Cartoon: Dear (Some Of) My Fellow Lefties

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When Trump won the Republican nomination, I wasn’t worried about what he’d do as President, because I was confident that Clinton would win. (If the 2016 election taught me anything, it’s not to trust my own abilities as a prognosticator.) Instead, I was dreading the inevitable fat jokes about Donald Trump I’d hear coming from the left until November.

And there have been fat jokes. (But many fewer, I think, than I would have heard ten years earlier. The fat acceptance movement has made some progress.)

But it’s still pretty common for me to hear fellow lefties say things that make me inwardly wince. Not every time I talk to a lefty, not even most of the time, but often enough so it’s not surprising. Sometimes I say something to them. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t feel up to a possible conflict, or I don’t want to be a killjoy, so I let it go by.

Once after a comic-con, I was hanging out with some other cartoonists as we prepared to go home. We were talking about a cartoonist who was not present, and who has a rep for being full of himself and hard to deal with.  And one of the other cartoonists – a woman who I have loads of respect for, and who is extremely “woke”  – included “fat” on a list of the third cartoonist’s bad traits. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something like “that smug, lying, fat, entitled jerk.”

I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to bring the mood down, and anyhow I was exhausted and I like this woman. Honestly, it happens pretty commonly, and I generally shrug it off. But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice it.

What was extraordinary about this occasion is that the cartoonist wrote me that night, unprompted, to apologize. That’s never happened to me before. She said she should have known better, because she’s read my cartoons.

Wow. Now, that made me feel good. (And made my respect for this cartoonist rise.)

It’s not just fat jokes, of course. This cartoon touches on a bunch of areas, and I could have included more. (I didn’t because I figured that eight panels of lefties saying bad things is as many I could do without causing readers to sigh and skim the strip).

I don’t mean the final panel, of course. The “personality” of my comic strips is often harsher than I am in person; political cartoons work best when they’re not wishy-washy. I don’t want everyone who’s ever said one of these things to get off my side. (I’ve said some of these things, in my life. Maybe you have too.) All of us mess up sometimes. And we can all – like my friend who used “fat” as an insult – take the opportunity to do better. That’s what I want.

Strips like this one, with a different character in each panel, are the most fun strips to draw, and I usually enjoy looking at them once I’ve finished. In this strip, since I’m teasing people on the left for a change, I decided to draw caricatures of the kind of folks I see around Portland. (Yes, there really are people who look like the dude in panel 3!).

(Quick aside: Once I was waiting at the bus stop across the street from my studio, with a middle-aged lady I didn’t know. While we were waiting there, six or seven bike riders, all naked, whizzed past us. After a few moments, the woman sighed deeply and said “Portland.”)

The guy sitting on the sidewalk, in the second-to-last panel, originally had round eyeglasses. But they made him look even more like a muppet, so I erased them.

Do you like the spot reds? I don’t do that often, but maybe I should be doing it more often. In this case, there’s no symbolism in which objects I colored red; I just did it to make the art pop a bit more.


This comic strip has nine panels. The first eight panels each show a single character (a different character in each panel), speaking to the viewer.


There is a caption at the top of panel 1.

CAPTION: Dear (some of) my fellow lefties:

The art shows a man sitting at a desk, laughing. He’s wearing a white collared shirt and a necktie.

MAN: Ann Coulter is a man! Haw haw!


An older woman, with white hair and a floral-print blouse, is holding up her hands and laughing, as if she’s telling a joke.

WOMAN: Clarence Thomas’ parents should have named him “Tom.” Get it? Like Uncle Tom?\

WOMAN: As a white liberal, it’s totally my place to say that!


A man with an enormous beard, wearing sunglasses, a bowler hat, and a coat with big puffs around the collar and wrists, speaks to the viewer, smiling. There’s a bike parked next to him.

MAN: I bet all these anti-gay conservatives are secretly gay!

MAN: Let’s laugh at them for being gay!

MAN: (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)


A thin woman, wearing a red knit cap, a hoodie, and hoop earrings, is speaking angrily.

WOMAN: Trump just keeps pulling lies out of his big fat ass!

WOMAN: God fat people disgust me!

WOMAN: Er… I meant, Trump disgusts me!

WOMAN: Whichever!


A man, wearing glasses and a “this is what a feminist looks like” tee shirt, stands pointing to something on the screen of his tablet. There’s a hillside with paths and a couple of trees behind him.

MAN: When I see pro-life women, I think, who’d even want to get them pregnant?


A person sits at a small round table, a coffee mug in front of them. They have heavily tattooed arms, the side of their head is shaved, and they’re wearing a small ring on their nose and several more in their ear. They’re smiling and holding one hand up to their mouth as if telling a dirty joke.

PERSON: Guys obsessed with protecting big guns are just making up for they lack downstairs, ifyaknowwhatImean.

PERSON: You do know what I mean, right?

PERSON: I mean penises!


A woman stands outdoors, dressed for a cool day. She’s got a jacket, a scarf, and a big knit hat. She’s looking a bit aggravated as she speaks.

WOMAN: You know who votes Republican? Inbred, flyover state hillbilly retards!


A redheaded man sits on a curb, leaning on one hand. He’s wearing a button-up collared shirt, open, over a striped long-sleeved tee. He’s grinning.

MAN: I love it when right-wingers get sent to prison. “Don’t drop the soap!” Ha!


There is no art in this panel. Instead, the entire panel is black, except for a caption in big white letters.

CAPTION: Shut up and get the hell off my side.

