Archive for November, 2006

I’m So Glad to Be Livin’ in the USA….


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 20, 2006

So it’s kind of old news now, but in the gubernatorial election here in Michigan earlier this month, local boy Dick DeVos was trounced by incumbent Jennifer Granholm. What made this semi-timely news for a comic last week was the final tally of just how much money Mr. DeVos personally spent on his campaign — somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million. Now this really isn’t a big deal considering that this is done all the time in America (Ross Perot, Michael Bloomberg, Peter Coors, for example). And let’s face it, $35 million to a billionaire scion like Mr. DeVos might just be like a rounding error in a checking account to you and me.

But what made this comic-worthy for me was the fact that DeVos ran his campaign on the notion that a successful businessperson (which he is) would naturally make a successful governor (which I didn’t think was necessarily true). Still, okay, every candidate needs a message, a hook to get voters to listen. So in running as a businessperson, he essentially asked us to judge him on his business acumen. As it turns out, DeVos — especially in the final weeks of his campaign — abandoned any good business plan he might have had and was wildly trying to spend his way into a win. That’s called throwing money at problem, and I’ve seen it done enough to know that it’s not what a good businessperson does.

As I was considering ways to rip into Mr. DeVos two things popped to mind that made the comic complete: First, it would be published during Thanksgiving week, some humility was in order. And second, a story I heard the late, great editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly tell 20 years ago at the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids:

“I was invited to the White House, and I was standing in the reception line waiting to be introduced to President Ford and King Hussein of Jordon. Now it happens that the week before this state dinner I had done a particularly nasty cartoon about the president. So when I got to the head of the line, President Ford turns to Hussein and says, ‘King, this guy’s a cartoonist and he just did a great cartoon of me last week. He did me as a gorilla hanging upside down from a tree, dropping a banana.'”

“Hussein, of course, has some problems in his country. I mean, smoking grenades tend to roll under his desk with alarming regularity. As a result, he’s a pretty security-conscious kind of guy. And while we’re shaking hands, I can almost hear him thinking: one, what is this guy doing out of jail — and two, why aren’t there some Secret Service men between him and me?”

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Ahh! The Good Ol’ Days…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 13, 2006

Remember the good ol’ days? When morality meant something? When people were unfailingly kind and polite and treated everybody with respect? When all people followed the same code of ethics and absolutely knew right from wrong? When everyone instinctively saw the path to the common good and followed it without fail? Do you remember?…. Yeah, me neither. I think that’s because it never happened.

So here we are shaking off the filth and spew of another election season, and it’s difficult not to want to remember a fabled “good ol’ days.” The past few months have again proven that political campaigning can and does bring out some unseemly behavior. We can lament it. We can (and definitely should) try to improve conditions for the next go. But we shouldn’t try to blame it on some sort of chronic worsening of humankind. That’s dangerous. Because when that happens, perfectly sensible people start saying, “Yeah, things used to be much, much better. What’s the deal? Who’s to blame?” Then a guy with a little mustache (or a drunken Mel Gibson) gets up and says, “It’s the Jews.” And there is a high potential for astonishingly bad results from that point.

Folks in West Michigan sometimes get caught up in this harkening back with rosy glasses. I wouldn’t deny that some things were better around here in years past. (For starters, I wasn’t here.) But to look back on life before the election as something substantially different than life during the election, that’s just silly. Rest assured — we’ll be dealing with the same issues, the same human behaviors, the same poor decisions; they will simply be in a context other than that of “how will this affect the election.” At least for a few months. …I hope….

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Fear of Flying Monkeys


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 6, 2006

Growing up in South Carolina, my brother and I used to hang out with the Williams boys — Mike, who was my age, and Scott, who was two years older than me and a year older than my brother. That made Scott our elder statesman and knower of all things, which suited him because he was a smarty-pants/imaginative kind of guy and suited us because, when you’re only eight years-old, every grade level is a huge gap. In this role Scott was a wonderful source for a wide range of misinformation — from education (4th graders should not read 6th grade math books because it will damage their brains) to music (“Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen was the best song ever) to pubic hair (umm… you don’t want to know what he said about that).

One time when we were tromping through the woods upstream on the creek behind the blackberry patch where the bamboo trees grew (not important, but these are the kind of things I remember), Scott pointed to a rounded-off bluff that jutted out on the opposite side of the creek. He told us that mound was actually the head of a whale that had gotten frozen there when the ice age came and the land was covered with water. Over time, the sea receded and the whale became covered with dirt and woods grew around it. But it could become unfrozen at any time, so we should never walk on the mound because the whale might wake up, flip us in the air, and eat us. As naïve as I was, I didn’t completely believe that one. But then, I remember making it a point to never walk on that mound. Scott knew enough about earth history to make it seem somewhat legitimate, but then he added the one ingredient that actually modified my behavior: fear. I didn’t want to be eaten. I had seen pictures in a Moby Dick book of bloody sailors clutched in the jaws of the great whale, so why chance going out like that?

Ya know what, though? This is exactly how political parties operate in an election season. Case in point: Democrat Robert Dean challenged Republican Tim Doyle for a Michigan House seat representing the east side of Grand Rapids. This is a traditionally Republican seat but with a term-limited incumbent and a well-known challenger in Dean (former school board member and county commissioner), it certainly was not a safe-bet for the Republicans. So the leader of the state GOP, Saul Anuzis, decided to send his flying monkeys out in the form of a mailer to scare folks away from Dean.

This mailer had an obviously darkened image of Dean (a black man) next to a list of misdemeanors Dean had committed back in the mid-1970s. Dean had been very open about his past and made a point of fully disclosing his criminal record when he announced his candidacy. So while it was clear that the flyer was accurate, it was eminently clear what the flyer was intended to do: scare voters. Black man = criminal = vote Republican. (Ironical irony: the state senator for the area which includes that district is a Republican black man.)

Doyle immediately disavowed anything to do with the mailer and demanded the state GOP stop sending it. Anuzis defended the mailer vigorously saying, “Fly, My Minions, Fly! And Do My Bidding!” or something to that effect. In the end, Dean upset Doyle and won the seat. So take that, Scott Williams. And the next time I’m in South Carolina, I’m gonna march right over and stand on that mound of dirt …maybe.


Disastrous Halloween Costumes…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 30, 2006

Vote, vote, vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a goat,
’cause goats can’t vote.
vote vote vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a candied yam,
’cause candied yams can’t vote.

So apparently there is an election today. How were we to know this? Oh yeah. The yard signs and billboards, tv ads and mailers, robo-calls and emails, the shouting, the pontificating, the bald-face lies, the hints of improprieties, the actual improprieties, the convenient omissions, the partisans, the non-partisans, the partisans pretending to be non-partisans, and the heart-felt concern for the (I, I feel a tear coming. Oh please Lord let me work up a tear!) the …children.

Truth is, I love it. What’s not to love? Sure elections can be awfully ugly and very, very messy. But tell me: What isn’t potentially ugly and messy when two or more people are involved? Cartoonists count on this stuff.

Vote, vote, vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a donut,
’cause donuts don’t vote.
Vote, vote, vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a potted plant,
’cause potted plants don’t vote.

Right. So speaking of my dim view of large groups of people, let’s talk ballot proposals. Ballot proposals are what happen when either (A) the executive or legislative branches of government cannot come up with a difficult law, so they weasel out by “letting the people decide.” Or (B) an interest group tries to bypass the system by “letting the people decide.”

Now “letting the people decide” is not in and of itself a bad thing. It makes sense for, say, school mileages. Do you want to pay a certain amount of your taxes for a certain amount of time to take care of your public schools, yes or no? Beautiful. Simple. Straight to the point.

But when it comes to deciding public policy and defining social issues, not so much. And Michigan has some lulus this year. We can vote to establish a mourning dove hunting season. (What the… Mourning doves? Hunt? You’re asking me? Where do I check “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”?) We can vote to guarantee state funding to public schools. (That sounds good — in much the same way term limits and minimum long-term prison sentences to drug possession sounded good. Might there be some unintended consequences? Oh, fiddle-dee-dee! I’ll think about that tomorrow.)

But the one that really bugs me is the so-called affirmative action proposal. Two years ago the United States Supreme Court decided on a case for the University of Michigan. Sandra Day O’Conner wrote a well-thought decision stating that establishing quotas (explicit or de-facto) for race or gender was wrong for a public universities. However, diversity on campus is a compelling reason to allow gender and race to be considered as part of a mix of admissions criteria. (Bah! Who needs well-thought decision when you can get impulsive opinion and tack it on to the constitution so it sticks?)

Vote, vote, vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a fellon,
’cause fellons can’t vote.
Vote, vote, vote,
vote, vote, vote.
Unless you are a can of ham,
’cause cans of ham can’t vote.

Well I hope you, too are a little bit angry about something as you head off to the polls today. And if you want to share the song that I’ll have in my head, check out Amy Winfrey’s School Election episode of Making Fiends. It’s short, funny, and not approved by any candidate. (Thank God.)

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Fall Football


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, October 2006


If Yard Signs Were Like TV Ads…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 23, 2006

As election season grinds on and on…