Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The last lazy days of summer

Blogging will be light to nonexistent from now through Labor Day. I know that every time I say something like this, I end up posting another couple of thousand words within a day or twoóbut this time I mean it. Really. Iíve got some work Iíve got to get cranked out, and then Iím going to enjoy the weekend like a normal person, take a respite from the constant online cacophany of small persistent voices. And you should too.

But in honor of Labor Day, hereís a cartoon from the September 20, 1925 edition of Hearst's Boston American, courtesy of my wife the historian.

And hey, if youíre travelling this weekend, travel safely.

Sobering statistics

From an article on the exponentially increasing problem of traffic by John Seabrook in the current New Yorker:

Since 1970, the population of the United States has grown by forty per cent, while the number of registered vehicles has increased by nearly a hundred per centóin other words, cars have proliferated more than twice as fast as people have. During this same period, road capacity increased by six per cent. If these trends continue through 2020, every day will resemble a getaway day, with its mixture of commuters, truckers, and recreational drivers, who take to the road without regard for traditional peak travel times, producing congestion all day long: trucks that can't make deliveries on time, people who can't get to or from work, air quality that continues to deteriorate as commerce suffers and our over-all geopolitical position weakens because we are forced to become ever more dependent on foreign oil. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a traffic jam.

Chuckle at concerns about sustainability if you will, but this kind of mindless growth is simply not sustainable. I'm not saying that we should all wear hair shirts and travel by horsecart... but one day all the roads leading out of New York City will be useless as anything but parking lots, and we will wish we had given this one more thought when we still could.

Article here.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

If anybody reading this works for HP tech support...

...please drop me a line. I'm having printer issues, not worth explaining here.

Whoop whoop whoop reee-oooo reee-oooo reee-oooo

I have a piece on the back page of the current New Yorker. Itís nothing spectacular, just a silly little riff on that standard urban nuisance, car alarms. Why, you may ask, am I writing cartoons about car alarms when weíve got business scandals and terrorism and an imminent war, among other things, to be thinking about? You know: car alarms? Am I turning into Jerry Seinfeld here? Have you ever noticed how car alarms are really noisy? What's the deal with that?

Well, there are a couple of things going on here. For starters, it became a lot harder after September 11 to get political satire, at least my particular style of political satire, into The New Yorker. Granted, Iíve had this one and this one in, but these are frankly not the hardest-hitting pieces Iíve ever done. In a post-September 11 world, I donít think this would have ever made it past the pitch stage.

So partlyóand despite the very real advocacy and support of the editor I work with thereóI was losing interest in contributing, due to the apparently more cautious editorial stance of the magazineÖ and partly, as always, it was just a matter of timeóas regular readers of this blog are aware, in addition to the regular weekly deadline and the regular biweekly American Prospect deadline, Iím working on a huge treasury compilation and collaborating on the screenplay for an animated feature, so it's been kind of a busy summer. And since I am much more the tortoise than the hare, these things pretty effectively manage to fill up a lot of my time. (Not to mention all the time I put in here, for whatever inexplicable reason.)

But my editor remained determined, and kept calling , really wanting to get something of mine back into the magazine. I just didnít have time or energy to come up with anything new, but I did have this strange little piece sitting on my hard drive. You see, I try to keep a few backup pieces ready to send out at any given momentónon-political "evergreens" which I can use in case of illness or emergency. (I can't just call in sick, or 150 or so newspapers are going to have to scramble to fill a design hole in their pages, and they're going to be pretty annoyed with me--so if I take a week off, I'd better have a really good excuse, like being in a coma, or better still, dead.)

The car alarms piece was originally intended to be one of those backupsóin fact, I had it half finished on the evening of September 10, 2001, and was planning to return from my morning walk with the dog and finish it up on September 11. I even remember thinking, as I stood on my rooftop watching the towers burn, that Iíd keep up with everything on tv later, watch the rescue crews and so on, as I finished up my little car alarm cartoon. Itís funny how these superfluous and utterly idiotic thoughts pass through your mind in times of crisis. I was in a skycraper on a temp job during the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, and as the building started to sway back and forth and the skyline shook outside as if the buildings were made of rubber, the power on the computer cut off and whatever I was working on disappeared without having been backed upóand at this moment, when I am not particularly certain that Iím going to live through the next ten minutes, suddenly Iím worrying about whether or not Iíll get in trouble because I didnít back up some stupid word processing assignment.

