Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Race and sex, but no explosions

The brouhaha over San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling took a bad turn for cartoonists yesterday when NBA Commissioner Adam Sterling hit him with a $2.5 million fine (the maximum allowed) and a lifetime ban from the league, meaning that, while they couldn't actually force him to sell the team, they could forbid him to have any interaction with it.

That crisp rustling sound you heard was of hundreds of cartoons being wadded up and tossed into the wastebasket.

Yes, it would be ironic if they hit the rim and bounced out.
It's impossible to know how many cartoons were drawn before Silver's announcement, but enough made it into syndication that it's reasonable to assume others didn't.

There were a couple of post-ruling fails as well, IMNSHO, from those who were upset that the league didn't do more, apparently not realizing that "flogging around the fleet" is no longer permitted, or disappointed that the commissioner, who has been in office since February 1, hadn't acted several years before gaining the position.

The best commentary came, as it happens, neither from cartoonist nor columnist but from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who has the standing to address the topic and both the insight and the wit to make his opinion well worth reading. (That may be the most rewarding link you click on all week.)

However, not every cartoonist failed. A few didn't get beyond a somewhat tepid "Gee, he and Cliven Bundy could be friends!" level, but there were some who, like Kareem, took a longer view of things.

Jim Morin, for instance.

And Jen Sorensen, whose commentary is not only spot-on in addressing the larger issue of emerging racism, but gives me an excuse to announce that she's won yet another award.

Now, on the one hand, someone giving Jen Sorensen an award is starting to not feel like news anymore. I commented elsewhere that I suspect she's building herself a house made entirely of Lucite plaques.

But the Herblock Prize is not chopped liver, and you can read all about it on Michael Cavna's blog, where he also links to a profile of Sorensen elsewhere in WashPo.

My only quibble being that I really don't care that she's the first woman to ever win the Herblock. On a purely pragmatic level, she's only the 11th cartoonist to win the thing at all, and, given current male/female ratios in the trade, I don't know that a woman laureate was particularly overdue, and both she and Ann Telnaes have been the runner-up in prior years.

Though I didn't sit in on the judging, I highly doubt anyone voted for her in order to honor a woman. I cannot tell you how many times I have mentioned her here and then received a note from some well-regarded cartoonist saying that she's the best in the business, and I don't often get those for mentioning anyone else.

And not one of them ever added "best woman" or "best for a woman" or "despite being a woman."

What I like about her work is that she takes advantage of the extra edge permitted to those who labor in the alternative-press universe, but doesn't then waste it by showing off how far she can push things or by chasing off after little niche gripes.

By the latter, I mean that, for instance, her well-known, Lucite-recognized discussions of health care (here and then here) were not a millenial whine-tasting festival, but instead examined and illuminated the reality of the uninsured in terms that showed how the system affected one person, excluded from the system for economic reasons, in terms that derived their power by their universality, which you don't get with a "poor pitiful me" or even a "poor pitiful us" depiction.

That's not the result of a smart political decision. That's the result of a wise storytelling choice.

Storytellers, regardless of medium, begin with a fundamental choice: Either you go the Tom Clancy route, with a story so dramatic and overblown that technique becomes secondary to explosions, or you go for the John Updike approach and use technique to describe normal life in such a way that your character's experience becomes universal.

Yes, there are gradations and places to be in the middle. But those are the endpoints, and she's a lot closer to the end with the empathy than the one with the bombs.

And lest you think I'm too cynical about recognition, I'm very happy that she's been getting the kind of Lucite recently that comes with a check. (If you didn't realize that, Jen, I hope you haven't thrown out the boxes yet.)

Meanwhile, back at the funny pages


I don't know where this Adam@home arc is going, but yesterday's kick-off was so meta that I almost fell out of my chair, given that Rob Harrell (whose work I greatly admire) inherited the strip five years ago from the original creator, Brian Basset (whose work I greatly admire).

And one of my favorite on-line reruns is "Big Top," which features animals. I'm not sure the distinction between a circus and a carnival, but I'm damn sure that "Big Top" was created by Rob Harrell. And that it ... um ... it's over.

Yeah, this is an arc to watch.

And also


After a significant hiatus, Lost Side of Suburbia has kicked off another graphic novel.

