Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, March 21, 2005

On Terri Schiavo

President Bush has signed into law a measure calling for a judge to review the Terri Schiavo case. Terri, 41, has been in a coma since 1990. Bush's action comes after Terri's husband, Michael, successfully petitioned to have his wife's feeding tube removed. If it stays removed, Terri is expected to die within two weeks.

Many people in this country are following this situation. Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, views this as a simple case of life or death, and I agree. Terri Schiavo should be kept alive by any means necessary. I don't think we should give anyone the power to terminate life.

I'm disturbed that Michael Schiavo wants Terri's life to end. No matter what his relatives say, I don't trust his motives. He has another child with another woman, and in trying to end his wife's life, he has battled her parents in the Florida courts.

If Michael wants to start a new family with someone else, let him. But let Terri Schiavo live, too. Maybe Terri will recover from her coma, maybe not. However, it's not for anyone but life itself to determine when she will do that.

As for those who are upset that Bush and Congress have intervened in a situation they opposed: I think their work achieved a good result, and I would have been dismayed if someone did not intervene. Does this set a dangerous precedent? No, merely a dangerous continuance. In the nineteenth century, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall decided against President Andrew Jackson's plan to forcibly move the Cherokee Nation out of its lands in the South. Jackson went ahead with his plan anyway, and said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!"

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Revised cartoon idea

States of Mind 1
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
Here's a new version of a political cartoon series I began last year. In college, I drew editorial cartoons for the Harvard Crimson and Harvard Independent. I like a narrative style more, though, and this represents the kind of work I'd like to be doing. I want to explore both liberalism and conservatism, as well as the people who espouse these philosophies, poking a little fun along the way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


That's Arabic for "enough," as I'm told in an article expressing cautious optimism about prospects for democracy in the Middle East. This has become the name for a movement across the region for greater rights -- for women and for citizens in general. The writer, Youssef M. Ibrahim, lists numerous democratic gestures made recently: elections in Palestine and Iraq, promises to expand the franchise in Saudi Arabia, nonviolent protests in Lebanon. Yet he asks the pertinent question: Does this seem less like Berlin 1989 and more like Beijing 1989?

I'm hoping that the democracy movement (at least, if the media is presenting this accurately) can flourish in the Middle East. However, as Ibrahim also accurately points out, this movement has neither a Gorbachev nor any official recognition. Revolutions led by the masses have succeeded in places like the Philippines (against Ferdinand Marcos), where the term "People Power" gained popularity. The prospects sound encouraging, but there are plenty of risks. Would any of the rulers in the Middle East -- the House of Saud, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan (one of the more enlightened monarchies in the region) -- renounce their power and hand it to the people?

Furthermore, what would a people's government look like? Would it be secular -- a mini-West, with women's rights and open debate? Well, one thing that Sari Nusseibeh said on Tuesday was that there has been an increase in the Islamicization of the Middle Eastern public. Would democracies, therefore, become theocracies? Or would they lapse into regions of anarchy, like Afghanistan or the Sudan?

Last year, King Abdullah II of Jordan suggested that what Iraq needs is a strong leader as opposed to a democracy. Dictators, to play devil's advocate, can be useful; Marshal Tito united a fractious Yugoslavia that fell apart once the Cold War ended. Still, denying a people full representation in a government breeds resentment and violates a basic human right.

Other items that interested me:

1. An intriguing article in the LA Times by a Georgetown linguistics professor, Deborah Tannen, about the recent debate over women's representation in editorial pages. Tannen writes that what makes opinion writing in general a difficult profession for many to succeed in is the attack-dog style people feel is necessary for such a position. She continues by suggesting that this style is nurtured by our society -- the idea that American boys develop a love for roughhousing, while American girls are taught reserve.

This article resonated with me. Growing up, I played with such toys as GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, GoBots and Transformers. My action figures included both heroic and villanous types, and each sets had their own weapons. The popular toys for girls, meanwhile, included Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbie dolls.

I remember, while participating in a drama workshop at Tufts University, helping to perform a version of the song "William's Doll," which concerns a boy named William who shuns sports and, instead, wants to play with a doll. I still recall some of the lyrics: "'A doll,' said William, 'Is what I need/To wash and clean,/And dress and feed...'" (Okay, Google helped with the lyrics.) His father and male relatives laugh at him initially, but in the end, they find out that he wants a doll so he can learn to take care of the children he will eventually have. I found this a beautiful song.

(Granted, I also don't like the metrosexuals who have become profuse in American cities. Their mistake is confusing sensuousness for sensitivity.)

I'm not saying that little boys should toss their action figures and toy guns and join their sisters in playing house. (Though that's not a bad idea!) What purpose does fighting serve? Teaching kids to become bullies? Teaching them that whoever expresses an argument louder or more forcefully than his peers is right? The author of the article cites numerous cultures -- the Chinese, for example -- that teach young people of both genders the virtues of refined debate.

In a high school French class, we once had to read a La Fontaine fable about "le loup et l'agneau" (the wolf and the lamb), in which the wolf approaches a helpless lamb and attempts to justify why the former must eat the latter. When none of these arguments is proved logical, the wolf finally explains that he is hungry and must have his dinner, whereupon he promptly tears into the lamb. Displeased with this ending, I wrote a substitute one featuring a new character, "un porc-epic" (a porcupine), who stings and scares away the wolf and rescues the lamb. My new moral (the old one, I believe, was "Might makes right") was that there needs to be the deterrent of law to prevent injustices being done to the weak.

I'm thinking that we in the United States need to become porcupines. People in the media and in life in general should conduct their affairs civilly, without scare tactics. Yet if our opponents will not take the high ground, we should know how to use their tactics as effectively as they can.

One last note, about a different issue: Larry Summers, as I noted in my previous post, has lost a vote of confidence from his faculty. Four hundred and twenty-one professors out of a possible total of 802 showed up for the meeting. Eighteen abstained, 218 voted for the measure, and 185 voted against it. Those who backed the measure say they are not simply criticizing the Harvard president for his remarks on women and science; they are criticizing him for his abrasive leadership style.

On one hand, I feel this is the end of Summers at Harvard. He will resign, and the Harvard Corporation will pick another kindly fund-raiser like Neil Rudenstine. The faculty will exercise a more vocal presence at the university. Perhaps they will develop their own Star Chamber for students who, like their quondam president, express opinions contrary to their own.

Then again, maybe -- maybe -- Summers will regain his resolve, and the Croesuses (Croesi?) of the Corporation will hold firm, and the Prescott Street panjandrums will weather this storm. But the fact that he did lose a vote of no confidence to the faculty will remain a blot on Summers' career, just as his former boss, Bill Clinton, is tarnished for having been impeached.

Okay, one final -- and I mean final! -- point: The Wall Street Journal has published a commentary by P.J. O'Rourke in which O'Rourke lampoons the public-transportation movement, which is encouraging Congress to pass a $52-plus billion measure in support of mass transit. O'Rourke says that four percent of Americans take public transportation to work (can someone find me the percentage who take it for leisure?), and that the enterprise in general is costly (say, $52 billion).

Comments from a frequent user of the T in Boston and fan of the MTA in New York: I don't drive. Someday, I hope to fix this. But in the meantime, the subway provides me with a relatively inexpensive way to get around the Greater Boston area. For the cost of $44 each month, I can purchase a subway pass that allows me to do this. Compare that to the hundreds of dollars I would spend on car payments, insurance, and gasoline.

Furthermore, as Eric Schlosser pointed out in "Fast Food Nation," one reason so few Americans take public transportation is because they can't. Straw corporations owned by car companies bought up city bus lines across the country and destroyed them, essentially forcing the public to choose to drive.

Among those who do take public transportation are the poor, elderly, and disabled. Denying this service to these groups is not a little heartless. I would also argue that the less people on the roads means less traffic. Those of us who take mass transit, at least theoretically, make life easier for those who don't. Ditto parking spaces; every person who rides the subway or takes the bus, in theory, provides a parking spot for someone else. And, of course, for those who like to go out for a few drinks at night, public transportation provides a safe (again, in theory) alternative to driving drunk.

Public transportation, therefore, is a far more valuable service than O'Rourke would imply.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Back on campus

Today I went to a luncheon and lecture at the Center for the Study of World Religions, part of the Harvard Divinity School. The speaker was Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds (Arabic for "the Holy") University in Jerusalem. Nusseibeh expressed hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His talk was interesting; he said that many Palestinians have refused all contact with "the Other," but this policy needs to be reversed. The Other must not only be recognized, it must be embraced -- i.e., there must be dialogue.

I agreed with the speech, although I did not feel that it was realistic. Nusseibeh alluded to a survey that found that 60 to 70 percent of Palestinians disapproved of the recent suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv nightclub. However, it seems that in the Gaza Strip, at least, the shahidim still have the support of their people, as documented in a New Yorker profile of Mahmoud Abbas.

It also seems that Nusseibeh's credibility has been questioned. He, too, was profiled in the New Yorker, by David Remnick; the one item in the article that sounds unsettling is his arrest, in 1991, on charges of aiding Saddam Hussein's plans to launch Scud missiles against Israel. (More recently, in 2002, he apparently expressed lukewarm criticism of suicide bombers.) However, Remnick notes that Nusseibeh has met with such Israeli political stalwarts as Shimon Peres and Binyamin Bin-Eliezer, and that it doesn't seem likely that these men would meet with someone hostile to their interests.

Many conservatives scoff at liberals for meeting with representatives of causes to which the US is opposed -- Jimmy Carter's chats with Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, for instance, or Bill Clinton's dealings with Arafat. Someone -- I think it was Peggy Noonan -- noted that you'll never see Dubya's crowd looking into the eyes of some of the dignitaries they meet (Laura with Jacques Chirac, Condolleeza Rice with Hu Jintao). Indeed, back in the 1980s, Dick Cheney called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Perhaps the standards for appeasement were set before and during World War II, when Neville Chamberlain coddled Hitler at Munich and Stalin took advantage of FDR at Yalta. The British should never have backed down to Hitler. Whether the US should have supported Stalin is questionable; from 1941 to 1943, the Soviet Union was essentially doing all the fighting in Europe.

I wish I had answers to the question of when does dialogue stop and hostility begin. I'm not comparing Nusseibeh to any of the dictators mentioned above. The Oslo process was well-intentioned. In the case of the Israelis and the Palestinians, where two people (4.5 million Israeli Jews, 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, and about 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) live in a land the size of New Jersey, the two sides should keep some dialogue open. Somehow, the cycle of violence must stop for everyone to live peacefully and equally.

Will it, though? Nusseibeh said that the peace process hinges on three elements: Israeli settlements, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the issue of Jerusalem. I agree with him on settlements -- Israel loses credibility when it builds them while saying that it is working toward peace. On Jerusalem, the city is so riven with ethnic and religious disagreements that agreement on it seems impossible. On the right of return, I disagree with Nusseibeh; if Israel incorporated the refugees (and it has been questioned as to whether they are all refugees), it would lose its status as a Jewish state.

What would help the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is if, somehow, their income level could rise, a situation that has happened for other peoples in exile, such as the Taiwanese or the Cubans of Miami Beach. I think both of these groups wouldn't mind staying where they are, and you don't see any activist group pushing for a Right of Return for either. Poverty may or may not breed terrorism. But it may foster a nostalgia for times past, when life was (or seemed to be) better. An increase in standard of living would remedy that.

In a completely different note: Harvard president Larry Summers has lost a vote of no confidence to his faculty. Medieval metaphors once again seem apt here. Larry looks like a new version of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Like Frederick, Larry probably considers himself a "Stupor Mundi" -- a "Wonder of the World" -- for his brilliance. Like Frederick, Larry has found himself locked in a struggle with an implacable foe; Frederick faced Pope Gregory the Great, who excommunicated him, while Larry has the Harvard faculty, who censured him. The struggle between Hohenstaufen and papacy led to the extinction of Frederick's dynasty; let us hope Larry can last at least a little longer.

Maybe Larry could borrow from the strategy of a previous Holy Roman emperor: Henry IV, who donned sackcloth and ashes to appear before another unforgiving Pope Gregory (VII) at Canossa in January 1077. Gregory had excommunicated him, and Henry's penance lifted the ban.

Come to think of it, this might make a delightful column. I'll see what I can do with it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Women on the editorial page

It's been a while since I've read the New York Times editorial page, but has mentioned (negatively, natch) an interesting Maureen Dowd column. Dowd is writing about the dearth of women on editorial pages across the nation. She notes that she is the only female columnist out of a staff of eight, and adds that the Washington Post also has just one female columnist.

Why the imbalance? Dowd quotes her boss, Gail Collins (who I once got to hear speak at Harvard's Institute of Politics): "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out." Incidentally, Dowd observes that "Male bloggers predominate, as do male TV shouters."

I once heard a graduate student (male) describe grading his students' papers. Out of curiosity, he separated the papers according to gender to see if the responses matched any trend. He found that men tended to be more direct in their essays, while women qualified their statements with such phrases as "It seems that..." This is, of course, just one student at one institution of higher learning. But in light of what Collins and Dowd say, it is interesting.

Is Western society still a doll's house, stifling present-day Nora Helmers from voicing their opinions? Do male responses to female criticism -- Dowd notes that she was described as castrating President Clinton during the impeachment hearings -- inhibit women from being more daring?

Let's start with the stereotype that men are direct, while women are subtle. We have seen that there are many types of men and women, and that thanks to political correctness, the world has become a more accomodating place for sensitive souls like yours truly. Though people on the left (Camille Paglia) and right (Tom Wolfe, Harvey Mansfield) may bemoan the decline of "manly" men, I feel there is room for both action and contemplation in society, politics, culture and life in general.

As for the "subtlety" of women: Perhaps some people in this country are still turned off by the idea of an authoritative woman. For instance, when Mitt Romney successfully ran against Shannon O'Brien for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, it was said that O'Brien's aggressive conduct during televised debates helped swing voters Romney's way. (The article cited above also says it may have been party affiliation, rather than gender, that doomed O'Brien, which sounds legitimate from a national perspective but ridiculous in Massachusetts.) There are women who enjoy dishing it out, especially in comedy: Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard.

However, is there a difference between being authoritative and being too relentless? There were people on both sides who wouldn't let up on President Clinton -- from Dowd to Henry Hyde -- and regardless of what gender one is, it's not a positive trait. Dowd seems to regret that more women aren't TV talking heads, but why would anyone want to aspire to become the next Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity? OpinionJournal cites "plenty of female columnists who have seldom if ever faced the charge of meanness," including Collins and Anne Applebaum, who I referred to in a previous posting about the Larry Summers controversy. I stopped reading Dowd because her columns started sounding alike: too much vituperation. Granted, most of her subjects deserve this vituperation, but sometimes it would help to ease up on the pedal.

Dowd comes out of this column with two points, one valid, the other less so. The valid one: Newspapers should hire more female columnists. The less-valid one: Newspapers should hire more female columnists who write like Maureen Dowd.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Tenorio's Tenth

Israel Cartoon 10
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
Well, here's my tenth Israel cartoon. In some ways, this one has been the toughest to draw because we didn't do that much on Saturday. This ties the number of pages for my longest continuous work (ten, set two years ago for a cartooning course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). I'm trying to work on contrasts -- light objects against dark background and vice versa. Looking forward to drawing Tzfat in the next edition!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rather signs off

Dan Rather has retired from CBS, 24 years to the day after taking over from Walter Cronkite. I watched his farewell retrospective, and it was amazing to see images of the protests of the 1960s, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal. Rather has done some solid reporting, and it's wrong for some to carp at his botched coverage of President Bush's National Guard days.

That said, last night was the first time I've intently watched a news-related story on television. I'm not sure how representative my experience is, but I get most of my news from online sources. The Web seems like the best way to get the latest coverage. I feel that TV is at its most powerful when we confront moments of increased importance: the shock of 9-11, the war in Iraq.

Rather's worth may lie in providing us with a face that we can connect with the news; a familiar presence. I would guess that's what kept people listening to Cronkite and Rather. The idea of an impartial presence seems to be losing popularity, however. These days, even the more impartial hosts like Chris Matthews have their biases. I wonder how much longer the Rather ideal can sustain itself.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

One state, two states, red state, blue state...

There's an interesting article by Lillian B. Rubin in the latest issue of Dissent magazine: "Why Don't They Listen to Us?" It attempts to use Thomas Frank's book "What's the Matter With Kansas?" as a springboard to a wider discussion of why and how the left has alienated poor and middle-class white Americans. Rubin writes that the gains in racial and sexual equality of the 1960s and 1970s did not come seamlessly, and in terms of the sexual revolution, we are still dealing with discontent over the ramifications of such issues as abortion and divorce. She believes that the left has been too uncompromising in its pursuit of its aims, and that by refusing to acknowledge any dissent, it has driven poor and middle-class whites toward the Republican Party.

It's a good issue to ponder. Have the Republicans suddenly become more inclusive than the Democrats toward this group? Is it solely attributable to a backlash against political correctness? Or does this reflect larger regional views, of city against country and Midwest/South against both coasts?

Rubin could have broadened her argument to look at poor/middle-class whites in different states and sections of the country. For instance, I would argue that in cities and in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northwest, the Democrats still attract poor/middle-class white votes. These are industrial areas, where the Democratic unions continue to exert some influence. In the South and Midwest, however, there are more poor people living in rural areas. The travails of the agricultural sector of the economy have been well documented in Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." Union membership is less common here, due to corporate control and right-to-work laws. Schlosser says that the Republicans have been largely responsible for abetting corporate misdeeds in managing farmland, but the Democrats have also made tactical errors -- namely, in helping President Clinton pass NAFTA at the beginning of his first term. The party must consider how it can bring the poor and middle-class white voters of the South and Midwest back into its ranks.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Issues on campus

I don't know why discussions about campuses in the media are so popular. Maybe it's our society's obsession with youth. (Witness the popularity of Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons.") Maybe it's a longing by our media's pundits to return to some Golden Age of ivory towers and other college cliches. Maybe it's an interest in places where learning is, theoretically, encouraged and disseminated. I doubt this last one.

Whatever the reason, our national lens has been focused quite strongly on issues on campus these days. Let us consider some of the recent controversies, and mull whether the response has been justified.

The purpose of a university is to benefit its students with an atmosphere conducive to thinking. At no other point in their lives afterward will these young people live under the same conditions. (Well, okay, perhaps if they go on to graduate school.) Enriching the mind will lose precedence to enriching the wallet (and yes, I am aware of the fact that many undergrads are interested less with Montesquieu than with Mammon; I'm trying to be theoretical here). So freedom of speech should be especially encouraged on college campuses. In the cases of Larry Summers, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Elizabeth Hoffman, it is not.

I have already addressed the Summers imbroglio, but let me restate: Summers spoke unwisely, but not unwisely enough to deserve the maelstrom of criticism he has received. Yesterday, I, along with other Harvard alums, received an email from Dean William C. Kirby informing us that "there has been considerable public discussion in recent weeks about gender diversity at Harvard, particularly in the sciences and engineering." (At least some forms of speech remain diplomatic.) Kirby adds that Summers "has announced the formation of two task forces, one focused on women in science and engineering, the other focused on broader issues affecting all women faculty, and has asked that they develop concrete proposals and recommendations that can be acted upon in the coming months."

These are certainly laudable steps, but in another sense, they are unsettling. If the university really wanted to exorcise its demons over the Summers contretemps, it would hold a public debate between its president and any of his accusers. Yet if presented with this opportunity, what would Summers' critics do with it? Would they follow Roberts' Rules, or would they use the approach of St. Bernard of Clairvaux against Peter Abelard at the Council of Sens in 1141? Namely, would they say there is no reason to debate because the point is moot, and then ban Summers from voicing any more opinions, ever?

All right, this is a little facetious. And it is true, distasteful opinions cannot acquire any believability if they are gussied up in scientific-sounding language. Yet from reading Summers' remarks, it doesn't sound like the president meant to offend. However, just how bad is it to be offended? When I heard Chris Rock, in what I felt was a major lapse in his Academy Awards broadcast, say that "Jewish people" were offended by "The Passion of the Christ," I was offended myself -- it wasn't only Jews who were upset by the film, and I'm guessing that not all Jews who saw it were upset by it. But you can't prevent people from voicing opinions. And there's nothing that says you have to agree with everything you hear. In the end, whose faults were greater: Abelard, for expressing unorthodox views, or Bernard, for refusing to even debate them?

Whew! A few brief notes on Pinkett-Smith and Hoffman. On Jada: Her speech at Harvard's Cultural Rhythms event was moving. That anyone could find anything offensive in it stunned me. I'm sorry that she had to undergo this unpleasant postscript to what I hope was an otherwise stellar day in Cambridge.

On Hoffman: What caused her to resign? Was it the unrepentant rantings of Ward Churchill, the professor whose despicable views on 9-11 and the Holocaust can be found online through my previous post on him? Or was it the sickening stories of sexual harassment involving the university's football team last year? It sounds like the former was the main reason. I don't agree with Churchill's views, but I think there is a better litmus test than one of disagreement: Are his teachings deliberately designed to hurt people? Belittling the Holocaust and calling World Trade Center victims "little Eichmanns" both sound like he is trying to provoke people maliciously. Colorado's new president should tell him that if he's going to remain a college professor, he should act like one.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Number nine, number nine, number nine...

Israel Cartoon 9
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
These cartoons are taking a little longer. I used the brush pen more on this one, and I feel it's paid off on the leather jacket I'm wearing in the second-to-last panel. Next edition, there will be a change of narrators.

In other news today, I heard Ralph Nader speak at Harvard. He's certainly compelling -- said a lot of good things about the problems of the two-party system, and the harm wrought by corporations. He's long been a darling of the extreme Left and the extremely young, both of which I was, once ... I still think his views are sound, but what a price we paid for his entering the election in 2000.

Then again, he did make the good point that in some cases, the Democrats are almost as bad as the Republicans. I still think that Gore would have made a better president than Bush, and he wouldn't have packed his inner circle with capitalist cronies. Then again, how much could he have achieved with the Republicans in control of Congress?

I think the debate over who is President is somewhat simplistic -- it's Congress, after all, that is entrusted with drafting legislation. Sure, Bush has a lot of power domestically thanks to folks like Ashcroft and Gonzalez, and power abroad because of Rumsfeld and Cheney ... but he wouldn't have the power if he didn't have the legislative support. (I think!)