mirado? or mirage?

September 2nd, 2007 | Uncategorized


Once in high school I was doing my homework with an Eagle Mirado pencil. My visiting uncle took note of this. He told me that when he was little, this model of pencil was called a “Mikado,” but that the company had changed the name during World War II. Apparently in a patriotic spasm of anti-Japanese sentiment.


But rather than change the name altogether, they just changed one letter. “Mikado” is Japanese for “emperor.” Mirado is a completely meaningless, manufactured bunch of syllables. Probably the one-letter switch was a matter of convenience and economy—they’d only need to replace a tiny bit of the pencil-stamping device. But it’s always struck me as a particularly repugnant erasure*, emblematic of the human urge to replace the troubling truth with manufactured nonsense.

Years later, in my twenties, I came across an old photograph of Times Square, probably from the 1930’s. And visible in one corner of it was a billboard for Mikado pencils! I’ve been searching my house high and low for this document for weeks now, to no avail. I’m also pretty sure I had a Mirado pencil somewhere, thinking that one day I was going to do something with these items.

I hate the feeling of not being able to find things. My search has been kind of obsessing me. I used to know where everything was, but the archives I’ve been accumulating over the decades have officially outgrown my mental cataloging capacity.

Why am I telling you this? Because I have nothing else to blog about, and I need to post something. I really wish I could have shown you the billboard photo. A billboard for a pencil! Isn’t that remarkable? Huh…maybe I made the whole thing up.

*That “erasure” pun was unintentional! I only noticed it later.

67 Responses to “mirado? or mirage?”

  1. whomever1 says:

    Well-“mirado” means “watched” or “looked at” in Spanish–so it totally makes sense, since you can look at a pencil.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My criteria for cleaning house has always been if I get frustrated looking for something, it’s time to clean. Recently though I’ve been trying to simplify pretty stringently, so I’ve been just getting rid of a lot of stuff. Books and clipped info are the hardest for me due to the “might use it someday” madness.

  3. Colin Tedford says:

    Whoops, I was that housecleanin’ Anonymous – and anyway, not that any of that helps find the pencils or picture; but I feel that not-finding-things pain.

  4. Joe Code says:

    There’s something so abhorrent to me about hyper-patriotic actions that leave indelible marks on things both major and minor, like the Mirado pencil or the insertion of “under god” in the pledge. Thankfully Freedom Fries was a transient blip.

  5. Erica says:

    The thing is, the original name was also racist, as it was cultural appropriation.

  6. Good point, Erika.

    Though if I were forced at gunpoint to choose between the exoticizing racism of “mikado” and the detention-camp racism of “mirado,” I’d have to pick the former.

  7. Ydnic says:

    This is one of those fascinating bits of unsavory history that come to light occasionally; I wonder about other suppressions we’re now oblivious to.

    A Google search for “Mikado pencil” brings up some odd items. There’s a partial magazine ad for the Mikado pencil on eBay. A pencil collector has photos of . (search down the page) The typeface on the number 174 looks like it’s supposed to be Asian. And from a “Dictation Course in Business Literature,” Google Books finds a sales letter about the number 174.

  8. xiaojie says:

    it’s not the billboard ad, and it’s not in times square, but a google image search came up with a pencil advert here – check out the faux-oriental lettering on the pencil itself


  9. regis says:

    it wasn’t merely to suggest “the exotic orient” — much of the good graphite used to come from china and siberia and other “far east” areas, so there was a trend of western companies using names like “koh-i-noor” and “mongol” and “mikado”.


  10. regis says:

    no billboards, but http://www.pencils.sundrymemes.com/pen_ads.htm has sone pictures of pencil advertisements, including ads for mikado brand.

  11. kate mckinnon says:

    It’s even worse than Freedom Fries.

  12. Duncan says:

    Of course you’re aware, Alison, that there were similar erasures of German culture and influence in the US during and after World War I? I agree with you about the perniciousness of such revisions. But are they so different from attempts by diversity managers to erase certain embarrassing cultural artifacts connected to “race”? Or the whole tendency, known popularly as “political correctness”, to replace ‘bad’ words with ‘nice’ ones?

    I’m not sure that “Mikado” was a racist name for the pencils, or even cultural appropriation. Does it work both ways? When Asian countries borrow English words for commercial products — like, say, “Hello Kitty” — is that racist cultural appropriation too?

    I mean, there are kinds of cultural appropriation that I do agree are problematic and harmful; I’m just not persuaded that Mikado pencils are among them. (Regis’ comment is relevant here.) But the fact is that cultures mix, and borrow, and swipe, and “exoticism” is not necessarily a bad thing. (Should we Westerners give up arabic numerals and the zero because we appropriated them from the East?) Especially since the cultures whose memes are being appropriated are themselves far from innocent — I’m thinking here not only of Gandhi’s quip that Western civilization would be a good idea (as would Eastern civilization, I quip back), but of Francis Jennings’s that the pre-Columbian peoples were not less civilized than the Europeans — but that’s not saying much. Kneejerk reactions are not always a good thing either.

    Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’ve been reading a lot of “post-colonialist” theory in the past few years, and I’m startled at how historically impoverished a lot of it is, and how seemingly determined to deny “colonized” people all agency, or even humanity. In fact, I am convinced that a lot of postcolonialist theory is just rewarmed “Orientalism” with a postmodern face, even (or especially) when it’s the work of “Third World” academics trained and working in the metropole.

  13. April says:

    interesting points duncan. as a (mature aged) student of anthropology among other things, i get engaged in a lot of discussion of multiculturalism/assimilation/appropriation boundaries. are there boundaries? is it a cultural perspective issue? is appropriating elements of another’s culture racist exploitation or good evolutionary sense? is “mikado” essentialising all japanese, or just commercial adoption of royal status markers? ok best shut up now… 😉

    ps. i love this blog

  14. MBC says:

    … check out the above linkd pencil ads carefully – there are ads for both the mikado AND mirado….!

  15. Dr. Empirical says:

    I don’t see Mikado pencils as being any more imperialist or nracist than King Features Syndicate, Prince Spaghetti or Kaiser rolls. It’s just marketing. Business people want their products to seem grand, hence Acme Market, Zenith electronics and Crest toothpaste.

  16. Well said, Duncan. Yeah, what Regis said about the “good graphite” coming from China and Siberia made me rethink the exoticization thing too.

    I never thought about graphite being of variable quality. Now I want some good graphite!

  17. Andrew O. says:

    Have you ever noticed that when you finally do find something it’s always in the last place you look?

  18. Jana C.H. says:

    ..and the illustration you did end up using, AB: Does that depict the “new” costumes of the 1920s D’oly Carte production of “The Mikado”? It looks like it to me. That re-staging of the show (the first new version since Gilber’s original) was considered quite radical at the time, and many long-time D’oly Carte fans were outraged.

    The thing to bear in mind about exoticism: What’s exotic depends largely upon geography. Puccini loved to set his operas in exotic locales such as Japan, China, and Sacramento, California, rather than dull, commonplace, every-day locations in 19th century Italy.

    Are there any Californians on the blog who want to get bent out of shape over “Girl of the Golden West”? Are you racially offended by the opening scene when the miners in the local saloon call out, “Hello, Nick! Hello, Dick! Buon giorno!” After all, Puccini was appropriating a culture and a history that were not his. Let’s all call him a racist pig and congratulate ourselves on how superior we are, and I’ll see you at the next production of “Madama Butterfly”, hanky in hand.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith WSG: “…and surmounted with something Japanese– it matters not what– would at least be Early English!”

  19. Jana C.H. says:

    Oops! I mis-spelled D’oyly Carte! Twice! Good thing this isn’t Savoynet, or I’d be banished from the Inner Brotherhood.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith WSG: I’m afraid I’m not equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

  20. straight girl fan says:

    And here I thought Dixon Ticonderoga was the only brand of pencil in existence.

  21. Deborah says:

    I appreciate Duncan’s (and others’) comments, but if I may disagree a bit…I do not think that a simple reversal (Mikado for Hello Kitty, much as I like the HK example) takes into account the power relations between two unequal representational spaces. Yes, some theory can deny any sense of agency or irony. But just like “reverse racism”, I don’t think that “reverse Orientalism/Occidentialism” actually captures the complex dynamics of power exchange or even the history of images from the East as commodities in the West. Maybe we are talking about nationalism as much as we are talking about race, esp. given the “liberty cabbage” in lieu of Kraut that was happening at the same time. But the original “oriental” appeal that was almost certainly part of the “Mikado” pencil brand has its own history, as might a discussion of “Farfigneugen” (or however you spell the old Volkswagon tag. All I can think of is AB’s “funkngroovin” from an early DTWOF) be invoking German efficiency, etc. Race? maybe. Nationalist politics that are inflected by long-held ideologies of race (in both examples)? Certainly.
    My 2 cents.

  22. Ydnic says:

    regis: So *that’s* why koh-i-noor is a pencil brand. I always took it for granted as a kid (both my parents are artists, so there were lots of them lying around), but as an adult, I kind of scratched my head over it.

    I’m impressed by the paintings done for the Ticonderoga pencils.

    Jana C.H.: Puccini wrote an opera set in Sacramento? I’ve never heard of it being produced here in Sacramento (though that might have a lot to do with my complete ignorance of all things operatic). And you’re so right–exoticism is relative. This place would rate very, very low on any exotic-rate chart of mine.

    The things I learn from this blog!

  23. ide says:

    To address other aspects of this blog for a moment… Alison, something about what you wrote put me in mind of the old Jean Shepherd story about the Rockne automobile (http://www.flicklives.com/Books/ThinkSmall/books_think_small.htm)–worth revisiting if you are already familiar with him, worth looking up (as is the oeuvre of JS generally) if you’re not.

  24. Aunt Soozie says:

    Good pencils. Gotta have ’em. I keep a couple of sharpened pencils right at my bedside and a good eraser too…mostly for nightly sudoku…but, one never knows when some need will arise.

    Alison, that pencil looks a bit chewed. Please tell me you’re not a closet pencil eater! My daughter’s favorite book series sometimes features a pencil chewer…the protagonist says that this character chews so many pencils she probably “farts sawdust”.

    I so hate when I can’t find things. I don’t know if it’s some kind of multi-layered OCD thing but whenever I lose one thing I not only go crazy looking for it but I start stressing over what else is missing. I say to myself, “if I can’t find that…I’m sure I’ve lost track of some other things but I just don’t know it yet cause I haven’t needed whatever other thing is missing with that thing that I know is missing but if that thing is missing I’m certain I’ve misplaced something else with it and if I haven’t kept track of that thing what else is gone that I don’t know about yet…” Wow, until just now I never thought about how whacked that is…hmmm….. but at least it stops me from using the missing thing as a sign that I must clean and organize all of my, uhm, stuff. Gawd, I’m scaring myself…at least I only have one cat. There’s some solace in that.

  25. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oh, yeah, and I don’t chew pencils… 🙂

  26. Pam I says:

    Any suggestions where I have put the internal gubbins from the new sprung /suspension shelving system that is going to solve my little book storage problem? Spent a week looking for it, it’s about a foot long so I can’t believe I cant see it….

  27. Leda says:

    the surest way to find a missing thing is to start looking for something else..

  28. laura says:

    More exoticism: in 1907, Puccini saw The Girl of the Golden West, by David Belasco (same playwriter of Butterfly), in New York. Three years later, in 1910, there was the opening night of “La fanciulla del West” at the Metropolitan, in New York (so, not in Sacramento). Apparently, he did have the consent of Belasco to transform the American play in the Italian opera. For more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_fanciulla_del_West

  29. advo-runner-mom says:

    almost all other pencils leave a squeak when you press hard or fill in a standardized-test oval. Will not take an exam without two red-banded mirados, a pentel refillable eraser, and a sharpener.

  30. Ian says:

    Ok, if you’re arguing about cultural misappropriation and the colonisation of culture when it comes to *pencil* branding, then you really need to rethink your priorities. In all my worries of what’s wrong with the world and how badly humans treat other humans, the brand names of pencils is really, really, REALLY not one of them.

    I know pencils are important to an artist, but really! Stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath. The weather’s nice, so go outside for a walk in the countryside and come back and do something constructive that will either improve your life or someone else’s life instead.

  31. Butch Fatale says:

    Oh Ian, if you find intellectual debates about cultural appropriation in pencil branding frustrating, you may find yourself having to do a lot of deep breathing around here.

  32. Ng Yi-Sheng says:

    Speaking of exoticisation and cultural misappropriation, anyone remember Darkie toothpaste?

    It was a brand of toothpaste that showed a black man in a top hat with brilliant teeth, suggesting that if you used this brand of toothpaste, your teeth’d be as bright as his. I know that carries a load of ethnic-objectifying baggage with it, but as a kid in the 80s in Asia I never saw anything wrong with it – it didn’t seem degrading, after all.

    I actually remember when they changed the name to “Darlie” – they even had a computer animated graphic on TV showing a little anthropomorphic “L” booting out the “K”. The image of the black man transformed into a silhouette of someone, his face half illuminated by the sun, of indeterminate ethnic origins.

    Ooh, it seems there’s a Wikipedia site about it – it’s a Hong Kong-based company, and it still preserves its good ol’ ethnic insensitivity in its Chinese branding.


  33. Sarah says:

    Whenever I can’t find something in my messy office, bedroom, etc., I feel so frustrated that I can’t GOOGLE the ROOM. On the web, which is an overstuffed, cluttered “space” with an order you can’t read with the naked eye, when you just KNOW some piece of information is there but you can’t see it, you can usually find it by starting from the tiniest of leads. I can sort of find my cellphone this way, by transcending the physical with the electronic–wherever it is, under whatever pile of magazines or clothes, if I call it, I can find it. But my keys, my other earring, that scrap of paper where I wrote someone’s address–why can’t they all be connected to some invisible network, summonable from my keyboard?

    Another one of the ways the internet shapes consciousness.

  34. Maggie Jochild says:

    Kudos to Deborah for pointing out the real issue is not the terms themselves but the institutionalized power behind them. Sometimes I feel like Cuba Gooding Jr. shouting “Show me the money”, but tracing how power flows is the key to instantly understanding what’s oppressive and what’s not — you don’t have to memorize terminology, academic theories, or argue semantics, it’s very obvious. And language has enormous power to reinforce oppression.

    “Orient”, as I’ve said before, is one of those terms. It has a geographic origin, meaning to face the east. But the only place where China, India, Japan, etc are “to the east” is Europe, specifically England. Which is where it originated as a colonialist term. For us in the Northern Hemisphere to use “orient” or “oriental” for our nearest WESTERN neighbors is to ignorantly perpetuate our colonialist origins. People from Asia are Asians, it’s no more syllables and has a crisp, respectful accuracy.

    Years ago I read an essay by Ursula K. LeGuin where she talked about how among the Qechua-speaking people of Latin America, the past is envisioned as lying in front of you, visible, because you already know what happened in the past, it is not a secret. The future, however, was behind you, the unseen and as-yet unknown. We have an opposite point of view probably, as she states, because we are culturally so addicted to straight lines and linear thinking. She posited what an intellectual and cultural change it would make on us, on the configuration of our brains, to change how we viewed the passage of time. Just language, but what an impact.

    On a bigger level: The American Nazi party has openly begun organizing around “immigration”, which is now a code word for white supremacy. Our need to speak the truth wherever we can is growing greater by the day.

  35. notpeanut says:

    I agree that it makes a difference as to who is appropriating whom, but can’t resist another example of “exotic is relative”.

    In a museum of natural history in Zimbabwe, I was amazed by the brilliant display of water life common to Zimbabwe. It included all kinds of exotic things I thought, like electric eels. Then I saw a sign, “Exotic fish”. Wow, I thought, what would be exotic for people who see electric eels as ordinary? I took a look, and found the answer. Trout and bass.

  36. Nickel Joey says:

    Interesting stuff. Of course, this kind of thing goes back further than World War II. It’s fascinating — and sad — what people will do because of language.

    Here in Columbus, Ohio, the area of town that is now called German Village suffered serious anti-German prejudice during the first world war. I’d heard the story, but always assumed it was in the ’40s. The German Village Society’s website set me straight.

    Beautiful Schiller Park, in a fit of patriotism-cum-jingoism, was renamed Washington Park. German street names were changed; German books and textbooks were burned; teaching the language in schools was banned. Even as late at 1919, anti-German sentiment helped shut down breweries in this part of the city!

    Schiller Park reverted to its original name in the 1930s and retained it, somehow, through World War II. Thank goodness that the breweries are back, too.

    Good thing America is also beyond all that patriotism-cum-jingoism, eh?

    (And pardon one small tic of effusion, but . . . I love this blog, too.)

  37. Jana C.H. says:

    Maggie– Qechua thinking is different from ours, and it is good for us to try to understand it and recognize that our way of thinking is not universal. But that does not make it automatically better than our way.

