church.

(3) Joe and Evil Eye have to be in the middle of these “religious” moves to keep God really busy between earthquakes, football cheerleaders, holocausts, and other incidents God rules on. An Iranian Muslim cleric preached that women who dress “immodestly” cause earthquakes (Maybe their eyes are exposed!). A graduate student in Seattle decided to check this “scientific hypothesis” (she called it “Boobquake”) by inviting women around the world to wear really earthquaking cleavage for a day to see if God was awake to such enticement. I guess She (It’s possible, you know!) didn’t pay any attention. According to seismologists, there were no major earthquakes on the day that women around the world jugged and jiggled. I imagine they made a major effort to keep their eyes on the jiggling seismometer.

   Before we banned organized prayer in schools, I was always concerned about how busy God was on fall Friday nights picking winners, particularly in the Bible-thumper states. Here we go again. The Kountze High School football cheerleaders in the little Texas town have held up huge paper banners with these Bible verses: (1)“I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me,” (2) “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and (3) “But thanks be to God, which gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I have no idea what their won-lost record is. I suppose if they are undefeated, we will soon know about it. All I know is that I have never seen an athlete make the sign of the cross or another sign directed at heaven after fumbling the ball, missing a field goal, striking out, or missing a $300,000 putt. I suspect that most of these people think like Woody Allen: “I wish that God would only give a clear sign. Like making a large deposit in a Swiss bank.”

(4) Over 17,000 practically all-white folks from all over the country showed up at the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky to fire machine guns for three days. The black cloud from all of the rounds fired probably was a match for Joe’s black cloud floating above the shooters.  Adults paid ten bucks and kids five to fire Soviet PKS heavy machine guns, Thompsons, Brownings, and other exotic weapons. They used old cars, fuel barrels, and other targets. Tracer bullets helped to light up the night shows. I guess some people and kids have to get their rocks off somehow. As the commander of a Marine Corps light and heavy machine gun platoon in the 1950s, I have heard perhaps millions of rounds being fired. I never want to hear another one.

(5) So you hate Obamacare and want to have it repealed on January 21st, 2013. This means you approve of the U.S. paying $8,233 per person, or 17.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for inadequate health care while 48 million people are not covered by insurance at all. I think it’s really stupid to pay that much when other countries with universal coverage pay much less of their GDP: Netherlands, 12%; France, 11.6%; Germany, 11.6%; Canada, 11.4%; United Kingdom, 9.6%; Japan, 9.4%; and Norway, 9.4%. The World Health Organization rates France #1 for quality of universal health care. The average spending in 33 industrialized countries is $3,268 per person. That should be shocking to all Americans.
    In the last 50 years, life expectancy has increased nine years in the U.S., 15 years in Japan, and an average of 11 years in all European countries. We are one year below the average life expectancy of all industrialized countries. We lead the world in only two categories: breast and colorectal cancer survival rates.
   We spend $900 per person for administration of insurance policies; France spends $300. We are in the horse and buggy days in limiting costs compared to other advanced countries. Prescriptions in Sweden are all done electronically from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy, cutting down medical errors and eliminating a lot of paperwork for pharmacists.
   The average hospital stay in the U.S. costs $18,000. Canada spends $4,000, the Netherlands and Japan around $6,000. All three have higher life expectancies. I just had a hip replacement. While the average cost in the U.S. is $17,406, it is $11,162 in France. Need a knee replacement? It’s $14,946 in the U.S. and $9,910 in Canada. How about a coronary artery bypass? $34,450 here—but $14,067 in Germany.
   Although they all have higher life expectancies than we do, the other industrialized countries use half the MRI and CT-scans. Our average MRI runs about $1,100. Japan charges $98.00.
   The free market in health care creates some real disparities in this country. Some regions have five times the number of coronary artery bypasses than others. There’s real money in hearts, but not much in pneumonia. Some regions have five times the number of hip and knee replacements as other regions. There’s big money to be made in hips and knees. The way our health care “system” avoids the poor and the sick, one would think Joe’s black cloud is a huge tornadic wall cloud hovering over every medical facility.