Today I posted a blog item about Star Trek.My gosh, there are a lot of Trekkies out there, and I offended every single one of them. It wasn't my intention, exactly. What I meant was that our society gets fixated on a television program (unreality), and kind of ignores NASA and its earlier efforts (reality).SInce I deal in the unreal world myself (cartoons), versus the real world (public policy), I also understand it when politicians are upset when I bend reality around a bit to make a satirical point. It's what I do, I own it, and, sometimes I guess I feel a little guilty about complaining about something in a cartoon when I really should just drop everything and go run for the Legislature. Wait. No. I don't have a million dollars. But if I did, maybe I would, just to see what would happen. I recognize that Star Trek was indeed a fine television program, and, compared to a lot of the other 1960s television programs ("My Mother The Car" comes immediately to mind, and the premise is self-explanatory), it was influential. In taking on Star Trek, I might as well have thrown in my utter boredom with The Lord of the Rings, another little cult I haven't joined yet, either.Yes. I said cult (letters should be addressed to Jack Ohman, The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q Street, Sacramento, CA 95818).My lamentation is that there is yet another generation of people being exposed to Star Trek, and the sequels stretching out into The Final Frontier, and that same generation of Americans has absolutely no conception of who John Glenn is, let alone anyone else from that generation. I mentioned Stan Lebar, the director of the Apollo Lunar Camera program, and to me, that's a real person who did a real space thing, and where are the accolades for him? Certainly there were moments in the sun for these folks, but not over 50 years. I would cite Apollo 11 as an excellent example. People my age, mostly, have a pretty strong appreciation for the moon landing, but when you have Star Wars, Star Trek and other space movies with better special effects than Apollo 11 capturing the imagination of a generation of Americans, then America, we have a problem.The film Apollo 13 brought some true heroes back into the national consciousness briefly, but I think if I went up to 10 people on the street, I suspect they could not name the crew of Apollo 13. I would also wager they could name four or more members of the Star Trek crew. So, yes, Star Trek was awesome, and it was a truly innovative and interesting TV show, particularly when the actors were able to breathe without helmets on every planet they landed on."Hey, Bones, do you smell ammonia in the atmosphere?""Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a bomb-sniffing dog."So, dammit, Trekkies, I'm a cartoonist, not an astronaut.I have to go now. My people need me on the Planet Unreality.
Friday, May 17 2013
Thursday, May 16 2013
Being the youthful Baby Boomer that I am, I am young enough not to remember key Boomer Moments (Mercury program), but old to enough to sense that something was going on in space flight at the time (Gemini program).Oh, and Star Trek.I never watched Star Trek when it was actually on. I was more into more accessible shows like Mr. Ed ("That darned horse talked, John!") and Flipper ("That dolphin can almost talk, John!"). Star Trek was something my friend's dorky older brothers watched. You know, the guys who had the really elaborate Erector Sets with the motors and chemistry sets. I didn't have an older brother. I had a younger one.Once Star Trek went into reruns, I still never really got the appeal, even though I did watch it. I was into the ACTUAL SPACE PROGRAM, where REAL PEOPLE went up in HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE ICBMs in PRESSURIZED GARBAGE CANS. That I could understand, and it was more, well, interesting. Star Trek featured television actors in funny outfits and strange hairstyles. I do remember being very creeped out by Leonard Nimoy (who played Mr. Spock, duh) once in 1967 while watching The Mike Douglas Show with my mother, although I am sure he is a wonderful man. He would say things like, "That's highly illogical, Captain." "Highly illogical" became a national buzzphrase.To me, Nimoy kind of looked like he should have been the fifth Beatle. He even put out an album. And it sold, too. I mean, I tried to be at least conversant about Star Trek, in case I had to talk to my friend's older nerd bros. I took my little brother to a Star Trek convention in 1975 or so, and saw Gene Roddenberry speak. I believe his wife, who played Nurse Christine Chapel (get it?), also made an appearance. My brother was enthralled. I was merely an observer. I didn't care about Tribbles, tricorders, dilithium crystals, or any of that other stuff. At that time, the United States was putting up an actual space station called Skylab, and I can still remember that vividly. Later, the Russians came up and docked with our Apollo capsule around that time as well, and that was especially fascinating, Captain. So here we are, what, almost 50 years (yes, sorry, it's true) since the airing of the first Star Trek pilot, where Captain Christopher Pike, who sat in a weird box with lights and couldn't speak, was commanding the Enterprise. I have no recollection of it, but I've certainly seen it. Anyway, we're 50 years out from Star Trek, and here we are, talking about the new Star Trek film.Tell me why.Tell me why this is so enduring? I remember when the first Star Trek movie came out. It was fine. I think they found the Voyager spacecraft, if I'm not mistaken. By the time that movie came out, the United States was flying the space shuttle regularly, and no one really was able to name the astronauts like they could in the 1960s (Apollo 9: Scott, McDivitt, Schweikart). But everyone could name every single crew member of the U.S.S. Enterprise. In fact, they named one of the space shuttles after the U.S.S. Enterprise, which tells you something about the media culture. They never named a space shuttle after, say Werner von Braun, who was the engineer who pulled it together along with about 100,000 people, or even a man named Stan Lebar, who was the Program Manager for the Apollo Lunar Camera program.Now Stan Lebar is the late father of our managing editor, Scott Lebar. Scott showed me a bunch of photographs of his father doing various things, including chatting with a bunch of his astronauts at the National Air and Space Museum. One of them was Alan Bean, who pointed Stan Lebar's camera at the sun nearly the second he turned it on when they got on the lunar surface. I remember the moment vividly as a 9 year old, bitterly disappointed that there were no pictures from the moon.Imagine how Stan Lebar felt. And Alan Bean probably never lived it down at NASA barbecues.So, I'm more impressed with Stan Lebar.More Stan Lebar Trek, and less Star Trek.It's more logical.
Wednesday, May 15 2013
He shoots... (Jack Ohman/)
...he scores. (Jack Ohman/)
Usually in a 35-year career, it is not common to do something you hadn't done before in some form or another, but today I did something I had never done before.I did a follow-up cartoon using virtually the same template I had done previously to show the completion of something. In this case, it was Mayor Kevin Johnson hitting the free throw I had him lining up for in April. I can't really say why I chose to do this, other than I decided to cut a politician a little slack, something I historically haven't done.The man deserves it.In reconfiguring the drawing, I took the original art, made a full size copy of it, drew new arms and hands, pasted them on, scanned it, and then ran it through Adobe Photoshop and recolored it. I changed some facial expressions and added different colors. It took about a half hour or so. It was completed several weeks ago when it looked like the Kings were going to stay.Having worked in politics myself before I was a cartoonist, I also get that politics is a tough business. Lawrence F. O'Brien, the former NBA Commissioner and aide to President Kennedy, once wrote a book entitled "No Final Victories," which was his memoir about his public life. Indeed, political efforts tend to add up to a draw at best, but in Johnson's case, he hit one from downtown for three, and that's pretty impressive.OK, it was free throw, and it was from downtown for one. Or from the line.Or something.But it was a good day for KJ and Sacramento, which is a place I am proud of and happy to call my new home. Congrats to us and the fans.So KJ will get a day off.Just one day, though.I am sure I'll regain my equilibrium by next week. There are no final victories in cartooning, either. Now if we could just get the Kings to score a few more final victories, we can go back to reality.
Tuesday, May 14 2013
As it is becoming increasingly clear that the Kings will stay in Sacramento and get a new downtown arena, this community will now have to find something else to obsess about. I've lived in quite a few different major cities and states, and I can tell you it's never enough. You build a stadium and 20 years later, someone is bleating for another one. It never ends. Since I lived in Minnesota, they've built two new stadiums for the Minnesota Twins , who were playing in what I considered to be a perfectly reasonable stadium that everyone now waxes elegaically about: Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. In fact, I own a wooden seat from that very stadium, and all my Minnesota friends weep all over the precious relic of a bygone era.In 1980, they ripped up Metropolitan Stadium and put up the Mall of America, which is all very well and good. People make fun of it, since it's the largest mall in the world (I think). It has an indoor amusement park, and stores like Optic Orange Clothes Only, Walleye Hut, and Antlerville USA. OK, it doesn't have those stores, but it does have an indoor amusement park, which is really nice when they turn off the oxygen in Minnesota in November. In place of the Met, the Money Boys who wanted a new stadium then put up the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, an indoor domed stadium that has a swastika secretly embedded in the ceiling (seriously, and you would think a liberal state like Minnesota would have noticed that in the original plans). The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is made of cement, which makes you feel like you're watching baseball in a mausoleum, further contributing to the perception that baseball may be dying. So the Twins played in the Metrodome for 20 years or so, and then the Money Boys then started agitating for another new stadium. They finally opened it in 2010: Target Field. Target Field is perhaps the most distracting venue I've ever been to: flashing screens, weird lights, loud music, and, oh, I think they play baseball down there somewhere. But I've been so distracted by the crazy stadium that the baseball seems ancillary.It seems pretty clear that several terribly wealthy individuals, God bless them, are going to get the Kings to stay in Sacramento, and that's fine. We will build it, they will come for awhile, and after 15 years, I can guarantee you that they'll want another one. In Portland, where I spent a lot of my life, the owner of the Trail Blazers just built his own arena out of his own pocket. It's nice and has all the requisite bells and whistles, like corporate sky boxes. They put it up next to the old Blazers arena (Memorial Coliseum), where the games seemed just as fun to me.Don't get me wrong. I think Arco or Sleep Train or whatever we're calling it, is pretty grim, and I also think that a lot of people get a lot of pleasure from following the Kings. That's cool.But I am looking forward to a bit of rest after having non-stop What Will The Kings/Maloofs/Stern/The Whales Do? The thing is, having the Kings leave would be bad, but I am not convinced that keeping the Kings will essentially change the character of Sacramento. What builds a city's charm is small things, not big things. In Portland, it's little drinking fountains some local philanthropist installed around the turn of the century, it's the rose gardens all over town, bike paths, and food carts. Not the Rose Garden arena where the Blazers play. In fact, the area around the Rose Garden is kind of generic and not people-friendly. Lots of cement, lots of big buildings.As I've lived in Sacramento for a few months now, I still think the best thing about downtown Sacramento are all the different beautiful trees and plants. The downtown is slow-paced and pleasant, almost comfortingly retro with old neon and beautiful old homes. It's not cool because of a big building or a complex. If someone was really interested in helping Sacramento's downtown, they'd turn all of that stunning riverfront into parks and gardens, not massive illuminated cement things. Then people would really want to be there.The Money Boys should buy some more trees. I am aware money doesn't grow on them.But they're way cheaper, and they last longer than 20 years.
Monday, May 13 2013
I'm not sure what the news media used to say before Watergate (c) (formerly an oddly-designed apartment building and now a catch-all phrase for any public policy malfeasance) happened.I was around at the time Watergate happened, was reading the newspapers and news magazines, and it was about 50 years after the Teapot Dome Scandal, and I simply do not recall everyone going around saying Watergate was another Teapot Dome Scandal, or a Credit Mobilier Scandal (U.S. Grant era). Maybe history professors did, but Watergate just kind of became its own massive, and I mean massive, scandal unto itself.Let's review:--The president of the United States ordered a cover-up of not just the Watergate break-in but breaking into a private psychiatrist's office whose patient was the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He also tried to set up John Dean, his White House counsel, as the fall guy to take the blame for it. It's also pretty likely he destroyed evidence.He had to resign.--The vice president of the United States took bribes while governor of Maryland.He had to resign.--The attorney general (working simulaneously as the president's campaign manager, unbelievably enough) green-lighted a team of black bag operatives, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign funds were moved around so that this team could operate. They did all sort of "dirty tricks," like forge letters about major Democratic presidential candidates -- tres amusing!He went to jail.--Practically every senior person in the White House staff was implicated. Many of them went to jail, chief among them H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.--Several members of the cabinet had to resign.--The president ordered the firing of the next attorney general because he wouldn't fire a special prosecutor, and the nation wound up having three attorney generals in about 15 minutes because no one would fire the special prosecutor.--The CIA was at war with the FBI. The FBI director ordered all sorts of dreadful things and had done so for decades. OK. So. That's all I can think of right off the top of my head. I didn't Google any of it.The past few weeks, we've been hearing about several events being compared to Watergate, as the news media loves to add the suffix "-gate" to everything. Koreagate. Irancontragate. Monicagate. Please stop us before we -gate again. The top two current candigates are the events surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, where our ambassador and several embassy staffers others were assassinated, a truly dreadful event. The other is the disclosure that a few people in the IRS field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, used some keywords to search groups filing for the ambiguous tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status, which no one is really talking about in the news media right now because it's, you know, complicated.And has numbers.Of course, the IRS shouldn't have done this. And, of course, it looks bad. Very. Emphasis on looks. But is it an actual Gateworthy News Event?I doubt it. Screw-ups are not Watergates. They're just screw-ups. To illustrate just how pervasive Watergate was, and how hard it was for the American people to see how bad it really was, the Watergate break-in occurred on June 17, 1972, with non-stop news coverage, and five months later, President Nixon won the largest re-election landslide of all time: he carried 49 states, many of which had access to television news and newspapers. So it hadn't really sunk in yet. I once gave a speech about 20 years ago, and someone asked me what got me interested in politics. I said, "Oh, Watergate. I loved Watergate. I thought Watergate was wonderful. It was my hobby."After the speech, a woman of about 60 came up to me. She said, "Jack, I really enjoyed your talk.""Thanks, ma'am.""I was particularly interested in your remarks about Watergate.""Yeah, I loved Watergate.""I had a personal experience with Watergate," she said, sweetly."Oh? What was that?""I was Mrs. John Ehrlichman."Oh.When I was about 20, I met John Ehrlichman. He spent 18 months in prison. That's a long time, and he seemed very sincere and repentant for what he had done. I really liked him, a lot. He was very articulate, warm and charming. He died awhile back, and I was sorry to hear it.I wonder what he would say now if he could see these pretty minor events being compared to Watergate.He'd probably say it was a tempest in a Teapot Dome.
Friday, May 10 2013
Yesterday I wrote about the subject of "nothing is going on" in the news, which got me to thinking about how it is now when something is going on. Something huge.We've had a few major stories in the past few weeks, the Boston Marathon bombing being the most prominent. And, certainly, we have all been adequately informed by the news media about it. The Boston bombing is one of those stories that television does particularly well, if not exactly accurately, mostly because everything is on the fly. Mistakes are made (misidentification of a bombing suspect, for example), but mostly they keep the pictures rolling and the commentary droning.What I felt has been missing in the past few years (let's say ten) has been recognizable news anchors. I was chatting with a colleague today about this. She's in her fifties and has the same frame of cultural media reference that I do. We both grew up on people like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Frank Reynolds, and Ted Koppel. Something big happened, and you would turn on your tv and not just learn something, you would get your hand held ("Col.Glenn reports everything is A-OK"). We laughed about our mutual memories, and yet there was a ruefulness about it, like something important was gone.Now the news flies at you at Twitter speed, like a dead salmon thrown into your face, and you have virtually no time to put it context, or, indeed, anyone you know or feel you know to help cushion the blow. This afternoon, as I was drawing, I was listening to some old CBS broadcasts of space launches. I know what you're thinking--why? Do you listen to music? Yeah, sometimes, but there is something comforting about listening to these familiar voices from 40 years ago, discussing some major event that requires a little more humanity than I think is now projected by television news. For example, during the coverage of the Apollo 11 launch, Walter Cronkite would say things like, "Oh, boy!" and express a real human emotion. Oh, boy. Look at that big honker going up. That's exactly what I felt. Oh, boy. He'd discuss how many stereos the sound of the launch would be comparable to (eight million), or how Neil Armstrong sounded confident. Now, you have 29 year olds discussing Twitter feed over continuous tape loops while stock quotes flow at the bottom of the screen. Oh boy.Walter didn't do Twitter feeds. During the Boston event, CBS News was a pretty sparing presence, I thought. They broke in from time to time, but it wasn't a continual seance like some of the events from the 1960s, where news events would command all-day coverage. It seems incredible now, but they used to run gavel to gavel coverage of political conventions, and people would actually watch them. Now they show a prescribed three-hour chunk of completely scripted event, where the outcome is precisely known, and political drama is reduced to an elderly actor addressing an empty chair. The reason this is happening is that as we wean the American people from news, the less they feel they need to pay attention, and not just to television news, but newspapers as well.Having a familiar face or two to sort things out, like a beloved uncle teaching you how to fish or a trusted teacher walking you through a complicated math problem, was enormously useful in a time of national crisis. Pointing out the First Lady's dignity, or the astronaut's training, delivered in reassuring tones, was something you could really grab on to in a sea of frightening information.Now that our media environment is atomized, goodbye to all that. I am not sure how to get it back. I guess we won't.That's why I sometimes listen to and watch things like 40 year-old moon launches. It helps me to remember why I got into the news business in the first place. I actually had the opportunity, as a very young man in my early twenties, to be peripherally involved in the ABC News Nightline program. I got to know Ted Koppel in passing, and I can tell you that he was just as composed and cool in person as he was on camera. I also met or saw Sander Vanocur, Sam Donaldson, Jules Bergman (Quick: who is the ABC News Science Editor now?), and a few other quite well-known ABC correspondents. They were all educated, cultured, and erudite. It made me feel that sensible people were trying to do the right thing in informing the American people. I'm not saying the people on the air are not the same type of people. I've met some of them, too, and they are indeed impressive at the network level. It's just that they're not on the air much, and that television news seems to be shrinking, too. That's bad. It makes for a less-informed electorate, but, more importantly, it conveys the message that if paying attention to the news isn't important to television networks, why should you?That's the way it, I guess.Oh, boy.
Thursday, May 9 2013
Yesterday, we had a young student from Sacramento City College in to visit our editorial board. She asked a number of interesting questions, which we all answered as best we could. One of the responses involved the concept of having to produce content (read:fill large white space with words, fast) when "nothing is going on."Now, the phrase "nothing going on" in the news business is one that may seem incredible to the casual observer. The most common statement I get from readers is along the lines of, "You must be having a field day with all that's going on." Sure. I'm having a field day -cartoonists always have "field days"-- when something everyone is talking about is going on. For example, with two words that Gov. Jerry Brown uttered in reference to the Bay Bridge ("sh** happens") permitted me to get a day ahead, which, in concept, I like, but almost never am. But in having to produce six or so cartoons per week, and write this blog every day, it also leaves me sometimes noting that "nothing is going on."Hence the theme of this column. Am I at 600 words yet? Here are some more words: ratiocinate, imbued, verdant, truculent...how many is that? Am I closer to 600?Anyway, what do I do when "nothing is going on?"Well, I just pretend that you care about some subject in the news. For example, there is a major problem with honey bee reproduction right now, but you would never know it on the television networks. Apparently these Kardashian girls are a bigger story. Of course, if these Kardashian girls stop producing news, it won't lead to a world agricultural collapse. If we had one of those, and every human died, it could really cut into the ratings. So I did a cartoon encouraging bees to reproduce.I would think that if honey bees read any newspaper, it would be The Sacramento Bee.When "nothing is going on" in the news, that means it's usually August. That means the news media has to manufacture news, so we do things like "Shark Week," or find a philandering politician, or commemorate an anniversary of an actual news event.There are a lot of those. In fact, this year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination, the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the 10th anniversary of the War in Iraq. With reference to the Kennedy assassination, I can assure you that in November we will all be watching breathless documentaries about "what really happened" in Dallas (Oswald did it, sorry, I know that's boring and you won't watch that), and "new questions" will be raised, and that "new scientific tests will be conducted" on some piece of evidence, which will lead to even more questions, leading to even more documentaries.Because nothing is going on.When 9/11 occurred, one of the things I was profoundly wrong about was that the news media might regain some of its former seriousness and go back to, you know, reporting news. That lasted about two weeks or so. Then, convinced "nothing is going on," again, all of a sudden we know way more about the Kardashians.In any event, it may seem like nothing is going on sometimes, but lots of things are going on, and it's not the Kardashians.We should ask the bees.While we can.
Wednesday, May 8 2013
One of the few things I've been dreading about living in California is going to the Department of Motor Vehicles. As an owner of several motor vehicles, and a trailer (yes, I own a trailer), I knew that standing in line at the DMV (IN CALIFORNIA!!!) would be a nightmare. You people have so many residents, and they're all wanting to get their vanity plates done simultaneously.So imagine my surprise when I went to the DMV and it was pleasant. Efficient. Orderly. Quick.Seriously.They do have terribly complicated forms, of course. I felt like I was filling out a form to revoke my U.S. citizenship, but I managed to get through it after I boned up on my Latin and calculus.Anyway, since I previous resided in the very lightly populated, rectangular state of Oregon, where I knew several DMV employees by face and had a a rather jocular relationship with one of them, my foray into the California DMV seemed overwhelming. Besides the crush of humanity, I had to take a written driving exam, without studying. I had forgotten about studying, very much like I did in college in 1978-1981. So I was reading the DMV book in line while I was waiting to get my Soviet-style photograph taken by the People's Bad License Photographic Collective, and just decided to go in cold.They sent me to a small room with a computer screen. The test was kind of set up like the check-in at Southwest Airlines, except I couldn't buy my way into the A Group. The first question was, I thought, incredibly obscure and deceptive. I think it was this:"QUESTION ONE. When yielding to an emergency vehicle while pedestrians are walking bikes across a solid double yellow line, should you move to the center lane and:A. Text your friends, Amy, Tad, and Eric while simultaneously drinking a tall boy, wiping your dashboard with an Armor All towelette, and buying the Theme From The Twilight Zone off iTunes.B. Light emergency flares and throw them into oncoming traffic for fun.C. Ignore all law enforcement vehicles and swerve violently across four lanes of traffic to drive into a sign that says, DO NOT DRIVE HERE."They got a little easier after that one."QUESTION 13. When driving a car, should you:A. Be safe.B. Be very safe.C. Be very, very safe."Suddenly, the screen informed me that I had passed the written test, and was now allowed to leave the DMV. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw two things. One was a sign that said there was a "DVM" Express Center across the street, which made me feel better, because you never know when you'll need an fast veterinarian. The other was a car directly ahead of me, exiting the DMV parking lot--or DVM, I get confused-- that turned left, driving by the sign that said "No Left Turns."Maybe they should make the test a little more difficult.
Tuesday, May 7 2013
People are always saying that politicians never talk straight, and that they're mealy-mouthed and never say what they actually think. For the most part, they're right.With the exception of Governor Jerry Brown.Since I've been here, the governor has used what I would consider to be language that would be mildly excremental, twice. When Brown got into his now-famous tiff with the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, he used the phrase "barely a fart" in describing the impact Perry's campaign had in luring California jobs to Texas.Let's say Brown's language regarding Texas wasn't regulated very heavily and leave it at that.Yesterday, Governor Brown noted, correctly in my view, that "sh** happens," or, as we say in journalistic euphemism, "shasteriskasterisk happens," with reference to the cracks and faulty bolts in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, now scheduled to open in mid-August 2213. Generally, I like to avoid using the word "shasteriskasterisk" in my cartoons, and, in fact, I make it a point to avoid any phrases stronger than "heckfire," "goldanged," "land o' Goshen," "jiminy christmas," "consarned," and the near-verboten "freakin'."George Carlin once said that there were seven dirty words that you can't say on television, and they are:1.Sh** (the word Brown used).2.****.3.****.4.****.5.**********.6.************.7.****.He neglected to add Number 8., "**********************************************," which is really bad as well.Why Brown is now resorting to this kind of lingo when he usually prefers to use words like "deontological" is beyond me, but I actually think this works to his advantage. Voters are tired of listening to these politician *********** ladle out rhetorical shasteriskasterisk all the time, and as far as I'm concerned, it's refreshing.One of my colleagues observed today that Brown is deeply rooted in existentialism, and the phrase he uttered has to be existentialism reduced to its bare essence. I mean, who disagrees with Brown on this point? Nobody. In fact, this phrase could applied to myriad state problems and explain all of them succinctly. Tunnel muck? Shasteriskasterisk Happens. Or Muck Happens. CalPERS? Same thing: It happens. Pretty soon, we are going to find out if the Kings stay in Sacramento, and whether our fans will be disappointed.Let's hope Brown doesn't use his new fave word in a phrase regarding our fans if it all goes awry.It's likely to hit the fans the wrong way.
Monday, May 6 2013
Last week, I passed on the opportunity do a cartoon on Barbara Bush saying she thought her son Jeb should pass on running for president in 2016.Now, we all have mothers. Some wanted us to be president, and others wanted us maybe to quit piling dirty dishes under the bed, for God's sake. It's a rather well-known historical fact that if you want to be president of the United States, you should have a really strong, mildly angry, and faintly passive-aggressive mother. Without commenting on that particular aspect of the former First Lady's persona, I am sure that when she married George Herbert Walker Bush back in 1942, she never would have dreamed that she would have her husband become president, and then have one of her sons become president.The W(rong) one.It's kind of an open secret in the Bush family that Jeb Bush was the guy who was supposed to go all the way, and, had it not been for his loss in the 1990 Florida gubernatorial race, would have stepped ahead of his brother George in line. We all have brothers, too. And most of us do not have brothers that could theoretically be president of the United States, or there would be a lot more fraternal backyard "accidents" growing up involving lawn darts. I think most of us think our brothers can't even cut their grass in a straight line or boil a bratwurst properly let alone be leader of the free world. And, I suspect, Jeb, in his dirty little heart, thinks he and not his brother should have been president. So when, finally, Jeb looks like the Next Guy in Line to take over the Bush Family Launch Codes, who steps in but his mother?"I think there have been enough Bushes," she said. I saw it. She looked like she was about to say, "And you'd think he could maybe fold a load of laundry once in awhile." But she didn't. But she wanted to. Jeb Bush's brother has chimed in on the subject as well, saying he has encouraged Jeb Bush to run, and seemed genuinely enthused. That's because he knows he was a historical accident. He feels guilty about it. "W" was the Texas party guy getting hammered every night, while Jebbie was writing term papers about the role of NATO in nuclear deterrence. Which his mother made him do, after the piano lesson.Having lived under Tough Mother Rule myself, I kind of know what Jeb must be feeling right now. Just because your mother is tired of having a bunch of Bush presidents running around opening libraries, jumping out of airplanes, and wanting sandwiches made doesn't mean Jeb is tired of it. I think the man should run. He's thoughtful, prepared, and has a son, George P. Bush, who's going into politics in Texas and should keep the Bush line in the news until the mid 22nd century.I'm fine with that.They're good material. And I have a slogan for the former Florida governor:Choosy Mothers Choose Jeb.
Thursday, May 2 2013
As many of you know, I have become the alter ego to OR-7, the peripatetic wolf who cruises between California and Oregon. While I am not in personal contact with OR-7, I consider myself OR-7's part-time media consultant.OR-7 is now back in Oregon, after having spent a few months in the Golden State. There was sad news this week when it was announced that OR-5, OR-7's sister, was killed in a steel-jawed trap in Idaho.Now, having lit up the state of Texas, I really don't want to get into it with Idaho. One state per week, please. But every morning I get up and think, "I hope OR-7 stays out of Idaho."Idaho has many lovely qualities. It has great vistas, wonderful fishing, and potatoes (Famous Potatoes, in point of fact). But it also is filled with people who want to kill OR-7, and his other OR and non-OR buddies.I understand that wolves kill livestock and so on. But I wish that Idaho, like many other states, would stop with the steel-jawed traps. Can you imagine how painful and agonizing this is for a being with a highly developed nervous system? I'm not anti-hunting at all, but at least in hunting, it's over quickly. With a steel-jawed trap, the game, intended or not, squirms around violently for hours or days before succumbing to bleeding, shock, or starvation. Would you do that to your dog or cat? I wouldn't.So, listen up, OR-7. Stay in Oregon. It's a lovely state where you've got good PR advice, not to mention a few people who have your back. Even a cartoonist. We will send you some Idaho potatoes, too. They are tasty and a fine Idaho export. We wish you safe journeys, and are sorry about your sister.In fact, you should come back to California.Specifically, Sacramento.We've got this farm-to-fork thing going, and you may enjoy many of the wonderful restaurants Sacramento has to offer. You may find that there are many tender, plump lobbyists and succulent, juicy legislators on the menu.
Wednesday, May 1 2013
Prior to The Bee publishing my cartoon on Gov. Rick Perry and his Texas regulatory policies (yes, that's what the cartoon was about, not mocking the victims of the West explosion), I often was asked around town what was the most controversial cartoon of my career.Now, all cartoonists have controversies from time to time, and, honestly, most of these controversies are over sometimes minor points, or inadvertent offense. In my case, I will do a cartoon about the NRA or the Middle East, and there will be some minor dust up, but not something that becomes an internet meme.My most controversial (and misinterpreted) cartoon went like this:About 20 years ago, the Portland, Oregon city council passed a noise ordinance in response to street musicians. Some of these street musicians were highly competent people playing violins, saxophones, and other socially acceptable instruments. However, there was one poor soul downtown who played the recorder.Badly.Repetitively.In front of a business.I remember him. It was torturous to listen to and he played all day in front of a stationery store. There were other musical miscreants as well who apparently had received low marks at Julliard.So the city council passed the ordinance that required the musicians to be 25 feet away from the door of a business. This was kind of controversial at the time, so I did a cartoon called "The Portland Street Musician Distance Chart."In the cartoon, I had violinists at 25 feet, bassoonists (don't ask why--I think I am remembering this right) at 50 feet, a kid playing Nirvana at 100 feet, and, at 75 miles away on the top of Mt. Hood, an accordionist.Well, who knew there were so many accordionists in the United States?Back then, it was a fax world, and things didn't zap around like they do now, but I recall getting many, many letters and faxes about the cartoon. I was on the phone all day. In addition, I got two letters I recall very distinctly: one from the Italian anti-defamation group, and one from the Polish anti-defamation group.There is even a bumper sticker out there, "I'm pro-accordion...and I vote!"And so on.Among my peers, we seem to agree that my commentary on Rick Perry may have generated the largest internet reaction in the United States to a cartoon. (I exclude the Danish cartoonist whose images of the prophet Muhammad unleashed international outrage, obviously.) A controversy that ranks right up there were a few cartoons that Ted Rall did on 9/11 widows, and a reference to Pat Tillman. I recall it was a huge outcry at the time, and by that time we had the internet, so it was massively magnified.Last year, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader did a cartoon about the University of Kentucky basketball coach's decision not to play Indiana and North Carolina.This would have been another day at the office cartoon for Pett, but it somehow lit a fuse in the community. The next thing Pett knew, there were police cars protecting his house, his office phone was ringing continuously, and there were several death threats. Did I say this was over a basketball cartoon?Mike Thompson from the Detroit Free Press, my old alma mater, once did a cartoon criticizing Fox News, which resulted in Bill O'Reilly posting his e-mail address on the air. The response was not fair and balanced, shall we say. Supporters of David Duke threatened Walt Handelsman when he was at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. I recall Jim Borgman, the brilliant former cartoonist for the Cincinnati Enquirer and artist for the comic strip Zits, once said a reader called him and threatened to move his house off its foundation with a bulldozer. Steve Kelley, of Creators Syndicate, said his most controversial cartoon was about a San Diego city councilman with an overly-lavish public expense account. He drew the beleaguered councilman, Uvaldo Martinez, as the "Freeload Bandito."Matt Bors noted that the quicker the medium (like Twitter), the more intense the reaction has been to his work. By the time people get around to writing a piece of paper mail, they're ready for warm milk and a nap.At this point, I am, too.
Thursday, April 25 2013
Several readers wrote me this morning expressing varying levels of concern about the cartoon depicting Gov. Rick Perry's marketing of Texas' loose regulations, juxtaposed with the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas.Their comments ranged from "you are a sick human being" to "insensitive and tasteless." I'm not sure I am clinically qualified to give myself a direct diagnosis, but I am pretty sure I am not a sick human being. Let's explore the question of tastelessness.The Texas chemical plant had not been inspected by the state of Texas since 2006. That's seven years ago. You may have read in the news that Gov. Perry, during his business recruiting trips to California and Illinois, generally described his state as free from high taxes and burdensome regulation. One of the burdensome regulations he neglected to mention was the fact that his state hadn't really gotten around to checking out that fertilizer plant. Many Texas cities have little or no zoning, resulting in homes being permitted next to sparely inspected businesses that store explosive chemicals. So when the plant exploded and killed 14 people, people started asking the inevitable questions about whether this tragedy could have been prevented.Well, we're not going to know that now, exactly, but I doubt that more inspections and better zoning would have hurt.Gov. Perry's name and the explosion have been linked for several news cycles. I didn't just make this all up. It's out there. There is a rather stunning report about all this on ProPublica, the investigative news website. I invite you to read it.When I have to come up with these ideas, I can assure you that I am not really deliberately trying to be tasteless. I am not. What I am trying to do is make readers think about an issue in a striking way. I seem to have succeeded in this cartoon, one way or the other.The question is whether it is tasteless or not.My answer, respectfully, is that it isn't.Having said that, what normal person doesn't mourn those poor people fighting the fire and living by the plant? I certainly do. What makes me angry, and, yes, I am driven by anger, is that it could have been prevented. I guess I could have done a toned-down version of the cartoon; I am not sure what that would have been, but I think many readers' objections just stemmed from the fact that I used the explosion as a metaphor, period. The wound is fresh, the hurt still stings.The Texas governor's campaigning notwithstanding, should I have used the explosion as a vehicle to illustrate my point? I did. I stand by it. Here's why: Many readers said things along the lines of, "Would you have portrayed the severed limbs created by the Boston bomber to make a political point?" Hmm. No. I would not. But I have drawn a faceless Iraq war veteran, wrapped in bandages, wanting to know who had to invade Iraq to save face.Yes, I got the same kind of reaction."Tasteless."But you know something? I would draw that cartoon again. Wouldn't even think twice about it.I also drew all the faces of the Newtown massacre children as the new face of the NRA."Tasteless."Same thing. I would draw it again.The cartoon we're discussing is rather sanitized, honestly. It shows an explosion. It plays off the word "Boom/booming." That's obviously the problem. Would I do it again? Don't know. I knew it was close to the edge, but I went with it, and I don't go with things I can't defend. I'm defending this one because I think that when you have a politician traveling across the country selling a state with low regulatory capacity, that politician also has to be accountable for what happens when that lack of regulation proves to be fatal.That's exponentially more offensive to me. My job, as I understand it, is to be provocative. I provoke, you decide. I don't dictate, I put out my opinion along with everyone else. I sign my name. I own it. In my opinion, I could have gone further. Much further. Does this cartoon disrespect the victims? Their families?Well, if someone, say a Texas regulator, had picked this up before 2013 but after 2006, maybe I wouldn't have had to draw that cartoon. No victims, no grieving families. So my rather pointed view of all this would be moot.Gambling with the lives of innocent people is much more offensive to me.That's way worse than tasteless.It's reckless.
Wednesday, April 24 2013
Silence is golden... (Daryl Cagle/Cagle.com)
A few days ago, I wrote about one of my cartoon colleagues doing a cartoon against the Miranda ruling.Now, normally, I would have left it that. My pure astonishment at such a cartoon seemed sufficient. I mean, what more could you add?Well, The Colleague in Question, Daryl Cagle, had posted this cartoon where he had called for the surviving alleged Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to be denied Miranda along with the Aurora theater and Gabby Giffords shooters. I pointed out that even lowly cartoonists were protected by Miranda and other Supreme Court rulings. For example, about every five to ten years, some major satire-based libel case is granted cert by the Supremes, and they routinely knock it down. It's the only time I feel all warm and fuzzy about Antonin Scalia.Anyway, Daryl, bless his heart, posted the anti-Miranda cartoon.I thought that was the end of the story until several of my other colleagues, the uniquely talented Matt Bors and Ann Telnaes, the great Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and animator, pointed out that Daryl had posted yet another version of the same cartoon.The opposing viewpoint of the same cartoon.Exact drawing, exact lettering, except for the fact, as Daryl noted, not really credibly, that editors could choose their own version. I note myself that he generously offered to post this same version after he had his brains kicked in for a few hours on his website over his position. Not wanting to seem, you know, non-ecumenical, he changed his caption slightly to reflect his love of editor's freedom of choice on Miranda.Now, look. I doubt that an editorial has been written in the last 40 years against Miranda. I really do. So the groundswell of desire for an anti-Miranda cartoon out there seems rather microscopic. I think he actually put it up to Cover One's Cartooning Backside. I think it would have been better for him to just pull it entirely, say he was wrong, and call it a bad ink day.But he didn't.So the controversy spilled out in the Jim Romenesko website, which is a much-read focal point for national journalism discussion and gossip. Lots of cartoonists wrote in to object to the cartoon and the flip-flop version.Now that this work has been published, I will feel free to post it here.I'm sure Daryl now wishes he had just remained silent.Anything he says and does can be held against him.
Tuesday, April 23 2013
One of the California political personalities I haven't really had much time to ponder is former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (it seems odd, even now, to type that, like "Space Shuttle Commander Lindsay Lohan," or "New York Yankees First Baseman Justin Bieber.")Of course, he's out of office and all, and we have Gov. Jerry Brown, again. This fortuitous circumstance makes my life worth living, but it got me to thinking about how Brown got to be governor, versus how Schwarzenegger got to be governor. Brown took one of the traditional routes to California political success, which was to be born into a powerful political family. Schwarzenegger took another traditional route to California political success, which was to be a movie star. Now, if you think about it, it's rather astounding that California hasn't had more movie star candidates. Sheila Kuehl was a very successful California state legislator, but she played Dobie Gillis's sister in a show called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a long-lost TV show from 1960 or so. So she doesn't qualify as a movie star, really. There was former U.S. Sen. George Murphy, who was a song and dance man in Hollywood who went on to become a song and dance man of another kind in Washington, D.C.. I'm blanking on any other real movie stars who were California electeds.Oh, and that Reagan fellow.This made me wonder, in a parallel universe prior to becoming governor, what if a movie star Jerry Brown had a movie career tracking precisely like Arnold Schwarzenegger's, and what those movies might have been? JERRY BROWN FILMOGRAPHY. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:Pumping Irony (1977)Conan the Seminarian (1982)The Term Limiter (1984)The Running and Running and Running and Running and Running Man (1987)Gray Heat (1988)Kindergarten Party Chairman (1990)Term Limiter 2: Judge Rose Bird Days (1991)Last Aristotle Hero (1993)True Lies, Which is a Contradiction and Might Be Worth Pondering as A Teleological Concept (1994)Term Limiter 3: Rise of the High Speed Trains (2003)Around the World in 80 Days in a High Speed Train Again Because They're Cool (2004)Next week: how Attorney General Schwarzenegger was able to come back out of nowhere and take over the governorship.
Monday, April 22 2013
Usually, the Cartoon Department hums along rather quietly here at The Sacramento Bee. We sit by ourselves and make silent clever observations, many of which are not usable. We only lightly monitor what the competition is doing, because we have our own material to generate. It hardly leaves one time to meet the boys for Jim Boomers at the Satire and Japes Club. So when I see the cartooning of others, I am typically reduced to saying either, "that works," or, alternatively, "that doesn't work."Rarely do I recoil in surprise at my colleagues work one way or the other.Until today.One of my esteemed colleagues sent along a cartoon by a gentleman who is actually a very bright fellow, and quite successful in our field. I won't say he doesn't generate any controversy, because he does, but it's not for his work. When I saw the forwarded cartoon in question, I was rendered speechless.This is the first time I have seen a cartoon calling for the repeal of the Miranda ruling.Now, I see a lot of things in my job. I see people drawing cartoons ridiculing the president of the United States as a jug-eared socialist dupe, for example. I see cartoons questioning the policies of the Republicans in Congress as it relates to their motivations and contributors. I see cartoons that add several chins, take away hair, and generally make good sport of someone's physical flaws. I see weeping eagles. I see naked plagiarism. I see people redrawing their own work. I see all that, and more.But I have never seen a cartoon quite like this.There is a little-known provision of federal law that permits government agents to question a suspect before Miranda is administered, so they can ascertain if their alleged actions may cause further harm to others. The artist asks, why not deny them Miranda rights in general? He cites the Aurora Shooter and the Gabby Giffords gunman, along with the Boston bomber, as three criminals to whom he would deny Miranda rights.I am down with having the ability to cut to the chase with a captured terror suspect to ask him if he's got anything else in store. It's a fast-moving environment, and speed is important. But even if someone appears to be guilty, they set up this Miranda rule so that everyone, guilty or innocent, gets a lawyer and understands their rights. Now, the terrorist in Boston--assuming we have the right perpetrator, and we have no reason to question that we don't-- deserves the full force of the law and the consequences if he is found guilty by a jury of his peers. No question. Someone who drives drunk, or robs a bank, or commits a felony, or parks in a tow-away zone deserves equal justice under the law. They have this written in stone over the entrance to the United States Supreme Court building, where they also regularly rule that it's ok to draw political cartoons and not be sued for libel. So when I saw this cartoon, I was a little taken aback. Would the artist also just throw Miranda out the window if he, for example, had maybe been mistaken for someone else as a crime suspect, even it was a heinous one? Would he just want to rot in jail without legal counsel, getting the hell beaten out of him by some cops who just thought it would be fun to do so? I doubt it. Shall we throw out the libel law so that public figures can sue and ruin political cartoonists, or shut down newspapers because they don't like what they print? After all, I am sure there is a school of thought that think these things are counter-productive to the state, or to a specific politician. There are quite a number of countries that have nothing like a Miranda rule, and, not only that, a lot of those same countries would love nothing better than to throw a nasty political cartoonist in jail for drawing snide little panels about the political establishment. Or just kill the cartoonist. That happens in other countries.All the time. So I would ask my dear colleague, an otherwise sterling fellow, to consider that the next time he thinks it would be all very well and good to dump Miranda.After all, it protects the constitutional rights of jaywalkers and mad bombers (and if they're guilty, the penalties are prescribed and will be meted out), but more importantly, it protects American citizens--all of them, guilty or not. Even cartoonists.I'd show you the cartoon, but I don't have the legal right to do so without paying him, or getting his permission. There is a copyright law in place that protects him and his ability to earn a living from his work.And you know something? That's fair. It's a law.It applies to everyone. You know, like Miranda.
Friday, April 19 2013
Rube Goldberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist best known for his so-called "Rube Goldberg Devices," which were fantastical machines designed to perform mundane tasks, once asked his editor, "Is a cartoonist a journalist?"His editor replied, "Is a barnacle a ship?"Like many Americans last night, I was up until about 3:00 AM watching the gripping coverage of the chase of the Boston Marathon bomber, who, at this writing, has been in custody about fifteen minutes. He was hiding in a boat. I stayed up to watch this not so much as a voyeuristic exercise, but because, in fact, I am a journalist of sorts.What this job requires, like most other jobs, is a lot of research and reading time, and the actual execution of the cartoon is almost ancillary, a relief from the more stressful aspect of paying attention to the news in order to glean a phrase or image that I can turn into a cartoon.Finding a cartoon idea is an elusive process. A friend once called editorial cartoons "editorials in haiku form." I still haven't heard a better description.As I have not done a cartoon about the apprehension of the suspect, I can guarantee you I will on Monday. I am constantly in search of phrases rather than images. I can translate the phrase to an image easily enough, even though to the typical reader, the drawing is the more marvelous aspect of the process. To me, it's the easy part.One phrase that jumped out is "sheltering in place," the phrase police used to tell citizens to stay in their homes and stay away from windows. I am quite certain this will be my working phrase on Monday. Things can change of course, but I am grateful to have a little more time to reflect of precisely what I want to say and how I want to say it--a luxury in a deadline environment.So I spent about five hours glued to my television to pull one phrase out of the pile of television and radio news broadcasts, tweets, and internet surfing. Maybe I won't even be able to use what I have, precisely. But we cartoonists have to put in the time to get there.So, I don't know if that qualifies me as a journalist.But my idea process is a Rube Goldberg device unto itself, and I don't know if I'm a journalist or not.I know I'm not a barnacle, but I also know I'm not a ship.And I am glad that the Boston police got a boat they needed.
Thursday, April 18 2013
Dear Ask a Middle Aged Cartoon Man:Our governor just returned from China. What do you think he accomplished?--Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom in South PlacerDear Southie: Our governor accomplished quite a number of things. First, he got through all those dreadful banquets without a scratch. Normally, middle aged cartoonists have a great deal of digestive trouble with all that fried duck and MSG, so we sympathized with his plight. I know, I know, to you a ten day Free Lunch At The World's Best Chinese Restaurant sounds like a day at China Beach, but to the Guv, it was pure torture. He acquitted himself well, except for forgetting about human rights and saying all he cared about was greenbacks. Perhaps a lobbyist was accidentally quoted. Dear Ask a Middle Aged Cartoon Man: What do you think is going to happen with the Kings?--Natomas NastDear Nasty: Well, I think that David Stern hates the Maloof Boyz so very much that he's bent over backwards to show the hole card to Mayor K.J. and his crew. I don't like to call this rigged, exactly, but as a middle-aged cartoonist with three kids in college, I am always open to a Little Help, particularly with the Benjamins. Someone is going to make money on this deal, and it ain't gonna be you, unless you own some parking lots I don't know about. Surprise. But, you'll get to keep your team and you can back to your regularly scheduled complaining for an outfit that plays .341 ball.Dear Ask a Middle Aged Cartoon Man: What did Gavin Newsom, the man who I understand is currently the Lt. Governor of California, do as Acting Governor while Gov. Brown was away?--PlumpJack Flash, Yuba CityDear Plump: Under California law, the Lt. Gavinor is Acting Governor. Now, California has had Acting Governors before (Ronnie and Arnie), but usually the Number 2 has to sit quietly and not do Crazy Things. This was most unlike former Lt. Governor Mike Curb, who had the disquieting hobby of actually trying to run the state while then-Gov. Brown was away way back in the 1970s. We hear that LTGGN was doing what he usually does as Lt. Governor: "look beautiful," which is the job description language currently in the California State Constitution.Dear Ask a Middle Aged Cartoon Man:Can you tell me what the deal is with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, CalPERS, and high speed light rail? And what about all that tunnel muck? How much will it cost?--Del Tasmelt, SacramentoDear Del: According to my sources, who are very, very tipsy, the latest proposal calls for the high-speed rail line to run inside the tunnel, and scientists at Cal Poly have devised an engine to burn tunnel muck, saving trillions of dollars to be directly funneled into state employee pensions. Thanks for writing! Do you have a question for Ask the Middle Aged Cartoon Man? Send them to email@example.com.
Wednesday, April 17 2013
Various pro and con gun bills before the legislature:SB 456--Requires dogs to take firearm safety course.AB 234--Restricts use of automatic weapons to "lawn aeration."AB 167--Permits magazines up to 600 rounds for squirrel hunting.SB 231--Makes thinking about guns, or using words contains the letters "G", "U", or "N" a felony.SB 112--Authorizes gun shows in church basements.SB 189--Confiscates all SuperSoakers as part of squirt gun buyback program.AB 333--Mandates that each resident of California purchase six (6) AR-15s as part of economic stimulus package.AB 322--Replaces language in Second Amendment to excise "right to keep and bear arms" to "right to keep and bear Nerf footballs."SB 420--Requires that marijuana be smoked before using a weapon to ensure lack of accuracy, motivation.AB 210--Creates a state commission to study guns until 2078.SB 200--Requires all Californians renting "western and/or cowboy movies" to submit to background check.SB 45--Changes name of "Wayne La Pierre" to "Wayne Bad P.R."AB 111--Creates $35 billion dollar tunnel to ship guns into Pacific Ocean.SB 267--Eliminates CalPERS, replaces with CalIBERS, which provides guns to state retirees instead of money.AB 209--Destroys all known copies of gun-based films featuring former California governors.
Tuesday, April 16 2013
When national tragedy strikes, it almost seems oxymoronic to attach the word cartoon to what we have to do to reflect the sentiment after the hideous events in Boston.On the morning of September 11, 2001, every editorial cartoonist in the United States found themselves in shock like everyone else, but we had to interpret the drama. Editorial writers had hundreds of words to express shock and anguish, and we had our pens and paper. I would have preferred to be an editorial writer then.I can rightly claim that I did not, in fact, draw a weeping Statue of Liberty. About fifty of my colleagues did some version of that (seriously). And, honestly, when Tony Auth's cartoon came in with that metaphor, I have to say I kind of liked it, and that the notion of drawing the Statue of Liberty had never even occurred to me.Rex Babin and I used to have long talks about this very subject. We preferred to wait until Day Two of whatever dreadful catastrophe happened, even as we were mostly forced to do Day One first. The second day effort on events of this magnitude were better because we had the advantage of actually knowing what happened.On Day Two after the Boston bombing, I was able to watch a few hours of network coverage, chat with editors and writers, and get a better sense of what I wanted to say. I'm glad I waited a day, but there are days when you can't put it off and you have to go with what you've got.There are a few cartoonists who are masters at throwing something together just to be first on a story like this, and it usually shows. Statues weep, Uncle Sam consoles, smoking holes are blown into symbols, the justice lady is vengeful, and so on.In the Boston story, I saw a lot of scattered shoes, terror figures at finish lines, and runner's numbers configured on the ground in various patterns. Many were well-executed, and what visual can really reflect the horror of such an event? I'm not really judging here, exactly. We have very difficult jobs, and no one likes to comment on apocalyptic events. We'd rather draw John Boehner as a pumpkin, or Joe Biden looking like the Cheshire Cat (another cliche).One cartoon that is absolutely inexcusable is Uncle Sam weeping. Well, anything weeping. Last week I ridiculed weeping eagles, and I haven't seen one of those yet. But I may have missed it. Knowing that the cartoons cops are out there is good for me; it keeps me from Going There, and yet many colleagues probably just think, whatever, I gotta get this baby done by five.And we do. But let's dry Uncle Sam's eyes and see clearly for a moment. Another familiar metaphor in this type of story is a pool of blood arranged in some message or symbol. I really think this is terribly overworked at this point, and it's usually so ghastly that no one responds to that sort of thing anyway. Granted, our visual metaphor palette is finite. A lot of readers react positively to this sort of stuff, and that's never going to change. But I think when I can, off the top of my head, rattle off three trite approaches to tragedy in about eight paragraphs says something.I think the victims of Boston deserve a better effort than Uncle Sam in tears.
Monday, April 15 2013
DNA is back in the news, and it's one of my favorite subjects I know next to nothing about.I mean, I know a little bit about it. My father was a plant pathologist, and as a child he would bring home samples from the lab he ran for the U.S. Forest Service. "Look, son! I brought you some penicillin!"In a petri dish. What eight year old doesn't enjoy playing with penicillin? In a petri dish. You know, just in case I needed to field triage my GI JOE, I had a petri dish full of the stuff, ready to go. One of my early Science Son memories was of my dad raving about a book that detailed the exploits of Drs. James D. Watson and Francis Crick, the acknowledged discoverers of DNA. My dad would talk about Watson and Crick the way other dads would talk about Mantle and Koufax.We never talked about Mantle and Koufax, although Mantle was someone who probably could use a little penicillin once in awhile. Hair of the dog that bit you and all.My next exposure to DNA was in high school, where I learned about adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine, the DNA building block chemicals. We also learned about RNA, the cousin (don't write me, and I am sure they're not cousins, technically. Or genetically) that gets very little attention."MAJOR RNA BREAKTHROUGH LEAVES SCIENTISTS STUNNED" is a headline I have yet to read.So when the Supreme Court took up the notion that one could patent a piece of DNA that a company hadn't actually developed, I was faced with more DNA thinking. Ugh. So slimy. All those complicated strings of gooey life chemicals churning together to create my neck wattle.Can you patent neck wattle DNA? God, I hope not.I mean, if we're going to let these mad scientists patent DNA they haven't invented, the next thing you know, you're going to need a license to own an oak tree or a delta smelt, another slimy thing with DNA. I can see it now. There will be DNAMO Drive Thru genetics stores, DNA Huts, DNA Kings, Del DNAs, DNA Galaxies, and McDNAs. Forget it.I think we ought to be able to just let the DNA alone. I'm kind of a libertarian lunatic when it comes to DNA. Live DNA Free or Die. Don't Tread on my DNA. I'll let go of my DNA when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.Unless, of course, it can save me from death. But the thing that really disturbs me is that there are popular traits, and unpopular traits. Will we have a DNA stock exchange?"Beautiful ab muscle DNA was up 1 1/2 in active trading, and bubble butt DNA was off 3/4."So let your DNA Freak Flag fly.And don't touch my DNA.Unless I can me some of that beautiful ab muscle DNA.The hell with free markets.
