Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updates 03/19/08

Artist's Statement

I followed the reports of violence in Tibet this week with intense interest and dismay. I was in Lhasa less than a year ago, and it is one of the places I love most on this earth. Seeing overturned cars burning in Barkhor Square in front of the Jokhang, holiest temple of Tibetan Buddhism, was like watching news footage of your home on fire. I worry about my friends there. It’s hard to know what’s really going on there because of the Chinese’s crude, third-world censorship tactics. Even the New York Times was apparently relying for information on the Lonely Planet message board and phone calls placed at random to ten-year-olds in bread shops. But it’s not hard to figure out who’s more likely to be the aggressors in confrontations between the Chinese army and Buddist monks, or to decide who to believe when it’s the word of the Chinese government against, well, anybody. The Chinese have released videos of Tibetans looting stores on Youtube (though note that they don’t appear to be stealing merchandise but piling it in the streets and burning it), but for some reason no video has surfaced of the Chinese troops shooting into crowds. Go figure.

Incidentally, for a glimpse of what Americans sound like when they’re defending the Iraq war before the rest of the world, peer in at some of the online comments on the riots in Tibet by Chinese: the Tibetans are barbarians, they should be grateful to the Chinese for being there, the Chinese put an end to all sorts of atrocities, offered them economic development, built schools, etc. (Again with the schools. You’d think that the great imperial powers of the world were fanatics for education, some sort of heavily armed truant board or PTA, invading ignorant hooky-playing nations and forcibly building schools out of the stern, well-intentioned kindness of their hearts.) All of which sidesteps the issue that it’s not their fucking country. I remember once talking to a Chinese political cartoonist, a bright, erudite, cosmopolitan woman, who nevertheless, on the subject of Tibet, innocently parroted the party line: well, they were invited there, Tibet was really very backward before the Chinese came, they were helping to develop the area, the Tibetans should be grateful to them. It was creepy. Replace Chinese with Americans and Tibet with Iraq and tell me whether this doesn’t start to sound familiar.

(Actually, in fairness to my conservative compatriots, even the most bigoted, bloodthirsty God-guns-‘n’-guts Red-staters cannot begin to compete with the kind of shockingly vile, xenophobic, racist rhetoric the Chinese can crank up: “the so called "tibetans" r bunch of maggots and theives that have been spoiled by china's ethnic policy for over 60 yrs,” “suck a big titi,you westren inferior white PIGS and Japanese asses, Tibet is part of China since 1271 A.D.” These taken from comments on Youtube, which admittedly is not exactly the Athenian agora. Also worthy of note is that, as with most American pro-war messages online, the sentiments of the pro-Chinese writers tend to be thuggish, sputtering invective written in stunted sentences riddled with misspellings, seemingly typed with fists. At least the Chinese have the excuse of writing in a second language. “Suck a big titi”? Little do you know that we red-blooded Americans love nothing more than to suck a big titty, you Maoist swine! It is as being thrown into the briar patch for us!)

It does seem to me that many of the major powers--China, Russia, and America--have used "terrorism," a scary term you can apply to pretty much anyone you don't like, as an excuse to move futher in the direction of authoritarianism. I'm impressed that our constitution--which is, after all, just a contract, a piece of paper---has actually succeeded in restraining us from becoming an out-and-out autocracy or conquering empire to the extent that it has.

We Americans undeniably have our little cultural peculiarities that make us a uniquely deranged and arrogant superpower (our pathological Puritan obsession with/phobia of sex, our fetish for guns, our lack of any meaningful value other than money, our inexperience with mass carnage on our soil and consequent disregard for foreign casualties, and, perhaps most dangerous, our innocent conviction that we know what’s best for everyone), but, when it comes down to it, we’ve acted no worse than any of the world’s peoples have when they’ve had their chance to run things. Given such dominion, everyone behaves swinishly. Look at the British, the Germans, the French, the Spanish--even the Portugese, for crying out loud--all of whom have strutted their hour upon the stage. (Or, more tellingly, look at the obverse list of peoples whose names have become synecdoche for exploitation and atrocity: the Tasmanians, the Jews, the Algerians, the Aztecs.) Imagine for a moment if the Germans and Japanese had won World War II, or if the Soviets and Red Chinese had won the Cold War. Oh, yeah—good times. We Americans may have acted like a ruthlessly exploitative mercantile empire since World War II but at least we didn’t literally try to conquer the world or exterminate whole peoples. All we wanted was to plunder and hoard enough resources to live like Space Age Pharaohs for a century or so.

