New comic on Charlie Hebdo

I drew a comic essay for The Nib about Charlie Hebdo in particular and the role of political cartooning in general.

Be sure to check it out and come back here to tell me what you think!

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On Charlie Hebdo

I’ve been in high demand since the massacre. As a cartoonist, commentator, and pre-existing fan of Charlie Hebdo itself everyone wants to know my take.

Here is an editorial I wrote for the Sun News website, in which I compare and contrast the culture of European satire with that of North America.

Such trends help explain why North American satirists will probably never be particularly strong defenders of the rights of folks like the Charlie Hebdo gang. The flavor of free expression the dead Frenchmen fought for – the right of irreverent vulgarity, is falling rapidly out of favor on this side of the Atlantic, where painstaking efforts to avoid the offensive – not just as perceived by Muslims, but also blacks, Asians, latinos, aboriginals, feminists, gays, the transgendered, and a seemingly endless rainbow of other “marginalized groups” bearing a lengthy laundry list of words, images, and allusions that must never be used in relation to themselves - becomes a defining theme of North American humor.

That same article contains a link to this video of me appearing on the Jerry Agar show, talking a bit about the history of Charlie Hebdo, why I support them, and my own experiences as an editorial cartoonist and dealing with censorship.

CNN then commissioned me to draw a cartoon and write a short essay about the whole episode, which you can see and read here. It’s a sort of rebuke to self-righteous cartoonists who have been preening something fierce in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders. Frankly, I don’t think any North American cartoonist is in much of a position to “show solidarity” with the dead, considering how aggressively censorious American cartooning, and indeed American humor in general has become in recent years.

I’ve got more stuff on the way.

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My 2014 predictions in retrospect

I had honestly forgotten about these until now (which I suppose is the idea), but I apparently made some predictions around this time in 2013 about what I expected to be some of the defining Canadian political events of the year 2014. 

Let’s see how well I did.

Parliament will not fulfill its court-ordered obligation of writing a workable, compassionate prostitution law

I was wrong about this — parliament did, in fact, wind up passing a new prostitution bill this fall, the so-called “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.” It embraces what the kids are calling the “Scandinavian model” of sexual commerce —  criminalizing the purchase of sex while tightly regulating the sale of it.

As I noted at the time, this was exactly what the Tories’ socially-conservative base wanted, but I was skeptical such an approach would be pursued because, “as the CBC notes, it’s likely the courts would find such a law just as constitutionally dubious as the ban on selling.”

The Conservatives took a gamble, which was frankly somewhat out of character for a generally risk-adverse government. Premier Wynne of Ontario says she’s interested in mounting a constitutional challenge to the new law, so we shall see if it pays off. The CBC is now saying they consider a credible legal challenge unlikely, however, in part because they don’t expect the Act to be widely enforced.

The Senate will not be reformed

This one sounds painfully obvious today, but it’s worth remembering that at the end of 2013, a year of unprecedented Senate scandals, there was some optimism that the popular desire for change might have finally reached critical mass.

But I was skeptical. Noting that the Harper government had asked the judiciary to define the constitutional terms for Senate reform, I remarked that it was “hard to imagine the Supreme Court — this Supreme Court, at least — concluding that the federal government has as much unilateral power to change the Senate as it’s desperately hoping.”

The Supremes more than lived up to my expectations, and in April ruled that it was unlawful to hold Senate elections, or impose term limits on senators, without first amending the Constitution of Canada. Prime Minister Harper responded by declaring the dream of Senate reform officially dead.

Neither pipeline will be approved

By “neither” I was referring to the Alberta-to-Texas “Keystone XL” pipeline and its west coast counterpart, the Alberta-to-BC “Northern Gateway.”

President Obama has still not approved the former, and has continued to belittle its purported benefits. It likewise failed to gain a symbolic vote of approval in the United States Senate a few weeks ago, which though meaningless from a functional point of view (it’s not Congress’ decision to make), still garnered a lot of media attention and helped re-enforce a narrative that the thing is doomed.

There’s probably still a slim chance Obama could approve Keystone as part of some horse-trading deal with a now Republican-controlled Congress who have made approval of the pipeline one of their top priorities, but with the President now firmly in his lame-duck “Bullworth” phase, where he seems increasingly comfortable with rule-by-decree, it’s hard to know why he’d bother.

Northern Gateway was notable in 2014 mostly because people largely stopped talking about it. The BC government has not changed their tune — “our position remains no” said the provincial environment minister in June — and while the Harper administration has now formally given the thing the A-OK to go forward, their endorsement was exceedingly qualified (indeed, it was actually phrased as merely accepting a “recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Proposal”).

Several of those 209 conditions, in turn, involve getting some sort of assent from affected aboriginal bands, something that looked impossible in 2013, and has only gotten moreso in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2014 Tsilhqot’in ruling, which greatly expanded the scope of aboriginal sovereignty.

While the Gateway people began to push that boulder up the hill, attention in British Columbia shifted to a third proposed pipeline, the Kinder Morgan “Transmountain,” whose opponents gathered a huge crowd of protestors on Burnaby Mountain last month.

Polls show, as they did in 2013, that British Columbians are quite solidly against pipelines, even if the precise reasons why are a bit muddled.

I noted that the Prime Minister may eventually face political consequences for being perceived as too blindly supportive of the oil industry (in watching the anti-Transmountain protests, it was striking how often the PM’s name was cursed in the same breath as Kinder Morgan’s), and with British Columbia shaping up to be one of the key battlegrounds of the 2015 federal election, the consequences could prove significant indeed.

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Don’t call it a dynasty

In the wake of Jeb Bush’s recent vow to “explore the possibility of running for President of the United States” (which in the elaborate dance-of-seven-veils that is contemporary campaigning has interpreted to mean he’s definitely running for President of the United States), commentators across the spectrum have been wringing their hands over how “dynastic” American politics has become.

Noting that “a Bush has been on six of the last nine presidential tickets,” Mark Steyn sourly observed that “one man and his sons will have supplied three-fifths of America’s presidents within a quarter-century — in a republic of over 300 million people.” Many cited the number 34 as the age you’d have to be without ever seeing “a Bush or a Clinton” on the presidential ballot. Aaron Blake at the Washington Post went even further, claiming that since 1964, “there have been only three elections (midterm or presidential) in which a Bush or a Clinton hasn’t been on the ballot somewhere for something.” 

People like to be cynical about the state of American democracy in no small part because it helps justify apathetic non-participation in the political process, which is always easier than the alternative. The idea that American politics is controlled “by two families” who control all elections is but the latest meme in this regard, equivalent to other shallow tropes like “the corporations run everything.”

Reality, of course, is a lot more nuanced than any tidy theory of fetishizing last names can hope to reveal.

“50 years of Bushes and Clintons” certainly sounds like a frightening number — until you realize that nearly 30 of those simply describe the long (and it should be noted, not particularly consequential) political career of George H.W. Bush, with eight of those describing his entirely forgotten vice presidency. The number of general elections contested by a “second generation” Clinton or Bush, similarly, is exactly two — when George W. ran. So let’s avoid any fallacies of large numbers.

But what about the families themselves? One can make a credible claim that the Bushes are bluebloods of the old style (though never as rich as folklore presumes), but any attempt to paint the Clintons as such is painfully tortured. As Bill Scher noted in The Week, Bill Clinton, “the patriarch of the supposedly insidious Clinton monarchy is the stepson of an Arkansas car dealer.” He rose through the ranks to become governor of the nation’s 17th smallest and eighth poorest state, before mounting a quixotic presidential bid he wound up winning largely due to a lack of viable alternatives from the Democratic establishment.

That Bill’s wife would proceed to serve two terms in the United States Senate and then mount a presidential run of her own surprised few, considering what an ambitious politician Hillary had always been in her own right. As 90s-era jokes about the “president and her husband” made clear, it was never obvious who was riding whose coattails. Now a former secretary of state to boot, should Hillary choose to pursue the presidency a second time she would do so as one of the most objectively qualified candidates in US history — certainly more than her husband ever was.

That little matter of qualification is no small variable when it comes to separating a genuinely dynastic political system from one that’s merely had a few independently successful politicians sharing the same surname.

On the Bush side, Dubya and Jeb were separately elected governors of two geographically distant, culturally distinct states, and both crafted unique political brands to do so — one as a strong social conservative closely aligned with the born-again Christian subculture, the other as an immigrant-friendly multiculturalist. As a trio of presidents, father and sons would likewise represent three distinct strains of Republican ideology, with Senior the moderate Reaganite, Junior a foreign policy hawk, and Jeb a post-Tea Party centrist.

By contrast, countries with a genuinely hereditary political class, like India, the Philippines, or perhaps soon Canada, believe qualification begins and ends with pedigree, and presumes voters are simple-minded and nostalgic enough to entrust their national leadership to even the most spectacularly inexperienced politicians simply because they liked their folks.

Nothing of the sort is happening in 21st century America. Decades of individual deviation within two small political families (whose public image, it should be remembered, is largely defined by marital infidelity and oedipal insecurity) have made it quite difficult to articulate what exactly “brand Bush” or “brand Clinton” represents to the average voter. The five politicians contained within are each distinct and complicated enough to demand careful consideration in their own right.

Which is exactly as it should be in a democracy.

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Anti-anti politics

A powerful force in politics today is the strength of what we might call “anti-anti” sentiment. Self-doubt and cowardice prevent a lot of us from stating exactly what we’re for, but few have anxiety about stating what we’re against. And what we’re against, increasingly, is other people being against other things.

In America, the notion of anti-antism has its roots in the so-called “new left” of the 1960s, who often went around declaring themselves “anti-anti Communist.” Which is to say, they were neither anti-Communist like mainstream Democratic politicians — who had committed all sorts of monstrous crimes in Vietnam and elsewhere in pursuing that goal — nor pro-Communist like some of the socialist parties of Europe, who were equally unattractive apologists for the totalitarian oppression of the USSR.

Being anti-anti-Communist allowed leftists to criticize American foreign policy remorselessly, often openly echoing Soviet talking points, yet simultaneously dismiss responsibility for emboldening the other, “equally bad” evil empire. The result was a kind of aloof detachment from the strategic realities of the Cold War in favor of unimpeachable self-righteousness and moral purity.

Today, we see similar tactics emulated across the spectrum on a host of  issues.

On the environment, for instance, many modern conservatives embrace a worldview best described as “anti-anti climate change.” Their cause is not in favor of CO2 emissions, nor is it — as their critics endlessly allege — blind support for oil, coal, and pipelines. Instead, it is merely a critical orientation rooted in a deep, reactive skepticism of the sort of people who have the loudest voices within the environmentalist movement. Aware that the climate change cause is championed most vigorously by those whom they are already skeptical (progressive politicians, Hollywood liberals, urban street protestors and their ilk) offering policy prescriptions of the sort they ordinarily oppose (regulation of business, tax hikes, social engineering), their default stance is contrarianism.

An even more vivid example would be the current moral crusade to curb the “rape culture” of our schools and workplaces, championed so vigorously by the online social justice set. There has been an enormous amount of pushback from the right towards much of this, to which the social justice types have replied that anyone critical of their agenda must be actively in favor of rape, misogyny, gendered violence, and sexism. A more accurate reading would see anti-antism at work — obviously no one is pro-rape, but many conservatives do find fault with society’s increasingly liberal standards used to determine whether the crime occurred, and what other behaviors should be considered culpable.

It’s not a phenomenon limited to the right, of course. On the left, engagement with post-recession fiscal issues has become fairly anti-anti, in which we routinely see austerity measures opposed not because anyone, beyond the hardest hard core Keynesians, actually supports debt and deficits, but rather because it’s considered important to not concede an inch to those free market demagogues who “got us into this mess,” etc, etc.

Ditto for abortion, which Wendy Davis — an anti-anti politician if there ever was one — attempted with decidedly limited success to mobilize a liberal coalition around. Not celebrating the procedure, nor desiring it to be completely unregulated and unrestrained, but rallying furiously against anyone who might have a problem if they were.

Similar things could be said about the neutral-but-defensive liberal reaction to race riots in the aftermath of Fergusson, or indeed, the troubling behavior of Michael Brown himself. Then there’s the the convoluted existence of feminists we could describe as being anti-anti-anti rape culture, in which even brazenly untrue allegations of sexual assault, such as the ones contained in that now massively discredited Rolling Stone story, are defended simply because acknowledging their flaws could embolden the anti-antis.

The problem with these modern strains of anti-antism is the same as what made the original doctrine of anti-anti Communism so unimpressive — it’s a style of argument based on criticizing the tactics and agenda of your enemy while never revealing your own, and thereby lazily abdicating the difficult, but intellectually critical obligation of defending the conduct of those who have.

Any philosophy worth taking seriously should include some attempt to define a positive vision of an ideal society, and thereby a set of measurable, achievable goals — which in the political world means policies — to be pursued to this end. A ideology that only identifies its enemies only goes halfway; one that merely criticizes its critics’ criticisms goes even less than that.

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Canada’s weird monarchy problem

I drew a big long cartoon for Medium about the monarchy and Canada. Sort of a cartoon manifesto on a issue I’ve obviously been quite passionate about over the years.

I’ve had some fun drawing long form cartoon essays of this sort (check out my past offerings on rock stars and cell phones).

I’d be curious to know if there are any other topics you’d like to see me tackle in this form.

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Posturing on prostitution

Premier Wynne’s decision to pick a fight with Ottawa over the Harper administration’s new prostitution law reveals several things about the state of contemporary politics in Canada —  little of it encouraging.

The first is what The New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin once dubbed the “colonization” of the political system by the legal system.

In instructing her attorney general to “advise me on the constitutional validity” of the Conservative government’s Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex but not the selling (reversing Canada’s previous status quo) the Ontario premier is making it clear that parliamentary passage does not represent any sort of conclusion within the lawmaking process, but merely a beginning.

To today’s progressive elites, laws passed by the nation’s elected representatives are but an opening bid, destined to be haggled down — or ideally overturned —  by a phalanx of lawyers and judges with sensibilities more enlightened than the ignorant rubes that fill our legislatures. Premier Wynne was strikingly blunt about this, conceding that while “I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer,” she is nevertheless breezily optimistic the legal process will ultimately echo her opposition.

That politicians of the left can so frequently carry themselves this way — that it can always be happily taken for granted that Conservative legislation is but a unanimous Supreme Court ruling away from the trash heap — should trouble many more than it does in what it reveals about the dominance of a single strain of philosophy within a judicial system based on subjective interpretation of an ambiguously-written constitution.

The other theme is more sinister. The progressive bona fides of contemporary liberal politicians like Wynne are increasingly established not by tax policy, spending policy, or indeed public policy in general, but rather a series of mostly symbolic positions on a number of emotionally-charged social issues.

Like most modern parties of the left, Wynne’s Liberals are overwhelmingly the party of the urban — in the last provincial election hers won all but two of the dozen-or-so downtown Toronto ridings. Urbanites, in turn, tend to be more educated and wealthy than their rural, Conservative-voting compatriots, and more obsessed with the sort of status jockeying and ostentatious flaunting of enlightened thinking that comes with inhabiting a white collar universe where career and social benefits are often tied to one’s mastery of abstract knowledge and fashionable intellectual trends.

In the mind of the urban progressive, one’s stance on a matter like the appropriate legal status of prostitution is now simply a metric for measuring the presence of virtues like open-mindedness and moral libertarianism. Hence, opinions on prostitution are not really about prostitution at all, but rather government’s right to regulate the private realm of sexual activity, which the socially correct are expected to resist.

As the head of the Toronto NOW recently put it, in an editorial defending her decision to run prostitution ads in her newspaper, “the new prostitution laws are part of a political agenda that aims to turn the clock back on the acceptance of human sexual diversity and our right to choose our own individual paths.” It’s basically the “same struggle that the LGBTQ community has waged for full human rights,” she adds, evoking the modern left’s all-purpose analogy for measuring moral decency.

Yet tragedy invariably arises when we insist on abstracting serious issues in this fashion. The sex trade is not just a thought exercise, after all, but a real-world enterprise centered around the exploitation of female bodies for profit, a trade which by its dehumanizing design inflicts a terrible physical and psychological toll on its participants. Thanks to their wealth and education, ruling class progressives understand this, and are the demographic most likely to avoid participating in the sex trade themselves, or dwelling in close proximity to it, just as they are the demographic most likely to avoid hard drugs, out-of-wedlock births, and the various other irresponsibilities they enjoy defending intellectually.

As Charles Murray succinctly put it, what we are witnessing is the rise of a political and media elite that doesn’t “preach what they practice.” The end result is a society in which the real-world tolls of liberal social policy, the horrors of physical exploitation, substance dependency, family breakdown, and emotional trauma are born disproportionately by the social classes whose ignorance is most dangerous and whose influence is smallest within the realm of the powerful.

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OPEC’s rising tide

A new toon posted on the Nib about OPEC’s recent decision to undercut American oil prices through overproduction.

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Where are the comics?

A number of you have asked this question, and I apologize for not providing a clear answer sooner.

Longtime readers will know that I’m constantly experimenting with this site and its format, of which I am never fully satisfied. I’m always either trying or promising new ideas to best reflect my current priorities as an artist and writer, but often those change faster than I can change the site.

Right now, I’m making most of my income as a television commentator for Sun News, a conservative TV station here in Canada. My secondary source of income is my comics, which I am now specifically commissioned to draw once-a-week for a website called The Nib, which is hosted by Medium.com, run by my pal and yours, noted lefty cartoonist Matt Bors. A third source of income is writing editorials on Canadian politics for the Sun News website. A fourth source is doing long-form comics, such as this one on rock stars for Medium or this one on cellphone sizes for CNN (I have one coming up about the monarchy I’m quite excited about).

Readers of this site have come to expect cartoons accompanied by essays, which I am having a hard time finding the time to write these days. I could just post the cartoons as stand-alones, but I feel that would be redundant, and divert traffic from The Nib, who I feel loyalty to as an employee. Hence, this site has been rather cartoon bereft recently, and for that I apologize. I have begun to use this site as more of a forum for slightly idiosyncratic essays on topics I want to engage with, but have no other appropriate forum to do so.

As usual, I appreciate the feedback of you, my readers. I read all your commnets and take your opinions seriously when you tell me what you want to see from this site. I have some exciting projects underway right now, including a new informational wesbite in the spirit of my Canada Guide, and possibly even a book.

For the time being, however, let me just provide you with some critical links if you would like to more actively follow my output.

I am quite active on social media, so first and foremost please follow me on Twitter and join my Facebook page (still called Filibuster, but they won’t let me change it) for real-time updates the moment they happen.

And here is a link to my most recent cartoons, as archived on The Nib.

 

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Women’s Issues

Dr. Matthew Taylor of the European Space Agency was publicly reduced to tears this week, the latest victim of what The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman dubbed the “self-serious, hypercritical, omnipresent, never-ending, and unpredictable justice system” that is contemporary social media.

Taylor stood accused of wearing a garish shirt featuring scantily -clad (though by no means pornographic) depictions of women at a media scrum following his team’s successful completion of the Rosetta meteor-landing mission. That the shirt was a gift designed by a female friend mattered not — the judges of the internet courtroom have a hair-trigger for these sorts of things, and their ruling of guilt was swift.

