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High on Austerity
You know, I kind of like austerity. Really.

There’s a stoic pleasure that comes with self-denial, a sense of control and mastery. Strip to the basics, hunker down and tough it out through sheer force of will. Yeah, like an animal. A wolverine, or a badger, or the nastiest bug you’ve ever seen. Rugged, resilient, too mean to die. Form a goddamn husk if necessary. Grrrr.

That’s the austerity high. Not fun, exactly, but when you come out the other side you feel empowered as a survivor. The rush of deferred gratification can be very gratifying indeed, and the self-righteousness you feel is way more fun than real righteousness. If you’re alone, particularly — living out of your knapsack, sleeping under bridges, depending only on yourself and letting others do likewise.

I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I understand the austerity high. Of course, I was a young man then, with no job and no dependents; a lone wolverine. The prospect of living it now, however, is not so appealing. I’m married, I’ve got a kid, and if I have an animal identity, it’s more likely some kind of house pet.

The missus, I can say with confidence, would not be fan of the husk look. I don’t want my kid hunkering down under anything. Same with old Mr. Bronstein up the block, or the Ogilvy twins. I don’t want vets, or poor people, or middle class families, or any of my fellow citizens to feel any more pain than they need to. There is, after all, more than enough naturally occurring austerity to go around.

I certainly don’t want my government to make it worse by adding a layer of official, government-sponsored belt-tightening. In fact, I want my government to do just the opposite: soften the blow, ease the pain, smooth out the bumps. Isn’t that what we have a government for in the first place — to keep things sailing on an even keel so we can all thrive?

So please, beloved leaders — don’t fail the gut check the way the Europeans did. Just back away from that austerity panic button re-e-e-al slow, and nobody will get hurt. Which is what we all want, right?

Thank you, and good luck in the upcoming election. Be sure to spend whatever it takes to get elected.

Evil
Some people think of evil as an independent force operating in the universe, like gravity or nuclear fission. To them, it is a calculating menace abroad in our lives, actively plotting to ruin us by making bad things happen.

I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to look any further than right in front of our noses for an explanation for badness. Bad choices, bad attitudes, bad luck — these are the causes of our troubles, and nothing more.

Evil, I would suggest, is like coldness. Cold is not a force in and of itself, but simply the absence of heat. When all heat has gone, you’re down to absolute zero, and you can’t get any lower. Heat, on the other hand, essentially has no upper limit. Similarly, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, and there’s plenty of good to be had in the world.

So evil is not a dark, mysterious entity to be battled, but rather a condition (like freezing temperatures) to be avoided. To make the badness go away, try to make good choices, focus on having a good attitude, and be ready for good luck.

If you want to defeat Satan, in other words, try putting on a sweater.
Capitol Crime
I was sitting in the U.S. Senate the other day, and I couldn’t help noticing the décor.

One of the reasons I couldn’t help it was that Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was reading a long, impassioned speech into the public record. If you’ve ever heard Grassley speak, you’ll know that I had to focus on something, anything, to keep from nodding off.

But back to my thesis: the U.S. Senate, for all its magnificence, is a nightmare of tackiness. Now, before you start getting huffy about lack of respect for treasured national icons, let me just say, “U.-S.-A.! U.-S.-A.!” So I’m a patriot, okay? I am simply suggesting that the upper house needs a visit from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

First of all, nothing matches. The wallpaper, the carpet, the furniture, the hair plugs — there’s just no consistent theme. While there is nothing inherently wrong with contrasting patterns, the Senate chamber has become a blizzard of clashing elements, styles, and colors, including a shade of green I would name “Twilight Nausea.”

I advise the 113th Congress to take it on the road, spend 2013 and 2014 lawmaking in the Hollywood Bowl, and let a team of interior designers create something to match the eminence of this august body.

Come to think of it, all of official Washington, D.C. needs a radical re-do. Is anybody else tired of the classical style of architecture? It worked for the Greeks, then the Romans overdid it, but now we’re into sloppy thirds, and this burg resembles nothing less than a field of Transformer droppings.

I’d keep all the monuments, the White House, and the Supreme Court, but the rest of these architectural blots should be hauled away to the landfill. I’d probably keep the huge, hulking Capitol itself, as well. It is, after all, the mother of all statehouses. On the other hand, it would be tempting to start from scratch, go modern, and get all Gehry with it.