    You seem to imply (though you never state it explicitly) that if we would just change our addiction from linear thinking to an addiction to Qechua thinking, the world would be a better place. It would be a different place, better in some ways, worse in others. but exactly how it would be different is impossible to say.

    Linear thinking is a component (though not the entirety) of the scientific method, and if you want to get rid of science, say goodbye to modern medicine and the internet. We’d be rid of a lot of bad things, too, but without modern medicine, my mother would have died in childbirth with my older brother.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith WSG: The idiot who praises, in enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own.

    P.S. The world “idiot” is Gilbert’s, not mine.

  38. Maggie Jochild says:

    Jana, there are scientific methods and logic systems, have been for eons, that don’t rely on linearity or anything handed to us from Greeks and Romans. I think they’re all equally valuable, because human intelligence and innovative culture is brilliant wherever it appears. I never placed one above the other — you’re projecting that into what I’ve written.

    I do, however, react to our addiction to one kind of thinking. Addictions always diminish potential. I don’t believe the Qechua perspective is an addiction we need to worry about. As someone who adores my generation, my region, my heritage, my country, my gender, my race, and my class, and who writes often about my love of these things, I don’t think it’s “unpatriotic” for me to simultaneously love it and question its obvious shortcomings, looking for ways to see outside the mind-box I was given.

    I take ten serious medications a day. I believe in the efficacy of Western medicine. I would certainly have died in childhood without it. Yet I’m also aware other medicines, ancient forms, are also effective and at times more effective. Why should I have to choose?

    The “internet”, indeed, all artificial intelligence depends on binary number systems, which was such a radical rejection of accepted science and mathematics that it took almost 400 years from its initial conception for someone (a queer man, Alan Turing) to figure out how to employ it in calculating mechanisms during the 1940s.

    And — what is labeled the scientific method often actually is not. One of the physicians I most trust and listen to, a specialist in Internal Medicine and Oncology, says it’s an open secret in his profession that 60% of the time, if a doctor does NOTHING the patient will still get better. But all cures are ascribed to the actions the physician takes, in the name of science.

  39. regis says:

    some day, google will be on the case.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Someone better say something better than “good point Duncan” or you’re going to lose touch with us women of colour reading this damn blog!

  41. Ginjoint says:

    Why don’t you give it a shot, then, Anonymous?

  42. bean says:

    i saw this written on a bathroom once and it stuck with me: “If you call me Oriental, I’ll call you Accidental.”


    regarding cultural appropriation, this is how i’ve come to understand post modernism: “Nothing really means anything, and everything really means nothing, because it’s all relative.”

    I find this annoying, because i actually do think oppression is a real thing.

    as for accusations of political correctness, they have proven time and again to be the most effective and efficient of dialog derailers and/or stiflers.

  43. pd says:

    In the early days of expeditions to the space station, NASA spent a lot of money finding a pen that would work in zero gravity. The Russians used pencils.

  44. Ng Yi-Sheng says:

    Sorry pd, but that space pen thing is an urban legend.


  45. Jana C.H. says:

    Maggie– You don’t like my beloved Greeks and Romans? I’m cut to the quick! Yes, I know they were oppressive sexist pigs, but I love ’em anyway. What can I say? I’m an antiquity nerd.

    And I profoundly disagree with you when you seem to say we Westerners are especially addicted to our way of thinking. Every culture thinks its own way of viewing the world is the only way, and learning otherwise is a difficult proposition for everyone, not just us wicked Westerners. Is the problem that we’re the ones with power? Well, that won’t last. Just peer across the Pacific and see China looming into the future. We’re already slipping off the top perch.

    (Warning: Capital letters in the following paragraph should be interpreted as jumping up and down with excitement, not shouting at anyone in particular.)

    As for science, I find science to be the most exciting, mind-boggling, and awe-inspiring way of viewing the world yet invented by humankind. That doesn’t make the other ways worthless or uninteresting, but science is absolutely ding-donged AMAZING! We can actually FIND THINGS OUT about the universe, based on EVIDENCE! Then CORRECT OUR MISTAKES and FIND OUT MORE! Wowee-kazowee!! Purely my own personal view, of course. No one is required to agree, though a lot more Chinese and Indians seem to feel that way than Americans. Look at who’s signing up for graduate studies in the hard sciences. It ain’t just us white folks any more!

