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.


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!!"



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!