Friday, April 12 2013
This is the weekend that quite a number of political cartoonists in the United States sit squirming in their chairs before Monday's announcement of the Pulitzer Prize.It is rather unusual to be in a profession where, every year, you may have some sort of reasonable expectation that you may win the Pulitzer Prize. I don't know how it is in other categories, like poetry or music, let alone explanatory journalism or spot news photography, but there is a pretty small number of entries in the editorial cartooning category. Like, probably a hundred or less.Obviously, there is a lot of handicapping going on in this particular segment of journalism. I was a finalist last year (that means they got it down to three people before picking the winner), so I am probably a bit squirmier than I would be otherwise.I know people who have been Pulitzer finalists three or four times and haven't won. I know one guy who has won only the Pulitzer Prize and no other awards. In the other categories, I suspect it's probably a thunderclap moment. Say you're a nominee (anyone can be a nominee - no biggie, it's just you and $75 and a filled-out form), and there are 1,675 other competitors in investigative reporting. You're sitting there at your filthy desk at The Canton (OH) Repository (yeah, that is a real newspaper), you turned in your big series on corruption in the county sheriff's office, and the odds that you're going to win the Pulitzer, or even think you're going to win the Pulitzer, are pretty slim.On Monday morning, the wire reports that you, Mr. Canton Repository, have just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. You're some schmo from a midwestern state university J School with 3.13 GPA, and 16 years later, you get to tell your mom that you won the Pulitzer Prize.And you didn't have to do it in the biography category. Those people are sharp. Like professors at Harvard, been working on their manuscript since 1998, and see the word "ibid" in their sleep.Once you have won the Pulitzer, the standard joke is that, well, now you know how your obituary is going to read. True. Particularly if you're Mr. Canton Repository."CANTON, OH (AP)--Phil Space, a longtime Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Canton Repository who otherwise was pretty much utterly unremarkable, died today at a local reporter's watering hole. He was 61 and hit his head after tripping on a bar stool."Now, I'm just talking about a person who has been cited individually. There is a whole universe of people who were on teams of journalists at newspapers who won Pulitzers. This, quite honestly, is all well and good, but in order for it to really mean something, your name has to be on the Pulitzer certificate, you're kind of like a guy with a Ph.D in anthropology who refers to himself around others as "doctor."I know one man who was part of a very, very large reporting team (about 20 reporters and photographers) that won the Pulitzer, and he just was completely convinced that he was the only dude who had ever won a Pulitzer not only on that team, but ever, and introduced himself as such.He wasn't really well-liked, and people wished he might trip over a bar stool. Not fatally, of course. I have a number of very close friends who have won Pulitzers, maybe a dozen or so. They almost all wear it very lightly. They're almost a little self-conscious about it. With the exception of two people I know who ram it down your throat, gleefully, the vast majority of them are all like, yeah, I had a friend on the jury, or yeah, it's a lottery, or yeah, it's your turn, or yeah, it was useful because I hit a tuition payment.Sure.I knew a cartoonist who had won three Pulitzers. One was leaning on his floor in a frame because he hadn't quite gotten around to hanging it yet. I thought that was cool.Still another cartoonist in our world who has a reputation as, shall we say, a self-promoter, once walked into a large banquet of a completely different organization, like the American Association of National Meeting Groups or something, grabbed a microphone, stood up, and said to the group, "My name is Marc Narcissist (not his real name, but certainly a diagnosis ) and I have won two Pulitzer Prizes, and I want to know know if you'd like me to give a speech here now." Stunned silence. Except from the cartoonists who lovingly retell the anecdote.Another guy who had won it actually said to a syndicate president I knew that he wanted something done with his contract because "I am the Pulitzer winner," as in Nixon's "I am the president."Snort.I suspect he never knew that anecdote --"Can you (Anglo-Saxon rejoinder) believe that Blank actually said that? Please"--had made its way around every venue with more than two cartoonists in the United StatesI am sure just writing this will jinx me, but whatever. It's a stress-reliever. And, besides, I know how these things go down.Like a guy tripping on a bar stool.
Thursday, April 11 2013
I'm in charge here... (Jack Ohman/Sacramento Bee)
TRANSCRIPT OF ACTING GOV. SUTTER BROWN NEWS CONFERENCEAPRIL 11, 2013SACRAMENTO, CAEMBARGOED UNTIL 7 AM PDT ACTING GOV. SUTTER BROWN: Thank you. Please sit. SIT! SIT! WHO'S A GOOD BOY? Under California state law, as the governor is in China and the Lt. Governor is not in Ugh, God, Sacramento, I am temporarily assuming the office of the Governor of the state.Today I met with various Chinese trade and political officials visiting California and discussed the California economy. I will now take your questions.Q:Sutter, you said earlier in the trip that California didn't really pay attention to Washington. What did you mean by that?AGSB: Well, David, as you know, I have a hard time paying attention to anything, particularly when a frisbee or a ball is thrown. Q: Do you think that Washington is a hindrance to the California economy?AGSB: We get 79 cents for every tax dollar we send back to D.C. Do the math. I'm not the RCA dog here; the hell with my master's voice.Q: How do you think China's environmental record compares with California's?AGSB: Well, Beijing air is about the color and consistency of fresh (unintelligible). It makes Los Angeles air smell like a Glade Plug-in by comparison. Tom McClintock would be right at home writing their environmental regs. Q: You expressed your concerns to the Chinese officials about Corgi rights abuses?AGSB: Yes. As you know, Corgis are a very small community who wish to be unleashed to pursue their own interests, which largely consists of peacefully digging up flowers, jumping up on clean slacks, and leaving long orange and white hair on dark sofas and chairs. The right of Corgis to self-determination is a central tenet of my administration. As I have noted, I have conceded that kennel conditions for the Pekinese breed in California is far from ideal as well.(LT. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM ENTERS ROOM, WALKS TO LECTERN)LTGGN: Are there any questions?Q: Will you be walking Sutter now or later this afternoon, and is dog-sitting part of the job description of the office of Lt. Governor?END OF TRANSCRIPT
Wednesday, April 10 2013
Cry me a river... (Jack Ohman/The Sacramento Bee)
Three prominent figures died in the past few days: Margaret Thatcher, Annette Funicello, and Roger Ebert.I didn't do cartoons on any of them. Why?Well, first of all, I try not to do obituary cartoons in general. I'm not saying I won't, or haven't, but I am quite certain I haven't done any for The Bee. To comment on someone's passing requires that person to have really moved me personally in some way. In short, I really have to feel a loss, and not just that this particularly person, a newsmaker, is gone and therefore subject to some wiseacre remark on what is a sad event for the person's family.Having said that, I really liked and enjoyed Roger Ebert's persona, had no real opinion about Annette Funicello other than she was a brave woman to keep her persona intact (and fought multiple sclerosis), and was not a political fan of Margaret Thatcher's. Certainly Thatcher was an historic figure, and I am sorry she's gone, but I couldn't get myself to draw some neutral tribute.Now, having said all this, I did get an Ebert cartoon idea and a Funicello cartoon idea:A. Roger Ebert at the gates of heaven, and St. Peter says, "You wrote the screenplay of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, so you can just forget it."B. Annette Funicello at the gates of heaven, being admitted, and St. Peter says, "Why? Because we like you."OK. So. Why didn't I do them?The gates of heaven/St.Peter/Talking Deity metaphor has got to be the most overworked, rehashed, plowed-over ground in the history of American editorial cartooning. That's number one. I am simply tired of drawing virtually the same scene over and over. Frankly, I could do one or two obituary cartoons per week, and I am not sure anyone would notice.Except my peers. I have several who are absolutely obsessed with the subject of obit cartoons, and the dreck that is published under this stale rubric.I would be the subject of my own obit cartoons if I drew one. These peers would fly to Sacramento and make sure I had a personal meeting with St. Peter, who I am sure is a nice guy - a saint, in fact - but I like my life.The other metaphor that involves the Dearly Departed is the weeping object. Weeping Objects that represented some facet of the Dearly's career, such as Mickey Mouse ears or whatever pop cultural geegaws associated with DD's life, are far too frequently observed on editorial pages. Weeping Eagles are my personal favorite.Whenever America experiences a massive tragedy of some kind, the usual cartooning suspects roll out the weeping eagles, and, by gum, people just love them. "Your weeping eagle touched a chord with All Americans on this Day of (National Bad Event). God Bless You for drawing a weeping eagle. May your personal eagle never weep, Mr. Ohman."Hey, thanks for writing.And I have never done a weeping eagle. I have known of quite a few cartoonists (very nice people) who have made the ol' Eagle Weeper, and had that cartoon shared with four million of their closest friends on the internet. Seriously. But it would be interesting to have a Weeping Eagle at the gates of heaven talking to St. Peter.St. Peter could say, "We don't get a lot of Weeping Eagles around here. You must be satanic. Have a nice drop."I suppose I'm going to hell for writing this.