One of the nice things about never getting around to editing my GoComics page is that some moribund choice will suddenly spring to life, and none more welcome than this. And I bring it to your attention because these stories go on for quite a while and can become quite involved, so you'll want to get in soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The cartoon normally shown at this time will not be seen ...

... so that we may bring you this message about taste and sensitivity:

About six years ago, I interviewed a fellow in Rangeley, Maine, who had climbed Kilimanjaro, a feat that involves significant conditioning but no technical climbing and is popular among those who can afford to do it. He had sold his pharmacy to Rite Aid and so he could climb Kilimanjaro.

He was a very pleasant fellow, but when I said something about ecotourism and its impact on local economies, he reported that, yes, a lot of men showed up hoping to be hired as bearers, and added that many of them did not have the cold-weather gear required for the job, so that the American tourists often let them borrow clothing.

And then he blandly added that two of the bearers on his climb had died along the way and went back to telling me about his great adventure.

I was literally taken aback -- a phrase that comes from the wind shifting in such a way that the ship stops dead in the water and loses both progress and steering.

I thought of that when the Sherpas of Nepal spoke of cancelling the climbing season in the wake of the avalanche that killed several of them on Everest last week.

Nobody thought that 16 dead Sherpas was funny, or , at least, nobody made cartoons about it. Perhaps, like that fellow in Rangeley, they didn't find it particularly significant.

But I thought of it again this week when the story of a stowaway in the wheel well of an airliner provoked a raft of cartoons about how cramped airline seating is and how you can't bring a bottle of shampoo on the plane.

While I realize he was not a third-world refugee, the overall topic is still unamusing. It's like making a joke about a kid driving drunk down the wrong lane of the expressway because, gosh, it's better than being stuck in traffic.

That aside from the air of what they all "First World Problems."

In lieu of running one of those cartoons, let me make up to the families of those unmourned African men who died on Kilimanjaro, and show some sympathy with the Sherpas, by citing something about desperate people attempting to better their situation:

"Worldwide, there have been 105 known people who stowed away since 1947, according to data kept by the Federal Aviation Administration. Counting the California teen, 25 made it alive, for a survival rate of about 1 in 4.

But the FAA notes that the rate may be lower because people could have stowed away and fallen out of the wheel well without anyone ever knowing."

Sorry about the cramped seating and that discarded three-dollar bottle of Head-and-Shoulders, pal.

And speaking of insensitivity:

There used to be a saying in the black community that there are no rearview mirrors in Cadillacs. I don't know if anyone still says that, but I like Clay Bennett's commentary on yesterday's Supreme Court decision.

I will admit I have not read the decisions, so I can't comment on whether the ruling is a wedge against civil rights, though the executive summary of the Scalia/Thomas response is disquieting. But the SCOTUSblog summary suggests more reasoned and limited views were dominant.

Still, I would have to see specifically what the Michigan statute allowed, because, for example, I know that there are provisions back in my part of the world that give students from rural areas some kind of help in adjusting to college and while, in rural Mississippi, which might apply to a largely black group, but, in northern New York, does not.

And yet that is, in fact, "affirmative action" -- contending that some people who are capable of succeeding are not well-prepared to jump right in. 

I heard Hari Kondabalu interviewed on Fresh Air Monday, and one of the clips they played from his new album, "Waiting for 2024," included a dig at the fact that white people don't see "white" as a very specific thing, but describe their heritage as “I’m 1/3 German, and a 1/4 Irish…and 1/40th Native American for college applications…”

But he also spoke of his respect for what his immigrant parents went through:

And the thing is, a lot of my parents' friends in India are retired now. My parents can't retire, like they have to keep going. So it's funny because I think because I talk about class a lot, I think there's the assumption that I'm a working class kid and that I struggled a ton and that's a lot of what informs my perspective. And the truth is that I was a middle-class kid - an upwardly mobile middle-class kid - and I got what I wanted and I went to rich kid's school and I was informed by that education. And it's not, you know, which is the truth. It doesn't mean I don't have a conscience and I don't talk about things that affect me, but that is also the truth. Sometimes I get bitter, like how come my parents are hogging all the struggle? (Laughter) Rich kids get a trust fund, they get money, they get legacy and they get to go to these nice colleges. Why isn't there a struggle trust fund? Why can't I take some of their struggle to give myself some legitimacy?

The notion that the struggle is over is as wrong now as it was 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed, and as wrong as it was when the 14th Amendment was passed. Maybe the struggle never ends, but it surely is not over now.
I've heard a lot recently, for instance, from Neal Degrasse Tyson, but also from a woman scientist on another NPR show which I've forgotten, about how people assume black people need more than "a leg up" but are, in fact, unqualified, and how the requirement to keep proving you belong there never ends.

But, while it may explain the bitterness of some people, it does not justify ripping the rearview mirror out of your Cadillac, and, if Clarence Thomas whined about an "electronic lynching" during his confirmation hearings, it was Sotomayer who drew fire for suggesting that perhaps a few different perspectives might improve things.

And it is Sotomayer who remains grateful for the help she got and doesn't feel self-conscious about what she made of the chance.

And who checks the rearview mirror regularly.

Oh, and, whether Michigan's statute was all about race, the question of fresh perspective on the Supreme Court is not. Check out this exchange, as the justices ponder the future of on-line video streaming in American Broadcasting Company vs Aereo:

JUSTICE SCALIA:  Mr. Frederick, your – ­­ your client is -- is just using this for local signals -  ­­
JUSTICE SCALIA:  ­­– right now.  But if we approve that, is there any reason it couldn't be used for distant signals as well?
MR. FREDERICK:  Possibly.
JUSTICE SCALIA:  Possibly what?  There is possibly a reason or it could possibly be used?
MR. FREDERICK:  It can’t be used for distance, but it implicates ­­–
JUSTICE SCALIA:  What would the difference be.  I mean, you could take HBO, right?  You could ­­–you could carry that without ­­ – without performing.
MR. FREDERICK:  No, because HBO is not done over the airwaves. It's done through a private service.
 In other words, Antonin Scalia does not know that HBO is not broadcast over the air. He doesn't know the difference between cable and broadcast, and yet he's sitting in judgment ...

Never mind the rearview mirror. Dude can't even see through the windshield.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The only good cow is a kow kow

Maybe we're making too much of this thing, but it's worth noting that the majority of conservative commentators seem to be either ignoring or mocking Clive Bundy.

Granted, Steve Benson is hardly a conservative, but if this the only style of cartooning on the topic that seems to be out there, then ol' Clive hasn't got one leg -- never mind four -- to stand on.

Well, wait. He has one, and a fairly predictable one.

The whole matter would be better off ignored, as the ridiculous non-event of the Million Trucker March was, except that dangerous anarchist screwballs with guns did actually show up for this and apparently Sean Hannity was promoting it as something admirable or something.

I say "apparently" because I rely on second-hand reports about the activities of people like Miley Cyrus and Sean Hannity.

But other people do not ignore Hannity, which means that Clive Bundy has the ability to become our next Joe the Plumber, only with dangerous armed wackos in his corner rather than just shameful, fact-resistant propagandists.

That is, Joe the Plumber told the president-to-be that he ran his own plumbing company that had a net income in excess of a quarter million dollars, but it turned out his name wasn't Joe, he was not actually a licensed plumber, he didn't own his own business and his income was not only less than a quarter-million net, or even a quarter-million gross, but he was, in fact, not making enough to be able to be current on his child support.

So now we've got Clive Bundy, who says his family has been grazing their cattle on that land in Nevada since 1877, only it turns out that, not only are his views of grazing rights and states' rights completely flawed, but he wasn't even born on the property, given that his family moved to Nevada when he was two, well after the whole matter of grazing rights on federal land had been established.

As they say, "that ol' dog won't hunt."

But once the armed crazies show up, facts and logic have to give way to other considerations. As Samuel Johnson noted, “If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.”

The madmen are here and they have sticks. But there appears to be very little appetite for knocking them down and even less for pitying the state of their minds.

Tom Tomorrow suggests we apply a combination of logic and ridicule, and I'm all in favor of that.

But we should also demand a little bit of history. I heard some clown on the air the other day noting that it was the anniversary of both the Waco standoff and the Oklahoma City bombing, as if that were a coincidence.

Whether or not you feel armed, right-wing anarchists are a threat, you should at least know enough basic history to understand why McVeigh chose that particular day to exercise his First Amendment rights to free speech and mass murder.

If you're going to play the fool, "play" it in the sense of knowing you aren't passing along facts. At least Joe the Plumber and Cliven the Bundy have obvious motivations to say things that don't check out (whether or not they believe the things they say being a separate issue). 

And Sean Hannity has obvious motivations to uncritically repeat the things they say. But if Roger Ailes isn't signing your paycheck, you don't have that excuse.

Though taking money does excuse promoting reprehensible movements. There used to be a joke the punchline of which was, "We've established what you are -- Now we're just haggling over the price."

Apparently, that's no longer an issue, as long as you hold your nose while cashing the check.

Well, misery seeks its own company ...

 ... Kow Kow had heard it said

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Short Takes

Let's start with this Garrincha cartoon.  I've said before that I'm more attuned to the story-telling American style of political cartooning rather than the more metaphorical international style, but this is a situation in which the two blend rather seamlessly.

Moreover, I like the cartoon for what Gustavo Rodriguez is and what his cartoon isn't. Garrincha is a Cuban exile living in Miami, which doesn't exactly define him as a liberal, then, does it?

But the other night, someone asked Jeff Danziger and Tom Tomorrow why there seem to be more good liberal than conservative cartoonists, and Danziger offered Michael Ramirez as an exemplar of a good conservative in the trade.

However, he seemed to be speaking technically rather than in term of commentary, since Ramirez is not noted for bucking the party line, and, when Scott Stantis was offered as an example as a thoughtful voice from the right, they both agreed and, as it always does, the name of the late Jeff MacNelly was raised.

That was when they invoked the old truism that liberals punch up and conservatives punch down, and that satire should consist of mocking the powerful, not the homeless.

Which is simply a variant of the basic rule that knocking a rich man's top hat off with a snowball is funny, but snowballing a beggar is not.

However, I suppose the exception is that, while the Cuban exile community tends to be very conservative in terms of US politics, they are also staunchly anticommunist and, by extension, not huge fans of the oligarchs who now control the former USSR (and, by the way, always did, but that's a topic for another day).

In any case, it's nice to see a conservative who is not either swooning over Putin's "leadership" or prodding Obama to please kill a few thousand more of someone else's American kids so that we'll look big and tough.

And on a much less portentous insider cartoonist topic

So here's a funny, insider cartoon with a funny, insider origin, and you'll have two places to go read the rest of it.

The story is that New England cartoonist Mike Lynch noted that his local Hannaford grocery store has a Walt Kelly quote on the wall, "Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing," and then kvetched that nobody working there had any idea who Walt Kelly was.

Being a New Englander who shops at my local Hannaford, which also has that quote on the wall, I chuckled, but, on the other side of the nation, Brian Fies got enough of a laugh that he made an extended comment, which Mike then turned into this cartoon.

Which you can read on Mike's site, or on Brian's. Either will make you laff, both are good places to know about anyway. Mike's is a little more insider oriented, Brian's is more personal, both a good places for comic fans to get some insight into how it all works.

You could actually read it on Mike's site, set a bookmark, and then go read it on Brian's and also set a bookmark. You'll laff both times.

Don't look too closely

Graham Sale's Easter panel cracked me up mostly for the way it fits into a current Internet theme that combines people with agendas and people with no freaking idea of how life works.

And when I say "life," I mean in the corporeal sense, but the more philosophical as well.

It is indeed possible to make anything sound sinister and disgusting if you describe it the right way. It's a minor but effective building block of humor in cartooning and a major part of political propaganda, both of which can benefit from simple-minded scare tactics.

F'rinstance, I've seen a piece floating around lately in which they list the beers you shouldn't drink because they contain certain trace chemicals that could potentially harm you. The piece does not mention that not only is alcohol present in beer in much more than trace amounts but is also a toxin or else what would be the point of consuming it?

It's like warning someone not to jump out of an airplane without good insoles in their boots but failing to mention parachutes.

And I'm also annoyed by people who are bright enough to know that anti-vaxers and creationists are scientifically ignorant but who become apoplectic over GMOs without acknowledging that there is, in fact, no scientific basis for fear beyond general unhappiness with food inspections and approval.

Well, there is one, but "fear of the new" belongs in the field of psychology, not biology or chemistry.

The latest thing is less political and more just plain weird, which is a shot of a dust mite under extreme magnification and a sonorous warning that these critters are crawling all over you.

Which they are. Which they have always been. Which is part of the circle of life and how things work in the world and nothing to worry about.

But the more urbanized and mechanized and technocentric we become, the less we have any sense of how life works. I'm encouraged by the number of people who realize that the city of Portland was moronic to drain 38 million gallons of water because a kid pissed into the reservoir, but it's a small bit of sanity in an otherwise disconnected-from-reality world.

