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 *).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The American Idle Redux

It's become fashionable, almost de rigueur, for the media to bash American Idol. Critics are falling all over themselves finding condescending things to say about the favorites, and ripping into the less likely to be winners like jackals feasting on offal. The whipping boy this year is poor Sanjaya Malakar who, even though he doesn't attain the musical heights of a Don Ho, seems like a very nice boy and does sing on key. Remember, this is the same industry that made a singing idol out of Sal Mineo, who confessed to me once he couldn't sing a note and took the whole thing as a big joke. But the point of American Idol is not the singers, nor creating an instant star. Notice how all previous winners have totally disappeared from our national cultural radar. The main interest is the ancillary drama, Paula and Simon snarling and snapping at each other, the emotional crash and burn of the losers, the off-screen pecadilloes of the contestants, and now Sanjaya, who is being treated as if his only motive for being there is to deliberately upset the purity of the competition by mocking the proceedings with what critics say is his unrelenting awfulness, not to mention his new definition of bad hair day. But the real point of it all is selling stuff, and for this the network and media are joined in a frontal attack on anything remotely resembling quality.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Democracy Rocks

Have polticians on the national level only relatively recently begun to behave like a bunch of schoolyard rowdies and whiners, their so-called discourse never far from the "are too, am not," sparring of sixth-graders? I prefer to think it's always been this way. It's just that now we have virtually instant news, with blogs and YouTube helping to keep the stench of governance immediately beneath our noses. If the farcical goings on in Congress and the White House are something new, then we're in desperate trouble. If it's been happening pretty much this way since Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamlton faced each other across a freshly-mown lawn with pistols at dawn, then maybe we can survive as a nation. Our politicians haven't been shooting each other lately. Yet. There's still hope for us.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Daily Grind

I've got to wonder what alien creatures would make of human existence. The question becomes particularly vexing to me as I sit on the 10 East breathing carbon monoxide in bumper to bumper traffic creeping through downtown L.A., where thousands of people are crammed into tiny cubicles cheek by jowl in high rise office buildings. Less than ten thousand years separate us from the hunter gatherers. It's an infinitesimal blip in time to today's mad mad world from the development of agriculture, which led to property ownership, which led to inequality, fences, boundaries, war, and the 10 Freeway. If one is to believe in intelligent design, then the human being has to look like a noble experiment gone terribly awry in a very short time. On the other hand, if we accept the premises of Darwinism, homo sapiens seems like a suddenly unsurvivable deadend from which not even the fittest among us can escape. Either way, whether it was God or the chance peregrinations of nature, built in to us are mechanisms for joy, and hope, that seem to render it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The High Point of the Evening, Part II

We keep hearing nowadays that kids are smarter today than kids were in the past. One of the main reasons given for this dispiriting phenomenon is television. I just don't get that. Have anyone of the experts coming up with this idea watched television lately? It keeps getting dumber and dumber. Another reason you sometimes hear is that children are eating better. Eating better? Who are we kidding? I'm not sure that kids are smarter. It just seems that way because they pick up the latest technology faster than adults, but being able to quickly master something that grownups couldn't care less about learning has always been a function of childhood. So they can play video games, and send text messages, and download vapid music to their i-pods, big deal. But can they sit and have an intelligent conversation about, say, something important, like could it be possible that Anna Nicole Smith's death from a massive ingestion of every sedative known to man was really accidental?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The High Point of the Evening

I have no moral objection to drug use, nor do I make a judgment about anybody who chooses to fry their brain or spiral downward into a substance abuse-induced vortex, as long as it doesn't bother anyone else or place a financial burden on society. I feel the same way about it as I do choosing to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, if someone wants to crack their skull open don't ask me to pay for it. My drug of choice has always been booze, and I admit that at times in my life I've abused it and been a danger to myself and others, and that's reprehensible. But one of the things that's always turned me off most about drugs is the ritualistic social aspect of it. The moment when you're at someone's house in a group of people and the little bags of marijuana and envelopes of cigarette paper come out, when intelligent conversation screeches to a halt and everyone watches eagerly as the joints are rolled, when the little devils are passed around and the guests sit in a circle sucking in the smoke and turning red as they hold their breath, has always seemed incredibly goofy to me. I'm also turned off by the co-mingling of spit. The most fascinating drug experience I ever had was in Teheran, back in the 70's. It was at a posh affair in an elegant home, and at a certain point after the dinner had been served and we'd moved on to cognac, white-gloved servants appeared and glided silently among the assembled with silver salvers bearing opium pipes. Now that's style, even if it was still unhygienic. At least they were upper class germs.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gallows (Literally) Humor, Part II

It is, perhaps, common for anyone dealing in humor to see something funny in almost anything, even tragedy, the grotesque, and horror. Usually a guilt mechanism kicks in and we stifle our laughter, but some news stories create images in our heads that trump any sense of decency. A headline this past week continues to tickle me: Woman Convicted of Frying Husband. In the words of Dave Barry, I'm not making this up. After she had done him in, she chopped him into small pieces, got out the skillet and Crisco, and put her culinary skills to good use. I'm wondering, breaded or just lightly dusted with flour?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gallows (Literally) Humor

Wolfgang Puck, the Los Angeles chef who is no stranger to the self-promotion game, grabbed a few more headlines this past week with the announcement that his restaurants from now on would only serve humanely raised and killed meat, and no more foie gras. He did, however, mention that lobsters would still be dispatched the old way, by being cut in half with a cleaver because, he candidly admitted, "the meat tastes better that way." One large step for mollifying PETA, one giant leap for coddling the palate. One has to wonder why it took the good cook this long to get a conscience. Couldn't possibly be because he put his nose in the air and sniffed increased profits wafting on the winds of change, could it? Naaaah. I heard Puck being interviewed the other day on NPR, the perfect platform for reaching the squeamish souls who prefer knowing the calf didn't suffer on its way to becoming their vitello piccata. The really unsettling thing about the broadcast was hearing Puck, in his Teutonic accent and sounding just a bit like the governator, conflating the practices of the meat industry with the execution of human prisoners. "Zey alvays are looking for better vays to do it," he said with a disconcerting chuckle, proud to align himself on the side of humanity.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Right Brain, Left Brain

(NOTE: Clicking on the cartoon will enlarge it.)

I have a theory that ideas come to us in what I call "thought stacks," and we communicate them to others in "information streams." The stacks are comprised of information piled up instantaneously without syntax or grammar by the right brain. These ideas flash into our heads and then are transformed by the left brain into a stream of words, one after another, as a way of transferring our ideas to others' minds. For the listener, the incoming stream is just babble, until the left brain makes sense of the words and hands them over to the right brain to be fully grasped as complete thoughts. It's a flawed process, the best that nature could do for us at this stage in our evolutionary development (I'm hoping in favor of Darwinism over intelligent design, since I hate to think that humankind will never be able to improve). The problem is that as another person talks, the incoming stream of words fires off a series of thought stacks in our own mind, and before that person completes what they have to say we tend to either shut them out or listen for an opportunity to interrupt their information stream with our own. It explains why we misinterpret or miss entirely at least fifty percent of the information coming at us from other people (or, for that matter, from the various media). And by the way, I reject the notion that most people are left-brained, which is supposedly the more logical of the two cerebral hemispheres. If it were true, we wouldn't have religion, advertising, or politics.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mi Chiamo Giuseppe

Probably thousands of books have been written about differences between various world cultures, or between one country and another. While living in Italy on and off over the past almost 40 years, I've had the opportunity to see and experience the gulf between that country and the U.S. firsthand. Of course, I hasten to insert that people are people wherever in the world you go, but there is one huge difference that stands out head and shoulders above all others, in Italy waiting tables is a respected profession, and a highly desired career. One of the many reasons for this is that over there the meal takes a much higher place in the order of things than here, and dining out is an occasion in itself, not something you rush through before or after the main event of the evenng. Restaurants have only one sitting per night, because the clientele is expected to relish every moment of the experience, from the first bite of focaccia dribbled with olive oil, to the last glorious sip of grappa, and no cameriere would ever rush to get you the check and try, even subtly, to nudge you on your way. The closest we come to waiting tables as a career is in New York delicatessans where, like in Italy, the waiters don't age a day as the years pass, but there too there's a difference. The Italian is a genial and doting guide, the New York counterpart is half Henny Youngman and half juggler on speed, flinging schtick at you along with the side of sauerkraut, cracking acerbic jokes that rise about the incessant clatter of dishes, and letting you know from the moment you walk in the door that your time's almost up.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The History of Something, Part I

We interrupt our regularly scheduled cartoon to bring you this important public service presentation. Accuracy in all things is important to us, and our resident scholar il Professore has kindly pointed out an anomaly in a previous cartoon, to wit, furniture style. This prompted us to turn to our vast research department for clarification. Hours of dedicated searching through history books, dusty files, Internet sites, and stacks of old phone bills have turned up absolutely nothing regarding the origin of Ikea's table design, nor about anything else, for that matter. The best they could do was confirm that man was indeed descended from apes. Once homo sapiens had made that glorious leap from swinging through trees to walking with bad posture, it was only a short step to using a fork, which is what led to the invention of the table. Sitting on the ground eating with silverware just doesn't cut it, and balancing a plate on one's knees came much later, with the advent of the buffet (which was brought about by the Great Chair Shortages of the late 16th century). On the other hand, given the daily regurgitations of the news media, we don't need much evidence that we are still, at heart, gorillas.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Miracle of Technology

A number of years ago I was flying from Los Angeles to New York on now defunct TWA. Shortly after takeoff the pilot came on the intercom and launched into a mini-lecture about how the Salton Sea, just east of Palm Springs, was formed. Not long after that he pointed out some volcanic formations, the starting point for his discussion of the geological history of the southwest. "Oh, brother," I thought to myself, "we've got ourselves a talker, I'm not going to get any reading done." But I quickly realized it was going to be the best coast to coast trip I would ever take. Our captain would go on to lecture about Lewis and Clark, and the Wright Brothers, and as he spoke about American pioneers he did S-turns over the Chisholm Trail so passengers on both sides of the plane could see the remnants. But the best part of the flight was when he described the GPS, the Geological Positioning System, that had just come into use for navigation. He told of how it utilized two arbitrary points in the heavens as vectors for triangulating our position, and wound up his discourse by saying, "so you see, this isn't just a trip across the country, it's an existential journey in time and space." I thought,"I don't know what he's smoking, but man, I want some."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Iceman Cometh

What separates an illusion from a delusion? You never really know, that's the beauty of an illusion. As long as you believe in your dreams, anything is possible. It's kind of like searching for WMD's, until you find them no one can prove they don't exist. The real question is how many people you can convince to share your illusion before they start thinking you're deluded. People have lived with their illusions ever since they sat around campfires telling stories and creating myths. Handsome princes, ugly ducklings, hidden treasure, the kingdom of God, lotteries, picking the case with the million biggies in it, it's all the same thing. Now along comes the latest fad The Secret, marketed in books and seminars, where if you believe hard enough that anything is possible you store up "manifest points" that you trade in for desired results. It's just another version of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking really. The rap goes something like this: only 4 out of a hundred people are wealthy, so what is it they have that makes the difference? They really want it, that's what. If you don't get rich, or thin, or meet the perfect mate, it just means you didn't desire it enough. Clever, huh? There's no way to prove it wrong. And it beats the hell out of getting depressed or doing drugs.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Oops, Our Bad

Anyone seeking evidence that our society has run totally amok need look no further than the Hummer. Not that there's any dearth of evidence, but the Hummer takes the cake. With gas prices skyrocketing and America up to its throat in a devestating war that is at it's core about oil, with oil a finite resource fast being depleted, with global warming due primarily to the burning of fossil fuel, with traffic choking our cities, with a large percentage of our population unable to afford health care for their children, people are climbing by themselves into these behemoths to drive back and forth to the mall. It's harder to say who has less of a conscience, the louts who sell them or the jerks that buy them. Our ability to live in denial about the most obvious problems has been exemplified by members of Rev. Ted Haggard's old congregation. Now that the evangelical minister has been dumped from his post for romping with a male prostitute in a Denver hotel room, former parishioners are wondering why they missed the signs that the man they relied on for moral and religious guidance was rotten to the core, you know, little stuff, like cozying up to members of the flock with a smirk on his face asking them to describe their wives orgasms. Those people must drive Hummers.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Time For Beddy-Bye

Recent "statistics" show that increasingly American married couples are opting for separate bedrooms, and not necessarily because the intimacy has gone from the relationship. A variety of reasons are given, with excessive snoring high on the list. I'd like to know who does this research, and why. Do canvassers stop shoppers at K-Mart and ask, "excuse me, do you and your mate each have your own bedroom, if so why, and if not, would you prefer to?" Do they call on the phone right as you're about to eat and say, "I'll only take up about fifteen minutes of your time while you tell me about the sleeping arrangements of you and your spouse?" I have a theory that the life style of every class level is a parody of the level immediately above it, with the same trappings only cheaper. The dining room is reserved exclusively for sit-down dinners, which most families do only on the rare occasion there are guests. The rest of the time whoever is home around mealtime grabs something to eat at the kitchen table, but the whole point of the dining room is that people with serious money have them, only with pantries to separate them from the kitchen. Royalty and wildly rich folks have always had separate bedrooms, but the custom has only recently filtered down to the struggling classes, which sometimes have to close in the back porch so the husband will have someplace to sleep.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

For Better or For Worse

I offer this cartoon to the memory of my late friend Bruce Paltrow, the producer. He was a very funny man, but this had to have been his best line ever, referring to his marriage to actress Blythe Danner, whom I've known since high school. I was visiting their house years ago when their then 4-year old daughter Gwyneth fell out of a tree and broke her arm. I accompanied Bruce to the UCLA hospital, holding Gwyneth, who sobbed in pain the entire drive, on my lap. It's the only time I ever had an Academy Award winning actress on my lap. Who knew? It reminds me of the story about the elderly German doctor back in the 18th century. His wife made him promise to make no more house calls, but one night, in the middle of winter with the wind howling and snow falling, he was roused out of bed and rushed to attend to a woman giving birth. When he finally got home at the crack of dawn his wife was furious. "You promised," she wailed. "But," the old doctor answered, "dis baby vas different, dis baby vas Ludwig Von Beethoven."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Where Is President Grant Buried?

Okay, I admit it, I watch Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? I'm addicted to quiz shows, and have been all my life, going back to The $64,000 Question. When I first lived in Italy I learned Italian watching Rischiatutto, which means "Risk Everything," a version of Double or Nothing. I'm a Jeopardy-aholic, and even once loved to watch The Newlyweds Game, if for nothing else than to discover it was the brides who were always super horny and the young husbands who had the most headaches when it came time to "make whoopee." Alas, however, like so much in our culture void today, the quiz show has been dumbed down. On Deal or No Deal, which I watched in Italy before it ever got to this side of the Atlantic, you don't even have to answer questions, you just eliminate sums of money. Even Jeopardy isn't the challenge it once was, with clues that now take you by the hand and lead you to the answer in the form of a question. ("Theatre with the same name as a car where a president was assassinated." Answer: "What is Ford?") 5th Grader scrapes the bottom of the barrel, with 11-year olds who hoot and cackle like a cage full of monkeys when the imbecile adults struggle with toughies like "How many i's are there in the word imbecile?" I love it. But my favorite quiz show of all time was in Italy. Called Colpo Grosso (translation: "Jackpot"), contestants had to strip off articles of clothing when they missed questions. Now that's genius.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let Me Entertain You

I'm staying home Saturday night. St. Patrick's Day and Saturday, can there be a more volatile mix? St. Pat's is to drinking what the 4th of July is to barbecue, Thanksgiving is to turkey, and Easter to chocolate rabbits, which is to say the original point of the holiday has been long forgotten in favor of ingesting something, usually to excess. All the evidence points to the fact that St. Patrick, who died at the end of the 5th century, did a lot of good deeds, as one might expect of someone if he had any hope of sainthood, but the idea that he rid Ireland of snakes is entirely apocryphal. There never were any snakes in Ireland in the first place. He's the patron saint of Ireland, but was in fact born in England and was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was sixteen. As a young man he escaped back to his homeland, but then returned to Ireland because "voices" told him to go and convert poor people. At some point he was put on trial for "financial improprieties," and we know he was very popular with rich ladies, a lot of whom gave away all their money and became nuns. It's all pretty interesting, but none of the facts give any hint of why his feast day should have become an occasion for pedal to the metal boozing. Unless you consider that when an Irishman says "I'll drink to that," it's not particularly noteworthy. An Irishman will drink to anything."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Our Lord, Who Art in Despair

Every day the news brings another howler. Yesterday there was the story about the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace declaring in a press conference, in response to a question about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, that homosexuality was an immoral act akin to adultery. Gen. Pace would like to go back to the time when there were plenty of soldiers to kill all the people we wanted to, and gays were simply booted out of the armed services for being "unfit." So my question is, does the general think adulterers should also be thrown out? Perhaps he feels that any kind of immorality is grounds for dismissal, or for keeping someone out of the military in the first place. Pace hasn't been reading the newspapers lately. If he had, he would have seen that Newt Gingrich, that newly avowed adulterer, wants to be his boss. He would have seen so-called "immoral" behavior cropping up all over the place, not just of a sexual nature. Everywhere you look someone is coveting his neighbor's ox. The religious and political leadership of our society is riddled with immorality. No problem, I guess, just so long as ordinary grunts don't do piggy things in the privacy of cheesy motel rooms.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Great Outdoors

I've driven back and forth across America twice, "camping out" all the way, but it's not nearly as romantic as it sounds. First of all, even though I was not pressured for time on either journey, I did keep moving pretty quickly. Second of all, I travelled the Interstates, with only a few brief detours, so a Bob's Big Boy and Subways were never more than a half hour ahead down the road. It wasn't exactly Travels With Charlie, with my Jack Russell Terrier and miniature wirehair dachshund taking the place of Steinbeck's companion. I mostly stayed at KOA campgrounds, which were never far enough from the highway to get away from the incessant roar of semis all night. Even if they were, there was still the drone of the generators from the huge land yachts crammed side by side and separated by an occasional tree that was struggling for survival. The RV's dominated. I had to pitch my tent and set up my portable propane cookstove in the small area reserved for the outdoor types like me, struggling to set my tent pegs in hard-packed ground that was usually mostly dirt and gravel. Occasionally, when the weather was especially inclement, I'd treat myself and rent a "cabin," which had shutters for windows, no bathroom, and still cost me more than an inexpensive motel room. But hey, if you're going to rough it nowadays, it'll cost you.

DISCLAIMER: I have no control over the ads placed at the top of this blog by Google, nor do I necessarily condone the content. By agreeing to have them here, I take my chances, and must sometimes swallow hard and look the other way.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Career Moves

The San Fernando valley is the Hollywood of the adult movie industry. When you drive north on the 405 and crest the Sepulveda Pass you can actually see the heat rising from the vast sprawl before you, and that's on a cool day. Pornography is the elephant in the living room, chalking up annual sales of CD's and video far in excess of what the mainstream film industry is responsible for, and that includes theatrical releases. When you think of the budgets of virtually all of those "adult" movies you realize the profits are astronomical. I mean, what do they need? A bedroom, a relatively inexpensive videocam, videotape (which can be reused), a couple of cheap lights, a hot manicurist and a hunky bartender. Somebody's buying and renting all those movies, and they're not all in blue states. When I drove cross country I was astonished to see the plethora of Adult Movie outlets along the interstate in Missouri, windowless shed-like buildings with huge parking lots out in the middle of nowhere. The best comment I ever heard about pornography was made by radio psychologist Dr. Toni Grant back in the 80's, before talk radio had been hijacked by loudmouths. "When you watch a dirty movie," she said, "for the first five minutes all you ever want to do in your life is have sex, and after five minutes you never want to have sex again."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Old Stuff

I have to admit, twenty-five hundred-year old statues leave me, well, cold. If Italy and Greece, or any other country, wants their stuff back, I say give it back. Never mind that erstwhile government officials in those countries were often on the take, allowing their pockets to be lined so they'd look the other way as their countries' national stuff was spirited off to London, Paris, New York, and more recently, Los Angeles. Now they make a big deal out of how they "wuz robbed," just the way Bobby Thomson robbed the Dodgers of the pennant in 1951. Which is to say, it's how the game was supposed to be played. One of the best jobs in the Old World was always being an inspector attached to the cultural ministry. Whenever some millionaire wanted to build himself a villa in, say, Frascati or Trevi, or Delphi, you trundled out to the site to make sure if any national goodies were being unearthed they wouldn't be pilfered. Uh huh. And when you found a veritable trove of ancient carved marble, you quietly went halvsies with the rich dude. Next best job was customs inspector, slapping your okay on that crate weighing a ton and a half marked "feather dusters." Anyway, the Getty still has plenty of good stuff worth looking at. They don't need a statue of a naked god with the genitals missing that nobody worships anymore. The god, that is, not the genitals. And by the way, I love this, the word for bribe in Italian is bustarella, translated "little envelope." Isn't that way nicer than what it's called in Mexico, a "bite?"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Back To The Slime Pit

There's irony in the fact that Newt Gingrich has acknowledged in an interview with Focus on the Family head James Dobson that he was having an "illicit" affair at the same time he was leading the charge against Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. There's a lot that could be said about the depth and breadth of the hypocrisy of both Gingrich and his supporters. Just the fact that he claims he wasn't being hypocritical because his main concern was not the infidelity but rather the fact Clinton broke the law by "lying before a judge" is chilling. Never mind that Gingrich was betraying the morality he not only insists he stands for, he was betraying the God he presumably places above the law. There's no love in Gingrich for either God or the law. But what is really appalling, funny actually if it weren't so scary, is that he went public as a first step toward announcing his candidacy for president. Dobson's question to Gingrich that led to the mea culpa was an obvious set-up, engineered to give Gingrich an opportunity to justify his unjustifiable peccadilloes to the very audience who should be condemning him the most. Now Jerry Falwell has congratulated Gingrich on his candor, and Rush Limbaugh is applauding the man whose website declares him to be "defending God in the public square." The cat's out of the bag. Morality, God, and so-called family values are the last things these miscreant fascist mutants stand for.


A note about yesterday's commentary: I was neither supporting nor opposing Barack Obama's candidacy. The jury is still out on that one. I was depoloring a system that trashes any qualified candidate who looks like they might have a chance before they ever get their ideas known. The terrible reality is that even intelligent voters tend to make up their minds based on the buzz words and convenient catch-phrases that are relentlessly shoved at us by the media.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tell It To the Judge

Plastered all over the media yesterday was the news that Barack Obama, when he was a student at Harvard Law School, ran up 20 parking tickets that went unpaid for years until just before he announced his candidacy. Digging into the past of a candidate by his opponents has become a cottage industry, and I suspect that anyone so pure as to be able to get through this draconian vetting process without the uncover of a single transgression is too much of a doofus to hold public office. Get real, folks, everyone's done something wrong, sometime in their life. The tragedy is not, however, that someone as qualified as Obama to be president could conceivably be so tarnished by the Swift boating that will inevitably be used against him that he won't stand a chance. The tragedy is that this kind of crap is all that remains in the slime pit of American politics. Now, I am not yet a supporter of any candidate, announced or otherwise. The elections are more than a year and a half away, and a lot can happen in the meantime. But I will say this, whether one likes him or not, Obama is one of the people most qualified to be president that we've had running in a long time. He's highly intelligent, well-educated, thoughtful, curious, open to new ideas, communicates brilliantly, uses his communication skills to bring folks together, genuinely cares about people and their lives, has an awareness of the world that is rare in American politicians, and works well with others to bring about change. Notice I didn't say likeable, appealling, good-looking, religious, or charismatic, which seem to be what the pundits keep talking about ad infinitum, and which have become the major considerations for most Americans. And, as far as I know, he never had a DUI.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

'Til Death Do Us Part

The family values crowd has everyone hysterical about the possiblity that same-sex unions will undermine the sanctity of the tradition of marriage. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of marriage, it's a lovely thing, but let's not make too much of a big deal out of it. First of all, it's not natural. This doesn't make it any less desirable, or practical, but the reality is that it's not the "glue that holds society together." Cave men probably didn't have marriages, and they managed okay for hundreds of thousands of years. They didn't even have televisions to distract them when tension in the household got so bad you could cut it with a knife. Marriage is a relatively recent invention that came into being after the advent of agriculture, when they had to come up with a legal system for keeping the land in the family. Even then it didn't insure fidelity. I was in grade school when I first heard the old joke, "What's the main cause of divorce?" Answer: "Marriage." On the other hand, as my mother used to say, "some couples are better off staying together. Why ruin two houses?"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Wild Blue Yonder

It's customary for flight instructors to wait until the last moment to tell student pilots when it's come time for them to solo. The idea is that advance warning would subject the neophyte to a potentially debilitating case of nerves. When I was working toward my flying license my instructor asked me one day after we had landed to taxi over to the base of the tower. When we got there he announced that he would be getting out. "What," I asked, "am I supposed to do?" "You're going back up in the air." That's all the warning I got. Seconds later I was taxiing out to the "active" runway. As I was following the controller's instructions and "holding short," I went over a mental checklist, going through all the things I would have to remember once I was cleared for takeoff: full throttle, watch airspeed, "rotate" nose, hold the angle of attack as the place lifted off, maintain proper airspeed, check instruments, turn off fuel pump, watch altitude, turn crosswind, level off, dump flaps, ease back on throttle, make airspeed correction, and so on, knowing that soon I'd be twelve hundred feet above ground level in an airplane with no one but myself to get me back on the ground alive. I glanced out the window, and there, fluttering over the wing, was a small butterfly. "You little son of a bitch," I said out loud, "it's so darn easy for you."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Vote For Chicken Little

I don't consider myself a political cartoonist. I'm just trying to be funny. Still, if a cartoon carries implications beyond the obvious "gag," or if a viewer perceives a deeper meaning, so much the better. Sometimes all it takes to turn humor into an editorial statement are a couple of labels. Put the words "global warming" over the crater, and write "Bush administration" on the rooster, and voila, it becomes political commentary. Actually, there's more than one impending disaster that the crater can symbolize. The scary thing is that one could write "liberals" on one chicken, label the other "conservatives," and call the crater anything that suits your agenda. On the other hand, you could think of the rooster as "liberals and conservatives," and the crater as everything that cries out for creative solutions but gets ignored as both sides indulge in the empty rhetoric, posturing, and squabbling they think will help them in the next elections. For me, though, it's just a cartoon about Chicken Little.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Polling For Dollars

A headline yesterday trumpeted, "GOP Chooses Romney." It's a perfect example of the media's whipping up the public into a steaming froth about an election a year and a half away. They do it by overblowing the significance of their factoids. In this case, what is made to sound as if the Republican Party had all but decided on their 2008 candidate, in reality was a group of ultra-rightwingers taking a straw poll at the same Conservative Political Action Conference where Ann Coulter drew cheers by calling John Edwards a "faggot," where Ollie North was a guest speaker, and where a right-wing blogger known for playing fast and loose with the truth was given an award for "accuracy in journalism." The lead story on all the TV news yesterday was about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama having dueling campaign rallies in Selma, Alabama in an effort to win over what's being called the "black vote." Now that's an unfortunate term if ever I heard one. Think about it. It conjurs all kinds of really strange imagery. Meanwhile, on 60 Minutes last night the head of the GAO gave some frigthteningly dire predictions about the US economy, and declared that this country needs two things desperately right now, politicians to start telling the truth, and leadership. My guess is few people were paying attention. Is there any such thing any more as a well-informed vote?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

