How Do We Know This Isn’t a Nuclear Winter?

How Do We Know This Isn't a Nuclear Winter?

My Dad let me use a car for the winter term of my senior year at Michigan Tech. It not only was a generous thing to do, it was also very smart, saving him from making multiple trips between Flint and the hinterlands of the Upper Peninsula to drop me off and pick me up. It did, however, come at a cost.

One day in the spring soon after I came home, Dad was in the driveway puzzling over the car. He called me over and asked, “John, what are all these nicks in the paint?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well…,” he paused, “I can see if you got behind a gravel truck or something that these little cuts would be on the hood and maybe the roof, but they seem to be all over. What happened?”

I had to think for second, but then I remembered, “Oh! They’re from the snow shovel.”

“Um, snow shovel?”

“Yeah. I didn’t need to use the car while I was at school, but I made sure to drive it at least once a week like you told me. By the weekend, it would be completely covered in one big mound of snow, so I’d take my shovel and poke around in the drifts till I found it.”

Dad just stared at me.

I pantomimed holding a snow shovel and jabbing downward, “Kush, kush, kush, ting! Kush, kush, kush, ting! And sometimes I didn’t remember exactly where I parked it, so I’d have to dig enough to see the paint color.”

Dad laughed and gave me a pat on the back. Possibly the only positive reaction ever for a son who reduced the value of his father’s automobile.

I tell you this story for two reasons. First, to establish my credibility in understanding the potential harshness of winter. So even in a “best case” scenario where the United States nuked North Korea without them nuking us, there would still be horrific consequences (a possible nuclear winter among them).

And second, to avoid having to think about a President of the United States who would brag of such things.


Hope for the New Year

Hope for the New Year

Whether you were delighted with the politics of 2017 or devastated, we can all look forward to expressing ourselves in 2018. An informed and engaged electorate is the catalyst that makes this grand American experiment work. Thank you for reading — Happy New Year!


Classic Christmas Stories 2017

Classic Christmas Stories 2017

Sorry. I tried to come up with a positive, hopeful holiday message. But as was often the case in 2017, cold, harsh reality won out. It’s a shame, because truly, this is the one time of year where a cynical editorial cartoonist gets a pass at being openly optimistic. Not so much after this week, this month, this year…

But you know, now that I think about it, maybe I am being hopeful. The messaging in Christmas stories would seem to be pretty straightforward: good prevails over evil, kindness over meanness, love over hate. Thus, the Grinch heart grows two sizes that day. Scrooge keeps Christmas in his heart all year long. The Peanuts gang rallies around good ol’ Charlie Brown and his poor little tree. I mean, I’m not making this up, right? These are arguably the intended lessons to be learned.

And yet, in this new bizarro world, the lessons are clearly not learned. All that time and energy spent trying to teach people to be good, kind, decent — well, that’s out the window. It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s all about self-interest and winning and doubling-down regardless.

So maybe, maybe drawing the opposite of what we should be striving for will help to get us back on track. Or maybe it’s the end of the year, and I’m just very, very tired.

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Trammell and Morris in Baseball Hall of Fame

Trammell and Morris in Baseball Hall of Fame

When I was a 20 year-old college student, I got a summer intern job at a GM foundry in Saginaw. I was a second shift supervisor. For the three months I was there I had various assignments and was responsible for anywhere between 8 and 16 workers. It was this type of job: Thankful for having the experience, thankful for never having it again.

Already the cards were stacked against me: I was a skinny kid with very little experience. Because of seniority rules, everybody was at least a dozen years older than me. Training for the job was pretty much “sink or swim.” But my biggest problem was that I really didn’t have much to do. After I got jobs set up and time sheets squared away, I basically just had to wait for something, anything, to happen.

After I figured out what some of the rules were, I noticed that a few workers would occasionally break them. I’d ask them not to do that. Some would say OK. Some would yell at me. (It wasn’t any fun, but at least a little bit interesting.) A very few would go right ahead and continue breaking the rules. I was told I needed to “write them up.” My boss or fellow supervisors didn’t bother to tell me exactly how this worked, so I did the best I could.

Eventually I made it to the shop steward to introduce myself and tell him my intention. He looked me over, gave an annoyed sigh, and said, “Fine.” He motioned me to follow him back to his office. On the way we passed a chalkboard where one of the testers who had a radio would write the score and current inning of the Tigers game. When we got to his office, I started talking about Detroit baseball and his mood brightened considerably.

We discussed many things Tigers, but settled on Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker and what a joy they were to watch. He appreciated Trammell’s steadiness and efficiency. I marveled at how Whitaker could go deep in the hole at second to backhand a grounder then smoothly spin and flick the ball to first to beat the runner by a half-step. Then he explained to me that my efforts to write up anybody were really pointless and that I should be careful in challenging him. But if I felt it necessary, he’d help me with the paperwork.

So, yeah, I’m thrilled that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are going to the Hall. I’m disappointed that Whitaker isn’t (at least so far). But mostly I am happy to have learned at an early age that being on opposite sides of an issue doesn’t mean it has to be unpleasant.


This Dystopian Future

This Dystopian Future

Credit where credit is due. The punchline came from a friend. We were talking over lunch trying to reconcile the events of the past week: The Republican/Trump tax bill, the Alabama Senate race, travel-ban decisions, North Korean missiles, the Mueller investigation, and so on.

There is just so much to process, so much to, well, not to sound old, but growing up we just never would have anticipated this level craziness.

For example, it’s bad enough that the Senate rammed through a huge national tax bill with no time provided for actually reading it; that it included handwritten notes directly from lobbyists; that it purposely adds to the national debt at a time of near full employment. But it’s the doublespeak and the pious assurances of our so-called leaders (with absolutely no real evidence) that is so unsettling.

I said to my friend, “We seem to be heading toward a dystopian future.” He said, “This is a dystopian future!” Then we laughed. I’m not sure why.

We’ve all read Brave New World and 1984. We’ve all seen The Matrix and Hunger Games movies. As with most science fiction, these stories are cautionary tales — they are beginning to feel more like documentaries.


Condemning Sexual Assault Shouldn’t Be a Divisive Issue

Defending Sexual Predators

Larry Nassar, the doctor who worked with various women’s gymnastics programs including the Michigan State University team and USA Gymnastics, pled guilty this week to charges of first degree criminal sexual conduct with children under the age of 16. This is just a small portion of the charges that have been (and could be) brought against him, including further abuses and child pornography possession. It would be difficult to find anybody who would deny that Dr. Nassar is in every sense a sexual predator.

So there is some consensus. And we should try to remember this common ground because it gets very divisive, very quickly, when we go on to name the politicians, entertainers, executives, and media personalities whose indiscretions have recently come to light.

In an effort to defend those who we are inclined to support (and demonize those whom we would like to see suffer), it can go immediately off the rails. It turns into an ugly parlor game of “what’s worse?” Admitting or denying? Is one accuser enough? Is a dozen too many? How’s a random grab stack up against soliciting underage girls?

As a result, victims are either further exploited or dismissed. It muddies the waters, which helps only the guilty. I suggest we focus more on real justice and less on scoring points for a particular “side.” There have been men with power who have taken advantage of their power to sexually abuse women. It is in everybody’s best interest that they be held accountable for their actions.


Where Have All the Bad Guys Gone?

Where Have All the Bad Guys Gone?

My wife and I were channel surfing recently and came upon the Blues Brothers movie. It was at the scene where Jake and Elwood are stuck in traffic because of a demonstration. A cop walks by:

Jake: Hey, what’s going on?

Policeman: Those bums won their court case, so they’re marching today.

Jake: What bums?

Policeman: The <deleted> Nazi party.

Elwood: Illinois Nazis.

Jake: I hate Illinois Nazis!

My wife said, “Remember when that was funny? When Nazis were universally reviled and there was no ‘other side’?” Ah, the good ol’ days, back when the bad guys in comedies were obvious: The Illinois Nazis, the sadistic leader of the rival frat house, the rich tycoon brothers with no sense of morality. Sure, the heroes were flawed (and almost always terribly misogynistic), but at least it was unambiguous who you were supposed to hate.

Thus was my inspiration for this week’s cartoon. After reading story after story about the tax bill the US House passed (and then actually reading parts of the bill itself), it just seems obvious who the bad guys are. It’s not the poor and middle class scraping to get by and provide their children with a decent education. It’s not the grad students seeking to earn advanced degrees by teaching and researching in fields that will return value manyfold to the American economy. It’s not anybody that the trickle-down economics are supposed to trickle down to.

I’m not going to tell you who it is. If you can’t figure it out for yourselves, go watch the 1983 film Trading Places and then get back with me.

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Jeff Sessions Then and Now

Jeff Sessions Then and Now

Remember nine years ago, when the auto industry was teetering on the brink of disaster? The housing bubble had burst, credit evaporated, and nobody was buying cars. Years of poor decision-making made the American automakers particularly vulnerable, so their execs headed to Washington to seek a bailout.

Part of that process was to appear before congressional panels so representatives and senators could ask appropriate questions like: “Why should we trust you?”

Our current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was a senator from Alabama at that time, and he was among those who grilled the execs. I remember Sessions being particularly aggressive. I didn’t feel bad for the execs (after all, they were responsible).

But Sessions was so … vengeful — as if he had bought a Cadillac Cimarron back in the day and was still bitter about it. He seemed not to care that without a bailout the entire American auto industry would very likely collapse (and a good chunk of our manufacturing capabilities with it).

Cut to this week: Sessions appeared again before a congressional panel as attorney general and was exactly the sort of hostile testifier he would have eviscerated when he was the senator asking the questions. Not remembering, mis-remembering, truthful remembering but not actually how it happened. Which is it, Jeff?

At best, it’s just hypocritical behavior on Sessions’ part. At worst, he’s being a bully — abusing power when he has the opportunity and hiding behind it when he feels threatened.

No, wait, I can think of one thing worse: He’s the dang attorney general of the United States! If there is one position that Americans need as an honest advocate, it’s attorney general. And Sessions is acting with all the integrity of a 1978 Dodge Aspen.


Veterans Day

Veterans Day

The vast majority of us Americans have no direct ties to our military. Most of us have not served in the armed services. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s mostly because service is voluntary and has been for over 40 years.

It’s something of a symbiotic relationship: Sometimes beneficial — generally citizens in the military are those who want to be in the military, and those who don’t want to be are free to pursue other goals. But other times it feels as if those in the military are doing all the sacrificing.

Veterans Day is November 11 and annually brings this awkwardness into relief. Honoring our soldiers, supporting our troops is often just lip service. We genuflect out of habit. It is marketed to us. It gives politicians and grandstanders a guaranteed ovation line.

Perhaps a better way for us civilians to honor the sacrifices of those who serve is to take better care of what the troops are protecting. If they are the defenders, then shouldn’t the rest of us, at the very least, be proper caretakers?

This past week there were a couple of cautionary stories. From Flint and the ongoing water disaster, there have been court hearings concerning the spike in deaths from Legionnaires’ disease and potential mishandling by state officials. In Rockford near Grand Rapids, residents are grappling with water contamination from industrial sludge dumps.

This isn’t right. Freedom is of no use to you if you’re poisoned to death. We need to be better stewards of our freedom.


Fake News Flu

Fake News Flu

There was a story from the Detroit Free Press this week about an Oakland Country judge getting death threats over recent rulings.

The cases involved divorced parents and their disagreements over whether to vaccinate their children. Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald ordered a 9-year-old boy to be vaccinated in one case and questioned the qualifications of an anti-vaccination witness in another.

A couple things about this caught my attention.

First, it seemed a pretty good example of how the dangers of fake news transcends politics. As Google, Twitter and Facebook testified before Congress this week on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the issue of deliberately misleading stories on social media may seem to have only right vs. left implications. But misinformation can also lead to ugly family issues and death threats (not to mention a potential public health crisis).

Second, the truth matters more than opinion. My wife and I had our kids at home — natural births with a midwife instead of in a hospital — so we are a bit predisposed to be skeptical of traditional medical conventions. And earlier in the decade when stories questioning vaccination safety broke, we were definitely drawn to them. But science and accurate reporting has proven the overwhelming advantages of vaccinations.

In that spirit, I feel the need to acknowledge the technical inaccuracy in the cartoon. A vaccine is generally something that’s given to prevent illness, not treat it. Of course I noticed this approximately three seconds after I finished the drawing. But then I should also make clear that I’m an editorial cartoonist, which is not the same thing as a reporting journalist. My job is occasionally helpful; a fact-based journalist is absolutely vital.


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