Who’s to Blame?

Who's to Blame?

Credit where credit is due — this is a variation of the classic Walt Kelly cartoon where his character Pogo observes the swamp that he and his friends live in (and trashed), declaring, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sometimes we can be the worst. But let me be absolutely clear here: I am not in any way saying that politicians are never the source of road, environment, and health care issues. They can be and they have been. What I am saying is that it’s not a binary thing — it doesn’t have to be either them or us. It can be both.

I know. It’s June in Michigan — I should have sunnier thoughts, but you know how it’s been. I think it’s a combination of the weather and the massive amount of road construction everywhere. I should be grateful, and I will be grateful, but…

I think my son put it best in a recent tweet: “Hey Grand Rapids, so first of all thank you for fixing the roads but do you think you could maybe leave just one or two of them open?”


Michigan Social Studies Curriculum

Michigan Social Studies Curriculum

To be clear: I’m proud of our nation, our history, and especially our ideals. I am proud to be an American. But some of the things we do just mystify me.

This past week the Michigan Board of Education approved an update to the curriculum for social science studies in Michigan. There was some controversy. Initially, some standards proposed by conservatives hewed too closely to their unique views of the world. Those were cut back, but the standards approved by the Board have been assailed as inaccurate and anti-Christian. It all seems like an excellent prompt for a classroom of young minds to learn civil discourse and critical thinking. But unfortunately it’s mostly a crude game for political points.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be reacting (overreacting?) to all this in a normal week. But this is the week that The New York Times decided it would no longer run political cartoons. A brief backstory: In April, a Times editor decided to run a syndicated cartoon in its international edition depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David collar tag and leading a blind, yarmulke-wearing President Trump. It was widely seen as anti-Semitic. Because it was.

The Times appropriately apologized and promised corrective action. First, they over-corrected by announcing they would no longer use syndicated cartoons. Then this week they WAY over-corrected sacking their staff cartoonists, the brilliant Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song, to bring the international edition “…into line with the domestic paper by ending daily political cartoons.” (The flagship Times paper famously and inexplicably has not had a daily cartoonist for decades.)

There are much deeper weeds for me to get into here, but I don’t want to drag you all down into the specifics of my obvious self-interest. Let me just say this: When political points or job safety become more important than thoughtful discussion, we become less American (or at least the kind of American we ought to be).


Rising Lake Levels

Rising Lake Levels

I see that Hulu has new mini-series of the Joseph Heller novel, Catch-22. It looks intriguing, but I don’t know if I’ll check it out. First, my Hulu/Netflix/Amazon queue is already impossibly backlogged. Second, it’s summer in Michigan for godsake — there will be plenty of winter for screen-based entertainment. But mostly because I read Catch-22 at exactly the right time in my life, as a 17 year-old primed and ready to learn just how ludicrous the world can be. I don’t want to mess with the perfect picture in my head.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term Catch-22 or in need of a refresher, I can explain it this way: Say the president of your country tells lies. He or she (let’s go with “he” for simplicity here) says and even tweets things that are demonstrably not true. A lot. Like, a staggering amount of times.

Now say you’re a journalist, a real one with training and ethics and everything. All this lying is a problem. He’s the elected leader of the country! So you do your job, report the lies, and provide the objective facts you have researched to back this up.

The President doesn’t like this, so he says something like, “Fake News!” But when you point out that this is a lie, he says “Fake News! Fake News! Fake News!” The more you report the lies, the more he lies. And if you didn’t report the lies, he would say his lies are true because nobody reported them as lies.

That’s the catch. Catch-22.


Neville Whitmer

Neville Whitmer

There is lots that is unfair about comparing Governor Whitmer and the recent auto insurance reform agreement to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement of 1938. So let’s start with what is fair.

It does feel a lot like appeasement. What the majority of Michiganders want and want now is lower auto insurance rates. In fact, we wanted to pay less yesterday (and several years of yesterdays before that). Which is why the legislature and governor felt increasing pressure to do something. So they did, and I will be delighted to pay less money. But I don’t have confidence that the reform properly addresses the systemic issues.

Also, it felt rushed. I know our government can be, by its nature, arcane and sometimes that is simply how the sausage is made. But that makes hearing “don’t worry, you’ll like” just that much more suspicious.

Okay, so what isn’t fair is that there is no singular Nazi Germany villain here. I don’t think the insurance companies, the medical providers, the trial lawyers (and the lawmakers they lobby) are inherently evil. They just all have vested interests that, in many cases, work against lower insurance costs. So to that end, we all need to be careful not to declare this reform package as any sort of final victory but part of the continuing battle to make auto insurance affordable.

Actually, I take back what I said about villains. I think the true inherent evil here is our healthcare system. We should neither be forced to pay for Personal Injury Protection as part of auto insurance or have to decide what level we may like. The care we get after a catastrophic accident shouldn’t have anything to do with being in a car. Doesn’t matter how it happened, we all deserve decent, quality care. And without bankrupting us or our family. That’s the level of insurance reform we need to aspire to.

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Country over Party

Justin Amash is the U.S. House Representative from Michigan’s 3rd district. When President Gerald Ford was a member of the U.S. House, he represented the 5th district. District boundaries evolve over time, but both the 5th then and the 3rd now have Grand Rapids as their population center, so it’s fair to say Amash is a Ford successor.

Last week Amash published a series of policy positions on social media regarding President Trump and the Mueller Report. First, he admonished fellow members of Congress who obviously have not taken the time to actually read the report. Then he went on to make several legal points, the most notable one being that Trump has indeed committed impeachable offenses. Summarizing does not do it justice. Go ahead and find Justin Amash on Twitter and read them yourself. (It won’t take anywhere near as long as the Mueller Report. And, bonus, nothing is redacted!)

What’s remarkable about this is not what Amash said (Mueller made his position on obstruction clear — it’s for Congress to decide). Nor that Amash would be the one to say it — his signature move is to thoroughly research decisions and explain them in detail.

What is remarkable is that it is remarkable. It was big news that a Republican supposedly broke ranks to say something perceived as negative about a member of his own political party. Good heavens! The audacity! (Or is it, the integrity?!)

As it happens, “acting with integrity” is a pretty good way to describe Gerald Ford’s signature move. The two men are very different in a lot of ways, but at least in this instance Amash definitely is Ford’s successor.


The One Thing That Brings Us Together

The One Thing That Brings Us Together

Sports is often the last refuge for civil conversation. Politics, race, religion are practically no-go zones these days. But even seemingly benign topics like health or even the weather are pocked with landmines:

“It’s a bit chilly today.”

“Yes, it is — so much for your dumb global warming theories!”

And now we have one less good thing to talk about. John Beilein announced this week that he’s leaving his position as coach of the University of Michigan Men’s Basketball team to become head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

Beilein is universally recognized as a great coach and a standup person (a distressingly rare combination in Division 1 sports). So there’s a certain sadness to seeing him go — he’s the type of person that every Michigander could feel good about, not just Wolverines fans.

But I don’t begrudge Beilein for taking advantage of this new career opportunity. He has certainly earned it. It’s just that…Cleveland! Frickin’ Ohio! C’MON!!! The stupidest team in the stupidest state in the stupidest…sorry. Gotta try to keep it civil for Coach Beilein.


Public School Teacher Pep Talk

Public School Teacher Pep Talk

What goes on in Betsy DeVos’s head? Why would somebody who clearly disdains public servants want to be a public servant by leading an enormous agency of public servants? I don’t know, but let’s conjecture:

I don’t think her decision-making is directly related to being hyper-rich. There are plenty of hyper-rich people who have demonstrated human empathy and have made excellent public servants. Some point to her Calvinist Christianity roots (I have grace, you don’t — I’m going to heaven, you…are not.). But true Calvinists tend to be insular and generally avoid having to spend time with the riffraff.

No, if I had to guess I’d say it’s her zealous ideology, which may be the one thing that humanizes her. We all can get caught up in wanting our vision to be right so badly that we willingly ignore anything that proves it otherwise — facts, actual data, real-world consequences.

DeVos clearly believes that vouchers and charters and her vision of marketplace competition will bring education excellence to our United States. And I don’t disagree that some of these principles have merit. What scares me about DeVos is her unwillingness (or inability) to celebrate the successes of public education. Yes, there have been abject failures, but they have been vastly outnumbered by systems that work extremely well and are cornerstones of communities. We should build on that, not steal from it.


A Modest PFAS Foam Proposal

A big hat tip this week goes to my boy Jonathan Swift who in 1729 wrote and published an essay titled A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick (or A Modest Proposal for short). It was a brilliant piece of satire that at first appears to be a very sober assessment of the challenges presented by overpopulation, specifically too many poor people, more specifically too many Irish people. It then goes on in an equally academic way to suggest eating Irish babies may be the best solution. A quote:

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”

Something to consider the next time when you think a modern-day episode of, say, BoJack Horseman seems to have stepped over the line of good taste.

Another acknowledgement must go to Upton Sinclair, muck-raking journalist from the early 1900s and his most famous quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


A Simple Debate

A Simple Debate

The most difficult thing about drawing this cartoon was deciding what the two people should look like. I ended up with two vaguely middle-aged white guys. But it took me a long time to get there.

For cartoons where the appearance of age/sex/race/weight has nothing to do with the point I’m trying to make, I try vary the character types for diversity sake. I am in fact a middle-aged white guy, so I fight defaulting to my own biases. But this can be problematic, depending on what the characters are actually doing or how they are behaving.

Say I have somebody in the background eating watermelon. It shouldn’t matter the race of that person. But it very much does. There are all sorts of deeply racists connotations associated with black people and watermelon. And with me as a white person drawing it — did I intend to offend? Was I unaware of the offense? Which would be worse? (Even writing about doing this in the hypothetical makes me squeamish.)

So after much due diligence, I drew what I drew to limit attention to the characters themselves. (The first guy is roughly a self-caricature because the rant is definitely my rant.) But in the end, I’m sure some could be distracted by the two white guys and question my motives. I know this because people make a point of telling me what offends them and often it’s nothing I intended.

That’s fine. In fact, it’s great. I think it’s better to have discussions (however awkward) than it is to avoid having them at all.


When Death Begins

In his scifi/satire book series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams tells a story about the planet Golgafrigcham. The leaders of Golgafrigcham hatched a plan to rid themselves of what they considered the basically useless citizens. They announced that Golgafrigcham was doomed, and so three arks were to be built and all inhabitants sorted into three categories: Ark A would contain the leaders, scientists, and other high achievers. Ark C would carry all the people who made things and did things. And Ark B would carry everyone else, such as telephone sanitizers, public relations executives, and management consultants.

When the time came, Ark B was sent off with a mission to find another planet to colonize and with the promise that the other two arks would follow. Of course everybody else simply stayed and enjoyed happy lives — for a very brief time till a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone wiped them all out.

This is the story that came to mind when I read about the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners meeting this week and their decision to terminate the lease for the Planned Parenthood clinic in their county building. Right. The mere mention of Planned Parenthood can make things go sideways quickly, so I’m gonna state only my specific reaction: The beginning of a significant measles outbreak may not be the best time to be cutting back on public health resources. And perhaps digging deeper into our ideology may not yield the best results.

Feel free to discuss the details of all this among yourselves. I’m gonna go wipe down my iPhone with alcohol.

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