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 39 Comments  

Silly Interview with Debra Jess and Her Incredibly Handsome & Hunky Sidekick

RS: In your bio, you say that your writing combines your love of fairy tales and Star Wars. You also write in a bunch of different genres. Do you write them singly or mix them up?

DJ: This was a question I had to give a lot of thought to. I don’t really mix-up genres so much as I dig deep into subgenres.

In the taxonomy of genre fiction, there is science-fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, western, and inspirational. Every single one of these genres has subgenres

When I decided to write Blood Surfer, I knew two things: 1) it would have superheroes and 2) it would have a romance. I didn’t give much thought as to which romance subgenre it would fall into until I had finished the manuscript. At that point I needed to figure out how I was going to market it. Around that same time I received an invitation to join the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Before I could join, they needed to know if Blood Surfer was a science fiction romance, as opposed to a fantasy romance. When I looked back over my manuscript I realized I had created superheroes whose powers are created by their biology. There’s no magic involved, no arcane symbols, no mysterious shadows. I don’t spend a lot of pages detailing the biology, but it still falls into the genre of romance and the subgenre of science fiction.

Blood Surfer is also has thriller elements in that it’s very fast-paced, there’s a really big bad bang that will happen if the heroes don’t prevail, and a rip-roaring fight at the end.


RS) What kinds of things do you see in romance that you wish there was more of in science fiction?

DJ: HEA, or Happily Ever Afters, even if it’s not a romantic HEA. If not that, then HFN, Happy for Now (used when writing a series). Growing up in the 70s, I had a rude awakening after watching Star Wars. My dad, who worked for a newspaper, would buy boxes of books whenever the newspaper would sell the books mailed in for review. There were a lot of science fiction in those boxes because he knew how much I loved Star Wars, but every single one of the books he gave me ended with the hero dead, or these long, drawn-out pyrrhic victories that left me feeling disappointed or distressed. I was too young at the time to understand Star Was was more space fantasy or space opera than traditional science fiction. Luckily, my father didn’t give too much thought to what he was buying me, so there were also boxes filled with romances, mostly regencies or contemporaries. With maturity, I began to appreciate a less than HEA in a book, but I still prefer the HEAs you get with romances.

RS) What is your superhero name?

DJ: Agent Jess, International Woman of Mystery.

RS) Tell me about the first issue of the comic book based on your secret life as a superhero.

DJ: I first report to headquarters where my boss gives me a new assignment: stop Eric the Evil from wrecking havoc all over some exotic locale (preferably some place with beaches). Then I swing by a swanky bachelor pad to pick up my incredibly handsome and hunky sidekick (because what’s the point of having a sidekick if he isn’t handsome and hunky). We climb aboard our private jet aircraft (using our government issued credit cards) and plot how to take down EtE while enjoying several rounds of fruity drinks. Upon arrival, we track down EtE where I give him and his hench-horts (a cross between henchmen and cohorts) a big, bloody beatdown while engaging in witty repartee with my sidekick who’s busy protecting the civilians who gaze in awe at my prowess. Finally, EtE surrenders, exhausted of all witty comebacks. Then I toss EtE over to my still handsome and hunky sidekick who secures him in our indestructible and highly secure bounce house. The sidekick and I retire for a late afternoon stroll on the beach hand-in-hand (I did mention I write romances, remember?).

RS) You say that you write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. What is it about that combination that appeals to you?

DJ: The idea that anyone, anywhere, at any time can rise to the occasion and save the day. Superhero storylines use this device all the time. Steve Rogers tried so hard to become a soldier, knowing deep down he already had the heart and the attitude of one. When he becomes Captain America, he’s already a superhero, but now his outsides matches his insides. Alternatively, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Clark Kent still needs a day job to his pay rent and buy groceries. They are mirror images of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

In Blood Surfer, Hannah was born with her Alt power. She can cure anyone of any wound or illness without a second thought, but she’s on the run from those who would abuse her powers. Scott has no powers when he meets Hannah, but he still disobeys orders and protects her when he knows he’s supposed to arrest her. Scott makes a brave choice knowing he could lose everything he’s worked so hard to achieve: a job he loves, his home, and his friends. That’s what heroes, not just superheroes, do.

RS) Any projects or anything else you’d like to talk about?

DJ: I’m having a lot of fun playing with my Thunder City superhero series. A Secret Rose and Blood Hunter (books 1.5 and 2) are now available. This year, I’ll be releasing A Secret Life and A Secret Love (books 2.5. and 2.6) and next year, I hope release book 3 currently titled Blood Avenger.

In the meantime, I have a couple of short stories available: Shaped By You is available in the December 2018 issue of Heart’s Kiss magazine, and Blood & Armor which is available in the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

If anyone is interested in exploring the Science Fiction Romance subgenre, I would recommend Portals published by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. There are seven volumes of first chapters written by SFR authors. All seven volumes are free, so you can get a taste of what SFR has to offer.

Posted in debra jess, interview, Interviews | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Climate Change and the Politics of Personal Purity

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Wow, this one took forever to make.

It didn’t take long because of the drawing  —  the cross-hatching on the large figure took a little while, but on the whole this was an easy one to draw  —   but because of the scripting. What you’re looking at now is the third rewrite of the script. (This cartoon began life as a cartoon about corporate tax breaks!).

And to make it worse, for each of the first two scripts, it took me a while to figure out that I needed to toss out the script and rewrite  —  and I used that little while to start drawing the strip, drawings that then had to be thrown out too. The cutting room floor isn’t just for movies!

But that’s how it goes sometimes. I hope you like the final result.

Artistically, the main thing that excited me about this was the chance to play with scale. In my head, I’m imagining people scrolling down… and down… and down… and I think that could be a neat effect.

A lot of people engage in what I think of as “the politics of personal purity.” They have a lot of concern for the purity of what they consume: Is it locally sourced? Am I drinking the correct water? Is the bank I use doing unjust foreclosures? Does this movie have an actor with the wrong political opinions?

Maybe in some cases the politics of personal purity makes sense. But global warming is too big to be addressed by individual consumer choices.

Dealing with (or, perhaps more realistically, mitigating the effects of) global warming has to be done collectively, or it won’t be done at all. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to use bottled water, but our actions as individuals are too small to address global warming.

Quoting Aaron Huertos of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

 Rick Heede… a geographer… has done the careful work of figuring out how much of the carbon in our atmosphere can be traced back to the coal and oil that companies have extracted from the Earth.

The numbers are head-turning: Two thirds of all industrial carbon emissions come from just 90 institutions. Several of those institutions, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and Conoco Phillips, have extracted more carbon from the Earth than most countries.

As Heede put it, the heads of these institutions could fit comfortably in a Greyhound bus. And if you’ve been paying attention to the climate debate, you know that many of these same companies have spent decades deceiving the public and policy makers about science — practices that disturbingly continue to this day, despite the scientific risks of climate change becoming ever starker.

Global warming is arguably the single most important crisis we face. But our big institutions  —  our government and our corporations  —  have failed to take this as seriously as we need to. I think it’s fine to take the bus, or to bike (I do both these things), but what matters much more is electing politicians who will treat Global Warming with the urgency it requires.

Anyhow, that’s what I was trying to get across in this cartoon. I hope it worked!



This is a five-panel cartoons; four ordinary sized panels at top, and an enormously tall final panel.


We see a close-up of a woman with kinky hair, wearing a dark collared polo shirt, speaking intently, hands raised to about the height of her chin.

POLO SHIRT: Whenever I do something that contributes to global warming, I imagine smoke rising off me, fouling the atmosphere.


The “camera” has zoomed out a little, and we now see that Polo Shirt is talking to a woman with dark short hair, a black tank top, and glasses. The woman with glasses has a friendly expression.

GLASSES: That’s now how climate change works.

POLO SHIRT: I know! But picturing it that way keeps me motivated.


The “camera” has backed out a bit more, and we can now a large shiny black object at the right side of the panel.  Polo Shirt is checking off points on her fingers.

GLASSES: So what sort of things do you do?

POLO SHIRT: I take pubic transit, I never drink bottled water, stuff like that.


The “camera” has backed up still more. Polo Shirt has spread her arms apart, palms out, as she talks. To the right, we can now see more of the large dark object, which reaches up past the top of the panel, taller than the two characters.


This is a very tall panel,. The “camera” has backed WAY up. The two women talking are now very tiny; we can see that the huge object next to them was a shiny black shoe. The shoe, which is approximately the same height as the women, is worn by a businessman. He’s wearing a dark three piece suit and towering above the two women like a skyscraper. The businessman is looking blankly out, holding a bottle of water in one hand and a briefcase in the other. Smoke rises from the suitcase and the water bottle, filling the air around the businessman’s head completely.

Polo Shirt is continuing to talk, and hasn’t noticed the giant businessman. Glasses is leaning back and looking up, beginning to notice the businessman.

POLO SHIRT: The most important thing we can do is clean up our own lives. There’s no better way to fight global warming.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Environmental issues | Leave a comment  

Open Thread and Link Farm: Shrill Pool Party edition

  1. Why it’s fine to cast POC actors in traditionally white roles, but bad to cast white actors in POC roles, explained with a jar of chocolate covered raisins.
  2. Wilbur Ross broke law, violated Constitution in census decision, judge rules – The Washington Post
    “Ross claimed he was acting at the request of the Justice Department in the interest of enforcing the Voting Rights Act. In reality, the “evidence establishes” that the voting rights explanation was just “a pretext” and that Ross “acted in bad faith” when he claimed otherwise. He pursued the citizenship question after hearing from then-White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon and Kris Kobach, the vice chair of Trump’s now-disbanded voting fraud commission.”
  3. Volunteers Sentenced for Leaving Food and Water for Migrants in the Arizona Desert – Hit & Run :
  4. Federal judge shuts down Trump administration’s discrimination against children of same-sex couples.
    “U.S. District Judge John F. Walter of California rejected the State Department’s startling assertion that a married gay couple’s son was born ‘out of wedlock’ and thus is ineligible for citizenship.” Fucking hell, what asshats. They’d go back to putting people in jail for gay sex in a second, if they thought they could get away with it.
  5. Women Do Ask for More Money at Work. They Just Don’t Get It.
    These findings contradict some well-known earlier studies; this study’s different findings could be because it compares men and women in similar jobs. “Previous studies that reached the “women don’t ask” conclusion often failed to account for certain types of jobs (and industries) being dominated by one gender, focusing instead on the overall number of men or women who’d reported salary negotiations, which — given the number of women who work jobs with ‘non-negotiable’ salaries — skewed their findings.” (Alternative link.)
  6. The girl who executed Nazis after seducing them in bars dies aged 92 – NZ Herald
    It’s hard not to wonder what I would have done if I had been around then. I’m certain I would not have been this courageous.
  7. In a first, U.S. calls on German banks to close BDS accounts – BDS – Jerusalem Post
    The ongoing opposition to free speech on this issue is mind-boggling.
  8. “The Tragedy of the Commons” is a terrible and racist paper.
    “…we’ve let a flawed metaphor by a racist ecologist define environmental thinking for a half century.”
  9. It’s time to stop calling climate activists hypocrites | Ricochet
    I sometimes consider doing a cartoon on this subject, except that Matt Bors has already done the perfect cartoon on this subject.
  10. Cultured meat will now be regulated by the FDA and USDA – Vox
    Interestingly, this is regulation that lab-grown meat makers are really happy about. (Because it reassures investors.)
  11. The American Family Act, Democrats’ dramatic plan to cut child poverty, explained – Vox
    It can’t pass while the Republicans hold the Senate and White House, but it’s still good to get this on the Democratic policy agenda. The plan would pay all households (except rich households) $250-$300 per child, every month. “Poverty among children would fall from 14.8 percent to 9.5 percent, meaning 4 million kids would escape poverty. Deep poverty — the share of kids living on half the poverty line or less — would fall almost by half, from 4.6 percent to 2.4 percent.”
  12. The Curious Career of Martin Brest | Dirk Knemeyer
    The director of “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Midnight Run,” “Scent of a Woman,” “Meet Joe Black” and the famously disastrous “Gigli”… and although there are rumors, no one actually seems to know where his is now.
  13. (132) Robocalls: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – YouTube
    I thought this one is unusually funny – especially his discussion of why he won’t use snail mail, which begins at about 8:10.
  14. ‘Whores But Organized’: Sex Workers Rally for Reform | by Molly Crabapple | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
    There’s nothing new here in terms of policy proposals. But the inroads into getting support from politicians seem new to me. I’m disappointed that NY NOW rallied against the NY decriminalization bill.
  15. Very good twitter thread by Alexandra Erin on the limits of smoking guns.
    “I am convinced that no scene in any superhero movie is less realistic than Batman Returns when Batman plays Penguin saying ‘I played this city like a harp from hell!’ for Gotham and they turn on him, instead of saying ‘You don’t understand his humor.'”
  16. (132) Flight of the Conchords- Albi The Racist Dragon
    Funny parody of stupid fake liberalism. I came to this via Lindsey Ellis’ evisceration of the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake.
  17. Alan Krueger was the rare economist whose work improved the lives of millions.
    Dr. Kruger’s research on the minimum wage has been cited on “Alas” many times over the years. He was crucial to the practice of natural experiments to economics. Kruger, who advised both the Clinton and Obama administrations, was only 58, and his final book, on economics and pop music, is scheduled to be published this summer.
  18. Ramsey Orta filmed the killing of Eric Garner — and police and prison guards have punished him for it -Chloé Cooper Jones
    Content warning for prisoner abuse. A long, depressing read.
  19. Men’s Rights Firm Teases ‘Hot New Girlfriend’ In Ad Somebody Thought Was Cool | Above the Law
  20. A short video by a group of female animators about standing up against a serial harasser in the animation industry.
  21. How the CDC’s opioid prescribing guideline is harming pain patients – STAT
  22. 3 Ways John Wick is Deeper Than You Realized – Kiva Bay – Medium
    Interesting stuff about the use of color, and the symbolism of cars, in the first John Wick film. (I wouldn’t call it deep, but I love that film.)
  23. What Referendum? Florida GOP Set to Exclude Up to 80% of Felons From Voting
    The law requires all court fees and fines – which can be very high (“As the WLRN report detailed, any conviction for drug trafficking—even a low-level, non-violent conviction—carries a mandatory fine of $25,000 to $500,000 per count”) – to be paid before voting rights are restored. Basically, a poll tax.
  24. Voting Rights Roundup: Iowa GOP wants to legally ban many students at public colleges from voting
    Unless the students sign a statement saying they intend to remain in Iowa after graduation. But private college students don’t face this requirement.
  25. This Cohen hearing fight was everything wrong with how America talks about “racism” – Vox
  26. Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals | Martin Lukacs | Environment | The Guardian
  27. A Rediscovered Portrait of Harriet Tubman Is Unveiled
  28. Mesa Airlines Flight Attendant Held by ICE for two months Has Been Freed – but could still be deported.
    She’s lived in the US since she’s a toddler, married to an American, works and pays taxes – but ICE is still trying to deport her to Peru, and might succeed. There is no logic here, no rationality – just bigotry. But this is what the Republican party wants our country to be; this is the issue, more than any other, that Trump ran on.
  29. Opinion | Getting Rid of the Electoral College Isn’t Just About Trump – The New York Times
    None of the arguments for the electoral college are true. (Alternative link.)
  30. Tell Me I’m Fat – This American Life
    I thought this episode of This American Life was really good. I was especially struck by “act 2,” in which Elna Baker, who lost 110 pounds and kept it off, discusses her experience.
  31. ‘Shrill’: A Fat Girl’s Review of Aidy Bryant Show – Variety
    I think this review is very accurate, including how painful watching the first few episodes can be (despite the funny). I loved the show. (Show trailer.)
  32. Shrill Accused of Plagiarizing Pool Party Scene. But is it a coincidence? | IndieWire
    Yes, it’s a coincidence. One thing I’ve learned from political cartooning is that basic ideas are thought of by different people independently ALL THE TIME. And sometimes those people publicly accuse you of plagiarism. (Also, the pool party scene, in episode 4, is amazing – the best scene of a good series).
  33. How ‘Shrill’ Made Aidy Bryant’s Best Outfits From Scratch
    Because they had to, because they couldn’t find the clothing they wanted in Bryant’s size. (Alternative link.)

Posted in Link farms | 80 Comments  

Cartoon: Doctor Austerity

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Austerity – the policy of cutting government social spending in order to appease fiscal hawks (and investors and creditors) – is arguably the most harmful economic policy in the world. The economist Paul Krugman describes what was going on in 2010:

…elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well. …

Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.

And it’s important to understand that even countries that wouldn’t choose austerity policies for themselves, can have those policies forced on them. (This thought is what inspired my cartoon). Creditors from larger, more powerful economies can insist on austerity policies. Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, regarding the economic disaster in Greece, wrote:

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25 percent decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60 percent.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5 percent of GDP by 2018.

I think the reason austerity policies have such a hold on certain economic elites (turns and glares at Germany), as well as on many ordinary citizens, is that it tells a story which makes intuitive sense to us. Austerity is a morality play: If a country’s economy is bad, it’s because that country has been spending too much. So the solution is to starve for a while. Tighten your belt, Greece!

But at a country level, belt-tightening is the very worst thing a country can do in a recession. When governments slash spending, that means less people have work; when less people have work, they spend less, and recessions become worse. And if the recession getting worse leads to creditors demanding further cuts, a country can get caught in a vicious cycle.

In the Krugman article I linked to, written in 2015, Krugman wrote that no one believes in austerity anymore. But the idea – or, rather, the ideology – hasn’t gone away, and is currently causing great suffering in the UK.

In the U.S., any time the economy takes a downturn, the austerity ideologues emerge and call for cuts, cuts and more cuts. The more influence they have the next time we’re in a recession, the longer it’ll take us to recover.

In his article “How Austerity Ripped The World Apart,” Umair Haque takes a big-picture view, arguing that austerity is ultimately derived from economic thinking developed in slave-owning America. I don’t agree with everything Haque says, but his definition of austerity really struck me.

Austerity simply means a lack of investment by societies in themselves, in people, in public goods. Things like healthcare, education, transport, energy, retirement, decent jobs, incomes, savings. The problem is that all those things are what underpin the stability of societies, by ensuring that prosperity is something that is realized by all — not just something greedily seized by a tiny few.



This cartoon has four panels. All four panels are set in a doctor’s office. There are three people in each panel. The first is an extremely wealthy looking man – he looks like a stereotypical banker – in a three-piece suit, smoking a pipe. The second man is the patient, a disheveled and emaciated man in boxer shorts and a sleeveless shirt. The third man is Doctor Austerity. Doctor Austerity wears a white doctor’s coat, a stethoscope, and a head mirror. (That’s what they’re called, honest!). Doctor Austerity is a huge, hulking, powerful looking man, with large hands and deep-set eyes.

A caption at the bottom of the cartoon says “DOCTOR AUSTERITY.”


The Banker and Doctor Austerity talk. Both are patting the Patient on the shoulder. The Patient is sitting on the examination table.

BANKER: Doctor Austerity, my friend’s economy is weak. Could you give him your treatment?

DOCTOR AUSTERITY: Of course! My treatment never fails!


Doctor Austerity has his hands around the patients neck, squeezing hard, and has lifted the patient right off the examination table. The patient has wide eyes and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth.

PATIENT: Choke! Ack!

DOCTOR AUSTERITY: Soon he’ll be completely better!


Doctor Austerity has let go of the patient; the patient is bent over, panting and gasping for air. The Banker peers at the patient; Doctor Austerity thinks hard, with one hand on his chin.

BANKER: That’s odd… He’s getting worse.



Doctor Austerity and the Banker smile at each other, chatting, while the doctor resumes choking the patient to death.

BANKER: Better apply more treatment.


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | 16 Comments  

On Appropriation: Anders Carlson-Wee’s “How-To”

Last summer, The Nation published a poem called “How-To,” by white poet Anders Carlson-Wee, in which the speaker, a homeless person who speaks African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which is also sometimes called Black English, gives advice on how most effectively to beg for money on the street. The poem’s publication unleashed what The New York Times called “a firestorm of criticism on social media.” This criticism focused on two main issues: charges that, in writing “How-To,” Carlson-Wee had engaged in a performance of literary blackface and that, in publishing the poem, The Nation’s poetry editors had supported him in doing so.1

In response, those editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, issued an apology, which then became the focus of its own controversy. Katha Pollitt, who writes for The Nation, tweeted her disappointment, calling the apology “craven.” Grace Schulman, who was The Nation’s poetry editor from 1971-2006 wrote an op ed in the Times, in which she argued that the editors’ apology betrayed “a value that is precious to me and to a free society: the freedom to write and to publish views that may be offensive to some readers.” The editors responded quite thoughtfully to their critics here—you need to scroll to the bottom—but the debate about the role, responsibility, and accountability of literary editors, while crucially important, does not address the question of precisely how, from the point of view of literary craft, Carlson-Wee’s poem fails. That’s what I’m interested in writing about here.


Responding to the poem in a Twitter thread—I have strung several tweets together into a single paragraph—Roxane Gay wrote this:

The reality is that when most white writers use AAVE they do so badly. They do so without understanding that it is a language with rules. Instead, they use AAVE to denote that there is a black character in their story because they understand blackness as a monolith. Framing blackness as monolithic is racist. It is lazy. And using AAVE badly is lazy so I am entirely comfortable suggesting that writers stay in their lane when it comes to dialect. The great thing about writing is that you can develop new lanes through research, immersion and…effort. There was none of that in this poem.

So presumably, if Carlson-Wee had gotten it right, if he had indeed developed a “new lane” for himself in which he could write what Gay experienced as an authentic AAVE-speaking Black character, she would not have found the poem objectionable on these particular grounds. In other words, the problem was not the fact that a white poet had chosen to write such a character; it was the failure of craft that Gay saw in what she perceived as Carlson-Wee’s “lazy” use of AAVE that led her to call the poem racist. Here is Carlson-Wee’s poem:


If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.

In a very thoughtful piece in The Atlantic, John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University who has “studied Black English a fair amount over the past 25 years,” disagrees with Gay’s assessment. He argues, providing specific examples, that “the Black English Carlson-Wee uses…is true and ordinary black speech.”

I’m going to defer to McWhorter’s linguistic expertise and take him at his word in this respect: that there is nothing syntactically or semantically incorrect, nothing exaggerated, willfully flamboyant or mocking, in Carlson-Wee’s deployment of AAVE in this poem. That does not mean, however, that he was not, as Gay said, “lazy” in writing it. In fact, his apology, which I can now find nowhere except in The New York Times, suggests that he might even agree with that assessment: “Treading anywhere close to blackface is horrifying to me,” Carlson-Wee wrote, “and I am profoundly regretful.”


While the wording of that apology at least implies that Carlson-Wee intended his speaker to be Black, when I first read “How-To,” I did not see it that way. Probably because there are no other obvious racial markers and because I have heard white people speak non-standard English in a way that, in my memory at least, bears a strong resemblance to what Carlson-Wee wrote, I defaulted to the unmarked case and assumed the speaker was white. I still thought “How-To” was not a very good poem, though. Continue reading

  1. Others were critical of the poem for being ableist—a conversation that is also important to have—but I am going to focus in this post on the racial critique. []
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Cartoon: Inheriting The Economy

This cartoon was drawn by Becky Hawkins. who I’ve collaborated with several times before.

Help me make more cartoons: Support my patreon! A $1 pledge really helps.

Becky and I started work on this comic in December of 2014. I wrote a strip, liked it. I suggested to Becky that she should draw it – very possibly because I hate drawing cars. Becky did a rough sketch of the cartoon, and I emailed it to my editors at Dollars & Sense Magazine.

And they had a bunch of suggestions… all of which came down to, the idea of the strip wasn’t coming across to them.

We tried reworking it and resketching it, but the new version didn’t work either.

So we put this strip aside and did this one for Dollars & Sense instead. And every now and then I’d look at the drafts again, because I really liked the idea of this strip, it just wasn’t fitting together right.

Fast forward to February of 2019, when I looked at the two cartoons and realized that if we took the top two panels of version one, and the bottom two panels of version two, we’d have a strip that worked! How did I never notice that before?

Becky drew it, and – a first for Becky – colored it on computer.

I especially love that rabbit in panel 2 – but I have no idea which of us came up with that idea back in 2014. I do know for sure that having the car burst into flames in panel four was Becky’s idea (because she only thought of that last week!). And the amazing 1970s fashions in the first two panels are all Becky.


There are four panels in this cartoon.


Two youngish adults, a man and a woman, are thrilled as they look at a yellow sports car with a big red bow wrapped around it. Their clothes and hairdos both suggest the 1970s.

MAN: Wow! What a GREAT economy we’ve inherited.


The two of them are speeding along in the car, going so fast that the car is several feet above the ground. A rabbit flees in terror. He is grinning; she is throwing a fist into the air.

MAN: Zoom! ZOOM!

WOMAN: Whoopie!


The same man and woman, but now looking in their 60s (and with updated wardrobe and hair), are standing by the now completely wrecked and smoking car. They’ve put a red bow on the wreckage, and they look very cheerful, maybe even proud. There’s a young man and a young woman, looking like they’re in shock. The older man holds out car keys to the young man.

MAN: Okay, kids, take the keys! It’s all yours now!


The older man and woman talk to each other. In the background, the yellow sports car wreckage has burst into flames; the young woman looks shocked, and the young man, unnoticed by the older couple, is giving them the finger.

MAN: Why don’t they drive like we did?

WOMAN: Millennials are so lazy.


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | 2 Comments  

Open Thread And Link Farm: Skull on the Shelf Edition

  1. The severed feet found on beaches near Seattle and Vancouver, explained – Vox
    “The 15th human foot in a decade washed up in Washington State. Don’t be alarmed.”
  2. Amazon Ring Teaming Up With Police in War on “Dirtbag Criminals”
    As far as I know nothing terrible has happened with Ring yet – but the blurring of the lines between corporate overlords and police overlords is disquieting.
  3. Dolphins Seem to Use Toxic Pufferfish to Get High | Smart News | Smithsonian
  4. (132) Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs – YouTubeA video essay by Pop Culture Detective about male-on-male rape – most frequently, prison rape – played for laughs in movies and on TV. His next video will be about female-on-male rape played for laughs.
  5. The Cost of Universal Basic Income is the Net Transfer Amount, Not the Gross Price Tag
  6. Why we should all have a basic income | World Economic Forum
  7. Protests Inside Freezing MDC Jail Met With Reprisals
    For example, prisoners on a hunger strike had their toilets shut off for a week, or a prisoner being put into solitary confinement for asking when heat would come back on. In addition to the inhumanity, there’s a real free speech issue here.
  8. Androgynous aerial acrobat & 1920s female impersonator, the great ‘Barbette’
    Lots of cool photos, too.
  9. 2019 Minimum Wage Act Would Help Black Workers More Than White
    Here’s something I hadn’t realized: “The black working class is more likely to work in jobs that pay less than the proposed $15 minimum, but geography has even bigger impact on workers’ pay—black workers are far less likely to work in states with their own minimum wage laws.”
  10. How To Speak About The Israel Lobby In A Non-Anti-Semitic Way – The Forward
  11. Fat Monica on “Friends” Was The TV Role Model I Never Expected
  12. Study: More restrictive use of force policies reduce police-involved killings, and reduce police fatalities.(pdf)
    “These results suggest that advocacy efforts focused on pushing police departments to adopt more restrictive use of force policies can produce meaningful reductions in the number of police-involved killings… Officers in police departments with more restrictive policies in place are actually less likely to be killed in the line of duty [and] less likely to be assaulted…”
  13. The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited – drossbucket
    “…the paper is basically a series of increasingly desperate attempts to get people to actually think about the question.” (Via.)
  14. I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America. | HuffPost
    Content warning for… I mean, for so much. Dead cat, sexual harassment, homophobia, Dick Cheney, and a generally bleak world. (Via.)
  15. Performance and Selfhood in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ – J. Rosenfield – Medium
    “She has no real understanding of herself or the world around her. And yet she knows that her body is wrong.” I completely loved this movie, by the way.
  16. The U.S. Fertility Rate Is Down, Yet More Women Are Mothers – The New York Times
    The likelihood of women becoming mothers in their lifetime, measured by how many women in the age 40-44 age group have ever had children, has had a recent upturn.
  17. A Mother’s Promise: You Can Be Yourself – Video –
    A beautiful short animated piece.
  18. Financial Windfalls: 15 Stories of Gifts, Wins, Inheritances, and The Money That Changed Everything | Topic
  19. Building a Bigger Action Hero – Inside Hollywood’s Muscle Factory – Men’s Journal
    How all the male movie stars suddenly got so ripped.
  20. Hilde Lysiak, 12-year-old journalist, films Arizona cop threatening her – The Washington Post
  21. “Hilde is a force of nature. One can only imagine what sort of stories she will be turning out once she has a driver’s license.”
  22. A Dutch Church Held A 96-Day Service To Stop A Refugee Family’s Deportation
  23. Opinion | It’s Not That Men Don’t Know What Consent Is – The New York Times
    “When they realized that their actions conflicted with that benchmark, though, they expanded their definition of consent rather than question their conduct.”
  24. When Does an Accident Become a Crime? – Texas Monthly
    When a DA is determined enough, is the short answer.
  25. Emma Thompson’s letter to Skydance: Why I can’t work for John Lasseter – Los Angeles Times
    The actress quit work on an animated movie she’d been cast in.
  26. How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Deficits and Debt – The New York Times
    The long-predicted consequences of deficit don’t seem to have come about, and putting off investments in infrastructure is harmful in the long run, various people argue. (Alternative link.)
  27. The Fake Sex Doctor Who Conned the Media Into Publicizing His Bizarre Research on Suicide, Butt-Fisting, and Bestiality 
  28. Rich Must Embrace Deficits to Escape Taxes – Bloomberg
  29. With FOSTA Already Leading to Censorship, Plaintiffs Are Seeking Reinstatement Of Their Lawsuit Challenging the Law’s Constitutionality | Electronic Frontier Foundation
  30. The paradox of Patriot Prayer – Justin Ward – Medium
    There are a handful of non-white members of The Proud Boys and other racist organizations. That doesn’t magically make them not racist.
  31. Opinion | The Electoral College Is the Greatest Threat to Our Democracy – The New York Times
    The headline is irrelevant clickbait, because nothing in Jamelle Bouie’s excellent overview is making a case about what is “the greatest threat.” (Probably Bouie didn’t write the headline). But the electoral college is definitely anti-democracy, and the arguments in its defense make zero sense.  (Alternate link.)
  32. BNYT columnist Bret Stephens inadvertently explains why women don’t report sexual harassment – Vox
    If young journalists can face career-damaging blowback for just making a rude comment on Twitter, is it any wonder victims of sexual harassment (a category that does include some men, Vox!) hesitate to report their abusers?

Posted in Link farms | 9 Comments  

The First Full Working Draft Is Complete!

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments  

Silly Interview with Henry Lien, but Also Lots of Cute Bird Pictures

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

RS: You own birds. Tell us about the birds. Provide pictures of the birds.

I can only speak about the parrot family. Parrots, including small parrots like my two conures (miniature parrots), give us a fascinating glimpse into evolution. They are like a combination between dogs and cats. They are so smart, like little dogs that can fly and sing or talk and they are very relational, including with their humans. They have huge personalities for just 30-50 grams of pet. On the other hand, their moods and emotional landscapes are so complicated and swiftly changing, like cats. But because they are as relational to humans as dogs, they are never aloof. When they are pissed at you, they don’t go off and sulk. They let you know it and aggressively punish you for it. They are very good at communicating their moods to you with every method of expression they have, including calls, songs, and biting. When you spend time with parrots, it is easy to imagine that some form of dinosaur might have evolved to human-level intelligence in the past 65 million years if that asteroid hadn’t struck. I, for one, would welcome a planet ruled by parrot  overlords.

Pictures of my parrot overlords attached.  

RS: Can I come meet the birds sometime? Do they like people? I promise not to bring the cats.

