The Scales of Modern Opinion

The Scales of Modern Opinion

This is family vacation time for me, so in order to fully appreciate and benefit from the “not working” part of what a vacation is actually supposed to be (a bit of a foreign concept to most of us Americans, I know), I drew this cartoon a week ago. That’s always a challenge — picking some topic that can remain relevant (heck, even recognizable) when news cycles continue to accelerate toward warp speed.

I was pleased to come up with an idea that (as the old-timey news people used to say) has legs. Much less pleased that it’s so true — that the opinion of a wingnut YouTuber or FaceBook “friend” or Twitter troll can so easily outweigh the thoroughly researched and vetted reporting of a professional journalist.

I understand the reflexive tendency. Journalism (or more typically, “the media”) falls just below politicians and lawyers on the list of professions we distrust (and apparently on par with scientists and medical experts, God help us). Already real journalists create uncomfortable situations by asking challenging questions, seeking the true story, and then reporting it. But lump them together with the bloviating talking heads of cable news and smart-aleck opinion writers like editorial cartoonists (the worst), and you get this ongoing rancor that is seemingly always at least a low boil.

Okay, fine. Let’s all shake our tiny fists at “the media” and how they all collectively have it in for us. But let’s at least try not to give in so quickly to fully embracing any opinion that happens to align with what we want to believe. Let’s seek and support real news.

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Go Ahead and Tread on Me

Go Ahead and Tread on Me

In lieu of additional commentary this week, I would just like to encourage you to find reliable news sources (AP, Reuters, NPR) and follow this story — the President deploying federal law enforcement to Portland and Chicago (with Detroit on the short list for next). It’s chilling and wrong and everything the United States of America is not. It’s vital that patriots (real patriots) take a stand against it.

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I TRIED to Talk About Something Else

I TRIED to Talk About Something Else

There’s an under-appreciated scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Ferris’s sister Jeanie (filled with indignation and attitude) walks into the principal’s office. The school secretary blankly greets her with, “Hello Jeanie. Who’s bothering you now?” 

That’s it. That’s the scene. Well, it actually goes on from there and is very funny, but that short bit I think captures perfectly the general vibe currently in Michigan (and probably the whole country). 

The thing is, Jeanie does have some understandable reasons for her smoldering anger. Her brother is charmingly duplicitous and always seems to get away with things she cannot, and she’s looking to pick a fight over it.

We’ve seen this play out over and over in real life, especially as masking rules have tightened to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Witness all those defiant Costco shoppers — bare-faced, phone in hand, and full of fury. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing how that can quickly escalate — from alarmingly racist rants to stabbings and even death.

Later in the movie, a drug-addled young man identifies Jeanie’s problem for her. “The problem is you.”    And I believe it is. We could all do with less self-righteousness and more self-awareness.

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Betsy DeVos on the Importance of Individualism

Betsy DeVos on the Importance of Individualism

I feel the need to let you know — this cartoon was inspired by the first Betsy DeVos story this week:

Several Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia have joined in a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, accusing the Trump administration of trying to unlawfully divert pandemic relief funds from public schools to private schools.

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/07/888793021/states-sue-education-department-over-allocation-of-pandemic-funds-to-schools

I completed it before I realized there was a second Betsy DeVos story:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday assailed plans by some local districts to offer in-person instruction only a few days a week and said schools must be “fully operational” even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

https://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2020/07/07/betsy-devos-schools-full-time-coronavirus/5392310002/

Now as I write this, I see there is a third Betsy DeVos story:

“If schools aren’t going to reopen, we’re not suggesting pulling funding from education but instead allowing families … (to) take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open,” Betsy DeVos told Fox News in an interview.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-education/us-families-could-use-federal-funds-elsewhere-if-pandemic-closes-schools-devos-says-idUSKBN24A25U

But probably the best Betsy DeVos story this week wasn’t actually about her (but might as well have been):

The institute promoting the “laissez-faire capitalism” of writer Ayn Rand, who in the novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” introduced her philosophy of “objectivism” to millions of readers, was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of up to $1 million, according to data released Monday by the Trump administration.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-ppp-ayn-rand/in-sign-of-the-times-ayn-rand-institute-approved-for-ppp-loan-idUSKBN248026

I apologize for not being able to keep up.

