Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 06/11/08

Note: Sorry, again, for the technical snafus with the donation page. They should be all jiffied up now. If you have been thwarted in previous efforts to give me money I apologize and earnestly entreat you to try again.

Addendum to last week’s artist’s statement

The panel of last week’s cartoon depicting Obama eating a Palestinian baby stirred up some trouble: not only a lot of cries of anti-Semitism at a message board where it was linked to but also an outraged letter-to-the-editor of the City Paper from the chairman of an organization called Jews Against Obama. There was a lot of talk about “blood libel,” which is apparently to regular old libel what blood money, blood feuds, and blood sausage are to regular money, feuds, and sausage. There is, as I recall now, a grim history of hysterias in which the Jews were accused of infanticide and cannibalism. Just F.Y.I., the allusion to the whole baby-eating calumny was inadvertent; infantophagy as satiric trope goes back at least to Swift. (I was thinking more of B. Kliban’s “Cheesebaby/ Cheesebaby with Our Special Sauce,” if you want to know the truth.) This regrettable resonance was admittedly a boneheaded oversight on my part, but it’s less a symptom of some shamefully sheltered ignorance or insensitivity on my part than just a consequence of having grown up in America in the late twentieth century, when such rumors were not exactly rampant among my grade-school classmates in Harford County, Maryland. They were, at best, kind of a vague story about stuff people used to believe in the Middle Ages, like bodily humors and basilisks. And even though real-life people suffered persecution and torture and pogroms as a result of those beliefs, it seems to me that to refrain from drawing a cartoon like this for the reason that there is an actual history of such beliefs would be, in a sense, to take those accusations more seriously than they deserve—kind of like refraining from drawing cartoons about the Devil lest people take offense at the implication that their deceased loved ones are even now being tortured by a dude with horns and a tail.

Several readers also pointed out that serving meat and dairy products together is not kosher. I am well aware of this, being a frequent patron of Katz’s, where asking for cheese on your pastrami is a serious whatever the Yiddish word for faux pas is. I did consider making the sandwich “w/ mustard,” but in the end I went with “w/ cheese” simply because cheese is inherently a funnier word. If I had it to do over, I would draw the sandwich with mustard, and a pickle on the side. Maybe some black cherry soda. Mmm. Black cherry!

Artist's Statement

That’s my friend Steve’s daughter Emma in panel 1, the token child I like. Emma really did once sit down on my couch and say, “Let’s see if we can find something inappropriate to watch on television.” She also once told me, archly, “I think it’s going to be very difficult for you to find a girlfriend, Tim.” Emma and her sister are the only children I have ever agreed to babysit.

I originally drew myself listening to the Kyrie section of the Latin funeral mass in panel 2—I spent a lot of this winter listening to John Rutter’s Requiem and liturgical music by Arvo Pärt on the subway and feeling all benevolent and compassionate toward my fellow passengers—but at the last minute I wisely substituted “A, B, C” by the Jackson Five. Despite one of their members’ later rise to the position of Most Famous Child Molester on Earth, the Jackson Five cheer me up against my will every time I hear them, as do a number of other equally vapid performers, such as The Association and even Madonna, whom I dislike as a cultural icon/phenomena but whose songs always seem to make everyone at a party happier in some irresistible Pavlovian way no doubt calculated down to the hemidemisemiquaver by music industry behavioral biologists.

The background characters in this panel are composed of some familiar faces from my cartoons as well as some characters I used to draw when I was a kid—the Man in Charge, Bubba, the Man Who Kisses Things, and one of the Old Men who got me into such trouble in Mrs. Derbyshire’s Algebra class.

Obviously I am not a little bunny rabbit. This is a purely nonsensical panel with no meaning whatsoever. There is no point in even wondering about it so stop it right now.

Webmaster Dave and I have a long-standing date to drink beers in the Earthlite Lounge on the Moon one day. This dream is not as pure a fantasy as it may seem. Dave is currently in charge of designing communications to NASA's projected moonbase, so there may in fact someday be legitimate reason to send Dave to the Moon. (For me, we’ll probably have to do the old whonk-an-astronaut-over-the-head-with-a-wrench-in the-locker-room-at-the-last-minute-and-put-on-his-spacesuit deal, unless I start doing a lot of space cartoons and become as revered an artistic inspiration among space wonks as Arthur C. Clarke.)

