Archive for September, 2006

Granholm/DeVos — This Fall on Michigan TV!


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 18, 2006

Now I don’t want to appear to be too high and mighty here. I understand perfectly the impulse to go negative when going negative is, apparently, rewarded. When I was nine and had just moved to Michigan, I remember standing in the backyard of a neighbor’s house with the local gang of boys and eager to certify myself. And, at the time, the best way to do that was to beat somebody up and/or not get beaten up yourself.

In the idle boredom of an endless summer day, there was some drummed up provocation and sides were taken. One kid, Tim, said something to another, Ayman, and I took the opportunity to leap to Ayman’s defense. Not that he needed it or even wanted it –- there are just certain nonsensical things you need to do to be a proper stupid little boy.

I don’t remember what Tim’s original insult was, but I’m guessing it was pretty minor: idiot, moron, that sort of thing. I, however, escalated the insult to nuclear and accused Tim of disparaging Ayman’s Egyptian heritage. (I remember exactly what that insult was, and it’s really too nasty to repeat here.) Tim was stunned and began to stammer out a defense. I knew I had to hit him before he got the words out. I remember very clearly: “I never said th–POP!” I punched him in the mouth. He punched me back. We punched each other some more till Tim said stop. We stopped. A few minutes later Tim said, “I never said that.” I said, “Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.” He said, “That’s okay.” And that was that.

See what I did? I took a little kernel of truth, amplified it way beyond its original context, and used it to brutalize an opponent. That’s politics.

In Michigan, we have a hotly contested race for governor this fall. The challenger, Dick DeVos, an Amway scion has been using his considerable wealth to saturate the media since February with not-so-nice things about the current governor. The incumbent, Jennifer Granholm, had been saving her shekels but now has unleashed her hounds, too. The cartoon should give you a basic idea of what’s going on. (If you would like specifics, Peter Luke had a good article about it last Sunday.)

Ya know, the more I think about it, maybe nine year old boys aren’t so stupid. If we could have just one good DeVos/Granholm fistfight and get past all this negative crappola, it’d make for a much more pleasant autumn….

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9/11: Five Years Later


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 11, 2006

Here’s another good example of how goofing off can really pay dividends. I was up early one morning working in my office with the intention of getting an idea for a comic. The topic was obvious because the publish date would be September 11th. So… Five years later. What to say? What to say? 

I had a flood of thoughts: Perhaps I should do a memorial type comic -– a dramatic drawing with a simple epithet such as “Remember.” Nah. Those can be schmaltzy, especially if you don’t have the artistic chops to pull off an exceptional drawing. (Know thyself.) How about something political? Stick it to Karl Rove & Company for wrapping the Republican Party in the 9/11 flag yet again for election season. Nah. Attention, any attention, gives the idea validation and is sort of like letting terrorism win. Besides that leaves the Democrats off the hook. I would want to say something about their inability to articulate their position. Do they have one yet?

Lacking a clear focus, I started to waste time in earnest: juggling, nerf-hooping, playing with the cat, getting a cup of tea, and — the queen mother of all time wasters — surfing the Internet. Eventually I found my way to one of my favorite cartoonists, Keith Knight. He does an autobiographical comic called “The K Chronicles.” Very, very funny. Apparently Mr. Knight has (had) pneumonia because he had a guest artist for the week. Her name is Nina Palely. I had seen her work before. She actually had a couple of syndicated strips over the years. So I started down that path and quickly found an animated piece she did called, “Fetch.” Check it out. Completely family-safe. A beautifully conceived and produced short film playing with the illusions (and delusions) of 2D drawing creating 3D spaces. (It’s actually infinitely funnier than that description would lead you to believe.) It was quite inspiring but then I moved on to my old friend, Wikipedia, and became immersed in some arcane historical tidbits about the Ottoman Empire siege of Vienna in the late 1600’s. (I’m not sure it was exactly that, but that sounds like something I’d be interested in reading more about…. It’s a sickness, really.)

An hour or so later I still had no ideas and, even worse, no time. I felt bad and guilty. This was not a new feeling for me, so it didn’t take me long to get over it. Later that morning I was on my way to a client, and as I drove it occurred to me that the reason I couldn’t get a definite feeling about the fifth year anniversary of 9/11 was because it depends on how deeply you look at it. September 11th is sort of an optical illusion for Americans; we see 9/11 fairly clearly, but when we try to look deeper, we see different things (disaster, bravery, political opportunity, confusion, etc.). And having seen Nina Palely’s animation, Bingo! I instantly had my idea. Gosh, I sure hope the surfing I did this morning pays off this week. Did you know that the introduction of the longbow was a deciding factor in the English victory over the French in the Battle of Crécy?…


Reveal Your Sources, Please. Or Else…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, September 4, 2006

My birthday was yesterday, but birthdays don’t make me feel old. My in-laws just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary (congrats again, Al & Marian!), but significant milestones don’t make me feel old. Having to stretch out before playing catch, the extraordinary number of aches that show up in the first half mile of a run, the snap-crackle-pop of getting out of bed in the morning –- those things don’t make me feel old either.

I tell you what does, though. Hearing myself begin rants with these words: “Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying…” Yes, I’ve reached the point where generally accepted thoughts and behaviors of my formative youth now appear to be significantly different from those of today. And, by comparison, this makes the present world seem, well, kinda effed up. I’ll give you some examples:

Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “The United States is a Christian nation; there should be no separation between church and state.” It’s not that nobody believed it. It’s just nobody would have said it. I’m not exactly sure why. I think maybe having just come off the civil rights movement, there was a sensitivity about making sweeping exclusionary statements. It also may be that in the bicentennial year, there was a keener awareness of the actual process of how the United States was founded. What I do know is that I went to Catholic school, and I was taught there should absolutely be separation between church and state. Right up until the Pope gives the secret command, and we execute plan “Globalus Dominateus.”   Wait. I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that.

Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “The Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to us; we have a legal right to torture.” Again, I’m sure we did it. The United States was in the business of propping up all sorts of nasty third-world dictators, and you gotta believe that the CIA was knocking more than a few commie heads. But what kind of idiot would try to justify it? In public? To the media? Well, of course we know what kind of idiot. Ah, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney -– if you only would have spoken up when you worked for President Ford, you would have been properly disgraced and perhaps lived out your lives in your true calling — disgruntled radio talk show hosts.

Thirty years ago, a government official would never think of saying, “Newspaper reporters should be jailed if they don’t reveal their sources,” which sparked this week’s comic. I read that a West Michigan congressman actually said this, and I was dumbfounded. An elected official in the United States saying that to the press! Wow! Back in the day, that would have been the political equivalent of chewing up a mouthful of cyanide skittles. The sanctity of journalistic sources was understood even through Watergate. And yet Peter Hoekstra said it, and as near as I can tell, nobody seemed particularly alarmed by it.

Look, I’m not saying that people were smarter back in 1976 or all conventional wisdom was necessarily spot on. (Gosh, that heroin addiction sure makes you look sexy!) What I am saying is that… is that… Um. I, ah… I walked into this room for something, now what was it? Hmmmmmm… Can’t remember. Must be getting old….

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Bad Air Travel Experiences


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 28, 2006

My top three worst air travel experiences:

  • When I was five, I briefly got lost in the Philadelphia airport. I was walking with my family down an endless corridor, eyes forward and mouth agape. Dad, Mom, brother, and sister all turned left and stopped to cue into a line; I continued. After a moment, I looked around, didn’t see anybody I knew, and panicked. Some nice people quickly got me back to where I needed to be. Things like that will put you off airports. (But it did teach me the value of bursting into tears in public.)
  • When I was in college, I got an interview for a summer intern position at Saginaw Steering Gear. General Motors sent me tickets to fly me from school for a one-day visit. Sounds pretty posh, huh? World’s largest corporation sending a jet for me…. Well, actually, it was a small prop plane on mighty Republic Airlines. We hopped from Houghton to Pellston to Lansing to Detroit to Flint. My ears became so plugged from the altitude shifts that I was nearly completely deaf when I arrived. I had a series of meetings where all I could hear was my own voice inside of my head; this was extremely unnerving because I was a 20-year-old kid without confidence or anything interesting to say. I smiled and nodded a lot. I didn’t get that job.
  • A few years ago, I got stuck in a middle seat on a flight from Chicago to Seattle. Always an unhappy situation that, having to wedge my six foot three of legs into one foot three of space. But what made this particularly hellish was that every five seconds the guy in front of me would push back against his seat, and thus his seat against my knees. Trapped, there was no place I could put my legs without feeling his seat every five seconds. I hated him. But then I observed and overheard and realized the guy had a nervous condition, a tick. I felt sorry for him. Moments later I hated him again. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I still hate him.

There they are. How about you? I’d be interested to hear about your worst experience. And — what do ya know?! — you can click “Comments” and tell me! Let’s take this blog thing for a spin and see how it rides.

And finally, if there is an underlying moral to this week’s comic and comments, it’s this: I’m thankful to complain. Others have had it much worse, and they’ll never have the pleasure of writing about it.

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Newer and Improvier Auchtoon! Site

Hey! Welcome to the redesigned Auchtoon! site. The old site was due for an update and converting to a weblog format seemed to be the way to go: more usable, more updatable, and somewhat interactive. Thanks to Dan and Ryan for assisting in the transition. Let me know what you think.


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What Kind of Five Minutes Is This?

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, August 2006.