Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The plot thickens

Dating Debacle part 3
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
The dating series continues. I'm trying to use more hatching and cross-hatching techniques a la R. Crumb ("My Troubles with Women") and David Macaulay ("Rome Antics"). This edition also features a side of myself you might not be familiar with.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

More dates from the dark side

Dating Debacle part 2
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
Here begins a new story recounting one of my more dismal online dating experiences. Writing about difficult moments in your life is challenging because of the memories it evokes, but this can also be a good thing because it forces you to deal with them.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Weekend musings

Yesterday, I attended a writing conference, "The Muse and the Marketplace," sponsored by the Grub Street writing center. It was amazing to listen to speakers such as Arthur Golden and George Packer, who both had helpful things to say about writing -- Golden about Chekhov's short story "Anyuta," Packer about narrative journalism. I left feeling renewed, a sense that I should probably take advantage of soon before it dissipates. It's always helpful to be around other writers or aspiring writers.

Packer's discussion of narrative journalism was interesting. He talked about what role, if any, a reporter should play in his/her story, citing such examples as a Dexter Filkins piece on the war in Iraq in the New York Times. I thought of an article I read in the Columbia Journalism Review about the "new" new journalism, which combined the reportage of old masters like Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, et al., with the style of even older ones such as James Agee. These days, it seems, you can't write a good book without immersing yourself in your subject for five or ten years. A daunting prospect, yet one that still calls to me...

Monday, May 09, 2005

"The world's most powerless workers"

It's 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the greater Boston area, and I have dressed for the occasion: a gray-and-red Perry Ellis undershirt; a blue Fruit of the Loom sweatshirt bearing the moniker "United States Navy: Operation Enduring Freedom" on the front and an American flag on the back; and a pair of grey Gap slacks. To shield my hair from the winds, I don my blue-and-red Chicago Cubs cap (from Sports Specialties) and zip up my light-blue-with-black-trim Pacific Trail jacket.

All of the above attire was made in other countries: the undershirt in Bahrain, the sweatshirt in El Salvador, the pants in Vietnam, the ballcap in Korea (it doesn't specify North or South), and the jacket in China. Welcome to the world of slavery, 21st-century style.

Yes, I know, it's not "slavery," it's "sweatshops." Child workers from Indonesia to Mexico -- and the United States, too -- toil for abysmally low wages to make the clothes that I purchase in malls and department stores. But it's the same basic format: exploited group, with no means for advancement, labors for privileged classes. How can concerned people change this awful situation?

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, feels that not enough work is being done -- and in an article in Dissent magazine, he criticizes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for telling the reformers to back down. In an article in Dissent Magazine, Rothstein makes some convincing points.

Kristof contends that while child workers' salaries are low by our standards (for example, $2 a day in Asia), they are significantly higher when compared to incomes in these countries. He also argues that employment at a clothing factory provides a viable alternative to what these children might be doing otherwise: work as prostitutes, beg for money, scrounge in garbage dumps. Rothstein includes testimony from other public intellectuals, including Harvard president and former Treasury head Lawrence Summers, who remarks, "As long as the workers are voluntarily employed, they have chosen to work because they are working to their best alternative."

Kristof is a columnist for a daily newspaper with a circulation of over 1 million. Summers is president of a university whose endowment is worth billions. It is as comic as it is tragic that people like these can attempt to understand the lives of those who grow up in places like, say, the Tondo slums in Manila or the equally horrendous slums along the US-Mexican border. When you live in a squalid city or a desolate countryside, you do not choose between work and unemployment. You choose between life and death.

Any efforts to raise the living conditions of the young workers in the Third and First Worlds deserve praise. Higher wages can increase both financial stability and personal mobility. Better-paying work, however, is only part of the issue; education is equally important. Kristof graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard and went on to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; Summers has equally lofty credentials (a bachelor's degree from MIT in '75, a Ph.D. from Harvard in '82). Neither of these two men would be in their prominent positions today without an outstanding education during their formative years. Such an education wouldn't hurt the global poor, either.

P.S. Sorry, Nick and Larry. Flogging you limousine (or SUV?) liberals is too easy and fun. My argument should have been more serious. Countless Americans know what it's like to slip on a shirt or pair of pants assembled in a First or Third World sweatshop. It's far more difficult to envision what it might be like to be one of the workers in those sweatshops.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Dating Debacle

Dating Debacle
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
I'm back with another cartoon, this one about a date I went on a few winters ago. It was one of several online dates I've been on, and it's the first I've drawn a cartoon about ... online. Perhaps I will do more (don't worry, ladies, all names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent).

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ivory-tower tales

Two recent articles, one in the Weekly Standard and one in the Wall Street Journal, contain interesting insights into the academic life.

First, the Weekly Standard article, "Civilization and its Malcontents," by Joseph Epstein. The author poses the question "Why are academics so unhappy?" while reviewing Princeton professor Elaine Showalter's book on college novels. Epstein writes that the gripes of les clercs may seem strange given their job security and enviable work hours. He subsequently contends that the professorate -- who consist of "people who are good at school" -- become disillusioned, in part by academic life and in part by seeing "people who got lots of B's in school" now "driving around in Mercedes, buying million-dollar apartments, enjoying freedom and prosperity in a manner that strikes the former good students, now professors, as not only unseemly but of a kind a just society surely would never permit." Among the underachievers who have done well after graduation, of course, are Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Epstein writes engagingly, but awkwardly. We see him haranguing academia for its political correctness (in the humanities, at least; nary a mention of the situation of the sciences, except for a nod to the Larry Summers imbroglio) and defending the boring old days of, say, the great-leader theory of history. This, perhaps, makes giddy reading for conservatives, but what does it have to do with explaining why professors are so disenchanted?

The good-student/bad-student hypothesis is an interesting one, however. But what more could academics get that would balance the situation with the plutocrats who didn't care about Plato or photons yet waltzed into million-dollar jobs on Wall Street nevertheless? Perhaps what bothers the professors is the fact that you don't need to have a liberal arts education to succeed -- financially, socially, politically -- in today's United States. It bothers me, too. But since it doesn't seem likely that our democratic republic is going to transform itself into Plato's Republic anytime soon, perhaps our professors could enjoy their pretty decent work lives just a bit more.

Now, on to this morceau from the Wall Street Journal. Journalist Michael Steinberger charges Harvard, my alma mater (Class of 2000), with getting too much media coverage due to the prevalence of journalists with Crimson ties. Steinberger adds that this coverage is misguided because Harvard's influence in the spheres of politics and business is diminishing; the sun may be finally setting on the Harvard Empire.

Points worth considering. Yet in criticizing the journalists who lavish so much ink to Harvard, Steinberger omits to mention his friends who compose the Journal's "Best of the Web Today." Thanks to its reputation as a liberal bastion, Harvard makes a wonderful whipping-post for conservatives. Is it agenda, rather than diploma, that fuels the interest in the Kremlin on the Charles? Probably a mixture of both. Also, Harvard is a selling-point, thanks to movies like "Good Will Hunting" and institutions like the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and it's easily recognizable to the public -- which prompts media coverage as well.

Has Harvard's star been eclipsed? Perhaps Steinberger is focusing on the wrong institution. Harvard may merely be the most visible of the elite colleges that are viewed as tickets to success. And the path to such success does not begin at these colleges. Rather, the sons and daughters of privilege in this country start their journey at the same place they did at the turn of the 20th century: the St. Grottlesex schools. The country needs to recognize this.