Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.... John Crowther's Cartoon Odyssey

I think of it as The Fool's Journey. I've been asked who the "fool" is. It's me, but in the classical sense of the court jester. Only the fool was allowed to tell the king of his follies. All cartoons are available as prints or originals, framed or unframed, through my website or e-mail. For mugs, t-shirts, and other products visit my gift shop at* (be sure to include the *).

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


When I was a kid my family summered on Martha's Vineyard. Before we had our own house we rented a small farmhouse out at the end of the island, almost at the tip of Gay Head. The facilities were minimal. We actually did have indoor plumbing, though if you wanted running water you had to pump for it. There was one nod to modernity, however, a tiny bathroom with a battery-operated toilet. To flush required running a noisy generator long enough to build up a charge in the battery, and it was decreed that my mother was the only one in the family allowed to use it. My father, two brothers, and I were banished to the rickety outhouse, which had three holes jammed together side by side. My dad dubbed it "the convertible," because it was a three-seater. There were four of us, so immediately after breakfast there was a mad dash for the available spaces. I hesitate to claim that this bonding ritual brought us all closer together, psychologically anyway, or made us better people, but looking back now I realize that what now would be unthinkable was then totally natural. And somehow, whenever I hear someone saying that the world was a better place back then, I think of the times we spent together in the convertible.

I heartily recommend a visit to my friend Jean's colorful new blog at Jean is a terrific artist, writer, and thinker, and I'm sure you'll want to bookmark it. She lives in Australia, and I keep meaning to ask her if "down under" dogs always wrap their leashes around trees counter-clockwise, as opposed to clockwise up here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's Not Who Wins, It's Who Gets Gonged

It's not bad enough that America has an obsession with being on a first-name basis with celebrities, we're now doing it with our so-called leaders. So we not only have Oprah and Ellen, Brad and Angelina, Hilton, Tom, Katie, Mel, Reej, Rosie and the Donald and Barbara, ad infinitum, now we also have Hillary and Barack and Arnold (okay, Arnold doesn't count, he's a politilebrity). But what really bugs me is the way the entire democratic process has been reduced to American Idol meets The Survivor with a little Deal or No Deal thrown in. It has nothing to do with the quality of leadership or their ideas, it's a big popularity contest, the entire purpose of which is not to enlighten, educate, or inform us, it's to grab ratings. I saw the other day that the latest polls show Jonathan Edwards ahead of Barack Obama in Iowa by two percentage points. Two points! Who cares? The caucus is a year away, and even then it means squat. And the name of the game that we're going to be innundated with for the next two years is Innuendo, Obfuscation, Lies, Deceit, Spin, Waffle, Backtrack, and Dirty Tricks. I can see it now, the day after the 2008 elections the newscasters will be saying (you fill in the blanks) "[----] has been elected President of the United States by a margin of [----]," and now to breaking news about frontrunners for the 2012 presidential elections." I can hardly wait.

Monday, January 29, 2007

O'er The Bounding Main

I'm sometimes asked if I'm a "political cartoonist." The answer is most emphatically no. The political cartoons you see on the op-ed pages of newspapers are intended first and foremost to drive home a barbed point about current events. If they can get a chuckle out of you so much the better, but the laugh is secondary. My cartoons, on the other hand, are primarily intended to be funny, and if they can make some social comment about our habits, mores, or collective foibles, it's a plus. Which is to say that the above could easily become a political cartoon by putting a simple label on the pirate vessel: the ship of state. When I was in eighth grade we all had to bring a political cartoon to class once a week, and everyone voted on which was the best. Most of the kids traced or copied theirs from the newspapers, but I insisted on creating my own. I never won, which I thought was grossly unfair given that I was the only one bringing in originals. I remember a freighter sinking in a North Atlantic storm that winter, and the attempt to save it was grabbing daily headlines. The ship was called the Flying Enterprise. My cartoon that week showed the foundering ship, with the words "Free Enterprise" painted on the hull. I'm not sure why I thought that entrepreneurship was in peril, but even at 13 I had a political awareness.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Keep The Rubber Side Down

Having spent a number of years racing cars I have a strong awareness of just how lethal the automobile can be. Granted, careening around a track in an open-wheel, open cockpit rocket with a high power to weight ratio at speeds that keep you right on the edge of hurtling out of control into a wall (they say if you're not scaring yourself you're not going fast enough) isn't the same as creeping along in rush hour traffic on the 405 at little more than 15 miles an hour. The latter is far more dangerous. At least on a track the drivers are paying attention and have some modicum of skill, most of them anyway, and you learn which ones you should worry about so you can keep air between you and them (made easier by the fact that everyone has a big number painted on the side of the car). The problem is, most street drivers think of their cars as appliances, like toasters, get them started and they do what you want while you focus on more important things. Having said all that, I admit that to achieve minimal credibility in this cartoon, I sketched the dashboard of my car while I was threading my way through traffic. But then, I'm a professional. Don't attempt to duplicate this stunt at home.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Very Inconvenient Truth

In Seattle a significantly large number of parents is protesting the showing of Al Gore's documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, to students in public schools. When I first heard this I assumed that these parents considered Gore's film a bit of left-wing propaganda, its primary purpose being to discredit the current administration, and they felt that this kind of partisan activism had no place in their kids' education. But no, it's way more sinister than that. They don't deny the facts of global warming. In fact, they welcome it as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, an inevitable punishment for the sins of the world. To them, Al Gore's wake-up call is anti-creationism. What I don't get is why the concepts of science and an all-powerful, all-knowing God are antithetical. It doesn't seem a stretch to me to ascribe the genius of natural selection to an Almighty. The brilliant cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker, in his book How the Mind Works, tells of looking at an exhibition on spiders in the Smithsonian and marvelling at the creatures' complexity, the Swiss-watch precision with which they drew silk from their spinnerets to make their delicate webs. "How could anyone see this and not believe in natural selection," he thought. At that moment a woman standing next to him turned to him and exclaimed, "How could anyone see this and not believe in God?" As Rodney King asked, "why can't we all just get along?"

Friday, January 26, 2007

Looks Are Everything

"If we could only see ourselves as others see us," the old saying goes. I'm not sure that's such a great idea. First of all, everyone we come into contact with sees us differently, so most of us go through life with dozens of "identities" depending on who's doing the perceiving. Second of all, it could be too depressing. While not necessarily clinically in denial, we do carry our own illusions about our appearance and what it projects about us. Were I delusional I'd sincerely believe that I look like an eighteen-year old stud. Well, not eighteen maybe, more like, say, twenty-five. Except that when I was twenty-five I thought that twenty-five year olds were adults, while I felt more like a twelve-year old. The big difference, of course, is that when we're younger we desperately want to look older, and vice versa. In any case, I've got to hand it to these kids who stake out an identity with their appearance and are proud of it. I admire them, and envy them a bit their courage, even as I cross the street to avoid them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blessed Event

"Spin" has become the buzzword of our times. That and "buzzword." The Italians have a saying, bella figura, that roughly translated means "a good front," as in maintaining an image. Appearance over substance, but in Italy it's used in a benign way having to do with keeping the dirty laundry in the family, eating watered-down soup and scraps of bread so you, the signora, and bambini can parade in the piazza on Sunday looking spiffy. Spin, on the other hand, signifies the Big Lie that doesn't so much mask the truth as turn it to one's advantage. Before mass media and instant communication slimed its way into human life and spread its tentacles everywhere, it was possible for royalty, politicians, religious leaders, and captains of industry to maintain their fictional fronts with nothing more challenging to their deceptions than plugging an occasional leak, but nowadays sooner or later everyone's stumbles show up on YouTube, and our allotted fifteen minutes of fame has turned into thrity seconds of notoriety that must be spun. Still, the reality is that you can't turn chicken poop into chicken salad. The best you can do is make chicken poop salad.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Presto Change-O

Other than the usual youthful fascination with the simple magic tricks one could buy at novelty stores, I never had a burning desire to be a magician, never assembled a costume, never gave myself a name, like the Amazing Giovanni, never performed at kids' birthday parties. I became an actor instead. It's the same thing. When a magician makes a coin disappear, nobody really, down deep, believes the coin actually vanished into thin air. You know it's somewhere, in a pocket, up a sleeve, somewhere. What captivates us is the illusion that the coin is gone, only to reappear later inside a hard boiled egg. The magician is aided by the fact that people want to believe. With acting it's the same thing. Nobody goes to a movie and thinks Johnny Depp is an actual pirate, or Meryl Streep has become whatever. We're not fooled. We know it's Henry Fonda there on the screen, not a Joad. What astonishes us, when it's good, is the illusion of transformation, and the skill of the actor to pull it off. It's why people have such an amazingly short memory when it comes to the sincerity of politicians. Every time a political campaign comes around they want desperately to believe their favorite candidate, whose success depends largely on his ability to create the illusion that he's actually going to keep his promises this time around.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Talk Used To Be Cheap, Now You Pay Per Minute

It may be the central paradox of our times, the degree to which the technology of communication, meant to bring us all closer together, has put distance between us. Computer screens, text-messaging, cell phones allow us to relate to one another and yet remain faceless, which means expressionless. Body language, once an essential aspect of human interaction, arguably the most essential aspect, no longer enters into it. It's a dangerous thing, since when we're reduced to mere words we're left with the most fragile, unreliable, and easily misconstrued of all means of interacting. Now, text-messaging appears poised to erode even that, as words and syntax become skeletons of their former selves. "R U OK" is an unfeeling way to inquire about someone's well-being. Perhaps we're sliding back unwittingly into a pre-linguistic existence, back to the days of the troglodytes, when the only information we needed to seek or pass along was where's the best hunting and which plants are edible, and a bonk on the head was the most sophisticated way to express displeasure with someone.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Dog's Life

Okay, here's a hot subject for a real controversy. Dogs are way smarter than cats. Don't get me wrong. I like cats. I love cats. I've had a lot of cats in my lifetime. Once, in Rome, when both our female cats got knocked up by our male cat at the same time, my wife and I lived with 11 of them until we finally found homes for the little spin-offs. And even then we kept a couple. We had a calico once in Italy, named Caramela, and she and our cocker spaniel fell desperately, inseparably in love with each other. I've had cats that were incredibly smart, and that's how I know dogs are smarter. A smart cat behaves like a dog. A really smart cat comes when she's called. So much for that independent thing "cat people" claim they value so highly. Most cats just give the illusion of being intelligent because they're ruled more by their instincts than dogs. The smarter the cat, the more likely she is to suck up to people, just like dogs. Dogs express intense sexual frustration by trying to hump a person's leg. Cats sink their fangs into your hand. You tell me which is smarter.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Do, Kind Of

Sometimes it's a circuitous route from the germ of an idea for a cartoon to the idea being fleshed out, and finally to the fully realized idea, at which point I can move beyond the doodles and thumbnail sketches that are part of the process. This one, believe it or not, started with George W. Bush's interview with Jim Lehrer last week on the PBS Newshour. I won't retrace all the steps that got me to a couple at the altar, but the starting point was something the president said that I think would have to chill the blood of any American, regardless of political affiliation, and it went completely unnoticed. And that got me ruminating about swearing oaths of office and how casually not just politicians but everybody approaches the serious business of keeping promises. Lehrer asked Bush why, when every president involved in a war from Washington on had asked for sacrifices of the American people, Bush hadn't felt it necessary to do so. Bush, after a moment when you could see he was rattled, said that the American people were indeed making a sacrifice, they were sacrificing their "peace of mind." Once he regained his balance he went on to the stunning non-sequitur of defending his tax cuts for the wealthy, but it was that peace of mind thing that stopped me in my tracks. Yeah, I thought, he's right, that should do it. Sacrifice means giving up something for something else you want even more. The collective American angst will surely bring the Iraq insurgency to its knees.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Something Fishy Going On

I was never much a fisherman, even though when I was growing up I spent summers on Martha's Vineyard, where fishing can be a religion. When I was very small I caught scup and flounders with the best of them, and usually threw them back. I always identified with the fish. I went surf fishing for sea bass once and hooked a big one. It was putting up a great fight, describing classic arcs in the air as it leapt above the line of breakers, and all the while I was experiencing an equally intense internal struggle with the way my life had become potentially fatally (for the fish anyway) involved with him. My Hemingwayesque saga ended when mercifully the line broke. He made off with my cheap lure and, I hope, a sense of exultation. He got away, but I was the one who was off the hook.
I recommend the blog for a sense of the poetry and ballet of this unique form of sport fishing, which in other variations can be as brutal as bear baiting and bullfighting. Willard lets the fish go.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Just One More Bite

The Atkins people would have us believe that Dr. Atkins' diet encourages us all to eat more like humankind was meant to eat, and indeed, the way our antecedents ate for thousands of years, up until the dawn of agriculture and the advent of cultivated and processed starches and sugars. The enemy is white flour, white sugar, white rice, white bread. Whoa, I see a theme developing here. Why, I wonder, the fascination with white food? The amazing thing is, to make the stuff at all palatable, you have to process some taste back into it. White sugar is nothing but raw sugar with all the good stuff taken out, so if you want brown sugar what you're really getting is white sugar with some molasses put back in, and that's why it's more expensive. White flour by itself is bland, bland, bland, which is why white bread has to have sugar and salt in it. I ate crocodile once in Africa, and it's probably the whitest meat you can find. And it's utterly tasteless. You have to eat it breaded and fried, or with sauce, to make it remotely edible. Ostrich is much better, a good red meat that makes sense. We'd all live a lot longer if we just gave up cars and became hunter-gatherers eating red and green food. That's why I've given up counting carbohydrates or calories, and just regulate my diet according to colors. The Rainbow Diet I call it. Want to buy my book?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cogito Ergo Sum

Descartes had it right for himself and a handful of other philosophers throughout history whose job it was to think about stuff, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but for most of the people in the world it always was and still is drag your butt out of bed in the morning, work all day, and drop back into bed exhausted at night. No time for thinking. The human being was never really intended to think. Can you imagine cave people sitting around the campfire at night discussing the day's events and expressing opinions? Did serfs and helots spend time arguing who might be a better king, or whether their enemies should be banned from developing weapons of mass destruction like the catapault? Neanderthal Man didn't think. And by the way, scientists are now debating whatever happened to the Neanderthals, and did he, before his ultimate demise, crossbreed with Homo Sapiens, our antecedents? Well, of course he did, and I'm willing to bet they're going to discover Neanderthal genes all over the place. What puzzles me is why so many people nowadays, in their aversion to thinking for themselves, have taken that function away from smart guys like Machiavelli and turned it over to Neanderthals.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Birds of a Feather

I don't like pigeons or seagulls. It's not that I want harm to come to them, I don't. I once shot at a small bird with my BB gun when I was about 12. By some absolute freak mischance I hit the poor thing and it dropped like a rock from the tree where it had been perching. Dead. I felt terrible about it for weeks. I swear I still feel bad about it. But pigeons and seagulls are filthy in-your-face poop-everywhere scavengers. Flying rats. In my L.A. neighborhood there are wild parrots. I'm not thrilled with them either. Or for that matter, wrens, starlings, and sparrows. And I can do without squirrels. Rats with fluffy tails. Little rabies carriers. The problem is I'm wildly sentimental and anthropomorphize all the little devils. I see them has having personalities, emotions, and relationships, all the things that get people into trouble. I feel their pain. In Italy they roast little birds whole and then eat them between slices of toast. You think it'd be right up my alley, but who can eat something where the head is sticking out like somebody in a sleeping bag, with big wide eyes staring at you? The wierd thing is I like cows, but I don't hesitate to eat them. Not whole in a sandwich though.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

If anyone wants evidence of how dysfunctional our society is, they need look no further than the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy." It's hard to say, exactly, what the purpose of it is. It just makes no sense, other than to create one more phoney issue for the politicos to distract everyone with. The idea can't be to eradicate homosexuality from the armed forces, otherwise it would be forbidden, not just left unspoken. Therefore we must believe it is not, as so many supporters of DADT would like us to think, a detriment to an effective fighting machine. What then is the point of all the secrecy? Maybe the generals think that if the Iraqi insurgency caught wind of the fact that there were some gay guys in uniform it would embolden them. Wrong. Meanwhile, how silly is "don't ask, don't tell," anyway? I can sort of see "don't ask," but why is it necessary to add "don't tell?" As if some guy in a combat zone somewhere is going to slide into a foxhole and say to the cute corporal already there, "hi, my name is Dusty and we may be here for a while before the enemy attacks, what do you say we have some fun? Want to check out my pistola?" I'm in favor of a whole new classification: warrior fags. You train those guys well, and when they come home from war watch them kick some homophobe butt.

Monday, January 15, 2007

You're Nothing Unless You're Something

I'm thinking George W. Bush has a future in television. Actually, when his sentence as president is over he's probably going to want to spend a lot of time in Crawford clearing brush and hunting with Cheney, making forays outside Texas occasionally for appearances on the rubber chicken circuit and maybe starring in beer commercials in Japan. But it's not too late for him to turn his life around. I can see him with a talk show, doing the whole Maury Povich, Montel Williams, Arsenio Hall thing. Look at Alan Thicke, who managed to turn minimal talent into a little career surge (not on the level of Oprah or Ellen, just enough to avoid feeling like a total loser). Guys like Tony Danza have refused to give up and stayed the course, why not W? And hey, he might be able to parlay that into a summer circuit tour as Prof. Harold Hill in a revival of The Music Man, playing the role of a charming con man. Break a leg, George.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Music Hath Charms

My name, Crowther, comes from an obsolete Welsh musical instrument called a crwth (the Welsh evidently spent a lot of time at the dentist, since they learned to speak without vowels). It was what is called a "bowed lyre," and had six strings, four of which were fingered on the unfretted neck and two of which were off to the side of the neck and played as drones. It had a flat bridge, which meant that playing a single note was close to impossible. All the strings had to be played together all the time. The crwth was the instrument of choice of the Welsh bards. They were known for lyrics, but weren't especially musical, which is not surprising since the instrument is for all intents and purposes unplayable. The crwth disappeared from view back in the early 1800's, possibly because they were rectangular and made good cat boxes. Today the dictionary definition of a "crowther" in Great Britain is "inept and rascally fiddle player." That's me to a T.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Open Wide... Wider

This is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Lionel Hildes. He was our family dentist when I was a kid, and he and his wife were also close friends of my parents, so I assumed he had to be one of the best. He was a nice man, but a visit to Lionel always meant intense pain, lots of it. Fillings were the worst, and this was BF (Before Flouride) so there was lots of them. He'd drill away, then put enough metal clamps and things in my mouth to scaffold the Empire State Building, pack in all those awful cotton wads, all the while asking me questions that required essay answers rather than a simple yes or no.
"How's school going?"
"Mmmphfwk rrt skgcht."
"No kidding. What's your favorite subject and why?"
"Ah yghht smph sftjkhyt.... OWWWW," and so on.
It's when I had instilled in me a deep understanding of why we have vowels. Eventually, after several decades when I didn't go to a dentist at all (if Lionel was one of the best, I figured, the rest were all on the downside of the slope) I found my way to Sara, my present dentist, who has a deep aversion to causing pain. And she absolutely loves her profession. Sounds like a paradox, right? But Sara is the World's Greatest Dentist. Only thing is, I can't show her this cartoon because she'd be deeply hurt.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

We interrupt our regularly scheduled commentary with this bulletin just in: In a news conference today Condoleeza Rice has called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "a slimy little man with a bad comb-over who should never have left the tiny village he grew up in where they burn cow dung for fuel." Upon hearing this Maliki shot back that everyone knows Rice only got her job because she's been having an affair with George W. Bush. At first Bush refused to comment, but an insider who asked to remain anonymous tells us that Rice screamed at Bush in a White House lavatory for failing to leap to her defense, calling him a pusillanimous piece of Texas lowlife. Later, Bush fired off a letter to Maliki suggesting his invitation to this year's 4th of July barbecue in Crawford was rescinded. "Let 'im eat chicken wings in the Green Zone," Bush is quoted as having said. Stay tuned to The Fool for further developments.

Answer to yesterday's bonus question: "The Peaceable Kingdom" by Edward Hicks (1780-1849)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Time Shame On Me

This morning's essay question:

We're all condemned by cosmic law to make the same mistake over and over until we learn the lesson and stop doing it, you know, like constantly being attracted to a type of person wrong for us, or running up huge debts buying unnecessary stuff, or letting deadlines slide. Once we finally get it, and learn the lesson, then we move on to a new mistake and keep repeating that until another lesson is learned. This goes on throughout our lives, one lesson after another. In the Tarot the 21 cards of the Major Arcana describe, in fact, the fool's journey to enlightenment, one lesson at a time. So what happens when someone else is making a recurring mistake, and drags everyone else down with him? What's the lesson for us?

You get extra points if you recognize the print on the wall.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stuff Matters.... Not!

There was a time when a distinction could be felt between "world events" and "news items of interest." The former had a gravitas, an importance, that gave people reason to be concerned with them. The latter, which included but was not limited to celebrity chatter, were mere distractions. But now the difference has become blurred. As stuff comes at us from the media in a daily avalanche, it all becomes less and less real, and paradoxically, people get increasingly worked up about it. The news. Wars, famines, international terrorism, a bank holdup, John Kerry's verbal gaffe, Mel Gibson, Janet Jackson's bra, a snowstorm somewhere else, it's all a big viral soup, a cultural drug fix that people have got to have on an hourly basis so they're numb to the fact that the twenty minute commute has become a ten mile-an-hour, hour-an-a-half ooze along clogged arteries twice a day. In explaining why he didn't read newspapers, Thoreau wrote that once he knew one farmer's cow had got onto the railroad tracks and been hit by a train, someone's barn had burned down, and someone's carriage had turned over, he was acquainted with the principle and didn't need to be subjected to endless variations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Can't Wait To Read His Story

Of all the lame advice given to young authors, "write what you know" is up there at the top. If everyone did that we wouldn't have the works of Jules Verne, or St. Exupery's The Little Prince. Better advice, I think, is write what you dream about. A producer I knew had done a film about a karate guy in South Africa, and it was successful enough that he wanted to produce a sequel. I was asked to come in and pitch story ideas. For days I wracked my brain, trying to figure out something I knew about that could lend itself to South Africa and karate. Came the day of the pitch and I was still blank. While I was driving to the meeting I thought of The Magnificen Seven, and with that as inspiration I hastily cobbled together in my mind the outlines of a possible story in which a guy gathers together some friends to outwit a baddie. Facing the producer and his henchmen, I began the pitch. "Think Magnificent Seven," I said, and without hesitation everyone present shouted, "yes, that's it!" Without saying another word, I got the deal. (It's called Kill and Kill Again, and turned out to be the 2nd top grossing picture in the country at the time of it's release. Go figure.)

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Google Blues

It's easy to remember back to simpler times when we didn't have cellphones and computers used floppy discs, one for the writing program (in my case Wordstar) and one for the files. It took two of them to store an entire screenplay, and we had to restrict the files to 10 pages, because otherwise the saves took too long as the computer groaned and struggled. With some effort I can even recall the typewriter, and carbon paper. I hated the damn thing, and didn't even know it because there was nothing else on the horizon to replace it then. But my mind can't wrap itself around the idea that there was a time when google wasn't a word, both noun and verb, and I couldn't indulge in the slightly subsersive, slightly erotic-sounding activity known as "googling myself." Nowadays you just aren't somebody until you have a web presence. Makes it sound a little like a fly caught by a spider, huh? Scary.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

So You Wanna Be a Star

The great Russian actor, teacher, and director Constantine Stanislavski revolutioned how we think about acting back at the turn of the last century, and yet today most young actors think about acting the wrong way. They're consumed by the idea of being real, and yet films, plays, and television dramas are not real. Even the most gritty naturalistic work isn't life, it's a synthesis of life, a condensation and rearrangement of events in order to tell a story, be interesting, and move us emotionally. Stanislavski knew this, but the misunderstanding is partly his fault. As a director he liked to fill the stage with details that created an illusion of reality. The great playwright Anton Chekov complained about it. "If I cut the nose out of a genre portrait," he said, "and replace it with a real nose, the nose will be real but the painting is ruined." He threatened to begin the script for his next play with, "Scene: A Room in a farmhouse. There are no dogs barking, babies crying, birds chirpring, or water dripping."

Shameless Promotion Dept.: Let me call your attention to the fact that I'm now hustling mugs, t-shirts, aprons, greeting cards, and other fabulous products with my cartoons on them Great gift stuff. Check it out at*. Framed and unframed prints, as well as originals of all cartoons (if available) can by obtaining by contacting me through e-mail.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Enjoy Your Pizza While It's Hot

Television advertising has reached yet another low with a Pizza Hut spot that shows a pizza delivery boy at the door of a customer's house. The man pays for his three pizzas, closes his front door, and lets out an ecstatic whoop. "Honey," he calls to his wife, "the pizza boy made a mistake again!" It's the "again" that really kills me, like this jerk is making a habit of ripping off the poor kid. As the man and his family wolf down their pizza, a voiceover explains that indeed the price was right, it's a special deal, but nothing by now can mitigate the message going out to the nation's children: it's not only okay to stiff the pizza guy, it's to be desired and celebrated, and therefore it's okay to stiff anybody. It's a dog cheat dog world we live in, folks, get with the program, and it's being pounded into us from the very top. So it should come as no surprise that government, in cahoots with big business, gets away with one giant scam after another while people rejoice about pulling off what they think is a con on the poor pizza kid.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Art For Wine's Sake

One of the deadliest of all rituals is the art gallery opening. It's like a theatre premiere where the actors are all onstage speaking their lines and going through the motions while the audience mingles in the aisles chattering about how wonderful they think the play is, all the while drinking cheap zinfandel and eating cubes of cheese. Nobody ever looks at the paintings. Well no, that's not exactly true. They look at the paintings but never actually see them. There's a routine to it. You have to take just enough time away from the canapes to move around the room and view the artwork, betraying as little reaction as possible. The idea is to be seen looking at the paintings so that nobody thinks you're just there as a freeloader, and to spend just the right amount of time at each work in case the artist notices you (and he surely will, since there's never more than one or two people looking at paintings at a time). Too little time and he'll think you're not serious, too much time and he's going to peg you for a potential buyer. The worst thing is if the artist actually asks you what you think. My standard answer: "You've never done better."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

And He Looked Like the Marlboro Man

I was a militant non-smoker from the get-go. Way back before non-smoking laws were even a blip on the radar, I was asking people in supermarket checkout lines to please avoid getting smoke in my face. I argued against smoking at parties, reasoning that the smokers had an acceptable option, they could go outside for a few minutes and grab a ciggie. But my option was draconian, don't attend the party. But this transfat thing is threatening to get out of hand. I personally stay away from the stuff, but it seems to me if people want to clog their arteries and expand their waistlines, let 'em, it has no bearing on my health or comfort. What astonishes me is that New York City is leading the march. When the heck did New York City develop a health consciousness, for heaven's sake? New York is the capital of egg creams and chicken schmaltz!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Oops, My Bad II

One of my enduring memories from childhood is the day a Coast Guard building was floated on a raft from Cuttyhunk Island across several miles of Vineyard Sound to the little fishing village of Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard. I remember watching its progress from low ground, looking across Menemsha Pond and the stretch of sand bar that separated it from the Sound. It was a large, three-storey clapboard structure, and as it moved across Menemsha Bight it appeared to be gliding gracefully along the sand dunes. Back then it was a strictly local occasion for awe and celebration. Today it would be on the evening news all over the country. Not too long ago the news featured a story about a boy in Florida who was told by his teacher he couldn't be excused to go to the bathroom, and so he went into the cloakroom and peed in a wastebasket. That was the whole story. I'm not kidding.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Democracy's A Wonderful Thing... We Ought to Try It Sometime

Partisan politics have become like professional sports. People don't believe in a party anymore, they root for it to win. They don't have party affiliations nowadays, they have their favorite. It doesn't matter whether they listen to the sports or politics on talk radio, it's all just hot air. When your beloved pro football or basketball team trades a favorite player, or half the team gets snared in a prostitution sting, you shrug your shoulders and go on cheering. When they've finished in the cellar five seasons in a row because they play like crap, you go on hoping. It's your team, after all. Same with politics. It seems to me people are increasingly disconnected from the relationship between whom they vote for and which group of politicians is really working for or even caring about the quality of their lives. Think about it, candidates for office now have playbooks, strategies for victory, and weekly standings in the polls, same as sports. When there's a political debate, it doesn't matter how much sense the candidates made, instead they score points for poise, looks, and delivery. Listen to the discussions about the '08 presidential campaign. The pundits don't talk about who would be best for the country, they talk about who has the best chance to win. I have an idea. Let's pick ten complete nobodys with zippo experience, turn them over to handlers, and run them for office. We film the whole thing and make a reality show out of it. "So You Want to Be In Congress." The winner gets ten million dollars, and he doesn't even have to sell himself to "special interests."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year. Or Else!

When I first lived in Rome back in the 70's, the age-old Italian New Year's Eve tradition was to gather up all the old unwanted furniture, crockery, appliances, and other belongings and at midnight throw them out the window. It always seemed to me an efficient way of putting the house in order, by making a celebration out of it. A Tom Sawyer approach, make it fun. It did, however, mean it was dangerous to be walking the streets at that hour. More recently the practice was outlawed, to be replaced by toasting the stroke of midnight and throwing the empty champagne glasses out the window. Still dangerous to be outside, though less life threatening.