Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I Am Frustrated With Charlotte Simmons

Finished Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" today. 600-plus pages read since Christmas Day (it was a holiday gift). A good read ... but I was really disappointed with the ending. Wolfe's characters are always so amoral. Does the man have any hope for humanity? Probably not, since he gleefully has one professor trash the concept of a "soul" -- the "ghost in the machine" -- and reveal that there is something even more nihilistic than Marxism. And do 18-year-olds really contemplate such body features as the "amygdala"?

This book irritates me ... because it reveals the intrinsic superficiality, not only of my generation, Generation Y with its cell phones, hookups, instant messages, instant everything, but with humanity in general. Yet it also irritates me because it led me to care about the characters, to develop feelings for them, which I admit is the mark of a successful writer, the kind I wish to become. Grrr...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Middle Eastern and Islamic issues

The United States has endured a horrendous attack that killed 22 people -- 13 American servicemen, five U.S. civilian contractors, and four Iraqis -- in Mosul, the BBC reports. Gen. Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "We have had a suicide bomber apparently strap something to his body... and go into a dining hall." Why wasn't our security tighter?

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the great Victorian diplomat/soldier Sir Henry Rawlinson. Notably, it recalls Rawlinson's service defending Kandahar during the First Afghan War (1839-42). Writer Stuart Ferguson uses the following description: "when an entire British army was wiped out on its retreat from Kabul, he helped rally the vastly outnumbered Kandahar garrison and saved the day." Maybe the day, but not the war; the National Army Museum shows that this was a disaster for Britain. The pertinent issues of the war -- the removal of a foreign ruler accepted by the majority of his population, and the question of how to deal with uprisings against the occupying forces -- are no less important today. To ensure democracy in Iraq, the U.S. must win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Iraq, like Afghanistan, is tough to unite because there are many different religious and ethnic groups who have an uneasy history living together. Let us hope the Americans can learn from what happened in Afghanistan over 150 years earlier. By the way, if you want to read a compelling book on the English presence in Central Asia in the 19th century, check out Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game."

Now for an item on a Muslim population in another country: the Netherlands. Christopher Caldwell has a fascinating article on tensions between Muslim immigrants and the "native" Dutch. Caldwell is writing in the wake of several important events: the assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh (a descendant of Vincent and a critic of the Muslim community) by a Muslim; and Muslim threats against the life of two politicians who have criticized Muslim immigrants, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Caldwell says that the Dutch need to reconsider their historically laissez-faire attitude toward immigrants, and implies that they must do this to prevent a 9/11 on Dutch soil. (He notes that van Gogh's death comes 911 days after the assassination of anti-Muslim politician Pim Fortuyn, although Fortuyn was killed by an animal-rights activist.)

Caldwell presents an image of a tolerant majority population, with a legacy of "freedom" (think hashish in coffeeshops, and legalized euthanasia and prostitution) that the public by no means approves, and Muslim immigrants with contrary views. At the end, he describes a female Dutch politician meeting an imam who refuses to shake her hand; Fortuyn was once quoted as saying: "In Holland, homosexuality is treated the same way as heterosexuality. In what Islamic country does this happen?"

Granted, it sounds like Fortuyn and van Gogh slurred Islam through comments and media. However, van Gogh's assassination, and the campaign of fear used against Wilders and Hirsi Ali, show that some Muslims react in deplorable ways when defending their religion. This is a serious problem, not just for public safety in the Netherlands, but also for Islamic culture as a whole; debate about religion is vital in any culture, and taken for granted in ours. (Many people in Brooklyn complained about Chris Ofili's dung-spattered art, but in general, people agree there should be no ban on his work.)

It's simplistic to paint members of one culture as evil. But it's not simplistic, and not ethnocentric, to say that values such as equality for women and homosexuals, and the freedom of debate, are vital to human life, and should be encouraged, not suppressed. Muslims in the Netherlands need to realize this. So do we all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Women and work

Just read an interesting piece on women and work on In response to a New York Times magazine article last year and a subsequent Time magazine story on women who leave high-powered jobs to stay home and take care of their children, the author, Neil Gilbert, writes that the situation is more complicated than the magazine writers would have us believe. Gilbert makes a persuasive case, outlining four "types" of women in society today: those who have no children, those who have three children or more, and those who have one or two. He then shows the reader several charts that show the decline of fertility rates in European countries relative to the increases in the percentage of women in the workplace, the amount of money spent on family services, and that amount relative to GDP of a nation.

A few thoughts: The discussion of how a woman balances home life with work is far older than these articles. In the film "Woman of the Year," Katharine Hepburn portrayed a woman who was a brilliant success as a journalist, but whose home life, such as it was, failed. In the 1970s and 1980s, this issue was explored by cultural critics who thought women's involvement in the workplace was a positive development (Betty Friedan) or a negative one (Phyllis Schlafly). The feminist movement has provided women, in general, with more choices regarding what the Founders called "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Our lack of child care in this country might be seen as hampering more women from staying in the workforce. Yet is child care an entirely good thing? I would argue that it distances mothers from their children and should be used in moderation. I would also point out that our conception of "childhood" is a modern one and that the lifestyles that children have now, whether cared for by a stay-at-home parent or by a child-care staffer, are far better than the lives many children, especially poor children, endured in past centuries. Witness the child-labor laws this country had to enact in the 19th century; also, the resistance this country met from impoverished immigrants who needed the income their children would bring home. Gilbert's article touches on an intriguing and important subject. But it, too, is only a beginning.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The state of Islam today

Islam and the Middle East have been very much on my mind lately. There is, according to the New York Times, good news in the acceptance of a trade pact between Israel and Egypt. This pact was originally broached in 1996. The article credits several factors for the success of this treaty, among them the death of Yasser Arafat, the fall from power of Saddam Hussein, and George Bush winning a second term and thus being more likely to consider his legacy.

As someone who hopes that peace of some sort can be established between Israel and its neighbors, I am pleased with this trade news ... but, I wonder, what isn't this reporter telling us? The pact seems to aid Egypt's sizeable textile industry, but nevertheless Egyptians aren't happy with it -- just as Jordanians disliked King Hussein's decision to make peace with Israel in 1994. When there is so much popular sentiment against Israel among the Muslim public, how can the leaders of Muslim nations successfully negotiate peace deals?

For a broader view of Muslims worldwide, check out this article in the online journal spiked. Judging from Olivier Roy's book, it seems that getting rid of the Taliban was not enough. Extrapolating from this article, the real terrorist threat comes not from unstable regimes like Sudan and Afghanistan, but from Muslims who come into contact with Western mechanisms. The author of the review, Josie Appleton, notes, "Most of the 9/11 ringleaders were 'born again' Muslims, who went to secular schools, had spent time in the West, and had cut themselves off from their families and communities." This is dismaying news for anyone who believes that exposure to democracy is a remedy for terrorism. It's a perplexing companion to the Harvard study that found that poverty is not a root cause of terrorism. This study also concluded that terrorism is lower in countries that have either a significant or a negligible amount of political freedom, and that it is the nations with intermediate levels (like Russia) that are worth worrying about. (However, sometimes it is the autocratic nations, like Hussein's Iraq, that sponsor terrorist acts in other countries.)

How to solve this problem? Don't the homelands of the neo-fundamentalists have something to do with all this? Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, a notoriously intolerant regime. Were the European experiences of these hijackers a deadly complement to the House of Saud's xenophobia? Roy's book, and Appleton's review, shows us that the causes of terrorism are more widespread and complex than we may think.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Painting Iraq

Today's muse was the New York Times, which includes an article about a New York painter named Steve Mumford. Embedded with US military units in Iraq, Mumford has produced sketches and paintings about American soldiers and Iraqis. He takes Winslow Homer, who contributed Civil War depictions for Harper's Weekly, as his inspiration. Covering the war through his art has been difficult at times -- he recalls crying onto his drawing pad during a memorial service for a young soldier killed by a sniper.

Art and war have always had a relationship. Epic battles have been commemmorated in paintings and structures -- think John Trumbull's dramatization of Bunker Hill, or Napoleon's construction of the Arc de Triomphe. The Civil War gave this country a vast new tableau, fit for both the realistic sketches of Homer and the sweeping cycloramas of Paul Philippoteaux.

More recently, however, art has also been used as a means to question and criticize war. (Or maybe not so recently; Goya bastinadoed the French for their 1808 occupation of his native Spain.) There has certainly been plenty of antiwar art in blue-state bastions like Boston and New York. In the Times article, Mumford describes his changing feelings about the Iraq war: once against it, he now sympathizes with both the soldiers and the Iraqis. His work is important for two reasons: first, it provides balance to the debate in the art world about the war; and second, it gives us a look at the conflict from someone who was there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More cartoons are a-comin'!

I know I haven't posted a cartoon in some time. There's a lot on my plate -- stuff to write and stuff to draw -- "And for a hundred visions and revisions," to quote a favorite poem. I hope to post more "States of Mind" soon, namely in the next two days, as well as other comic strips.

Interesting article of the day: this gem from the Chronicle of Higher Education. I'd like to be more varied in the sources for these musings, but for now I'm just trying to write about whatever piques my curiosity.

Anyway, John Lukacs isn't the first person to write about the changing connotations of the word "liberal." It's a shame the word has become an epithet; as recently as 1995, Barbra Streisand (okay, perhaps not the most persuasive source) enumerated the many virtues of being liberal. The liberal virtue of, well, liberty is a goal well worth the fight. Upholding liberty for all citizens of our republic, while preventing individual liberties from being subject to the whims of popular opinion, is touched on by Lukacs; it is our nation's greatest domestic challenge, as it has always been.

Lukacs mentions a variety of liberal goals that he says have been achieved in word if not in deed across the globe: he cites universal suffrage, abolition of slavery, popular sovereignty, among others, as being widely accepted today. I'm not so optimistic. Millions of people still live in poverty, and slavery (in the Sudan, among many other places) and oppression of women and minorities continue to trouble regions across the globe. The liberal struggle remains unfinished.

Interestingly, the liberals have some red-state support for their international aims: some of the people who most seek intervention in places such as Darfur are evangelicals. Is this another sign of the Democrats and Republicans switching traditional roles? Once the party of a vigorous and sustained foreign policy, the Democrats witnessed Clinton fighting brief wars in Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo, while it is the Republicans, formerly influenced by non-interventionists like Robert Taft and Pat Buchanan, who are now stuck in a dilemma on the Euphrates. The Democrats must recapture their historic concern with events abroad and their desire to assist the spread of liberty around the globe.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"...all Gods dead, all wars fought..."

Just read a fascinating book review courtesy of my new favorite website: Arts & Letters Daily. Actually, it's a multiple review from the Chronicle of Higher Education on Nov. 5 of seven books about World War I. One of the authors mentioned, David Fromkin, also wrote a rather excellent work entitled "A Peace to End All Peace" about the postwar division of the Middle East.

A welcome aspect of one of the books reviewed, "The Great War: An Imperial History" by John H. Morrow Jr., is that it touches on the fact that the war wasn't just fought in Europe or by Europeans: there was fighting in East Africa, for example, and black Senegalese soldiers and Chinese laborers who played important roles at various points (the Senegalese on the Somme, the Chinese reburying corpses after the armistice).

As an admirer of one of the seminal works on the conflict (Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August"), I look forward to reading the new septet. However, I wonder if they can match the power of some of the literary descriptions of the Great War: its treatment in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" and "Tender is the Night" (it even surfaces in "The Great Gatsby," when Nick Carraway refers to it as "that delayed Teutonic migration"); and the powerful, poignant poetry of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Margaret Sackville.

The writer of the Chronicle piece, Terry Castle, criticizes the war memorials, but one of the more moving moments from a nine-day trip to France in April 1994 occurred during a visit to the American cemetery on Omaha Beach. In addition to rows of white crosses honoring the dead of D-Day, there was also a beautiful memorial to the Americans who gave their lives in World War I.

Could such a war, so terrible and so wide-ranging, happen again? I hope not. We're coming up on the 60th anniversary of V-E Day and V-J Day ... but Europe had 99 relatively peaceful years between Waterloo and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Millions of people perished in the war and its aftermath, all so the "civilized powers" could do the whole thing over again, and kill millions more. I don't want to see a return to such chilling times.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
Here's another "States of Mind." I have four that I've finished to date. My goal is to come out with one per week. I'm hoping this is doable.

I read through some of the Crusade accounts I enjoyed so much in college: the Alexiad of Anna Comnena (1083-1153) and various Arab historians such as Ibn al-Athir and al-Furat. (Upon reading the introduction to Sewter's translation of the Alexiad, I noticed that she is mentioned in Gibbon's "Decline and Fall." I had not been aware that the great chronicler of the Roman empire had included the Byzantine state in his massive history ... but now it makes sense. Incidentally, I have found, I believe, a copy of the whole "Decline and Fall" online for those who may wish to read it.)
One last note (for now) on the Crusades: Both the Byzantines and the Muslims distrusted the Crusaders, and I can't blame them for it. That's not to say that Byzantium or the Muslim empires were innocent, of course ... but it was the Crusaders who committed the worst crimes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Remembrance of things past

This week's New Yorker brought back some old memories of college days. There's a review of two books by a pair of University of London scholars on two of the Crusades: the First, and the Fourth. Both of these scholars, Thomas Asbridge and Jonathan Phillips, argue that the great mid-20th-century historian Steven Runciman was too dour in his three-volume treatment of the Crusades. The theme of "positive violence" is used by the author of the review, Joan Acocella, to explain the contention of these "new" historians.

While their arguments are interesting -- religion and violence were vital to medieval life in ways that we may not fully comprehend, and the war-weariness of the 20th century may have clouded historians' perceptions of the Crusades -- I have to agree with Acocella in that these new books are not, ultimately, persuasive. Why, for instance, are the Western European Crusaders allowed to be swept away by religious convictions, while the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo is permitted to be wholly pragmatic? Are Asbridge and Phillips less interested in reshaping our perceptions and more interested in re-filling their bank accounts at Barclay's?

I'll get back to you after actually reading the books. There's a lot to sift through: these volumes, along with "I Am Charlotte Simmons." By the way, Acocella says that the First and Fourth are the "most interesting" Crusades. While they are certainly among the more well-known ones, along with the Third Crusade of Coeur de Lion, there are others that are equally compelling. And "Crusade" became such an all-inclusive term before long...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I'm in a writin' mood

Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.

I probably won't write on back-to-back days too much, but I do have more cartoons to upload. Here is the second installment of "States of Mind." (There are four completed ones total.) I'm hoping they are all readable (and maybe even enjoyable). People are still talking about the election, even the folks I sat next to in a restaurant in Boston's Chinatown last night.

Also, of course, today marks the 63rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Strange, in this time when we're at war again -- although it's a vastly different kind than the one we entered in 1941 -- that I haven't seen much written in newspaper op-ed pages about the attack. I did read this article about the Battle of the Bulge in the Wall Street Journal. Regarding the value of education in wartime, Bill O'Neill, in his book "A Democracy at War," makes the case that one reason why the US won World War II was because the generation that fought it was the nation's best educated.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Cartoon time!

Well, it's time to start showing my new political comic strip, "States of Mind." It's about two friends, Pat Periwinkle and Russell Rose. Pat lives in Massachusetts, Russell in Texas. Enjoy! Here is the first one: