Monday, June 25, 2012

Must read: Chart a la carte

ProPublica has a great interactive illustration identifying the big donors to the superPACs and the relative size of their contributions. And guess what — George Soros (Dr. Evil) doesn't appear on any of them. That ought to make right-wing heads explode.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sparky's List

I heard this morning that Matt Groening is retiring his groundbreaking cartoon strip Life in Hell, which opened the door for an awful lot of great alt cartoonists and helped define the modern alt paper. In recent years the alts have been steadily evicting their cartoonists, uniformly citing budgetary concerns, and many great strips have bit the dust as a result.

One that hasn't yet is This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow, aka Dan Perkins. Years ago Dan's blog was the first I began reading regularly, and his bitingly satirical strip is a weekly pleasure for me. He works hard at it and is at the top of his game.

Like the rest of the artists in his corner of the industry, his income is falling, but he's not taking it lying down. He's set up a subscription service called Sparky's List, offering advance views of the strips delivered to your inbox weekly along with commentary and extras. Check it out here.

This kind of direct connection between artists and audiences has always been the most attractive potential of cyberspace for me. By leaving out the middlemen — the record companies, publishers, TV empires, movie distributors, etc. — that act as gatekeepers and profit sinks, both artist and audience get a better deal. But we have to get slightly up off the couch.

 (Just to give you an idea of what these artists are struggling to make, when I inquired about running This Modern World in Pop Rocket, Dan offered at $25 per strip. I forwarded that offer to Tim Wiederaenders* in January, and have heard not one word back since. Let's say I don't buy the argument that the toons are too expensive.)

 So if you're a participant rather than a consumer, I hope you'll consider joining Sparky's List, and watch for similar deals from artists of all sorts.

* In case you missed it, Pop Rocket is edited and published by the Courier.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Monkeywrenching: deadline looms

If you're registered as a Democrat and you'd like to have something to say about who represents us in the Legislature and the county building,  as mentioned in this month's Muggs (below) you can reregister as Independent or Other and participate in the Republican primary. But you only have till July 30 to change your registration.

We can do something to fix this.
Pass this idea around your Dem friends. It can take just a few votes to decisively swing some of these crowded primary races.

See just how easy it is to register to vote or change your registration.
Quit worrying about our confusing voter ID law and
request an early ballot.

Update, July 2: I could have sworn the county website said June 30 before, but it turns out I was wrong about the cutoff date, post updated to correct.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Messaging, old school

It's easy to forget that even in the most grave of world emergencies, naysayers will undermine good sense for profit. From the day when workers had hope and unions had real power, here's a fascinating bit of propaganda directed by Chuck Jones of Warner Bros, with lyrics by Broadway great Yip Harburg, for the UAW-CIO in support of the '44 Roosevelt campaign.

I have to think about the intended audience for this short. It wouldn't likely have been theatre audiences, as theatre bills were still controlled exclusively by the studios and I rather doubt this would qualify as a commercial draw. I'm guessing it would have been shown in union halls to build grassroots campaign strength.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Must read: What you know about the crime rate is probably all wrong

From The LA Times Nation section, today: Matt Pearce, "Think you know about crime in the U.S.? Think again"

This is ultimately more about how we perceive crime, and why, than about actual crime rates — and guess what, if you watch TV, you're more likely to have it wrong.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Editorial: Arts good for the soul, and dirt cheap!

Today the unnamed Courier editor gives a nice pat on the head to the arts, saying "Those of us who are financially able need to protect our artisans with our ongoing contributions."

The implication that spending money on art and artistic experiences is some sort of charitable activity indicates that the editor does not understand the very real value that the arts furnish.

Businesses don't install art or hire artists out of the goodness of their hearts, rather because it attracts customers and improves the customer experience.

Artists aren't looking for charity or begging to be heard out of some pitiful need for ego-boosting. As with any other product, what we make and do varies in value according to the needs and wants of the customer. But here the editor seems to be promulgating the blockheaded idea, widespread in our arid cultural landscape, that art has no real value, insidiously, and likely unconsciously, undermining the industry he purports to promote.

The paper could be far more active and powerful in helping to connect readers with the many opportunities to experience and participate in artistic experiences in our area. If the editors were to dedicate half as much ink to the broad range of subjects that constitute "the arts" as they do to the narrow band we call "sports," they could do a great deal to fulfill the sentiment that the editor expresses here, with ensuing benefit to our communities as a whole.

"The arts" are industry, no different in form from any other manufacturing or service industry. Artists of all stripes deserve respect for their skills, training and productivity -- respect in the form of cash payment for their services and products commensurate with their value. That a thriving arts industry improves quality of life for the community as a whole is indisputable, and a factor you can't get from a new mine or private prison. Yet our municipal leaders routinely bend over backward and expend millions of dollars to attract businesses that impair quality of life, while treating artists little better than homeless vagrants and paying no more than lip service for the great value they provide.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Muggs: Lockdown at the Orthodoxy Asylum

Pop Rocket, June 2012

Ken Bennett is not a stupid man. I've spoken professionally with our secretary of state many times over the past decade, and always found him to be a cut above most politicians, forthright, thoughtful, reasonable, practical and positive. For several years it's been pretty well accepted across the political spectrum that he will be Arizona's next governor, promising a step up from the hamhanded Brewer administration.
     With his history of savvy and adroit politics, I expected that Ken would be able to avoid the sort of train wreck that happened in May, when, just as he was coming out as an active candidate for 2014, he found himself in the national spotlight for the first time for hinting that he might leave the President's name off the Arizona ballot this fall. He's since backed away from that, but in retrospect the whole sorry episode can tell us a lot about why and how far the Party of Lincoln has gone off the rails.
     I believe Ken when he says he felt bound by his office to act when constituents demanded that he personally verify the President's birth certificate. It's my impression that he has a Boy Scout's sense of honor and duty about such things. Expecting this of others, he was unprepared when the State of Hawaii responded to his request with several months of a stiff middle finger.
     For its part, Hawaii had long since reached the end of its patience with this farcical issue and washed its hands of it, having verified and released documents ad nauseam to people who simply refuse to accept the facts. Its legislature even passed a bill specifically exempting the bureaucracy from having to waste more resources this way. Our own Governor Brewer had publicly stated that she'd looked into it when she was SoS, was satisfied with the word of Hawaii's governor in '08, and vetoed legislation last year, calling the birther issue a "path to destruction." Any informed observer could reasonably reject the idea that Secretary Bennett didn't know all this, and conclude that he must have been grandstanding for the extreme right.
     A bigger problem for Ken may be his decision to go back on a previous promise and get involved in the Romney campaign. As Secretary of State and our chief elections officer this is clearly a conflict of interest, evoking Ken Blackwell's shenanigans for the '04 Bush II campaign in Ohio. From my own experience with him I expect that our Ken would execute his responsibilities with integrity, but the simple optics of the matter make this a really bad idea.
     We can hope that he will respond to constituents again and correct this error, perhaps before this column hits the street. In getting to the why, the factor that most observers seem to be missing is the overheated echo chamber that the Arizona Republican Party has become.
     Republican majorities have been easy to make in the state lately, so for many years the main events in most of our political races have been the Republican primaries, where candidates have to differentiate themselves on how conservative they can claim to be. Smoking an hallucinogenic blend of helmetless iconoclasm, cowboy machismo, sophomoric libertarianism, intolerant religion and offhand racism, Arizona's Republican voters have moved increasingly toward demagogues, simpletons and religionists to make and administer our laws. The few remaining Democrats have become negligible in legislative debate, leaving the Republicans to identify the real opposition as the somewhat more centrist members of their own party, touching off an inevitable purge that has nearly wiped out those who won't toe the new politically correct line. Rinse and repeat for pure white sheets.
     The result is that within the capitol, the range of what's considered reasonable has shifted far to the right. Ideas that out here in the real world are obviously batty -- an official state firearm, demanding the surrender of federal lands, shackling women during birth, guns everywhere, drowning government in the bathtub -- seem perfectly reasonable down there. When the lunatics are running the asylum, you have to have doubts about your own flashes of sanity. So let's give Mr. Bennett a little benefit of the doubt. I expect he can learn, at least.
     A lot of reasonable Republicans have been purged from power and from the party itself, swelling the ranks of independent voters. This exacerbates the problem, of course, leaving an ever more extreme party core deserving of the satirical comparisons with the Taliban. Don't expect those new independents to vote Democrat, though.
     No, I can only see one way back toward sanity anytime soon, and that's much wider participation in the Republican primaries this August, and not just by independents. I want to encourage, even entreat, rural Democrats to reregister as independents, ask for the Republican primary ballot, do your homework and help try to move the party back toward the sensible center-right. Doing so doesn't make you a Republican or stain your integrity, rather it's a reasonable response to a dire situation for our state. Our economy simply cannot recover health with our legislative priorities so skewed toward nonsense.
     Some will call this monkeywrenching, and yeah, I'll take that. Given the mess he's in, I'll bet Ken Bennett will too.

We get mail: It seems I've touched a nerve with this. Susan Cohen writes in email:
Just because you think you can yell "Fire!" in a theatre doesn't mean you should. (Actually there's a law against doing that.) And there ought to be a law about your irresponsible reporting in the Pop Rocket, June 2012, page 3. Your asking rural Democrats to re-register as Independents and encouraging them to ask for the Republican primary ballot, in your words, "to help try to move the party back toward the sensible center-right," made me see red. You're asking voters to engage in this kind of behavior for your own selfish interest (much like Obama would). BTW, the reason "our economy simply cannot recover" is not because our legislative priorities are skewed; it's because we have illegal aliens tapping into resources causing more than half our State's deficit.
Stay out of our business and worry about your own team, Steve. I'm a precinct committeewoman for the Republican Party, and I pride myself in educating my precinct on the issues and the candidates. Don't do me any favors and keep your pie hole shut on this issue, please. And show some integrity, for Pete's sake.