    As for what medicines to use: The scientific reply is to use what has been proven to work. If an “alternative” treatment is proven to work, it becomes modern medicine. I take quite a few daily pills myself; if they don’t work for me, my doctor and I agree to quit them and try something else.

    Maggie, I trust you know me well enough to recognize that none of this is personal. I love to discuss ideas; it gets me excited. See you on the MOC!

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Carl Sagan: Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

  46. Sir Real says:

    I too wonder about – and am sometimes immobilized by the implications of – appropriation. If one takes a concept from another culture, is it appropriation? If one sticks firmly to the ideas of one’s own heritage, is it insular? Yes to both – though not nessesarily…

    My own criterion has been something like… is this borrowing grounded in extensive knowledge about the context and meaning of the idea? Or is it a casual conceptual grab – like ooh that’s exotic, I’ll use it? And in any case, what is the direction of the flow of power in the whole situation?

    I find this pretty immobilizing – I’m often amazed and awed that artists – Alison Bechdel, for instance – dare to create characters and situations out of their personal experience… scenes at Jezanna’s mother’s deathbed for instance… wow.

    That strikes me a danged daring… I seem to recall that AB said something like – as a white person creating characters of color – 1)research, research and 2)be prepared to be informed that you’ve made mistakes… yi. It seems that AB is generally able to find oodles of gumption.

  47. dcs says:

    I always thought the old pencil names were racist, but for a different reason. Almost always, across brands, the best line of pencils had yellow paint on it. The brand names were often chosen to imply, to the buying public of the time, yellowness. Hence: “mongol” and “mikado”. Maybe I’m wrong about the reason, but that’s what my Mongolian teacher told me. [And, yes, 35 years later, I can still speak one, and only one, sentence in Mongolian.]

  48. Marcia says:

    Be glad we escaped the erasure as well as we did! They changed German Measles to Liberty Measles, and if I recall, frankfurters, to Liberty Dogs! Yeah boy, what sense that all makes…Liberty measles….phhft! Do we do our patriotic duty and infect ourselves??? I guess that’s the antithesis of the “un-American” STD diseases out there…

  49. Anne says:

    Maybe it’s the same in American and therefore too obvious for anyone to have mentioned it before, but in French the game which I’ve found on google to be called “pick-up sticks” in English is called Mikado, that’s the only name for it. So to me it would totally make sense to use “Mikado” as a brand name for pencils, originally. I also warmly recommend the chocolate covered Mikado sticks by Lu (i.e. the cookies).

  50. Eric says:

    If ”mirado” means “watched” or “looked at” in Spanish (whomever1’s comment), wouldn’t a Mirado be the perfect pencil to use on a strip that pertains to people to be Watched Out For? Way better than a Mikado, in any case, unless you see a connection to comic opera.

  51. Anne says:

    As long as we’re talking about WWII and changes to accommodate a new identity in the light of history, this is not a uniquely American thing to do. “Karate” as any good dojo will tell you means “Way of the Empty Hand.” Except that was a modification made by Japanese instructors. “Way of the Empty Hand” is a homophone for “Chinese-style Boxing”… also pronounced “Karate”. This accomplishes two things… it separates the Japanese art from it’s Chinese ancestry (and maybe the arts are different enough to deserve different names), but also hides a bit of history. The “Boxer” rebellion was not about box makers, it was about martial artists taking their empty hand arts up against British guns.

    Oh, and Mirado pencils are still around and still a great pencil: http://www.artstuff.net/paper_mate_black_warrior_pencils.htm

    But I think General is the only US pencil maker still making pencils in the US.

  52. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    Yep. the Fisher “Space Pen” was entirely financed by the Fisher company itself. No taxpayer dollars were used at all.

    But there is a certain mondest that just has to beleive that every Government agency just loves to waste huge amounts of money.

    Remember the hoorah over the “$500 toilet seat”. Never happened. No one paid that kind of money for a “toilet seat”. What was purchased was an integrated seat, lid and enclosure for a limited number of chemical toilets to be installed in the ORION aircraft. If I recall correctly, the number was less than 50.

    It was much cheaper to have these seats/enclosures essentially hand crafted at a fiberglass shop, than to have them made in a commercial facility.

    The project was put out to bid, as per DoD regulations and this small shop submitted the lowest bid.

    But of course, making a wry comment about the Government paying $500 dollars for a toilet seat is much more amusing that the actual truth.

    Just like commenting about a pen vs a pencil without knowing the truth behind either.

