Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Headlines

For 40 years now, I've been marking the end of each year by taking a picture of newspaper front pages and magazine covers from the previous year. Originally they served as a sort of bookmark in my photo albums; nowadays, the only photos I print out for putting in albums are the best ones from vacations, but I've kept up the habit anyway.

The choice of reviewing a year this way tends to skew what stories are included. The Greek default crisis, for example, didn't make banner headlines in the newspapers in my corner of America. Silvio Berlusconi's resignation wasn't the top story of November 8 as far as midwestern editors were concerned, either. The independence of South Sudan was below the fold, if not on a back page.

Stock market plunges and rises in unemployment make headlines; economic recovery (or stagnation) rarely does. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Almost a non-event once it finally happened. Marriage equality in New York? I don't get any New York newspapers here. Well, I can find the New York Times, but their headlines are seldom legible in these photographs.

Disasters usually make headlines, unless they happen on a Saturday night after the Sunday paper has gone to print. Monday's headline may be something tangential, such as "President Promises Aid Package." Even if the disaster is fresh, my local newspaper figures everyone has already heard about it on cable news and Facebook, so its headline is either the number of dead (in spite of the fact that the number is bound to have changed between press time and finding the paper on your doorstep) or some pull quote like "It Was Terrible!"

Other stories unfold over the course of several months. As significant as were Wisconsin's protests against Governor Walker and his Republican putsch -- and similar protests in Ohio -- and the Occupy protests -- it seems unfair to give them the same weight as the protests in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. (To say nothing of the protests in Bahrain, Yemen, and those in Tunisia that sparked them all... and these headlines indeed say nothing about them.) Time's "Person of the Year" cover will have to suffice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Q Toon: John Lawrence

John Lawrence, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, died on November 20 at the age of 68. While his death was not kept secret, it only came to national attention after a lawyer in the case attempted to invite him to a commemoration of the ruling.

Tyron Garner, the other man arrested with Mr. Lawrence (and also a petitioner in the court case), died in 2006.

The arrest stemmed from a false complaint from a malicious neighbor of gunshots in Lawrence's apartment, because of which a Harris County, Texas, sheriff's deputy entered the unlocked apartment with gun drawn.

In a curious development, Dale Carpenter (who used to write for Q Syndicate in its early days) is coming out with a book in March which charges that Lawrence and Garner were not in fact engaged in any sex act when arrested for “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex”; indeed, Lawrence had told Carpenter that the two had never had sexual intercourse before, during or since.

At any rate, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that Texas' antisodomy law was an unconstitutional infringement of personal liberty, overturning an earlier case, Bowers v. Hardwick. In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, departing from his insistence that only the U.S. Constitution should inform a case, trotted out a parade of horrors that the court's decision would void laws defending Civilization against same-sex marriage, bigamy, prostitution, bestiality, necrophilia, and masturbation. (And what hope does Civilization have if the State can't outlaw masturbation in the privacy of one's home?)

The court's ruling voided anti-sodomy statutes in thirteen states. If you live in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Utah, Idaho or Michigan, you can thank John Geddes Lawrence for fighting for the right of you and your consenting adult partner to deviate from the missionary position without ending up on the National Registry of Sex Offenders, condemned to jail time followed by living under a freeway overpass.

Thanks to Dr. Thomas Schmeling for alerting me to this story!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to All, and to All According to Their Needs

For the heck of it, here's a cartoon I drew for the old Minneapolis Gaze Magazine for Christmas 1993, the day after all the presents have been delivered.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scott Walker's "Holiday Spirit"

This feel-good ad by "Friends of Scott Walker" has been in heavy airplay here in the Badger State as he seeks to thwart a probable recall election:

As Chris points out, if this governor were not a Republican, Fox News and AM radio would be giving him holy hell for declaring war on the word he and Mrs. Walker fail to utter.

Intrigue Surrounds Heiress' Death at 104

In the course of posting cartoons from The Minneapolis Tribune Cartoon Book for 1901: Being a Collection of Over One Hundred Cartoons by R.C. Bowman last year, I included a series of cartoons about Montana Senator, newspaper publisher and copper mining millionaire William Andrews Clark. Those cartoons caught the eye of reporter Bill Dedman, who has been covering the legal tangle over the financial affairs of Clark's sole heir, Huguette Clark, who died this past May at the age of 104 after living almost her entire adult life as a total recluse.

To explain the cartoon again: William Clark was elected to the U.S. Senate from Montana (with the strong support of the newspaper he owned) but forced to resign when evidence of bribery surfaced. Still determined to keep the office he had bought and paid for, he arranged for Montana's Lieutenant Governor to appoint him Senator on the same day Clark resigned -- the Governor being conveniently out of the state that day.

Whereas other robber barons (sorry, I mean Job Creators) of the day, such as Rockefeller and Carnegie, left civic and charitable institutions to bear their names, Senator Clark left his name only to Nevada's Clark County, keeping his money in the family after he died in 1925.

Since corresponding with Mr Dedman, I've been following the story of the Clark estate with some interest, and there are new developments today.

"Based on 'shocking' evidence of tax fraud, a judge on Friday suspended [Ms. Clark's] attorney and accountant ... from handling her $400 million estate.
"The judge said there was more than enough evidence that the two men engaged in a tax fraud that allowed the elderly woman to run up an IRS bill of $90 million in unpaid gift taxes, interest and potential penalties."
The judge in the case declined to rule on the question of allowing descendants from Senator Clark's first marriage to enter into the legal dispute, which involves two wills signed six weeks apart in 2005, when Huguette was 98. The first leaves most of her fortune to those descendants; they are cut out of the second will entirely, although the aforementioned attorney and accountant would make out handsomely from it.

Bill Dedman's series on the Clark case is on line on this page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Q Toon: Pfc. Bradley Manning

The defense in the pre-court martial hearing of accused Wikileaker Pfc. Bradley Manning argues that the U.S. Military has no one but itself to blame for having foolishly entrusted its Top Secrets to a gay soldier with gender identity issues in the first place.

From msnbc:
"The defense stated Saturday that Manning, 24, had written to one of his supervisors when he was stationed in Iraq before his arrest and said he had concluded he was suffering from gender identity disorder, which is classified as a medical disorder in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. He included a photo of himself dressed as a woman in the letter and said the issue was affecting his ability to do his job or think clearly. A defense attorney and a witness also stated that Manning had created a Facebook profile and opened at least one email account using the name 'Breanna Manning,' which the attorney described as an 'alter-ego.'"

As for myself, I reserve judgment on whether Pfc. Manning's actions amount to high treason or not, but I wish his defense would concentrate on the government's habit of stamping "Top Secret" on everything from aircraft crash reports to last month's cafeteria menu at Foggy Bottom.

Monday, December 19, 2011

This Week's Sneak Peek

Somehow, I forgot to post a sneak peek last week. Not that anybody missed it, but I do try to post more often than once a week even if it's just to say "Next on Bergetoons...."

So anyway, here's this week's sneak peek, and just a few words to try to clarify something I wrote over the weekend -- or maybe just to walk it back a little. Plagiarism is a serious charge, and I still hope that the Steve Breen cartoon I mentioned is not in fact a case of it. I really like Breen's work, and think he's a very good cartoonist. It is entirely possible that both he and Jeff MacNelly were inspired independently by Winslow Homer's painting. I have no way to know one way or the other.

You would think, moreover, that if he had any recollection of having decided to redraw a cartoon he'd seen somewhere else, Mr. Breen wouldn't risk the opprobrium from his fellow inkslingers by submitting the thing to Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year where anyone who owns MacNelly's Directions is bound to see it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Plagiar-Vu All Over Again

I just received my copy of The Best Editorial Cartoons, 2012 edition from the publisher the other night. Its founder, Chuck Brooks died shortly after the deadline for submissions, so one wonders how many more editions of the book there will be.

There are more on-line only cartoons in the book than ever before, and a few idiosyncratic choices -- there is only one Tom Toles cartoon, for example (aside from the one in the chapter for cartoons which won awards this year), but five by Chuck Asay. In my humble opinion, Toles is far and away the better cartoonist, but Asay's worldview is more in line with the late Mr. Brooks's.

I was struck by two cartoons: one by Jeff Stahler and another by Steve Breen. Mr. Stahler just lost his job at the Columbus Dispatch over charges of plagiarism -- charges which have relaunched a debate over what in fact constitutes plagiarism. Accusers pointed out cartoons which seemed to echo New Yorker cartoons, although some of the questionable cartoons involved ideas which easily could have occurred to multiple cartoonists independently (what Daryl Cagle calls "Yahtzees"). Cartoonists have also been debating where to draw the line between a plagiarized idea and a common meme.

The Stahler and Breen cartoons in BECY illustrate the murky of this delineation. Stahler's cartoon shows presidents from Nixon to Obama saying one word each of the sentence "We must reduce our dependency on Mideast Oil." To my mind, that recalls a Mike Peters cartoon about the Vietnam War, drawn for the Dayton Daily News and reprinted in Time magazine and other national outlets, in which presidents from Eisenhower to Ford said one word each of the sentence "Victory is just around the corner." (One of them must have had two words, but I don't remember which.) Other cartoonists besides Jeff Stahler have used the same gimmick since -- at least once on the topic of energy independence -- and it just seems to me to be lazy to swipe Mr. Peters's basic idea to rehash it as your own.

Steve Breen's cartoon is more disputable. He substitutes President Obama for the hapless boatman in Winslow Homer's painting "The Gulf Stream." Breen duly credits Homer, as he ought, but I was instantly reminded of the 1974 cartoon by the late Jeff MacNelly depicting President Nixon in the exact same painting.

Is that plagiarism? Just about every editorial cartoonist in the country, myself included, has drawn some parody of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" to comment on every topic from the weather to inflation to marriage equality. The same with several of Norman Rockwell's paintings, da Vinci's "Last Supper" and James McNeill Whistler's "Arrangement in Gray and Black: The Artist's Mother." But any first grader is bound to recognize those paintings to some degree or another, whereas many adults are not familiar with the works of Winslow Homer at all. Some cartoonist, forgotten to history, was the first to draw each of those parodies, and the rest of us have, let's face it, swiped those ideas.

Does the fact that an image is already well-known make it okay for a cartoonist to swipe it? Aside from paintings, many cartoonists have borrowed and re-borrowed many images from movies. I have no idea who the first cartoonist was to draw Toto pulling the curtain aside to reveal the humbug behind whatever politician is projected as the Great And Powerful Oz, but many have drawn that same cartoon since. (There's one in the new BECY about Newt Gingrich, who has also inspired a new round of Grinch Who Stole Christmas cartoons for anybody who missed them back when he was Speaker of the House.)

We cartoonists traffic in cultural images all the time, so it makes sense that we'd reuse images that everybody knows. The tricky part is reusing less well-known images that only Art History majors and other cartoonists will recognize.

Oh, and I have one cartoon in the book, by the way. Most of my favorite 2011 cartoons before the book's deadline were about flash-in-the-pan stories (does anybody remember the Craigslist Congressman any more?) which would have required a paragraph of explanation, so I'm not at all disappointed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Q Toon: Perry Christmas to All!

This past week, LGBT citizens got a good preview of the choice they have between the major political parties next year. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stood up before the U.N. to defend the equal rights of gays and lesbians around the globe; and Texas Governor Rick Perry posted a TV ad in which he bemoaned as a Christian that gays can serve openly in the military, but schoolkids can't celebrate Christmas.

And by "celebrate Christmas," he means of course that Christians are not allowed to use the public schools to proselytize other people's children.

Think about it. It's amazing how free we are in America to celebrate Christmas. We can display larger than life glow in the dark nativity scenes on our front lawns. We can send Christ Is the Reason For the Season cards to all our Jewish friends. We can spend our property taxes to put religious messages on City Hall (and if you doubt that, just witness the furor when anybody tries to say No to it). We can wear hideous sweaters in public.

In my other career as a church employee, however, I can tell you that what churches are worried about most this year is that Christmas falls on a Sunday -- meaning that the church will be obliged to hold a worship service that will be attended by the pastor, the altar guild, organist, and an usher doing double duty as the acolyte. If we're lucky, some son or daughter of the congregation who arrived back in town too late on Saturday to make it to the Christmas Eve service will bring Mom and/or Dad to the Christmas morning service.

I was taken a bit aback the other day when I asked one of the talented musicians of one of my congregations whether he would be available to play a song at the Christmas Eve service, and he gave his regrets with the reason that Christmas Eve is "family time." Somewhere along the line, without my noticing exactly when, there has evolved a separation of church and family time.

This phenomenon isn't universal; one of my churches includes a congregation predominantly made up of Mexican immigrants and first generation Americans. I suspect that their attendance numbers on Christmas morning will put the Anglo congregations to shame, even though their Christmas Eve worship service is bound to run well into the night.

I don't mean by any of this to scold. I guess where I'm coming from is that I recently read the church history published in 1956 by a Lutheran congregation somewhere on the border of North Dakota and Montana to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding. The book included stories told by those of its founding members who were still alive, and the tales of winter hardship are truly impressive. (One old-timer speaks of how their winters came as such a rude shock to newcomers who were used to the "mild winters" of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota!)

The congregation hadn't quite finished building their church when a three-day late October blizzard hit; after everyone finally dug themselves out of their homes, they had to shovel feet of snow out from the inside of the church. The first time Christmas fell on a Sunday after their founding was 1910; it would be interesting to know what their worship service was like that day. I wonder if they even had Christmas Eve services. When you recall that back in 1906, these rural settlers didn't have snowplows or lighted highways, their stories of getting lost in the snow at night, unable to get home until dawn broke, are absolutely harrowing.

So anyway, I hope everyone reading this has as much family time as they can possibly stand this Christmas. And if there are any of you who are anxious to Keep Christ In Christmas, rest assured that it's very likely that there is a church just minutes from your house where someone would be more than happy to see you.

Weather permitting.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Qtoon this week: Barney Frank Retires

If a public figure wears glasses, and the public generally never sees that public figure without them, a cartoonist is obliged to draw glasses on a caricature of that person. In fact, the glasses are often an essential identifying feature of the person. But some situations call for the glasses to be off... and the My Name Is ___ label to go on, as the familiar face becomes unrecognizable without them.

Such a wordy cartoon!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mr. Trump, a True Diplomat

"Most of the important candidates will come. Huntsman has 1% of the vote. I don't think he's coming. And by the way, Mr. Huntsman called my office a number of times trying to set up a meeting; I didn't have a meeting with him; and then he went on a debate and he said 'I didn't meet with Mr. Trump like everyone else in the room,' so, I'm sure he'll tell the truth about that, because he's a Mormon."
-- Donald Trump, by phone, discussing his very own Republican presidential candidates' debate, on MSNBC's Daily Rundown this morning (around the 2:35 mark):

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This Week's Sneak Peek

You might not be too far off if you took a guess that this week's Q Syndicate cartoon has something to do with redistricting.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

I chose not to draw this week's cartoon about World AIDS Day today. After 30 years, I'm not sure what new things there are to say about the disease.

And yet, after 30 years, I'm unsettled as to what image to use to symbolize AIDS. Ten years ago, I used a skeletal death figure, even though many people living with AIDS have reason to object to that as a characterization. (And, in my very limited personal experience, I count among my friends about as many living with AIDS as have died from it.)

In October, 1985, I was asked to draw an illustration to go along with an article about AIDS by Kari Dixon for the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin - Parkside. For that illustration, I chose to illustrate the pariah effect the disease had in those days, when it was new to the public consciousness and there was no treatment.

(You have heard of Nathaniel Hawthorne, I hope. I certainly expected that a college readership would have.)