A phrase I’ve been hearing lately—whenever someone looks up directions on their iPhone or confirms a bet over whether pandas are ursidæ or procyonidæ via the internet (they’re the former)—is: “We’re living in the future.” It’s one of those things in the air. As friend of mine recently wrote me:

• there's a spaceship on mars

• we're all watching a black presidential candidate tromp one of the most detestable democrats around

• despite all the annoyances, cell phones and the internet are both way better than the communication and research devices available to us in the 20th century

I conclude that despite the lack of flying cars and pocket lasers I am living in the future, and I like it.

I, too, resent the fact that most of the technological innovations these days are in the realm of what I’d consider consumer toys and that all the truly cool shit like personal rocket packs or bubble domes on the moon never came to pass... and yet even an irascible old nay-sayer like me has to concede certain undeniable improvements in my own lifetime. For example, it is now possible, in a lot of places, for gay high school students to be “out” among their peers. In the time and place where I grew up—which wasn’t some barbaric shithole like Kansas but a public school in suburban Maryland--this was unimaginable. (To give you youngsters an idea of the general level of sensitivity to such issues in my day, at recess in grade school we played a game called “Smear the Queer”—a.k.a. “Kill the Guy With the Ball” in some regions. Of course we were all preadolescents so the literal meaning of “queer” was theoretical at best to us, but still, it’s on par with the now-literally-unspeakable “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” variant as an indicator of societal mores, and has hopefully joined it in cultural exinction.) For all conservatives’ sneering at the schoolmarmish priggery of political correctness, diversity awareness, and sensitivity training, if fewer kids are being called faggot and getting beaten up in this country, it’s all been worth it.

Also, stadium seating in movie theaters!

It may be that my friend Rob is right, that we’re all fucked and the best thing to do now is hunker down, rig up some solar panels, and start seriously gardening. I am still haunted by Cormac McCarthy’s comment that if you could have told a group of intelligent people in the year 1900 what the coming century would bring, their response would’ve been: “You’ve got to be shitting me.” But I tend to subscribe, believe it or not, to the scientific and political optimism of science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who in his books frankly acknowledges the seriousness and complexity of the problems we face but also envisions a future in which we use our intelligence and technology to solve them. As he writes in Antarctica, optimism is not some easy, empty-headed, cheerleaderish denial of the facts, but a stubborn, willful act of faith in the face of hopelessness. He predicts, “It will be a difficult century, and ugly, but I don't think that in the end people are so stupid as to kill themselves off.” Robinson envisions futures in which no one is hungry or homeless, in which health care is a right, no one owns land, there’s a cap on personal wealth, and women have truly equal status. Which I suppose may sound like some hippy-dippy California liberal utopia. But we live in a country where slavery is illegal, suffrage is universal, people can practice any religion they want and say anything they want against the government. Europe is unified and at peace; the Soviet Union disappeared without a fight. Not very long ago this would’ve seemed like an implausibly utopian vision. Eli Sagan writes in Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form:

Throughout history, human beings demonstrate an equally extraordinary capacity to renounce aggression and to widen the definition of human to include more and more of the people in the world. Christianity puts an end to the barbarism of the Roman arena and proclaims that even a slave has a soul. Islam puts and end to female infanticide, slavery practically disappears from the world, the barbarisms of early industrial capitalism are renounced, democracy asserts the individual worth of all in society…

We live, in fact, on the verge of a great moral revolution. For the first time in the history of the world, a large number of people—not just a few moral geniuses—are willing to assert that the idea of human is to be extended to all human beings, that no one is to be excluded from the human definition. This has never been true before.

Or, as no less a Polyanna than William Faulkner said: “I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.”

Not sure what accounts for this creeping feeling of hopefulness and goodwill. Maybe it’s the final defeat of the gutless and hectoring Hillary Clinton, the incredible ascendancy of Barack Obama, and what looks to me at this point likely be an embarrassing Bob-Dole-like no-contest campaign for John McCain. The sense that this country might finally, after seven unendurable years that bottomed out my capacity for outrage and gutted my faith in my fellow Americans, be emerging from the Era of Darkness. I’ve also taken up a number of new habits in the last year—meditation, cigars, and the Saturday New York Times crossword—but it’s not clear which of these might be a determining factor. Dating someone who is kind and sane certainly doesn't hurt. And I just spent an idyllic week back at my undisclosed location on the Chesapeake Bay. You don’t realize how stressful New York City is every second until you go someplace where there aren’t any other people, and it’s quiet. It’s a place where a man can stand naked in his own lawn looking out over the water. There are Great Blue Herons there, and canvasback ducks and Canada Geese and their goslings, and black vultures and bald eagles drift on the updrafts high overhead. And at night, you can see the stars.

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