Opus 321 (February 9, 2014). A review of January’s editorial cartoons and the insane politics that inspired them, following a few newsy bits that begin right away—:




Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits

WHILE THE SUPER BOWL was transpiring on this side of the Atlantic, Bill Watterson was winning the grand prix at France’s Angouleme, the international comic strip festival, according to GlobalPost.com. In winning France’s top prize for cartooning, Watterson, 56, creator of the now retired Calvin and Hobbes, beat Japan's Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Britain's Alan Moore (Watchmen). Not unexpectedly, the reclusive Watterson was not present to receive his prize, the most prestigious of its kind in the French-speaking world. In 1986 and 1988, Watterson received the Reuben Award of the National Cartoonist Society. In 1992, he won the prize for best foreign comic book at the Angouleme Festival. He wasn’t present for any of those presentations either.

            Daniel Curry, a young actor who was seriously injured in last August while performing in the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” filed a lawsuit this week accusing the show’s producers, engineering consultants, and others of negligence in the design and operation of a mechanical lift that Curry was using onstage when he was hurt. Patrick Healy at the New York Times reported February 1 that no evidence is included in the legal filing to support these claims that the lift malfunctioned or that its computer software was defective. Curry claims that he will not be able to dance or perform and earn a living as he once did, and has spent “large sums of money” on medical care. The show’s producers had no comment.

            I spend part of my time in front of the Super Bowl tv tearing cartoons out of last year’s Playboys, and I discovered (1) two 8-cartoon reprint spreads of Dedini cartoons (entitled “Delectable Dedini” and “In Bed with Dedini” and (2) two Rowland B. Wilson cartoons, presumably from the magazine’s unpublished inventory of the late cartoonist’s work.



IN THE SAME PLAYBOY SURVEY, I chanced upon an article about Joe Casey’s Sex comic book series. Meticulously drawn by Piotr Kowalski, the series is now up to No.9, and so far it’s mostly a talk marathon punctuated in every issue by at least one explicit sex scene. For a while, I thought the sex scenes were intended to exhibit a different kind of sex each issue. In one issue, the ostensible hero, Simon Cooke, a young albeit retired superhero, strolls through an orgy, and it was difficult to find any couples engaged in what we’d call traditional copulation; everything else, from oral sex to anal sex to same-sex sex and more, was on display in plentitude.

            I had thought the title of the series was simple unabashed salesmanship—a greedy, knee-jerk grab at selling books by using one of the language’s two most potent sales words (the other is “new”)—but it turns out not so. Superheroes as a rule don’t have sex lives, Casey notes: “Superhero comics have always brushed against a very adolescent view of sexuality, and more often than not, they’re the most embarrassing examples of sex in comics.” So, saith Playboy, “these prepubescent portrayals led Casey to create Sex. ...” wherein “Simon Cooke is forced to confront the failings of his sex life. ‘He’s not prepared for the world he must now live in,’ says Casey, “—he’s so repressed, based on everything he locked down inside himself when he was a superhero.”

            Well, yes—I see that he’s repressed even if everyone around him is not. He’s trying to assume control of his multi-million dollar business, and apart from this preoccupation, he doesn’t seem to be confronting his libido’s repression much. He keeps running up against the femme fatale, his one-time ally as a crime-fighting superhero, but they don’t leap into the sack at once. In fact, in No.8, they are together, and he takes off his clothes only to discover that she’s fallen asleep on the couch, fully clothed. He gets dressed and leaves.

            So there are all these explicit sex sequences, but none, it seems, involve Cooke. Where, then, is Casey’s theme?



Freeing Comic Books. Comic books are made to be read, Chris Arrant said at comicbookresources.com, “but along the way they’ve grown to become a collectible in the minds of some, leading to an interesting bifurcation of fandom: collectors and readers.” Well, not really “collectors”: more like “investors”—people who buy comics as an investment, expecting them to increase in value like stocks. In order to preserve their value, investors “slab” their most valuable comic books, incasing them between heavy-duty plastic plates, bolted together. The most conspicuous offender in the slabbing business is the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), which makes a livelihood out of grading and slabbing comics.

            Readers, like me—and cartoonist Derf Backderf—find this practice reprehensible. Derf was shocked, Arrant reported, “at the degree to which comics collecting [investing] had subsumed the readability of comics, especially given that ‘true collectors’ would hermetically seal their comics in CGC “slabs,” leaving them unable to be read — you know, the original intent for the comic.”

            “For someone who has devoted his life to making comics, and who takes several years to painstakingly craft each one … to be FUCKING READ! … this is an abomination,” Derf wrote in a long post on his blog. “For baseball cards, fine. because you can still read everything on the card. With a comic book, 90 percent of the contents are lost forever! Most of these ‘collectors’ wouldn’t know the difference between Wally Wood and Wally Walrus. They’re just collecting a number. It’s an affront to everything I hold dear.”

            In ferocious reaction, Derf  has started what he calls a “one-man crusade against slabbing” by buying CGC books and “then free[ing] them from their plastic coffins.”

            And I say: Bravo.



Fascinating Footnit. For even more comics news, consult these four other sites: Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com, and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com/comic-riffs . For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.





The Mock in Democracy

THE BIGGEST POLITICAL NEWS of the last month was that New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is obese. Whoops: no, wait. We’ve known that for a long time. Not news. And we also know that he’s accustomed to throwing his weight around, so when it emerged through some furtive e-mails that “his office” had ordered access lanes to the George Washington Bridge (over which hundreds of thousands of people drive every day to get to Manhattan)—causing a monumental traffic jam—it was scarcely a discovery on the order of finding King Tut under a pointy mound of rocks in the Egyptian desert. But the event gave the Donkey Party plenty to bray about, and it supplied the nation’s editorial cartoonists with fodder for more than a week.

            Since Christie is widely assumed to be preparing for a run at the White House in 2016, most of the editoons on his Bridge plight did the obvious: Christie’s presidential juggernaut was in some way depicted as stalled in the traffic jam. And here are the ways four editoonists deployed that metaphor.  At the upper left of our first visual aid today, Bill Day depicts a very fat man (obviously Christie) wearing a traffic caution cone on his head like the dunce cap of yore that, for generations, represented schoolroom disciplinary action; ergo, the Bridge scandal has  caught Christie misbehaving for which he is now being punished, forced to sit in a corner with a dunce hat on his head. Swinging around clockwise, we come to Thomas “Tab” Boldt, who has replaced the wheels on Christie’s presidential hopeful auto with caution cones, rendering it immobile. Next on the clock, David Fitzsimmons continues the traffic jam metaphor: here Christie himself tells his campaign that the closed Bridge has cut off access to the White House.

            The best on this theme—albeit, by the narrowest of margins— is Dave Grandlund’s picture of the gridlock at the lower left. It gets us into the traffic jam, identifying clearly the “N.J. Bridge Scandal” as the cause of the delay of Christie’s presidential hopes.

            In our next exhibit, I prolong Christie’s agony with a cartoon of my own (penciled on the right), which is no editooon at all: it is, rather, my first attempt at caricaturing Christie.  And my target is not so much Christie as it is the worn-out ploy of politicians caught in the vicinity of malfeasance: like Christie, they all say that they take responsibility. But taking responsibility apparently has no consequences. They all go right on blathering and holding office at the same time. Shouldn’t there be a consequence if one takes responsibility? Or is it (most likely) just so much hot air? I made a second (and better, I think) stab at caricaturing Christie at the lower right.

            At the left, Steve Kelley relies upon a speech balloon rather than any sort of visual metaphor to make a somewhat different point about Christie’s reaction to the Bridge episode. Is Christie’s denial believable? Under certain circumstances, I think it is. I think it’s silly to expect that the CEO of a state’s executive branch be knowledgeable about every activity undertaken by every factotum in that branch of government. If some guy regularly takes 30-minute potty breaks, is he thereby gyping tax-payers because they aren’t getting 60 minutes of public service for the salary he draws? And, more to the point, is it reasonable to expect the governor to know that this guy is taking 30-minute potty breaks?

            No, it isn’t reasonable. But if the governor doesn’t know what his chief of staff is doing—ordering bridge closures—then he may be an out-to-lunch CEO. Or a liar. Or he has created a bullying atmosphere among those who work closest to him—the more likely possibility in this case.

            Next, to take a break from Serious Public Issues for a moment, we have Tom Toles metaphor depicting the return of Congress after its Christmas break (when Congress takes a break over Christmas, isn’t that a case of religion running government, a violation of the separation of church and state provision of the Constitution?): he’s deployed the arrival of a paralyzing cold snap and a weather map to suggest the return of another sort of paralysis at the nation’s capital. Our next two images seem virtually the same—another weather map metaphor. Effective as the images may be, I’m posting both here for another reason.

            The map at the upper right is Scott Bateman’s infographic, which he posted on his Tumblr site on January 3, reported Alan Gardner at DailyCartoonist.com; the map below that is what USA Today published on January 7—such a remarkably similar device (albeit with purified language) that USA Today’s editor-in-chief David Callaway apologized to Bateman and assured him “that he was addressing the issue to make sure Scott receives the proper credit and that the lapses inside the paper were addressed.” Accidents happen. Oh, sure.

            Our next cartoon would seem to be doing nothing more than continuing the blue motif of this exhibit. And maybe that’s all—except that I love the image (which I first saw in Calvin and Hobbes). Unforgettable. Here, Pat Bagley has put the laughable image to work as a nasty (but deserved) metaphor for the Internet. And the metaphor has nicely working parts: the more clicks (flushes), the more content is drawn into the swirling maelstrom. And of what real value is the content? Toilet paper.

            Obamacare and the sins of N.S.A. are melded in Ruben Bolling’s comic strip, Tom the Dancing Bug (a title character who never seems to be on the premises). Bolling exploits the comic strip format to explore the implications of entering personal information into the Obamacare enrollment website: gradually, panel by panel, we become aware of something the enrollees apparently remain ignorant of—namely, that the government (by means of a N.S.A. drone) is invading their privacy and taking possession of it.

            N.S.A. is Pat Oliphant’s target next on the clock. With typical Oliphant chutzpah, he’s made a visual out of the hoary question “why does a dog lick his balls?” By the same token, then, N.S.A. invades our privacy because it can. No other reason. A heavy-handed and hilarious indictment of the government’s eavesdropping program. (But why is there no Punk the Penguin on the premises? Olphant once said that he gave Punk a day off if the topic were simply too grim for penguin commentary. So a dog licking his balls is too much? Maybe.)

            So how much do we care about N.S.A.’s invasion of our privacy? Not much, saith Noah Feldman at Bloomberg.com. In an age when Internet users happily hand over troves of personal information to companies like Google and Facebook, most people simply aren’t shocked that the government is sweeping up metadata, and will likely greet Obama’s modest reforms with a shrug.        

            Below Oliphant, Matt Bors takes on the specious reasoning that justifies our drone attacks in Yemen and elsewhere in the region: he shows how callous and imperious the U.S. policy is by reversing the circumstance and  making Americans the victims of it. Bors does this sort of thing often—turning an accepted rationale on its head to see if it implodes, ,and it usually does.



IN OUR NEXT DISPLAY, N.S.A. is still the subject for Randall Enos at the top lefthand.  I’ve included this drawing chiefly because Enos’ political cartooning style is unusual—as is his drawing style (linoleum block, I’d say). The image of Uncle Sam listening at the keyhole of the world is memorable and impressive. And after I finish talking about the other cartoons immediately at hand, I’ll have some more Enos.

            Obamacare is the subject of the other cartoons here, including two comic strips. Syndicated comic strips are increasingly likely these days to venture into arenas of commentary that have been historically tabooo, as we’ve demonstrated lately (again and again) in our Newspaper Comics Page Vigil department. The taboos are usually sexual or alimentary in nature, not political. But here, in their Dustin strip, Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker take a gentle swipe at “affordable health care.” I’m not sure that they consider foisting off  Obamacare on Americans as the act of a bully, but both Kelley and Parker are political cartoonists when not stripping, and it sure reads that way. Although it is debatable whether they mean their critique in a serious way: comic strips that make satirical remarks about the surrounding society do so in a jibing rather than provocative spirit. It’s all just part of the joke. But it impinges upon public consciousness still.

            Below that, Pat Bagley gives us a vivid image of the way GOP-controlled state legislatures have written off the health of their poorer citizens—“because you hate Obama,” being a telling road sign. I like the “clown car” designation, too. And then, in his comic strip Knight Life at the lower left, Keith Knight, who also does a more straight-forward political cartoon entitled th(ink), takes a shot at critics of Obamacare who would rather the government not mess with their health care.

