New Cartoon: Is the Class Half Full or Half Empty? Please check out my new color cartoon on the stupidity of high-stakes tests (specifically, the MCAS), timed to coincide with a Crimson editorial on the same topic. You can also get the cartoon in black and white on the Crimson site, or pick it up at a news stand if you live in Cambridge.
Monday, April 29, 2002
Saturday, April 27, 2002
Apologies in advance...
Updates this week will likely be infrequent. I'm currently trying to finish two short video documentaries: one on old school Boston hip hop (featuring Edo G, T Max, Illin' P and DJ Nomadik) and one on a car trip I took to Tennessee to bring my grandmother home to live with my parents in Massachusetts (featuring my grandmother Melba Reid). I'm also creating a set of pen and ink illustrations of a 12th-century German interracial love story (involving knights, the Holy Grail, and the imaginary African country of Zassamanc)... all of which are due in about a week (and all of which I hope to feature on this site when completed, though the video clips will have to be tiny).
The good news is, next week's cartoon will be running on Monday (just for this week) in order to coincide with a Crimson editorial on the MCAS. So keep on the lookout... .
Friday, April 26, 2002
Is the class half empty, or half full?
Call me pessimistic, but since when is the news that 1/4 of Massachusetts high school students won't be receiving a diploma cause for celebration? In response to studies showing "only" 24 percent of Massachusetts high school juniors continued to fail the MCAS (a standardized test mandatory for graduation), the Boston Globe reports that:
Officials pointed with pride to the flip side: in all, 76 percent, or about 48,400 juniors, have passed the MCAS, recognized as one of the nation's toughest standardized tests. The pass rate rose from 68 percent after students who failed the first time got a second chance to take it.
That's like celebrating that someone in an industrial accident has "only" lost one limb. What these proud officials are neglecting to mention is that failure rates are still much higher in cities and poorer areas (51 percent of Boston students failed, for example), Latino and black students are disproportionately failing the test, and 4,000 students dropped out between the first administration of the test and the second, which could easily account for quite a bit of the 8 percent "improvement." As the Globe notes:
Broken down by school system, the scores paint familiar portraits: Wealthy suburban districts have handfuls of students who have yet to pass, while vocational-technical schools or schools in urban areas have as many as half of their juniors flunking.
For more on the MCAS, see my previous post.
Wednesday, April 24, 2002
New Cartoon for Larry Summers Theme Week: Leadership Lessons with Larry
Every Crimson editorial cartoon this week is about Harvard President (and Clinton Treasury Secretary) Larry Summers, so I'm just showing a little love for Larry, folks. Check it out on this site in color, or on the Crimson site in lovely black & white, or at news stands around Harvard Square.
Also, the Crimson has a new feature on their website with bios and links to all the cartoonists, if you want to know a little more about me, or see how other cartoonists depicted Summers' first year.
Remember, if you want to be notified by email right when the cartoon comes out, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cambridge defies high-stakes testing, faces wrath of Mass Department of Education
I'm originally from Lowell (you know, the mill girls, the Industrial Revolution, Jack Kerouac and HBO's "High on Crack Street"), but right now I'm feeling some Cambridge pride. Cambridge has become the second town to defy the Department of Ed's mandate that all students must pass the MCAS standardized test in order to receive a high school diploma.
Both my mom and my dad are public school teachers, and have watched in disgust and horror as this test has sapped creativity from the curriculum--teachers face harsh penalties if their students do not improve on the test, so of course they teach to the test (see excellent cartoon by Kevin Siers). The test itself takes up two weeks of precious teaching time. The test is English-only, so limited-English students fail in massive numbers. The students who do best are rich and white--in some schools in my hometown, more than 50 percent of students failed the test. Should these students just be thrown away in the name of standards and discipline? Is this what Bush calls leaving no child behind? (see my old cartoon on this subject, The Elimination Game) Cambridge says no, and will offer alternative ways of assessing students to make sure they are qualified to graduate, such as school performance and creative portfolios.
This is a small bit of positive news in what has otherwise been a horrible year for public education. Here in Massachusetts there have been massive budget cuts at all the state colleges and universities, forcing them to eliminate some academic departments along with student mental health services, services for students with disabilities, and more (it was at the point where some colleges were telling employees to bring in sweaters because they couldn't afford to turn the thermostat up high enough). And Philadelphia just sold 42 public schools to private companies (including the Edison Schools company, which studies have shown to be unsuccessful) to see if they can run them at a profit (part of this plan includes getting rid of most of the original teaching staff and imposing their own curriculum).
And of course, the MCAS is still a graduation requirement in almost every city and town in Massachusetts. If you want to know more about the evils of the MCAS, please visit www.massparents.org, an organization of parents against the MCAS. This comprehensive site contains news, petititions, legal information, student opinions (including info on students who have bravely boycotted the MCAS) and more, as well as last years statewide MCAS scores. Also, Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson has written some excellent pieces on the test's effects on black, Latino and low-income students. For example: "Too early for MCAS celebration" (on the ridiculousness of celebrating a slight decrease in MCAS failure rates); At Best, Silly, At Worst, Racist" (on the Eurocentrism of the MCAS); and "If You Think the MCAS History Test is Relevant, Try This Exam" (multiple-choice questions about African-American history you won't find on the MCAS).
