Anti-racist Yard Sale

Hi Cogitators, after a bit of a hiatus, the Cogitduck comic strip is back!  I’ve revamped the aspect ratio to conform to a newspaper comic slot (wink, wink).  I also sketched and “inked” this on a Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.  The S-Pen is pretty sweet!

For more info on the invisible knapsack of privilege, see one of my very first posts.  For my past references to the racist dog whistle, revisit my commentary on Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016, or my critique of a 2012 guide to decoding racist political ads.  And, most importantly of all, to learn about what Margaret Thatcher lamented as “anti-racist mathematics, whatever that may be,” visit here.

Sequester: Obama forces the balance

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The federal budget sequestration saga culminated with a geeky–if odd–bang on Friday.  After days of touring the country and sounding alarms, President Obama denied he was feeding fears of fiscal “apocalypse,” felt compelled to concede, “I am not a dictator,” and confessed he could not change Republicans’ will through a “Jedi mind meld.”

In his Saturday radio address, the President acknowledged that Americans are tired of having to “careen from one manufactured crisis to another.”  It’s good to remember who is in the drivers’ seat.  It was President Obama who signed the legislation that triggered the sequester.  In light of this fact, Cosmoscon recently supplied a fitting name for the White House’s trite theatrics: Obamaquester.

In the days leading up to sequestration, the media indulged dire headlines.  Yahoo News’s leading caption warned Thursday, “Deep cuts to Begin.”  LiveScience jarred us with “Sequester cuts could hit scientists hard.”  The National Parks Service warned that bathrooms would go uncleaned, sending Mother Jones in a panic.  And the Navy announced the Blue Angels would cancel shows.  Mother Jones probably could care less for that jingoistic propaganda outfit.

The media has not been totally obeisant to White House talking points.  Clicking through Yahoo’s “Deep Cuts” reveals news copy weary of alarmism.  The Christian Science Monitor’s Decoder Wire challenged Obama’s characterization of “automatic” spending cuts.  Yet, as with many other media sources, it was reluctant to put the actual cuts in perspective.

Fortunately, the fiscal conservatives on WordPress have been on top of it.  The Southern Voice supplied a great Heritage Foundation graphic emphasizing that only budget growth shrinks under sequester, not the budget itself.  International Liberty highlighted effective sequester editorial cartoons.  I found Mike Ramirez’s pie picture to be an invaluable graphic.

The Moon in Daylight shared a great gamer’s analogy for Obama’s political strategy.  The President is a “munchkin mini-maxer.”  That is, he is a player who unscrupulously exploits a loophole in the rules or a coding glitch.  Instead of “investing” all his skill into a well-rounded array of abilities like negotiation, initiative, or magnanimity, Obama has pooled all his skill points into demagoguery.

This singular focus yielded political absurdity the day sequestration went into effect.  Besides denying that he was a dictator, he confessed “I’d like to think that I’ve still got some persuasive power left.”  And once Obama issued the “Jedi mind meld” snafu, the White House Office of Perpetual Campaigning parlayed it into a geeky-hip social media meme.  Should we expect less from the country’s premier community organizer?

One White House tweet implies tax hikes will “bring balance to the Force.”  But we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.  With a sluggish recovery, and over $600,000,000,000 in new revenue to pour in from the fiscal cliff deal, our economy needs more taxes like Luke Skywalker needed his hand chopped off by a lightsaber.  If the politics of sequester have to stoop to science fiction references, then it’s more fitting to say that our one-track president, with his incessant campaigning for tax hikes, “brings force to the balance.”  Politically, what Obama wants most and at all costs is to raise taxes for the sake of raising taxes.

Immigration reform: of RINOs and Rubio

20130210.huntingrinosIt’s been a couple of weeks since the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight preempted President Obama with a declaration of intent to tackle immigration reform.  I’ve not been totally on top of the news cycle since then, but I have sampled some of the conversation on the Right. I was heartened by Cosmoscon’s punctual endorsement of reform.  Charles Krauthammer’s more recent advice, with its retrospective “I told you so,” is a somewhat welcoming if wary analysis.

Yet, many other conservatives are beside themselves with complaints and grief.  They charge fellow Republicans with foolhardy electoral panic and lament the Charlie Brown naivete of working with Democrats.  In the worst instances, they let loose a cry of RINO–Republican In Name Only–against anyone they want to dismiss as spineless or traitorous.  For any conservative so tempted, do the rest of us a favor.  Vent your frustrations in private.  Try screaming into a thick pillow.  Such name calling has no place in a party of winners.

No one doubts the need for immigration reform.  But the rub lies in the long-running tension between enforcement and “amnesty.”  The National Review’s John O’Sullivan warns Republicans that amnesty would mean decades of Democratic domination.  He wants conservatives to realize that Hispanics vote Democrat for socioeconomic reasons rather than out of ethnic solidarity.  Although an astute observation, it’s only relevant if the proposed reform would result in illegal immigrants readily gaining citizenship.  But since it includes caveats like sending illegals to the back of multiple lines, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Besides, O’Sullivan is working with a straw man.  Who in the GOP is actually contending that bipartisan reform will automatically garner Hispanic votes?

Victor Davis Hanson, also at National Review, lodges his own reform reservations.  He observes that “special interests” (hardly ever an actually helpful term) are too entrenched, whether they be liberal activists working in identity politics or business owners dependent on abusively cheap labor.  As he sees it, committed liberals will never budge for a fence or strict enforcement.  But there’s little reason to think Republicans won’t be able to leverage public support for sensible enforcement measures.  At least as long as any would-be Todd Akins of immigration keep away from the media.  Quick, someone check Tom Tancredo’s whereabouts.

Looming above all this are the career prospects for that shiniest senator of the Gang of Eight, Republican Marco Rubio.  Immigration will figure into his Tuesday response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.  From what I can tell, he won’t fizzle like Bobby Jindal did a few years back.  Rubio seemed to acquit himself well in an interview with the Weekly Standard this past week.

Whether he acknowledges it or not, Senator Rubio remains a very decent prospect for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Maybe a time will come to grill him on his record.  But for now I’d encourage you to channel those prosecutorial energies into Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project.  Consider its effort to defeat a Republican primary candidate who once declared evolution and the big bang to be “from the pit of Hell.” I suspect this puts Rubio’s “I’m not a scientist, man” comment in a slightly better light.  Such a clear-eyed initiative buoys the conservative hope that leaders of Rubio’s vintage will get better with age.  All the more reason for Republican purists to put down their RINO guns.

Let’s get real about immigration. That 11 million people live a shadow existence in America is inhumane to them, dangerous to us all, and completely unsustainable. No conservative wants an “amnesty” like the ill-considered 1986 reform signed by President Reagan. If it comes down to it, we can deal with President Obama’s obstinate political wrangling when we cross that bridge. Until then, let’s show America what good bipartisanship is made of.

Stigmatize gun ownership like smoking?

The Christian Science Monitor continues to astound with its idiocy.  One recent Monitor headline described the belligerence of Hamas as mere “military action.”  This when their signature mode of armed conflict–rocket attacks–consists in the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians.  So much for the idea of terrorism.

Now, the Monitor‘s editorial board suggests gun violence can be curbed by a public perception campaign akin to that which stigmatized smoking.  What would this look like? We can imagine the Ad Council cartoon propaganda now: a bratty, freckled blonde boy, sporting a sideways baseball cap, growls, “Hey bro, owning guns is not cool.”  Will subjecting upstanding, law abiding gun owners–who are generally paragons of civic responsibility–to such a silly and divisive psychological campaign really help?

There are better stigmas to promote instead. When Hollywood celebrities earnestly “demand a plan” of politicians while remaining unapologetic for their own glorification of gun violence, we ought to stigmatize their hypocrisy (and chuckle given their unintended fulfillment of this prophetic Portlandia parody). When our society allows severe mental illness to remain untreated out of fear of institutionalization and the corresponding desire for maximal autonomy, we should stigmatize indifference towards such danger.

Michael Medved is right when he declares that gun violence is a spiritual rather than a material problem. Prisoners of progressive thought are always trying to stigmatize material things.  They say SUVs kill the earth, or guns kill people.  At least the market tinkering of “cash for clunkers” had the probable effect of increasing the nation’s overall fuel efficiency.  But gun buybacks only decrease the ratio of gun ownership between law-abiding citizens and criminals.  Why is it ever good for criminals and murderers to have relatively more guns than the population at large?