And a Side Order of Sayonara

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of New York City there were really only two kinds of ethnic restaurants, Chinese and Italian. The choices of entrees were pretty limited. After chow mein, spaghetti with meat balls, and pizza there wasn't much else. The popular notion was that chow mein and pizza weren't even invented in China and Italy respectively, but rather were Americanizations. I can't speak for chow mein, but I can tell you that pizza is very Italian, dating back to ancient times when Neopolitan bakers on their noon break would grab a chunk of bread dough, flatten it out, and bake their lunch in seconds. What is American is the slice. The closest thing to it in Italy is the pizza that you get as a quick snack in the coffee bars and rosticcerie, baked in large metal baking pans and cut into small rectangles. In restaurants, each diner is served their own plate-sized pizza, in Rome much thinner and crisper than American pizza. My favorite is pizza with "everything," only there each topping is assigned its own segment of the circle like a pie chart, with, among other things, mushrooms in one segment, onions in another, tuna fish in another -- yes, tuna fish -- and then a whole egg cracked onto it and baked along with it. The other Americanization of the Italian dish is truly an abomination, pineapple.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

All the News That Distracts We Print

I grew up in a news "culture." My dad was the film critic on The New York Times as long as I could remember, and the Times newsroom was a second home to me. Journalism was honored and honorable. Times have changed. Oh, the Times is still the gold standard, and despite some slips here and there maintains its integrity and gravitas. but the news business drops off steeply from there. Business is the operative word. To be economically viable a news outlet, whether print or broadcast, must aim at the mass market, and in the marketplace people want junk. As a result it seems as if that's almost all there is, but still I remain hooked on news, a holdover from childhood. As much as I'd prefer to quit, like an addict I keep on buying the newspapers and turning on the TV news. Maybe it's so I can come up with correct responses on "Jeopardy." I can just imagine, a look into the future:

Answer: The mother of the 16-year old billionairess celebrity star of reality TV making headlines for getting drunk and stoned and driving her Rolls Royce into the Beverly Hills pool of best-selling psychologist and author Brittney Spears.
Question: Who is Anna Nicole Smith?

Friday, March 02, 2007

We Interrupt This Commercial

The thing that's made it almost impossible for me to watch the news on television is that it seems like the announcers are constantly shouting everything at me. I admit, when I do have the news on I'm usually doing something else, and the TV is pretty much background noise, but I assume most people actually sit and watch. So why do the newscasters have to shout, if they've already got everyone's attention? Invariably, at least once every newscast, the decibel level goes up a notch when they scream "Breaking News!" accompanied by a fancy graphic that is the visual equivalent of a shout. More often than not in Los Angeles it's a house on fire, a street shooting, or a car chase covered by the "SkyCam," except that they happen so often here it's not news anymore, let alone breaking news. These things never even make it into the daily papers. The weather people love hollering the weather forecast. We never just have some afternoon drizzle here, we have "Storm Watch!" brought to us by "High Definition Doppler 7 Radar," which doesn't seem to me any more accurate than the old finger in the wind technique. In L.A. all you have to say is, "night and morning low clouds, clearing by midafteroon," and seventy-five percent of the time you're going to be right. Don't even get me started on the sports.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

There's Fast Food and Half-Fast Food

As if we needed further proof that Prince Charles, while he may be a nice fellow, is a doofus, a story in yesterday's news confirms it. On a trip to Saudi Arabia, the prince declared that McDonald's should be put out of business because its food is deleterious to health. First of all, how come it took him this long to notice? Second, last I heard nobody is shackled, dragged into a McDonald's outlet, and forced at gunpoint to down a Big Mac and fries. Now I'm no fan of McDonald's. I'm no fan of the whole fast food concept. I also believe that if it can be shown that any franchise, or any restaurant for that matter, is willfully lacing their food with arsenic unbeknownst to its clientele, then it's probably a pretty good idea to put them out of business. But when you eat at a McDonald's, even if you're 200 pounds overweight and suffering from type 2 diabetes, you know what you're in for. Charlie, there's lots of things in the world that need your attention, but a fast food chain isn't one of them. And while we're on the subject, there's other things you could discuss with the Saudi Arabians, I'm sure, that might have more to do with the health and welfare of the human race.

And by the way, unhealthy food isn't new. When I was in prep school half a century ago there was a restaurant in the area, Smith Farms, that served something called a "pig dinner." It was like a super banana split, 12 scoops of ice cream, two bananas, assorted crushed fruit and sauces, nuts, all topped with 3 maraschino cherries, served in a wooden trough. One of our great treats was a detour there, and if you managed to eat the entire thing you got a pin declaring "I was a pig at Smith Farms."