Monday, November 18, 2019

Weekly Sneakily Peeking

Dad, whose monthly Environmental Stewardship column should be showing up in my inbox any day, asked yesterday about my habit in this blog of giving Donald Trump the middle name "Berzelius." He was puzzled that I would make reference to some Eighteenth Century Swedish chemist.

Well, chemistry is Dad's field. I'd never heard of the guy.

But since it's been a good long while since I've explained where I got the name, I might as well do it again.

Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip is a character in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, a fascist who gets elected President of the United States on a populist platform in 1936. He's part Hitler, part Huey Long, and is eventually overthrown by even more horrible members of his party who end up declaring an unjustifiable war on Mexico.

A lot of people have not read It Can't Happen Here, so I sometimes give Trump the middle name "Joffrey" instead, after the spoiled rotten boy king in George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series. Joffrey is a vain, egotistical, cruel, cowardly bully; his name shares the same initial as Trump's middle name; and he's a more contemporary cultural reference than Sinclair Lewis's villain. But, as hard as this may be to believe, there are people who won't get Game of Thrones references, either.

I'm married to one.
Meanwhile, I'm still in the process of replacing all this blog's embedded links to the old site, just because dead links are annoying. I came across one post that had now dead links to several North Carolina cartoonists' caricatures of then-Governor Pat McGrory on the AAEC site; it could be a real challenge re-linking them all.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Treaty Defeaty

Centuryback Saturday returns by popular demand! Okay, just one person said anything, but who am I to disappoint a reader, even a wee bit?
"Out of the Uniform..." by J. N. "Ding" Darling in New York Tribune, November 25, 1919
As it happens, we're just about at the centennial of the the U.S. Senate adjourning a special session on November 19, 1919, without ratifying the Versailles Peace Treaty to end World War I.
"Shamed" by Nelson Harding in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 21, 1919
Senate Foreign Relations Chair Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) offered a counter-proposal to join the League of Nations "with reservations." Chief among his reservations was that under Article X of the League Covenant, the U.S. surrendered to the League the power whether or not to declare war.
The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.
"The Convalescents" by Bill Sykes in Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 19, 1919
Bill Sykes may have been the only cartoonist to hold out some hope that ratification of the treaty might still be achieved. He is one of very few cartoonists to address President Wilson's health head-on. (A month and a half after his stroke, it was obvious to any observer that Wilson was seriously ill in spite of the administration's lack of complete public transparency. On November 24, a prank phone caller even convinced Vice President Thomas Marshall at a public speaking appearance in Atlanta that Wilson had died.)
"Compromises" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, November 20, 1919
Yet although Lodge was able to patch together a bipartisan coalition in favor of his counter-proposal, Wilson sent Senate Democrats a letter charging that Lodge's resolution "does not provide for ratification but rather for nullification of the treaty. I sincerely hope that the friends and supporters of the treaty will vote against the Lodge resolution." Enough Democrats backing Wilson's opposition, plus isolationist Republicans and Democrats opposed to membership in the League at all, denied Lodge's plan the required two-thirds majority of Senators.

John McCutcheon's cartoon above ignores the fact that Republicans refused even to allow debate on any treaty but Lodge's substitute for the one worked out at Versailles. Lodge, for his part, was more than happy to see Wilson suffer a political defeat, and to have the treaty remain an issue into the 1920 presidential campaign.
"It's Hard to Keep a Mud Turtle..." by Homer Stinson in Dayton Daily News, November, 1919
The Senate was scheduled to return in regular session on December 1, but would again fail to take any action to ratify the treaty, with or without reservations, by the time it adjourned in March. Ironically, as far as Mr. Lodge's concern that the League might commit U.S. to declare war against its will, the Senate's failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles meant that the U.S. remained at war against the Central Powers.
"Aw-w, Look What You Went an' Done" by Bill Sykes in Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 21, 1919
Even if the guns weren't firing, the continuing state of war still had some pesky practical consequences ...
"The Slip 'Twixt the Cup and the Lip" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1919
But that will have to remain a topic for another Saturday.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

QToon: Balls and Strikes

"Judges are like umpires.... I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability, and I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat." —John Roberts, at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, September 12, 2005

Brian Brown, the president of the antigay National Organization for Marriage and World Congress of Families, recently tweeted a photo of himself and and leaders of the Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith posing with Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito.

Since the Supremes have taken up three LGBTQ+ rights cases this year, a liberal advocacy group, Take Back the Court, is demanding that Kavanaugh and Alito recuse themselves from them.
The Supreme Court has become deeply politicized in recent years, thanks to a series of rulings like Shelby County v. Holder, Citizens United, and Rucho v. Common Cause that have undermined basic tenets of our democracy for partisan advantage. The successful and unprecedented efforts by political branches to manipulate the size of the court for partisan purposes and your behavior, Justice Kavanaugh, during your confirmation hearings, have only deepened concerns about the politicization of the court. Your decision to meet privately with an activist who has filed amicus briefs with the court in three pending cases seems to confirm the worst fears of his critics.
The public letter from Take Back the Court director Aaron Belkin concludes:
The credibility and impartiality of the current Supreme Court is in tatters. Posing for photographs with the president of an advocacy organization that has filed briefs in matters pending before the court makes a mockery of Chief Justice Roberts’ assertion that a judge’s role is to impartially call balls and strikes. If you refuse to recuse yourselves, this incident will further illustrate the urgent need for structural reform of the Supreme Court in order to restore a Court that understands its role is to protect individual rights and our democracy.
Brown's NOM has filed amicus briefs in the cases before the Court, urging the Justices to rule that employers have every right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees, applicants, and customers. Given how nominees to the Court these days bend themselves into human pretzels trying to avoid answering any question that might someday be relevant to a matter before the Court, it is at least curious that Kavanaugh and Alito would choose to grant such an ex parte photo op.

Recusals of Supreme Court Justices are not so uncommon as you might think. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from dozens of cases — 28 in her first year on the Court — because as Solicitor General, she had been counsel in some of the litigation of those cases. Sandra Day O’Connor removed herself from cases regarding telecommunications firms because of stocks she owned. Clarence Thomas recused himself from United States v. Virginia because his son was enrolled at The Virginia Military Institute.

Whether and how Thomas's wife's work as a conservative activist impacts his supposed judicial impartiality is a whole other issue; in his three decades on the Court, he hasn't recused himself from any LGBTQ+ cases to my knowledge.

After all, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and for that matter Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts were put on the Court to be conservative judicial activists. The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has been determined to load state and federal courts with their loyal soldiers since Nixon was president, such as Lawrence VanDyke, whom I drew about last week.

If they recused themselves from every liberal v. conservative case, they wouldn't be doing the job they were trained, groomed, and hired to do.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Citizen Greedo

"The Rodian," coming soon to Disney+!

When Star Wars first came out in 1977, the first scene of Harrison Ford as Han Solo showed him shooting bounty hunter Greedo in cold blood. When Episodes IV through VI were packaged together XX years later, the scene had been edited to have Greedo shoot first and miss.

Now Disney has re-re-released the film on its Disney+ app with a curious new edit: after firing his shot, Greedo yells, "MACLUNKEY!" There are plenty of theories buzzing around the internet like so many drunken Toydarians, from the word being:

  • Rodian for "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die," or 
  • Midichlorian for "Oh, shit, I missed!" or 
  • the name of a Schaumburg high school linebacker.

Personally — spoiler alert — I think it was his sled.

Monday, November 11, 2019

This Week's Sneak Pitch

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) has been talking about overhauling its website for several years, and finally did so at the beginning of this month.

The issue became more pressing earlier this year as the old site creaked and groaned beneath the weight of the thousands of cartoons AAEC members had uploaded to it over the years. Lately, members and visitors would be greeted by a screen blank except for the words "Service Unavailable," especially in the morning when many of us were trying to upload files.

The new site still some bugs to be worked out; my cartoon last week never showed up on the home page, possibly because the default setting for uploads was for unknown reasons set to "private" at some point. The black elements of my cartoons are translating on the new site to raw umber, so I suppose I'll have to switch to uploading RGB (screen-friendly red-green-blue) files instead of CMYK (print-friendly cyan-magenta-yellow-black) ones.

The list of members lists us alphabetically by first name instead of last name, which I find disappointing, and not just because I get pushed back from the front of the alphabet to the middle. Like most cartoonists, I don't sign cartoons with my first name, so there's no reason for most readers to look for me under "P."

One consequence of the AAEC website change, unfortunate for this here website particularly, is that all the links to cartoons at the old site are dead. For years, I used the embedded link from this site to cartoons on the AAEC site instead of just inserting cartoons directly. You would see a box that looked something like this:
...which took you to my cartoon on the AAEC site. (Don't bother clicking there to view; the image is not a link.)

I stopped using those AAEC links early last year because the host of this here website kept complaining that "contains HTTP resources which may cause mixed content affecting security and user experience if blog is viewed over HTTPS." Unfortunately, that leaves about nine years worth of my posts that show this sort of thing:
Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
✒Aug 25, 2016

...and no cartoon. (Again, don't click there to view. Blogger is still upset about the now non-existent website's HTTP resources, and I wouldn't want to spoil your user experience.)

So anyway, I'm in the process of replacing all those old, defunct links with cartoon images. While most visitors here visit only the most current posts, there are a few old posts that still get page views from time to time.

I apologize for the inconvenience. I'm working on the problems, and they should all be fixed soon.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Faces in the Crowd

The cartoon I posted on Sunday employed caricatures of a number of House Republicans, when I could more easily have drawn a single GOP elephant at a microphone. So why didn't I do that and knock off an hour earlier?
June, 1996 for the UWM Post.
Pardon me if I step back a few years in order to answer that. In 1996, I drew a crowd of (hopefully) recognizable Republicans, grinning smugly, because that made more sense than drawing a single elephant, and was more effective than a bunch of smugly grinning elephants. Behind Bob Dole in this cartoon, mocking GOP claims of having a "big tent" on the abortion issue in spite of the hardline plank in the party platform, stand, from left to right: Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed.

(Since the UWM Post didn't put out any editions that summer, the above cartoon was never published, but I ended up drawing another one a lot like it for them in September.)
in UW-M Post, March 5, 1991
My cartoon of sheepish Democrats at the peak of George H.W. Bush's popularity would have been less pointed if I had drawn a donkey or donkeys among the sheep. (From left to right: Sam Nunn, Bill Bradley, Dick Gephardt, Tom Foley, Al Gore, Mario Cuomo, Lloyd Bentsen, and George Mitchell.)
in UWM Post, September 28, 1989
Which is not to say that every editorial cartoon has to include caricatures of actual politicians. I liked the idea for my cartoon about multiple ethics investigations going on in the nation's capital in 1989, but there weren't enough politicians actually leading one investigation while being the target of another for me to have drawn a bunch of real people.

This idea is not far removed from Thomas Nast's "Who Stole the People's Money? Do Tell. 'Twas Him" cartoon showing easily recognizable members of the Tammany Ring standing in a circle, each pointing fingers at the man to his right. It's a great cartoon that had great impact when it was published and has stood the test of time, even though the real Richard Connolly was not accusing Peter Sweeney, who was not accusing Boss Tweed, who was not accusing James Ingersoll, etc.
for Q Syndicate, June 21, 2004

Here again, I could have drawn specific Republican senators pulling a prank in 2004, but I think this particular cartoon works better this way artistically.

Still, I believe it is useful for cartoonists to hold actual politicians accountable for their stands on issues. Thomas Nast's cartoons would have had little impact if he had tamely drawn generic "City Hall" characters — or comical Tammany Tigers — every week. Likewise, it's all well and good to draw a cartoon highlighting Lindsey Graham's or Matt Gaetz's craptasm du jour; but if one doesn't hold their feet to the fire, the effect is likely to be ephemeral.

We can't all be Thomas Nast, but we can still try.