Archive for June, 2016

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?!”