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Face Off
Some say that this election presents a stark choice between two very different visions of our future. That is certainly true for political cartoonists — particularly when it comes to caricature.

I should note here that, while many political cartoonists use caricature in their work, most of them are not true caricaturists. A good caricature will capture something of the essence of its subject, some special aspect that evokes an involuntary flash of recognition in the mind of the beholder. Most political cartoonists do not meet or even try to meet that test.

There are exceptions, of course. Mike Luckovich, Milt Priggee, and Tom Toles come to mind. Most of us, however, resort to using an exaggerated feature or two that have already been seeded in the minds of viewers as representing the subject. People saw the big ears in a drawing of W and quickly concluded that it must be him because everyone drew him that way. Or they saw a ski nose and five o’clock shadow on a cartoon character and deduced that it had to be Nixon. Their perception of identity came from learned associations rather than from gut-level recognition.

Obama is another good example. You see a skinny black guy with big ears and thick eyebrows, and that’s enough to make the connection. No labels necessary.

If he loses, all those identity cues will be lost, and a new set will have to be developed for Romney. The task will be made more difficult by the fact that he is a good-looking guy, and good-looking people are the hardest to caricature. Their even features, combined with the attractive spacing and arrangement of those features, make them all look alike.

That wasn’t a problem with Nixon and W. No offense, fellers, but you’re both a tad on the ugly side. That makes you easy to draw because you are already clearly distinguishable from everyone else (except, perhaps, from crooked undertakers and smirking chimpanzees).

Not so with handsome dudes like Romney or Obama. Really good caricatures of either — ones that capture their essences — are hard to come by. The Romneys I’ve seen (and drawn myself) tend to feature a big, slick pompadour, eyes tucked under heavy brows, and an oversized jaw.

Romney is more than that, of course. He’s analytical and cool, as is the Spock-like Obama, but he also projects a stiff, robotic persona, like Data without the lovability. These qualities are hard to capture for cartoonist and caricaturist alike. How do you convey the concept of a vacuum with a simple line drawing?

I don’t have a prediction for this election, but either way, I foresee four more years of frustration for political cartoonists. We are expected to somehow extract misshapen ugliness from the clean, attractive features of these male models. No matter which vision of the future wins, we are doomed to get eyestrain trying to depict our president’s essence as anything more than a cartoon character.

Even that dismal prospect, however, will not make me long for the good old days of Tricky Dick.
Mirror, Mirror
Of all the plot devices in all the Star Trek episodes and movies, none persists in my memory like the Tantalus Field. It appeared in “Mirror, Mirror,” an installment in which Captain Kirk is accidentally switched with his alter ego in another universe.

That episode is perhaps most famous for its depiction of a parallel, goateed Mr. Spock looking like Mandrake the Magician with Vulcan bangs. I think the makeover was meant to make him look badass, because this particular parallel universe is a very badass (albeit more stylish) place. He, like everyone else in his world, is so ambitious that torture and murder are seen as savvy career choices. What better way to get ahead than to kill your rival? No effort is made to assess the effect of such cutthroat competition on Starfleet morale, but hey, this is Star Trek.

It is in this dangerous culture of ruthlessness that our Captain Kirk suddenly finds himself. Fortunately for him, his twin possesses the perfect weapon for these circumstances: the Tantalus Field. Let’s not worry about how it works (Gene Roddenberry didn’t); it looks like a small TV with an array of knobs and buttons. Somehow, the user can summon a live video feed of a potential victim; then, by simply pressing one of the buttons, make that person disappear — forever.

This is what I find provocative. Here is a machine that allows you to get rid of people instantly and without fear of ever being held responsible. No muss, no fuss, no collateral damage, and no one to answer to other than your own conscience. What if such a device really existed? What if I had one? Would I use it?

I can certainly imagine using it. There are some cruel and murderous people in the world whom we would all be better off without. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is on my list, as are Than Shwe of Burma and Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. Kim Jong Il also comes to mind, but he kakked before I could get my Tantalus up and running.

But could I push the button? And if I did, could I set the Tantalus Field aside and never use it again? If killing evildoers were that easy, wouldn’t I be tempted to keep using it? And why stop with evildoers? What would prevent me from disappearing people just because I didn’t like the cuts of their jibs?

I do not have satisfactory answers for these questions. I’d like to think I would do the right thing if such an absolute power were placed in my hands, but that is by no means certain.

Kirk himself never used it, even though doing so might have made his situation easier. But he didn’t destroy it, either. In the end, he decides to give it to the parallel Spock. He trusts that Spock will find the wisdom to use the Tantalus Field in a way that will serve the greater good.

I wouldn’t be so sure, Jimbo.

Rooting Posture
“Root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win, it’s a shame…”

The Philadelphia Phillies are a fine team. They have a proud tradition, and their rivalry with my San Francisco Giants is spirited without being unfriendly. My problem is with their fans.

Phillies fans, like fans from many East Coast cities, often get credit for being “knowledgeable.” That is code, of course, for “abusive.” They regularly booed the greatest player in Philly history, hometown boy and first ballot Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. That is only the most famous example of their scoliotic rooting posture.

As a sports fan, there’s not a whole lot you can do to affect the outcome on the field. Scream, cheer, stamp your feet, boo, pray. You want to think it will help your team, but it would be hard to prove that any of that makes a difference. Very rarely do players pay attention to anyone in the stands; they are rightly focused on the ball, their own execution, and the actions of other players.

If you are at home, your connection to the action is even more remote, and your participation in the web of causality even more imaginary. Often, no one can see you, much less hear your shouts and moans. It would only be natural to feel that your rooting counts for nothing and that you are powerless to help your team.

I reject this notion of helplessness. In doing so, I rely on no less an authority than the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. For our purposes, that principle holds that mere observation of phenomena, no matter from what distance, can affect it.

On a quantum level we are not only at the game, but we are actively participating in it in a meaningful way just by paying attention to it. In fact, we are members of the quantum team we root for.

I’ll admit that, under the Heisenberg Principle, we are also members of the other team, a face in the crowd at the game, part of the umpiring crew, and also intimately connected to every blade of grass on the field. Even so, I think we are bound to have the greatest effect on the things we pay the closest attention to: the play on the field, and particularly, the thoughts and actions of our (quantum) teammates.

It is important, therefore, for us to be good teammates by adopting an appropriate rooting posture — a positive one. A team riven by backbiting, finger pointing, and dissension is not a team but a collection of losers. I’m talking to you, Phillies fans.

But no hard feelings, Phillies — whatever your quantum status. Bottom line, it’s hard to bear ill will against a team that the Giants regularly thump with such gusto in the playoffs.
The Future Is Bright
And hot, and really crowded, too, thanks to us and our technology. But climate change doesn’t have to be a bummer, even if we do have to give up some of the things we love:

Like meat. Animals are just too inefficient as food sources, requiring way too much water and space per ounce of nourishment provided. Plus all that fat is bad for us, and cow farts contribute mightily to global warming.

No more war, either. It’s always been painfully obvious that, if we really want to save humanity, we should probably stop blowing each other up. Now it’s become a necessity; even if the bombs don’t get us, the massive release of greenhouse gases would eventually finish us off.

No more privacy, of course, but you already know that; I can tell by the look on your face.

All of this is inconvenient, but look at the unexpected benefits. Earth, it appears, will be inhabited by healthy, peaceful vegetarians who have to be open and honest with each other.

And they’ll need to be. All six billion of them will be living together in Antarctica.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee