Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Repeating bears


A retread, yes, but worth another go. Wherever you are, in whatever way you worship or contemplate, I wish you peace.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guns versus mutter


Two beacons for radical change crossed this week, one gone cold, the other burning hot.
•••
Robert Bork died. He's why Supreme Court nominees don't say much more than "We gotta play 'em one game at a time" and "I'm just happy to be here" and equivalent clichés during Senate confirmation hearings.

Because when Bork opened his mouth during his hearing, out spilled arrogance and contempt for all of us. Supposedly charming in social settings, Bork might have made it onto the court were it not for his public demeanor — he somehow had popular support — and would have died on the bench trying to put all women back in skirts with minimum hem, and everyone back to before civil rights.

Bork was one of the original "originalists" who argued that we must follow the Constitution as its creators intended. By the looks of his Shaker beard and wild ringletted hair, he could have been one of those creators.

President Nixon's hatchet man in firing Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox (when attorney General Elliot Richardson refused and resigned in protest), Bork was a Harvard professor specializing in antitrust law — which he opposed.

He also opposed your right to privacy, because it's not explicit in the Constitution. Nor is civil rights, he said, though a poll tax, designed to prohibit blacks from voting, wouldn't OK; it wasn't in the original Constitution, just the 24th Amendment, I suppose.

"In the subsequent quarter-century," after most of the Senate voted against his confirmation in 1987, The New Yorker said, "Bork devoted himself to proving that his critics were right about him all along."
Ahhh, Bork and Ollie … key players in the Reagan administration, second
only to the Nixon administration for its dark melodrama …
To paying choirs, he was a libertarian who preached against individualism, and railed against our social sins ruining the country — sins sent forth by the free market he loved, even if it wasn't free enough. He tried to turn back time and tide rather than deal with the inexorable change.

"Bork" became a verb in his time, meaning to vilify publicly. Better to bork than be borked, I guess.
•••
In sincerity and silliness, debate over what the country does next after Sandy Hook still burns hot.

California's retired teachers' investment program plans to divest itself of a company that owns a gun maker (noble and immediate, though why didn't it do so long before?). Gun owner advocates, led now by the National Rifle Association, continue to urge we arm teachers, or at least post an armed guard at every school. Armored children's backpacks are selling briskly at $200 per.

NRA director Wayne LaPierre blamed violent video games and movies and said today the next Adam Lanza is planning an attack on a school. (Buy more guns, by the way! Become a member, before it's too late!) As much as I hate the video games — what's fun about shooting people, even for pretend? — I doubt they're the cause. How many millions play? Are we going to enforce ideas now?

News reports this week remind me that Patrick Purdy's Stockton schoolyard shooting in 1989 prompted a ban on assault weapons — that wasn't enacted until 1994, and not without guarantees to lift the ban in 2004, nor without loopholes that guaranteed assault weapons could still be sold legally.

The Bushmaster assault weapon — one was used at Sandy Hook — is popular, I learned, because the makers stripped it clean of all the features that would have banned it under that 1994 law. It's sleek and cool and fun, I've heard gun advocates say more than once.

Of mental health, President Obama said access to it should be at least as easy as access to guns. California's Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg urges early mental health treatment.

That's it so far.

Talk should shift almost entirely to mental health, not just in money to provide it but in the way we all think about it. And certainly not just for people who would shoot up a school.

Suicides in the U.S. military run almost one a day now, and most who kill themselves never deployed, never saw battle, as we expect. Many face isolation in the military, and try to survive in a culture that frames mental issues as weaknesses.

But as far as we know — and we don't know what we don't know — the Adam Lanza got his weapons from his mom, who would likely have gone through meetings and training to procure them. They were legal; the shooter got them by some means, and police say he shot his mom before driving to the school. His mental health was known, his troubles known, as far as we can tell. His mother was trying to do something about it.

That's where the talk should focus.

Some of the reaction this week is … reactionary. In what is shaping up to be an Internet meme, dads of elementary school children are donning their military or police uniforms and standing guard outside their children's schools. It's a sincere Hands-Across-America gesture that poses troubling questions:
  • How long are you planning to stand guard?
  • Are you armed? Please say no.
  • If you aren't armed, how are you planning to stop an attack?
  • Who are you? How do we know?
Already, at least one self-appointed guard may not be the Marine he claimed, and the gesture suddenly becomes absurd.
    At the school where I teach a weekly art lesson, nothing had changed, to my surprise. The office staff sits far back from the front counter. Most of the time they don't ask who I am with my cart full of papers. I fill out my adhesive nametag, sign in on the visitor log, and sign out while I'm at it, since it's easier to go straight back to my car after the lesson.

    It's no different now, a week after the Sandy Hook shooting. In fact, I forgot to peel off my nametag yesterday; it was still sitting there on the label sheet when I thought twice and went back to the office, just to see if anyone noticed. No, still there. No, no one looked up to see me pass.

    Maybe that's as it should be. Horrible as it is, statistics show school shootings are rare, the danger extremely low. That's small to no comfort.

    The real epidemic, requiring radical change, remains our mental health.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Fire arms

    The first thought, one of many, I drew for The Stockton Record after a mass shooting at
    Cleveland Elementary School nearly 24 years ago.
    Every grownup hoping for children, I suppose, collides at least once with the idea: What's the point?

    Into this world?

    My collision came in 1989, when a troubled young man named Patrick Purdy opened fire with an assault rifle on a Stockton, Calif. elementary school playground, an hour south of where we live. He killed five children and wounded 29 more, and a teacher, before killing himself.

    The killings riveted the nation with a notion too horrible to imagine. School children, playing.

    How naïve we were.

    Since then, of course, the slaughters continue, the body counts rise, as if a contest is under way; Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Oikos University in Oakland, Calif. Now the murder of 20 children and six adults — teachers — last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That's just some of the schools, just some of the 62 mass shootings in the United States since 1982.

    Not to mention about 30 people across the United States murdered every day by guns.

    Patrick Purdy's onslaught was, if you'll forgive the worst possible analogy, child's play.

    With the Sandy Hook murders, it's easy for me now to expect that at any time in America, someone with mental illness, someone unmoored by drugs or alcohol, someone mis-wired for social mores, someone unable to control anger or depression, someone lacking or losing a sense of right and wrong, will slaughter innocents.

    Just add a gun.

    What will it take, now, to prevent it? Are 20 little first graders enough? Do we need more little ones to die? Need they be younger still? A preschool, perhaps?

    What will be — another poor word choice — the trigger?

    Though I don't know the answer to this, I know it can't be more of that same. That would mean we are indeed waiting for something worse to happen, more of the same. President Obama told the Newtown folk Sunday he would "use whatever power this office holds" to prevent tragedies. But what?

    My search for answer only snags more troublesome questions, which circle back to Sandy Hook.

    Limit the number and kind of guns in the United States? Most people who own guns are reasonable, I get it. Hunters I've met are extremely safe, extremely respectful of their weapons, almost to the point of making me wonder why they bother to hunt.

    I just can't understand why reasonable people would own handguns and assault weapons, designed for killing humans in large number. I've never reconciled how having one would keep me safe without also — and more likely — putting me in grave danger.

    Why would anyone, for instance, want a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, the kind used to kill those at Sandy Hook? "Why should anyone want a Ferrari?" someone named Philip Van Cleave answered. He's the head of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and he said in the Washington Post that Bushmasters "are absolutely a blast to shoot with. They're fast. They're accurate."

    I wonder if he said that in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. I wonder if he realizes how he sounds.

    Guns flourish in the United States, enough for almost everyone to have one, and the Supreme Court has reaffirmed our right, by the awkward sentence construction of the Second Amendment. Regulations are already in place to make purchases difficult — Connecticut's is one of the nation's most stringent — and to prohibit their sale to people who exhibit mental illness, but they don't work and people who shouldn't have guns get them anyway. Laws were supposed to emasculate assault weapons, but a rivet here and semantics there, and the National Rifle Association and gun advocates have restored their firepower.

    Even if somehow the most reasonable laws come forth to keep guns out of the hands of those who would kill others, they would only affect guns yet unmade. Millions are still out there.

    Arm everyone? Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, among others, proposed arming teachers and principals. Gohmert said he wishes Sandy Hook's principal had an M4 (a military assault weapon) and "takes his head off." More arms, not fewer, will solve our problems, they say.

    Imagine a teacher, already trying to master the manifold skills needed to produce educated, happy children, also training in tactical weapons. Imagine states and the federal government, already unable to provide all districts with enough books, paper, pencils, let alone the resources for excellence that children deserve, paying for that training. Imagine the gunfights in the hallways among the unstable and untrained and unstained.
    • Odd aside — wouldn't you think by now weapons technology would have come up with something deadlier and easier to use than a gun? I mean, how long has the gun been the go-to weapon in war — 250, 300 years? Each era of war won by those with better guns, but no one has invented something better — or worse — than a gun?
    Ban bullets? Comedian Chris Rock had it right when he once said bullets should cost $5,000, that bullet control is the answer. One push now is to ban large clips and limit access to ammunition; the odd result, I guess, is that only nine children would be killed in the next shooting, rather than 20?

    Maybe it weakens the arms we already have. Maybe more likely people who want to shoot a lot of bullets will still find a way to do so.

    Help the helpless? Salvation lies within. As the camps entrench over gun control, all can agree our mental healthcare is woeful. The only problem we can really hope to solve is the most difficult.

    Our anger and grief are misdirected. It's not the guns we should focus on in that horrible killing. It's the young man who killed, in the place he killed.

    We must be part of a sea-change, bringing mental illness to light rather than shunting it to dark corners, depriving it of our care and our money. Stories are emerging of the struggle the killer's family made in raising their son.

    Read the heartbreaking story of another mom who finds help for her young son so hard to find, and dreads what will come of him. Soon you'll also find criticism of that mom, denouncing her fate, denying her veracity, and we are back where we started, not helping. Instead, waiting.

    Some say the killing is pure evil, the result of sin, of God removed from our schools. As in, did the devil assign the killer to shoot up a school made weak by lack of prayer? Prayer can't hurt — prayer of mourning, prayer of supplication — but consigning the horror to an act of evil serves instead to free us from the responsibility of doing anything about it.

    I fear we'll tire of this, and inertia will ensue.

    But then I think of my own children, growing and going places in their lives.

    Whether because he was first born or just built with keen emotions, our son especially embraced the world as wonderfully dangerous, or the other way around. Almost every new thing he learned became a new thing to wonder at and be wary of. He worried a lot. Come elementary school, he felt stress, and it manifested in peculiar repeated twisting of his arms and hands, a repeated sideways nod of his head, and a lot of blinking. The tics slowed about this time of year, disappeared by spring and resumed with the new school year.

    Once, when both our kids were young, about the age of the first graders at Sandy Hook, we had signed them up for summer day camp in the park across the street. It was ideal; they'd play and swim each weekday for most of the summer, and I'd get work done from home.

    Not a week into camp our son, already frightened of cigarette smoke, too much sun, and all the things he had heard us say were harmful and that he decided could kill him immediately, was in a bathroom stall when some older kids came in from the park and began smoking. Our son decided he was about to die, suddenly and alone and unnoticed in that stall, and when he didn't, he absolutely refused ever to return to camp.

    Even the mere suggestion he give camp another try ignited yelling tantrums and flailing of limbs, so I stopped suggesting and he stayed at home. It took me months to find out why, because it took our son that long to tell my wife his problem — imagine all the possibilities I pondered.

    Now I'm trying to imagine our son as this little boy again, already fraught with a first grader's heavy regard for the world, trying to understand a troubled man firing and firing a high-powered weapon.

    We can't do nothing.

    Raising our children is our first job, President Obama told the people of Newtown Sunday. "If we don't get that right," he said,  "then we aren't getting anything right."

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    A modest proposal

    I hate Christmas.

    Can't dance around it anymore, or dull my declaration with $10 words. No point in making people around me wonder why I'm such a jerk (or moreso) during the holidays.

    I hate Christmas for what it is — what it probably always has been: A celebration of consumption. Not a celebration; a hyperventilated expectation of consumption, the de facto duty of all Americans (and maybe all the first world).

    The economy, somehow, depends on us to buy stuff at Christmas. And buy. Etc.

    It is the Mythical Manufacture and Movement of Money, the Emergency Reallocation of Resources, and everything we do during the ever-lengthening season serves it.

    Even what we call tradition is really just a whetstone for commerce.

    Maybe once Christmas was solely about tradition — but not in my lifetime. Probably not ever.

    Many ancient traditions, it turns out — even ones we may hold dearest — aren't ancient at all, but just made up for covert motive.

    To my wife's chagrin I'm reading "The Battle for Christmas," an analysis of how America celebrates the holiday, by historian and Pulitzer finalist Stephen Nissenbaum. At first banned by Puritan leaders because it collapsed into drunken riots, Christmas has since become a layered social engineering project promoting family togetherness and homebound pacification, Nissenbaum writes.

    In no time the economy hijacked the whole package and ransomed our wallets. We have since been buying things we don't need, with money we don't have, and singing and baking in an attempt to sugarcoat it all.

    Once — some of you may recall — this was a spiritual time, and not just for Christians; many religions and philosophies held this time sacred or at least solemn, finding in it a period of rest representing death, a dark cold time of hope for longer, warmer days representing renewal. Many interested parties, Christianity among them, decided this a good season to stick a high holy day.

    Whatever was spiritual about this time, though, became the flea on the tail of the big dog.

    Witness any Christmastime TV trope. Whenever religious reference arises in any show, whenever Christ is born in a manager — in a school play, say — Santa is soon sure to follow, distributing gifts. I've done my hour with Jesus, now gimme my "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

    The farce has no limits. One ludicrous violation soon follows the next. Christmas shopping now begins officially on Thanksgiving —Black Thursday! — and will eventually start even earlier; thousands camp out at stores, pushing, shoving, yelling, cursing, fighting in gratitude for the chance to buy. Talk about tradition.

    Jon Stewart is right. It's not a war on Christmas. Christmas is warring on us, swallowing up other holidays.

    The Hallmark Channel, hijacker of our emotional consumption, rolled out the Christmas movies long before that. You can find radio stations playing Christmas carols year 'round. TV commercials mock the gifts we give, unless they're the cool gifts the TV commercials sell. Only cool parents buy kids cool gifts. We are supposed to believe this how we are supposed to behave.

    Car makers seriously suggest you buy someone a new sedan for Christmas. A local dealership even declared last week in a commercial:
    "Nothing will give you more holiday joy than driving a 2013 Audi A3."
    Read it again. Nothing? Even under the crushing overhead, bled by razor-thin margins and ruthless competition, an auto dealer should be able to taste the bile in that season's greeting.

    But we sally forth, celebrating harder and louder, as if to drown out the siren song of the shopping malls, and the true nature of this time.

    I say, enough. 

    Here's my modest proposal: Skip it. Have Christmas every other year. Give it distance so we can miss it and welcome its return with sincere remembrance. Give Christmas a rest. Make it official, issue a decree.

    Unlike Jonathan Swift's modest proposal, no children will be eaten in mine. Nor is mine satire.

    Here's what will probably happen when Christmas takes a holiday:
    • A lot of people will still have Christmas, by which I mean buy and buy, and so be it. I'm not against shopping, just buying for buying's sake. More, relieved of the duty, will spread their purchases throughout the year as needed.
    • A lot of people will still worship, and that's all right; it'll feel illicit and rebellious and dangerous, just like the old days. I'm not stomping on religion, just on consuming. In fact, worship may deepen; people will find again the quiet space in which to consider the faiths in which they were raised or have gathered up in their lives

      I admire Kwanzaa, for example, a holiday Maulana Karenga created 46 years ago from African traditions, promoting community and individual ideals. More power to those who celebrate it. But the holiday takes place the week after Christmas, and if it has any real chance of worthy consideration among communities, it needs distance from our overriding urge to have things.
    • The divide will narrow — the one between those who have the cash to keep up with Christmas consumption and those who don't but keep up anyway, because no one is going to tell my child doesn't deserve what your child is getting.
    • Depression will lift among the people who see the holiday for what it really is, and can't make it go away. They will have peace.
    • The economy will not sputter.
    • We'll remember that veterans and  families without homes shiver and starve and get sick and hide out in the woods during the rest of the year, too, not just Christmas.
    • After a two-year absence, we may buy even more. But I bet we do almost everything but.
    You're right, I'm a big fat hypocrite. I am, as a matter of fact, proposing a last-one-in-bar-the-door policy. I did as a child succumb to the nervous elation of peering into the darkness of an early Christmas morning to see, as my eyes adjusted, a mountain of sherbet-colored Hot Wheels™® track, with loops and ramps, already assembled and ready to play, and six new cars to run on the track.

    I loved it with a child's skepticism. I wasn't a bad kid, by any means, but I certainly wasn't good enough to merit this cascade of toys (oh, the Hot Wheels®© weren't all!) that Santa brought, so many I couldn't — and didn't — appreciate them all, or even a little.

    I'm not denying that for kids to come. Maybe my proposal will elevate that feeling, so the mountain of toys every two years becomes all the more grand; certainly we'd be able to save up for it every two years. Or maybe my proposal will elevates kids instead; absent the constant commercial drumbeat, maybe kids will want less, appreciate more what they get.

    It's a tough sell (so to speak), I know. I'm having enough trouble convincing my family that Thanksgiving is not about turkey, is not about a meal that takes eight hours to make and 30 minutes to eat. Thanksgiving can be grilled cheese or take-out chicken and a family walk in a park. Or an afternoon with friends. Or coats for the family in the woods. It's about giving thanks, not getting stuffed.

    There's always next year.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    Piling on

    Ultimately, the world will spin on, and the University of California's new logo will become part of our psychic landscape.

    The kerfuffle will snuff out, and all this derision will simmer to barely perceptible sneers among people who hold dear California's vaunted university system.

    (I'm not among them; I'm sneering just because I just don't like the logo. And I'm not alone.)

    I get the begetting of the new logo. I can just hear the passionate points of defense by the in-house design team that created it — once they have been bound and shackled and dragged to a news conference replete with torches and pitchforks, the chancellors hiding in dark corners:

    • After 144 years, it's time for a change.

    • We want to reflect the young demographic.

    • We have to compete harder for students and money.

    • The old logo doesn't look good online.

    • People call the place UC anyway, and we've turned the uprights of the "U" into an open book (one little obligatory nod to the old logo), and the half-resolved (half-dissolved?) "C" represents the students and the university as works in progress.

    OK, but …

    • Maybe after 144 years and worldwide acclaim, change is not quite that urgent.

    • The young demographic is probably not thinking, "Hey, cool logo!"

    • Even after $900 million in cuts and seemingly constant tuition and fee increases, and feeble support from the state to uphold one of the world's great university systems, I find the competition argument incredible. Students come from all over the world to get a UC education, elbows and transcripts flying furiously, and in California you have to be president of half the high school clubs, vice president of the others, hold a 4+ GPA and cure dysentery in a remote Central American village before the admissions board will consider opening your application. And then it's a maybe.

    • The old logo hasn't exactly failed online. It succeeds mostly because it's been around for nearly 150 years, seeped into our collective subconscious. Part of me, on seeing it, thinks, "Ah, Nobel Prize winners. The haughty and the mighty." The irony is that the new logo, before wysiwyg and electronic technology, would have required some mean tricks to reproduce well on printed publications.

    When I saw the new logo last week in a promotional video, my first thought: It looks like another one of the many for-profit universities that implore the unemployed during daytime TV to transform their lives at their many convenient campuses.

    All those universities have bright eye catching logos because they have to. They're going head-to-head with all the other for-profit schools. They have little or no history to lean on, so the shiny logo is all.

    If the University of California was launching today, its new logo might be one idea for consideration, but wouldn't make the cut. But neither would the all-things-for-all-people logos that schools and municipalities favor so often, with crests of a dozen or more tiny graphics symbolizing anything and everything, so no one is omitted or offended. But cram-it-all-in was the fashion at the time the University of California designed its original logo; thus the stars and rays and scrolled filligree. I'm willing to cut UC some slack.

    To my surprise, the howls of rage over the logo have sprung far and wide today, including a petition and a facebook page against it.

    Some call it a Stanford prank. Others see in the new logo images I hadn't considered, including one that UC may never live down:

    A toilet flushing.

    Friday, December 7, 2012

    They earned it

    Leonard Fahlgren went through hell so he could write poems about his beloved Washburn, North Dakota.

    "Washburn is a little city, located in central N. Dee," he wrote for the city's centennial in 1982. "And for years it has been noted for both its friendship and beauty."

    I'm pretending my great-Uncle Leonard is reading his poem to his brothers, who are all gone now. They are seated around a big corner booth in a sunny restaurant, awaiting breakfast and recounting their lives over cups of coffee. They're laughing quietly at their good fortune, talking of their towns, the North Dakota and Montana towns of their youth, and the cities scattered across the Pacific Northwest where they settled after World War II.

    I'm in a booth across the aisle, listening. Thanks to a sheaf of photocopies my Aunt Patti recently sent me, a collection of news clips over the decades, I can imagine the conversation among the brothers, the way conversations go, tacked full of unfinished sentences and random segues and snags of memory.

    I wonder how much of their conversation would turn to the war. A year ago, I wrote about four of the brothers (I incorrectly said five) who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, 71 years ago today.

    They'd get around to the topic, I pretend. Tatters and snags of war talk.

    Poetry was Leonard's reward, I gather, for serving 550 days on the front lines in World War II, with Army tank destroyers grinding through North Africa, then Italy, southern France and into Germany.

    He went to war to come home and farm, and be the poet laureate of the town near where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent winter with the Mandan people on their way west. The town where my mom was born.

    In the lore my mom brought to our family, Uncle Leonard's story is not as well known, overshadowed by Glen, Gordon, Vern and Warner having served together on the repair ship U.S.S. Vestal at Pearl Harbor. The Vestal was tied to the doomed battleship U.S.S. Arizona. Two bombs plowed through the Vestal, which would have sunk too except one bomb hit the stacks of metal repair plates the Vestal had just laid in, blunting the damage. Torpedoes that helped sink the Arizona ran just three feet too deep to hit the much smaller Vestal. Instead the Vestal was cut loose and run aground to keep it from sinking.

    The Vestal and the Fahlgren boys lived to fight again.

    Leonard's best friend died in battle in Italy. He married his friend's widow when he returned, and raised their son.

    Younger brother Ervin joined the four aboard the Vestal, the repair ship U.S.S. Vestal, about a month after the attack; he was training in San Diego during the attack, not aboard ship. Ervin passed away in March, the last of the brothers. My grandmother Irene Gibson, their only sister, died more than 20 years ago.

    The youngest brother, Carl, tried to join the Navy at 17 but couldn't pass the physical exam then or when he was drafted at 20.

    I've often wondered how Carl and Ervin and Leonard felt about their siblings' notoriety, their names sometimes spoken in the same breath as the five Sullivan brothers who died aboard the same cruiser, prompting the military to stop assigning so many siblings together. Over the decades, some newspaper or other has told the Fahlgren boys' Pearl Harbor story, and when they could they attended the reunions.

    Chances are the other three are proud and didn't care whether Pearl Harbor took the family spotlight. Carl once wrote with admiration of his big brothers' service. I'm leaning across the aisle, just the same, hoping to hear them tell it.

    Chances are I'd hear instead the quirky miscellany of war:

    • How all the brothers agreed the United States would eventually join the war and those of age would enlist in 1940 rather than being drafted later.

    • How the captain of the Vestal got knocked off the ship in a blast, climbed back aboard and berated some mess attendants hiding in his cabin for not being at their battle stations. New arrivals, they hadn't been assigned any.

    "So he (the captain) said, 'If you can't do anything else, throw spuds at them,'" Gordon told a reporter 35 years ago. "They told the story, and it got around the ship. We had a pattern maker who was kind of a self-styled cartoonist, and it wasn't long before he had a cartoon of these boys, throwing spuds at Japanese planes, but using oranges for tracers."

    • How Gordon left out the part about breaking his neck as a kid when the Navy medical examiner asked if he'd broken any bones.

    • How the brothers scraped together enough money so Vern could get a tooth filled — his only failing during his Navy medical exam. Once stationed in San Diego, the Navy took out all their fillings anyway and replaced them with military-issue fillings.

    • How a Japanese reconnaissance plane flew along the Vestal so close, Glen could see the pilot's face.

    • How Glen immediately wrote their mother that he and his brothers were fine — even though he couldn't find Vern and Warner for a couple of days after the attack.

    • How three of the brothers — Glen was hospitalized in New Zealand — spent nearly three years at the equator, with only coral reefs to break the horizon, while ships sailed to them for repair. They sometimes built the parts needed, and slept on deck in the tropical heat and nearly went mad. 

    • "The best reward, however," Gordon told a reporter, "was that we all went through the war without receiving a scratch."

    In the collection of news clips, the brothers praise their mother, Theresa Lindstrom, who raised seven children through the Depression by herself because their dad died young of cancer. She later married William Lindstrom and moved to Montana from North Dakota.

    The Navy honored my great grandmother, for sending six sons to war, by having her christen a gasoline tanker, the U.S.S. Susquehanna, in 1942.

    The brothers came back from war and lived lives they earned, attending to business, contributing to their communities.

    I benefit from their service, and so do you. Every day.

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    Winter is icumen in

    We're late to the pity party in California, but winter weather has finally, fiercely, arrived.

    To celebrate — or bemoan — I yank out this illustration, for a story about the competition for limited recreation space in Northern California's national forests.

    (When clients' generosity of spirit will allow, I like to try one-shot illustrations, just to get the look and feel down in one go, without luxury of planning. This came in that manner, just a slow meander with a Paper Mate®™ pen, putting elements where my tiny brain thought they should go.)

    Winter is an option in California. We don't have to be in snow if we don't want — not like in the Midwest or northeast, where people settled before considering that a California might exist.

    We get our rains, as we do now, and trudge through an occasional flood. But snow and truly hard winter are choices.

    Swim buddy Doug laughed when I asked if he would see the famous fall colors during the Thanksgiving visit to his native New England.

    "That was way back in September," he said.

    What do I know? Here the flame-colored leaves seemed to hang on the trees a month longer than usual, too late for people to rake them away, so the heavy warm rains knocked leaves into the streets to clog the gutters and worsen the flooding.

    These things I notice more being outdoors more often and swimming the cold water. The water is "warm" for this time of year, about 5 degrees higher than normal (a huge sensory difference). Part of it is artifice, since Lake Natoma is used by water and wildlife officials to regulate temperature and amount for many, many needs. But only nature can really affect such a massive volume of water, and for whatever reason, nature is keeping things warm.

    Should we worry? Surely.

    (Somehow I missed the occasion of my 200th post, a couple of weeks back. Thanks for bearing with me.)

    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Friday trifle: Candied fruit version

    It's the curse of every illustrator, at some point in life, I believe, to echo the bad joke (Johnny Carson's original bad joke, I'm told) that only one fruitcake exists in the world, and it is passed from family to family, never eaten because no one would or could.
    Here's the plunder of my wasted labor, in which I gurgled up something that Norman Rockwell had jammed into my subconscious, to illustrate someone's snarky holiday story.

    Enjoy, if you possibly can.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Pay no attention to the reality behind the curtain

    For every four events happening worldwide, Kim Kardashian must do something — anything, really — and we must pay her attention.

    Add this immutable truth to Newton's laws and Galileo's discoveries.

    Learn to live with it. Apparently, you have no choice.

    My daily online news source (aside from the hunk of newsprint on my doorstep and National Public Radio whispering sweet somethings each morning) includes a collection of videos across the globe, in constant rotation.

    "Old" videos (a whole two hours!) drop out of rotation, and new ones take their place, constantly, constantly.

    You must have an iron constitution or money to burn in order to watch the videos, because each comes with a 30-second commercial first. You cannot avoid or truncate the commercials. The things I must endure to tell you useless things.

    Something called the News Distribution Network aggregates the videos — some from hard news sources, some from entertainment news shows, some from companies that exist solely, it seems, for posting on these news aggregator services.

    They're probably on your daily online news source, too. Check them out, and you'll see the Kardashian Konstancy in effect.

    The headlines for a typical rotation of videos might go something like this:
    Romney Concedes Defeat in White House
    (Newsworthy; I might have missed it on TV the night before …)
    Man Steals Gas, Catches Fire
    (Not newsworthy, but I'm morbidly curious …)
    Time-Lapse of Aurora Borealis over Minnesota
    (Hey, maybe you've never seen the northern lights. You might even
    learn something!)
    Damage in Gaza from Israeli Missile Strike
     (News and action! Plus, more morbid curiosity!)
    Then …
    Kim K Debuts Slimmed-Down Figure
    The mandatory Kim Kardashian picture usually comes from her cell phone, a self portrait in her closet, trying on something she has found there. She apparently uploads this to twitter, and the celebrity press distributes it for your enlightenment. Though a grainy low-resolution photo, the celebrity press examines it in breathless sweep like it's dissecting the Zapruder film.
    After four more videos of mayhem and nonsense around the world, we are brought to our senses with a video headlined:
    Kim Kardashian's Hot Bikini Shot
    Another closet shot, another excruciating analysis by a celebrity news show, complete with innuendo and high praise for a woman who … what does she do again?
    Except become anxious that the world might stop thinking about her, I mean?
    In the rotation that includes, "Train Hits Texas Vets Parade," "UFO Mystery over Denver, Colorado," and "Killer Whale Chases Dog," we are guaranteed a video called, "Kim K Stuns at Marine Corps Ball." Again, not a video, just a grainy shot worked over like CSI: Miami evidence.

    For every "FDA: 5-Hour Energy Drink Linked to 13 Deaths" and "Black Friday Mall Fight Caught on Tape," we can count on "Kim Kardashian Gets Death Threats over Gaza Tweets."

    (Hey, wait a minute: That last video might have been actual news! Sure, Kim K's statesmanlike tweets may have inflamed Mideast tensions, but the ceasefire soon followed so … coincidence?)

    Sometimes, believe it or not, Kim Kardashian cannot be as konstant as this rule suggests. No worries; plenty stand in for her.

    While actual news may rock the rest of the world, we frolic to videos with headlines such as:
    Miranda Kerr Rocks Sheer Top
    I hadda look her up; she's a Victoria's Secret model; you know, thin waif, tall hair, great big insect wings trailing behind her?
    Jada Rocks Teeny Bikini
    I think this is Jada Pinkett Smith at the beach. The number of celebrities putting on clothes and then rocking them is an epidemic.
    Beyonce's Revealing Photo (without makeup!)
    Snooki tweets makeup-free pic
    Makeup-free celebrities, also an epidemic.
    Jennifer Lopez makes ET's First Annual Power List
    As if anyone could doubt …
    Rihanna's Nearly Nude Spread
    Good old Rihanna … word is she sings, too.
    Coco competes in booty Olympics
    Coco Austin, married to actor/rapper Ice-T, gives new meaning to "well endowed." She returned TV to its awesome power to enlighten by keeping a coin aloft on the rise of her butt longer than another endowed woman on a talk show.
    Let's see, it's Tuesday morning. It's been hours since Kim K made news. Maybe something's wrong.

    Vaguely tangent segue:

    One of my personal Thanksgiving traditions is listening to Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," a joyful and hilarious rejection of convention and the absurdity of the Vietnam War, in the form of a true event that took place over Thanksgiving 1965 in Stockbridge, Mass.

    It's proof once again that if you ever want to see or listen to something, Youtube probably has it.

    It's also reaffirmation that nothing is free. Ads, as you know, precede many Youtube videos anymore. My pre-Thanksgiving listen-to of Arlo's great song came on the heels of a commercial for Lexus ("Buy one for Christmas, of course!")

    I wonder what Arlo would think of that.

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    Show me a sign

    The rules are jarringly specific in Upper Bidwell Park.
    "No smoking glass dogs …" Is that a pressing concern?
    Are we contemplating an adjective or a verb — an assurance
    of the absence of such creatures, or a prohibition against the
    remote possibility of a silica-induced high? From whence
    do these come? Are Chico gift shops overloaded with packs
    of glass canines? Would one get them from under the counter?
    Or were they smoked to extinction in the park boundaries?
    On this holiday, I give thanks for memory of place.

    Even though I haven't returned more than thrice in the last 27 years, my college town remains vivid in imagination. Hazy and a bit corner-rounded, perhaps, but vivid.

    I walked its streets and wilds many times, usually before daybreak on weekends, to get my mind right for a day of studying (in the white-knuckle and correct fear that if I didn't devote my weekends to homework, I would be doomed).

    Each time I picked a different direction and took off. In the tradition of Arthurian knights, each walk was a great loop, never out and back. I had to return from a different direction. I was questing.

    I walked until I was good and tired and ready to read textbooks for long stretches.

    Places reveal themselves to walkers and all who move at a walkers' pace. Conversely, places hide by the speed of automobile traffic, maybe by design.

    But I think the opposite is true. People make people-made places for a walking pace, but it's a 45-mph world.

    I'm sure the people who created the tiny Maronite Catholic church not so long ago on a busy street near our home expected people to see it. A statue of the Virgin Mary and the toddler Christ, meant for a cathedral, dwarfs the small building (a former ranch home, it appears, disguised beneath gingerbread eaves). The upraised letters on the signs, angled for viewing up and down the street, glow as if colored in gold leaf. But if I hadn't been strolling by one day, trying to see how difficult it was to walk to the library (shamefully easy), I wouldn't have seen the little church and its beautiful monstrosity.

    Maronite parishioners see it. I'm not sure anyone else does.

    Part of the sign, as it really looked, greeting Upper Bidwell visitors … but do we really need it
    explained why not to bring glass?
    I know parts of San Luis Obispo many lifelong residents may not know if they never examined their city at a walking pace. Cul-de-sacs that aren't really dead ends to pedestrians. Architectural oddities. Secret gardens. Shortcuts and hidden connections that come in handy eventually, inevitably.

    Nearly out of college, our son has amassed a great sense of place about his college town. In time, so will our daughter. They'll miss their second home, as I do mine.

    Our son took us on walk of his place, though not in Chico proper, a rigid-grid city like so many in California's Central Valley, that I confess I have seen almost exclusively by car. Instead, our son took us out to Upper Bidwell Park, part of more than 3,000 acres of wilderness that rises from the city just as it recedes in time. It's easy, in the center of town, among the restaurants designed for parents to take their undergrad children, to miss the volcanic birth of this place, the shift and uplift and rifts, the relatively fresh scars and strange shining rock.

    Trails snake and skirt and climb the volcanic country, and our well-traveled son took it easy on us with one that sidled along Big Chico Creek.

    Here and there, little signs on posts informed us of the flora. I love those little signs, and signs of most kinds. I love explanations. We camped at state parks when our kids were little because Saturday night usually promised a campfire where a park ranger would talk about bats or constellations. The only reason we never stopped at any historical markers during drives is that I needed to demonstrate some personal restraint. You can read just about any historical marker now on the Interwebs, from the comfort of your lap.

    I'd invent Instant Botanist™® or Instant Entomologist©™for hikers: Add a drop of water, and out of a little foil envelope springs an expert to show you pine mat manzanita or elderberry beetles.

    Signs'll do until then. Some of the signs along the creek were missing, which is the way with signs. Governments invest in their installation with great pomp, then usually don't have contingencies for their damage or disappearance. A couple of the nice signs I drew to explain sights in Old Sacramento have been gone for many months now; it puzzles me why someone would break a sign.

    On the stump of one broken sign on the creek, someone had scrawled in loopy script, "It is the large bush," a satirical response to the next sign on the creek bed, a professional sign differentiating from tree species from another: "It is the large bush." We didn't know which was the large bush.

    Signs are better than none at all. If they're wrong or uninformative, at least they inspire entertainment. I'd make it law that every city post well lit and VERY LARGE AND EXTREMELY LEGIBLE signs telling drivers what intersections they're approaching; some cities do this; other cities are mean and cruel.

    I may just be old. But I like a good sign. Helps me remember where I am.

    I hope you enjoy Thanksgiving in peace. Take a hike, maybe. You never know what you discover.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    The day the comics died

    Tag 'em and bag 'em: The comics died Wednesday, November 7, 2012, about 5:45 a.m., partway through my first cup of coffee.

    Don't feel bad if you missed it. Most did. Though death came with a big bang, it was muffled under millions of newsprint pages, still folded and unread.

    Chances are you really don't care. I'll be magnanimous and show you The Moment anyway:

    This is the apex, the final funny thought, the last brilliant idea that need be called a newspaper comic … a perfect jewel of a 'toon by Dan Piraro, an ever rarer genius of the now-dimmed genre.

    (An alternate title for this post might be, "In praise of Dan Piraro" …)

    You draw a cartoon like that, your next move is to lock up your studio and shout into the evening air, "Goodnight everybody, and drive safe!" You click your heels, flip your porkpie hat into the void and make vacation plans, long vacation plans.

    You have done all you can possibly do in comics; nothing is left to say.

    Yes, it's that cataclysmically good. Why? Count the ways:

    • It's a meta-comic. It's a comic about comics.
    • It takes a trope as old as comics (the little, gradually enlarging circles, visual shorthand for thoughts) and marries it to another visual trope, of bubbles expanding in water as they rise.
    I chuckle at the surface idea, then at the clever trick of breathing new life into cartoon code we don't even really see because our brains tell us immediately, "That's a thought balloon!" Then I chuckle at the impassive faces of the fish, seemingly crushed under the ennui of their conundrum (unwarranted anthropomorphism, I know). Then I wonder at the endless loop created by the fish's confusion over who or what it's talking to (Me? The other fish? Itself?), and wonder again whether the other fish might answer … and whether it would wonder too whether it was thinking or talking. And I chuckle again.
    (btw — because "by the way" is way too hard to type — I learned "trope" only this year, used mostly to mean a conventional idea. I can't tell if the rest of the world learned the word this year, too, or if I'm more keenly attuned to others' use of the word because I now know its meaning; I hear it every day now. )
    • Sure, it's two fish and no real background, but it's two fish well drafted as Dan Piraro knows and shows so well, with color ink laid down as if water colors.
    Bad drawing isn't a deal breaker for me. Ideas rule. I think editorial cartoonist Tom Toles can draw; he just chooses not to. One less uncertain line on any of his caricatures and he'd have to draw little signs telling readers who he's trying to draw. Toles stings with his ideas instead; drawing well might get in the way. But give me good drawing. I could waste big chunks of day staring at good drawing.
    (Awkward addendum I: Daily strips tend to be in color now, a last ditch effort to attract the unread. Piraro does it right, but others color the speech balloons, which muddies legibility.)
    (Awkward addendum II: The Bee does not run Piraro's Sunday strip, which is a celebration of big puns and ornate hand-drawn type. We get Frazz on Sundays for some reason, which is nice, but we don't get it daily, so it's like a visit from a third cousin, twice removed.) 
    Piraro wrote thusly in his blog about this panel, which he called "cartoon self consciousness:"
    "Here we have a fish who isn’t sure how to read its own cartoon symbology. Is she thinking, as the bubbles normally suggest in a cartoon, or is she talking and the bubbles are a function of being underwater? I know the answer but I won’t divulge it until I’m on my deathbed. Assuming I die in bed."
    Of course, Piraro did not go gentle into the good night. He's still knockin' out good 'toons, and in the last two weeks they have been extremely sharp and elevating, even for Piraro. Despite his low station in a bottom corner of the comics page, Piraro shines among the mediocre.

    So many comics are safe and boring and afraid. I read them out of habit anymore, like a residence hall monitor checking the inmates in hopes anything funny or surprising happens.

    Several still deliver — Luann and her family gradually mature and have real-world problems; Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman use Zits to play with the visual possibilities of comics; Sally Forth's family revels in its social ineptitude. For most others, yawn. Though my view is limited to the two daily pages The Sacramento Bee has alotted to comic strips (which is generous), they contain much of the pioneer stock of 20th Century comics. That's not necessarily good.

    We still have Peanuts, even though creator Charles Schulz died 12 years ago. A pillar of the genre, a beacon for future strips, truly great, never to be forgotten. Except we never get the chance. Peanuts takes up valuable space on every comics page in the nation, I'm sure, like the dustiest berth in a crowded mausoleum.

    With all respect to Mr. Schulz, Peanuts didn't have much to say in its last 10 or 15 years at least, but there it sits, still babbling. I have no idea what it's saying or where it is in the chronological order of more than 18,000 strips, because I don't look at it. I suspect most people don't read it, but it's there because people feel its absence is somehow worse.

    Though I was sure Schulz said the strip would not continue after he died, it turns out what he really said is that no one else would draw it after he passed. Wishful listening on my part.

    For Better or For Worse still goes on, (I'm going with the latter) even though creator Lynn Johnston effectively retired four years ago. We get treated to a trip in the time machine to see all the Pattersons in their younger states, starting over with all the foibles and jokes that charmed the first time but clunk on the second reading.

    Beetle Bailey is drawn by (or credited to) I don't know how many of Mort Walker's progeny, but more people aren't making it better. Beetle Bailey is lazy, Sarge eats a lot and violently hates Beetle's laziness, Gen. Halftrack is a drunken letch; OK, we get it. Funny a long time ago. It may be difficult for any new readers to tell they're supposed to be Army soldiers and brass assigned forever to Camp Swampy. Now they're just folks in funny suits who do their best with bad, mysogynistic outdated scripts.

    Mort Walker created what became the National Cartoon Museum. You'd think he above all would see the need to tie a bow on his trailblazing career, retire Beetle, and make room for someone else to get a chance to make it into the museum.  

    Mark Trail repeats ad nauseam Mark's misadventures, which Mark always survives, usually with a punch to the bad guy's bewhiskered lantern jaw, giving him one panel to go home and break promises to his family about spending time with them, because he is quickly on another repeated misadventure. Over and over again.

    The Bee, at least, spares readers any more soap opera comics such as Mary Worth or Rex Morgan M.D. In the rush of social media and reality TV, nothing is less relevant.
     
    Hank Ketcham passed away in 2001, but little Dennis the Menace lives on and on. And on. Someone is accurately mimicking Ketcham's distinctive serpentine and economic line for the daily strip, someone else for the Sunday panels. Word is that someone was doing so even when Ketcham was alive, and was paid to write gags around the endless trope of a precocious boy and his eternally grumpy neighbor and his cookie-cooking wife.

    Piraro draws others' ideas occasionally too, and trumpets his collaborations. The cartoon playing on trope for tear-off phone numbers comes from Andy Cowan, a television comedy screenwriter. The cycle path/psychopath 'toon idea came from one of his business managers, and the cyclops pirate panel came from a clever buddy. I don't hold it against him — a daily strip of good ideas is obviously extremely difficult. At least he's getting ideas that elevate the ethos of his work.

    Bil Keane died a year ago, yet one of his son's maintains the damnable suspension of time that is Family Circus; I wonder how many times each saccharine utterance from each of those eternal children has been recycled. I wonder and I shudder.

    Gary Larson left cartooning while he was on top, retiring The Far Side before running out of ideas. (The comic a little merchandising factory now — Books! T-shirts! Whatever! — but at least room was made on the comics page.) Bill Watterson fought for more space for Calvin and Hobbes, fought for the vastness of the early days when Winsor McCay had half or all of a newsprint page on which to unhinge his beautiful snack-fueled dreams, then told readers he'd said all he could say in a comic strip and disappeared.

    Comics are the gateway drug to reading. A kid rifles through the morning newspaper looking for the funny pages, and tries to figure out what the characters are saying, while the grownups look through all the boring gray pictures without many pictures, funny or otherwise. After awhile, having gained power over words, kids drift toward the boring gray pages (first sports and then movie reviews) to discover they aren't boring but enlightening.

    Kids need a reason to become addicted to reading, a compulsion to rifle through the paper for dibs on the comics. They need comics they want to see, that'll dazzle the way they dazzled me as I learned to read. The Old Guard needs to fold and legions of unpublished cartoonists need the space to take their places.

    The Old Guard of readers won't let them leave, though. The Bee is just one of many, many newspapers that roll out surveys so readers can determine which comics to keep and which to ditch. By popular vote, Charlie Brown lives on, trudging zombie-like across the page with Dennis and Beetle an Hi and Lois and that baby of theirs, endlessly fascinated by sunbeams. We hate change more than we fear the potential of new ideas. Newspapers aren't democracies, though; they should change the comics on their own. It'd take us about a week to get over it.

    But it may be too late. Too many people I know don't even subscribe to newspapers anymore, people my age, reading online instead. That's no way to read a newspaper. You need the ritual, the comfortable chair, the breakfast table, the purchase of time to linger and look and hope for a laugh.

    I feel sorry for people who say they never read the comics.

    Newspapers will die and these already dead comic strip icons will die again with them, depriving the next generation the chances they were given.

    Cherish what ya got.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Best logo ever, roadside convenience subdivision

    I give you: QuikStop.™®©

    Not to be confused with Quick Stop, Quickie Stop, Quikee Stop, Stop Quick, Quick Mart, Quikmart and all the other homespun spawn.

    This nationwide chain has to compete with the big boys, 7-11™® and am pm®™, which have reached Pavlovian marketing status.

    Their logos do not have to be beautiful — and they are not. Really. They just have to be: The mere sight of them, glowing in the urban night, triggers desire for the taquitos and cola slushes and Funyuns™®© and lottery tickets not far away, so thorough is their market saturation.

    QuikStop competes by not competing. We may not get much of the market share, is what the logo tells me, but we're dignified about it.

    The logo is smart. QuikStop thinks its customers are smart. With a few quick gestural shapes within a soft diamond, the logo creates the U.S. map out of negative space. It asks shoppers to recognize the map, even in its barest form. And it softens up the negotiation with shoppers by using slightly off colors, not the garish collection of its giant competitors. Many of the stores I've seen set the logo in a black background, which makes it almost upscale.

    The type — eh, it's unprepossessing, soft, not meant to clash with the mark. Come and shop here, if you want, it says. We're all over the place, but we won't hassle you. We may even provide soft lighting.

    My kind of convenience store.

    Not that I've gone to one. I just appreciate looking at the sign on the rare occasion I drive past one.

    Anyway, it beats what the chain used to have for a logo:


    Clip art meets press-down type. Is it a convenience store or a lube and oil shop? Dry cleaner?

    QuikStop rescued itself.


    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    Halloween leftovers

    Oooh, very scary!
    Designer and marketing maven Paul Vega came up with a charming and disarming way of branding his client's competition — depict them as zombies, oafs and thugs.
     
    Nothing personal.

    Paul had already helped establish Pacific Field Service as superheroes — literally — in the property inspection and management industries, and had me embody their services in befitting characters.

    This time Paul had me help poke a little Halloween fun at the rest of the industry, for a pop-up-out-of-the-woodwork mailer sent to prospective clients.

    One of the Pacific Field Service Superheroes (left) flies to the rescue when recipients open the mailer.

    It's all very pulpy and comic-y.

    Here are some of the early sketches, and the customer frightened by them all:




    Friday, November 9, 2012

    If the shoe fits

    As we chat, thousands are working to fix the Republican Party.

    The solutions floated so far are the stuff for meaty conversation. As the country becomes more diverse and trends younger, the Republican Party is becoming less relevant to the the populace, and some strategists are looking at ways to make the party mirror the population while retaining bedrock principles.

    Others are saying the party is not conservative enough and must speed off to the right, though I don't know how that addresses the whole younger-and-more-diverse issue.

    I'm not equipped to say how to fix the GOP, but I can tell you how it broke.

    When you say:
    “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down …"
    as Rep. Todd Akin did, losing himself the U.S. Senate race in Missouri; and when you say:
    "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen …"
    as Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock did, losing himself the U.S. Senate race in Missouri; and when you say:
    "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not, what it looks like."
    as Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney did, losing himself the presidency and any hope of respect from the Americans he dismissed wholesale for the sake of some rubber chicken and high-stakes campaign cash, then no amount of that cash, secret or SuperPac or otherwise, it turns out, will save you.

    They would have been better off just shoving in their size 10 1/2 Bruno Magli's before risking a moment to talk.

    Thursday, November 8, 2012

    Black-and-blue déja vu

    Bow before my awesome artistic influence! Bwa ha Ha HA HA HA HAAAAAA!

    Or, just indulge me this quarter-century coincidence:

    Michael Ramirez, a conservative editorial cartoonist (not one of my favorites, only because he barely budges from his conservative line rather than expose hypocrisy from all sides, as the best do; but a talented illustrator and two-time Pulitzer winner, so there's that), published this cartoon this week to say CBS' "60 Minutes" aided an alleged Obama administration cover-up of the Sept. 11 attack, 2012 on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

    (The Obama administration knew the attack was imminent, critics say, and did not avert it, despite early warning. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in the attack.)

    Which means it took 26 years for my trendsetting cartoon (above) to seep out of Ramirez' subconscious and become the cartoon he drew. Or not!

    Which also means, were it not for this timely coincidence, you might never have seen my 'toon … because I have no idea what I was referring to.

    Exhaustive research suggests the closest match is the bizarre event in which CBS News anchor Dan Rather was supposedly attacked in New York City by a man who repeatedly asked him, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

    Except for the REM hit the incident inspired, it wouldn't have motivated me to draw a cartoon. More likely it alluded to another CBS News coverup or an embarrassing news blunder. If you've got better research or a better memory, let me know what I was talking about.

    Even so, I ask you, who won the graphics battle, me or Ramirez? My bias shows, but I think if you have to write "CBS 'Black Eye' Logo" and draw an arrow to the thing you're describing, Chester Gould/ Dick Tracy style, you've come in second.

    BwahahaHaHAHAAHAAA. Ha!

    Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    Five stages of "Good grief!"

    Shame on two men today.

    (Not those two, not Romney or Obama, though they could take heed.)

    Today two men should feel properly hung over, as if awakened from a stupor, having let their baser Mr. Hydes overtake their Dr. Jekylls, with disgusting result.

    Two decent men, I'll wager, became less in their attempt to be more.

    Two who would not ordinarily act as they did the last two months, and would not have drawn their friends and families and co-workers into shame on their behalf.

    Except this, they decided, was an extraordinary time, and shame, they decided, had use.

    Tomorrow one of these two men may wonder if he could have managed without acting like such an ass. He will be declared the winner. The other may wonder if he should have — and somehow could have — been more of an ass. He will be the loser.

    We lose, either way.

    In the spirit of Tip O'Neill's "all politics is local," I confine my rant to the race for my assembly district.

    The Republican candidate is Peter Tateishi, as close as I've ever been to knowing a real-life politician. He and his siblings went to the same school my kids did. His mom teaches at the school. His dad is a deacon in the church.

    I don't know him personally; I have surmised from the literature that he has sought a political life — maybe even, you might say, a life of public service. He runs on his experience as chief of staff for Rep. Dan Lungren, our congressman, himself having run a shame-for-shame campaign with his opponent Ami Bera.

    Peter came to our doorstep one day, canvassing the neighborhood, also a first; I've never seen a candidate show up at our door. Just him, with his satchel of pamphlets, surprised I recognized him.
    His red-white-and-blue signs had covered the intersections long before. "Peter Tateishi … To Fix the State Assembly." Quixotic and awkward: Does any voter really expect one representative to clean up an entire legislative house? Tip O'Neill would have told Tateishi the slogan should be, "To Fix our Potholes."

    Peter Tateishi's career has included serving as a planning commissioner, a parks and recreation district commissioner, a president of a state group of parks and rec commissioners, and creator and CEO of a foundation to support parks in his community.

    In other words, he's doing something, trying to make a difference, to lead the way, not relying on the public weal. An honorable person, I'm willing to guess.

    As is his opponent. Ken Cooley is a city council member from Rancho Cordova, has been since the new city was incorporated, was mayor twice. Outsider news media might call Rancho Cordova a hardscrabble city, with an equal share of mini-marts and massive corporate headquarters, never the twain meeting. Crime and blight, outsiders may first think of Rancho Cordova. Ken Cooley lives there and has been walking his talk to make his community better.

    Here are two candidates who present a tough choice, two candidates who could have — should have — run on their records and left it at that.  But of course, politics must be usual.

    The campaign has run a cycle, a kind of reverse interactive Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

    We started with acceptance, as each candidate presented himself, stated his qualifications and achievements, with solid street cred and just enough bunting on their campaign literature.

    Then commenced the anger, with a trickle of accusations that arrived in our mail. They're running for office, after all. Being good, making a difference, is not enough. The other guy must be evil.

    The endorsement groups — firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, the League of Women Voters — began bargaining with us over the candidates. If you're one of us — if you want us patrolling your neighborhood, teaching your kid — vote for our guy.

    We became depressed. We accepted the deluge of mail that our postal deliverer actually complained about having to bring us. With a smattering of "I'm the good guy" came mailers mostly with variations on "He's the bad guy!!!" Charges of corruption, of dark connections, of trojan horses disguising wicked agendas; multiple mailers from each candidate, every day but Sunday.

    "He's Dan Lungren's chief minion!"

    "Oh yeah, well he's the insurance industry's henchman!"

    "I balanced 10 straight budgets. He only improved a local skate park."

    "He gave away pensions and went on trips at taxpayer expense!"

    "He'll raise your taxes!!"

    "Lobbyist!"

    "Lackey!"

    And so forth. My favorite moment so far was last week, listening to a radio commercial featuring Peter Tateishi's wife, who outlined her two tours of duty in Iraq training police —a family embodying public service! — and then deplores Ken Cooley's hurtful lies and accusations against her husband.

    Simultaneously came the Tateishi fliers, proffering their own lies and accusations.

    (Second favorite: An anti-Cooley flier with a connect-the-dots line-art portrait of Cooley, the dots representing the increments of donations "Big Insurance" has made to Cooley's campaign. Unlike the postcards, this flier is folded an closed with two stickers. That's asking a lot of the people who applied the stickers, and a lot of voters to work so hard to be insulted.)

    Neither of these candidates is the scum the other has suggested. Each is doing far more for their communities than I and most others. But they fell into the mucky pit of politics, or someone pulled them in, because that's how it's done.

    How I wish these two — or someone! — would start the trend: I'm running on my record and I'm not denigrating my opponent. Vote for me if you think I can do job.

    Candidates need to run ads like this, the world I want to live in come every election time.

    Instead, candidates show they don't think much of their constituents' intelligence.

    Shame on these two. Shame on us.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Thursday's thistles

    Twelve ounces of irony: Red trash in the gutter tells the tale —Schools observed Red Ribbon Week last week, education's annual attempt to avert students from drugs.

    (I wonder what impact the observance really has …)

    Schools let the outside world know about it by tying tiny red ribbons to the chainlink fences encircling the playground, and jamming cups into the holes to spell out appropriate phrases ("We're drug free and proud!" "Don't do drugs!"). Wind and kids and passersby knock cups to the ground, making gibber of the words before the week's out.

    Does anyone else note the irony that the phrases are often made with little red Solo™©® cups, evoking the summer's crass paean to the opposite advice?

    On the fence outside the nearby Catholic school and church, someone had spelled — in white foam cups — FAITH! with a big rectangular frame of cups and red ribbons tied around the letters. Not sure what to make of it … a general encouragement? An alternate Red Ribbon Week slogan? Reaching out to the public school across the street, maybe over a test?

    Hellowe'en: What a strange holiday, Halloween. Fraught. Fraught with fright, fraught with controversy. Fraught.

    A take-it-or-leave-it holiday. Embrace or ignore, at least between few and far between handfuls of candy for the few folks for whom Halloween should mean anything, the little kids in dress-up.

    I rarely hear the caterwauling anymore over Halloween's evil influence. All sides have gone to their corners, sitting out a tense détente. Horror movies still spill out of theaters, one torture-porn feature after another. Churches hold alternative events, commonly called harvest festivals (and doesn't that sound like fun? Celebrating how, before supermarkets and suburbia, folks gathered in the apples and wheat and made their own pie! Have a corn stalk!) or fall fun fests, or trunk-or-treat, where kids move from one car to another in the parking lot, drivers handing out treats in a sedate tailgate party manner. Everyone trying to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the Angry Birds mask. What kid is gonna ever call it a harvest festival?

    John Hersey's Dia de los Gigantes!
    One church called its event a Candy Carnival, which carves closer to the bone but only trades one evil for another, and which is the lesser?

    On the other side of the aisle, I've heard the holiday called Hell-o-ween. I may be late to the costume party, but I'm surprised that name hasn't been conjured before. 

    Call it Dress-Up Day, because that's its purest distillation. A day to be something or someone else, to live in someone else's skin, superheroic or scandalous. No weapons, no blood, no war imagery or devil horns or scream masks though, please.

    (I sometimes teach elementary school students to draw their own superheroes, and before I got going last time, the teacher launched into a long recitation reminding students of all the things they COULDN'T depict with their superheroes. So practiced, she sounded like the draft board sergeant in "Alice's Restaurant.")

    My favorite iteration of the holiday is El Dia de los Muertos, with its roots in Latin America, for its graphic power and magic, but I'd rather its roots not get messed with.

    To my delight, I just discovered this work (above) by John Hersey, one of the pioneers of digital illustration, even though it's been around since the San Francisco won the World Series in 2010. Hersey reimagined the Giants' devilish closer, Brawley-raised Sergio Romo, as a sugar skull, and despite Hersey's great breadth of work, it's his best selling image. Perfectly fitting for Halloween, when the Giants returned to The City to celebrate its 2012 World Series.

    Proceed to party!