            In one of the Republicon responses to Bronco Bama’s State of the Union speech a few days ago, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (the fourth ranking elephant in the House pile, chosen to make the official Party response in order to prove that the GOP is not making war on women), said, among other spews of blather, that “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s ... [so] you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you.” This is GOP Speak for “you’re on your own, booby—good-bye and good luck.”

            Any time you hear someone tell you that “the choice is yours, enjoy your freedom,” you know you’re out in the cold by yourself.

            Rodgers also said: “Last month more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the President’s policies are making people’s lives harder.” But she’s conveniently overlooked another significant factor in the high number of people who aren’t looking for job, according to Calvin Woodward at the Associated Press: Baby Boomers are retiring. While it’s true that part of the still-high unemployment rate is due to jobless workers who’ve given up looking for a job, that’s doubtless because there aren’t enough jobs to employ the unemployed: there are three people looking for every one job opening. And what brought on the Great Recession that caused the stalling of job creation? Not the policies of Barack Obama; more like the favor-Big-Business policies of the Republicon Party, whose operatives never fail to blurt out the Big Lie—it’s Obama’s fault!— whenever given a microphone. And to ignore the Big Truth: it happened on the GOP watch.

            Our gallery of Randall Enos cartoons displays his unique style, beginning with his obitoon for Pete Seeger at the top left corner. We’ll say more about cartoonists’ eulogies for Seegar at the end of this expedition; here, we’ll dawdle for another moment over Enos. It’s his rendering mannerisms that make his cartoons so memorable, the linoleum-block look. The two immediately below Seeger are the only ones at hand that offer the typical political metaphors: Bill O’Reilly with his annoying (but harmless) popgun; the Tea Bagger peering in to see the GOP elephant committing suicide. Incidentally, the supposed power of O’Reilly and Faux News is much overblown: network news shows tally roughly 4 million viewers collectively; Fox News, only about a measly1.1 million.

            Azorean Portuguese by heritage, Enos has only recently formally entered the political fray. Most of his 54 years as a freelancer have been spent illustrating rather than cartooning. He spent the first eight years of his career teaching in the Cartoon Course of the Famous Artists School while freelancing illustrations for newspapers and magazines like Playboy and Harper’s. “My actual first freelance job was for a magazine called Cavalcade,” he told Craig Yoe in a 2010 interview at Yoe’s superitch.com. “I later also did some animation.”

            He also did a strips for National Lampoon and Playboy (in that magazine’s short-lived  “Funny Pages”). But he’s never been officially a political cartoonist, he said, until the market for comical illustration began to dry up. About then, he met Daryl Cagle, who recruited him for his Cagle Cartoons syndicate.

            When Yoe asked Enos which deceased cartoonist he’d most like to meet, Enos said, “George Herriman.” And what would you say to him? “I’d say, Mr. Herriman, sir, what were you thinking—a Kat with an ambiguous sexual identification?”

            The highlight of his career to-date, he said, was doing a Broadway theater poster (and accompanying ad graphics and website illos) for “The Norman Conquests” (at the lower right-hand corner of our visual aid).



TO CONTINUE OUR CUSTOMARY DIATRIBE, we start with Jen Sorensen’s Slowpoke strip, this one (at the upper left) taking the recent North Dakota ban on abortion to several logical extremes in order to demonstrate just how ridiculous it is—ridiculous, senseless, and cruel. (Just a guess, but I suspect the name of the feature derives from the number of panels in a strip: with more panels than the typical single-panel editoon, Sorensen can prolong the jabbing at her targets—ergo, the pokes by being numerous seem slower. Just a guess.)

            Tom Toles’ cartoon, next on the clock, offers no visual metaphor this time but the pachyderm’s speech balloon carries a sufficient punch. Below Toles, Nick Anderson uses two panels to contrast the hostage-taking tactics of the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm with Saint Reagan’s dictum. The picture of the GOP beast adds another fillip: he’s wearing a suicide bomb vest. Exactly.

            The thorny problem of separating (or not) church and state is the subject of the next three editoons.  Matt Wuerker starts us off with what seems to me a sound criticism of the notion that an employer’s religion can determine what sort of health insurance the employee can get. As Jamelle Bouie said in TheDailyBeast, if companies can impose their owner’s beliefs on employees, what’s next? A refusal to hire gays and atheist because of the companies’ “sincere religious beliefs”? Adam Zyglis makes the point at the upper right, his visual metaphor chaining gays to workplace discrimination forever if the GOP gets its way. On the issue of gay marriage, by the way—although not at all incidentally—the majority of Americans now favor same-sex marriage, and, according to the Chicago Tribune, in last fall’s election, all ballot initiatives supporting same-sex marriage passed while all those opposed failed. Once again (and forever after), the Republicons are on the wrong side of history.

            At the Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank observes that the GOP is becoming “defined as much by religion as by politics” while the Democrats are “growing more liberal and secular. ... As a matter of political Darwinism, the Republicans’ mutation is not likely to help the GOP’s survival. As the country overall becomes racially diverse and more secular, Republicans are resolutely white and increasingly devout. If current trends persist, it will only be a couple of decades before they join the dodo and saber-toothed tiger.”

            And Justice Antonin Scalia seems to have agreed (at least in 1990) that granting religious exemptions from laws “would be courting anarchy.” Anarchy or theocracy. Next on our clock, Dan Wasserman shows how strategy plays out at in the turbaned and burqued nations of the Middle East.

            On the other hand, if the GOP is as religious as it claims to be, what’s wrong with engineering affordable health care for everyone? Jesus was obviously in favor of it, as Lou Dubose pointed out in a recent issue of The Washington Spectator (January 1). He quotes an astute rabble-rousing North Carolina preacher named William Barber, who questions politicians who “put their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. ‘Do they know what’s in that Bible? If Jesus did anything to challenge the domination of Rome—where people were left to die if they weren’t in the 1 percent—the one thing Jesus did everywhere he went was to set up free health clinics. ... He would find someone who had been lame for all of his life ... and he would heal him. How do you claim to be following Jesus if you don’t want to see people get health care? Health care is one of the things Jesus majored in,” Barber finished, quoting the 103rd Psalm: “Praise the Lord ... who forgives your sins and heals all your diseases.”

            Setting aside Barber’s translating Elizabethan Bible passages into modern lingo, he’s drawn attention to an essential aspect of Jesus’ ministry, one the Tea Baggers and other champions of smaller government choose to willfully ignore. So how devout are they?

            Bill Day ends this exhibit with his insightful depiction of the GOPachyderm with a wing nut for elephant ears—deliberately destroying Obama’s list even as the Prez is just beginning to contemplate it.

            Next, we get to the Real Reasons Baracko Bama makes no headway with a Republicon-controlled House of Representatives. Clay Bennett nails it at the upper left: Obama is black. The caption and the picture together echo the black folklore that African American drivers are often stopped by police because they are guilty of driving while black. No other reason. Here in a telling echo, Congress stops Obama because he’s Barack; no other reason. Editorial cartoonists aren’t the only observers who have noticed this otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. And Black History Month provides a neatly coincidental occasion for examining the proposition.

            No less an expert on such issues as Oprah Winfrey told the BBC during an interview in November: “There’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs ... because he’s African American. It’s the kind of thing nobody ever says but everybody’s thinking it.”

            Not all opposition to the Prez is rooted in racism. Winfrey’s not saying that, said Jamelle Bouie at TheDailyBeast.com. She merely acknowledged the “banal point” that the “tenor of anti-Obama rhetoric is shaped by race.” Not exactly: by racism. Obama’s most vociferous critics have treated him with a “specific kind of disrespect,” as if he’s not entitled to the office he was elected to twice. What other president faced a spectacle like Congressman Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Obama when he was addressing Congress [what he was really saying was “you uppity N-word”], or large swaths of the country insisting that he’s an imposter born in Kenya. Conservative talk show babblers regularly claim that Obama’s policies are tacit attempts to steal white wealth as “reparations” for slavery. To ignore the obvious racial undertones in the Obama hatred is to “hold the nonsense view that racism isn’t a part of our politics.”

            Seems eminently accurate to me: we’re a nation of racists; so why would we suddenly stop being racist just because a member of a minority race is elected to the Presidency?

            And it may be no coincidence that the Republicon Party is strongest in the states of the Old Confederate South, where slavery—and post-Civil War disdain of African Americans—was an institution (the disdain lasting well beyond that post-war period and three or four others in succession). It may also be no coincidence that Obama’s most dedicated opponent in the Senate is from a Southern state.

            Well, almost. “Twitch” McConnell is from Kentucky, a Border State in the Civil War. But he was born in Alabama, moved to Georgia when he was eight, and didn’t get to the Kentucky until he was a teenager, by which time, presumably the prejudices of the Deep South were firmly ingrained in him. “Presumably,” I said: I wouldn’t want to accuse the Senate Minority Leader of racism.

            But if he were a racist, it might help explain the otherwise unreasonable hatred of Obama that he displays—captured, memorably, for us by Pat Bagley in the next cartoon on the clock. Extreme, yes; but accurate to a fault—sentiment and visage both, a bug-eyed jowly demogogue.

            Next, Jim Morin runs through a list of Barack O’Bama’s achievements—so far—as Prez, ending on a seethingly sarcastic note, “worst President in U.S. history.” The guy running through this litany is clearly a redneck idiot. Well, not so clearly: there’s no visual evidence of his redneckery.

            Finally, Tony Auth depicts the GOP dilemma: none of the scandals it has manufactured to smear the Obama administration have caught fire. Take, f’instance, the Benghazi episode.

            Susan Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claimed at the time that the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 20121, was a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islamic video that had been made by an American. Obama’s GOP critics exploded, saying Rice and other Administration officials “willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative.” The attack, they said, was an al-Qaeda run operation, and Obama and his minions were either stupid or criminal in not knowing that. Rice’s hopes for appointment as Secretary of State were obliterated forthwith.

            Two reports have subsequently exonerated the Obama minions.

            The New York Times conducted extensive interviews with Libyans “who had direct knowledge of the attack,” reported Bloomberg News at the end of December, “and found no evidence that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups had a role in the operation.” In fact, the attackers  seems to have been motivated exactly as Rice said they were.

            The other report comes in late January from a bipartisan sub-committee of the Senate Intelligence Committee that confirmed, as columnist Eugene Robinson said in the Washington Post, that “there was no there there.” Yes, the attack was “likely preventable,” the senators found, but there was no cover-up by the Obama administration in the weeks that followed the attack. Potential rescuers were not ordered to “stand down” as reported by Fox News. There is no evidence that al-Qaeda planned or directed the attack. As for Susan Rice’s “infamous” claim that the attack was fueled by street rage over the YouTube video, it not only reflected the CIA’s best intelligence at the time but—wait for it—“may turn out to have been correct.”

            The 58-page report also noted that Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed in the attack, twice declined offers of expanded security. The report doesn’t remind us that the GOP-inspired desire for reducing government spending in perpetuity resulted in cutting State Department funds for security, but maybe it could have. In any event, the scandal fizzled. And nowhere in the report, said editoonist-columnist David Horsey, did the words “Hillary Clinton” appear. If she wants to run for the White House, the GOP attack dogs won’t be able to pin Benghazi on her.



THE PLIGHT of the Republicon Party is examined in our next visual aid.  To start us off, Mike Smith explains why Congress doesn’t run anymore, and then Mike Luckovich reveals the GOP’s discomfort at being so reliant upon the Tea Baggers—both apt images, but the tea pots on the pachyderm’s feet is the more comical and hence memorable. Then Steve Benson gives us another vivid image—the “flea party,” the old GOP dog attempting to rid itself of an infestation of pests (all wearing three-corner hats like good Tea Baggers). We could almost say that the Flea Party is fleeing. But the best of this excellent array, I think, is Jack Ohman’s depiction of the House GOP as an airplane the right wing of which is grossly misshapen. Apt and memorable.

            This Congress—the 113th to convene in Washington—it’s no secret anymore, is regarded by two-thirds of Americans in a CNN poll as the worst one in their lifetimes. It’s a bipartisan sentiment, embraced by all demographic and political groups. Three-quarters of the respondents said the lawmakers had “done nothing to address the country’s problems”; and not only that, but what little they did do was spectacularly infuriating. One of Congress’s most notable actions of its first year was failing to pass a bill to fund the government, thereby shutting down the whole shebang.

            According to The Week magazine, the 113th Congress passed only 66 bills, the lowest number in four decades (“or as far back as GovTrack has reliable data”), and only 58 of those became law—“and many of them did nothing more than name post offices.” Popular measures never made it to a vote. Nine of ten Americans favor tougher background checks in gun purchases, but Congress spiked gun-control legislation; two-thirds of Americans supported the Senate’s bi-partisan immigration bill, but the House refused to take it up.

            “Polls have found Congress less popular than dog turds and cockroaches, and in November, Congress’s approval rating fell to an all-time low of nine points saith Gallup.” A few weeks later, it stood at 6 percent. (I’d like to see the question that requires respondents to rank Congress, dog turds and cockroaches, although maybe The Week is simply indulging in a flight of fancy.)

            In our next exhibit, we begin with a New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress that reveals the reason that Congress is so unresponsive to the opinions and wishes of the general public: most senators and representatives come from districts that are “safe.”  Their district’s boundaries have been re-drawn at every tenth year census until finally an incumbent’s district includes only voters likely to re-elect the incumbent. It used to be that voters picked their congressmen; now, as Bill Maher said, congressmen pick their voters. The Republicans, observes Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, “played the game much better” than Democrats: “In 2012, House Democratic candidates across the country won about half a million more votes than their Republican opponents, but the GOP emerged with thirty-three more seats than the Democrats.”

            As a result, “incumbents in the House, particularly Republicans, fear primaries more than general elections” because their only challengers are likely to be members of the same party, who may take a more extreme position on issues favored by both candidates and hence win the primary. So incumbents “take pains to avoid being caught in the act of bipartisanship. What has followed is rancor, extremism, and stalemate,” said Toobin.

            Because this situation is hopeless, editoonists focus on the malfeasance of this undemocratically elected government rather than on the statistical perversion of democracy that it represents. And so we have Tom Toles’ colorful portrait of governmental “compromise” that services the people in the same way a farmer’s bulls services his cows (a image more spectacular than the quiet park bench of Toles’ picture, but Toles’ irony is sharper). Below Toles, Rob Rogers offers an even more stunningly ironic assessment of the GOP policies on matters of public welfare. Drew Sheneman also deals in heavy irony, but he deploys an image as well as words to create the portrait of a lazy freeloader (i.e., the do-nothing GOP Congress) who has vowed to do nothing to tempt the citizenry into a similarly freeloading laziness. And so unemployment benefits expired.



FOR A MOMENTARY DIVERSION from such serious matters, we look next at a couple ostensibly scandalous cartoons that got their makers noticed. A.F. Branco produced the cartoon at the upper left in which an angry man with a sore on his mouth claims he got a sexually transmitted disease from one of his girlfriends (one of whom, also with a sore on her mouth, stands behind him, holding a packet of birth control pills) whose access to birth control through Obamacare permits them both to indulge in untrammeled fornication at will, which leads (as everyone knows, surely) to STD. The cartoon is a parody, said Paige Lavender at HuffPost (November 26), of an ad for Obamacare, although her description of that ad makes it sound more like an attack on Obamacare: the ad “from DoYouGotInsurance.com is called ‘Let’s Get Physical’ and shows characters named Susie and Nate described as ‘hot to trot’; in the ad, Susie gives a thumbs up while holding a pack of birth control pills.”

            Branco, whose work appears at a website called ComicallyIncorrect, is clearly against Obamacare’s supplying birth control pills, but he’s chosen a notably unsavory and intellectually dubious means of conveying his objection, and its outrageousness attracted enough protest that he felt obliged to explain:

            “I’m not against birth control nor do I feel that it is any of my business what people do sexually. However, I do feel that contraceptives are inexpensive and accessible enough that I shouldn’t have to pay for them through my taxes. I also feel that my government shouldn’t be promoting promiscuous sex as though condoms are the answer to all STDs and promiscuous behavior.”

            It probably goes without saying that condoms may prevent the transmission of STD, but not all contraceptive methods are condoms. Moreover, promiscuous sex does not, ipso facto, lead to contracting an STD, nor do contraceptives in-and-of-themselves promote promiscuity. So to claim that Obamacare’s providing of contraceptives leads a national outbreak of STD is something of a stretch. But that’s what cartoons do: they exaggerate.

            The next cartoon on the clock is Ted Rall’s, and it marks the end of his brief association with the Daily Kos, a liberal veering blog that began, about a year ago, posting cartoons. Rall wasn’t invited to join the ensemble, but, prompted by the owner of the blog, he invited himself, despite his well-known opposition to any cartoonist doing cartoons without recompense. He surrendered to the usual rationale: exposure would bring readers and, eventually, lead to paying gigs. So he sent in cartoons.

            The “experiment” (as he terms it) ended a few weeks later when Rall logged in and found this message:

            “Your depiction of Barack Obama [in the cartoon at hand] as ape-like is intolerable. Being critical of Obama, even ferociously so, is not the problem. Through British and American history, blacks have been subjected to racist depictions of themselves as monkeys and apes. No excuse is acceptable for replicating that history now no matter what your intent. If it happens again, your posting privileges will be suspended.”

            The Daily Kos would get no further chances at Rall: he ended his experiment forthwith. And immediately went viral on the Web, yelling about being censored. “The ‘liberal’ blog has slammed me with the most severe act of censorship of my career,” he shrieked.

            His career is not entirely unscathed. He’s been fired, and he’s been “kept out of publications where my work obviously belonged,” he admitted. “But this tops them all.”

            When his accusation of being censored was questioned by Michael Dooley—“are editorial decisions really censorship?”—Rall was unequivocal: “To edit is to censor. It’s true. Look it up in the dictionary.”

            So I did. And he’s right: my American Heritage Dictionary gives four definitions for “edit,” but only one—the fourth—means “to eliminate, to delete.” The rest have to do with modifying or adapting something for publication. Conflating editing with censoring is a typical Rall rhetorical maneuver: once astride his tallest horse, he exaggerates in all directions at once, but there’s enough truth in each utterance to sustain his position. 

            Not only is editing the same as censoring, Rall admitted to doing precisely that when he was editing for a syndicate: “It isn’t easy to be an editor,” he said. “I have been an editor. I have gotten into shouting matches with cartoonists over work that I would not send out. This was because I was editing material for corporate media, and I knew that the ramifications for both of us would be severe. So, of course, I have a lot of empathy for editors.”

            He even admitted that editing isn’t always censorship: “In many cases, a good editor is simply trying to protect you from yourself, save you from being hurt in your career, or truly trying to help you bring out your voice as effectively as possible, and sometimes you agree and sometimes you don’t agree with them. These decisions are never easy. Where I get annoyed at editors is if their issues of taste are really masquerades for issues of politics.”

            Rall is no stranger to controversy, Dooley pointed out. “His savage 1999 Village Voice takedown of Art Spiegelman as New York’s ruling cartoon power broker made him a pariah among many comics artists. More recently, I reported on Imprint about Rall’s ‘print vs. online publishing’ debate with graphic journalist Susie Cagle. ... And he’s had frequent run-ins with editors and the public during his 20-plus of political cartooning. A fiercely independent progressive, he’s been called a racist and much worse by the right. And now he’s hearing it from the left.”

            Although censorship is the umbrella under which Rall holds forth, the umbrella shelters an insidious threat, as he sees it: “Neither the left or the right has a monopoly on censorship. For me, it is less about an individual cartoon being censored as much as it is an entire point of view or a body of work. For example, it has always been difficult to get anti-free-trade agreement cartoons printed in any newspaper or magazine, or widely disseminated online. The corporate media likes free-trade too much to allow it to be criticized. Also, after the 2000 Bush v. Gore election recount, no one wanted to discuss the question of Bush’s legitimacy.

            “You could draw cartoons about the issue,” he continued, “but you knew that nobody was going to put them in print or post them online. That is the effect of censorship: to stifle a point of view that deserves to be heard, even if it’s not necessarily correct. After September 11, the mainstream media—and even the alternative media—abdicated their role as critics of the government. Pretty much if you were critical of Bush or the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, nobody wanted to hear from you. That has only barely begun to change, I would say in the last year. And even so, we are nowhere close to having the freedom to do the kind of work that we were able to do back in the 1990s.”

            Rall acknowledges that there will always be editing/censorship: “To edit is to censor. So there will always be censorship as long as there are gatekeepers. Of course, anyone can put anything up on the Internet, but if nobody comes to see it, if it’s not at a site that is well-funded and hires programmers who are able to direct traffic toward it, then it might as well have been published in your own bedroom. So I think that things will pretty much continue the way that they have been, with one big exception: vulgarity is going to be far more widely accepted than it ever has been in the past. George Carlin’s seven dirty words will no longer be considered so dirty, and will trickle through the culture. The Internet and cable television will assure us of that.”

            The invasion of the dirty words has already begun—even, slightly disguised, in newspaper comic strips, as we’re demonstrated here in previous postings.

            So what does Rall want? An entirely unfettered atmosphere, completely free for freebooters of every ilk? Well, yes. Said he:

            “The only way a cartoonist or any other creative person can produce their best possible work is for them to be protected from censorship of any kind, whether it be governmental or economic. If you have to worry about being fired because you offend someone, for example, you will pay too much attention to not offending anyone, and not enough attention to creating great work.

            “Freedom means economic freedom,” he went on, “and economic freedom means the freedom to not be fired no matter what you do. There is literally no freedom of speech in any society where someone can lose income for what they say or do. Now some people will reply that it isn’t practical to let artists or writers express themselves completely freely, and maybe they are right, but let’s not kid ourselves that we live in a free society.”

            In a completely “free society,” every opinion “deserves to be heard,” as he advocated a few paragraphs ago. That’s a questionable proposition. Every opinion? Even those of babbling idiots? Well, yes—if you’re living in a completely free society.

            Apart from Rall’s high-fallutin’ motivation, however, much of his tirade was prompted because it was his drawing style that was being criticized by Daily Kos, not his point of view.

            “The grounds for censoring my cartoons from the site—my drawing style—are beneath contempt,” he said, going on to say that everyone familiar with his work knows he isn’t racist. Moreover, “it should be noted that my editors at a variety of American newspapers, magazines and websites, almost all of whom are left of center politically, some of whom are black and many of whom voted for Obama, have never expressed the slightest concern about the way I draw the President.”

            I agree: the controversy arises because of Rall’s drawing style. All of Rall’s caricatures are barely recognizable as caricatures of specific individuals. They’re all blockheads (figuratively and literally in Ralll’s work). With his rendering mannerisms, how could he portray anyone?

            Said he: “I might consider altering the way I daw a political figure for a paying client. A very high-paying client. Someone who employed me full-time. But I’m not going to alter my drawing style for $0.00 money.”

            So his principles are as easily compromised as the nearest capitalist’s.

            But if we look carefully at his drawings of Obama, there is a simian element there. In the mouth, in the nose. Just barely, but enough to justify the Daily Kos’s rant. Rall may believe that his caricature bristles with generic African American features (generic because, as I said, he can’t do caricatures of individuals). His caricature of GeeDubya Bush, by the way, wasn’t much different. But there are undeniable apish aspects to the picture.

            Rall subsequently responded to the criticism of his drawing style with another cartoon, which we’ve posted just below the controversial one. In it, he admits he can’t win. But that won’t shut him up: we expect to hear again from our resident gadfly the next time he thinks his ox has been gored.

            Moving on (it’s about time), to the left of Rall’s second cartoon is Nick Anderson’s comment on the conservative reluctance to raise the minimum wage. The image is screamingly ironic: the capitalist with all the money is accusing an ordinary worker of being greedy because he advocates raising the minimum wage. The GOP position has always been that raising the minimum wage won’t alleviate worker’s plight because employers will cut staff in order to be able to pay higher wages for the few who are left working. So more workers will be jobless. While that seems, on its face, to be an accurate assessment, the facts fly in its face.

            In the real world (as opposed to the GOP fantasy world), Paul Krugman in the New York Times said it’s a myth that raising the minimum wage leads to job losses. Krugman cites a study of states that raised their minimum wage that round no significant impact on employment compared with neighboring states that didn’t raise the minimum wage. Krugman also reports that most economists support raising the minimum wage—as do 76 percent of voters, including 58 percent of Republicons.

            The other 42 percent are probably the ones sitting in Congress, where they must appeal to people like the guy I just heard on the radio, claiming that the inauguration of the minimum wage in the 1930s was a plot by labor unions to eliminate jobs. The minimum wage would put the squeeze on employers, forcing them to reduce work force, which they would do by cutting non-union workers. I’m not sure this dynamic would actually work, but the guy shouting about it was convinced he was right. And too many of his pachyderm pals share his conviction of unyielding righteousness.



CONTINUING OUR COVERAGE of pleasant amusements rather than sharp-elbowed satire, we come to Pat Oliphant’s hilarious exaggeration of the military’s cavalier attitude toward rape in the ranks. Oliphant needs several panels in order to properly convey the blinding indifference of the military to this blot on its escutcheon. One possible solution to the epidemic is to take rape cases out of the usual chain of command for adjudication, which has been accused of failing in many instances because the commanding officer is a friend of the rapist and can’t therefore believe his friend capable of rape; surely, the woman wanted to have sex with the guy. Or if she didn’t, she should have.

            Military spokesmen say this maneuver would undermine the chain of command and reduce unit effectiveness. Maybe so. But isn’t unit effectiveness already reduced by tolerating the rape of females in its ranks?

            Dana Summers takes a quick look at current gun control efforts: the threat of recall has now made politicians timid about enacting anything to control guns that the National Rambo Association disapproves of.  Which is anything at all. Too bad. But the power of the threat is greatly exaggerated. Here in Colorado, two state legislators were recalled, ostensibly because of their support of new gun control laws last year. But in both cases, the recall vote in their districts was fairly skimpy, scarcely an indication (as NRA would have it) of a national uprising.

            Bill Day’s picture of Fox News combines a verbal pun and a picture to perfectly capture the “fair and balanced” treatment Bronco Bama has received at that cable channel. At the other end of the political spectrum, Eric Allie employs sewage imagery to discredit MSNBC, a more liberal voice on cable. I think MSNBC is actually fairly objective, insofar as such a posture is possible, but I like Allie’s drawings so I include him here whenever he seems to fit the direction of the discourse.

            Liberals like me always think the news outlets that conservatives find biased to be actually objective. That’s why Fox succeeds: it portrays the world as conservatives perceive it. But all that means is that the conservative world view is fanciful rather than factual. To verify this assertion, you have only to listen to conservative politicians for 10-15 minutes: within any such short time span, they are certain to make a statement about society and/or government that is based upon  convictions rather than facts, convictions rooted in a world that none of the rest of us recognize. Obama was born in Kenya. No fact has ever been discovered that supports this ludicrous notion. And the list goes on and on. We won’t line them all up here.

            Instead, we’ll look at some other trivolities of the last few weeks, beginning with the Great Duck Hunt. Phil Robertson, the grand pere of the Duck Dynasty, was suspended from the popular A&E program because his view of homosexuality doesn’t conform to the liberal view (which is, according to most national polls, pretty much a majority opinion). Then A&E redacted their suspension and restored the old man to his bearded scions. Randall Enos captured the situation in a single image showing A&E’s devotion to the fiscal bottom line.

            Strange, isn’t it, how those who demand tolerance seem intolerant of anyone with whom they disagree. Pat Bagley would seem to concur in his comment, next on the clock: pointing out inconvenient citations in the Bible, he shows just how hypocritical it is to invoke the Good Book to support intolerant opinions.

            Chip Bok is just having cartoonist fun in the next cartoon. Presumably, we’ll all have to have our ideas in corkscrew shape once the compact fluorescent bulb takes over (although modifications of the law are in the works, and apparently the old incandescent bulb has a few light years left before it’ll flicker off forever). Lalo Alcaraz is also having fun with another sort of image—but it has an satirical edge as well as a wrap-around bun.

            In anticipation of the President’s report to Congress on the current state of the union, George Will devoted an entire column to describing his dissatisfaction with the ritual. You can tell easily that not much in life pleases George Will: just to look at him is to see the visage of stern disapproval. His lips are always clamped into a narrow vice-like slit of severe opprobrium. And so it is no surprise to find that for him, the “State of the Union circus” is “a tiresome exercise in political exhibitionism, the most execrable ceremony in the nation’s civic liturgy ... a made-for-television political pep rally ... a puerile spectacle ... [bubbling with] bromides and stillborn panaceas [lobbed in the direction of legislators either] histrionically torpid or sullen.”

            Well, I disagree.

            And I think Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union speech was just fine, an artfully arranged and cannily delivered exhortation to rededicate ourselves to achieving something of the promise of this nation as espoused in its most sacred documents. We the people occasionally need a cheerleader, and he did the job. He had every justification for lambasting a do-nothing Congress like Harry S Truman did sixty-odd years ago (“Give ’em hell, Harry,” we all shouted). But he didn’t. He knew it would do no good. So he spoke over the heads of the lawmaking layabouts, particularly those sitting on their hands in the red seats, and addressed his fellow Americans in upbeat terms that gave us all hope again. Perhaps government could work after all. Nicely done.

            Our penultimate array of visual aids shows how the editoonery fraternitiy reacted. But we don’t need a picture for Henry Payne’s cartoon on the subject: his Obama says: “Republicans and I agree that government is too big. So I’m eliminating the legislative branch.” What would a picture add to that witticism? Not much: it’s verbal commentary, not visual-verbal in the manner of most cartooning. And I’m not convinced that Payne had heard the speech: his criticism applies to what we had all heard about the speech beforehand. And Bob Englehart might have drawn his cartoon without listening to the speech: we’d heard that Obama was supposed to junk Congress and go it alone. And he did say he’d bypass the bunch dominated by the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm and try to accomplish some good things by Executive Order. But the thrust of the speech was not as confrontational or accusatory as that strategy implies. Rick McKee is a little more on target with his nicely honed ironic sarcasm, but he, like many who voiced a concern about Obama’s dictatorical impulse with Executive Orders, overlooks the sheer statistical fact that Obama, having so far issued only 169 Executive Orders, is running far behind GeeDubya (with 291) and St. Ronald Reagan (with 381); the fewest, oddly, in the last 60 years were issued by George H.W. Bush, only 166.

            As always, I love Eric Allie’s drawing: Joe Biden is great, Obama (except for the ear-handles) is passable (although the nose is wrong), but John Boehner (pronounced “nitwit”) seems a little off. And I don’t think Allie heard the speech either: Obama actually applauded Boehner’s stunning success in life—rising from being the son of a lowly bartender to being Speaker of the House, the third in succession to the Presidency should both Obama and Biden be blown up at once.

            Steve Sack’s picture of a panoply of sacks includes Obama with his head in a bag, so no one in Washington escapes criticism: I suppose that means they should all be, er, sacked. All gentle albeit pointed stuff so far, but Pat Bagley takes the prize. Instead of commenting on Obama’s State of the Union speech, he turned his attention to the GOP responders, starting with Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. Some of the others, representing other fragments of the fragmented Republicon Party, I don’t recognize—except Rand Paul at the lower left. Bagley conveys their political philosophies by having each one lean to the right—and the angle of the lean increases with the degree of deviation from upright Right until we get to the fourth guy, who’s leaning so far to the right that he’s unhinged. Meanwhile, all of us are depicted in the last panel, doing what the GOP response always does to us.



Surrounding Hate and Forcing It To Surrender. And so we come at last to Pete Seeger, who died January 27 at the age of 94, full of years and songs. Near here are some of the obitoons produced at the news of his death, beginning with Taylor Jones’s elegant caricature of Seeger singing in a field where only one flower blooms, recalling, thereby, one of the singer’s most celebrated compositions, the Vietnam era anti-war song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Both Joe Heller and Bill Day commemorate Seeger by invoking the inscription on his banjo, the weapon he wielded to surround hatred, and Heller lets the instrument cast a shadow in the shape of a hammer to remind us of the words of another Seeger classic, “If I Had A Hammer”: “It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom, it’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.” I can hear Seeger singing it. Bob Englehart ends our short visual eulogy with a picture of Seeger in which the banjo is the whole country, which Seeger played out of love and principle.

            At the Associated Press, Ted Anthony began his article on Seeger with these words: “Pete Seeger was a complicated man with a simple message: make the world better, and be kind while doing it. To accomplish these goals, he harnessed hundreds of years of musical tradition to a banjo and a single, unyielding human voice.” Jon Pareles at The New York Times has a nice lengthy obit, noting most of the chief events in Seeger’s long life of activism in the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies in the 1960s (his adaptation of an old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome,” was the civil rights anthem), and against war and for the environment thereafter. You should read Pareles.

            For me, Seeger occupies a nook in the crannies of my youth that shaped my attitudes and sentiments all my life. The folksong fad dawned in the summer of 1958 between my junior and senior years at the University of Colorado, and my roommate at the time, Hank Fox, was more attuned to such things—music, mostly—than I. We lived in a garage converted to a two-story apartment that we called Worm’s End (thanks to cartoonist Richard Taylor), and one day, Hank, cigarette perpetually dangling from the corner of his mouth, brought home a new record album, The Weavers at Carnegie Hall.

            A quartet of folksingers, the Weavers were formed in November 1948 by Lee Hays and Seeger (they had started an earlier group, the Almanac Singers, subsequently discredited as anti-war on the eve of the U.S.’s entry into World War II) plus Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. The group was very successful until the publication in the summer of 1951 of the pamphlet Red Channels that listed Seeger as a Communist. He, like many of his countrymen during the Great Depression, had joined the Communist Party in desperation: the collapse of the American economic system temporarily convinced many that some other economy might be better, and the most visible alternative then was Communism. By 1951, however, Seeger had “drifted away” (as he put it) from the Party. But Red Channels did its work: unable to find gigs, the Weavers, like the Almanac Singers before them, disbanded.

            They got together occasionally thereafter, notably on Christmas Eve 1955 at Carnegie Hall. It was a huge success and was recorded; the record album wasn’t issued until April 1957, and how Hank got wind of it a year later, I do not know. But there it was, and we played it and before long were singing phrases from some of its songs: “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” “Wimoweh,” “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Goodnight Irene” (a cleaned up version of Lead Belly’s song—that is, without the morphine), which topped the charts in 1950 for 13 weeks.

            The summer before the Carnegie Hall appearance, Seeger had been summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Despite the Committee’s history of citing witnesses for contempt and their subsequent conviction and imprisonment (the so-called “Hollywood Ten” from 1950), Seeger refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights. Said he: “I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” He did, however, offer to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined.

            Seeger was indicted in 1957 on ten counts of contempt of Congress; he was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty, and Seeger continued singing lustily.

            The Weavers were the beginning of a revival of folksinging in the country. Inspired by their work, the Kingston Trio formed in March 1957 and made “Tom Dooley” the song everyone was singing; they issued their first album the next year, and “Scotch and Soda” edged up to Tom hanging his head down. The Limeliters followed in the summer of 1959. Named after a club in Aspen, Colorado where they’d debuted as a group, they inspired us with the rollicking “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight” and “Lonesome Traveler” and the seductive “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear.”

            But Seeger was the beginning. For me, anyhow. Seeger would see it differently. His whole celebrated career, in fact, he would see differently. “My own biggest thing in life,” he said, “was simply being a link in a chain.”

            At Seeger’s death, Robert Porath of Boulder, Colorado, wrote to the Denver Post: “Be it on the environment, civil rights, poverty, social justice, the power of music, or the function of government, it is impossible to name someone more on the right side of history than Pete Seeger. Rising from the dark years of the Great Depression, thousands of people were drawn to Communism as an alternative to what was regarded as an amoral, unfettered capitalistic economic system. Most, including Seeger, came to the realization that even the highest ideals can be corrupted by the temptations of power. One has to wonder if the defenders and apologists for neoconservatism can come to the same awakening.”

            The Post’s obituary is headlined “American troubadour,” and he was, indeed, that. The thing I remember most fondly about those of his performances that I witnessed is how his face lit up with joy when he provoked an audience to sing along with him.



Fitnoot. Last time, in Opus 320, we reported that Cal Grondahl had been laid off at the Ogedn (Utah) Standard Examiner. His departure leaves only 50 editoonists working full-time on the staffs of newspapers.




            She was only a taxi driver’s daughter, but you auto meter.

            She was only a film censor’s daughter, but she knew when to cut it out.

            She was only a photographer’s daughter, but she was well-developed.

            She was only a plumber’s daughter, but oh, those fixtures.

            She was only a moonshiner’s daughter, but I loved he still.



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