They love human visitors! They have free reign of my house, so they will land on you and answer when you talk to them and generally be very social and relational. Until you do something that startles them and then they will fly away and scream because you have turned into a horrible monster. Their worlds are filled with drama.

RS: Your fiction often takes place in a fictional Hong Kong where a number of East Asian cultures are blended. What does this allow you to do, and what challenges does it cause for you?

It’s more of a fictional Taiwan that I call the island of Pearl. The blending of East Asian cultures is intentional and authentic. Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese for fifty years. My parents’ generation grew up with Japanese names and spoke Japanese and love Japanese food, music, etc. The relationship between China and Taiwan is very complex. When the Nationalists came over from mainland China and took over from the Japanese, they massacred tens of thousands of intellectuals and other figures perceived as threats in the Taiwanese populace. So Taiwan is a complicated, divided culture, which I find so interesting, and I reflect that in Pearl. Further, I feel strongly that fantasy writers of East Asian descent should be allowed to experiment and blend and play with East Asian culture. Writers of Western fantasy get to mix influences from multiple European cultures at once into their invented cultures. Neighboring cultures influence each other. The patterns of trade, war, conquest, and interaction mean that it is unrealistic to expect any but the most unusually isolated of cultures to remain uninfluenced by neighboring cultures. I love exploring cultural fusion in my life and in my writing.

RS: Skating is a major theme in your young adult novel. Do you skate?

I took figure skating and kung fu lessons as research for my stories set in the world of Pearl, including the PEASPROUT CHEN novels, which features a form of martial arts on bladed skates. My skills in both sports were appalling. But that was instructive. I learned that those are two sports where balance and flexibility are at least as important as brute strength and that there are things that lithe girls and young women can do that no man could ever do. I wanted to invent a sport that played to girls’ strengths and how girls are physically different from boys. My failures on the ice helped me write a book that was all about girl power. Also, the books are actually middle grade, not young adult, although they read like YA because they are intensely ambitious and the prose is quite elevated.

RS: Can you link to one of your favorite artists and describe what you love about their work?

I hope this isn’t spammy but actually, my Dad. I make my living as an author now but still deal art for fun on the side and he’s my top-selling artist. He does photography, including infrared photography. I’m a wordy person but it’s hard to put into words the emotion in his work. Here are a few images:

He only started less than three years ago, after he retired from being an engineer, but he’s taken off like a rocket. His work is already in museum and corporate collections. Art has given him a new life at this late stage of life and our relationship is so much richer because of it. I call him The Artist Formerly Known As Dad. Here’s his website:

RS: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Hard question. I’m a shy, introspective, cautious, and solitary person by nature. But I also know that my life will be richer if I force myself to widen my comfort zone. I’ve made some whiplash career changes, including going from lawyering to dealing art and now to be a working author. I would say that the most adventurous thing I ever did was enter into a relationship with my former partner knowing at the outset that he had terminal cancer and then devising a logical, working system to continue communicating with him after he died. And then sharing that story very publicly. You can read it here. Every bold and frightening life decision I have made has enriched my life. They have given me the sense that the world is filled with mystery and meaning and adventure, if you decide that it is going to be so.

RS: My favorite thing about “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society” is the wealth of rich, often disturbing detail you collected from the Gilded Age. Can you describe how you did that research? Was there anything amazing that didn’t make it onto the page?

I did a lot of reading about the social lives of the Grandes Dames of the Gilded Age and spent a lot of time at the spectacular Huntington Library and Gardens. The research wrote much of the story for me, because every one of the outrageous, excessive, repulsive parties depicted in the story was real. The breathtaking arrogance of the Gilded Age towards animals, the environment, and the working class and other disenfranchised populations provided such fertile, infuriating material to work with. The suffocating social strictures placed on women of this class were also great material. It was fascinating and depressing to learn what women of clear intelligence and talent did when they were allowed no meaningful endeavor towards which to employ their gifts. Nothing amazing failed to make it onto the page, but one thing almost failed to get included because I didn’t know about it. Connie Willis mentored me on this story at Clarion West. She was the one who told me the true story about the dinner party held by a society dame where the table was lined with a sand dune in which were buried real emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, which the guests were to search for with a shovel and bucket, as party favors. Thanks for that one, Connie. The story is available for free in print and podcast form here.

RS: Will you provide us with a vegan recipe?

I love sharing vegan recipes! The problem is that I never measure anything. I just look and taste. Here is a three course Taiwanese meal that I made recently. All vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, lowish-carb. Picture attached. If anyone is really interested, email me atinfo [at] henrylien [dot] com and I will jot down measurements next time I make it.

a. Cucumbers marinated in Bragg liquid amino (soy and gluten free soy sauce alternative), sesame oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes.

b. Bean sprouts, celery, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, scallions, stir-fried in sauce made of Bragg, sesame, white pepper, and star anise, garnished with cilantro.

c. Green beans stir-fried with button mushrooms, scallions, Beyond Beef pea protein beefless ground, stir-fried with white wine, Bragg, sesame oil, sriracha.

RS: Anything else you’d like to say? Say it loud, say it proud, say it here.

I’m really proud of my first novel PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD, which the New York Times described as “Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” And the sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS is even better. I write theme songs to accompany the PEASPROUT CHEN books and Idina Menzel, the star of Frozen, Wicked, Rent, and Glee, sang one of them with me at my book launch in April. I’d be honored if you’d take a look at the video of us singing it here:

RS: Now, dear reader, as your reward — have more parrot pictures.

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