Over here in Canada, meanwhile, heightened tensions in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault scandal have provoked an equally striking instance of kangaroo justice. Two female NDP MPs anonymously accused two male Liberal MPs of harassment, and Liberal boss Justin Trudeau promptly exiled both from his party in response. But the purported victims have simultaneously “declined” to make their complaints official, or otherwise participate in any grievance resolution mechanism. That puts the two ex-Liberals in a curious sort of purgatory as far as due process goes, but from Trudeau’s perspective it’s much safer to err on the side of ruining two men’s careers than enabling “rape culture.”

When we speak about the climate of the times, the phrase I keep coming back to is “moral panic,” the idea of a public constantly whipped into a lather about frightening, dangerous phenomenon that may or may not actually exist. Panics relating to omnipresent sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are currently proving most salient, with much madness being done in their name.

All available evidence suggests incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment are at unprecedented lows, while metrics of female achievement sit at unprecedented highs. The recent midterms, for example, saw a record number of women get elected to Congress — a fact which has been true of basically every election of the last nine decades. That women still have much to desire in terms of safety and success goes without saying (and everyone says it constantly anyway), yet contemporary feminism’s disinterest in such “big picture” questions in favor of picking fights on the periphery, or compromising fair process to secure satisfyingly salacious prosecutions, has prompted even ordinarily sympathetic corners to worry things are starting to get a bit, well, McCarthyesque.

The roots are broad. Educated, upper-middle class women still tend to view their gains as fragile, and it can take a while for any community to abandon a skepticism of opponents from whom hard-fought rights were only recently extracted. Women similarly remain a highly-coveted demographic as both consumers and voters, meaning there’s considerable capital to be gained from stoking and appeasing their insecurity and anger — emotions which tend to be strong motives for action.

Articles, videos, cartoons, and advertisements that offer women empowering stories of confrontation with sexist society — be it a documentary on walking the streets of New York or an 11,000-word essay on the gender politics of Frozen have become easy clickbait, while liberal politicians and activists seeking to curry favor with the female electorate have found reasonable success framing conservatives as proponents of misogynistic conspiracies. Twitter and Facebook provide the grassroots chorus, and the result is a culture walking on eggshells.

That much of this is excessively censorious and judgmental — and at times, even totalitarian — is indisputably true. Yet the conservative in me can’t help but wonder if there may be some tertiary cultural benefit to this new era of heightened sensitivity, too.

Sensitivity to indignity and vulgarity have been historically conservative virtues after all, while many of those most vigorously fighting feminism’s most recent incarnation have been crass and cruel. As ideologues, today’s loudest anti-feminists — stereotypically embodied by the fringes of the “Men’s Rights” and GamerGate subcultures — are motivated by a strange sort of juvenile libertarianism, with arguments based more on unrestrained entitlement than anything else. The freedom to be offensive, ignorant, and insensitive are taken as positive ends unto themselves, while any expected standards of conduct or decency are construed as persecution and oppression.

Writing about the current freak-out over the dubious pandemic of university rape, Heather MacDonald in the Weekly Standard speculated that such feminist moral panics may be inadvertently “neo-Victorian,” in that the heightened climate of fear they foster may wind up generating a more conservative social culture. A culture in which we become a lot more instinctively cautious about meaningless sex and depictions of women’s bodies, and moderate ourselves with exaggerated displays of mannered restraint. A culture that’s considerably less sexually liberated (or, in current jargon, “sex positive”) but also less promiscuous, obscene, and lustful.

In some ways, it will also be a culture hypocritical to the current panic’s stated aims, at least in the sense many men will be inclined to patronizingly regard women as inherently delicate and hypersensitive. But if the result accompanies a revival of chivalry, protocol, and manners — and indeed, less boorish politicians and scientists dressing like grown-ups — that’s hardly something to mourn.

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