- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

“Around the sober-suited [Dan] Rowan and [Dick] Martin whirled a madhouse of stock characters, whose pop-up appearances and much-quoted catchphrases were redolent of the radio routines of wartime Britain.

“The weekly ‘galere’ [of ‘Laugh-In’] included Lily Tomlin’s nasal-toned switchboard girl; Arte Johnson’s German soldier peering over a pot plant to observe: ‘Verrry interrrestink’; Goldie Hawn’s giggling blonde; and Ruth Buzzi’s umbrella-wielding old woman.

” ‘We designed it so that we are two relatively normal guys wandering through a sea of madness,’ Martin explained. Each week Rowan and Martin would award their Flying Fickle Finger of Fate, host a gag-laden cocktail party and close each show with the [program’s] joke wall.”

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“[George] Orwell was an anti-hypocrite for whom there were worse things than hypocrisy. He was also an anti-hypocrite who understood how anti-hypocrisy could itself become the vice it was supposed to be rescuing us from. …

“As Orwell said in March 1940 of the war then only just begun: ‘For Heaven’s sake, let us not suppose we go into this war with clean hands. It is only while we cling to the consciousness that our hands are not clean that we retain the right to defend ourselves.’ And as he said in February 1944 of the war whose end was still nowhere in sight: ‘In the last analysis, our only claim to victory is that if we win the war, we shall tell fewer lies about it than our adversaries.’

“This is not truth versus lies; it is fewer lies versus more lies, or democratic hypocrisy versus the total lie. Indeed, for Orwell, it was the hypocrisy of the English that served to ensure that they were not entirely self-deceived about the moral compromises entailed in confronting a totalitarian ideology; they at least still knew what it meant to have something to hide.”

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“The charge [by Anthony Martin], remember, was that Aristotle had hopped a boat from Athens, strolled into the library at Alexandria, grabbed a bunch of books, brought them back to Greece and put his name on them. This is almost so unbelievable that it has to be true - but, alas, it isn’t. First, there is no record of Aristotle ever having gone to Egypt … [and] there wasn’t even a library in Alexandria for Aristotle to pillage during his lifetime. …

“What, then, should we do about such nonsense - used in its ‘customary and primary meaning’ of ‘assertion in the utter absence of evidence?’ This, in many ways, is the central question raised by ‘History Lesson.’

“[Classics scholar Mary] Lefkowitz finds that it isn’t going to be answered by academic administrators, whose job, she tells us, is mostly to keep the peace. When Ms. Lefkowitz asked that a course offered by Mr. Martin be changed to reflect more accurately the historical record, she was told, ‘He has his view of ancient history, and you have yours.’ This casual intellectual equivalence shows a remarkable dedication to keeping the peace, indeed.”

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