  53. --MC says:

    Chris, I unfortunately subscribe to that mondest (Mondest Mouse?), since articles like this keep turning up:
    An owner of a defunct company accused of bilking the Defense Department out of more than $20 million, including charging nearly $1 million to ship two 19-cent washers, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal wire fraud and money laundering

  54. @ Anonymous’s comment, “Someone better say something better than “good point Duncan” or you’re going to lose touch with us women of colour reading this damn blog!”

    No! I don’t want to lose touch with anyone! Um..nor do I want to make assumptions about what bugged you. But if it was Duncan’s comment about anti-colonialist theory, I didn’t mean to endorse that—I don’t know enough about anti-colonialist theory to know what he’s talking about. I was agreeing with his point that cultural borrowing isn’t always necessarily racist appropriation.

    I was glad, though, to see Deborah and Maggie Jochild weigh in on the different power balance between a Japanese toy company using “Hello Kitty” and an American pencil company using “Mikado.”

    I don’t want to put the burden on you to respond to things you find offensive here. But if you’re so inclined, I’d be grateful to hear your take.

  55. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:


    mindset. MINDSET.

    Oh, and that whole business with the washers and whatnot. The people involved in the billing fraud are in DEEP doodoo!

    Apparently one of them has also comitted suicide.

  56. Maggie Jochild says:

    Jana, yes, absolutely, I know it’s not personal. (grin)

    I like the Greeks and Romans, too. But they were fucked up little puppies in some ways, and I do my best to sort through the drek. I mean, Pythagorus wouldn’t let his students eat beans because he thought passing gas released a bit of the human soul. And I especially object to the myth that they were “gay” icons — they liked to sodomize boys, yes, because of the power dynamic. It was not a sexual orientation for most of them; it was frowned upon for adult men to mess around with each other. Unfortunately, their views on sex really have endured in our culture.

    I think when we’re the reigning superpower in the world AND we’re doing the vile things we are currently, we have a responsibility to question everything in our culture. Something’s gone very wrong. As I read on a blog today, we’re not longer a democracy, we’re an empire. Che’s comment about how he envied us in the belly of the beast is no longer ironic.

    Which is not to say that I advocate guilt. There’s a meaningful difference between guilt (or shame) and accountability, and us grown-up white people need to learn it on our own. The people of color who choose to work with us and accept us as allies have a concept of forgiveness we also tend to misunderstand, confusing it with the Christian mind-wipe of absolution. And the magical thinking of re-invention that all our immigrant ancestors clung to, as a means of assauging their grief at losing their own cultures, has infiltrated the left just as much as the right: We tend to believe saying “presto-chango” and swapping out clothes makes us able to walk away from conditioning (class, gender, race). We surround ourselves with hand-clappers and nurse our wounds privately.

    Several years ago, Barry Lopez wrote a great essay about how the environmental catastrophes we are facing will not be solved by technology (science) or by a return to tribal living (anthropology), but by some synthesis of all our best thinking. I agree with him, in a big picture kind of way. Of course, I must issue this disclaimer: I was raised Southern Baptist, which is apocalyptic and absolutist, and I’m not done yet with rooting out that particular set of conditioning, however much I disavow that religious culture.

    And Chris in Mass, thanks for the correction — I was about to haul out my OED and start on the trail of “mondest”!

  57. bean says:

    not that i’m that crazy about this sexist white male famous rich liberal (yes, that’s a slur), but sunday’s cartoon about fiscal responsibility seemed sort of on theme:


  58. Ginjoint says:

    Pythagorus wouldn’t let his students eat beans because he thought passing gas released a bit of the human soul.

    My God, at this point I must be but an walking, empty shell.

  59. Ginjoint says:

    Goddammit. A walking, empty shell.

  60. LizD says:

    On losing and finding things:

    In the book A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman (where they get into the advantages of being messy), they describe a potential future solution to the ‘I can’t find anything’ problem:

    “…the growing availability of tiny, dirt-cheap chips with built-in radio transmitters is expected to create an opportunity for Google to let people call up the exact location of their car keys or their children. Imagine being able to simply toss things into your attic without any concern for any form of organization, and then going to Google when you needed one of the times to call up its position within the attic.”

  61. Butch Fatale says:

    Maggie, if you happen to check this thread, could you please clarify what you mean by distinguishing between “a concept of forgiveness” and “Christian mind-wipe of absolution”?

  62. Maggie Jochild says:

    Hi, BF, just happened to look back at older entries. In other religions (Judaism, for example), the notion of atonement means recognizing how you failed to live according to your own belief of goodness and taking steps to (a) not repeat that error and (b) make amends so you feel in balance again. This implies you don’t forget where you went wrong; indeed, you may have to focus on it a lot to get back into balance. But it’s balance with yourself as a goal, rather than asking g*d to “forgive” you and love you again.

    The whole idea that making mistakes can cause g*d not to love you or treat you badly in retaliation is malignant. It’s an image of g*d that renders her petty, stupid, and fickle. It’s why evangelicals refer to themselves as g*d-fearing rather than g*d-loving.

    But, in that system, if you can persuade g*d to let you back “into the fold” and stop the punishment, you definitely want her to forget the past. You don’t want to remember it, either, because your past errors are terrifying, not something you’ve learned from but instead something you’ve “moved beyond”.

    A lot of the people of color I’ve been close to, from a variety of spiritual backgrounds, tend to practice forgiveness that does not include forgetting. You choose compassion, hope and kindness toward those who wrong you, but you combine it with memory and an expectation of continued growth, not a single act of contrition or revelation. And there is no credit for “good intentions”. Just like in the recovery community, where behavior is what is evaluated, not the magical thinking of “who I wish I were”.

    Rita Mae Brown in a long-ago essay pointed out that our early ethical and moral conditioning will limit our politics unless we undo it; her quote was “A dogmatic Lutheran will become a dogmatic Lesbian.” Progressives in this country too often carry with them the hope for absolution: White people, men, the upper classes all want to be cleansed of the pain of their heritage and accepted as newly-self-invented beings who are not accountable for their ancestors’ actions. They ask this of people who are living in the debris of their ancestors’ actions.

    It’s just more complicated than that. It involves not guilt or shame, not comparing “privilege”, but facing reality, taking a step into recovery and balance, taking the next step, taking the next step — as Oprah says, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” And dealing with your own damned feelings about it, not asking those who are target to your non-target to be your confessor or comforter.

  63. Butch Fatale says:

    Maggie, I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I’ll respond anyway. Certainly it’s an interesting and compelling distinction you’re making, but this: “The whole idea that making mistakes can cause g*d not to love you or treat you badly in retaliation is malignant” certainly does not describe the concept of Gd held by *all* Christians.

    Your point on forgiveness and white guilt v. atonement is well-taken, but I think it’s a shame to write off all of Christian thought on a complex manner based on certain (I believe) flawed perspectives. Er, that’s not a proselytizing statement, but rather one informed by my (admittedly limited) study of radical Catholic theology (e.g., Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day).

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  64. Maggie Jochild says:

    You’re absolutely right, Butch Fatale. The original precepts of Christianity are brilliant, radical, and have all the key elements to create world peace and liberation. They are similar to the best elements of all liberation theologies. And, yes, there are many, many Christians who try to live by them.

    The problem is that in organizing Christianity as a religion, the (white boys) who held their councils, engineered PR and elected popes created an organization and set of ideas that are one of the major problems facing the world today (in my opinion). No less than capitalistic, growth-at-all-costs economies, gender constructs, imperialism, nationalism — you know the list. And all of us who exist within those systems must each find our own way to sort through the lies and hold onto the truths.

    Seems to me, from what I read of thinking and practicing Christians or Christian-friendly folks (Karen Armstrong, Orcinus blog, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, the writers you named), they are aware of the obstacles before them — most of which will come from their own church. I wish them success. My focus is elsewhere, on my own patch where I can have the most insider effect.

    So, while I remain determined to point out the rot within Christianity as an organization AND contained within too many of its proselytizing efforts — speaking as a former Southern Baptist little girl who meant to become a missionary — I do not mean to condemn it wholly. I do expect Christians, however, to admit the problems bravely and speak out against their own as much as the rest of us do, in a manner designed to implement revolutionary change within the structures as they exist.

  65. Olivier says:

    The very first link posted in this thread contains an intriguing tidbit: apparently Mikado pencils were (are?) made by a certain Eagle Pencil Co. in NY state. Since NY is the Empire State and the eagle is also a symbol of empire and finally Mikado means emperor, too, I wonder if this is not simply a pun (OK, one with an orientalizing slant).