by David Gerard
If there was a daily comic strip I did not miss during its running, it was Calvin and Hobbes. While other strips have been just as inventive and unique — think Peanuts and The Far Side — no other comic strip carries the same intensity of human pathos or presents complex life issues and paradoxes in such an effortless and elementary way.
Watterson had encouragement and direction for his strip. He submitted a query that had Calvin as a minor character, and Universal Press Syndicate encouraged Watterson to make Calvin and his stuffed tiger the main characters in a revised strip. Here is a case of critics making the correct call regarding artist creativity — which is an example why people should listen to expert opinion — they can be right.
Of course, Universal Press Syndicate did not develop Calvin and Hobbes. The credit goes to Watterson, although there are precedents, especially for Calvin.
Calvin is reminiscent of Dennis the Menace and other mischievous and sardonic characters before him: Think Woody Woodpecker or Bugs Bunny who played the trickster, the sarcastic commentator, the hedonist.
But Calvin, personality-wise, is much more rounded than Dennis, Bugs or Woody. Calvin’s vanity is countered by childishness, his impulsiveness by creativity, and his moments of disrespect by his inquisitive mind.
And despite his sometime crass nature, he is vulnerable. At those times Calvin and Watterson are at their best. When the sick baby squirrel that Calvin finds dies, Calvin cries in his mother’s arm and reflects on the meaning of life and purpose of death.
Watterson also created an enduring character in Hobbes, the stuffed tiger who comes to life in Calvin’s imagination when the two are alone. He balances Calvin’s excesses and enlarges Calvin’s sense of wonderment.
My daughter as a child had an imaginary friend. He wasn’t a stuffed toy or a definite object, just someone who hung around and who she talked to at times. We made allowances for the imaginary friend; then one night I pulled a chair to the dinner table for JoJo and my daughter said the extra chair wasn’t needed.
“What about JoJo?” I said.
“He’s gone,” my daughter said.
“He gone. He’s not coming back,” she said.
I was not heart broken, but I had a several-month investment in JoJo. I was disappointed at my daughter’s callous display of indifference at his departure.
I felt an even more desperate loss when after 10 years, Watterson abandoned his creation. But maintaining a daily comic strip, especially one with the level of creativity Watterson displayed, is a demanding, draining work. Knowing when to quit something is as valuable as knowing when to start something.
So when I am reminded of Calvin and Hobbes, and I feel a wave of nostalgia, I go to the collections of Calvin and Hobbes strips I have and read a few weeks’ worth. Calvin and Hobbes are not just enduring characters, but they have become imaginary characters I cannot live without.
by David Gerard
I read an interesting discussion this week between two Americans about American exceptionalism.
One held the view that American exceptionalism meant that Americans believed their country and people were and are superior to other countries and peoples.
The second said no, the idea only meant that the form of government set up at America’s founding is superior to all others. The second American did not believe Americans as a whole were so conceited as to believe they were superior than any other country or culture.
The second is sadly mistaken, which is very evident.
All anyone has to do is listen to American political rhetoric to hear the promotion of US exceptionalism in everything from academics to sports and technology. We will be second to none.
This being an election year, the exceptional rhetoric will heat up as the November election grows closer. No candidate runs for office proposing to keep America average or a little better than average. Americans want to hear they are better off economically, socially, and intellectually than any other nation on earth. This is not just a goal, but an idea culturally and politically indoctrinated into citizens’ heads.
And if there are dissenters, those who question America’s exceptional status, then those people will be called un-American, as politically conservative candidates have done through the years and continue to do now.
Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency was birthed in extreme exceptionalism. Trump is so conceited personally and politically that he will not concede either he or country fails at anything even though his own slogan, Make America Great Again, implies something is wrong. But even his idea of what is wrong with America is exceptionalism at its core.
Trump believes that un-American ideas – less superior ideas – have infiltrated our country, leading to a slide toward mediocrity. His presidency may survive another four years on the strength of that propaganda.
But exceptionalism is a dangerous idea.
Feelings of superiority give a false sense of security, a denial that anything is wrong and nothing can be learned from others.
Trump provided a dark example of this recently during a Chris Wallace interview when he vehemently denied that the US coronavirus mortality rate was not the lowest in the world. The US has, in fact, one of the highest. Trump would not accept the truth even when his own doctored mortality chart demonstrated it.
Naturally, Trump had reason, a selfish reason, to deny the truth. He led the way in easing imposed social restrictions that would have prevented Covid19 infections and deaths. If there is blame for America’s high mortality rate, then he shares a huge part of the blame.
That’s the way of selfishness and conceit. They obscure reason, good sense, and the truth so much so that pride, not any other factor, leads to a fall.
by David Gerard
I worked a few years recently with a young man who claimed he was a better weather forecaster than any meteorologist.
In fact, he thought he knew more about any subject than any expert on the particular subject that caught his fancy at any time. And as you would expect with that kind of person, he would not listen to facts, logic, or scientific methodology.
He was/is a prime example of what we are now hearing from a certain segment of the American population. This segment of the good old USA believes that its opinion is as good as the opinion of any other segment. That idea, that right, they say, has been bought for us by our Founding Fathers, the Revolution, and the blood of every fighting, true-blooded American.
Of course, they overlook that our Founding Fathers were not big on diverse opinions. Our Founding Fathers were part of the Great Enlightenment, which promoted reason and facts as the sources of knowledge. For the most part, they were not people like my former fellow worker who leaned on superstition and subjective feelings to determine if it were going to rain that day. They were interested in science, which is what led Benjamin Franklin to experiment with electricity and Thomas Jefferson to compel Lewis and Clark to document accurately the flora and fauna of the West.
Now, Jefferson had some flawed theories – he proposed that mammoths still lived hidden in the Mississippi Valley – but he was able to distinguish between wishful thinking and hard facts, and his desire for accuracy led him to send out explorers to determine the rightness or wrongness of his and other scientific theories.
Unfortunately, we do not live in those days any longer.
“It’s going to rain today,” my fellow worker used to say with authority, and if you asked him why, he would say, “I just think so, and I’m more right than X,” X, being the particular TV meteorologist he had it in for that day.
If you asked him how many times he had been right or wrong compared to the accuracy of the forecaster he mentioned, he could not tell you. He could only tell you that he and his feelings were better at weather forecasting than a meteorologist, scientific instruments, and the observations, facts and data at his or her disposal.
Ditto that for a host of other subjects. He thought he knew as much or more about climate change, vaccinations, human or child psychology, criminal behavior, and epidemiology, to mention a few, than any person with a degree and a lifetime of study.
And I suspect today he is still at it, telling everyone what he thinks about coronavirus, as if a right to have an opinion is the same as being right.
by David Gerard
I strongly disagreed this past week with someone I thought I would strongly agree with on anything.
I know people are complicated so that’s bound to happen, but still, it was disconcerting.
I have listened for years to Radiolab, a radio show on many NPR stations, and its host Jad Abumrad. I think he’s great.
He recently taped a TED talk, and I listened to it to find I disagree with him completely on his topic: Dolly Parton.
We both appreciate her music and generosity, but Jad believes Dolly’s music provides a platform that potentially bridges America’s great right-left, conservative-liberal divide.
Jad says that he started his career covering science, programs that ended in a sense of wonder at nature’s structure and beauty.
He tired of that and moved on to Radiolab, programs on touchy social and political issues that he says ended without resolution and despair.
And here is where Dolly comes in. Jad says her concerts support a fan base that doesn’t think or act alike, yet they come together to listen to and sing Dolly’s music. Jad says Dolly’s music can lead to resolutions healing America.
First, I still like Jad, even though he’s wrong. I think Radiolab does a great service highlighting important, even irresolute, issues.
And I love Dolly. She is talented, ebullient, and, like Oprah, generous. I am certain that she is not a racist or egotist.
That said, she is a capitalist. She built an entertainment empire offering mostly entry-level jobs to young people. Her pay and work environments may be better than similar empires, but its operations are no different from others. I went to her Pirate Voyage show in Myrtle Beach, SC. It was a great show with great food and wonderful service. I’d go again.
But Dolly’s worth is $600 million dollars, built on the popularity of her name and the hard work of thousands of employees who deserve a greater share in her empire.
And Dolly’s music? Her early work is revered by feminists for its frank portrayal of male abuse towards women and feminine social inequality.
But Dolly admits she is no feminist. She also admits her dream was to become a popular entertainer, not a social activist.
So her songs do not address social issues or divisions, as Bob Dylan’s have. Even though some are sad-ass songs, as Dolly calls them, her musicology is built on sentimentality and feel-good lyrics.
In fact, Dolly’s music brings about what Jad said he got away from when he reported on science, an upbeat, nice feeling at the end.
Two people with radically opposing ideas on race, war, justice, or government will not resolve their differences singing “Butterfly” or “Islands in the Stream” at a Dolly Parton concert. They are not addressing any issues. They set them aside in order to feel elated for a short time, and leave the divisiveness for another time.
by David Gerard
By most media accounts and recent polling, Trump will be a one-term president.
Before you start cheering, do not think the last of Trump will be when Trump is replaced in the White House.
The effects of any president, especially bad ones, are long-lasting because they have had four years to make many poor decisions and appointments. In Trump’s case, he has made a multitude of misguided and ill-founded decisions and appointments.
One of Trump’s poor decisions, and the decision of another misguided president, became very evident last week. Two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled to dismiss charges against Trump’s former National Security Michael Flynn.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about clandestine meetings he had with a Russian ambassador. Flynn’s lies occurred during the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election and contacts that Trump’s campaign members and personal advisers had with Russian officials.
But after Flynn’s guilty plea and clear evidence that he lied, Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, led court action to drop charges against Flynn.
And it worked.
Of the two judges who approved allowing Flynn to avoid prosecution and sentencing, one was appointed by Trump, the other by George W. Bush. These are two judges who evidently will make decisions not based on justice and jurisprudence, but on political ideology.
This is especially foreboding in the event that important environmental and social issues come before them. If they are dedicated to conservative ideology, as it appears they are, they will likely not make rulings that favor environmental and social justice. They likely will be reluctant to side with the environment and human health in lawsuits brought before them. Rather they probably will side with big corporations, the wealthy, and their party principles.
Even yesterday, the Supreme Court, now with two Trump appointees, declined to hear an appeal of the Trump’s administrations waiving of environmental reviews in order to speed up the construction of the Mexican border wall.
And just as conservative judges are overlooking an egregious action by a public servant, they may overlook an even greater crime in the future by another scoundrel and opportunist at the bequest of their political ideologues.
Trump needs to go. Unfortunately, when he goes, the mess he has created won’t immediately leave with him.
by David Gerard
I live in Tulsa, and several of my family members contacted me before Trump’s rally, saying, “Don’t go downtown and protest. It’s too dangerous.”
They were concerned about three things: me possibly contracting coronavirus, me getting involved in a fracas with Trump supporters, or me getting injured by police if police got rough with protestors.
My family did not have to worry for a couple of reasons. One, Saturday night my younger son and his family celebrated his youngest son’s fourth birthday (I would have been in trouble if I missed the event); and two, Trump’s rally was a pathetic bust. Trump and his campaign boasted a cast of hundreds of thousands of supporters, yet they could not fill a 19,000-seat arena two-thirds full.
That is an optimistic sign heading into the November presidential election.
Trump support is waning – as it should. Trump is as pathetic as his June 20th turnout. His hour-and-a-half harangue was only more boastful baloney from a petty, self-centered, whining spinner of half-truths, out-and-out lies, and bizarre conspiracies.
But pessimism never falls far from optimism.
That anyone would show up to listen to a man who has shown little managerial or mental stability in the last three years – even his entire life – is unbelievable.
But such is our scary world, the world of the folk hero, which is not an American invention, but one Americans have refined to an absurd level, so much so that an American folk hero’s life reflects little of who they were or what they really accomplished. Jesse James was a murderous outlaw, but he’s been proclaimed a Robinhood in many tales. John F. Kennedy is touted by some as the embodiment of a utopian leader when he actually had little time to accomplish much. Ronald Reagan is remembered as a hardline fiscal genius when he doubled the US deficit to a record-breaking level.
And Donald Trump in the mind of way too many people is seen as a development wizard when his only accomplishment is putting his name on what others have created. Trump in the mind of too many is seen as a tough negotiator when he has fawned over dictators and caved to tyrants. Trump in the mind of too many is seen as a man to restore America to greatness through isolation and enmity when America’s greatness over the years has been its willingness, though reluctantly at times, to accept people of all faiths and nationalities into its borders.
Trump’s notoriety has not been built on hard work, intelligence, character, and good judgment. Rather it has been built on his father’s fortune, the illusion created by a TV (un)reality show, and the constant repetition of lies and fables until they wear down the bedrock of truth.
Trump’s rise to the presidency was realized when a political party primed itself to be deceived and abandoned its moral compass for financial gain.
Trump’s political demise will be when Americans decide to opt for honesty and integrity.