Monday, April 24, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day with the NCJ

In celebration of Earth Day, Sierraback Saturday recycles a handful of cartoons I drew for the NorthCountry Journal roughly 30 years ago.

The NorthCountry Journal was an environmentally themed monthly newspaper published in Poynette, Wisconsin from 1986 to 1988. Each issue ran 12 pages, with news primarily of issues concerning northern Wisconsin, updates from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), activities of the state legislature, and regular columns about wildlife by Ced Vig, living close to nature by Justin Isherwood, and hunting by Jim Kalkofen. Plus the occasional handy household hints: did you know that cucumber peelings repel ants?

My cartoons became a regular Page 6 feature in the NCJ soon after the newspaper was launched. Editor Susie Isaksen would send me the topic of the next edition's editorial, and I'd send her a cartoon to complement it; for example, finding common cause between hunters and naturists above, and in favor of funding a Wisconsin soil erosion program below.

I've selected here cartoons that don't focus on specific politicians, although the guy with the bulbous nose in the background of this next cartoon was a generic politician character I used in the NCJ from time to time. (The unshaven guy was another recurring character.) The editorial was about industrial representatives and farmers "whining" to state officials about the so-called undue burdens of environmental protection regulations.

The U.S. Air Force was conducting low-level flights of B-52 bombers over northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan in the spring of 1987, leading to complaints that people couldn't hear each other talk in the woods. There was also concern of the flights' effects on eagles and other wildlife. I tied the story in with another environmental concern of the time.

Where to put the state's garbage was a growing problem. There was such a thing as recycling back then, but it mostly involved taking your old newspapers, cans and milk cartons to a recycling center. Very few municipalities had curbside pick-up of recyclables, and rather than wait in line at the recycling company yard, many people didn't bother to separate recyclables from their other trash.

Recyclables aside, did you know that an apple core will completely decay in a couple weeks in a compost pile, but it will last for several months in a landfill? And that we've been stocking our landfills with non-biodegradable Styrofoam (well, almost non-bio-degradable) since World War II?

That unshaven guy from the third cartoon above puts in one more appearance in this last cartoon featuring a generic industrial plant, Slimeco, that was another recurring entity. I never made it clear what sort of company Slimeco was, other than that the corporation had a callous disregard for the environment.

Slimeco and its CEO Roger Slimec appeared in a few cartoons I drew for other publications after the NCJ suspended publication. I have not, however, had much call for it to appear in my LGBT-focused work, so Slimeco has been out of the public eye for a quite a while.

Heck, it's probably a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries by now.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Caveat Circuitor

Yesterday's post ended with the observation that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Then I was reminded that it ain't necessarily so.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Torture Logic

You'll have to forgive me for getting serious this week.

Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
✒Apr 20, 2017

Most of what Americans know about the Soviet Russian Republic of Chechnya has to do with the Islamist revolt there in the 1990s and Chechen terrorist attacks such as the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004. Moscow has tightly controlled the Chechen government since crushing the revolt and eliminating the territory's independence-minded leaders. Vladimir Putin installed Ramzan Kadyrov as President of Chechnya in 2007.

This month, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Chechen authorities had begun mass arrests of gay men, who were tortured with electric current to get them to give up the names of other gay men:
The media scandal on repressions against homosexuals in Chechnya broke out on April, 1 after the publication of the Novaya Gazeta investigation, which referred to the detention and torture of more than 100 homosexual men in Chechnya, as well as to the murders of at least three people.
The publication aroused the anger of Chechen politicians and clergy, who called these data "lies and provocation". Kadyrov's press secretary Alvi Karimov said that there were no gay people among the residents of the republic, and Kheda Saratova, a member of the HRC with the head of Chechnya, said that she "would not consider a statement about the murder of a homosexual, because this is an evil that every resident of Chechnya must fight with".
The official denial of the existence of any gays in Chechnya echoes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial ten years ago that Iran was hanging men and women for the crime of being gay.

In keeping with dictatorial standards and practices, the official state policy is to attack the media. But we're not talking about merely denying Novaya Gazeta admisison to a press gaggle.
At the April 3, 2017, gathering of some 15,000 men, Chechen presidential adviser Adam Shahidov called the Novaya Gazeta journalists "enemies of our faith and our motherland" and promised "vengeance." The resolution adopted at the gathering included a "promise that retribution will catch up with the hatemongers wherever and whoever they are, without a statute of limitations," according to Novaya Gazeta.
The Novaya Gazeta reporters have good reason to be concerned for their own safety. The long list of Russian citizens assassinated for exposing what Russian government is becoming includes one of their own: Novaya Gazeta reporter  Anna Politkovskaya in October, 2006:
Politkovskaya was just 48 years old when she was found in the foyer of her apartment building, shot in the head with a pistol. Her unflinching reporting for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta on the Chechen War’s human-rights abuses, corruption, and brutality made her one of Russia’s bravest journalists.
Kadyrov (who was Prime Minister in 2006) denied responsibility for the murder in a 2007 interview, but his reasoning is still chilling:
"Why would I have killed her?" he says, in heavily accented Russian (Chechen is his first language). "She used to write bad things about my father, and if I had wanted to, I could have done something bad to her at that time. Why now?"
Another Russian journalist was murdered just last month.

To its credit, even the Trump administration has denounced the gross violation of human rights in Chechnya. I guess that's some small progress; but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Drawing Board of Education

Your kids may be on spring break, but here at Bergetoons, it's Back-to-Schoolback Saturday.

I started my editorial cartoon career forty years ago by drawing about our education system — a topic of interest to me since I was still in school at the time. The 1970s in my hometown were marked by union strikes interrupting every other school year, starting with a custodians' union strike in 1970. Most of the strikes lasted a couple of weeks, but a teachers' strike my senior year lasted 50 days — starting in January and lasting all the way through February and into March.

With plenty of time on my hands, I took ballpoint pen to paper and drew the next two cartoons, my first editorial cartoons to be printed in an honest-to-goodness daily newspaper. (Caricatured on the left of this first one is union negotiator Jim Ennis, who had a conveniently round face; on the right is school board negotiator Thatcher Peterson, who didn't.)

To make up for lost school days once classes finally resumed, the district scheduled classes on Saturdays and extended the school year until June 30. We seniors were graduated weeks earlier, however, in order for schools to send our records to colleges and universities on time. It also gave us a slight edge getting summer jobs.

Racine's experience with teachers' strikes was hardly unique. Between 1969 and 1974, there were 50 teachers' strikes in Wisconsin, most notably the 1974 strike in Hortonville, during which the school district summarily fired 86 of its 88 teachers; townsfolk formed vigilante groups against the union members, and the union leader was hanged in effigy from the town water tower. Teachers unions from around the state sent members to support the Hortonville strikers, but to no avail. The Hortonville teachers appealed their firing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in favor of the school district.

I've encountered quite a few people locally whose sour opinion of labor unions is directly a result of  those days. A  jaundiced view  of schools and a reluctance to fund them adequately, on the other hand, predates the union issue. Funding schools through local property taxes makes sense from the point of view of having community-wide support of a community service, but it does require convincing property owners who have no children in school of the value of other people's education.

My generation went through four years of "split shift" middle schools because the community hadn't built enough schools to accommodate the baby boom. Even after we were graduated out of the system, voters only very grudgingly voted to repair or replace older schools that were literally crumbling to pieces.

Sex education has always been a thorny issue for schools. How much information is too much? How much education is not enough?

Sex Ed has been one factor pushing some parents to take their kids out of the public schools; not wanting their kids taught science is another. It furthermore stands to reason that children do better in schools where the whole class is motivated and all parents are invested in the kids' education. Public schools must teach the talented and the indifferent alike, whether the parents have the time or inclination to get involved or not.

Along the way, private school parents have become convinced that it's not fair that they should still have to pay for public schools as well as their private tuition. Thus arose the idea that kids going to private schools should be entitled to public tax dollars, too; its proponents gave their voucher programs the name "School Choice."

The above cartoon fairly encapsulates one of the problems I have with subsidizing private schools. But when I was drawing for the Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee, their editorial stance was firmly in favor of school choice, and they occasionally wanted cartoons that reflected that viewpoint. It can be a good exercise every once in a while to try one's hand at drawing a cartoon with which one disagrees, although I wouldn't recommend making a career of it.

Along came Scott Walker and Republican control of all levers of state government after the 2010 elections. Recognizing them as the last institutional support of the Democratic party, teachers' and other public employee unions were the Republicans' first target. Koch brothers radio and TV ads stoking public resentment of public sector workers. For 30 years, private sector workers had seen their jobs sent overseas and their wages, at best, stagnant. The students of Hortonville and all the other stricken schools in the 1970s were now all grown up and ready to pay those teachers back.

With Republicans now in charge of all levers of the federal government, this will become a national issue yet again. I just posted this last cartoon only a month ago, but I think it's worth another look, since mercurial American President Donald Trump hasn't flip-flopped on subsidizing private education.

Yet.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hellfire and Domination

With Syrian gas and missile attacks, North Korean nuclear tension, Sean Spicer's sanitized views on Hitler, and a doctor dragged off a United Airlines flight competing for our attention, other stories tend to get overlooked. Here's one of them.

Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
✒Apr 13, 2017
700 Club manager Pat Robertson fretted last week about the cultural influence of gays and lesbians.
“We have given the ground to a small minority,” he said. “You figure, lesbians, one percent of the population; homosexuals, two percent of the population. That’s all. That’s statistically all. But they have dominated — dominated the media, they’ve dominated the cultural shift and they have infiltrated the major universities. It’s just unbelievable what’s being done. A tiny, tiny minority makes a huge difference. The majority — it’s time it wakes up.”
Speaking as someone who has spent years infiltrating the media, I'm glad to know that as insignificant as I am, I still make a huge difference shifting the culture. Whether it's posting my little cartoons every week, or binge-watching "Modern Family" on Friday nights, I'm just doing my part to keep Chechnya from happening here.