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Attackers--and Defenders--of Cornel West
The vultures have descended. Ever since Cornel West announced his decision to leave for Princeton, neo-conservative pundits have been using his departure as an opportunity to tear at not only the man himself but Afro-American Studies/Ethnic Studies/diversity as a whole. Predictably, the New Republic has some choice words, calling Afro-American studies a "fragile discipline" in need of "high standards and serious scholarship" and chastising Summers for being "so contrite." What would constitute serious Afro-American studies scholarship in the mind of New Republic writers I can only speculate (sociological studies proving "reverse racism"?), but I imagine it would involve Ward Connerly.
"A Childish Editorial"
But it's not just the hyper-conservatives--liberals and moderates are jumping on the West-bashing bandwagon too. As I mentioned earlier, Slate is keeping a Cornel West Whine Watch. Boston Phoenix cartoon journalist Scott Getchell portrayed West as a jargon-spouting "charlatan," who should be kept around purely for entertainment value (so black people are only allowed to be entertainers, not scholars?). The entire editorial board of the Harvard Crimson, who had previously hoped that West would stay, called his departure "childish" and "petulant", opining that "after the manner in which he departed, the University is better off without him." The attitude seems to be: we like him when he gives entertaining lectures and dances for us, but not when he gets angry (or in their words, when he complains/whines).
Worse, the Crimson claimed to speak for all undergraduates, declaring that "the Harvard community will not miss Cornel West" and that West had insulted the Black Students Association (BSA) by not personally thanking them for gathering 1,200 signatures asking for him to stay. Both these claims are presumptuous at best, as BSA president Brandon Gayle pointed out in an excellent letter to the editor (headlined "The Crimson Staff Does Not Speak for Us"): What is most shocking is not that West has chosen to leave, but rather the level of disrespect he and his supporters are being shown by members of this community. Nowhere is such insolence demonstrated more than in the Crimson staff’s editorial “A Childish Departure”... .The Crimson staff... claims that West’s actions over the course of the last week are “…destined to tarnish his otherwise commendable legacy at Harvard.” For those of us that have taken one of West’s classes, or interacted with him on a personal level, nothing will tarnish the legacy that he leaves behind.
Amen to that.
For his pains, Brandon received a particularly nasty letter from a writer at Harvard's conservative monthly The Salient (a paper useful for little more than entertainment and/or papier mache). I don't have permission to quote the letter at length, but suffice it to say that the author refers to West as an "egotistical demagogue" whose work is "absolutely worthless" (at least, according to three book reviews the letter-writer skimmed). He further asserts that West is a "racist" because he believes that Race Matters. Predictably, he attacks affirmative action as racist, and asserts that what Harvard needs is more conservative professors (who, he concedes, don't have to be white--"look at Alan Keyes"). He concludes by saying he hopes he has offended Brandon and caused him to rethink his views.
Monday, April 22, 2002
The Crimson stands firm: I can't print my URL or email address
Those of you who came to my site via Xoverboard or This Modern World likely know about my frustration with The Harvard Crimson's editorial policies. Namely: I'm not allowed to publish my URL with my cartoon (that is reserved for paying advertisers), nor am I allowed to print my email address (that is reserved for non-opinion writers).
Frustrated, I wrote a detailed letter explaining my reasons for wanting to print my URL or email (hard to get publicity as a struggling college cartoonist, there is other material on the site of interest to readers of my cartoons, such as my older cartoons and blog), but they have firmly affirmed their policy. So please... if you like my cartoons, tell your friends about them and let me know if you want to be on my cartoon notification email list.
I'll be back... Updates this week will be brief/infrequent, as I have to write about six papers and edit a video documentary. But my cartoon will appear this week as usual--so remember to let me know if you want to be notified by email when new cartoons come out.
Saturday, April 20, 2002
"Man of Peace": Danziger cartoon about Jenin vs. Tasteless Mideast Cartoons Pt. 3
You might remember Jeff Danziger as one of the first cartoonists to get beyond drawing crying Statues of Liberty last fall. With his cartoon of a man on a stretcher making a cell phone call ("Harry? I'm running late...") under the caption "The New York Spirit," he somehow managed to find a shred of irony in a World Gone Mad without seeming tacky or sacriligeous. I think his new cartoon about Jenin has a similar combination of respect, horror, and irony distilled into a single panel and caption.
In other news, many cartoonists continued their "Ha-ha-ha-aren't-all-those-Palestinians-psychotic-freaks-who-want-to-blow-up-their-kids" suicide bombing cliche campaign (examples by Bob Gorrell, Wayne Stayskal). Apparently they have yet to realize that suicide bombing is tragedy, not comedy. For my previous thoughts on the subject see "Tasteless Mideast Cartoons" Part 1 and Part 2, and "The New Racist Cartooning". As a final note, Tom Tomorrow is right--you really need to read Joe Sacco's masterpiece of comics journalism, Palestine. In Palestine, Sacco spends 285 exquisitely rendered pen + ink pages in Israel and the West Bank, observing general goings-on, providing some good historical and political background on the conflict, and most importantly, drinking sweet tea with families in the refugee camps and rendering their experiences of life and death under occupation in anthropological detail. The book is some years old now, but it's still far more relevant and meaningful and complex and right-on than most any cartoons being produced on the subject at the moment, primarily because, get this: he actually views Palestinians (and Israelis) as real live human beings.
P.S. if you live in the Cambridge area, please don't buy the book from the Coop (aka Barnes and Noble)--head over to one of the best comic book stores in the country, the Million Year Picnic--they might even have some autographed copies left.
Music to Fight the Man to: the Dead Kennedys and the Coup
"Are you believing the morning papers?/War is coming back in style... " --The Dead Kennedys, "When Ya Get Drafted"
I'm anti-Republican and Democratic/ if they self-destruct/ that's anti-climactic/ Tired of bein' hunted like an antelope/ take the system by the throat/ that's the antidote/ so I pose a proposition/ take a look, be in support or opposition/ then be proactive proceed with confidence/ 'cause you know that you can't change shit by ridin' the fence"--The Coup, "Ride the Fence" (see Flash music video!)
As the post 9/11 madness rages on, CDs by late great punk rock band the Dead Kennedys have been fighting their way into my stereo more and more often. There's just something about Jello Biafra's over-the-top sarcasm/parody/what-have-you on the subjects of war, the US government, war, conservatism, war, market culture, war and everything else that makes me want to laugh and scream and sing and break things and dance and kick certain government officials in delicate spots all at once. Unfortunately, the Dead Kennedys put down their guitars for good when I was a politically unconscious six-year-old, and I don't know whether it's a testimony to their genius or to the sad state of our nation today that 23-year-old songs like "Kill the Poor" or "When Ya Get Drafted" still ring true (I suspect it's a bit of both).
Luckily my new favorite musical group of sarcastic/humorous/government-critiquing radical storytellers are very much together and kicking, in the form of West Coast hip-hop revolutionaries the Coup, aka brilliant emcee Boots Riley and talented turntablist DJ Pam the Funkstress. It's more likely that you've heard of them than you think: by unfortunate coincidence, the album cover for their latest masterpiece Party Music depicted them blowing up the Twin Towers (it was of course designed pre-9/11). The album was delayed until the image was replaced, at which point it was released to great critical acclaim: critics at The Washington Post, TimeOut New York, and The San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed Party Music"#1 Album of the Year"; and Rolling Stone awarded the Coup the title of Hip Hop "Artist of the Year", among other accolades. Their website declares that "overthrowing the system has never been so much fun," and they're right: like the DKs, this is a revolution you can dance to. Boots's deadpan delivery and brilliant lyrics combined with Pam's scratching and funk-influenced beats make my poor little head spin with happiness and anger, whether he's rapping about corporate evil, police brutality, lazy multi-millionaires-- "Got yo feet up on the desk noddin' off to sleep/ While I lift, push, pull, dig, sweat, and sweep/ I could work hard all my life and in the end still suffer/ Cuz the world is controlled by you lazy muthafuckas... You ain't never learned to drive or tie ya shoe/ I got my ear to the street and my eye on you/ You got a secretary to write down your thoughts/ On how to make us work hard and fatten up yo vaults/ TV say if ya poor, you must be slow and shiftless/ But you pay em' to say that so we don't want it different/ Got a cook and a girl to bring the tray for you/ You're hearin' this cause somebody pushed play for you"--from "Lazy Muthafucka" --or giving his young daughter some sound advice: "Tell that boy he's wrong/ Girls are strong/ Next time at show and tell play him our song/ Tell your teacher I said princesses are evil/ How they got all they money was they killed people/ If somebody hits you/ Hit 'em back/ Then negotiate a peace contract/ Life if a challenge and you gotta team up/ If you play house pretend that the man clean up/... The revolution takes time and space/ But you as a woman gotta know your place/ That's in the front baby..." --from "Wear Clean Draws"
But don't take my word for it. You can listen to the whole album on their label's website for free (if you have the free RealPlayer, that is), or read all their lyrics at the Original Hip Hop Lyrics Archive. Personally, I'm going to see them live tonight at Axis in Boston (dances around room with crazed excitement) .
Sidenote: For those of you who are not already DK fans and want to check them out, be warned: according to lead singer (and former Green Party presidential candidate) Jello Biafra, the sudden reincarnation of the band (without him) is a marketing ploy and a musical farce. Also, according to his label Alternative Tentacles (who also put out my lesbian punk rock idols Tribe 8), April is not only Gaypril, but "Jello Biafra Month."
Bonus! Download an MP3 of Jello Biafra (and Tom Tomorrow) acting out this Tom Tomorrow cartoon in his trademark bizarre punk rock announcer voice (I wonder if Jello speaks like that in normal conversation?)
Friday, April 19, 2002
War is Peace, Mistakes Were Made
Ah, the euphemistic language of war. As I am far from the first person to point out, since WWII, the United States hasn't had a Department of War, but a "Department of Defense" (why not just go whole-hog and call it the "Department of Peace"?) Dead civilians are "collateral damage." And let's not forget that lovely T-word, which has spread like a virus ever since 9/11 (not that it wasn't popular before). I refer in this case to Ariel Sharon's well-known claim that Israeli Defense (that word again!) Forces incursions into the West Bank were rooting out a "terrorist infrastructure." Israeli tanks finally rolled out of the Jenin refugee camp today (and into Gaza), but they left death and massive destruction in their wake: does this look like a "terrorist infrastructure" to you?
An environmental success, or at least, not a complete and total failure
So despite all Bush's attempts to equate people against oil production in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge with terrorists, the Alaskan coastline is safe--for now. The Senate rejected Bush's ANWR drilling plan (which was, as the NYTimes puts it, "the central element of his energy policy") yesterday 54-46. But don't break out the biodegradable confetti and streamers just yet. The Senate might not actively want to hurt the caribou, but that doesn't mean they want to help you breathe any easier or reduce oil dependency (see Nation cover by Art Spiegelman)--this is the same bunch that voted against reducing car/truck fuel emissions last month.
And while we're on the subject of caribou, Mark Fiore's latest Flash animation takes the Bush/Norton/Cheney ANWR lies to their (il)logical extreme.
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
Selected thoughts from readers on the whole welfare reform marriage promotion racket
Josh Orr has this to say about what he calls "Welfare Deform":
'Tis stories like this that make me want to start smacking the sense into people. How can a son of a President Texas oil hound even claim to know anything about the life of a single mother, much less what is good for her? I guess what irks me the most is that they are dumping the limited funds available into these crap programs, making it sound like enough government intervention will actually make people want to marry each other when they otherwise would not. Around where I live(a semi-rural suburb of Chicago) there is a wonderful group called the 4C. They manage to actually make a difference in the life of a would-be welfare mother. They provide daycare assistance, food assistance (on approved food, thus promoting child health, instead of twinkie cravings), and job training. This group has a hughly positive impact on the quality of life for both the mother and child. Why can't Bushy find programs like these to dump money into, instead of his flawed attempts at social engineering?
My guess is: because he doesn't want to.
I also received an email beginning in the following manner from Philip Pangrac: How can you argue with that? The nuclear family is a natural sociological structure, and it is the best one at that. Not that those evil evolutionists would have you believe that-they seem to have some crazy idea about "tribes", where (get this) everyone would work together for the good of all, rather than splitting into little groups within the one group and having it be "everyone for themself". But look in the Bible: the first people in existence were a nuclear family: husband, wife, and 2.5 kids. Of course, one kid did kill the other, but they were NOT on welfare! Actually, they might as well have been, after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which didn't happen until after Adam and Eve got married... But that's all in the past. We've worked the kinks out of marriage and there is absolutely NO reason why anyone would NOT want to be married, at all. In case you hadn't noticed, (I admit it took me a minute) this is sarcasm, and the email continues in a more serious vein: My parents got married shortly out of high school and now they're divorced, and there is nothing that would get them back together. It would have been better for everyone involved if they had waited until after college at least before tying the knot. Plus, correct me if I'm wrong, businesses don't look at a person's marital status when interviewing them for a job, right? I mean, the only way your chances of getting a job improve upon marriage is if your new in-laws have an opening in their company for you, and I doubt nepotism is the solution to welfare. So thanks for all the nice letters, folks, and keep them coming! Remember to let me know if you want to be added to my cartoon notification email list (I won't spam you, I'll just let you know when new cartoons are posted).
All Cornel West, All the Time: Slate Begins a "West Whine Watch"
A reader who I don't think shares my respect for Cornel West (but likes my blog anyway) alerted me this morning to Slate.com's newest regular feature, the Cornel West Whine Watch. Now, West's likening Larry Summers to Ariel Sharon in an NPR interview yesterday was a mite excessive, but his general characterization of Summers as a "bull in a china shop" is more than justified. And for Slate to dimiss West's anger as "whining" is a typical tactic employed against people of color, women, and other "minorities": were he a conservative white professor disrespected by a liberal president, all the pundits at Fox News would be spinning his comments as righteous fury at unfair victimization (see my old but still all-too-true cartoon The Right-Wing Rhetoric Zone). But because he is a black man, they spin his anger as whining/complaining/excessive emotion.
Look for my new cartoon on the subject (of Summers and West, not whining) next Wednesday.
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Officials Unsure of Best Way to Drag Welfare Recipients Down the Aisle
Once again, a news update on an old cartoon (A Welfare Reform Fairy Tale). Now that the Bush administration has officially decided to divert $300 million (up from the $100 million they were previously asking) in already meager welfare funding to "promoting" marriage, officials have realized they're not exactly sure how to go about doing so. But they still claim to be sure that poverty is not caused by say, unemployment or low wages or lack of job training, but by NOT BEING MARRIED.
This delusion is nothing new. If you've ever read the so-called Welfare Reform Bill, you know that it has very little to do with money or economics, and everything to do with pathologizing single mothers and promoting abstinence-only education. It starts, not with "Poverty is Bad" or even "Work is Good", but with: "Marriage is the foundation of a successful society." And by the time it rolls around to abstinence education funding (condoms? what condoms?), it declares that such education "has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity" and that children must learn that "a mutually faithful [heterosexual!] monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity." (OK, they don't actually use the word "heterosexual," but that's clearly what they mean.)
According to these guys, the problem is that women just don't realize the benefits of being married, or haven't had it pounded into their heads enough that marital heterosexuality is somehow superior to all other ways of being in this world. They ignore the fact that most people realize that welfare funding is far better spent on job training, and that most women have perfectly good reasons for not being married, such as not wanting to be shackled to men that have abused them (not that they should need any reason at all). As the AP reports:
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that 79 percent of Americans believe government should "stay out" of these activities. A poll being released Monday by a coalition of liberal groups found that 86 percent of respondents prefer that any new money available for welfare go to programs that help people get good jobs, rather than programs that encourage marriage.
Single women who have been on welfare say the idea may make sense in theory, but there's no way it would work for them.
"It's hard being a single mother, don't get me wrong," said Kelly Siler, 31, who lives outside of Chicago with her three children. "But right now I'm happy to be single. I don't feel like taking care of a man who would act like a child."
The father of her 10-year-old son has been in and out of jail since the boy was born, she said. After her 5-year-old twins were born, she found out their dad was married to another woman.
There's no way she would marry either man, she said.
"If you gave me $15 million, it wouldn't be worth it," she said. Jaclin Kirkland, 26, who also lives outside Chicago, feels the same way. She can't imagine marrying the father of her 5-year-old son.
"We were Tyson and Holyfield," she said. "We're civil now, but marriage -- that's not even a thought.
Remember, the Bush administration is full of the same guys who have shown their commitment to the well-being of mothers by increasing the work burden on people receiving welfare from 30 to 40 hours a week--without providing for childcare. In other words, their real goal is not to promote the well-being of children but to abdicate the government of all financial responsibility for the poor by blaming single mothers for their own poverty, as this cartoon by Matt Davies suggests.
Monday, April 15, 2002
Finally--that expressionless look you've always dreamed of...
A few months ago I did a cartoon ("Facial Analysis for Fun and Profit") about the FDA's expected approval of the botulism neurotoxin (or Botox) for cosmetic use. Well, the wait is over, folks--if you want to pay $400 every three months for the inability to frown.
Sunday, April 14, 2002
In case you're wondering...
...why there is no Monday cartoon, I've switched to Wednesdays. (see explanation + random pasta story)
Cornel West pt. 4, or Larry Summers is even nastier than I thought:
The plot thickens. According to today's Boston Globe, not only did Summers suggest West's writings were too popular to be scholarly, he actually told West that he intended to check in with him every two to three months to make sure his work was up to Harvard standards. That is how you treat a little boy who has been naughty—and most definitely not how you treat one of only 17 faculty members with the distinguished title of Harvard University Professor.... I'm only surprised West didn't resign on the spot.
So I will leave you with this slogan from an anonymous sticker on telephone poles all around Harvard campus: "Get Uppity on Massa Summers Plantation."
If you don't know who Howard Cruse is, go find out
For some years now I've been a huge fan of legendary gay/underground cartoonist Howard Cruse, and I've been meaning for a while to write him a fan letter, but was always sort of too nervous to do so. So imagine my surprise a few days ago to receive a nice email FROM Howard (a friend of his was led to my site courtesy of another hero of mine, Tom Tomorrow). I actually ran around my dorm room screaming I was so excited, I kid you not. Anyway, if you haven't read his masterpiece of a graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby (which to be very simplistic chronicles the struggles of a young man involved in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s Alabama to come to terms with his sexuality), run, do not walk, to your nearest comics shop/independent bookseller/library (if you're not convinced, read these reviews). For lighter fare you can check out Wendel All Together and for immediate gratification, read the sad story of Jerry Mack, or find out Why We are Losing the War on Art.
Saturday, April 13, 2002
"How are you, my brothers?": Adventures with Cornel West by Yves Etheart (aka Mikhaela's boyfriend)
Cornel West's departure has got me thinking about my friend Glenn, who died almost a year ago. This story is a tribute to both of them.
