Auchtoon! on MichiganRadio.org

For the next two months my cartoons and commentary will be posted on MichiganRadio.org every Friday at 9:00AM EST. It’s a whole new venue for editorial cartoons, and I’m really excited at the possibilities. I could use your help to make it a success. Please visit and share and do that social networking thing. You can send heaps of praise directly to the editor at vduffy@umich.edu. I deeply appreciate it!

Now, many of you may be thinking: Cartoons on the, um, radio? Well, as they say in badly written action movies, “It’s just crazy enough to work!”

Actually it does make sense if you consider who is doing the best journalism work these days: Michigan Radio has done a fantastic job not only in filling the journalism void left by the decline of Michigan’s major newspapers, but also in creating and growing new ways to be a go-to media resource, which includes their website. I have noted this trend for some time, and I definitely would like to be a part of it.

Direct link to the first one: http://michiganradio.org/post/auchters-art-tough-be-michigander

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Tough to Be a Michigander These Days

Tough to Be a Michigander These Days

How much do I like beer? Well, I can tell you this: My wife and I recently traded a large and well-maintained trampoline for a single 12 ounce bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those who know me would likely say that was out of character. (Not the trading things for alcohol — that actually is in my wheelhouse.) No, I’m talking about the deep appreciation for something like Founders KBS — a high-end, critically praised consumable. I’m really more of a eat-because-I’m-hungry, water-from-the-faucet, breakfast-cereal-for-dinner kind of guy.

But something has happened to me with beer. I’ve become discriminating, an aficionado (a snob). Living in Michigan, it’s hard not to be. There is just so much good stuff around. West Michigan in particular. When I moved here it was Bland Rapids. Now it’s Beer City USA. Founders Brewing alone now takes up a whole city block! It’s really quite amazing.

The subtext here is that things aren’t so bad. Don’t despair, even though it seems to be the popular thing to do. Despair can lead to questionable decision-making (like, say, making a Benito Mussolini impersonator the Republican candidate for president).

If we can go from the blah mediocrity of Goebels and Black Label and (dare I say it) Strohs to the paradise of choices we produce today, there is hope. We can do extraordinary and successful things here in Michigan. And if we can get our roads, schools, and infrastructure on the path to real recovery, we will have plenty of fantastic options to toast our success.

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Dr DeVos’s Charter School Serum

Dr DeVos's Charter School Serum

Back in the 1970s, Powers Catholic High School in Flint experimented with a new educational concept called Student-Teacher Assessment periods or STAs. The idea was to treat teenagers as adults and let them have one or two “open” periods per class every week where they could meet with the teacher or go to the library on their own to explore educational opportunities.

Right. Of course it had the best of intentions and no doubt there must have been some successes, but without structure and oversight STAs mostly devolved into non-educational goofing off at best and decidedly non-Catholic shenanigans at worst. By the time I was a freshman, STAs were largely scrapped. We did have one STA per week for Religion class (where I learned how to play Spades and drink grape soda, and Paul Harchick taught me some dirty words in Polish), but by the next year they were gone.

I did, however, learn two very valuable lessons: First, don’t be surprised when baby boomers ruin things for the rest of us. Second, even the best ideas need some sort of oversight.

In case you don’t know the backstory on the cartoon, here’s a brief summary: Detroit Public Schools are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The state can either step in and invest to make things better or let it go bankrupt then have to step in and invest a whole lot more. Governor Snyder and the Senate have agreed to a plan that has some hope of working. The House has come up with a plan that is much more convoluted, including removing any real oversight of charter schools. Part of the reason for that is the massive amounts of money Dick and Betsy DeVos (big time advocates of for-profit charters) have “donated” to many Representatives.

Charter schools can certainly be part of the solution for bringing real, effective educational opportunity to the children of Detroit. But they are not a magic cure-all. State House Republicans need to stop chugging the charter school serum directly from the bottle, accept that charters — especially for-profit charters — need to be accountable for taking public money, and get back to some serious work. (It’s like they still have STAs!)

