Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Miers Cartoon

Miers Cartoon
Originally uploaded by SoxIn18.
I altered this cartoon somewhat using Photoshop, and now it's good to go. I'm hoping to do more stuff related to the Bush administration very soon.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

New day, new happenings

It's official: I'm an uncle! My nephew Nathaniel was born this morning, and I'm so happy for him and his parents!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

Rosa Parks is dead at 92. By her simple yet courageous act of refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she started a process that ensured that African-Americans would receive fair and equal treatment under the law. She is one of this country's greatest heroines.

I remember, ten years ago, one day in high school when our 1960s history teacher had us simulate a bus trip in 1950s Montgomery. Those of us who were assigned to play the roles of African-Americans had to move to the back of the bus. We experienced -- albeit only for a few seconds -- what it felt like to be discriminated against. It's important to remember that this sanctioned inequality really did happen in the US, but it's equally important to remember that there were people like Parks who had the courage to do something about it.

Although I'm sure the remembrances of Parks will all be positive, her reception was anything but back in the 1950s. Only by recalling how intense was Southern hatred of African-Americans can we comprehend the depth of Rosa Parks' courage.

Other news of interest: Intriguing books about al-Qaeda and Mao Tse-tung are out. And Fritz Stern mulls the conditions that made it possible for Nazism to flourish in Germany.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Nothing gold can stay

So, the Brattle Theater finds its existence imperiled. How sad. That beautiful brick barn, one of the few remaining jewels of Harvard Square, is in danger of closing if its management cannot raise $400,000 by year's end. Let's hope they can.

I have many magic memories of the Brattle from my college days. Thanks to the theater, I was able to see many of the classic films as they were meant to be seen -- on screen, not within the sterile face of a television set. Among the great movies I watched: Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Graduate, Woman of the Year, Citizen Kane, From Here to Eternity, The Seven Samurai, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, A Clockwork Orange.

The memories didn't confine themselves to the films. On Halloween 1999, I went to see The Blair Witch Projects dressed as the funny pages; also during that academic year, I donned Mafioso attire to watch The Godfather. And the audience sometimes enlivened the show; I remember the crowd singing along with Isaac Hayes for the opening credits to Shaft.

Lately, the theater's management has made some questionable decisions, veering away from recognizable attractions to more obscure fare. The public, even its snootier side, has responded by not going as much (I am one of those whose attendance has been remiss over the last few years). The Brattle's practices of running one film endlessly for a week, and of eschewing name attractions for the avant-garde, have turned me off, I'm sad to admit.

What also frustrates me is that the Brattle has so much going for it: a wonderful old-timey atmosphere in which to experience the thrill that audiences of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s must have felt. When so many modern movie theaters are little more than malls with screens, the Brattle stands out "like bright metal on a sullen ground" (Henry V). I'll try to go more often, but I fear the theater's management must make some drastic changes if they want their splendid showpiece to withstand the merciless mall-ification of Harvard Square.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Team America

More cartoons coming soon, promise.

BostonWorks has an interesting article that confirms past comments about Generation Y: it is very team-oriented. This is one of several reasons why I dislike the up-and-coming cohort. A friend and fellow Gen-Xer once remarked that our primary-school teachers stressed creativity in the classroom; today's teachers stress unity of purpose.

Creativity, by its nature, requires individual work. Whether the student's goal is to write a poem or draw a picture, he or she must work alone. Teachers these days are incorporating all students toward a shared goal. (I saw harbingers of this as a student.) This happens outside the classroom, too; witness our national preoccupation with team sports, many of which, leech-like, siphon off time from our children's schedules.

What's good about teamwork? It encourages diversity. "When it comes to teams, diverse input leads to more effective outcomes," the Globe's Penelope Trunk writes. "Diversity is important not only in terms of race and culture but in terms of the way people think." You can also include sexuality. Generation Y is much more tolerant of gay people than previous generations.

That said, team-oriented teaching strategies assume that everyone can be included on the same team when some people want to play on different teams, or not even play at all. While de-emphasizing individuality may curb selfish behavior, too much teamwork leads to homogeneity and groupthink.

For a look at what groupthink is doing in some American colleges, read this article from spiked. Even as a reluctant member of what author Norman Levitt calls "the PC Mafia," I cringe.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Corruption and misrule

Andrew Rice of The Nation writes a good analysis of three recent books about Africa and its troubles. "The dispute is about causes and consequences," he writes. "One group--call it the poverty-first camp--believes African governments are so lousy precisely because their countries are so poor. The other group--the governance-first camp--holds that Africans are impoverished because their rulers keep them that way." Who is right?

The authors who try to answer this question include Martin Meredith ("The Fate of Africa"), Jeffrey Sachs ("The End of Poverty") and Robert Guest ("The Shackled Continent"). Meredith does it from a historical perspective, while Sachs and Guest attempt to do this from a more economical vantage point.

Much of the scrutiny falls on the dictator-despoiled countries of sub-Saharan Africa. "Tyranny in Zimbabwe, famine in Niger, a constitutional coup in Togo, rampant corruption in Kenya, protesters shot in Ethiopia, an epidemic in Angola, civil war in Sudan--those are this year's headlines, but if you think you've heard it all before, you have," Rice writes. All of these countries, save for Ethiopia and Sudan, are sub-Saharan.

Historically, what happened to make these countries so poor? The legacy of colonialism is certainly bitter; Rice writes that while the British left valuable roads and schools to their former colonies, the French and Portuguese abandoned their onetime domains with far less willingness and far more spite. And even the British weren't always so lenient; witness their actions in Kenya.

Then came a parade of homegrown dictators: Jean-Bedel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Idi Amin of Uganda, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and the generals of Nigeria. Wars and disease (such as AIDS) have only worsened the problems; Rice surprisingly omits mention of the Rwandan genocide.

What can be done? Sachs makes the boldest assertion -- that Africa can quickly emerge from poverty -- and backs it up with simple proposals: "Use irrigation and fertilizers to increase crop yields; distribute mosquito nets to combat malaria and pharmaceuticals to lessen the symptoms of AIDS; give rural villages cell phones to ease communication and trade." He also urges Western governments to restrict or increase their aid according to how well a country governs. Rice, however, says that Sachs ignores the many previous efforts by others to remedy Africa's woes.

A final note. Rice ignores two parts of the continent that contain interesting ramifications. First, North Africa, and specifically Egypt. Second, South Africa. Egypt and South Africa are two of the rare "success" stories of the continent (I am speaking in relative terms). Sure, Hosni Mubarak is essentially a dictator, confirmed by a presidential election that is likely as fraudulent as any won by Mugabe or Saddam Hussein, and the economy is hurting. Yet thanks to 1.3 billion in American military aid each year, the country remains stable.

Next, South Africa. Rice mentions Nelson Mandela only once -- and only as a subject of one of Meredith's previous books. Despite South Africa's struggles with crime and AIDS, the country is a remarkable story of whites and blacks living together peacefully. The rest of the country could learn from the examples of its north and south.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Computers in the classroom

A while ago, the Boston Globe ran a list of educational rankings for Massachusetts cities. Among the categories: computers per student in the classroom. An article in Orion Magazine by Lowell Monke suggests that the Globe was misguided in using this criterion.

According to Monke, computers sap important skills from youngsters, from learning how to deal with other people to exploring the natural world for themselves. Instead of developing relationships with classmates at recess, they sit in front of computers, letting a machine do their work for them. Monke illustrates this by describing a project about "Charlotte's Web" assigned to his students. They grew so fascinated by their computer work that they eschewed recess for research, and they were as proud of their computer-graphic spiders as if they had drawn them on their own.

What does the control offered by computers mean for young people today? For Monke, it is a way to manipulate human relationships. "I was constantly frustrated by individuals and even entire groups of students who would suddenly disappear from cyber-conversations related to the projects," Monke writes. "My own students indicated that they understood the departures to be a way of controlling relationships that develop online. If they get too intense, too nasty, too boring, too demanding, just stop communicating and the relationship goes away." Adults do this, too. Just about everyone I met through online dating websites has broken off communication with me, occasionally deigning to send an explanatory email. Yet I wonder if this is a new development. Back in the 1920s, Nick Carraway confesses in The Great Gatsby, he used the following technique to end a relationship: "when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away."

Overall, though, Monke makes some good and worthwhile points. We can't become Luddites, reverting to a pre-computer age. At the same time, we can't let computers dominate our lives. We need to go out and experience the world in person, not virtually. Is it still possible? I think it is. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check my email.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Short people with big ears

Malcolm Gladwell has a fascinating New Yorker article on how Harvard selects its students. It's thought-provoking (and sometimes disturbing). Gladwell details how Harvard purged, as much as possible, Jews, shy people, physically unattractive people, et al. from its ranks of accepted students for much of the past century. (Gosh, I'm lucky I applied when these policies ended! I would have been what Gladwell terms a J1, "for someone who is 'conclusively Jewish.'")

In the end, it's all about preserving image. Harvard wants loyal and successful alums, and Gladwell explains why admitting athletes and legacies makes sense in fulfilling these goals. It's disheartening, sure. At Harvard, I met classmates from Harlem projects and Southern trailer parks. But we were, it seems, an afterthought.