I used to work at the Harvard Book Store with Glenn, and the HBS serves as an unofficial "university bookstore" for the students across the street. Plenty of professors would put books on reserve there, and they would come into the store frequently to shop for themselves. Some of the professors would act imperiously towards the staff, as you might expect from denizens of the "ivory tower," but Professor West would always go out of his way to be kind to us.
Anyway, Glenn and I were at the registers one day, ringing up customers, and Professor West brings up a stack of books. "How are you, my brothers?" he asked us (he refers to everyone as "brother" or "sister," which is part of his charm).
I reflexively responded that I was fine. Glenn was, as always, honest, and told Cornel that he had been better, but he was running a little short on cash. (The Harvard Book Store was a great job, but it didn't pay the best in the world, since they are an independent.)
Professor West then proceeded to take money out of his pocket, and offered $40 to Glenn, right then and there, at the register.
Glenn was really embarrassed -- he had told Professor West the truth, but definitely wasn't looking for a handout or anything like that. He declined several times, but Professor West refused to take no for an answer, and didn't let Glenn ring him up until he had taken the money.
This experience reminds me what I appreciate most about both of them. No matter what, Glenn was sincere, and he spoke his mind to West when most other people in his position would have just made polite conversation. And even though $40 wasn't a big deal for someone like Professor West, he honestly wanted to help another human being in need -- and he wasn't doing it to show off, or to impress the other customers, but because he wanted to help Glenn, because he could.
Thank you, Professor West. Princeton's gain is Massachusetts' loss. You will be missed.
For more info on West's departure, see previous post.
Wednesday is... Mikhaela-toons day
For those of you looking forward to seeing my new cartoon on Monday, I'm sorry to say that it won't be there. For various reasons, I am now the Crimson's Wednesday girl. Which is a Good Thing, since I'm still wracking my brains to try to come up with something intelligent to say about the Middle East mess... it's so much easier to criticize other cartoonists' approaches as racist or simplistic than to come up with one of my own. Another cartoon possibility is of course the mess right here in Boston over Cardinal Law's refusal to resign. But you'll just have to wait and see.
By the way, the above headline comes from the old advertising slogan "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day." From 1939 on, my hometown of Lowell (Massachusetts) was the headquarters of the Pellegrino family's Prince Pasta company (and the largest pasta mill in the country). There's even an entire section of Lowell surrounded by bridges reading "Welcome to Prince Spaghettiville." But in 1987, the Pellegrino family sold the plant to the Borden company... and ten years later Borden abandoned the plant, leaving 409 unemployed workers (primarily Portuguese immigrants) in its wake. Organizers and members of United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Local 214 worked hard to save their jobs by getting Boston Macaroni to buy the plant, but to no avail, and it was eventually replaced by the Dutton yarn factory.
Friday, April 12, 2002
West leaves Harvard, gets arrested
Well, it's official: fed up with disrespect from new Harvard President Larry Summers, beloved Afro-American studies professor Cornel West has decided to leave for Princeton. The NYTimes even quotes a "close associate" of West as saying: "It's clear there's only one reason he's going to Princeton... It's Larry."
Thanks a lot, Larry. West will be sorely missed, but I can't blame him (see my earlier post on the subject). If Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also decides to leave (which now seems likely), that will be the final nail in the coffin for Harvard's Afro-American Studies "Dream Team."
And in case you were wondering why Cornel couldn't previously be reached for comment on his Harvard departure, maybe it was because he was busy down in DC participating in some good old-fashioned peaceful protest. According to the Washington Post, West and friend/co-author Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun) were among those arrested in a pro-Mideast-peace demonstration outside the Washington State Department yesterday. Unfortunately the Post was more interested in the demonstrators' trips to the bathroom than the issues at stake, but it will have to do for now. All I can say is, Harvard could use more professors willing to be taken away in handcuffs for a good cause, not less.
Side-note: one thing I forgot to mention about the whole Summers/West conflict is that West was upset about more than just his own treatment--he (and other Afro-Am faculty) felt that Summers was not committed to diversity at Harvard in general. As I think will become clear in future Larry Summers news, this is all too true.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
Tasteless Cartoons about the Middle East, Pt. 2
I mentioned several days ago that I was disturbed by the overuse of simplistic suicide bomber imagery in mainstream (and even, yes, liberal) political cartoons. More and more, it seems like cartoonists who don't manage to squeeze at least one suicide bomber "joke" into every panel are soooo last month. Well, it's only gotten worse, as these examples by Daryl Cagle and Wayne Stayskal demonstrate. Both cartoonists play up a contrast between "normal" white American values (represented by Barbie and sports players) and (what they see as) incomprehensibly sick/twisted/inhumane Palestinian values, presumably founded in nothing more than collective Arab psychosis/strangeness. (Please see my previous post on the topic for alternative cartoon explanations). With a few squiggles of ink, they completely sidestep a complex historical and political situation for the sake of an easy "we're normal, they're not" joke.
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
Will West stay or will he go?: Clueless Harvard Administrators Pt. 1
Even if you have no personal experience with Harvard (lucky you) you might have heard about the widely publicized conflict between Harvard President Larry Summers and distinguished Afro-American Studies professor Cornel West. To briefly sum up a big long mess, this past fall Summers reportedly called West into his office to berate him for behavior Summers felt was beneath Harvardian dignity: specifically, recording a spoken word CD and writing books more likely to be reviewed in The New York Times than scholarly journals. (This of course is based on the ridiculous assumption that if a book is clearly written enough to appeal to a general audience, it must somehow be inferior to an obscure tome that appeals only to other academics.) West justifiably took offense—and an immediate leave of medical absence (he has cancer). Princeton smelled an opportunity and began a campaign to recruit West and other Afro-Am noteables. So far, they've managed to attract K. Anthony Appiah (noted scholar on the philosophy of race and sexuality and editor of the Encyclopedia Africana).
At any rate, Monday was supposed to be the day of West's big decision: stay at Harvard, or return to Princeton. 1,200 of us concerned students and faculty signed a petition begging him to remain, but as yet, no news. Basically, I don't blame him if he leaves, but colleges in general could use more profs like West who (1) are really brilliant (2) care about students and know how to educate and entertain simultaneously (3) have higher priorities than being reviewed in academic journals (though incidentally, West is one of the most frequently cited Harvard professors). But for now I'll just have to leave you in suspense with this fun photo I took of Cornel with Jesse Jackson at a lecture for Introduction to Afro-American Studies.
Yet another reason why Tom Tomorrow is the coolest cartoonist there is
Big props to Tom Tomorrow (of This Modern World fame) for mentioning me and NYU cartoonist August J. Pollak in his masterpiece of a weblog recently. Extreme gratitude also goes to all the nice people who have sent me encouraging letters or visited my site today because of that mention. You have made some struggling college cartoonists very very very happy, Mr. Tomorrow.
And just to clarify how things work with the paper I cartoon for, The Harvard Crimson (since both Tom Tomorrow and August have mentioned this in their blogs): the Crimson allows news writers to print their email addresses with their articles in the print version; they do not allow cartoonists (or columnists, it turns out) to print their web site or email addresses. This is very frustrating because it's not easy to get information about yourself out there when you're a beginning writer or cartoonist, and you'd think a student-run publication would be a bit more sympathetic.
But the Crimson is more than a student publication—it's also a 129-year-old multi-million dollar business (which doesn't mean I get paid, because I don't). My editor has been nice enough to argue with the Powers That Be who run the paper about it, but they stand firm: only paid advertisers (and non-opinion writers) are allowed to include their email addresses with articles, and no contributors can include their web sites. They tell me news writers are an exception because there's a possibility that they might receive news tips. Sigh...
Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Earth to Man Show viewers: you are not revolutionaries
[The following was inspired by Take Back the Night Week, and a debate about WOW on August J. Pollak's Xoverboard. WOW is the creation of shock jock DJs Opie and Anthony, and stands for "Whip Em Out Wednesdays," meaning women who see WOW bumperstickers on Wednesdays are supposed to bare their breasts for passersby.]
Now I am completely and totally mystified as to how the guys who listen to Opie and Anthony and Howard Stern or read Maxim or watch The Man Show continue to think they are somehow cool and rebellious and like, totally wild and crazy for enjoying pictures of women in bikinis, as if they are somehow fighting the powers that be by drooling over half-clothed blond clones with collagen lips and silicone breast implants. Funny how desperate some well-off heterosexual white guys are to shock people...
Actually, according to these guys, the oppressive Powers That Be are not the government or the police but women like Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell. How original. Start the revolution. Of course I completely believe in their freedom of speech, but too bad they do so little with it. A perfect example of this is this horrible animation "Hef: Defender of the Free World", starring Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner as a superhero with scantily clad Playboy Bunny sidekicks. Worse, it portrays those who criticize Hef and his ilk as ugly man-hating terrorists who want to crack down on good old-fashioned fun and sex and brainwash people into watching "Will and Grace."
I have an alternate explanation. Perhaps some of us just think Opie, Anthony & Co. are clueless self-important bigots who don't really understand that their jokes are 30+ years old and weren't even funny back then. Honestly, do we really need to hear any more of these tired sexist white boy fantasies? I completely believe in their right to freedom of expression, but some people get more freedom of expression than others--Maxim is a full-color glossy with huge circulation, while publications like Bitch and Bust struggle along with quarterly publication and miniscule circulation. Anyway, I guarantee that the revolution will not begin in a Hooters restaurant.
Sunday, April 07, 2002
Why Halle Berry is cool and why Saturday Night Live sucks
The following piece comes courtesy of my wonderful and (currently) very angry boyfriend Yves (pictured below):
So I was watching Saturday Night Live, and their first skit was "The 17th Annual Auto Show Spokeswomen Awards" -- an award show for all the models you see at auto shows. They presented the award for Best Overall Spokeswoman, and one of the nominees was a man. So, of course, he won, and I knew immediately where they were going with it. The man came out crying, gasping, and speaking note for note like Halle Berry did on Oscar night. He did all her mannerisms, and, of course, he wanted to keep in mind all of the auto show spokesmen who had come before him. Then, in a fit of unbridled comic obviousness, they flashed to Eric Benet (Halle Berry's husband) in the audience, then had the winner shout over the music cutting him off that this had taken 17 long years, and that they had to let him finish. Then, of course, they had "Denzel and Halle" on during the news segment (and added "Julia Roberts," so it could look like they were doing an equal-opportunity mocking of the sanctimoniousness of actors, I suppose) where "Halle" thanked every conceivable black actress she could -- Esther Rolle from "Good Times," Nell Carter, the Pine-Sol woman, "Tootie" from the Facts of Life, and every woman that appeared on the Cosby Show. And people wonder why African-American women don't win awards, with such a flattering cross-section of popular culture's favorite roles for them. Oh, wait -- they probably don't wonder....
Now, I'm all for satire, and even faltering, unfunny attempts at satire, but this is starting to make me a little fucking sick. I won't even acknowledge the allegory that was set up by the first skit, intentionally or otherwise (that the idea of a male Best Overall Spokeswoman is as absurd as, say, a black Best Actress). What I will simply say is that what I found to be a genuine demonstration of joy and catharsis (which I shared in as well) is being mocked as, at best, pretension, and, at worst, unnecessary solipsism. THREE African-American actresses have won Academy Awards. Halle Berry is the only African-American actress to win for Best Actress. It took 74 years for this to happen. And the reaction has been, "so fucking what?" Or, even better, "how fake" or "how excessive." I was the first person in my family to graduate from college -- would these people have told my mom the same thing after the ceremony? A faulty analogy, perhaps, but it seems that there are people who can't understand the fact that there are still color barriers, that there are still places in culture denied to people of color, and that it's to be celebrated when those places are accessed, not mocked.
My roommate Rachel and I came to the conclusion that people are giving Halle shit because she chose to acknowledge the political significance of what happened, and are not giving Denzel shit because he knew to keep his mouth shut. I guess people don't like to be reminded about decades of oppression and exclusion -- an argument I believe they used to use, say, forty years ago.
So, to everyone who thinks that Halle Berry should've shown a bit more "modesty" or "control" when accepting her award, I have one thing to say -- check out this Keith Knight cartoon, and this one, and get a fucking clue.
Friday, April 05, 2002
The (sort of) Newly Permissible Racist Cartooning
In general, (overtly) racist cartoon caricatures of most ethnic groups have become passe. (With the glaring exception of caricatures of Native Americans, which still appear everywhere from malt liquor bottles and sports team logos to "funny" gag cartoons like this one or this one). But, in general, it is no longer considered cool to draw blacks as Aunt Jemima/Sambo or Asians as the Yellow Peril (though this rule was heavily relaxed during the Wen Ho Lee mess a few years back, when it became OK to draw Chinese men with giant buck teeth and glasses).
But especially since September 11th, it seems that cartoonists have been given unlimited license to make Arab noses as long and hooked as they like. Nothing is out of bounds in demonizing "the enemy." For example, cartoonist Daryl Cagle (host of the immensely useful Cagle Cartooning Index) has depicted Islamic militants as half-monkeys who aren't as highly evolved as Americans. And in this cartoon, he basically states that all men in Afghanistan look just like Osama Bin Laden.
Wait! It gets worse. Check out this popular new animated political cartoon from Don Asmussen called the Al Qaeda Training Handbook... if you can stomach it. You can also see comments about the piece and add your own. My comment: "Since when are racist imitation Arab accents, mocking Islam, and showing dark-skinned people blown to bits funny? Oh yeah, since September 11th. Lucky for racists who miss the days of Aunt Jemima and Charlie Chan, we now have unlimited license to mock Middle Eastern and/or Arab people. This is more like the Ignorant American Racist Training Handbook."
Thursday, April 04, 2002
The Middle East Mess: A Brief Cartoon Survey
The main thing bothering me right now as a cartoonist is: what the hell can I say about the mess in the Middle East? I feel like I keep side-stepping the issue by finding domestic issues to do cartoons about—prisons, police brutality, Botox, and so on.
I do know that I'm really pissed off by all the cartoons that seem to imply that all Palestinians are violent psychos who want their children to blow themselves up for no apparent reason (see particularly offensive example by Brian Fairrington on www.cagle.com ). This approach condemns Palestinian violence but more importantly pretends that it has no source other than madness and cruelty--a view Tony Auth nicely contradicts in his cartoon version of the story, "The Creation of Militants." And this Flash animation by Mark Fiore tries to show both sides by depicting the violence as an endless (but escalating) feedback cycle.
But I honestly don't know that I have any particular insight into the matter. And I really don't want to just draw a sad-looking/dead dove... So for now I'll leave you with this final thought from The Boondocks.