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Michigan UIA: Kicking People When They’re Down

Michigan UIA: Kicking People When They're Down

Okay, so this one is personal. October 2014 I found myself unemployed and subjected to the automated machinery of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). Not that it matters, but it wasn’t my fault. The fruitful and profitable automotive electronics company I was working for was sold off to another company. (I don’t want to name any names but it starts with a “V” and rhymes with “Pissteon.”) And despite the boom times, they managed in a year’s time to strangle their newly acquired division and scatter 90% of its employees, including me. (I have come to accept this as my destiny for having grown up in Flint — one day I would be spit out by the automotive industry. It was just a matter of time.)

Fortunately, I had severance pay and found new employment fairly quickly. But not without being punished by the UIA automated system. There were a few false accusations, but the main one had to do with the severance. You must report all income to the UIA system, so a couple weeks after being laid off the check arrived and I reported it. Soon afterward I started getting the “Why You Lie?” letters from the UIA. They basically went like this:

“Why you lie? You no get monies. You pay us many many many monies. You awful person. …and if we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us!”

Eventually I discovered that “Pissteon” had reported my severance to the UIA as two separate checks issued on two separate weeks. Why? I don’t know. I’m guessing for tax avoiding purposes. But in any case, it took me quite a long time to get it (mostly) fixed. I received my unemployment money after I was again employed. I was still cheated out of a couple of weeks, but I didn’t have to pay any fines. I was lucky to have had the time, the ability, and the stubbornness to get it resolved. (Also I should mention that when I was able to get UIA service agents on the phone, most were patient and helpful.)

I was also very lucky that my family was not dependent on the unemployment money. Not everybody is so fortunate, and this is what has brought on a lawsuit. I understand there are cheats who want to game the system, and there should be barriers that block them. But subjecting those who stray slightly outside the lines to an automated “guilty until proven innocent” system needs to stop. It’s onerous and un-American.

On a lighter note, the punchline in the cartoon was inspired by a bit from one of my all-time favorite (and semi-obscure) Disney animated films, The Emperor’s New Groove:

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Obama’s Visit to Flint

Obama's Visit to Flint

This week Wednesday President Obama paid a short visit to Flint at the invitation of an eight year-old and to keep attention on the water crisis. This brought out the expected chorus of grumbles: He should have been here sooner, he should have never come, he is wasting our tax money, etc. One comment I saw said, “He’s only doing this because it’s an election year.” Um… Obama is not running for… oh, never mind. I get it. You just plain hate the guy.

There is a scene in the movie Forrest Gump where after the anti-war demonstration in Washington DC, Jenny is preparing to get on a bus. The previous night, Forrest had defended Jenny after her hippie-radical boyfriend, Wesley, hit her. Wesley attempts to apologize to Jenny but ends up blaming his actions on being upset over “that lying son-of-a-bitch Johnson.” (I had remembered Wesley blaming Nixon, but the video proves otherwise: Wesley’s Lame Apology)

The point is, the character is so controlled by his negativity toward the president, he can’t find the words to apologize for physically assaulting his own girlfriend. He has become an awful person. It doesn’t matter that he’s a hippie radical or tea party radical, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat — his hate fixation is his undoing.

The undoing of the Republican Party may be its unhealthy obsession with finding wrong in every action of President Obama. Not to say that Obama hasn’t done plenty of wrong; he most certainly has. But I think eight years of unrelentingly seeking to find nothing but wrong has a big role in its current implosion. It should be a cautionary tale for all to avoid unrelentingly hate for next president — whoever it is.

P.S.: If you need more context for that Forrest Gump scene, check this link: Forest Gump in DC
It also happens to contain my favorite line: “Sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther Party.”

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Protecting Privacy the GOP Way

Protecting Privacy the GOP Way

There is a fantastic children’s book called Everyone Poops by Tarō Gomi. It was one of our kids favorites — fun to read and engaging artwork (actual images of poop, notwithstanding). It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you it’s about the fact that every human, every living animal, eliminates waste. And although there may be great variation in size and shape, it is something we all have to do, a universally shared experience. (My favorite part: “A one-hump camel makes a one-hump poop. And a two-hump camel makes a two-hump poop. …only kidding!”)

And so as human animals we universally share the need to take care of business in a safe, relatively dignified place, right? So whatever you think about transgender people, we can all start there. And I think that’s where the Michigan school board did start when it was tasked with developing some volunteer guidelines to ensure a place for all children to take care of business.

Now many people have legitimate concerns about how, functionally, that is going to happen and the effects it might have on them and their children. Yes, of course. Let’s talk about that. Let’s learn more. Let’s figure it out. But let’s keep in mind the overarching goals (safety, dignity) and avoid reactionary legislation, such as a bill Senator Tom Casperson is planning to introduce. As North Carolina has demonstrated, it would just make matters worse. Everyone poops, Senator. But nobody has to be a poop.

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Fitting Punishments for Norman Shy

Fitting Punishments for Norman Shy

Well there were plenty of words in today’s cartoon, so there is no need to add a lot more here. If you are not familiar with the Norman Shy/Detroit Public School debacle (or you are familiar and feel the need to get your blood pressure up), here is the backstory.

I would like to note that I realize I may have gone too far with the middle panel. However, my original concept had Pope Francis driving his fist Raging Bull-style through Shy’s jaw — spit, blood, teeth flying. Luckily I could not find a picture of Norman Shy to draw him.

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Governor Weasel

Governor Weasel

I’m not sure why, but “weasel” has become my go-to descriptor the shifty, scummy, and skeevy. I don’t know how weasels got such a negative association, but it seems to work. It identifies a certain lowly behavior — conniving, possibly even cunning, but most definitely self-serving. And it’s lack of bias makes it quite versatile. It can be applied across gender, race, age, politics. For examples, Todd Courser & Cindy Gamrat — weasels. Those principals who embezzled money from the Detroit Public Schools — weasels. The governor of North Carolina — weasel. Ted Cruz — ferret face.

The weasel image I default to is the bad guys from the “Wind and the Willows” (specifically, the Disney animated version from 1949) who are, in fact, weasels. Disney has the copyright locked down pretty tight, so I can’t provide a link to the animation, but here’s an image:

WindandWillowsWeasels

Can’t you just see these guys apologizing and accepting responsibility in one instance, then blaming others and hiding behind lawyers in the next? Yeah, me too.

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Trying Not to Strangle Spring Breakers

Trying Not to Strangle Spring Breakers

I remember reading an interview with Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury” fame in which he gave this advice to upcoming politically-minded cartoonists: You can be more effective if you occasionally loosen your grip on the jugular. (Put another way, you Tigers opening day fans — the fastball can be more effective if you throw an occasional change-up.)

So consider this my grip loosened and my up changed. There remains plenty, plenty, plenty of rage inducing shenanigans going on in Michigan and the rest of the country, but I thought it best to poke a little fun at ourselves (and the truly godforsaken weather we’ve had this week). And even though I’m one of the poor slobs who has had to endure it, I have no intention of strangling anybody.

Then again, I did read this on Michigan Radio’s website: “Former state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat have filed a notice with the Michigan Court of Claims that they could sue the state and others to recoup more than $500,000 for lost wages and compensatory damages for psychological and emotional distress related to their removal from office.”

Ahhhh! I feel the rage coming on. And it’s helping to keep me warm!

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If History Teaches Us Anything

If History Teaches Us Anything

If history teaches us anything (and it mostly doesn’t seem to), it teaches us that our fears can cause us to make some regrettable decisions. We have perfectly justifiable fears — of the new, of the different, of just plain change (we’re human after all). But then we let those fears run roughshod. A worry here, a concern there, and then all of the sudden the Japanese-Americans are being sent off to internment camps. Do you know what I mean? Fear is like a fertilizer for poor choices.

So what do you say we get ahead of it this time, huh? How about we think this one through and avoid passing any sort of legislation that marginalizes transgender people? We can do the right thing now and be proud ourselves. Or we can let fear rule and ruin lives until we come to our senses. C’mon gang! One time ’round without the guilt and shame?

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