The Lowe Down

Category: General Topics (191)

Chan Lowe: Newtown anniversary


On the first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, the most important thing we have learned about American politics is that cynics know best.

After Newtown, the idealists were energized. Horrific as it was, the gun control people had a wedge — an event so shocking that Congress might finally be persuaded to stand tall and break the gun lobby’s stranglehold. After all, if the massacre of 20 innocent children and seven adults didn’t spur politicians to put public safety first, nothing would.

It didn’t, and the cynics knew it wouldn’t. The NRA has weathered enough massacres to know that the best strategy is to lie low and make no comment while the wave of revulsion washes across the land. This being America, gun and ammunition sales actually spiked as gun owners worried that their rights might be curtailed. Since arms manufacturers are the lifeblood of the gun lobby, even the brief period when the opposition appeared to seize the momentum worked to their advantage.

There was talk about spending more money to treat mental illness, which is a commendable goal — but it was a distraction. The core problem remained the willful misinterpretation by vested parties of a constitutional amendment originally designed to protect Americans from an overweening government in a well-regulated context.

The gun lobby patiently worked in the shadows. As expected, Congress quailed, because the cold reality is simple: Gun rights advocates tend to be single-issue voters. They often don’t get involved in politics at all, unless they think government is coming after their weapons. They are supremely susceptible to scare tactics, and there are plenty of highly paid shills whose job it is to keep them perpetually terrified.

Those who favor reasonable gun control measures not only lack the sustained fervor of their opponents, they have other political concerns. A pro-gun stance by an otherwise progressive candidate in a hunting state is not necessarily a deal-breaker for moderates and lefties; an anti-gun position certainly is for the other side. In a purple state or a closely fought election, it can make all the difference.

In politics, it’s easy to incite aggrieved parties to attack a threatening initiative. Inaction, on the other hand, doesn’t create committed enemies.

Accordingly, Congress has seen fit to duck and cover after Newtown. Surely, there will be other Newtowns, along with more transient waves of revulsion. And, as though caught in some twisted, repetitive Kabuki play, America will follow its scripted path back to the way things have always been.

The cynics, as usual, know best.

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Chan Lowe: Airlines to charge passengers by weight?


Samoan Airlines’ idea to charge passengers by weight is so sensible and Republican that you have to wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.

Like any other issue, it’s all about the prism through which you observe it. When you consider that every pound of adipose tissue borne by a passenger takes a certain amount of fuel to heft into the air, it’s unfair as well as un-American to ask skinny people, who pay the same amount for their tickets as fat ones, to subsidize the portly.

It’s that dastardly “free ride” conservatives are always talking about: those of us who have taken responsibility for our lives and kept our weight under control shouldn’t be penalized just so that lazy overeaters who are unable to keep their appetites in check (and think they deserve a handout) can piggyback on our probity.

It’s a classic market-based approach. If heavy people don’t like paying a higher “user fee,” then they should alter their personal habits and fly right.

Of course, our neat solution hits a little turbulence when we run into the problem of tall vs. short people. Well, tough. This isn’t welfare, where one size fits all. Some folks are going to slip through the cracks. The deserving ones will prevail, while the stragglers will be left behind. That’s the beauty of social Darwinism, and we have no problem with Darwin when he’s applied to economic theory.

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Chan Lowe: Sunshine Week


Those who rhapsodize about defending the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (even if all they’ve read is the last half of the Second Amendment) have a good point. Our rights don’t just sit there, inviolate, waiting to be enjoyed at random. They need to be defended around the clock from enemies foreign and domestic.

Protecting American interests abroad through military might is one area where there is basic agreement across the political spectrum. In the domestic arena of defending individual freedoms and liberties, however, Americans sustain a lively debate. Some feel that these principles are best maintained by the threat of armed rebellion—specifically the possession of personal firearms to ward off a hostile government bent on subjugating the populace.

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Chan Lowe: Obama, Lin and Clinton collide in Miami


I never thought I would be drawing Jeremy Lin. I’d heard his name bandied about, but since I don’t follow sports, I had to ask my editor who he was.

When the Sun Sentinel news desk found out that⎯by coincidence⎯an incumbent president, a former one, and more important, the sports flavor of the month would all be in Miami on the same day, it was decided that we would do a full court press (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to commemorate the serendipitous event.

My editor, Tony Fins, and I batted the subject around. He opined that Obama and Lin had something in common. They had both come out of nowhere and become instant media darlings.

It occurred to me that Clinton, too, fit into this category. He grew up poor in Arkansas, did well in school, ended up at an Ivy League college, and the rest is history. Lin is the son of Chinese immigrants, also got into an Ivy League school, and was not even mentioned the last time the Knicks played the Heat in Miami. Now, thanks to his recent accomplishments, everybody in the country (except, obviously, me) knows who he is. Barack Obama, the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name,” gained admission to Harvard, gave a memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and became America’s first African-American president an incredible four years later.

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Chan Lowe: The "Stolen Valor" law


When the Founding Fathers conceived the First Amendment, was their intention really to shelter the lies of those who misrepresented their military service? What about burning the flag in protest? Or picketing military funerals and condemning the honored dead to eternal damnation for defending a country that coddles gays?

Probably not⎯at least, not specifically. But they also knew that for healthy discourse⎯the kind essential to the safe steering the ship of state⎯to flourish, all the odious by-products also had to be allowed on board. If you start drawing a line, the line-drawing can quickly become arbitrary and self-serving.

The argument in favor of making “stolen valor” speech illegal is that charlatans who brag about bogus military heroism are doing such harm to those who won their medals legitimately that it actually damages the republic. What is the distinction between that and a politician running for president who makes cynical promises he doesn’t intend to keep, or who slanders his opponent in order to gain an advantage? Which, in the end, is more of a threat to the country?

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Chan Lowe: The polo magnate adopts his girlfriend


The mockery that wealthy polo magnate John Goodman has made of the institution of adoption has once again attracted world attention to South Florida, and as usual, for all the wrong reasons.

What makes his act even more of a travesty is that Mr. Goodman has cynically taken advantage of a legal process that, until just a couple of years ago, was barred in Florida to couples that happened to be gay. Yet, the same state that feared gay parents would somehow “infect” children, or worse, assumed that they were really pedophiles who only wanted children in order to satisfy their base urges, has breezily allowed a grown man to adopt his adult girlfriend in order to protect a portion of his fortune.

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Chan Lowe: The perils of cruising


Personally, I don’t know why anybody would want to take a cruise, but maybe I should check with my newspaper’s advertising department to see how much coal the cruise industry shovels into the engine room before I go and make a sweeping statement like that.

Viral diseases, crimes of violence, theft, seasickness, weight gain, liver damage, possibly getting stuck at the dinner table for the entire journey with people who deny the theory of evolution…sounds like the kind of vacation from which lasting memories are made.

Be sure to send pictures.

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Chan Lowe: The Clint Eastwood Chrysler ad


If you saw the now-famous Clint Eastwood Chrysler ad, you would probably agree that it’s hard to find it offensive, unless those who do your thinking for you on cable TV and talk radio told you to be offended.

Under certain circumstances, one can say that individuals interpret different events through the prism of their own belief systems, life experiences and upbringing. But to find something objectionable about this shamelessly pro-American ad, delivered by an American icon, can only be attributed to political cynicism and a touch of defensiveness.

I speak of Karl Rove⎯Republican strategist, architect of two George W. Bush victories, and holder of the questionable sobriquet, “Turd Blossom,” conferred by his former boss. He found the ad “offensive,” and sounded off about it on⎯where else?⎯Fox News.

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Chan Lowe: The Komen faux pas


As I’ve said before, it’s seductively easy for an organization to take its eye off the ball and elevate its self-preservation to a position above its original mission.

This is particularly true of outfits that feel their purpose here on Earth has been blessed by the angels (as in the cases of the Roman Catholic Church and the Penn State football program, mentioned in the hyperlink above). The more outwardly sacrosanct the mission, the more the mere mortals involved in that organization are able to rationalize their activities in the servicing of it.

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Chan Lowe: The rescue mission we'd like to see


Libertarians and far-right crazies notwithstanding, it looks like there are a few things the federal government can accomplish better than the individual states. The exploits of Seal Team Six are so praiseworthy that the Walt Disney Co. even attempted, unsuccessfully, to trademark the name for future commercial exploitation, and what higher American honor is there than that?

If only the Navy Seals’ heroism, self-sacrifice, efficiency, improvisational skills and sense of teamwork could be transmogrified from the battlefield to the political arena. This country would run like a Swiss watch, and moreover, be the envy of the world.

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Chan Lowe: The Italian shipwreck


I went on a cruise once. What intrigued me the most was that the various service occupations on board appeared to be organized by nationality. The stewards were all British, the bartenders were Filipino, and the deckhands were Indonesian.

The dining room was segregated in an even subtler way. To those with incurious minds, it looked like the place was staffed entirely by Italians. Upon closer inspection and study, however, the perceptive cruise guest discovered that the table waiters and busboys were Sicilian, while the headwaiters and the maître d’ were Northern Italians.

Why is this important? They may have all been Italians, but they didn’t speak the same language as their mother tongue. The Sicilians spoke their rich dialect, while the folks from up around Turin and the Alps had theirs, and the dialects were mutually incomprehensible. They were reduced to communicating in textbook Italian, which they had learned in school as practically a foreign language.

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Chan Lowe: Rosie O'Donnell and the shark


This was a local story, so it was hard to resist. You don’t have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to be repulsed by the photo of Rosie O’Donnell and her smiling children standing proudly beside the bloody carcass of a magnificent specimen of an endangered species. Killing a shark for sport isn’t the best example to be setting for the kids.

Couldn’t she just have taken them to the FPL power plant outlet pool to see the manatees?

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Chan Lowe: Christmas wishes


My best wishes for a happy holiday season to all readers of The Lowe Down!

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Chan Lowe: The Penn State scandal


It isn’t all that surprising that an athletic program like Penn State’s, which prided itself on its pristine record of “victory with honor” should experience such a profound fall from grace.

When a record of any kind is created, it becomes an institution in itself, a sacrosanct entity to be revered. It develops its own imperative, which is that it must be safeguarded at all costs. In this case, the comparison that has been made with the priestly abuses in the Catholic Church is an apt one: The preservation of the institution and its image becomes even more important than the furtherance of its original purpose. In the case of the Church, that purpose is to save souls. In the case of a college football program, it’s to win games and, second, to build character in young men.

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Chan Lowe: The Kardashian divorce


So this is what it’s all about. This is what the supporters of the Defense of Marriage Act have been so passionately protecting: The right of Kim Kardashian to make a multi-million-dollar TV spectacle out of a supposedly sacred act, then void it at her whim seventy-two days later.

Meanwhile, George Takei⎯better known as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series⎯was on the tube last night. He came out many years ago, before coming out was even cool. Last night, he shared that he and his partner had been married in all but name for twenty-four years. Yet, in his state, he is not legally allowed to sanctify that bond in the same ceremony so spectacularly and ostentatiously sullied by Ms. Kardashian.

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Chan Lowe: A singular honor

museum-ext.gifOne of the things I was doing last week while I was away from the blog was getting inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame, an august assemblage including such luminaries as Chester Gould of Dick Tracy fame and the incomparable editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin. My fellow inductee was the late Doug Marlette, most recently of the Tulsa World, whose work I have always respected. Good company to be in, if you ask me.

The Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection, of which the Hall of Fame is an adjunct, comprises a dedicated corner of the Toy and Action Figure Museum in Pauls Valley, OK--a town that not only lacks an apostrophe, but also any detectable valley. This does not detract in any way from the good people who live there.

The induction ceremony coincided with the annual birthday party for the museum, and celebrants were urged to attend in costume (for example, see Wilma Flintstone and not-so-famous Mexican wrestler El Burrito Loco, at right). Wilma-and-Burrito-Loco.gif

Among other attendees were The Riddler, Darth Vader, Zorro, Pebbles, Bam-Bam, the Phantom of the Opera, a generic pirate, and other personalities I did not recognize. As I remarked during my acceptance speech, I felt as though I had parachuted into the bar scene from Star Wars.

Many of those present congratulated me not just for my contribution to Oklahoma cartooning (my eligibility was based on my nine years working for Oklahoma newspapers back in the ’70s and ’80s), but also for actually showing up in the flesh to receive the award, since the vast majority of my fellow hall of famers have a disturbing tendency to be deceased.

I was struck anew by the typically Oklahoman friendliness and warmth that suffused the gathering, and felt like a wayward son who had been welcomed home after practically three decades of wandering in the wilderness. There were some very nice words inscribed on the plaque commemorating my induction. The most meaningful to me was the phrase, “…and for bringing honor to Oklahoma.”

I am humbled.

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Chan Lowe: ID theft on the rise


Years ago, when I first heard the term, “identity theft,” it had a kind of science fiction ring to it, like a Robert A. Heinlein novel where faceless shape-shifters steal the souls of the unsuspecting and go about the earth performing heinous acts in their name.

When you think about it, that’s exactly what it is, and the crime couldn’t have been committed just twenty years ago, because our vital stats weren’t spread all over the Internet for anybody with basic knowledge to decrypt and misuse on a whim.

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Chan Lowe: Debit card user fees


You think you can beat The Man? Nobody beats The Man. The federal government thought it could. Yessir, it tried to give the economy a boost by slapping a limit on “swipe fees”⎯what banks could charge businesses for transactions made with debit cards.

But The Man doesn’t put up with that kind of sass. He was going to make up that profit somehow, because it’s his right. He came back with blood in his eye and socked the consumer with a monthly user fee for the privilege of spending his own money. So much for good intentions.

It’s like the old days, when we used to pull into gas stations to buy gas, and right there next to a pump was an air hose for filling our tires. That’s right, it was air, and it was FREE, just like air had always been since the dawn of time. Then The Man starting charging a quarter for something that used to be a God-given right. At first, there was a big brouhaha. “Gas Stations Start Charging For Air!” the headlines trumpeted.

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Chan Lowe: Living people on postage stamps?


Since selling special editions of stamps to collectors is one of the few bright spots in the U.S. Postal Service’s ledger these days, it makes sense that the USPS would try to maximize that source of revenue.

Considering that Americans are so consumed by their ideological divisions these days, however, you have to question whether dropping a long-standing ban against allowing living people to appear on postage stamps is the best idea for the country.

Once people die, they become less controversial, especially with the passage of time. Putting the likeness of Ronald Reagan on a stamp today doesn’t cause nearly the brouhaha it might have right after his term had ended, or while he was still serving as president.

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Chan Lowe: The Troy Davis execution


The problem with the death penalty is that it’s imposed by human beings. I don’t know if Troy Davis was really innocent or guilty, but the problem is that I don’t think anybody else does for sure, either.

I do have a feeling he would have gotten a much “fairer” shake if he resembled the person in the cartoon above, and that’s where the human part comes in.

Those who would, say, cheer when Rick Perry is identified as the killingest governor in Texas history look upon the death penalty as the worst punishment society can visit upon an evildoer. I beg to differ. The criminal may or may not regret his crime (it appears Davis did not, for he steadfastly maintained his innocence even past the point when most guilty parties would relent, which raises serious questions), but after the cocktail has been administered, he has been put out of his misery, guilt or whatever, and entered the Great Void.

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Chan Lowe: Dems lose Weiner's district!


Talk about having the whole shebang blow up in their faces! Back during the height of Weinergate--or Twittergate, or whatever silly name you care to put on it--Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic congressional leadership were falling all over themselves to railroad America’s favorite exhibitionist out of office.

They could perform with such sanctimony because they knew with certitude--to borrow one of former Congressman Weiner’s more famous utterances--that his district would remain in Democratic hands, as it had since the 1920s. There is no grandstander like a pol who can pontificate risk-free. Had Weiner’s NY 9 been less politically reliable, the calls for his resignation would, no doubt, have been much more muted.

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Chan Lowe: Michele Bachmann's joke


So, was Michele Bachmann serious when she claimed that the earthquake and Hurricane Irene were acts of God designed to get Congress’ attention about overspending, or was she making a joke?

The fact that there is even controversy about this says something about where many of us think Michele Bachmann’s reality compass is pointing. If it was intended “in jest,” as her campaign publicist now claims, I don’t recommend that Ms. Bachmann take her act to the Catskills just yet. In these situations, it’s best to keep quiet, but if you find that you must tell a joke making light of a catastrophe that has claimed dozens of lives, it had better be a real knee-slapper, which this one wasn’t. It showed remarkable insensitivity to those who lost loved ones.

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Chan Lowe: The tea party and disaster relief


There’s nothing like a couple of natural cataclysms to prompt mere mortals to reexamine calcified mindsets. President Obama, who resolutely endured the slings and arrows of the political opposition to take his wretched little semi-vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, who played golf through a political upheaval in Libya, and whose putt was thrown off by the first major earthquake to hit the East Coast in almost a century, was finally driven off the island by a monster cyclone.

His people claim that he’s cutting his vacation short in order to better direct the hurricane response from Washington, but they’ve just spent the entire week telling us that the mobile White House is every bit as good as the real one for the purposes of governing. Which leads us to the real reason: The optics of not being in D.C. make him look dangerously like that photo of a detached W. staring out the window of Air Force One as he flew over New Orleans after Katrina. No way any president is going to allow himself to fall into that trap again.

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Chan Lowe: Exit Steve Jobs


Stanford University has an internationally recognized engineering school, and I was fortunate enough to take a couple of its course offerings when I spent a year there on a journalism fellowship.

One of the overarching philosophies of its mechanical engineering department, and one that has always stuck with me, is that inventions of the human mind can not only improve the quality of one’s life through their functionality; they can also enrich it if they are so designed that they bring enjoyment to the user. The technical term “human interface” was bandied about a lot, and it was the focus of an innovative approach to product design that brought together graduate engineering students with those seeking a Master of Fine Arts degree from the art department.

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Chan Lowe: Why government is broken


My favorite reason for government gridlock isn’t the growth of politically-slanted cable TV networks and radio shows that brainwash their viewers and listeners. It’s the adoption of computer-assisted statistical analysis for the purposes of congressional apportionment.

There’s so much detailed data available on U.S. citizens that, to use a cliché, operatives from both national parties can “drill down” to the point where they can practically draw congressional district lines right through a family’s house if there happens to be a mother-in-law living in the back who votes for the other party.

All this is designed to protect the careers of members of congress rather than serve the rabble, of course, but it has the effect of permanently installing politicians who only have to answer to the core believers around whom the gerrymandered borders of their districts were drawn.

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Chan Lowe: New York legalizes same-sex marriage


Last month, when the New York State Legislature passed same-sex marriage, I drew a similar cartoon that sought to point out the inappropriateness of judging a whole group of people based upon the way they were born.

To judge them thus is exactly the same as judging people because of the color of their skin. It’s a convenient dodge to assert that being gay is a matter of choice; that enables the so-called righteous among us to then class it as a sin of commission, and thereby apply their arbitrary rules to it. Condemnation is the natural next step.

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Chan Lowe: Casey Anthony cashes in, Pt. II


I said a few days ago that I hoped the previous Casey Anthony cartoon I drew would be the final one, but this is the gift that keeps on giving.

Ms. Anthony left the Orange County Jail with five hundred dollars and change in her bank account. This isn’t likely to last long. It could become a case study in modern merchandising techniques for marketing students, everything from a porn video franchise to the toys in Happy Meals.

Americans will gobble it all up, and they’ll hate themselves for every penny they spend.

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Chan Lowe: Art? public places


One of the advantages (or maybe it’s a disadvantage) of being a member of the same editorial board for 27 years is that you develop an institutional memory.

One memory I would have preferred to let slip away is from the 1980s, when the Broward County Commission first passed its Art in Public Places ordinance. In the name of beautifying our sometimes less-than-esthetically-pleasing metropolitan surroundings, it was decreed that a certain percentage (one or two percent⎯that I can’t remember) of the total cost of any new government construction⎯be it a building, park, sewage treatment plant, or whatever⎯must be reserved to buy public art to decorate the place.

I think some board was constituted under the aegis of the county that would pass judgment upon the artistic worth of the submissions, and make the purchases. Anyway, one of the county’s first acquisitions under the program was a work titled New River Rising, wherein the sculptor had skimmed detritus from the surface and banks of said river, the kind of stuff you look at from your vessel and go, “EWWWW!” He had arranged it in an abstract manner on a big piece of canvas, added some painterly flourishes, and presented it to the commission along with a bill for $60,000 (this was back when sixty grand in taxpayer money was still worth something).

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Chan Lowe: Casey Anthony cashes in?


I’m hoping this is the last cartoon about Casey Anthony that I draw for a while. The problem is that, besides being a quasi-local story here in South Florida, the case shocks, amazes and disgusts at so many levels, and appeals to prurient interests at so many others, that it amounts to one-stop shopping for every public emotional need.

The latest development is the growing disgust and revulsion at the amount of money Casey stands to make from her notoriety. Those no-account news organizations, book publishers, porn flick producers, TV moviemakers, and the rest of the bottom feeders are all beating a path to her cell. Of course, none of us would ever buy her book, see her movie, or listen to her interviews, never in a million years.

“What, never?”
“No, never!”
“What, never?”
“Well, hardly ever!”

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Chan Lowe: The Casey Anthony verdict II


There’s a thin line between justice and vengeance. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since the Anthony verdict yesterday, and it occurs to me that the former is really a codified, organized, legalized form of the latter. “Justice” is an attempt to apply the constraint of convention, tradition, fairness, reason and logic to what is essentially a human, emotional desire for retribution. It also interposes the legal entity of the state between accused and collective accusers.

A lot of trial observers were bent on vengeance, not justice, and when the system didn’t deliver, they blamed it for denying them their satisfaction. One woman who was interviewed on the street outside the courthouse said she was from Pinellas County (where the jury was impaneled), and had shirked her jury duty, much to her regret. “I might have been on that jury, and I would have hung it,” she said.

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Chan Lowe: The Casey Anthony verdict


I was in the middle of drawing this when the verdict was announced. Where else but in America can you can be tried, convicted and sentenced in the media and the court of public opinion, then found not guilty by a jury that’s been living in a vacuum tube for the last eight weeks? It’s a triumph of our legal system, if you ask me.

Now that Ms. Anthony is about to be a free woman again, I presume that she’ll be inundated with offers for books, movie rights, reality shows, and God knows what all. Since she was found not guilty, none of those “Son of Sam” laws prohibiting personal enrichment from one’s crimes apply in this case.

Being reasonably attractive, she’s set for life as a public media figure, with certain caveats. Her personal protection budget will have to be stratospheric, because there are no doubt plenty of vigilantes set on finishing the job they feel the prosecutors and the jury bungled. Nancy Grace alone probably wants to claw her eyes out. Since she’s young, her life will be in danger for many decades. Also, there's no doubt she’ll want to spend some money on detectives to find the real killer of her daughter. If they do, maybe the need for bodyguards will diminish.

As for the rest of the cast, George and Cindy are probably already working on their books. Jose Baez, yesterday’s goat, is now the toast of the criminal defense community, and will have plenty of work for the rest of his days. The jurors are getting booked for exclusives by all the networks.

The prosecutors may have lost the case, but they still have their jobs, which is more than nine percent of the U.S. population can boast.

The only one who really got short shrift here was Roy Kronk, America’s most famous meter reader, who somehow wasn’t able to collect on the reward for finding the body.

Oh, and Caylee Marie Anthony, of course.

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Chan Lowe: Celebrating the Fourth


Some people don’t understand why we celebrate the freeing of our nation from the oppression of the British crown with fireworks, particularly when every year, people accidentally blow off limbs and set fire to property in the course of their private independence festivities.

They don’t understand the barbecuing, beer-drinking bacchanal that is associated with such a seemingly solemn event. One of my dyspeptic colleagues calls it “Redneck Christmas.”

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Chan Lowe: The Wal-Mart decision


The Supreme Court is one of those institutions we groundlings don’t think about much until they hand down a decision that might actually affect our lives, or those of people we know.

In a perfect world, we envision the justices as a group of pure intellectuals who have risen to the pinnacle of their discipline⎯that being the understanding, interpretation and application of a body of settled precedent and legal code.

Once they make it through the arduous confirmation process, justices get to hold office for life, which by design is supposed to elevate them above the fickle windstorms of profane politics. They base their deliberations on pure legal arguments, and working in a serene vacuum, they hand down decisions that we implement at street level.

Maybe this is as it should be. In order for us to have respect for the law of the land, we must be reasonably assured that it will be applied impartially.

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Chan Lowe: Mourning the passing of Weinergate


Well, it’s finally over. Think of the anguish, embarrassment and damage to his party, himself and his family Anthony Weiner could have avoided had he just taken a page from fellow New Yorker Shirtless Chris Lee’s playbook and resigned within minutes of the first photo going public.

But then, not nearly so many newspapers would have been sold, nor so many minds distracted from the painful realities we must face as a nation.

It’s true that militant liberals lost a strident (if not always effective) voice, but there are, I’m sure, other equally impassioned lefties to be found in Weiner’s district who are ready to replace him, and who are probably willing to keep their proclivities in check.

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Chan Lowe: Weiner, with a twist


This morning I was mulling over cartoon ideas about the Weiner scandal⎯for example, Dominique Strauss-Kahn commenting with Gallic haughtiness on how we amateurish Americans can’t even figure out how to have a decent sex scandal that includes real sex. Then I realized that this material should be left to the late-night comics. Besides, I’d already stepped in that puddle earlier in the week.

Maybe it was time to say something meaningful, to put a spin on the sordid affair that made readers think a little about their priorities. Actually, this is as much about the media’s priorities. There is the entertaining side of the media, characterized by the New York tabloids. This news is fun to read, and you have to admit that the double-entendre headlines about Rep. Weiner are a daily guilty pleasure.

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Chan Lowe: Weinergate


One of my respected opinion section colleagues thinks this cartoon is “sophomoric.” She’s right, but being sophomoric has never stopped me before, as many of my detractors will no doubt agree.

Actually, I find this cheap, facile approach the perfect way to address the comic-opera developments that have been unfolding over the past week. What seems like centuries ago, Rep. Chris Lee, after his bare-chested Craigslist tour de farce, resigned his seat in New York’s 26th district so quickly that the commentariat barely had time to let out a snicker before we began concentrating on who might win the special election to replace him.

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Chan Lowe: Cellphone cancer scare


It’s one of the tragic axioms of life that everything we enjoy is bad for us. Ancient peoples, for whom the line between the spiritual and the secular was so fuzzy as to be virtually nonexistent, tried to explain it through narrative and mythology (Sodom, Gomorrah, the Sirens).

Today, scientists and experts seem to delight in exposing one popular food after another as deleterious to our health, as though we were all characters in a sick morality play, forced to trade momentary bliss on the tongue for withdrawals from the finite bank account of our lifespans.

Even if you’re a nature freak, and get your jollies by grokking your oneness with the Life Force, there’s a chance you could get distracted and fall off a cliff. If you’re a marathon runner, sooner or later you’ll need a knee or hip replacement. It’s like gambling in Vegas…the house always wins.

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Chan Lowe: The Internet without real news


The above cartoon is my contribution to a nationwide project called Net Needs News Day, conceived to remind people that, without traditional media organizations to gather and sift the news, the Internet with all its vaunted resources would consist of bloggers sitting around in their pajamas commenting on each others' Facebook postings.

Fellow members of my professional organization (yes, there is one), the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, are drawing their own cartoons to be simultaneously published in newspapers this Sunday. Some cartoons will appear in their home papers, as this one will appear in the Sun Sentinel. To papers that do not have their own cartoonist, we are donating our cartoons so that they can receive wider readership.

This issue is a ticking bomb. At the moment, the specter of a newsless world is mostly the preoccupation of members of media organizations. The average Internet user, who has dropped his newspaper subscription and is accustomed to receiving his content for free, is slow to grasp that news gathering costs money, and that without all that expensively-acquired information, our democratic experiment could quite easily fail.

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Chan Lowe: Oprah calls it quits


As the Roman poet Juvenal once said, “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”

Oprah provided the diversion, all right, but she also gave people nourishment...for their better angels. I didn’t watch her show, but from what I gather, her work had an underlying philosophy, which was to do good while doing well.

She also grasped that central principle that politicians would do well to learn: the best way to get Americans to listen to your message is to keep them entertained. And at a time when so many in the broadcasting industry are getting rich by tearing our national fabric asunder, Oprah has been a refreshing antidote⎯an enterprising individual who thrives on bringing people together and helping others.

America will miss not just her, but her example.

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Chan Lowe: The silver lining to the end of the world


If you look hard enough, you can find an upside to almost anything, even the End of Days.

If Harold Camping and his disciples are right, and Rapture arrives tomorrow afternoon, then those of us sure to be left behind won’t have to put up with those irritating holier-than-thou types anymore. We can spend the three-hundred-odd days left to us reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and doing some good honest sinnin’ without the self-righteous legislating morality into our lives through their minions in the Republican Party.

We’ll be able to do what we want with whomever we want in our own bedrooms and marry anybody we want, regardless of the other person’s gender. Women will have unfettered access to abortions, if they find them necessary, without the morality police prying into their personal lives.

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Chan Lowe: Arnold Schwarzenegger


Ahh-nold’s sexual indiscretions, while they might look at first blush as though they are an issue of personal character, are also political. This is because once our action hero took on the greatest role of his life as The Governator, he had a tendency to veto legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in his state. This from a man who obviously has little regard for marriage in any form.

Once again, we are saddened to see a loyal wife--who in this case even defended her husband against the persistent rumors that he was running around Hollywood with his lederhosen unbuttoned--spurned and humiliated by the very man she was protecting. At least she and the rest of us were spared the standard wife-by-his-side mea-culpa press conference that has depressingly played itself out so often, particularly with family-values politicians.

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Chan Lowe: L' Affaire Strauss-Kahn


What makes this scandal so delectable, of course, is that lies at the intersection of wealth, power and sex. Throw in a dollop of old European decadence, and we have a summer story with legs.

Here’s a gent most Americans never heard of before a couple of days ago. He’s head of the International Monetary Fund, one of the most powerful posts in the world. He’s a leading candidate for president of France. He has the very finest of call girls in the greatest city in the world at his disposal. Mon Dieu! What’s he doing, allegedly jumping a hotel maid?

That isn’t the only confusing aspect to this. For the French, it’s perplexing that we put him through a perp walk after he was apprehended. In France, they don’t treat the ruling class that way. They pay off the maid and discreetly sweep the whole affair sous le tapis. A simple misunderstanding, non? Remember, this is the country that didn’t even raise an eyebrow when both a former president’s widow and his mistress appeared side-by-side at his funeral. Along with the kids.

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Chan Lowe: Tornado devastation


How do you think it would go over if Barack Obama said to the tornado victims, “You red states down there can just go and kiss my overreaching, socialist big-government behind and fend for yourselves?”

We can’t even imagine it. That’s because the president is the leader of all of us…not just those who voted for him but also those who feel indifferent toward him, merely dislike him, and hate him to their very core. As the head of government, he cannot cherry-pick.

No, he can’t indulge in petty, parochial maneuvers like passing needlessly restrictive laws designed to disenfranchise whole classes of Americans. He can’t, while paying obeisance to some no-tax dogma, rob soon-to-be-elderly citizens of the medical care they have spent their entire lives paying for with the reasonable expectation that their country will look after them in their dotage.

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Chan Lowe: Royal wedding mania


A British journalist put it best the other day: “Can you name, off the top of your head, the president of Germany? No, it isn’t Angela Merkel. She’s the chancellor. Who’s the head of state?”

Most Americans can’t name the British prime minister (David Cameron), but they sure as shootin’ know who the British head of state is. There’s a mystique about the monarchy that fulfills a yearning in people to respect institutions, and a desire for historical continuity that binds a country to its past.

We don’t have that luxury. In our system, the head of state and the head of government are the same person, so that leader is automatically looked at askance from the outset by a large portion of the electorate that didn’t vote for him. He’ll be out in a maximum of eight years, to boot⎯so there’s no point in carving his crest into any architectural masonry.

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Chan Lowe: Controllers asleep at the switch


Even the most rabid deficit hawks might want to leave the FAA budget for air traffic controllers intact. In fact, they could take a few bucks from, say, ethanol subsidies and slip them the FAA’s way, as far as I'm concerned.

It’s enough that anyone who is really determined can figure out a way to get explosives onto a plane, or that we never know if the last half of our flight might be in a convertible. The knowledge that only one controller staffs the tower at Reagan National after dark, and that he is asleep, can collapse the entire house of cards the airline industry and our government have carefully built to keep us flying and paying those outlandish fees.

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Chan Lowe: Glenn Beck and Fox News part ways


That Glenn Beck and Fox News are parting ways could be the glimmer of hope we’ve been waiting for after this long, dark night of the national soul.

It’s in tough times like these, when fear has been stalking the land, that the Glenn Becks, Father Coughlins and Joe McCarthys have historically held sway. Fear erodes tolerance, clouds judgment, and makes men susceptible to easy palliatives like xenophobia, scapegoating and race baiting.

What Glenn Beck was doing had no place on Fox News or any other national media platform. Maybe his paranoid rants were given license because, for a long time, he made a mountain of money for his bosses.

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Chan Lowe: Southwest Airlines' airplane roof peel


Regarding the Southwest Airlines roof peeling episode, I heard on the radio this morning that Southwest’s fleet of Boeing 737s averages 11 years old, which is not unusual. Their planes fly about 18 hours of every day.

Now, my car is about 11 years old. I barely drive it an hour a day, and it’s falling apart. Mysterious bits and parts drop from its undercarriage monthly. What does this say to us, the American flying public?

It says, “Thank God there is a National Transportation Safety Board and other such government regulatory outfits to protect us.” These incidents will happen on occasion, no matter how stringent the oversight. Nevertheless, if it were up to the Tea Party, all those agencies would disappear, because they do not fit into the concept that the federal government’s only roles ought to be to protect the country from invaders and prevent furriners from crossing its borders.

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Chan Lowe: Tragedy in Japan


The Japanese people are in our thoughts and prayers.

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Chan Lowe: Red light cameras


I’m ambivalent about the whole red light camera issue.

For decades, I’ve watched Floridians blow through red lights seconds after they’ve changed, and I’ve developed a defensive mechanism of waiting for a second or two if I’m the first in line when mine goes green.

I have two theories about this. First, since most of us are from somewhere else, we don’t feel we belong to this community, so there is no sense of responsibility, and even more important, no accountability to our neighbors.

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Chan Lowe: Taco mystery meat


About twenty years ago, I found myself in the backcountry of Tahiti as the guest of an older Polynesian gentleman and his wife (No, I am not making this up).

They were preparing a standard meal for those parts, which consisted of a hollowed-out breadfruit refilled with canned corned beef (It came out in French as “cor-ned bif,” since the can had come from Great Britain) and roasted over an open fire. It was the perfect marriage of traditional fare (breadfruit, as implied by its name, is an excellent source of starch) and food that had only become available once Polynesia was connected by trade to the rest of the world.

The man told me that before the traders and colonists came, the islanders had subsisted happily on fish, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, some cultivated crops, and the occasional wild pig if they were lucky enough to corner one and bonk it on the head with a special weapon that looked like a club with a rock embedded in the head.

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Chan Lowe: Post office closings


The outcry over the U.S. Postal Service’s rumored closing of 2,000 post offices over the next two years reflects our dismay at the prospect of yet another slice of Americana fading into the miasma of rotting memories⎯like the ice-man, the gas station attendant and the bootlegger who made backdoor house calls.

The notion of the village post office⎯the warm, welcoming community center housing a half-bespectacled postmistress who knows everyone in town, as well as their business⎯is an indelible component of the national myth.

If you grew up in a big city like I did, your memories of the post office don’t reflect the same rosy, gemütlich glow. The lobby of my post office always smelled like a colony of feral cats lived behind the heating grate, and the sullen, silent lines of frustrated customers shuffling forward while slab-faced postal clerks served them at mollusk-like speed made the visit seem more like an episode of The Twilight Zone than The Andy Griffith Show.

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Chan Lowe: Big mob bust


How long do you think the outbreak of brotherly love between the parties is going to last? Well, let’s call it the appearance of an outbreak. As we know, in Washington it’s all about projecting an image for the day’s news cycle.

My guess is that we’ll be treated to some unlikely seating arrangements during the State of the Union Address (i.e. Schumer/Coburn), and then things should rapidly deteriorate to normal.

Republicans are, no doubt, heeding the latest poll numbers, which show President Obama’s approval ratings surging. If their past behavior is any indicator, they’re heeding them and coming to the wrong conclusions.

Obama’s newfound popularity is originating from the public perception that he has begun constructively engaging his political opponents for the betterment of the country. He does this whether the opposition likes it or not, and it has taken them tactically by surprise.

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Chan Lowe: The Tucson tragedy


It’s hard to speak of a “silver lining” when faced with a tragedy like the one that occurred in Tucson over the weekend, but if the nation undergoes an agonized and honest examination of its political climate, and how it got to be the way it is, some good might yet come of it.

There was immediate, and irresponsible, finger pointing in the wave of emotion immediately following the incident. We don’t yet know if the alleged gunman is simply deranged in his own right, or whether he was influenced by inflammatory anti-government rhetoric.

Nevertheless, it’s high time we did step back and look at the methods and arguments we use when we confront each other in the arena of ideas. One congressional leader accurately characterized the way the national discourse has been conducted of late as “I’m right, and you’re evil.” In the clash of emotions, we have forgotten that we’re all Americans, chasing the same goal, which is to create the highest-possible quality of life for ourselves and our fellow-citizens.

Yes, the shootings were senseless. The best way to accord them some meaning would be to use them as a catalyst to improve the way we treat and respect those with whom we disagree.

Of course, this presupposes that, for once, we are prepared to listen to our better angels. A tall order, but not an impossible one.

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Chan Lowe: The iPad phenomenon


I have to confess that this latest wave of technology, hailed by the tech crowd as a “game changer,” will probably pass me by, and I’m not in mourning about it.

The tablet and the smart phone are becoming the hand-held fonts of all human knowledge, the Delphic oracle we approach for everything from road directions to TV shows to recipes to purchases to world news to things “not even dreamt of in your philosophy,” as Shakespeare put it.

I went to an improv club up north a few months ago, and the audience gathered in the vestibule during the intermission. An eerie silence reigned; nobody was discussing the recently shared experience. No talk of favorite characters, no reliving witty skits. Each audience member was an island, his or her face bathed in the blue glow of an iPhone or BlackBerry, while thumbs danced on screens and keyboards.

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Chan Lowe: Hypocrisy in the Tea Party


It’s heartwarming to see that, even though the new House majority is supposed to be heralding a return to America’s philosophical roots as the Founding Fathers intended, good old-fashioned hypocrisy hasn’t gone out of vogue.

The Tea Party representatives appear to have found their places in the Washington minuet without too much trouble, hiring lobbyists to run their staffs and staging campaign debt retirement functions at fancy venues where checks are written and ears are bent.

The question, “Will they change Washington or will Washington change them?” was answered even before the swearing-in.

I’m sure the lobbyists/chiefs of staff, hired because “they know the ways of government,” view their naïve new bosses as rough clay waiting to be sculpted in their expert hands.

There are news stories that rank-and-file Tea Partiers out in the boondocks plan to keep up the heat on their new champions, to make sure they continue to uphold the principles they campaigned on. They’re going to call, email, even drop by for a visit.

Here’s some advice for them: Don’t waste your time. All those Mr. Smiths you just sent to Washington may not realize it yet, and you may not realize it either, but they stopped representing you the moment they arrived on the banks of the Potomac.

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Chan Lowe: House Republicans charge!


There’s talk (maybe wishful thinking) among the liberal elite that the Republicans, flexing their new found muscle in the House, will overstep and hang themselves by wasting the country’s time indulging in conservative movement issues that are of little relevance to the general moderate public.

I disagree. Assuming that establishment Republican members of Congress are cynical, which is usually a safe bet with pols, I expect them to get the ideological stuff out of the way early and quickly to satisfy the extremists who helped them win a majority this time around.

They’ll go after “Obamacare,” make a big production of reading the Constitution aloud (minus the 14th Amendment, of course), and throw a few other sops to the ravening mob so they can then settle down and get back to core party business. This consists of making sure the rich get richer and that their hard-earned fortunes aren’t frittered away in taxes so that bloodsuckers like the elderly, poor, unemployed and uninsured get free handouts from socialist do-gooders and other subversives.

Look for them to return to hot-button issues like kicking out all the Latinos, doubting global warming and maybe even a soupçon of gay-bashing (if it’s still in vogue by then) around the spring of 2012, when they’ll need to rally the commoners and successfully convince them to vote against their own economic self-interest for the umpteenth time.

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Chan Lowe: In with the new year, same as the old year


Can you say, "jobless recovery?"

I have admitted before that I'm no economist, but I simply can't grasp, from a linguistic standpoint, how the two words can exist side by side. Maybe people who are disconnected from daily reality, like our members of Congress, can understand it.

In any case, have a Happy New Year!

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Chan Lowe: The loss of Richard Holbrooke


Who is this guy? Why do an editorial cartoon about him?

Richard Holbrooke may not be a household name, but it isn’t for lack of the man’s effectiveness. He was one of the most consequential American diplomats of the last fifty years, a titan of a man who was well-known and respected in international and domestic power circles, and who goes to his final resting place with mammoth accomplishments to his credit.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Balkan Peninsula alone owe their lives to his tireless efforts in brokering the Dayton Peace Accords, using the power of his own words and personality to face down Slobodan Milosevic, after bullets failed to do the same thing.

He accepted a thankless task⎯trying to unravel the Gordian Knot of Afghan and Pakistani politics to find a sane way out for all involved⎯and died, tragically, with the task unfinished.

Richard Holbrooke didn’t tweet his fans every day, he didn’t have his own reality show, and he didn’t rouse crowds to a fever pitch with pop slogans. All that attention-getting would have been antithetical to his goals.

Instead, he did the real grunt work, toiling away in the brambles for the furtherance of his country’s interests, and even more nobly, for those of the world in general. We should always remember his name.

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Chan Lowe: The first Black Friday


I have a friend who spends the whole day Thursday exhausting herself making a complex Thanksgiving dinner for her family, then gets up in the middle of the night and rushes to the mall just so she can be there to start shopping when it opens before dawn on Black Friday.

I asked her why she did this, and she couldn’t give me a lucid answer. “I’ve always done it,” she said. “It’s a tradition.”

Why couldn’t she just wait until the weekend, I asked. Because then, it wouldn’t be Black Friday, she said.

Maybe it’s just one of inexplicable, gut things⎯like eating barbecue on the Fourth of July or complaining about religious symbols in public places around the holidays⎯ that we do to reaffirm our American-ness.

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Chan Lowe: So Fla's hottest car models


It’s simple: If you live in Alaska, you require a big fat all-wheel-drive truck equipped with snow tires and chains. In New York City, a smaller car is better for squeezing into those elusive parking spaces. In Southern California, you make sure there’s a roof rack for the surfboard. You adapt to your environment.

Need I say more?

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Chan Lowe: Bristol Palin's triumph on DWTS


All right, maybe this isn’t as important as abolishing congressional earmarks or extending tax cuts for the rich, but Bristol Palin’s advancement to the DWTS finals seemed to be all anyone was talking about down at the plant this morning.

Mrs. Lowe-Down, who is the household authority on this and American Idolatry issues, allowed as how the relative dancing prowess of the contestants left no doubt that poor old Brandy had gotten screwed. I did witness the live announcement that she had been eliminated, and the news was greeted in the studio with slack jaws and booing. And those were just the judges.

There are ugly rumors going around (which I have done my best to stoke in this cartoon) that it wasn’t Bristol, but in fact her mother for whom many of the viewers were voting. I don’t feel this is inappropriate, because the line between politics and entertainment has grown so fuzzy as to be indistinguishable of late.

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Chan Lowe: Google vs. Facebook


One of the overlooked items in the recent stories about Facebook’s new “email killing” app, and Google’s attempts to counter it, is that young people now use texting as their preferred medium of interaction more than email, telephone or even face-to-face contact.

The domain within which they touch one another could come to define them the way older generations currently use race or religion to define their identities in society. It will be, in a sense, tribal, particularly if neither of the Internet Leviathans is able to knock the other out.

The more profound question is what will become of physical nodes of communication as we rely more and more on virtual connectivity. Will the great city centers of the world, the public forums⎯with the associated cultural ferment of masses of people convening, feeling, smelling each other, and conversing⎯wither and die?

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Chan Lowe: Virginia Thomas, Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas


The now-celebrated Virginia Thomas phone call to Anita Hill is one of those random occurrences that just pop up out of nowhere, and leave people scratching their heads.

Life⎯even official Washington life⎯doesn’t always follow a script, and we can neither plan for, nor rationalize, the caprices of the human mind.

The names Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill will be forever entwined in history, whether or not it’s fair to either party. Evidently, this fact has been eating at Mrs. Thomas for the last nineteen years, and in her defense, it’s often true that one feels the hurt of a perceived injustice inflicted upon a loved one more deeply than when it is inflicted upon one’s own self.

What is more disturbing than her questionable dialing practices is her high-profile involvement in conservative and libertarian causes, especially in an organization funded by anonymous sources. Of course, as an American, she has every right to do this, and no one is asserting that the ethical rules that apply to her husband also apply to her.

Nevertheless, it would be logical that anyone who is concerned enough about her husband’s personal reputation to ask for an apology from his accuser after almost two decades would also consider his reputation as an impartial jurist, and soft-pedal the partisan passion.

I doubt, however, that Mrs. Thomas looks upon this logically.

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Chan Lowe: Facebook and vestigial flippers


Back at the end of December 1999, I drew a montage of sketches offering a cartoonist’s-eye view of what we had to look forward to in the coming century. I wish I could find it for you, but it’s buried somewhere.

Anyway, one of the drawings was of a slug-like figure enveloped in a cushioned cocoon of a body chair. There was a tube feeding nutrients into his mouth, and an electrode implanted in his brain through which all contact with the outside world occurred. Neither speech nor movement was necessary⎯all communication was done by thought waves.

His entire life could take place in the chair, and eventually his superfluous arms and legs would evolve into vestigial flipper-like appendages.

Little did I know how close we would be coming to that state of affairs by the end of the ensuing decade. Today, other than the acquisition of food and/or booze, there is no reason to leave our homes (particularly if we are unemployed), since all social interaction can now occur online.

Not only do we no longer need to be in the actual physical presence of anyone else, we have mastered the art of creating virtual personalities. By exercising control over the “information” we release about ourselves on our Facebook pages, and by judiciously managing our circle of “friends,” we are finally capable of projecting that image of ourselves to the outside world that we always wished we possessed.

There is no more living with the fear that we might allow our carefully-constructed façade to slip in an unplanned conversation or (gasp) in the course of a social evening out with friends. Unless we accidentally type something rash in a moment of reckless abandon, we and our electronic universe are safe from dreaded faux pas. No more spontaneity, no more surprises, no more uncertainty.

Now, that’s living.

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Chan Lowe: America's education slipping behind


The problem with public education is that too many people view it like a business rather than a mission.

There is a huge trough of tax money to be dispensed by school board members who do not value this money the same way they do their own personal bank accounts; after all, it’s just there to be shoveled out, and they didn't have to earn it themselves.

Then there are the stakeholders; industries from school construction firms to textbook publishers that have a commercial interest in this vast pool of lucre. There are teacher unions whose job it is to collectively bargain for as much as they can while protecting the jobs of their members⎯the outstanding as well as the substandard. If they didn’t look out for the teachers, who would?

There are the taxpayers, some of whom resent that they have to pay for the schooling of other people's children, forgetting that it is the promise of universal education that has been the bedrock of our nation’s success.

And there are the children, who are ostensibly at the core of the whole enterprise. So often, their interests are overlooked in the melee generated by all the other parties grabbing their slice of the pie.

In a perfect world, all decisions about schooling would be made based upon one paramount criterion: What’s best for the children?

But that’s no way to run a business.

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Chan Lowe: Invasion of the bedbugs


Here in South Florida, we’re old hands at pestilence.

The Cuban Death’s-Head Cockroach, the Formosan Termite, the Indonesian White-Footed Ant, the Burmese Python, the Bahamian Curly-Tailed Lizard and the Ficus Whitefly are but a short list of the immigrants that have claimed asylum in our sheltering clime during the last few years.

We’ve all figured out a way to get along, and I’m sure we’ll do so with our latest scourge, the bedbug. Chances are, since the beast is impervious to chemicals, they’ll scrounge up another exotic creature that likes to dine on it, the way they did the Melaleuca Beetle, which was imported in turn to get rid of a foreign plant we brought in to drain the swamps so that we could build more developments.

Of course, whatever the crawly solution is, it will (as they all do) proliferate in our natural-predator-free environment and soon become a pest in its own right, requiring the importation of yet another remedy, and so on.

Are we beginning to detect a common denominator here? There’s one creature without whose presence none of these freak twists of nature might ever have occurred.

Too late for that, I suppose…although it’s the only pest I’ve heard of that, when left to its own devices, does a perfectly fine job of exterminating itself.

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Chan Lowe: Distracted driving


As we all know, human beings are innately social. It is this gift of wanting to be part of a community that drew humans to organize in the first place. They assumed distinct individual roles that contributed to the common survival, thereby enabling civilization to flourish.

As civilization developed, societies became more efficient and moved beyond producing at mere subsistence levels. As the fruit of their labors, they began amassing surplus, or wealth. Since humans are also selfish, certain less efficient societies realized that someone else’s wealth could be theirs if taken by force. This was a lot easier than going to the trouble of amassing it in the first place.

Hence, warfare became a permanent stain on the development of the human animal. Man used his ingenuity to create tools of war that would multiply his abilities to overpower his foe.

Eventually, he created weapons of such potency that the mere use of them would guarantee the extermination of the entire species⎯an absurd concept.

On a much more individual level, selfishness and the natural need for social connection are at the core of distracted driving.

The notion that a personal message is so important that it is worth risking one’s own life and that of others to communicate it to someone else is the pinnacle of selfishness. It is also absurd, when it is only a minor inconvenience to pull over and stop driving while doing so.

On the other hand, if human behavior always made sense, think how dull life would be.

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Chan Lowe: Fidel Castro admits failure


Maybe the old coot is trying to get square with his maker before he heads off to stir up rebellion in the next world.

In any case, it looks like the long-running joke was on all of us; the many U.S. Administrations that tried to topple him, the Soviet Union that found him to be a most unruly client, and above all the Cuban people, who suffered and died for fifty years in the name of what even he, Fidel, has now admitted was a failed experiment.

Thanks to El Lider, the human race came within a hair’s breadth of playing the final joke on itself during the Missile Crisis. Oh, how he begged Khrushchev to loose those babies on us. We owe our continued existence today to the fact that the old Russian warrior had the sense to think of his own grandchildren before acceding to his request.

The aged dictator has finally acknowledged what everyone has known for years, that the political and economic system he imposed was bankrupt at its core. It’s cold comfort to the relatives of the dead, but you have to hand it to him—he even managed to outlast his Soviet patrons.

Castro’s legacy to the star-crossed Cuban people is little more than laughter and tears. From now on, they have earned the right to bring forth both in abundance whenever they hear the words, “Viva la Revolucion.”

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Chan Lowe: America's anti-Muslim bias


For a nation made up of immigrants and their descendents, America has a shameful record of scapegoating whole groups of its citizens and residents when the going gets tough and fear reigns throughout the land.

American Muslims ought to be saddened, but not surprised, that they are the latest group to be singled out and tarred with a broad brush. Thanks to a handful of extremist nut jobs who happened to call themselves Muslims, the majority of the nation (according to the latest polls) takes umbrage at law-abiding Muslims building a house of worship where they have every constitutional right to do so.

Mosques around the country have been firebombed and defaced with Nazi graffiti in the years since 9/11. A church here in Florida is hosting a "Quran burning" on the anniversary of the tragedy. Even the Anti-Defamation League, in an uncharacteristic move, has ignored its own “slippery slope” philosophy and weighed in against the near-Ground-Zero mosque, so intense are the emotions.