Or how about a log-home look for some of the office buildings? You know, to honor Honest Abe? An all-Lego version of the Library of Congress might be interesting, too. The whole idea would be to have fun with it — maybe with a giant roller coaster spanning the Potomac!

Also, while we’re at it, how about team uniforms? Republicans in red, Democrats in blue, perhaps with some details picking up the design themes of the new décor … tiny brushed nickel eagles on the epelets, say, or modest satin sashes draped over the shoulder (slashing left for the men and right for the women, if you like).

Anything to jazz it up a bit. On the day I visited the Senate, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden was the acting President of the Senate and the only other lawmaker in the room besides Grassley. Imagine the exciting contrapuntal splash of color he could have added to set off the Kansan’s attire. Maybe that would have kept us awake in the gallery.

Again, this is not meant as an attack on the institution itself. I only wish that we provide the best possible working environment for our leaders. Is it too much to ask for a little style from my government? It’s not as if I’m complaining about content.

Face Off II
Can we agree that Obama and Romney are both good-looking? Then let me re-assert my corollary: that makes them difficult to caricature.

Studies have shown that there is a kind of golden mean for facial beauty. If you ask people to rate faces according to their attractiveness, you discover that those selected share a surprisingly consistent set of spatial interrelationships among their facial features.
If your features reside within those blessed parameters, then you are easy on the eyes — but hard on the cartoonist.

For starters, it’s difficult to pick any one thing to exaggerate. I’ve tried to stack up the skinny guy wrinkles around Obama’s mouth and eyes, for example, and I’ve had some success with that approach. Unfortunately, that wide grin doesn’t leave a lot of room at the edges. Worse, he ends up looking the same to me every time I draw him, and that is a sign of a failed caricature. I’ve noticed that other caricatures have emphasized those funny-looking lumps between his chin and lips, but I still can’t get the hang of it.

Romney has his own share of lumps and wrinkles, but they never seem to add up to anything recognizable, either. Oh sure, people are able to deduce that it’s supposed to be him, but I want more than that. I want to excite a genuine, gut-level recognition in the minds of my viewers. I’m not complaining, mind you, but is it really necessary to have pretty boy presidents?

Take Bill Clinton, for instance. I wouldn’t call him good looking, even though, during his first run at the White House in 1992, he was known in the Mexican press as El Guapo, the Handsome One. Perhaps they were seeing his straight, good-boy posture and that full lantern jaw. Both are attractive traits by themselves, but Bubba’s good looks break down when seen as a whole.

His puffy eyes sag at the edges, and he’s got some fully packed bags hanging underneath them. The nose looks as if a small tangerine has been grafted onto its tip. He’s got that Elvis mouth, which is good, but it’s been shoved up a bit too close to the nose to fall within the golden mean. The hair, no matter where it sprouts, doesn’t seem to have a coherent organizing principle. The resulting picture is not ugly, to be sure, but Bill is no matinee idol.

My best evidence of his non-beauty, however, is that drawing his caricature has always been easy for me. I can capture his essence almost without trying. Not only are there plenty of features (and spatial relationships among them) to be emphasized, but he also has a garrulous, outgoing persona that provides an array of facial expressions for easy capture.

His predilection for biting his lower lip (even though it’s a transparently phony gesture) somehow lends credibility to his folksiness. Even though it’s a bogus move, I don’t doubt for a moment that he really does feel my pain. It’s like the lip bite is meant to make doubly sure that I know he cares. He’s a fake, but at least he’s real. Like him or not, he has a personality a caricaturist can sink his teeth into.

The present candidates have nothing like that to offer. Obama is cool; Romney is shuttered. Barack never has an unguarded moment, and I can’t get a read of any kind on Mitt’s personality. There may be a there there, but where? In both cases, their even-featured good looks just get in the way.

I admit it, then. I can’t do a decent caricature of Mitt Romney. I take full responsibility for that. On the other hand, I don’t really need my own inadequacy shoved in my face for four years. So please, gentle voter, if you care about me at all (and I’m biting my lip here) don’t vote for this man come November 6. Not because of his character or policies, but because of his blankness. Vote for Virgil Goode or Rocky Anderson or Roseanne Barr or anybody with strange quirks and at least a hint of ugliness — like the rest of us.

And if Obama wins, I promise to master those strange lumps below his lower lip. God damn pretty boy.

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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon