Archive for AndrewHeller.com

A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

A Brief History of Drinking Water Reassurances

It’s easier to draw an editorial cartoon when there’s a bad guy. A singular, easily identifiable, no question about it bad guy. And I must confess, this week I was looking for an easy way out. It’s summer! And as much as I love to draw cartoons, that’s an indoor game. I want to be outside — shooting hoops, catching fireflies, puttering about the yard — it doesn’t matter. The last few days in particular have been perfect for not doing actual work.

Alas, this is not a singular bad guy kind of topic. First of all, on the whole, the wide availability of safe drinking water throughout the United States has been a great success, and those responsible should be applauded. Of course for those who have been made sick, poisoned, or killed over the years, that doesn’t provide much solace.

But the second (and bigger) reason is that it’s quite a complicated topic. Conditions that introduced sewage, industrial waste, lead, and PFAS into drinking water over the years weren’t generally the work of pathological villains. It was more likely the result of ignorance or greed, but made worse (much worse) by denial and CYA. So despite my lazy aspirations, the cartoon isn’t about blaming a bad guy — it’s about recognizing the pattern that causes most of the damage.

Anyway, that’s enough analysis. I want to go outside.

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Teaching Justin Amash a Lesson

Teaching Justin Amash a Lesson

Show of hands — who has seen the Frank Capra movie from 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Jimmy Stewart is Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young man who gets appointed as a United States Senator by a corrupt political machine and ends up fighting against it. Can you tell me who the hero was? Was it the weak governor who appointed Smith? Was it the crooked senior senator who leads Smith astray? Was it the rotten political boss who tries to ruin Smith?

Okay, whether you’ve seen it or not, the answer is obviously Smith. (The title kinda gives it away.) But if you live in West Michigan like I do, you might think it was the other guys. Justin Amash, the US House Representative from Grand Rapids declared his independence from the Republican party. On Independence Day. In Republican-dominated West Michigan, that was not, um, received well.

Now Mr. Amash’s story may not be the same as Mr. Smith’s (starting with the fact that one is literally only a story), but there are parallels: the plucky individual staring down the political machine, standing up for his beliefs, actually reading stuff like the Constitution and the Mueller Report to know what’s in them.

The big difference, though, is that Mr. Amash’s story isn’t over. It’s just beginning. So whether he ends up the hero depends on what he does next.

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Celebrating Fourth of July

Celebrating Fourth of July

Is it un-American to draw an Independence Day cartoon highlighting flaws about America? That’s for readers to decide. But I will defer to USA soccer player Megan Rapinoe who was asked this week about what she would say to those who consider her actions un-American:

“I think I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation. Looking at the country honestly and saying, ‘Yes, we are a great country, and there are many things that are so amazing, and I feel very fortunate to be in this country.’ I would never be able to do this in a lot of other places. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always thrive to be better.”

World Cup Finals Sunday at 11:00AM. Go team USA!

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We Can All Get Behind a Winning Team

We Can All Get Behind a Winning Team

The University of Michigan baseball team didn’t win the College World Series, but they got closer than any Michigan teams have in a while. It’s nice to have a Michigan baseball team (professional or otherwise) that does well enough to play in a championship.

If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, I don’t blame you. I’m a fairly big sports fan, but college baseball has never been in my wheelhouse (which is a baseball thing sportsy people say roughly meaning “it’s not my cup of tea”). The season starts in the spring in places where there is a spring (the south and west, not Michigan), and then finishes during the longest days of summer when we can comfortably be outside in Michigan.

Also, I don’t get the end-of-season format. For me, how the College World Series works is like how annuities function or how cribbage is played: I have the capacity to understand, and they have been explained to me several times, but I have the complete inability to retain any of it.

What is in my wheelhouse is the Women’s World Cup and the United States team. I can explain ad nauseam the nuances of group stage, knockout stage, goal differentials, shootouts, and so on. (Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.) Alas, the next game for the U.S. team after my deadline — a quarterfinal game against host France.

I’m hoping they win because I am a big fan and an American. But, honestly, also because there are some much richer editorial cartoon prospects to mine from women’s soccer — the equal pay for women issue, the pre-emptive rejection of a White House visit, LGBTQ rights. I’ll get it started here and maybe follow up in the coming weeks: Megan Rapinoe is the Muhammed Ali of our generation. Discuss.

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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?”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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