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At Least There Is One Thing That Can Still Bring Americans Together

At Least There Is One Thing That Can Still Bring Americans Together

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience on Facebook — a post from one over-the-edge friend complaining aggressively about how her views are being systematically suppressed next to a post from a befuddled friend who went missing for awhile having been booted for something totally benign. Or maybe one of these people is you. In any case, the common theme (and irony) is that Facebook has done them dirty, and they are telling you about it on Facebook.

Add to the mix a recent campaign called “Stop Hate for Profit” that has 400 companies reconsidering their advertisement spending on Facebook, including major corporations like Michigan’s own Ford Motor Company. Facebook gets nearly all of its profits from advertising, so it might be what it takes to get their proper attention to address their complicity in spreading toxic content.

Past efforts by Facebook to correct this have been found lacking. Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to Capital Hill on many occasions where he has so far avoided regulation by making weak promises and shirking responsibilities. All this makes it even easier to dislike him. True, not all of it is deserved, but a net worth of $79.7 billion and an app that is doing a fantastic job of undermining our democracy makes you kind of an easy target.

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When Did We Start Giving up on Tough Problems?

When Did We Start Giving up on Tough Problems?

I considered holding off on drawing this cartoon and saving it for next week and the Independence Day holiday. It would have been more of an indictment of how we as a nation have seemingly forgotten our ideals, how the United States was once young, scrappy, and hungry and we didn’t throw away our shot. (I can steal from Hamilton, too, Mr. Bolton.)

But ya know what? I want to celebrate America next week because there is still plenty to celebrate. I’m proud of my country and its talent, resources, and institutional structure. We have achieved brilliant success in our brief past, and I believe in the vast potential for success in our future.

Besides, I was feeling the frustration of our collective inability to take on difficult problems right now. No reason to save that up. Express it. Get it out there. Confront my fellow Americans with it and challenge them to reconcile who we are with what we want to be.

I have no idea what I’ll draw next week. It may come out as a criticism — it may come out as praise. Either way, it’ll be patriotic.

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The City of Detroit Removes Its Christopher Columbus Statue….

The City of Detroit Removes Its Christopher Columbus Statue....

This week, the City of Detroit removed a bust of Christopher Columbus from its pedestal near the entrance of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. It’s in storage for now as the mayor and city officials decide what to do with it. No doubt it has historical value — it’s 110 years-old. Like many Columbus-related honors, this one came as a gift from Italian-Americans.

Columbus sailed under the flag of Spain, but he was born in Genoa in what is now Italy. Promoting the memory of Columbus was a way for Italian-Americans — who were heavily discriminated against as new immigrants in the early 1900s — to promote themselves as “real” Americans. So the statue was less about honoring Columbus the person and more about what Columbus represented. 

In a similar way, we know the statues and military bases in the South were not so much about honoring the supposed virtuous lives of Confederate Generals as it was about intimidating Blacks many years after the war to codify Jim Crow laws.

Still, history can be a very sensitive thing. We as a society need to be careful about how we handle it. The best take on this that I’ve seen is a recent post by journalist Mike Peterson on his Cartoon Strip of the Day blog, which can be found on dailycartoonist.com. What should we do?

The answer is to stop teaching Great Man History and switch to Major Moment History.

The coming of Europeans to the New World was a Major Moment, and it’s more important to study what it meant to everyone — everyone — involved than to memorize the names of individuals in the big chairs.

Important Point: The cure for Great Man History is not adding the names of Great Women and Great Minorities to the list of meaningless crap kids have to memorize.

It’s teaching how Major Moments — inventions and immigrations and wars and pandemics and economic booms and busts — changed normal lives and, hence, the flavor and tone of the entire nation.

It means fewer statues and more local museums.

You can read the whole article here: http://www.dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2020/06/13/csotd-monumental-questions/

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Do You Want to Talk About Racism?

I am very happy not talking about stuff I find uncomfortable. And I especially prefer avoiding discussions about things that make me feel terrible. Racism would certainly be a topic that qualifies here. So, yeah, I can understand the inclination to deflect, side-step, or look-past the subject. But obviously that isn’t solving the problem. (Heck, talking isn’t even the hard part! It’s the doing after the talking.)