Back when I was selling vacuum cleaners, we used to use fear of dust mites to persuade people to spend several hundred dollars on a tricked-out vacuum they could have had for a third the price or less if it were on a store shelf instead of being brought to their livingroom.

We thought of them as marks, and they were.

Which is a segue to this:

Today's Close to Home has a funny gag that reminds me of how we used to find those marks to whose houses we'd bring our over-priced rugsuckers. We'd put up a vacuum cleaner in a mall as the prize in a purported drawing and suckers would write their contact information on pieces of paper and put it in the box.

Then they'd win me on their doorstep and a set of steak knives.

At the end of the month, we'd have what my boss called "an educated draw," which meant we'd pick a name completely at random and it would be some young, attractive woman with small children and no more hope of affording one of our units than of flying to the moon.

Now, instead of setting up in the mall, the sharpies simply sucker one of your Facebook friends into visiting their website on the promise of a free iPad or something or other, and unintentionally sharing it with all their friends.

One more wrinkle on a very old tradition within "The Circle of Life" in which the less fir are culled from the herd. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

You're not getting older, you're ... oh, wait ...

For a season, and a day, dedicated to rebirth, there sure were plenty of "boy am I old" cartoons today.

We'll ease into this with Between Friends, which is a fairly gentle parent-child-tech gag.

(It also, I think, fits today's topic as a subtle shift in age for Emma. Sandra Bell Lundy periodically nudges her characters forward in time, and this is the first time I've taken notice of Susan's daughter as a real teen and not an adolescent. Her pal is like a blonde Maeve!)

I'm a generation off from Sandra, because I'd actually be more in the grandparent-grandchild-tech zone, which is to say that I'm only vaguely puzzled by the things my kids know that I don't.

They're not quite digital natives, but I'll admit they did ease me through the first stages of future shock back when we got our first computer in 1983. (Remember that date: We'll be back.)

However, the grandkids and I are from different planets and, specific to today's strip, I still fumble with and hate texting, while it's second nature to their demographic.

Four of the five are, at the moment thank-god, too young for this to be an issue, but the eldest will text me and then, while I'm fumbling out some kind of two-word reply, will pop in with a full-length follow-up.

Of course, if I didn't hate texting, I'd have gotten better at it. But my texting mostly consists of two phrases: "Are you awake?" and "Call me," because, in my world, a text is a polite way of contacting someone without waking them up or interrupting something more critical.

And they don't always answer the phone, 'cause I guess that's a thing now.

Consarn it.

This is all I ask ...

I haven't quite encountered the overt flirting that the old coot my age in Freshly Squeezed is talking about, but I'm well-established in the "safe zone," which is actually a pretty pleasant place once you get over the initial confusion.

The safe zone is that place where young women loosen up in your presence because they know there's no way you are going to hit on them. Which can come across as "flirtatious," but, in fact, is more about how they're not behaving than how they are. If they thought there was any chance in hell, they'd be more guarded.

Which can be very pleasant, as long as you make two adjustments:

1. Get over the idea that they are flirting. They're comfortable in your presence because you remind them of their grandfathers. 

2. Get over the fact that you remind them of their grandfathers.

'Cause one of these guys is just enjoying the company and the other is a pathetic ass. And if you have to ask, well, that tells us which one you are.

But let's be objective about this

Richard Marcej blogs his life unadorned in his daily strip, and today's continues our theme of "boy am I old" on a completely objective level. And, as he notes, ratchets it up to "very old."

I looked it up. Police Squad aired in 1982. That, by simple process of mathematics, proves to be 32 years ago.

Or, in less specific terms, "yesterday."

Or, in more specific terms, when I was 32.

Or, in terms somewhat in the middle, half a lifetime ago.

Like I said, it was just yesterday.

And, by the way, for anyone tempted to criticize today's young people for a poor attention span, it should be noted that the reason "Police Squad" failed was that it relied heavily on sight gags and had no laugh track.

Which is to say, the TV audience needed to actually watch, listen, pay attention and think.

Worst part? I was, at the time, in no position to dismiss their entire generation without indicting myself.

Ah well. I'm gonna go walk the dog. He's a chick magnet, you know, and Easter is all about chicks.

Slow-walking chicks, thank you.