And, really, if there has to be a superpower at all, who would you rather have running rampant across the globe: Russia, a gangster state? The fascist Chinese? You draw unflattering caricatures of Vladimir Putin, you get pushed off the roof of your apartment building by his personal hit men. You march in protest of the latest war in China, they don’t illegally corral you and hold you without charges for a few days; they just shoot some of you and the rest of you run away screaming. Make no mistake, as a dissident cartoonist, I am grateful that I can call George Bush an idiot and a criminal without fear of any reprisal more severe than utter indifference and obscurity. One of the more oxymoronic arguments you hear made by hawkish conservatives is that we liberals ought to get down on our knees and thank God that we live in a free country where we can piss and moan all we want and not in an authoritarian state where (and you can almost hear them salivating over the details here) we’d be taken out and shot in the back of the head for criticizing the government, and that we should demonstrate this gratitude by shutting the fuck up.

Um, yes, speaking of which, that is New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in panel 2, about to be lowered into an extremely low pH solution by Vladimir Putin, (who is depicted, as is by now my convention, in the style and manner of Victor von Doom, Lord of Latveria). Maureen Dowd is by no means the most ideologically noxious nationally syndicated columnist of whom I’m aware--her heart’s in the right place, more or less--but she may well be the person with the loudest megaphone and the least to say. Her columns read like pointless, meandering emails dashed off while multitasking at the office, unoriginal observations and unprovocative opinions based on whatever tidbits of news were forwarded to her that day, sprinkled with cutesy nicknames, lame one-liners, and quotes from emails from her equally conventional-minded friends. It’s as if Erma Bombeck had gotten delusions of being Molly Ivins. Well, she gets on my nerves, obviously. I’m not saying I’d like to see her dropped into a tank of acid but I did have some fun drawing this.

Panel #3 obviously a nod to Philip K. Dick's alternate history The Man in the High Castle, set in a postwar world where the Axis won World War II.

I was hard up for a fourth great power (I’ve always kind of hoped the Brazilians would be the next superpower, but they seem like they’re too occupied with partying and kidnapping) until my friend Carolyn wisely suggested I make a complete departure in the last panel and use the Girl Scouts or something. After a couple of false starts I hit upon this idea, inspired by the naive feminist canard that if women ran the world there’d be no more wars and governments would finally invest in education and health care (witness the compassionate gynotopia ushered in by Margaret Thatcher). I’d also just that day read a thread on the Postsecret message board in response to a hilarious postcard that read, “Hey, Lactation Nurse! I told you it’s because of the medicine for my Lupus… but it’s really because I didn’t want to give up my naturally PERFECT rack!” The responses were, you will be unsurprised to hear, shocked, outraged, judgmental, lecturing, faux-pitying. This issue of breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding is to women what Israel is to the Arabs or Taiwan to the Chinese or 9/11 to paranoid schizophrenics. Everybody just apparently loses her shit. Something about motherhood brings out whatever the female equivalent of machismo is. I asked my friend Jenny, a member of the La Leche League (breastfeeding advocates), whether there were any really good epithets in that community for the opposing side, and she reported that although the formula feeders had some perjorative terms for breastfeeders (“the titty gestsapo,” “militant lactivists”) there was really nothing good to denote bottle-feeders, which is too bad, since my own made-up alternatives are not quite satisfactory to me. I was hoping that what with years of ill-will on both sides someone would've come up with something really snappy and self-explanatory. But I guess you have to leave invective to the professionals. For the record, I feel I have made up a far better epithet for militant breastfeeders than any of its real-life opponents. (And yes I tried spelling it teatalitarians but as you can see the eye reads it as tea and you mentally mispronounce it.)

Understand, I’m not saying women’s concerns are any more trivial or marginal than men’s. I think childrearing methods are about as serious an issue as, say, economic systems. The breastfeeding vs. formula debate is probably no less important than the conflict over free markets vs. a centralized economy, over which millions of men have killed each other. But it's no more so, either. I just have no illusions about the superiority of the female gender. The only reason women don't murder each other en masse is because they know they can rely on men to do it for them.

Postscript: Arthur C. Clarke, one of the last of the great science fiction writers, died yesterday, March 18th. Now only Uncle Ray is left among the Old Ones. Please take a moment to relive this happier moment from the Pain archives, when Sir Arthur survived the big tsunami. And why not read, or re-read, his boggling classic Childhood’s End? At least you ought to read one of his famous short stories like "The Sentinel" or "The Nine Billion Names of God."



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