Archive for June, 2017

A Bad Situation for Far Too Long

A Bad Situation for Far Too Long

For those of you who despair over the coarsening of political discussion and wring your hands over what social media hath wrought, I offer you … no disagreement. But maybe a little perspective. All that nasty, angry, divisive public hyperventilating has actually existed for a very long time. It’s called: Sports Talk Radio. And as far as I can tell, it has not brought with it the end of times.

If you are not familiar, go ahead and sample a call-in show sometime. Although with the same warning that comes with Googling, say, mating rituals: Be careful — you may experience things that you will not be able to un-experience.

If you’d rather not take the chance, I can tell you that it features many of the same characters you’d find on any comments page:

  • The Self-Proclaimed World’s Most Renowned Authority: “If the Tigers had only accepted my advice on altering space and time, they’d have the best bullpen in the Majors!”
  • The Fairness Expert: “I cannot believe that you keep accepting caller after caller to talk about relief pitching when you completely censor other important topics. Give hitting, fielding, and the effects of fluoridated water equal time!”
  • The Axe Grinder: “If you ask me, the problem with the Tigers’ relief pitching can all be traced back to the designated hitter rule. Get rid of the designated hitter, and everything gets better. I will now list the 573 reasons I have for hating the designated hitter rule. One,…”

I exaggerate to make a point: In truth, I find nothing fundamentally wrong with Sport Talk Radio. Sure, it can get weird sometimes and definitely over-amped. But it’s a decent venue for people to be passionate about a subject they care about.

I see much more harm in a lack of passion — specifically, for really important things like educating our children. It’s more than a little unsettling to see Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority come to such an ignoble end, especially when it was rolled out with such promise and fanfare just a few short years ago. You know, the same sort of promise and fanfare we see now in those proposals to unleash charter schools.

If the citizens and leaders of our state do not have the passion to develop and stick with real solutions, they will fail when the going gets tough. (And with education, the going always gets tough.)


How (Not) to Develop Public Health Policy

How (not) to Develop Public Health Policy

Ideas for cartoons can come from the oddest places.

This past Sunday, I was working on setting up our hammock in the backyard for the summer season and went down to the basement to collect the pieces.

Of course, instead of doing the sensible thing and taking multiple trips, I gathered as much as I could hold and made my way up the steps.

As I emerged by banging through the basement door — burdened by metal weight and clanging chains — my startled wife turned to look at me. All I could say was, “I feel like Jacob Marley.” (I know. A semi-obscure literary reference to A Christmas Carol on Father’s Day weekend — is there no end to the uproarious mirth at the Auchter household?)

But that triggered the idea. As I trudged out to the yard, I was literally thinking, “If Ebenezer Scrooge is the poster boy for a life (almost) lost to miserly greed, Mitch McConnell is surely the poster boy for a life lost to partisan politics. What could save him?”

I didn’t think a Christmas-themed cartoon in June would work, so I substituted the citizens of Flint for the “Ghost of Christmas” role — past, present, and (unfortunately) future.

By the time you read this, McConnell is scheduled to have rolled out his Senate health care plan (Trumpcare 2.0, the Son of ACHA, the “Tax Cut for My Wealthiest Friends” Plan — whatever they are calling it). And the focus will of course turn to its contents.

But let’s not forget about how it was created: with limited input and almost no visibility. Clearly, when this method was used for managing the water supply (and the lead poisoning and Legionnaire disease crises that followed), it ended in disaster for the citizens of Flint.

What are the chances of McConnell coming to his senses and repenting before it’s too late?

God bless us, every one.


Lansing Puppet Show

Lansing Gun Legislation Puppetry

Last week the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to allow most gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. The legislation is being pitched by proponents as an efficiency effort to align with constitutional rights. But it is widely opposed by law enforcement as a potential danger to communities.

I will leave it to the discretion of readers to jump into the viper pit of that debate. The very specific point I wanted to highlight is this: Gun manufacturers and NRA leadership have a disproportionate influence over our state legislators and the consequence of their brilliant but incredibly dangerous marketing effort is weapon sales to many Americans who are either not willing or not capable of being responsible gun owners.