But here we are, America. Here we are again. We’ve been through this before. And we pretty much know what to do. All the post-incident commissions and panels and reports have identified the problems and recommended the solutions. We just somehow keep avoiding really talking about it.

Will this time be different? I’m hopeful it will be. And I find that hope in three words: Black Lives Matter.

Some find those words to be divisive. (Really, any words that address racism can be taken as divisive.) But I think the meaning behind these words, the true aim, is potentially something that can move us all forward.

I didn’t really understand this till it was explained to me. In 2016 I heard the cartoonist Keith Knight talk at a conference, and he was asked about Black Lives Matter. He referenced one of his recent cartoons where he used “Save the Rain Forests” as a metaphor: “When you say, ‘Save the Rain Forests,’ you are saying there is something uniquely important about rain forests that requires specific attention. You are not saying ‘screw all the other forests.'”

I’ve seen variations of this in memes and other cartoons, but I think the point is clear and something to build on. (If we talk and that talk leads to doing.)

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Religion Photo-Ops

Religion Photo-Ops

Whenever I travel on a business trip or attend a conference, I like to go running. It gets me outside to actually experience the place I’m visiting. I’m used to getting up super early, so I run in the pre-dawn hours. City streets, parks, cemeteries, neighborhoods — my only real concern for safety being avoiding cars. As a 6 foot 3 inch white male, I just never considered myself a target. 

A few years ago, I was in Houston. There seemed to be no zoning laws for the streets near the hotel. Sidewalks adjacent to busy roads (and roads are always busy in Houston, even at 6:00AM) were three feet wide and often had telephone poles in the middle. So I made my way to a tony neighborhood and ran there. A law enforcement vehicle shadowed me from the moment I entered to the moment I left. I should have been unnerved by this, right? Nah. I came back the next two days (and wearing the same bandana and a hoodie). Shadowed again, but never engaged.

I am embarrassed to tell you just how recently I have realized what a privileged mindset this is. I mean, I was aware that most women would not feel comfortable running alone in a strange city in the dark, but for any person of color it would be nothing but red flags, fear, and stress. How could I not know this? How could I be so oblivious?

I write this to note that I have been pausing to consider what else I don’t know. And as a result, I haven’t felt qualified to comment much on our nation’s current convulsions.  

But this week, after the staged photo-ops by the President at St.John’s Church and St. John Paul II National Shrine, I finally felt I did have some qualification. It’s indirect to this fight for racial justice, but as a Catholic it is something I have thought a great deal about. I have long understood the President to the be the embodiment of the seven deadly sins (or, for old school Catholics, cardinal sins). But it was using these holy places as a backdrop that brought it into such stark relief.

Pride is generally considered the worst of the seven. What brought the President to stage these photo-ops? Pride. What renders him incapable of seeking reconciliation? Pride. What causes him to never admit an error and instead double-down, triple-down, whatever it takes to never appear to be wrong? Pride. The complete absence of humility. This is not how a servant of the people serves the people.

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Disaster on Our Hands

Disaster on Our Hands

My niece works as a chemical engineer in a petroleum refinery. When the pandemic hit, there was both a glut of oil and a sharp reduction in demand for oil products. That, along with stay-at-home orders for workers, led to the difficult decision to turn off the refinery for a bit. Refineries are intricate arrays of pipes and heat and reactions and processes all kept at a delicate balance. They are not really meant to be turned off because of the difficulty of turning them back on, which is exactly what my niece is going to be faced with soon. (She’s super smart and dedicated, so that’ll help.)

But it’s kinda like that for all of us. We are all having to deal with turning an economy back on that wasn’t necessarily designed to be turned off. In fact, it wasn’t designed at all. So it has all of the intricacies of a refinery, but none of the careful plans and documentation, which will make restarting especially challenging.

Case in point, child care. Michigan Radio had a story this week on the critical need for the child care industry to reboot as parents start getting back to work. But the process is likely to be painfully slow because it wasn’t actually working well before the pandemic. It’s a disaster that is not nearly as spectacular as a long-neglected dam giving way. But for families with young children looking to get their lives back (or at least functional), the lack of quality, affordable child care may make it feel just as devastating.

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