So obviously I didnít finish the car alarm cartoon on September 11, and after that, with everything that was going on, it just seemed too banal to use for awhile, so it stayed on my hard drive half-finished and mostly forgotten for about ten months, until my editor at the New Yorker called asking if I had anything for her. And gosh, if I canít run my car alarm cartoon somewhere-- then havenít the terrorists really won?

Think of it as a blow for freedom, and the American way.

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Monday, August 26, 2002

Terrorists among us

From the Tampa Tribune:

Authorities stumbled upon an astonishing array of weapons inside the town home of podiatrist Robert Goldstein, 37, Thursday evening after receiving a complaint that he was arguing with his wife, Kristi, 28.

After coaxing Goldstein out of the home, Pinellas County deputies discovered about 20 homemade bombs, a pair of rocket launchers, dozens of high- power rifles and an antipersonnel mine.

They also retrieved a three- page battle plan that laid out in intricate detail a mission to blow up what appears to be a local Islamic educational center. The writing includes at least the first names of two other people.

Complete story here.

Icing

The Unlimited Sunshine tour brought my pal John McCrae to Brooklyn this weekend with his band Cake. The event was held at the Prospect Park bandshell not far from where we live, which was greatóusually the shows you want to see in this city are bracketed by a gruelling subway ride there and back, which canít help but diminish the experience. Walking distance is a real luxury when you live in the outer boroughs.

We missed most of the Saturday show, mainly due to our reluctance to immerse ourselves in the sickly humid drizzle which engulfed Brooklyn that day like a thick blanket, but we did want to see the Cake set. Unfortunately, shortly before they were scheduled to go on, the dayís persistent light rain turned into a torrential downpour, complete with lightning and thunder. We waited for the worst of that to pass, and grabbed our umbrellas and braved the rest of the storm, which happily fizzled out midway through the set. (I guess, as Jon Pareles notes in his review of the show this morning, youíre kind of asking for it when you name your tour "Unlimited Sunshine.") Afterwards we went to a nearby bar with John and his partner Laurie and a whole bunch of other people from the tour and stayed out till three in the morning drinking beer and tequillaóshots of the latter kept magically appearing around the table, and it would have been, you know, impolite to turn them down. (I should note that everyone there repeatedly assured us that their particular version of the rock and roll lifestyle is usually far more sedate. All I know is, Iím glad I didnít wake up in some hotel room full of empty bottles and naked people.)

Saw most of the rest of the acts at Sundayís show, when the weather was far more cooperative: Kinky, Modest Mouse, de la Soul, the Hackensaw Boys, and the Flaming Lips. If youíve ever seen the latter, you know that part of their stage shtick is to have a bunch of people in big goofy animal costumes dancing around onstage, waving flashlights and tossing huge balloons into the audience. I, of course, immediately volunteered, and if you happened to be at Sundayís show, that was your humble correspondent dancing around like a maniac, stage right, inóyesóa penguin costume.

Iíve had a lot of weird jobs, but somehow Iíve missed out on being a large animal mascot until now, and Iíll tell you: itís hard work, especially on a hot summer night in Brooklyn, and especially if you are a middle-aged guy who maybe doesnít get as much exercise as he shouldóa very youthful middle aged guy, but still. Youíre wearing this fake fur body suit and a giant head with only a couple of small screened eyeholes to peer through, so youíre sweating profusely and you have absolutely no peripheral vision whatsoeveróIím happy to report that I did not fall on my ass, or knock over any stacks of amplifiers, or precipitate any other catastrophe in front of three or four thousand people, but the potential was certainly there.

And man, was I drenched when I peeled myself out of that penguin suit.

It was a good weekend to be a cartoonist living in Brooklyn. And pictures were taken, oh yes. Iíll post some as soon as I get them.

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