Proof that we reserve special treatment for those “not like us” exists within the span of many Americans’ lifetimes. Japanese-Americans, whether foreign- or American-born, were herded into internment camps during World War II for fear that they might act as a fifth-column if left to roam free.

Also in World War II, the conspicuous valor of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, composed of Japanese-Americans who swore a loyalty oath to the United States, made them the most decorated unit in American history. Even so, they fought in Europe—not being trusted to pull the trigger against their “own kind” in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, a German-American named Eisenhower (an Anglicized spelling of a word meaning, “iron mine worker”), was promoted to Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe.

No loyalty worries there. Wonder why?

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Chan Lowe: The rogue flight attendant


Why has the story of the flight attendant grabbed the public’s consciousness in a way we haven’t seen since…the White House party crasher story?

There are several reasons, in my opinion. First, he fulfilled a fantasy that we’ve all had, which is to stick it to the Man (in this case, an abusive customer) when the rules always tell us we can’t, on pain of losing our jobs.

He threw that concern to the wind, breaking the company rules of protocol in the process, which we all admire. Second, he did it with consummate panache. Not only did he cuss out the customer on the loudspeaker⎯then make a getaway worthy of Batman⎯he thought to grab a couple of beers on the way out. What a class act!

He deserves to land on his feet, not to mention get his fifteen minutes of fame, which, as we know, all Americans crave more than life itself.

A reality show for him would be the icing on the cake. Anything to get “Bachelor Pad” off the air.

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Chan Lowe: The Kagan confirmation


The National Rifle Association told senators that they were going to "score" the confirmation vote on Elena Kagan, which is to say that it would be factored into the gun-rights "grade" they give each legislator.

Those who did not show proper fealty would be retaliated against at the polls by single-issue NRA members who march in lockstep to orders issued from Washington headquarters, not to mention all the campaign funding that would be choked off.

That may happen, but evidently the strong-arm tactic didn't work. Every Democratic senator from states where this might matter, with the exception of the reliable Ben Nelson of Nebraska (a DINO, or Democrat In Name Only), voted to confirm her anyway.

It would be intemperate and unrealistic to infer from this that the NRA is losing its clout. I think the Democratic senators made the clear-eyed calculation that most NRA members were going to vote Republican in November anyway, and that they had a lot more votes to lose among Democrats if they voted against her.

It is also not to be inferred that they won't scurry like scared rabbits the next time an NRA vote of consequence comes up.

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Chan Lowe: Spirit's carry-on luggage charge


The most offensive thing about Spirit Airlines’ charge for overhead carry-on luggage is that now, the house always wins.

At first, the company spiel sounds plausible; keep base fares low by charging for virtually everything that doesn’t directly affect getting you there. The airline is banking on the fact that while the flying public may be alienated at first, we’ll eventually become inured to the concept, just as we have to the myriad other indignities they’ve forced us to endure over the years.

It’s easy to rationalize the checked-baggage charge; after all, it costs money to process that luggage and then lose it for you. But carry-ons are just that. Maybe it costs a little extra fuel for the airline to hoist it aloft, but certainly not the amount they’re charging. You must either check or carry on, unless you want to wear multiple layers of clothing with toiletries stuffed in the pockets.

Spirit is also not discounting the rumor that, once the technology is in place to make human interaction a luxury item, they will soon charge you to talk to an employee at the airline,

Think about that for a moment: Isn’t having to pay to speak to an employee really just the same as phone sex?

Except that there’s no payoff.

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That patriotic feeling

It’s hard to think of another people that imbues the ownership of firearms with the same mystical, symbolic mix of independence, self-reliance and patriotism as Americans.

The Mujahedeen of Afghanistan may hold their personal weapons in similar esteem, but because they think tribally, the concept of allegiance to and affection for a nation-state whose very defining document bequeaths upon them the right to carry their weapons is an alien one.

Many of us would agree with last week’s Supreme Court decision that people should have a right to possess a firearm for defensive purposes. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t that simple. Once a gun is in someone’s hands, it can so easily be converted into an offensive weapon, depending on the bearer’s state of mind.

A psychiatrist friend of mine writes, “People, men in particular, get a sense of potency, of power with firearms, get pumped up, get stupid, and yes, this is one case where Freud and followers were absolutely correct: the similarity to the sex organ, the discharge, the “I’m a strong guy, I can shoot,” is absolutely a part of the mix.”

I’m sure the Founding Fathers were thinking about the fledgling nation’s collective security when they adopted the Second Amendment, and not about inserting access to an 18th Century-version of Viagra as the second most important right after freedom of speech and religion.

Yet, there it is. Meanwhile, little has been done in our history to bolster the self-esteem of the womenfolk (All right, we did give them the vote in the last century). The Equal Rights Amendment (remember that?) still hasn’t been ratified by the required number of states since Congress passed it in 1972, even though the deadline has been extended.

So girls, get your behinds into the kitchen and rustle us up some July 4th baked beans and slaw. We’ve still got a few rounds to squeeze off while the grill warms up. Your time will come.

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Chan Lowe: The iPhone 4 phenomenon

realty.gifWhat recession?

The iPhone 4 phenomenon is proof of what the theorists say, that we could easily spend our way out of this slump if we really wanted to.

The eighty-nine percent of us who continue to be employed (for now) are sitting on our money out of fear that we may really need it someday.

We put off buying that new air conditioner, or roof, or car, for better times, and those who would make these products we normally purchase get pink-slipped.

Then along comes a gadget which projects such talismanic appeal that people are willing to camp out twelve hours or more before the stores open so that they can be the first to spend several hundred dollars on it. To possess this thing, they will joyfully throw all caution to the wind.

It’s clear that all we need to rescue ourselves from the Great Recession are more irresistible products whose mere ownership induces the same euphoria, and—voila!⎯unemployment is banished.

Can’t you envision it? The iGarbage Disposal, the iFurnace, the iRiding Lawnmower. The manufacturers simply pay Steve Jobs a small licensing fee for the privilege of sticking an Apple logo onto whatever it is they make, and then sit back and wait for the iSheep to line up around the block.

There's probably an app for that.

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Chan Lowe: Merchants of death

merchants.gifBack when I lived in Oklahoma, I had a Hitchcockian problem with hundreds of pigeons living under the eaves of my house.

They were filthy, they left guano all over the place, and their incessant cooing drove me crazy day and night.

Desperate for relief, I approached a neighbor for advice. “You got several alternatives,” he said. “You can get yourself one of them fake owls to scare ‘em off, but they wise up after a while and ignore it. You can use a pellet gun on 'em, but you might bust a window if you miss.

"You can spread poisoned feed, but then you’ll have to clean up all the dead bodies. And finally,”⎯here, he grinned diabolically⎯“you can nail some shiny metal shingles to your roof. They go nuts peckin’ at the reflection, and they peck themselves to death.”

There was an almost biblical appeal to the last option, in which the pigeons actively participated in their own demise. Besides, it removed me ethically from direct responsibility for the birds’ deaths, because there was an element of free will involved on their part.

Maybe this is how people who make money by selling products that shorten people’s lives rationalize their livelihoods.

They produce legal products, after all. If people can’t control their urges around them and end up hurting and killing themselves and others, then they’re the victims of their own weakness. So be it. The providers can join Pontius Pilate in the clean hands club.

By the way, before I could figure out what to do about the pigeons, they flew off en masse one day of their own volition. I was left with a clear conscience and a fascia full of guano.

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Chan Lowe: Helen Thomas steps in it

helen.gifHelen Thomas has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist, but there’s no condoning what she said on video yesterday, which is that the Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

It was coarse, insensitive, and stupid. As one of my colleagues put it during an editorial board meeting, “It’s like telling American blacks they should all go back to Africa.”

Any reasonable person would agree that her comments were outside the pale. If one wishes to be charitable, one might ascribe the faux pas to Ms. Thompson’s advanced age (eighty-nine), and leave it at that. She was pushed out of her job for her transgression, and it was probably time.

All that having been said, it might be instructive for us to look at the above cartoon as a thought experiment. Had Ms. Thomas uttered the words depicted, rather than her actual ones, would she have been treated as harshly? Would she have lost her job? Would commentators have been lining up, as they are today, to pile on?

After all, the words in the cartoon are just as offensive, unfair, and reflective of a total ignorance of the facts on the ground, which is that the area in question is a patch of earth that both Israelis and Palestinians belong to. It would be a lovely thing if the two peoples could live in harmony, but since they appear unable to, the conflict arises over how to divide it.

Anyone who doesn’t agree that she ought to be treated the same in both circumstances might want to look to his own bias.

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Chan Lowe: Marriage advice from an old pro

advicex.gifThe first thing that probably entered many minds upon hearing the news of the Gores' split was how ironic it is that the Clintons, who by any objective yardstick have plenty more reasons to have gone their separate ways, are still together.

Bill Clinton—America’s favorite rogue--is, and always will be, good for a laugh…and this editorial cartoonist is not above having a little more fun at his expense. Call it an appreciative tip of the hat to someone who was so good to our profession back in the 1990s.

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Elena Kagan: Is she or isn't she?

kagangay.gifLong ago, when I was taking art in college, there was a movement sweeping the creative landscape called “Conceptual Art.”

It had nothing to do with technique, skill or talent with visual media. It was all theoretical, and probed the very essence of what “art” was.

An example: A very shapely, scantily clad woman walked through New York’s Greenwich Village and filmed the reactions of men who passed her.

The “art” lay in the behavior of the viewers. It was supposed to make people examine themselves and their world in a different way…to question their own concept of their environment. Blah, blah.

Anyway, I see this business over whether Elena Kagan is gay or not as a piece of conceptual art. I could care less whom she finds attractive; the only thing that matters to me is whether she can sling it back at Scalia as fast and as hard as he dishes it out.

But the reaction of the public is fascinating, particularly that of the White House. Everybody’s walking on eggshells, trying not to mention the Unmentionable. For if they do, they’re admitting it makes a difference.

Those to whom it matters don’t talk about it openly either, because they know that⎯if true⎯it’s much more damaging as a whispering campaign than as an established issue to be discussed in the public forum.

We have the whole summer to sit back and watch everyone cover themselves with glory or shame on this one.

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Chan Lowe: Tax Day

real.gifOn this, the eve of Tax Day, some reflections:

The more local the government entity, the more people seem to understand the need to pay taxes. If it’s their own library, or school, or police and fire protection, they see evidence every day that their money is being spent for their benefit.

The federal government is another story. It’s so amorphous, the burden of expenses is spread so broadly and impersonally, that many lose sight of the fact that it’s just a larger version of their own county or town.

Statements like, “We’re going to take advantage of a federal program to pay for (insert local project here),” reinforce the idea that Washington is some other entity, a piggy bank we can raid that is continually being refilled by somebody else. When it pays, it means we don't have to.

Besides, unlike your locality, the feds can run a deficit, which means they can invent money as needed (even though it’s stealing from the future—but since we aren’t there yet, who cares?).

Even Republican members of Congress run from the idea of reducing popular “socialist” programs like Medicare to balance the budget. Average voters don’t understand why federal largess can’t perpetually extend to them, since the government runs on magic. Those who would tell them otherwise will be severely punished at the polls.

Average people also don’t understand why they have to pay taxes to Washington either, for the same reason.

So don’t blame Congress for the deficit. Go look in the mirror.

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Chan Lowe: Teachers commit theft

53191229-08192043.jpgSettle down, class.

It must be hard, as teachers, to be on the receiving end for a change, and even harder to squeeze into those miniature desks, but please pay attention…today’s lesson is very important.

Today we’re talking about the bad example you’re sending to children, which is that it’s OK to steal. Oh, yes, you committed a crime. It’s called “Intellectual Property Theft.”

To put it in clear, simple terms, just because you saw an image on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use in any way you wish. Take the caricature of Gov. Charlie Crist emblazoned on the signs carried by the marching teachers in Tallahassee (shown above).

When I first looked at the Sun Sentinel’s home page this morning, the image on that placard looked mighty familiar. Maybe that’s because it originally sprang from my own mind.

Funny…I don’t recall anyone asking my permission to use this COPYRIGHTED IMAGE before they printed up their signs (and let’s face it, you teachers know all about insisting that people first ask permission). No, they just right-click>saved it right off the web.

Not that I would have given them my permission, anyway, because as an editorial cartoonist I try to avoid sanctioning the use of my work by advocacy groups, even if I agree with them.

Which makes it all the more galling, since I have been a consistent and frequent advocate of the very group that just stole from me.

Shame on you all. Go stand in the corner.

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Chan Lowe: The mine tragedy

gamex.gifThey say these are the best jobs in Appalachia. Those who have them consider themselves fortunate.

Imagine what it would be like, though, to head into the office every morning and wonder whether today was the day the ceiling was going to cave in and crush you?

Would you still go to work? And what if you were told that breathing the office air over a period of years would leave you with permanent lung damage?

All so that a bunch of people you never even met could continue blithely plugging in their salad shooters, electric carving knives, smart phones, tanning beds, DVRs and whatever other essentials of life that require a plug.

Sure, the pay is good, but it isn’t all that good, considering. As long as we’re on the subject of being well paid, let’s consider another issue that’s in the forefront of the public cortex right now.

Tiger Woods, whose most worrisome occupational hazard is being beaned by a jealous, golf club-wielding wife (a completely avoidable risk), is poised to stage a miraculous comeback that we will all witness on our electrically-powered TV sets.

The product endorsements for which he will be paid millions will make absolutely no difference to my buying habits, I can assure you.

However, if one of those miners held up a product and swore that it worked for him, I’d probably give it a second and third look.

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Chan Lowe: Spirit starts charging for carry-ons

spirit.gifAnybody who’s ever taken a college Psych 101 course knows what behavior modification is.

The rat in the Skinner box gets to choose between two levers. If pressing one delivers a food pellet, and pressing the other delivers a mild electric shock, you don’t need a Ph.D. to hypothesize how the story is going to turn out.

A few years ago, the airlines started charging extra for checked-in luggage.

The bright-eyed junior exec who dreamed up that revenue stream evidently didn’t take Psych 101, because the obvious consequence was that everybody learned to cram as much as they possibly could into carry-on roller bags that sometimes, but not always, fit in the overhead bins.

Those that didn’t fit were checked at the scene without charge, so the rat/passengers learned they could get away with stuffing in a little extra. Meanwhile, stowing the extra bags ate up precious minutes while exasperated flight attendants shoved, sweated and cursed. Flights got delayed.

So the replacement junior exec⎯who clearly has studied psychology⎯wins a gold star for killing two birds with one stone: Rig the Skinner box levers so they both deliver an electric shock, and generate even more revenue by penalizing those who think they can’t travel without at least a toothbrush and a change of underwear. Bra-VO, future Spirit CEO.

Coming soon: dehydrated clothing.

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Chan Lowe: Supreme Court fight coming

nominee.gifBefore my usual claque of commentators gets its nose out of joint, I will acknowledge that the type of behavior alluded to in this cartoon is practiced by both extremes of the political spectrum. It is inappropriate--and unhelpful--no matter who is doing it.

We happen to have a Democratic president and Senate right now, so the protesting of whomever is nominated to fill Justice Stevens' seat will be the province of Conservatives.

I think it was John McCain who said, "Elections mean something." It is the constitutional prerogative of the president to present a nominee in the event of a court vacancy, and it is the Senate's job to decide whether that person is qualified.

It made sense to the Founding Fathers. What wouldn't make sense to them are the ideological hoops we make the nominees run through, thanks to our poisonous political atmosphere, and the attempts to discredit them by digging through their pasts to find out if they talked back to their kindergarten teacher during recess.

One of these days, Justice Scalia, Roberts, Alito or Thomas will want to retire. Chances are he'll wait until a Republican president is in office to do so. This is as it should be.

Then, it will be the Liberals' turn to make a public display of their unreasonableness, which they will do without a doubt.

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Chan Lowe: Republican Debauchery

kinkyx.gifMany decades ago, when I was growing up in LA, the West Hollywood area was already developing a reputation for being gay-friendly, and that was before being openly gay was even cool.

Subsequently, West Hollywood incorporated itself, and⎯unless I’m mistaken⎯became the first town in the country to boast an openly gay majority on its city council.

Which is why I’m all the more shocked... shocked… that the Republican National Committee or anyone associated with it would come within miles of this Sodom on the West Coast, not to mention seek out entertainment at a nightclub(!) known for its montages of depravity. To make matters even worse, I’ll bet the performers were Democrats.

Hubba, hubba. Maybe this is why they call themselves the Grand Old Party.

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Chan Lowe: Church abuse scandal

benedict.gifSince the doctrine of Christian forgiveness and absolution is grounded in the concept of self-examination, open acknowledgement of one’s sins through confession, and repentance, one would think that the Church⎯of all places⎯would appreciate the value of unburdening itself of the effects of its transgressions by exposing them to the light of day.

But that flies directly in the face of another Church priority, which is self-preservation, a corollary being maintaining an image of infallibility. Ironically, it is this monolithic attitude that results in the self-infliction of far more damage from the steady drip of new revelations.

Whatever you think of the institution, as long as it resides in the custodianship of mortal men, it will reflect their mortal shortcomings, which appear to be legion.

When Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” it’s a safe bet to assume He wasn’t talking about stonewalling.

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Chan Lowe: Congressional death threats

patriotx.gifWhen a conflagration erupts, who is most to blame—the person who brings the can of gasoline, or the one who hands him the match?

There has always been a restive undercurrent in this country, the rugged individualists who feel that any government encroachment into their lives is too much.