It is, of course, in their best interest to do so.The decline in outdoors activities means falling sales of traditional hunting equipment. And the unfortunate durability of their product doesn’t help either. Unlike, say, modern household appliances, guns don’t have a planned obsolescence. With even rudimentary care, they last a long time. To sell more, they need new markets. To open new markets, they need to streamline the process. But is that necessarily a good idea for our state and nation as a whole?

I am asking the question, not trying to provide the answer. Obviously the topic is divisive. I actually got the idea last week when the House passed the bill — well before the awful incidents in Alexandria and San Francisco — and decided it would be needlessly contentious. (Ironically, I chose instead to draw a cartoon that touched on abortion issues.)

So, anticipating reactions, I don’t think my timing here is either “spot on and proves the point” or “a disgusting display of opportunism.” I’m hoping it’s more “seriously now, how can we reduce gun violence?”

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Choose Life …on Michigan Roads

Choose Life ...on Michigan Roads

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan is an organization that serves as a go-to resource for mental health awareness and education. A special area of focus is teen suicide prevention, which it addresses through an anti-bullying initiative called “be nice.”

For a number of years, my wife and I have played on a volleyball team that uses “be nice” apparel as our uniform. Endorsing such a wonderful cause has been a satisfying experience. Mostly. Only mostly, because there are times when my competitive nature kicks in, when our team may not be playing well, when a call goes against us, when the other team celebrates one of my unforced errors just a little too enthusiastically. And then I think, “Why the heck am I wearing a freakin’ shirt that says ‘be nice’?!”

The answer, of course, is: That’s exactly the reason to wear the freakin’ shirt. At a time when my inclination is not to be so nice, the shirt and its messaging is a nudge in the right direction — a positive reminder (remember, this is how we become a better person) and a negative reminder (you don’t want to be a total hypocrite, do you?). Both are pretty effective.

In a similar way, I thought that if Governor Snyder ends up signing the bill on his desk that allows Choose Life Michigan to be a state license plate option, it could certainly be a helpful reminder on the roads. June 7th marked the one year anniversary of the Kalamazoo County biking tragedy in which five riders were killed and four were seriously injured. And as Michigan Radio has noted in its recent Sharing the Road series, a total of 38 bicyclists died in Michigan in 2016, a ten year high.

At the deadline for this cartoon, it was still in question whether Snyder was going to sign the bill. I have some misgivings, mostly with the consequences of reducing divisive, complex issues to slogans on state license plates. But I can certainly relate to the passion for the cause.

So if this opens the door for me being able to eventually get an official Michigan “be nice” license plate with proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, well, I guess I could be fine with it. The extra reminder to be nice would also help the cause for safer roads.


GOP Go To: Slashing Budgets

GOP Go To: Slashing Budgets

My wife and I have a Japanese maple we planted several years ago as part of our house landscaping. It’s been a nice little tree — generally healthy, somewhat sturdy (our cats like to climb to the top and pretend they’re vultures), but it’s never really grown. It’s in good soil, it gets plenty of water, we even treat it to some Miracle-Gro on a semi-regular basis. We considered transplanting it, but from what we knew, it’s current sun/shade location was well suited for the breed.

So last fall, my wife decided to prune it back some and hope for the best. This spring, holy cow!, the tree is thriving. New shoots, new leaves, new branches. We plan to continue the care and feeding and hopefully it will grow taller and stronger to help it withstand our cat vultures.

All that to say, I do understand that sometimes pruning is the best solution. I just don’t think it is the only solution. (Indeed, we have killed other plants by cutting them back too much.)

But pruning seems to be Plans A, B, C, D, and so on for the GOP these days. Brian Calley announced a “high-tech” ballot initiative to cut the Michigan legislature back to part-time status. Michigan’s Betsy DeVos defended before Congress her plan to slash funding for public education. Arlan Meekhof continued with his crusade to eliminate benefits for the working class of Michigan. And then there is President Trump’s proposed budget, which seems not so much to trim as to exterminate (the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, for example).

Somewhere under a thick layer of ideology I imagine there to be the more sensible solutions — a mixture of caring, feeding, watering, and pruning.