The Monitor editorial also suggests an expansion of non-gun-owner rights along the lines of “non-smoker rights.”  Please, everyone, we have to think more carefully about rights!  We can’t just keep making up new ones.  Especially ones backed by stigma.  Have the editors at the Monitor forgotten that stigma–based on the materialistic concern of skin color–once supported the Jim Crow “right” for whites to not share public accommodations with blacks?

Rather than invoke stigmas based on material things, let’s stigmatize undesirable attitudes and behaviors instead.  We can start with the unfounded hysteria over gun violence.

El muralismo on campus

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Murals on college campuses can be weird and creepy.  When I visited University of Wisconsin, Madison a few years ago, I discovered one of them right in the midst of the student union.  From all other appearances, the union is wonderful.  It overlooks a large wooded lake, and there’s what looks to be a beer hall where students can weather the cold winters in contentment.  But when I went there, I found one room of the complex featuring twin murals facing each other.  They depicted landscapes and struggles, rich with a diversity of people, men and women of all races.

The controversial element of the mural is somewhat obscured in this official UW Madison photograph.

What did I do when I saw this?  Something I do whenever confronted with a work of this nature: I performed a white man check (disclosure: I am not a white man).  On one of the murals, the only two figures who appeared more than likely to be white men happened to each have a noose around their neck.  Perhaps they were martyrs for some good cause.  But I suspect the mural might have run into resistance if the noose had been around any minority status necks.  Really, does the heart of a Federally subsidized land grant university need to be so edgy?

Back on the Left Coast, the University of California, Davis, has its own diversity mural on the wall of its Memorial Union.  It depicts people, artifacts, and architecture from diverse cultures.  Performing the white man check on it reveals a forlorn-looking marble bust from Western antiquity, sulking in the far corner, while a colorfully painted Mesoamerican leads the rest of the world in a rollicking two-dimensional block party.

"The Unfinished Dream," UC Davis

The bust from Western antiquity (far left) looks a little bummed out compared to his Mesoamerican friend. (DavisWiki)

Another mural undertaken last year on the same campus elicited some unexpected criticisms from community members who felt underrepresented by it.  Critiques included that the mural did not represent students of Southeast Asian descent more clearly, and that it failed to recognize the campus LGBT community by the newer, more bleeding-edge politically correct moniker: LGBTQIAA.  The school newspaper’s editorial board recognized the absurdity of expecting such a project to so meticulously account for all “body types, sexualities, hair types and cultures.”

Unrealistic expectations aside, campus murals are often unsuitable to universities, inasmuch as they are supposed to adorn places safe for open intellectual inquiry.  El muralismo, the Mexican school of murals developed by Diego Rivera and others in the 1920s, inevitably incorporates themes of popular revolution and uprising.  Thick, sturdy figures populate brown-washed scenes of agrarian landscapes alternating with molten-lit caverns industrial might.  The imagery recalls the regrettable chapter of global history when national governments promised utopias by pursuing various forms of totalitarianism.

Portion of “Man at the Crossroads” by Diego Rivera. Note Vladimir Lenin at far right. (Wikimedia)

It’s incredible that significant parts of academic culture, so wary of fixed truth, would readily employ a format devised as unabashed propaganda.  Large and imposing, murals tend to bully a public space.  One will think twice before reading Thomas Sowell or mentioning William F. Buckley while under the watchful gaze of social revolutionaries.  Today, murals are not in service of class revolution as much as a progressive conception of diversity that feels awkward being in the same room as Plato and Thomas Aquinas.  Or Thomas Jefferson for that matter.

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That stalwart defender of Britain, Winston Churchill. (Wikimedia)

To the extent that the universities’ commissioned artists might draw upon muralismo, diversity can’t even be properly served.  The range of physical differences among races, such as they might be conceived, tend to be limited when manifested.  Rather than people who look distinctly white, black, Asian, or whatever, everyone in these murals seems to have a tame variant of a mocha complexion.  The format is not just ideologically rooted, it is ethnically rooted.  To be clear, nothing is wrong with Mesoamerican culture and people themselves.  Problems of a related sort would emerge if a student association chose to depict diversity through Chinese scroll paintings or any other single format with a strong cultural association.

The next time some university entity contemplates public art for their campus community, they ought to look beyond the muralismo tradition.  It seems newer state schools are generally bereft of a classic form of art: statues cast in metal.  You know, like Lord Nelson at Trafalgar Square, or Winston Churchill near Westminster.  Maybe they’re avoided because there have been too many dead white men honored by the medium.

Giant robots vs. fracking

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I saw The Hobbit for a second time New Year’s Day.  There were some cool trailers.  More often than not, these previews are much better than the movies they advertise.  The greater delight come from teasing the imagination with a few catchy lines, the best part of the score, and a couple of towering shots.  When the full film rolls around, we tend to be disappointed with a waste of artistic resources.  As hard as it is supposed to be to break into screenwriting, why are the dialog and plot of most Hollywood films so terrible?

As for most of the trailers I saw last Tuesday–including Pacific Rim, The Host, Oblivion, and After Earth–there was a decidedly apocalyptic theme.  It’s pretty hard to get me excited about an epic-scale special effects film.  I liked the aesthetics of Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise.  But the plot looked trite.  Pacific Rim seems promising, though.  Because who doesn’t want to pilot a gigantic armored robot into combat?  And if nations have to unite for world peace, manufacturing such robots to fight gargantuan monsters would probably be the least annoying reason.

The outlier of the preview batch was Promised Land, starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski.  I believe the plot is effectively summarized in the second panel of the comic above.  I trust Michael Medved’s review when he dismisses it as cartoonish “anti-corporate propaganda.”

Such a film calls to mind the inexhaustible parade of earnest, shameless, liberal agitprop that has marched forth from Hollywood for decades.  Films like The Constant Gardener, Lions for Lambs, Ferngully, and Avatar.  You don’t need to watch these movies to know the slant, just the trailer.  Thankfully, the folks who make those short clips tend to do the job right.  If only as much could be said for most screenwriters.

Return of Taxosaurus Rex

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I was compelled to illustrate some sort of combed-over neck-biting dinosaur after I heard my local morning commute talk host share this bit of candor from Chris Matthews.

To break it down: after a Republican House member tells the difficulties of the fiscal cliff negotiations and of his own hope for comprehensive tax reform, Chris Matthews rebuffs with what amounts to a lurid confession of his own gut feeling.  He motions with clawed finger at his own neck and speaks of his fellow liberals, “they want to see the bite mark on your neck” and “they want to know that you guys defending the rich have paid a price.”

This post-election bloodlust is entirely consistent with what we saw in the 2012 campaign.  From the White House on down, the Left has little regard for the fiscal or cultural health of the country.  Rather, the fires of antipathy must be continually stoked, against the Tea Party, against outmoded geezers pointing to the original meaning of the Constitution, against anyone who would stop the feel good parade that happily coincides with Democratic politicians’ hunger for influence and power.

Please remember this the next time some distasteful news come out of Washington: Conservatives, through the Republican party, want to put an end to this gross manipulation.  Honestly, rolling government spending back to manageable levels does not stem from a desire to bite the neck of food stamp recipients.

Liberals like Matthews would rather keep afloat the long-failed fantasy of big government activism.  Enough elites are sympathetic to this vision to keep it from dying its natural death.  And as long as that is the case, we will all continue to be hurt by the avenging claws of Taxosaurus Rex.

A school–and a state–that’s too cool

Sierra Magazine, a product of the environmental advocacy group The Sierra Club, recently crowned U.C. Davis the “#1 Cool School” for its efforts to conserve energy, resources, and otherwise be sustainable and fight climate change.

A couple of years ago, the student-run ASUCD Coffee House underwent a major renovation.  I’m not sure what the budget was, but hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars went into the project.  The result?  Sliding doors became manual, and a versatile space with moveable chairs and tables gave way to massive dining booths, each typically empty but for one student entranced by her laptop.

In the end, does making a sliding door manual really benefit the campus community?  I’m confident that the electricity saved is more than offset by the germs and viruses spread via frequent grasping of handles by so many young adults.  Also, I can imagine at least one inattentive, returning alumnus slamming into the door, betrayed by the changing ways of an old friend.

And then there are the disposable cornware utensils.  With traditional plasticware, you could cut whatever was on your plate.  Now, your corn fork is likely to get bent out of shape.  And there’s no convenient place to grab your utensil in case you forgot it–it’s usually rationed out with your dish.  How many acres of corn are destined to become crappy utensils, rather than say, by some more natural demand of the market (hint: not ethanol fuel) go to feed a starving mouth in the Global South?

Now, I must confess there is no “Recycle Nazi” at the Coffee House.  This idea is borrowed from the Davis Farmers Market, where, after chomping down on your tandoori treat, you’re likely to confront a cheery dreadlocked twenty-year-old-of-unknowing-privilege, who will gently but firmly ensure you’ve cast your biodegradable cornware cup into the appropriate receptacle.  Only then can you go back to enjoy watching toddlers prance around to a Bob Dylan cover band.  The small tote dogs of even-greater-pampering-and-privilege are fun to watch too.

But back to campus.  The exorbitant charge for paper cups is reflective of the the long-standing reuse movement.  Yes, it’s nice to reuse your mug.  And not all of these eco-friendly changes are derisible. Yet, the guiding hand of the Nanny State is all too palpable on campus.

COMPACT parking

Every space in one recently repainted UC Davis lot was marked “COMPACT.” Cogitatingduck.

Take cars for example.  There have been new garages built on campus, but they are more to the periphery than the core.  And existing parking lots get eroded by the liberal legacy of litigation.  The clearest instance of this comes when spots disappear to make room for more ADA-compliant spaces.

As a part of recent maintenance, one parking area got a new coat of sealant.  The spaces were repaved, and I suspect they’re just a little smaller than they were before.  As if that weren’t enough of a hint against cars, one stretch of the lot was painted with “COMPACT” in every space.  But they’re plenty wide to accommodate those oversize SUVs with multiple Obama stickers on them.  So the commuter is left to scratch his own head: was this a simple painting error or a subliminal hint from Nanny to buy a smaller car?

Well, with tax-hiking Prop 30 passed, there is a little more assurance those lots will continue to fill with cars for the near future.  And all the while, Our Great Bullet Train will move forward.  This despite the Legislative Analyst’s Office finding there are more effective ways to reduce emissions with the carbon tax credits diverted to “backstop any shortfall” in funding for a project unlikely to finish before humans colonize Mars.  An inevitable byproduct of this is, you’ve guessed it: more lawsuits!

Greetings from California.

Children complain, cry over presidential race

With talk of binders and Big Bird, finger pointing and the like, it’s not uncommon to hear that the presidential election has descended to the level of schoolyard taunts.  Things have gone to the kids more than we know.  And don’t forget that Democrats depend on the “youth vote.”  Now, a slew of videos show American children are thoroughly disaffected by the presidential race.

Remember the creepy children’s choir from 2008 that extolled the virtues of Barack Obama?  That optimism has turned into a dire, depressing, defamatory guilt trip from the future.  Click if you must, but you will probably be disgusted by the despicable–and for the moment defunct–“Future Children Project.”

In contrast to that scripted downer, children are also miffed in more genuine and funny ways.  Consider this video released by conservative funny man Steven Crowder.  He performs a Halloween-inspired experiment on some trick-or-treating kids.  What happens if, say out of “fairness,” we try to redistribute children’s candy?

Now hopefully that video leaves you with a bit of a smile.  But if not, you can commiserate with this young woman who has apparently heard enough of the 2012 presidential election.

Obama, Biden inspect “ships that go underwater”

Monday night’s foreign policy debate only continues the existing trend.  Mitt Romney came off as measured, composed, and presidential, while President Barack Obama, pressing with a desperate and full bore attack, looked a little more petty and a little less presidential.

The horses and bayonets dig has backfired, now that folks from Chuck Todd to Tim Cotton have attested to the utility of those helps in modern warfare.

What really got me though was the part about “ships that go underwater.”  Our Commander-in-Chief was by a magnitude of order too self-satisfied in letting off that salvo.  He sounded like he really thought he was talking to a five year old.

A pundit with some military smarts was quick to inform that submarines are referred to in the American Navy as “boats,” not “ships” as the President claimed.  Oh well, what could we expect from a President who doesn’t know how essential bayonets are to the Marine “Corpse?”

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