Thirsty for the Great Lakes

Thirsty for the Great Lakes

Remember the comedian Sam Kinison? It’s fine if you don’t. In fact, I would advise against YouTubing him. (And I disclaim all responsibility if you do.) But back in the 1980s he had a particularly edgy standup bit about world hunger and Western popular reaction to it (Feed the World, USA for Africa, etc.). As was his style, Kinison suckered you in with a low-key, seemingly reasoned assessment of the situation, then, BANG!, smacked you upside the head with a loud, audacious screaming rant. In this case, he went from sympathetically describing the plight of starving people suffering in deserts to highly suggesting they were stupid for not moving to where food can be grown: “WE HAVE DESERTS IN AMERICA, TOO, BUT WE DON’T LIVE IN THEM!!!”

This routine was one of the first things I ever heard described as “politically incorrect.” It most definitely was. But unlike some politicians who “tell it like it is” and “say things others are afraid to say,” Kinison was crossing lines for laughs, not votes. I think that’s an important distinction.

The bit is also funny because it’s wrong. Americans do in fact live in our deserts, and we’ve done nothing but accelerate that population over the past 30 years. Unlike poor countries, we have been able to beat nature with air conditioning and water pumping. Continuing to condition the air is not a big problem. But deserts are deserts by definition because of limited fresh water supplies. It’s no wonder that the parched southwest would cast its thirsty gaze toward our abundant Great Lakes.

I say too bad. We’ve already been kind enough to share our Vernors with the rest of the country. If they want water, they’re gonna have to move here.

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Compromise? Snydermise!

Compromise? Snydermise!

There is a scene in the movie Raising Arizona where a couple of delinquent brothers go to rob a bank. They feel pretty confident about their plan because they fancy themselves sophisticated criminals. As they bust in the front door of the dusty, country bank, one of the brothers shouts out, “All right, ya hayseeds, it’s a stick-up. Everybody freeze. Everybody down on the ground.”

There is a long awkward pause as the tellers and farmer clientele stare back at them. The criminals are flustered. Finally one of the farmers says, “Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if’n I freeze, I can’t rightly drop. And if’n I drop, I’m a-gonna be in motion.”

The rest of the robbery does not go well.

This scene was the first thing to pop to mind when I heard that Governor Snyder had signed the House version of Detroit Public School legislation. Because, correct me if I’m wrong, but hadn’t he previously been telling us that his version with more money and charter oversight was the only effective solution for the DPS? And now he’s telling us the very different House plan is just fine? Well, which is it, young feller?

In the end I figured not enough people have seen (or nearly memorized, as I have) Raising Arizona, so I decided to go with the dictionary definition bit for this week’s cartoon. It’s much clearer what I’m calling the governor out on because he’s Snydermised before — the infamous Michigan Roads legislation being the last best example.


Where Have You Gone, Gerald R Ford? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

Where Have You Gone, Gerald R Ford? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

People ask me all the time, “What are you?” This can be disconcerting. But what they mean is, “As an editorial cartoonist, are you Republican or Democrat? Conservative or Liberal? Socialist or Capitalist? Left Wing or Right Wing?” And so on. My standard reply is that I am not strictly defined by any of those things — I am, if anything, a Contrarian.

It’s basically a smart alecky way of saying that I don’t believe in “sides.” I think it is a mistake for editorial cartoonists to declare any sort of allegiance. I reserve the right to make fun of politicians and parties without restriction. It’s only a matter of time until a person or group of people on any of these so-called sides do something stupid, and I want to keep my options open.

But if I were forced to choose (given an ultimatum between, say, me picking or having to listen to cable TV pundits pick one for me), I would go with “Ford Republican.” Even though I was too young to have voted for Gerald Ford, I very much admire him as a politician, statesman, husband, and person. Ford has always struck me as the ideal for what you would want in a representative and a colleague. You can debate his effectiveness as president, but unlike many who have run for the office since, he was not driven by ideology — he was driven by good citizenship.

This past week the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids was reopened after major renovations. I have been to the museum dozens of times — in 1986 I quite literally bumped into President Ford (the secret service were not amused). I’m looking forward to seeing the changes. (Admittedly, I am pro-museum. Is that a side?)


Local and State Control Hats

Local and State Control Hats

When my son was three years-old, he had an astonishingly straightforward way of expressing himself. If he was busy doing something and we told him it was time to do something else (go to bed, get in the car, take a bath, whatever), he would just look at us, incredulous, and say, “But I want to do what I want to do.” Sometimes he would repeat it. Slowly. Because we didn’t seem to understand the perfect logic, as if to say: “How are you people not getting this? Are you that dense?!”

While we certainly can’t expect such honesty and directness from Lansing politicians, it would be refreshing for a change, wouldn’t it? Just tell us what you are angling for. Don’t try to make your intentions sound legitimate by putting on a hat. (Because when it becomes convenient for you, you’re gonna switch hats.) If you straight up believe in something, don’t dodge — just say it.

The state senate recently passed a bill that would prevent local communities from banning plastic shopping bags. It was a curious bit of proactivity because no Michigan community currently has a ban. It was even more curious that the primary Republican-sponsored argument was the virtue of uniform statewide control (and the largely Democratic argument advocating for local control).

But maybe it’s better this way. It might be pretty unsettling if legislators did actually give us the unvarnished truth: “I want to pass this legislation because a lobbyist will give me a truckload of money if I do. A. Truck. Load. Of. Money. How are you people not getting this? Are you that dense?!”


Auchtoon! on

For the next two months my cartoons and commentary will be posted on 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 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:


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.


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:


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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