What is different now is that cynical, self-serving politicians are stoking the fears and anger of these people and inciting them to perform acts of violence against an imagined threat.

You want to talk takeover? How about the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore in 2000, when the justices⎯in a five-to-four vote⎯arbitrarily decided to stop the vote counting and declare George W. Bush the winner?

Maybe my memory is faulty, but I don’t recall anyone making death threats against Chief Justice Rehnquist at the time. I would say that that act was far more injurious to our individual liberties than the health care reform vote.

The malcontents should just suck it up and wait until November to vote the scoundrels out. That’s what real democracy is about. It isn’t about “taking back” your country by force or intimidation if you don’t like the way Congress is voting.

As for the inciters, they may be sorry someday that they ever unleashed this angry animal. It could turn around and bite them right in their craven behinds.

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Chan Lowe: Survivor...Washington edition

seniority.gifOut in the boonies, anti-incumbent fever has reached a dangerous pitch.

Who'd a thunk that Texas Governor Rick Perry could turn the tables on Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary by condemning her for bringing home too much federal bacon?

In the aftermath of her ignominious defeat, Sen. Hutchison was left shaking her head like a stunned longhorn. She never imagined, she allowed, that her being an effective advocate for her state would be used against her.

But it was, because the great unwashed hate Washington so much that even its pork is tainted, at least in the minds of people who vote in Republican primaries.

Like cockroaches and viruses, members of Congress are nothing if not adaptable. It will be entertaining to witness the contortions they go through to portray themselves as the embodiment of the current zeitgeist, or whatever it might be by November.

Some of them, in desperation, may pull a Lieberman and run as independents when they fail to win their own party's nod for the nomination. It's about survival, after all, and this season it's every man for himself.

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Open carry meets caffeine

barista.gifMaybe what Jefferson should have said was, “Occasionally the tree of Liberty must be watered with the iced latte of Patriots and Tyrants.”

Starbuck’s does seem an odd place to be exercising one’s inalienable right to openly tote a pistola into a public place, as some activists are doing in states where this is allowed.

Why Starbuck’s? Is the company associated with those hippy-dippy tree-hugging Northwest collectivists, just because the little insulation bands around its cups are made out of recycled paper? Maybe they use fluoridated water in their brew.

And why has open-carry suddenly become so chic? My guess is that strapping on a gun is a concrete way to resist that cottony, bloblike government encroachment that many people feel, but can’t quite get their trigger finger around.

Certain folks sense the incremental attacks on their liberty more acutely than others, the way some feel great pain from a pinprick while others hardly miss a step.

I don't have a beef with the government, but as long as I don’t get between the sharpshooters and the barista when they decide they’ve been shortchanged, I say let them safeguard my liberties if they want to.

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Chan Lowe: Postal service: Next window, please

usps.gifFor Americans, the Postal Service is a little like Congress: While we despise the institution as a whole, we tend to have a better relationship with our local representative.

Postal customers nurture a romanticized, Norman Rockwellian view of the intrepid mail carrier (I guess mine is intrepid. If I happen to be around the mailbox when she gurgles by in her Jeep, she's always yakking away on her cellphone, so I can't be certain).

It is probably this view that has allowed the Postal Service to survive as a top-heavy, money-hemorrhaging bureaucracy for as long as it has. For generations, six-day-a-week mail delivery brought us holiday greetings, good and bad news, government checks, bills, catalogs--in short, it was the home front's primary contact point with the outside world.

Technology's merciless march spares no antiquated institution, and it's time to start trimming this one. Five-day-a-week delivery? Why not three...Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?

Sure, at first it might tug a little at your heartstrings, but I ask you: Do you still miss the milkman?

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Valentine's Day

valentine.gifSurveys show that men worry more about Valentine's Day than any other holiday.

Will what you buy be enough of a tribute, or will they feel like you've dissed them? Will someone else get them a nicer gift, making you look like a piker? Have you come up with the right mix of roses, chocolates and jewels to properly manifest your ardor?

Here's a piece of advice for all you concerned hombres from Dr. Lowe-Down, your friendly online counselor in matters of love: Treat her like it's Valentine's Day 365 days out of the year, and you'll have no worries when February 14th rolls around.

Actually, that comes from Mrs. Lowe-Down. I'm just passing it along.

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Washington, D.C. snowstorm

snow.gifThanks to the unprecendented snowfall, federal workers in Washington have been given three days off in a row, costing taxpayers an estimated $100 million per day in lost productivity.

It's a good thing Congress didn't decide (back in 1789, or whenever it was) to move the federal capital to Buffalo instead of Washington, because it would have been paralyzed for three or four months every winter.

Or maybe it was a tragic error. Imagine how much less damage Congress could do if it only met eight months out of the year.

In any case, a story in The New York Times reports that our government hasn't really "shut down" in the strictest sense of the phrase. It seems that "essential workers" are still manning the parapets.

If the federal bureaucracy can get by with a skeleton crew to accomplish its "essential" mission, you have to wonder what all the stay-at-homes normally do...hold coats? Make coffee? Run elevators? Polish name plates?

It's mind-boggling to think that as recently as the beginning of WWII, the entire Departments of the Army, Navy and State could still fit into one building.

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Tea Party malcontents

amok.gifOne can easily understand why Washington gridlock has spawned a grassroots movement of angry citizens.

When neither party appears to be acting in the best interests of the country it represents, and resolutely refuses to work with the other for the betterment of the nation, our first reflex is to throw the whole mess out--baby, bathwater and all.

It might behoove some of us to remember that there are a few things big government provides that we probably wouldn't want to do without: Social Security, Medicare and child welfare are just a few examples.

Somebody does have to pay for these programs. Since we can't depend on each other to voluntarily pay our fair share of what we owe to keep the social fabric together, we empower government to tax us, the people, on our own behalf.

When that power is misused, we lose confidence in the whole system. Let's just remember that it isn't so much the structure or the size of government that enrages us, it's the way that structure is twisted and warped to serve the interests of a powerful few that leaves us feeling helpless.

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John Edwards' cheatin' heart

rielle.gifIf commenting on dry-as-dust topics like jobs policy or health care reform is the journalistic equivalent of eating your vegetables, then for me this stuff is like the rich dessert your mom gave you as a reward for having choked down all those lima beans.

John was just a little too slick. He had a little too much of the cornpone, Brylcreemed, small-town life-insurance salesman about him.

We vaguely felt it, and it hovered there in the back of our minds, but we couldn't quite get a fix on it--the rags to riches story, the perfect family, the way he switched on that youthful, exuberant glow when the klieg lights came on.

There might be something to be said for letting the whole process begin in Iowa. Evidently those hard-bitten farmers remained unmoved, notwithstanding all the months Edwards spent in their state courting them. When you have to wake up before dawn every day to sling slop to hogs, there ain't much time for romance. Instead, you develop a keen, clear-eyed ability to cut right through the shellac.

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Supreme Court, First Amendment, Campaign funding, corporate, union

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision was a tough call for those who cherish free speech.

By ruling that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money on election advertising, there is no doubt that the dissemination of information about candidates will now rest in the hands of the mighty and the moneyed, and woe betide any pretender who might cross them.

The only good news is that free speech as a principle was protected, but the concept that a corporation or a union is like an individual with inalienable rights is a tough one to swallow. The indirect consequence of this finding, ironically, is that it will result in the voice of the common man being drowned out.

Right now, the American people are too worried about more pressing matters--like putting food on the table--to bother themselves with seemingly arcane court decisions. They would do well to start paying attention, because this decision will affect the way we govern ourselves more than any other in memory.

The most we can hope for is regulatory legislation requiring, for example, that a corporation clearly identify that it paid for an ad. Otherwise, we may find--after the fact--that some shell group like "Patriotic Americans United For A More Patriotic America" is really a multinational holding company based in Dubai.

And by then, they'd have their own pet U.S. Senator, purring in their laps.

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Massachusetts meltdown

blame.gifIt was South Florida's own Debbie Wasserman Schultz who said it best during the election post-mortem last night: "Throughout my career in politics, I've learned that you can never, ever take a vote for granted."

Now, Debbie represents one of the safest Democratic congressional districts in Creation, so if she says it, it's probably true.

Martha Coakley might have eked out a win, even in this inhospitable anti-government environment--particularly in royal-blue Massachusetts--but she didn't follow Debbie's dictum.

As the Democratic National Committee and the White House will trip over themselves to tell you, she ran a historically inept general election campaign, beginning with the assumption that winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to a coronation.

It would be an error--and delusional--for the Democrats to place all the blame on the hapless Coakley for losing Ted Kennedy's seat. Now that the people have spoken so emphatically, the Dems would be wise to reexamine their agenda and priorities if they intend to hang onto Congress in November. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's jobs, Stupid."

Let's not forget this is the same seat once occupied by the Henry Cabot Lodges, Senior and Junior. As the establishment learned the hard way yesterday, there's no law saying it's perpetual Democratic property.

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Chan Lowe: Haitian relief's silver lining

It says a lot about mankind--and the way we have organized ourselves into self-interested nation-states--that it takes a cataclysm for the world to discover its better nature.

We had that opportunity at Kyoto and Copenhagen, too, but as I've said before, the peril of climate change is too slow-moving and there are too many skeptics for us to drop our tribal barriers and address it effectively.

It's impossible to deny that something horrific has happened in Haiti--it's all over our TVs and the Internet, nonstop. When we witness something that hits us this hard, most of us manage to take the blinders off and think of human welfare in general as something to be nurtured, regardless of ethnicity or culture.

For a brief time, those of us who are grateful that we were spared are able to grow from the tragedy and extend a hand to those who were not. For those who would turn their backs on human is a journey, and there is always hope.

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Chan Lowe: Hi-tech gift of the future

hitech.gifWay back in the 1960's, I read a sci-fi story about a scientist, far in the future, who comes in to the Pentagon to talk to the Joint Chiefs about this ground-breaking weapon he's developed.

He requests a piece of paper and a pencil, and asks them to throw any numbers they want at him. Using only the pencil and paper, he multiplies and does long division for them, providing the answers within a few seconds.

The military types whip out their pocket calculators to validate his findings, and by golly, the scientist has come up with the right answer every time.

They immediately swear the man to secrecy and classify his "weapon", for fear an enemy might take advantage by jamming all the electronic impulses in the world, yet still be able to make those strategic mathematical calculations without the aid of devices.

Here's something nobody has thought of, as far as I know: Remember the book burnings in Nazi Germany in the 1930's? Once we're all dutifully reading on our Kindles, all a dictator will have to do to control our sources of information is to edit the streaming feed.

So much more efficient, and it spares us the greenhouse gases, too.

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Tiger Woods

barbara.gifFame--and infamy--are all about narrative. A savvy celeb who intends to remain in the game weaves an easily digestible narrative about him- or herself for public consumption, and sticks with it.

We all knew Bill Clinton was a serial philanderer and a liar, but while the Monica Lewinsky story captivated us, it didn't cut to the quick the way the Tiger Woods story does.

Why? Because Clinton's defiling of the Oval Office sanctum was merely a sin of degree. It shocked us, but it was in character.

Tiger Woods has spent his career spinning a squeaky-clean image for the purposes of creating a brand that sponsors would wish to associate with. When he was found to be a cad, and a multiple-repeat offender at that, it ran contrary to the myth.

To many people, he represented everything that was good and clean and decent about professional sports. Kids even played with Tiger action figures and dreamed of growing up to be like him someday. Not just rich, but wholesome.

But they were confusing the character with the man. When we looked at Bill Clinton, we knew exactly what we were seeing. Bill never let us down, because he couldn't.

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Annual Lowe-Lights running this Sunday!

This post is for those of my readers who also happen to have subscriptions to the Sun Sentinel, or who buy single copies on the street.

This coming Sunday, our Outlook section will feature my annual Lowe-Lights look back at the year in cartoons. This year, we added a new twist: instead of my picking my favorites, we allowed the editors of national publications to weigh in.

Specifically, we are running cartoons that also ran nationally in such publications as The New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Time. com, and on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

Accompanying several of the cartoons are brief excerpts from the blog commentary I wrote when they first ran. Of course, if you are a regular visitor to this blog, you won't need to read any of that stuff.

At the very least, you will have an actual printed selection of my work to do with as you wish; frame it, line your birdcage with it, whatever.


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Chan Lowe: Holidays, schmolidays

kwanz.gif’Tis the season to be overly sensitive.

Here in South Florida, where collections of cultures and creeds live in uncomfortable proximity, the holiday season is an annual endurance test fraught with politically-incorrect pitfalls.

Every December, various groups have major holidays that happen to fall close to one another.

In our zeal not to offend anyone by offering the wrong salutation, we have reverted to the default phrase, “Happy Holidays,” which in its insipidness displays not only insincerity, but also an implicit fear of our differences.

I live in a neighborhood that has a high proportion of Jewish residents. When one of my neighbors wishes me “Happy Hanukkah,” I accept it with the same cheer as I would “Merry Christmas.”

Why? Because I know it comes from the heart. It’s all about the giver offering something of value--goodwill--to the recipient. Who am I to quibble about the brand?

I suggest everyone wish each other the happy returns of the season in the manner that best suits the giver’s core identity. That way, your listener will know you’re serious.

There is a famous Sanskrit saying that goes something like this: “There is one Truth. Wise men call it by many names.” The key word here is “wise.” Those who--because of their own limitations--are unable to grasp that concept will decide that they’d rather be offended than honored.

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Chan Lowe: Condign punishment for the White House party crashers

crashers.gifThe Balloon Boy and Party Crasher episodes tell us something about the media, consumers of media, and the same base urges in human beings that create rubbernecker slowdowns when there's a juicy wreck on the other side of the Interstate.

"Give them bread and circuses," one Roman emperor prescribed for keeping a deprived citizenry quiescent. Even in a lousy economy, people will always pay good money to see a five-legged calf, a bearded lady, or a peep show on the midway.

Clever folks can parlay a good gimmick into a sweet payday if they know how to play the game. At the very least, they can get the attention they crave. They know that the Larry Kings, the Good Morning Americas, and all the other media outlets (yes, even newspapers) have a symbiotic relationship with fresh, fascinating content.

How do you slap the brakes on when things get potentially dangerous, like the crasher episode? You can't stop the media...remember the First Amendment? Instead, throw the book at the perps. Prosecute, convict, and sentence. There's nothing like the prospect of a little jail time to dampen the ambitions of would-be copycats.

A big mistake, by the way, was to humiliate the Secret Service. Yes, they've taken the blame and apologized, but hell hath no fury like a federal agency that's been made a fool of.

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Pied pipers of the GOP

cliff.gifIt's reminiscent of the bad old days of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the John Birch Society and the blacklist of the 1950's.

Now the Republican Party will require potential 2010 candidates to fill out an "ideological purity" form, in which they must correctly score on at least eight out of ten answers on topics such as abortion, gay marriage and taxes, if they are to qualify for national party campaign funds.

Of course, the party has a right to do this--but is it politically sound reasoning? As the GOP circles the wagons more and more tightly around its conservative core, it may develop into an effective force for anointing candidates to win primaries, but in the general election, it will be relinquishing the vast swath of moderate turf--turf most Americans feel comfortable occupying--to the Democrats.

In recent times, the Democratic Party has been more of a "big tent," embracing members from across the idealogical spectrum, including moderate conservatives who, fifty years ago, would have fallen into the "Rockefeller Republican" camp.

Since retaining or augmenting majorities in both houses of Congress is the name of the game, one has to wonder if the GOP has some kind of death wish. Maybe it simply has no credible leaders at the moment, except for the bloviators who make a living by being extremist.

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Chan Lowe: Giving thanks in tough times


Happy Thanksgiving!

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Chinese drywall to take out?

drywall.gifEven for Florida, where shoddy workmanship is the hallmark of excellence, this is egregious.

You move into your beautiful new tract home and discover that the walls make you and your kids sick, tarnish your jewelry, and probably most important of all, screw up the air conditioner.

You go to the developer who sold you this elephant, and he's oh so sorry, but to gut the house would cost him $100,000 or more, and to fix all the homes he's built would put him out of business.

You hear that Obama will be talking to the Chinese next month about making good on their cheesy product, but you realize that he isn't going to get anywhere with them because for manufacturers to back up their goods, they have to actually care about their reputation for quality. They know as well as you do that you only buy their junk because it's cheap.

The feds say maybe they'll free up some HUD money to compensate, but you have to be poor to qualify. A nice Catch-22, because no poor person could have afforded your house.

The insurance people say it's a manufacturing defect, not an act of God, so not only isn't it covered, they're going to cancel your sorry a-- for even asking about it.

Your only recourse is my nifty little kit, shown here. Get your neighbors to buy one too, and make it a block party. Kids'll love it, and it's great for building neighborhood cohesion.

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Chan Lowe: Corruption's long tentacle


Ah, yes...if you have friends, you are a wealthy person indeed.

Until the Federal Corruption Task Force comes a-knockin' at your door, and you find out they've all turned into witnesses for the prosecution.

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Chan Lowe: White-knuckle flying

captain.gifI had a friend who was an emergency room doctor. Along with the horrifying stories, he told me of the jokes--many of them extremely disrespectful of those placed in their care--that the staff shared in order to maintain their sanity in the face of such carnage and weirdness.

They kept a running list on the wall of bizarre objects that had been found inside patients.

The point is that no matter how critical or dangerous one’s job may be, it eventually becomes routine over time, and it is a constant battle to keep from dropping one’s vigil.

Astronauts are trained and re-trained so that no matter what may occur, they reflexively follow procedure. Of course, they gear up for one big spaceflight at a time, so their alert systems are dialed up to the max. If you’re an airline pilot, or a heart surgeon going in to crack just another chest, it can get monotonous. Distraction is the tempting demon lurking in the wings.

When we fly, we pay to put our lives in the hands of other human beings, and in return assume a certain amount of professionalism from them. It’s an article of faith, which is why this story about the breaching of that faith so quickly dominated the national consciousness.

Maybe these guys would respond in a clinch with the same heroism as Capt. Sullenberger did over the Hudson when both his engines failed—that is, if they didn’t fly into a mountain first. But we’ll never know. Yanking their licenses was the least the feds could do.

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Chan Lowe: NASA on the ropes

NASA.gifI was a kid when President Kennedy gave his stirring speech declaring we would go to the Moon within the decade.

My friends and I could recite the names of the Mercury Seven astronauts off the tops of our heads. As Tom Wolfe observed in his book, The Right Stuff, they were like the single combat warriors of old--the very best our side could put forward to vanquish the foe. Their suits even looked like modern armor.

We were out to prove that the American Way of Life could produce better technology and finer young men than the godless Rooskies and their evil system.

Even though our great success in the spacefaring field was born out of warlike competition, there is something to be said that both sides decided duke it out in a peaceful endeavor. The first rockets those intrepid astronauts rode to the heavens were just modified ICBMs, an updated version of beating swords into plowshares. At least we weren't using them to kill each other.

I recently took a tour of Cape Canaveral. The tour touted the space shuttle program, but the focus was on the Saturn moon rocket, which last flew in missions over 30 years ago. I wanted to see the original pad that launched the Redstone rockets carrying the Mercury astronauts aloft in the 1960s, but they didn't even include it on the tour. Evidently, there is nothing to see now but cracked concrete and weeds.

Most people just don't care anymore, someone told me.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Child exploitation

exploit.gifWhile we're all tut-tutting about what a lowlife slimeball Richard Heene is for allegedly concocting a hoax involving his six-year-old son ("Falcon"'s as though he'd been planning this thing from the kid's birth) in order to enrich himself, let's remember the circumstances that even made the scheme possible.

"Reality" shows succeed or fail based upon whether they are able to adequately satisfy our inner voyeur.

We watch Jon & Kate, Wife Swap and Supernanny because (a) our lives are so dull that we hungrily substitute someone else's experiences for our own, and/or (b) it makes us feel superior to watch people whose lives are relatively out of control when ours are not.

Or maybe it's (c) something else. I'm sure an irate fan of the genre will enlighten me.

Anyway, there's money to be made if you can just come up with the right gimmick. You have to admit Heene was on to something, if only it hadn't fallen apart when the !@#$%^ kid broke from the script and admitted the whole thing was being done for the show.

Since fame and infamy are equally valid currency in the bank of public interest these days, the Heene family is not necessarily out of the money. The important thing is that we all know who they are now, and we find them fascinating. Ironically, the uncovering of the hoax might even give them clout to demand a bigger piece of the action.

For all we know, the kid was coached to admit the "truth." A hoax within a hoax. Bra-VO!

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Barack and Balloon Boy

balloon.gifMy guess is that the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters and their fellow travelers in the entertainment biz are secretly hoping that despite their most ardent efforts, Barack Obama gets reelected to a second term.

Let's say, just for yuks, that the Mayan calendar is wrong and we don't all go up in a plume of fire in 2012.

Sarah Palin--through an electoral fluke (most likely another mechanical error in Florida)--succeeds Obama. Frankly (and I think I speak for those from all political spectra here), round-the-clock cheer leading is a lot less interesting than juicy, red-meat attack rhetoric.

When things start to go bad and the public realizes that she can't even figure out how to find her way down to the shooting range in the White House basement, a bored and cynical base will stop tuning in to the frantic yelping of ultra-conservative lapdogs locked in perpetual denial.

Let's remember: the talk show hosts aren't in it for the power, but the money. It would be delicious indeed to listen to Rush having to modify his spiel in order to attract a more moderate audience. Those Town of Palm Beach property taxes are, I hear, almost confiscatory.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Texting and driving

texting2.gifI have a friend who takes a Darwinian view of people who do dangerous things.

For example, whenever she reads of some hothead on a crotch-rocket who has had a one-vehicle collision with a tree--or a wall--she says, "Natural selection. Not meant to reproduce."

One could put texting while driving in the same category, and just dismiss it as another one of those harmful behaviors--like eating fast-food burgers and fries--that Americans love to defend as their God-given right, except for the fact that the compulsive texter may be entering the same intersection at the same time you are from the other direction.

Then, things get personal. Moreover, there's the insurance argument: Why should those of us who don't even know how to send a text message (and I'm proud to say I'm one of them) subsidize the multi-taskers who place everyone's lives in jeopardy to stay connected?

I read that devices are being sold in Utah (where TWD is now illegal) to disable cell phone signals in the car to prevent the driver from texting and calling while the engine is running. I can see why parents would want one of these things for their teenage kids, but apparently a lot of drivers install them for their own use, because they just can't keep themselves from doing it, even though they know it's dangerous.

Sounds familiar. Mothers Against Texting Drivers, where are you?

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Polanski: Roman no more

genius.gifWhy bother with this guy?

Let's face it: He's in his seventies. That thing he did with the 13-year-old girl was thirty years ago or more, and he hasn't broken the law since. He made a cash settlement with her, and she doesn't want to pursue charges any more. Plus, look at all the magnificent films he's made. One of the greatest cinematic minds of our time.

As for the first part of that argument, which is being peddled by the French, the Poles, and the Hollywood glitterati among others: It's not up to the girl. Society has an interest in the pursuit of justice. The crime to which Polanski confessed was against all of us.

To extend this argument logically, John Demjanjuk was shabbily treated. After all, his alleged crimes against humanity as a Nazi prison camp guard occurred over sixty years ago. He lived a nondescript, law-abiding life ever since as an autoworker in Cleveland. He was deported once to Israel for trial, found guilty, had the verdict overturned, and returned to the U.S. He's now in Germany awaiting another trial at the age of 89. I wonder how the French, the Poles, and Hollywood would have felt if he'd been discovered and the Justice Department had decided to just let bygones be bygones.

No, he was deported to face justice, which is as it should be. The same reasoning applies to Roman Polanski. If there are those who think the brilliance of his movies might exonerate him if he is found guilty at trial, then film critics can be brought in to testify as expert witnesses.

That would cover the second part of the argument. And who knows...he might get a jury full of film buffs.

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On being an American

JJ2.gifA close friend of mine just sent me this photo of his daughter-in-law, who celebrated becoming an American citizen the other day.

Looking at the sheer exuberance in this young woman’s face as she proudly waves her new flag, I was struck that even though we call each other names, accuse one another of being unpatriotic, and attack our leaders on a regular basis (all quintessentially American activities, by the way), there are still people who admire what we are so much that they passionately want to be one of us.

I once helped a Nicaraguan friend, who was already in her seventies, study for her citizenship exam.

While she was allowed to take it in Spanish, she was expected to recall facts about this nation so esoteric that I doubt a high-school civics teacher could have received a perfect score. It took her a few tries, but she persevered. She finally succeeded.

We who are lucky enough to have been born within the geographical borders of this country can’t fully appreciate the gift bestowed upon us through no act of our own. We tend to take it for granted, since we’ve never been deprived of it.

Only someone who has not been an American for much of his or her life can truly grasp the promise of hope, potential, and above all the ingrained reverence for the sanctity of individual rights that American citizenship offers.

A couple of days ago, this young lady was a Filipina. Then, she raised her hand and took an oath of citizenship. Now, she is one of us. No hyphens, just an American--free to complain, along with the rest of us, about everything she thinks is wrong with this country.

When you put it that way, who wouldn’t want to be an American?

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Chan Lowe cartoon: What happened to presidential privacy?

viral.gifThe theme of the week appears to be presidential privacy, or the lack of it.

First comes some obscure lower-echelon speechwriter in the Bush administration who is earning his thirty pieces of silver by publishing a tell-all book.

In it, he quotes (or misquotes) his former employer uttering embarrassing comments that he thought were being made in confidence.

Remember those executive privilege arguments, cited by all administrations, about how a president must be able to depend on the confidentiality of his conversations if he is going to get honest advice? Now the wound comes from an inner, trusted member of the tribe. How crass.

Second, we have Barack Obama being twitted, or tweeted, or whatever, about by news personnel for an offhand remark he made--and which he thought was off the record--that Kanye West was "a jackass." Nobody seems to disagree with his assessment, but the controversy has something to do the fact that he said it.

In this high-tech world, with surreptitious cell phone video cameras, social media, instant Internet connectivity, and the promise of big payoffs for loose lips, no leader can be sure that everything he says or does--no matter how trivial or banal--won't be public knowledge within seconds.

I guess all we can do is be grateful that this stuff wasn't available during the Clinton years. The cocktail dress was bad enough.

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Chan Lowe cartoon: Dial 511 for frustration

511.gifOn occasion, my editors have seen fit to send me to Tallahassee to cover the sillier side of our legislature in graphic montage.

There is no end of inspiration up there. I remember a special session that then-Gov. Bob Martinez called twenty years ago to reform Florida's abortion laws.

Impassioned partisans arrived from all over the country to stage demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in the streets of our sleepy capital city. The pro-life crowd, in particular, came equipped with visual aids that I won't even go into.

Anyway, I discovered that one way to get a handle on the crazy-quilt character of our state is to sit in the gallery of the House of Representatives. It's a little like witnessing a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Over in one corner, the Miami-Dade delegation is deliberating in Spanish. In another, the Broward and Palm Beach reps are still rehashing some football game from long ago between their old high schools back in Brooklyn. One can hear the broad diphthongs of the Midwest from the Orlando/Tampa/Sarasota corridor, and cutting through it all is the twang of good ol' boys from the Panhandle across to Jacksonville, thick and tough as the crust on a chicken-fried steak.

Bearing all this in mind, it's no wonder that a statewide voice-activated highway information system would be stymied trying to understand instructions from an average Floridian. Mainly because there is no such thing as an average Floridian. We're really a loose collection of accents and idioms.

That is, when we're speaking to each other.

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Ted Kennedy


It has become fashionable in the last couple of decades to hurl the term "liberal" around as an epithet.

Those who do so--and they tend to be those who do not even understand how they and their loved ones have benefited from so-called "liberal" policies--use the term as an amalgam of "communist," "degenerate," and "unpatriotic."

Ted Kennedy wore the label with pride.

Whatever your politics, you should acknowledge that Ted Kennedy was a giant. If you don't, it says more about you than it does about him.

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Swine flu drive thru

Parts of South Florida, particularly the Greater Boca Raton Metroplex, can be characterized as Beverly Hills Lite mixed with a generous dollop of Nassau County, Long Island.

This is why it came as no surprise when one of Boca's own institutions of higher learning, Florida Atlantic University, announced it was offering valet parking to students so they wouldn't have to traipse across the college parking lots in our punishing humidity and arrive in class with the frizzies. If you can look better by paying more, it's money well spent. That is the Boca Way, as well as the Hippocratic Oath for the plastic surgery industry.

It's also the South Florida way to do as much as you possibly can without leaving your car. If you must leave it, then make sure you minimize the number of steps you take to the greatest degree possible. This may even involve waiting for several minutes, burning fuel and blocking cars behind you, for that perfect spot to open up near the entrance to the fitness center--a place you are ostensibly going to in order to burn calories.

I say ostensibly, because we all know you're really going there to meet people, and you want to look your best when you arrive.

Any entrepreneur who can come up with a way to deliver a needed service to people as they wait in their car with the engine running is bound to succeed in South Florida.

Hence the business model I hereby offer up in my cartoon. I would love to see it become a reality.

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Justice Sotomayor

While the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic associate justice of the supreme court is a laudable achievement in light of our history, the fact that the media and the nation are making such a big deal about it means that we still have a ways to go in terms of how we think about race.

It is said that in thirty or forty more years, everyone will be part of a minority, but until then, it’s interesting to note that when ethnic labels are used to describe people, it’s usually in relation to groups from which the labelers wish to remain distinct.

When was the last time you heard the term, “English-American,” or “Dutch-American?” I don’t know if Chief Justice Rehnquist was the first American of Scandinavian extraction to hold his position, but I can’t recall anybody bringing it up at the time.

The very term “Hispanic,” a Nixon-era moniker, was concocted so that government could isolate a certain group from the rest of us for separate treatment.

Such a label—whether for good or ill--entrenches racist thinking within all groups. Moreover, it’s inaccurate. A Puerto Rican has about as much in common with a Peruvian as my grandmother—a Polish immigrant--had with the descendents of the Mayflower pilgrims. Nevertheless, various groups would label them Hispanic and Anglo, respectively, in a misbegotten attempt to categorize them according to ethnic origin.

If we can’t get it right, why not just drop it altogether? Would that it were that simple.

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The dangers of texting


Back in the '90s, when cell phones were becoming all the rage in New York City, a courtesy code developed about their appropriate use.

New York, like Japan, is a densely populated living space, and selfish activities that make life more tedious for the general population are quickly frowned upon, the perpetrators ostracized. There is a code, and it is understood that sticking to the code is what makes the city livable.

Most New Yorkers, at least those who wanted to have friends, learned that talking loudly on a cell in a restaurant would attract rude stares, and often an impolite word or two from table neighbors. The same was true in enclosed spaces like doctors' waiting rooms, where sometimes an involuntary witness to a phone conversation would simply begin reading his newspaper or book out loud to the point where the phone user had to either hang up or leave the room.

What is needed with this texting fad is a sense of shame. Outlawing texting while driving is fine, up to a point--but it's hard to enforce. Mothers Against Drunk Driving managed to accomplish the stigmatizing of an activity. Before they came along, it was hard to convict drunk drivers because juries were sympathetic. "There but for the grace of God go I," and all that.

Americans love to do what is bad for them, especially if it makes them feel good. Take smoking, for example (the analogy is appropriate, because we're talking about addictions that also happen to be harmful to others). Only when driving texters are figuratively "driven out of the building" to stand in shame in the rain--the way smokers are--will the destructive behavior diminish.

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Pork barrel spending lives!


The Raptor, aptly named for a dinosaur, is a project that Defense Secretary Bob Gates has desperately tried to kill, but even he cannot drive a stake through its reptilian heart. Congress refuses to let it die off, though it's the wrong weapon for the wrong times and a stupendous waste of taxpayer money as we face record deficits.

This is one of those times when democracy and common sense follow skewed paths. You can hardly blame Congress. Weapons systems have traditionally served as socialistic jobs programs for small-government types (actually, all-government types) who use "defense" as a fig leaf for their self-preserving largess with our money.

You can't blame the defense contractors, either. After all, it is they who figured out how to game the system by spreading their subcontracts out to as many congressional districts as possible, thereby making the projects virtually bulletproof. In fact, you should tip your hat to them. If getting rich by being merchants of death is their raison d'etre, then they have no peer.

Imagine if the Raptor, rather than being a plane we don't need, were a program of wind turbine and solar panel construction, spreading as many jobs out to just as many districts as now benefit from the defense contracts. As we became more self-sufficient in our energy needs, the need for new weapons systems to protect our far-flung and vulnerable sources would gradually disappear.

But that would leave the dinosaurs out in the cold.

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The Sonia Sotomayor miniseries

You've probably heard the aphorism, "Politics is show business for ugly people."

Well, once you understand that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor are nothing more than pure theater, then everything falls into place.

We know that the lady is a shoo-in. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, himself said that barring some kind of a meltdown, Sotomayor was sure to be confirmed.

In light of that certainty, one would naturally wonder what the point of this charade might be. All the opposition research has been done, and nothing truly damning has been found. Might as well stop wasting everybody's time.

One would be missing the point. You've also heard former Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum, "All politics is local." These senators have restive constituencies back home, and in some cases the base is expecting their boy to rough the lady up a little, bein's as how she's kinda furrin and all. It's a delicate cakewalk, of course, because while the base wins primaries in reelection races, bases don't win general elections, especially in states where there are a lot of eligible hispanic voters who might turn out in righteous anger if they felt Sotomayor had been mistreated.

Hence we have Sen. Sessions shoehorning in the "wise Latina" comment, and heavy emphasis on the New Haven firefighters decision. A lot of concern being expressed. Nothing too scathing. On the opposite side, Sen. Leahy of Vermont is expected by his left-wing bleeding hearts to be Sotomayor's vocal champion, and he is discharging his duty with gusto.

If this brand of showbiz is too boring for you, go watch Desperate Housewives or something.

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The Great American Vacation Ripoff

We're all feeling a bit spent after the mass Michael catharsis, and our president is overseas, although nobody seems to care.

The only item of interest to come out of the G-8 meeting (snore) is that the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is a proud, in-your-face skirt-chaser, and he's not holding any teary-eyed press conferences, thank God, to justify his behavior. They're much more civilized about these things in Italy.

It's the dog days. Al Franken joined the other comedians in the U.S. Senate... at least he's honest enough to admit to his calling. Sarah Palin's flash in the pan has sizzled out. I'm drawing cartoons about the fact that theme parks nickel and dime you to death once you've paid the steep fee to get in the gates.

Anybody who goes to a family attraction should expect to get fleeced. What makes it special is the fantasy. The kids get to imagine themselves in the midst of a charmed wonderland. The parent footing the bill gets to imagine that he or she is a small shopkeeper in Bedford-Stuyvesant getting shaken down by the neighborhood gang in exchange for their not smashing his plate-glass windows.

That's why they call it the Magic Kingdom.

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Michael Jackson--on to the dark side


I was just talking to a man whose son, a U.S. Marine, was involved in one of the largest helicopter assaults since Vietnam (four thousand troops), which took place on Wednesday, July 1.

He said that a lot of Marine parents get together on a web chat site to support each other when they know a major operation is going on.

In this case, they agreed between them to watch all the available TV stations and let everybody else know if anything about the assault was mentioned. Between coverage of Michael Jackson and Gov. Mark Sanford, over an hour passed before he was able to tell the others to tune in to a network.

It was the BBC.

Now, you can't blame the media for all of this. They do their homework, and they look at their instant ratings. If war were still a hot seller, we'd see a lot more of it on TV and the front pages, so we're collectively responsible as members of a nation that happens to have an incredibly short attention span.

Which brings me to this cartoon. With this memorial extravaganza, the age of innocence is over. We're about to be treated nonstop to the sordid, seamy underbelly of the Jackson saga. The parasites are coming out of the woodwork. They were always there, but this is their moment in the sun.

My advice: If you are the type who wants to keep Michael's spirit of love, harmony and peace alive, this would be a good time to go read a book.

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The Sanford soap opera


I've said this before about other pols, but I really mean it this time: This guy is the gift that keeps on giving.

The only conclusion I can come to at this point is that the Republican Party has a secret strategy, which is to let the man talk himself into such a black hole that the general public can only conclude he's a rogue nutball and not representative of the Party as a whole.

It's fun watching all the TV talking heads try to keep straight faces while they recite the direct quotes. This could be a bodice-ripper romance novel, except that the little I ever read of one that was lying around in a doctor's office was much better written.

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Hard times Fourth of July

Americans are having trouble coming to grips with all the ways the recession affects daily life.

Sure, we trim the budget at home, but when local government makes painful cuts that we feel down at the grassroots level, we get resentful. Take Independence Day fireworks, which we feel is our right as Americans to enjoy. Somehow, they just happen.

It's this preconception that causes civic leaders to swallow hard before they take away something so highly visible. They're afraid we'll take it out on them later at the polls.

On the other hand, how would you like to be a city worker who's been doing his or her job for decades, and doing it well, when some councilman comes to you and says, "Sorry, but we had to lay you off so we could save our own butts by blowing up a few thousand dollars in the atmosphere this year?"

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Madoff Sentencing

An armed robber goes into a convenience store to steal money out of the cash register. He pulls out a pistol and points it at the store clerk.

He has no intention of using it. He just wants to show the man he means business. The store clerk, upon seeing the weapon, involuntarily recoils. He slips on a puddle of Mountain Dew and his head hits the tile floor. He dies of a cerebral hemorrhage.

The robber is apprehended, and charged with something called "felony murder," which is to say that even though he never intended to take a life, he embarked on a series of activities that directly resulted in the death of the clerk.

How is Bernard Madoff any different than this guy, when his theft resulted in several suicides by people whose entire life savings had been wiped out?

He's lucky all he got was 150 years, and not the magic mojito I.V. As it is, I heard that he's not going to a country club prison. Thanks to the enormity of his crimes, he's rumored to be headed for medium security, with rapists, armed robbers, and other unsavory types who are also serving life sentences with no possibility of parole.

In other words, the system has no way of disciplining them if they should happen to visualize their own grandmother in the place of some little old lady who is now forced to survive on cat food, and decide to take appropriate action.

That's what it feels like not to know if you're going to make it through the next day, Mr. Madoff.

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A great pitchman silenced

I like to think that when people die within a short time of each other, they share a bus to the next life which departs only once each week.

It's a pretty long trip, so the passengers get plenty of time to talk to each other on the way to the end of the line. If you think of it this way, it makes for some fascinating speculation about what conversations might be taking place during the journey.

Imagine Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays having an impromptu bull session in the back. After Ed introduces everybody, Farrah and Michael discuss all the fashion trends they've set between the two of them, and Billy, with his inextinguishable enthusiasm, shows the King of Pop how to get rid of that stubborn stain on his glove.

The quartet have one thing in common, and it is the thing that reserves for each of them a special place in our hearts: they really, really loved their work. What a pleasure it was to watch them do (and so deftly, at that) exactly what they were born to do.

We should all be so lucky.

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The Michael Jackson media circus


Editorial cartoons are a clunky medium for doing tributes.

It's difficult to tread the line between sincere and sappy, because brevity is the soul of an effective cartoon, and you have to hit the sentiment just right or it blows up in your face.

While I respect Michael Jackson's work, I am not a fan; so at first I decided to pass on the subject. That was before, one by one, my colleagues came by asking what I was planning to draw in response to his death. It became apparent that this is one of those mega-topics you cannot avoid, because it is so much a part of common existence that it demands commentary.

Fearing that my lack of requisite grief would cause a tribute to ring hollow, I decided that the best way to honor Jackson, the man and the artist, was to comment on my own profession and the way it is exploiting his demise (being mindful of how the Princess Di extravaganza eventually played itself out).

Endless electronic wallowing on the air, in print and on the Internet seems to be the modern way of mass grieving. Many people must need it, or it wouldn't pump ratings, circulation and net hits the way it does.

I do not argue with that. It's just a shame that taste always has to be a victim in the race to be the most saccharine. It debases us all.

And another thing: Poor old Farrah Fawcett, a figure equally worthy of our respect, has been all but forgotten in this orgy.

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Mark Sanford's last tango

This is happening so regularly now that it almost isn't worth commenting on. After all, we'd just gotten over Senator John Ensign of Nevada last week when Mark Sanford obligingly added his name to the rapidly growing list of Politicians You've Probably Never Heard Of Until They Cheated On Their Spouses.

This latest sex scandal borders on the garden variety (everything seems rather ordinary after Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards), except that there's a certain deliciousness to the self-immolation of someone who was so quick to condemn Bill Clinton for the same behavior. Hypocrisy is the spice that livens up an otherwise mundane dish.

And besides, as I've pointed out in the cartoon, what's wrong with nice, red-blooded American girls? What are our womenfolk, chopped carne asada?

It's an insult to the locals, like joyriding around Detroit in a Hyundai.

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The Stallworth wrist-slap

When a crime is committed, the people's interest in an ordered society is represented by the prosecution, which pursues its task (without passion or prejudice) within an accepted and respected framework of law.

Our reverence for the law and the assumption of its equal application (at least in theory) are part of the social contract that holds us together as a society. When that contract is violated, it's an affront to us all. That is, I think, what lies at the root of the anger at Donte Stallworth's punishment, or lack thereof.

We call the punishment of a crime the perpetrator's "debt to society" for a reason. It is not his or her "debt to the victim," because in theory, it is society and its code that have been wronged. This is what keeps our system from descending into "eye for an eye" justice. The legal system is there to protect us from ourselves, from each other, and from our natural revenge instinct. Without it, we'd all be killing each other off in vendettas.

The redress of personal grievances is settled lawfully in civil court. The fact that Donte Stallworth made a financial settlement with the family of his victim should have no bearing on his criminal sentence. We know this, if not because we are familiar with the law, then because we feel it in our guts as members of a collective group with a stake in preserving our code.

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Hate in America

Yes, it's a dark view of the American character.

My feeling is that the American psyche embodies both the best and the worst of human nature. There is a xenophobic strain that has permeated our culture since before we became a nation, perhaps stoked by our two-ocean isolation. Ironically, we are a nation of immigrants. One could imagine that this might inoculate us from the poison of racial and ethnic hatred. If anything, it has heightened the sense of isolation felt by some on the fringes.

The institution of slavery in a relatively modern society helped to solidify a mind-set wherein some human beings were considered, legally, less "human" than others. Glowing embers of that attitude continue to smolder beneath our national surface.

Economic hardship tends to bring such strains into stark relief and make them more acceptable, particularly when the have-nots or the aggrieved are seeking someone to blame for their current plight.

On the other hand, what makes America exceptional is that we have laws and systems in place designed to conquer those base and ugly forces of human nature that have consumed other peoples. It is our strength that we keep trying to better ourselves as a pluralistic nation, in spite of persistent setbacks. We are a nation of laws, thank God. Unfortunately, we are also a nation of human beings, with all our inherent flaws.

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Vets get the short end of the stick

It shouldn't have to be this way.

It should be a given that our veterans go to the head of the line when it comes to federal expenditures. After all, there'd be no Federal Government to expend anything if they didn't put their lives on the line, time after time.

Instead, we get the national shame of the Walter Reed scandal (uncovered by Washington Post investigative reporting --a field which is in great danger these days--but that's another story) and VA hospitals with staffs so poorly trained that they spread horrific diseases through shoddy hygiene to people who deserve much better.

My guess is that the reason the pols pay lip service to our men and women in uniform without following through with the goods is that the volunteer military is a relatively small constituency. Back when we had a draft, the inconvenience and sacrifice were spread to many more families throughout the congressional districts, and besides, many pols had served themselves, thanks to that same draft. They could relate.

Now, as the number of veterans in Congress dwindles, there is no immediacy.
It's easy to forget our national obligation, except at election time or Veteran's Day, when talk is cheap.


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King Tobacco tamed


It says something about the power of politics and influence to trump common sense when it has taken this long to get any meaningful legislation passed that regulates tobacco like the drug that it is.

There's an analogy here to the health care issue, in that we are the only industrialized country left with no guaranteed health care for its entire population, because powerful special interests stood in the way of the people's interest.

It does seem a bit weird that the Food and Drug Administration, an outfit designed to ensure the safety and purity of things we put into our bodies, is about to be placed in charge of a substance that kills and, at best, sickens people, with no redeeming medical value. I guess it's the only agency with the structure in place to do so.

We could have built a whole new department out of thin air--a la Department of Homeland Security--called the Slow Suicide Administration or something, but we know how Republicans feel about expanding bureaucracy. Best to keep it all under one roof.

This way, the Surgeon General can condemn the product on the one hand, while the FDA can safeguard us from, ahem, any harmful chemicals that might make it into our coffin nails on the other. As a taxpayer, I appreciate these rare examples of government efficiency.

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Hurricane preparedness...or lack of it


The fact that many coastal residents are not prepared for a hurricane is no surprise.

Nobody is going to prepare for anything as long as the threat remains an abstraction. It's human nature. They will begin to prepare, however, when the news that a storm is approaching percolates its way through the ordinary stress and distractions of their daily lives.

This usually happens about forty-eight hours before the storm hits. All of a sudden, there are lines at Home Depot for (now scarce) plywood, and at the supermarkets for water, batteries and other staples that should have been bought months in advance. Incredibly, home improvement stores report that much of the plywood is returned after a storm fails to materialize, as if by surviving a near-miss, we have been inoculated against future catastrophes.

That kind of attitude can only be ascribed to blind superstition. This is what a lot of people must be taking solace in when they fail to perform simple preparatory tasks despite incessant government and media reminders.

It's too late now, but realize that I left ground bat wing and eye of newt out of the cartoon. Shoulda been better prepared.

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Swine flu


Not again!

Remember the Great Swine Flu scare of 1976? Poor old President Ford could never catch a break. Somebody died of swine flu in Vermont or somewhere, and the whole U.S. health system mobilized.

Millions of doses of swine flu vaccine were manufactured at taxpayer expense, thousands upon thousands of Americans were inoculated, and in the end more people died of reactions to the flu shots than from the original disease. The whole fiasco ended up as a political embarrassment.

I clearly remember drawing swine flu cartoons when I was just getting started at a small paper in Oklahoma that didn't even publish on Mondays (so that nobody would have to work on the Sabbath), and now, thirty-three years later, I find myself having to brush up on my hog anatomy all over again.

To quote Santayana, "Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." There are two lessons to be taken from this: Don't stay too long in the same dead-end job, and let somebody else be the guinea pig for that flu shot before you take the plunge.

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Red-light cameras


It's the Holy Grail for cash-strapped localities: cameras, supplied by a private company, that snag red-light runners. The company takes a cut, the city gets the money, and it's win-win for everybody.

Red-light runners are one resource that South Florida possesses in an abundant, inexhaustible supply. Tapping into them is like harnessing the power of the sun.

Besides, everybody hates them, so it's like taxing child abuse or something. There's no constituency of red-light runners that will organize to push back against being targeted.

Another advantage I see is that, this being Florida, the rear-end collision side-effect of drivers slamming on their brakes at the last moment will be more pronounced than in other states where these cameras are being tried. Take into account all the usual text-messaging, phone-yakking, ingesting of dangerous drugs, and doing make-up while driving that happens in every state, and add to it the slower reaction time of a tailgating senior who is trying to get through the light because, like everybody else in Florida, it's important to get wherever you're going ahead of all the other drivers, and you've provided a stimulus for one of our major industries: personal injury lawsuits.

It's the gift that keeps on giving.

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Today, we are going to discuss the decline of civilization.

No, it isn’t the result of rot from within, the death of shame, or the erosion of morals. You can lay it all on the e-doorstep of fixed-rate unlimited access calling plans.

Now, even people with little means can remain connected all day, through cellphones, texting, email, Twitter, and a host of other media I haven’t had a chance to get incensed about yet. Talk has always been cheap, but now it’s even cheaper. When the value of something is debased, it gets overwhelmed with dreck.

I don’t care if somebody laments that they’re over-connected. Obviously, they can’t figure out anything more redeeming to do with their lives than mindlessly chatter or write in e-snippets all day, so no harm done.

What bothers me is when they indulge their need while someone who is too old to find this stuff necessary is trying to hold a personal, real-time, in-place conversation with them. Someone like me, for example.

Then, there’s what texting has done to flatten the language. World War III could easily start because Dmitry Medvedev misread an Obama text message lacking the proper irony-denoting emoticon, “;-)”,
as in, “U dummy ;-).” This tells me that the medium has an inherent clarity problem.

Go ahead, call me a Luddite. To me, subtlety and inflection are the exotic spices of communication.

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It's time, once again, to get our minds off depressing issues like politics and the economy to discuss an unrelated local topic, to wit: the Boca Raton teacher who has been accused of allowing her cats to starve to death in her apartment while she was off working and spending time with her boyfriend and family.

We knew the subject would stir passions, which is why we made it the Daily Buzz on the Sun Sentinel's website. So far, it has been a smashing success.

I am owned by two cats, myself. I use this locution advisedly, because in a relationship with a cat, he or she is the master, and you are the dog. A cat displays allegiance to the last person who fed it, and that's about the extent of the bonding. I think it's precisely because cat loyalty is so transitory that we prize the critters so. Dogs love you even if you're a dirtbag. With them, love is cheap (I also have a dog).

This is why pet food manufacturers can extort cat lovers, pound for pound, for the most carefully prepared feline treats, while dog food can be bought in bulk at a price that more accurately reflects what it's worth. No kitty toy or gimmick designed to make their lives more comfortable is too expensive.

For the record, I think that what this woman is accused of doing is worthy of a felony charge. The least she could have done was leave the sliding door ajar so that they could get out and fend for themselves. She didn't.

On a personal note, this cartoon marks my 25th anniversary here on the Opinion Page of the Sun-Sentinel. Where did the time go? I think I'll celebrate the auspicious occasion with another Lowe-Down Cartoon Caption Contest, probably next week. Cool prizes and the thanks of a grateful nation lie in store for those with the guts to enter.

Stay tuned.

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Drugs and violence


There was a report on the radio that the crime of car stereo theft had all but disappeared.

Automakers realized that they could make more money by installing high-quality stereos as standard equipment in order to help their cars sell. With no need to upgrade one's stereo, the market for "used" ones evaporated.

This is the theory behind the "War on Drugs." No market, no crime.

One of the reasons the law enforcement approach has been such a dismal failure is that it may criminalize use and sales, but it never addresses the fundamental aspects of society that make drugs an attractive option to the population.

The Egyptians invented beer. Shortly thereafter, some Egyptian relaxed in his stone recliner in front of a wall of sports hieroglyphics with a six-flagon, and invented the weekend bender. People like to depart from reality. When given the chance, kids sniff glue, prisoners put together stills from anything they can find to make alcohol from fruit. Why? It's fun.

For America to be the kind of place where nobody sought to use and abuse mind-altering substances, we'd all have to be like...Utah. Which is a great place to live if you're into a pure lifestyle. A lot of Americans, I have a feeling, would not think of living in Utah as "fun." I understand, though, that even Utah is finally passing a law that allows you to get a drink in a bar. No fun, no tourists.

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Debbie Wasserman tough character


Sometimes the role of the editorial cartoonist involves more than finding fault or poking fun. Sometimes his role is to channel what the community feels.

Political views aside, it would be hard not to have anything but respect for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who not only battled and beat breast cancer, but did so without missing a day of work. As befits her character, she is now using her experience to aid in passing legislation that will increase breast cancer awareness among young women.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz is an unabashed progressive. I remember decades ago, when she first made her mark in the legislature by pushing for dry cleaning parity for women's blouses, which for some reason incurred a higher charge because they buttoned left-to-right. It sounded silly at the time, and was ridiculed both by her colleagues and the media, but she stuck to it and gained a lot of credibility in the process as a crusader. She knew that small things mattered to her constituents.

Well, this is a big thing, and it looks like she has attacked it with the same determination that has become her hallmark, and that has helped catapult her to a leadership position in the U.S. House.

We all wish her good fortune in her life and endeavors.

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The Pope, condoms, and HIV/AIDS

There's no question that this Pope has made some controversial moves during his pontificate. Most recently, there was the rehabilitation of the holocaust-denying bishop. Oops.

Now, he's made some irresponsible remarks about condoms and AIDS during his trip to Africa. I don't quibble with his view that the use of condoms is a sin because it's a form of contraception, if that's what he believes. After all, he's in the belief business, and who knows what constitutes a sin better than the Pope? But, declaring that the use of condoms helps to spread HIV is just plain wrong.

Sure, abstinence works well, if you use it all the time. Unfortunately, the same God who created us also bequeathed us this pesky drive to procreate, and sometimes that drive just overwhelms reason and faith. I don't think He meant to say, as seems to be the case with HIV/AIDS, “Lapse one time and you're dead, along with a raft of other innocent souls you may be lapsing with in the future.” That doesn't leave much room for repentance and forgiveness.

Before you go calling me a Catholic-basher, I should say that I'm very fond of Catholics. In fact, I'm married to one.

I just think His Holiness is way off base this time. He's a man, not a god, and he isn't infallible. The problem is that his words, even when misguided, carry a great deal of weight.

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Madoff Sentencing

I think some of the vitriol aimed at Madoff, even by those who weren't his victims, is based on the acknowledgement that he is not sorry for what he has done. Not in the slightest. A sociopath, devoid of conscience.

While he was confined to his apartment, (a show of leniency that added insult to those he injured), Madoff brazenly mailed expensive jewelry and cash to friends and relatives, right under the noses of his federal keepers. Now skeptics say he's pleading guilty in hopes the feds will leave his family out of the investigation. He holds no cards, yet he's still trying to game the system.

Personally, I find it refreshing. I'm tired of people in the public trust--like politicians, for example--dragging their wives up to the podium with them to blubber about how sorry they are for what they did (read here: for getting caught at what they did). Madoff is a genuinely detestable character, unrepentant, an equal-opportunity perp who is shuffling off to the slammer with his head held high.

There is no room for pity. None asked for, none given. Bernie is offering himself up as the national pinata, someone we can hate without reservation. We needed a clear embodiment of the inchoate violation we all feel, and he has done himself proud.

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Barbie turns 50


There are armchair and professional shrinks who contend that Barbie, the iconic doll of the past half-century, has done more to harm self-esteem and promote the spread of eating disorders among young girls than any other object in history. Barbie, they say, creates an ideal so unreachable that teenagers have starved themselves to death trying to replicate her figure in their own flesh.

A colleague of mine isn't buying it. She has two young daughters who have a couple of dozen Barbies between them, and she says they are not suffering from self-esteem issues. They just like to dress the things. If anything, they're developing overly robust shopping habits.

Anyway, the overlooked story here is Ken, the unsung prince consort. Being that this is a tough economy, products need to collaborate (as I have suggested in this cartoon), to get the word out. Ken must be in his late sixties by now, having begun life as a teenager, and he most likely suffers issues that the major pharmaceutical companies could have a field day with.

And let's not forget accessories. We could get Crane or Kohler to produce little side-by-side bathtubs for our lovers to lie in while they hold hands and contemplate their golden years.

You got a better stimulus plan?

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Evidently, many Congresspersons were Twittering madly under the table to their tuned-in constituents during Obama's address the other week. This is a sure sign that the latest communication fad many mainstream Americans are just learning about has already ceased to be hip and cutting-edge.

I am reminded of the 1970's, when our elected officials wore extra wide ties, big fat Carnaby Street collars, and cut their hair just long enough to look "with it" for the younger set, yet not so long as to offend their more strait-laced constituents back home. It was a delicate balancing act of personal grooming.

Personally, I do not understand things like texting and Twitter. Aside from not wanting to know about every belch and grunt emanating from distant acquaintances, I would rather run my car into a tree while talking to a friend on my cell phone than do so while wearing out my thumbs producing a text message. Saves effort.

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Rush Limbaugh, Obama, and the Democrats



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Paying for the octuplets


Sometimes stories that don't seem to be relevant to anything in our lives just grab the public by the throat and don't let go. Or, more accurately, the public grabs them by the throat.

I know people who don't know the difference between the deficit and the national debt (and don't care) who have become world authorities on every intimate detail of Caylee Anthony's life and death.

The Octuplet Mom is another one of those stories. They're the glue that holds this great nation together, because, just like whether or not you want anchovies on your pizza, everybody's got an opinion, and everybody wants to share it, vocally.

The fix illustrated in this cartoon does not seem unreasonable, when you take into account society's current levels of crassness. Everybody comes out satisfied, because the taxpayers don't have to foot the bill, and the companies involved get some eyeball time.

It won't happen. Not because of a belated sense of propriety, though. In this economy, everybody's cutting back on his marketing budget.

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Welcome Williams College Art 102

On a point of personal privilege, I just want to give a "shout out," as Sarah Palin might say, to the current students in the Williams College Art 102 survey course. I understand you were cajoled, importuned--nay--threatened, into visiting this blog by my great friend and mentor Eva Grudin.

I remember what a relief it was to pass from 101 to 102 because (and don't tell EJ Johnson I said this) if you've seen one Gothic cathedral, you've pretty much seen 'em all.

When I came back to teach Winter Study, I spent a good deal of my time trying to talk my students out of going into investment banking careers. That doesn't seem to be such a problem anymore, considering this economy, so take it from me--if you're after a classical liberal arts education, you could do a lot worse than major in Art History.

From the likes of the aforementioned EJ, and the legendary Lane Faison and Whit Stoddard, I learned much more than who painted or built what. I learned critical thinking, the organization. distillation and communication of ideas, and--especially from EJ--how to turn an elegant phrase.

'Nuff said. I hope you enjoy the blog. Please tell your friends and family about it.

Oh, and ask EJ to tell you about the time he fell through the stage. That happened during my year.

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The chimpanzee and the law


Local governments issuing permits so that people can keep wild animals on their property is a little bit like imposing federal limits for carcinogens: in reality, there is no maximum allowable. The mere presence of the danger is either a threat, or it isn't.

Issuing an animal's owner a permit to keep a tiger, a boa constrictor, or a chimpanzee does not automatically render the animal safe. They cannot really be domesticated, or they wouldn't be considered "exotic pets."

Surely people who enjoy the thrill of keeping savage beasts penned up in settled communities could take up a hobby less injurious to their neighbors, like chainsaw juggling.

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The octuplets


Yes, everybody is justifiably indignant about the single woman who had all the babies, and whose self-indulgence is going to cost the State of California (which can ill afford it) millions for their delivery and upkeep.

You would think that the pro-life crowd was celebrating the miracle, and sending wads of money to help the poor woman take care of her brood, since she had the courage to go ahead, get implanted, and give birth without "getting rid of the problem." I must be missing something, because the cash doesn't appear to be rolling in.

It's strange the way some pro-lifers, at least the ones who use abortion as a political wedge issue, seem to lose interest in the welfare of children once they're born. Where do all the funds for pre- and post-natal care come from? The subsidies for the actual deliveries? Pre-K programs? College assistance? Day care? Hold on a second--those are programs Democrats tend to fight for.

And another thing, while I'm on the topic: Why does the "sanctity of life" not extend to our use of the death penalty? When I lived in Oklahoma, I met plenty of folks who saw no disconnect between fighting to save a fetus' life and clamoring for somebody to get fried.

I never could figure out exactly at what age a human being's life ceased to be sacred. Asking the experts just stirred up trouble.

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Valentine's Day and the economy

A survey I once read about said that men feel more stress over Valentine's Day than any other holiday. Evidently, the fear is that the wrong gift, or one not lavish enough, might wreck everything.

There was an attractive young Cuban-American reporter in our newsroom a few years back. I'm not sure being Cuban-American had anything to do with it...let's just say she was a traditionalist in matters romantic. She was known to have had several suitors on the string at the same time, and as Valentine's Day drew nigh, she began tapping her foot. Sure enough, Security began arriving carrying enormous batches of roses to the point where it looked like a funeral service was taking place over in her cubicle. Her haul became the yardstick by which all future Valentine's floral offerings were judged.

Our current economic situation is bound to create even more trauma as young swains seek to pinch pennies without looking penurious.

It will also stimulate cleverness and creativity in the art of gift-giving. For what it's worth, Ladies, I suggest you go with the creative guy.

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The latest hot pastime is for kids to send sexually-oriented text messages and nude pictures of themselves to each other on their cell phones as a way of "flirting." Whatever happened to offering to carry somebody's books home?

I was having a discussion about this at work with a friend, who happens to be the mother of two teenagers. "Kids these days have nothing on Sodom and Gomorrah," she said authoritatively. "Read your Bible. You shoulda seen the things they were doing back then. And while Moses was up on the mountain, they were down there making all kinds of stuff out of gold and silver!"

My friend may have conflated a couple of stories, but her point is well taken. Young people have done everything they could to challenge the mores of their societies since "time in memoriam," as one of my old Oklahoma associates would say. Idol worship, dancing the waltz, glue sniffing, psychedelic drugs, love-ins, listening to Elvis Presley records. Now it's body piercings, something called "embedding" that I won't even go into, and "sexting."

All parents can do is shrug and try to stay a step ahead in the arms race.

A word about Sodom and Gomorrah: I was under the impression that the Sodomites (Why is it that they get all the credit? Is it because it looks awkward to add a "y" to "Gomorrah" when you're writing a state morality statute?) were condemned not for their imaginative sexual proclivities, but for being inhospitable to strangers.

I don't purport to be a scriptural scholar, so I'll leave that to the sages to argue. Besides, it could be a subject for another cartoon.

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If the ad fits...


First off, I would like to thank Joseph, an observant reader, who pointed out that I mistakenly made Southwest Airlines the original subject of this cartoon. My apologies to Southwest, for it is, in fact, Spirit Airlines that I should have spotlighted. The correction has been duly made.

And, yes, Joseph, I do read my own newspaper, usually around 5:30 a.m., and at that hour I have been known to make more than a few mistakes.

Many of us in the newspaper business still think of what we do as a calling, not just a job. That having been said, nobody better understands the direct relationship between advertising and meaningful, rewarding employment better than we do.

We hear over and over that consumer spending is the backbone of the nation’s economy. The fact that consumers are now stashing their discretionary dollars under the mattress for a rainy day is one of the reasons why the recession is spiraling out of control.

But, when consumers are in a buying mood, advertising helps them make decisions about where to spend those dollars. It’s the circulatory system for that economic backbone, to extend the metaphor a little.

So when Spirit Airlines' flight attendants whine that it’s unprofessional to wear aprons with an ad for Bud Light on them, I say buck up. Instead of their grousing, they should join the rest of America in trusting their colds to Tylenol, in not squeezing the Charmin, in taking the thirty-six hour pill that’s ready when they are, and in choosing the adult diaper that has been proven in independent lab tests to be more absorbent.

Their jobs are probably the ones being saved by that ad.

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The unplanned Hudson River cruise


The way television was obsessing on the rich video of a plane floating in the river last night, and kept doing so deep into prime-time, I half-expected them to stage an episode of Dancing With The Stars on the wing.

Even when there was nothing new to say, they stayed on it. This was way better than a low-speed car chase down a freeway.

We did learn one important thing during the course of the evening: the reason Michael Bloomberg decided not to run for president. His public speaking delivery makes a dial tone sound like a Shakespearean soliloquy.

True, it's a miracle that nobody died. You can't take anything away from that.

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Payback time


The staff here at The Lowe-Down want to wish you a Merry Christmas, and as a sign of our sincerity we are offering you a politics-free cartoon today.

Yes, this time of year is payback for having to endure nine months of summer, so why not share it with the less fortunate--specifically, our snowbound friends and relatives Up North?

Rub it in, real good. Heck, even if you don't celebrate Christmas, go ahead and make that call. Nobody can blame you for connecting with family.

Let's face it, they do the same thing to us during fall foliage.

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The Madoff Ripoff


It would be easy for us working stiffs to indulge in a little schadenfreude over this Madoff investment Ponzi scheme uproar. The rich, trying to get even richer, ended up hoist on their own petard of greed.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few charities that placed their money and trust in the hands of this criminal as well, so a lot of innocent "little" people are being hurt.

Since Madoff's fifty-billion-dollar crime was white collar, he'll probably end up doing a few years at the Allenwood Federal Country Club, if he does any time at all. Meanwhile, a small-time crook who rolls a Seven-Eleven with a pistol will probably do twenty years or more, even though his crime affects far fewer people far less drastically. But that's the way the system works.

Meanwhile, where were the Feds while all this was happening? According to recent stories, they were probably sitting around with their thumbs up their derivatives, giving each other inside stock tips instead of doing due diligence.

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The decline and fall of the airlines

The old-timers allow as how, back in the day, folks would dress up in their Sunday-best duds to go up in aeroplanes.

Why, shucks...they used to gussy up to go on the train, or to the doctor's, even. Those were the days when people showed respect.

But flying really was something special. Pilots were like gods with Apollo's wings attached to their shiny brogans. They say the first stewardesses, (yep, that's what they called 'em back then--none of this mealy-mouthed "flight attendant" claptrap) were required to be registered nurses.

They served real food, too. Not just peanuts and crackers, but gourmet stuff, and they gave you little printed menus with names on 'em you couldn't even pronounce.

Course, in those days before deregulation and all, a plane ticket would set you back about six months' pay. But that didn't matter, 'cuz back then the dime-store science fiction magazines were telling us that by 2008, we'd all be traveling effortlessly by tele-transporter to points across the globe.

With no surcharges for blankets and pillows.

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Illinois--Land o' slinkin'


No wonder the McCain campaign, in its final death throes, tried to slime Obama as "a Chicago politician" when all else failed to stick.

The term is a venerated one in American politics, but Blagojevich (we've all had to take lessons in Serbo-Croatian pronunciation over the last forty-eight hours--you should have heard my Cuban-born editor butcher it yesterday) does elevate corruption to a new, brazen level.

Imagine treating a U.S. Senate seat as a commodity. I suppose if you grew up within sight and smell of the Chicago stockyards, it's possible to view just about everything in this world as a commodity.

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Every parent's nightmare


When they asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he is said to have answered, "Because that's where the money is."

If you have a penchant for children, the best place to burrow in is among the legions of well-meaning educators and coaches whose business it is to be in close contact with children.

Society supposedly has safeguards; background checks, etc. But increasingly, the perps are managing to crawl under the radar screen. Distasteful as it is, it looks like the best way to defend against them is to educate our children so that they know when they are being victimized before the crime occurs.

How did we reach such a state that the innocence of childhood has become an unaffordable luxury?

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Happiness is a warm gun


We sometimes forget that the Founding Fathers were humans, too. They didn't spend their whole lives just making historic pronouncements for posterity, or figuring out new ways to apply the philosophical principles of the Age of Reason to government.

They probably headed on down to the Continental Army Veterans hall and tossed back a few now and then, especially when they felt the need to get away from the Founding Mothers for a few hours.

But, to my point: it's all well and good to punish kids for bringing firearms into the schools, but we all know that they'd never be able to get hold of them in the first place if parents didn't make them accessible, either through negligence or oversight. After all, kids can't buy them. It's no infringement on the right to bear arms to punish parents when their children, due to their own lack of care, endanger others--or worse.

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Gay marriage amendment


A conventional wisdom seems to be developing that the same huge minority voter turnout that helped tip Florida into the Obama column also helped to put the "Gay Marriage Amendment" over the top, thereby enshrining discrimination in our state constitution.

If that is true, I find it puzzling that a segment of our society that so recently suffered under anti-miscegenation laws, and knows what it means to have the state step in and dictate whom one should and should not be allowed to marry, could be complicit in restricting the rights of another minority.

But, maybe it isn't true. Also, maybe I'm just dumb and am missing some key piece of logic here.

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O. J. Simpson conviction


Let us briefly digress from politics and the economic meltdown to address one of life's sad sideshows, the conviction of O. J. Simpson on multiple counts of armed robbery and kidnapping.

Remember thirteen years ago, when the country stood still as the verdict on O. J.'s innocence came down? Americans heard new terms, like "jury nullification," and we learned the degree to which one's race, background and experiences can actually influence the way we see and absorb facts. Maybe it was just white Americans who didn't know this already, but at any rate there was an orgy of national self-examination in the wake of the verdict.

Now comes O. J. into our consciousness once again, convicted of lesser crimes with hardly a burp this time. They say there were even empty seats in the courtroom.

One of my colleagues, who happens to be African-American, just shrugged and said, "Well, they finally got him." Not much else to say, really. O. J. is yesterday's news.

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Gay marriage


It reminds one of the life cycle of the cicada. Every four years, the gay marriage issue rears up and threatens the very existence of our republic. A furious burst of political activity ensues, characterized by a flurry of would-be laws being placed on state ballots nationwide for consideration by a vote of the people.

Some succeed, others don't. The real purpose is to turn out "The Base," which will, while they are angrily wearing a hole with their pencil into the optical scan ballot at the place that would ratify the anti-gay question, vote for the Republican candidate before they go back to sleep, politically speaking.

We should take one moment to think about not just how cynical, but how patronizing of "The Base" this strategy is. It assumes that there is a large portion of the electorate that will not even bother to turn out to vote in a presidential election unless there is a sweetener involved.

For the rest of us, the question would seem almost quaint and irrelevant, under current circumstances, if it didn't have such a potentially disastrous effect on people.

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Immigration and the economy


There was a story that immigration, both legal and illegal, is way down lately thanks to our anemic economy. If things get much worse, it is not a stretch to imagine the scenario envisioned in the above cartoon.

In his waning days, President Bush may at last be able to point to a positive legacy: the immigration problem was solved on his watch.

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