The Sorensen Monologues

Archive for 2018

Assault on Reason

As we see some news outlets try to portray “both sides” of the school shooting protests, let us remember that “the students don’t understand gun owners or gun culture” is not an argument. It’s just a tired, vacuous insult that does not contribute in any way to the discussion at hand.

Troubled Times

As a longtime loyal New York Times reader, it saddens me to have to critique the paper like this. The Times has always been a mixed bag, but some of their investigative reporting is very good. And really, the country needs a fully functioning New York Times — so we should all be trying to make it better, not destroy it.

That said, they have recently gone down a rabbit hole on their editorial pages. In their hiring decisions and topical obsessions, they have doubled down on a misguided attempt to not appear to have “liberal bias.” For example, they (or whoever specifically makes these decisions) have apparently bought into the hyperbolic, highly-distorting, and relentless Fox News obsession with a small number of overzealous college students as an attempt to smear all progressives. Fox’s game is straight from an authoritarian playbook, attacking academia and academics as the “real threat” to a free society, even as we are in the middle of an actual attempted fascist takeover of the country. (Meanwhile, Trump cozies up to people like Erdogan of Turkey, who literally throw academics in prison and fill populations with a sense of victimization at the hands of intellectuals, teachers, etc.) It’s worth noting that the Times actually hired as an editorial page editor a woman who, as a college student, was known for attacking professors who criticize Israeli state policies toward Palestinians.

Indeed, the Times’ self-righteous condescension towards, and stereotyping of, its own readership seems an awful lot like the attitude it chides “liberals” for displaying towards Trump voters — those saintly, salt-of-the-earth people who are definitely not racist (perish the thought!), and are above reproach.

Here are some suggestions for columnists they could have picked if they valued actual diversity of perspectives, and elevating underheard voices instead of dominant ones:

  • • An environmental expert commenting on climate change and the rampant gutting of environmental protections
  • • A Muslim, or Palestinian-American, who might talk about the criminally-neglected topic of Palestinian rights
  • • A woman of color
  • • An immigrant
  • • A critic of late capitalism, talking about how to innovate away from its worst excesses and power structures towards a more sustainable system of commerce

The country desperately needs the Times to rise to the occasion and help good people preserve democracy in America. Some readers have canceled their subscriptions, and this may or may not be an effective form of protest. I’m not sure about the best tactics here, but I hope the Times sees the light soon.

Beyond the Paleo

I know a lot of people are going to argue with this one, but you have to admit the caveman thing is getting just a little ridiculous. For example:



Dark chocolate almond coconut nutrition bars… just like early homo sapiens used to eat when they needed an energy boost on the big mastodon hunt!

At the same time that lots of scientific evidence was accumulating about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, Americans were embracing the Paleo diet – a diet ridiculed by nutritionists (even back in 2011), and consistently ranked near or at the bottom of expert diet recommendations. Wikipedia provides some criticism of the caveman fantasy. In some ways, Paleo is healthier than Americans’ normal terrible diets (particularly where it intersects with the Mediterranean diet), but that’s thin praise.

So why has it been such a big fad? Part of its popularity probably stems from the fact that meat-eating is encouraged, and the “primal man” narrative has a certain easy-to-grasp truthiness. But also, I suspect because it ties into the macho gender politics, a search for tough-guy authenticity, and conspiracy theorizing (the nutritionists are lying to you!) that have consumed American pop culture and politics for the last twenty years. One might say that Americans chose the wrong diet for many of the same reasons that they chose the wrong president.

Which brings us to the all-meat diet in the third panel, inspired by this fascinating Motherboard article on the trendlet of Bitcoin carnivores. It’s well worth your time!

Future Veterans of the Information Wars

While there’s been chatter in the news about conspiracy theories and Russian trolls, I think Americans are underestimating the problem of unreality and the dangers this poses to democracy. I’m reminded lately of this chilling article I read in the Seattle Times last fall, about a University of Washington researcher who studies information flows after mass shootings and other massacres (the infographic shown in the photo is enough to give you the willies). To quote the professor, Kate Starbird:

Starbird says she’s concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward “the menace of unreality — which is that nobody believes anything anymore.” Alex Jones, she says, is “a kind of prophet. There really is an information war for your mind. And we’re losing it.”

Starbird sighed. “I used to be a techno-utopian. Now I can’t believe that I’m sitting here talking to you about all this.”

Sure enough, a video making the claim that the Parkland students were “crisis actors” was the #1 trending post on Youtube shortly after the shooting. But the problem is hardly limited to Alex Jones’ legions of followers (and there truly are legions of them). Republicans in Maine and California have been setting up their own propaganda sites masquerading as news.

School of Glock

As I was telling a colleague of mine, responding to mass shootings as a cartoonist has become a macabre sort of exercise in drawing the same thing over and over, but in a new way. It’s like a darker version of what non-political cartoonists face when asked to come up with yet another desert island gag.

The Selective Free Speech Warrior

A backlash against the #MeToo movement rages, with conservatives spluttering about the awful feminists posing an existential threat to liberal democratic order, or some such thing.  Look, I am not a fan of Twitter’s mob mentality even when I agree with the mob. But that’s the nature of the medium, a problem not isolated to just anti-sexual harassment activists.

This backlash is a massively disproportionate response, indicative of a highly distorted media universe where pundits are rewarded for saying that the nation’s biggest problems originate with liberals — remember the obsession with “PC on campus” during the election? As I have noted elsewhere, the speech concept has been utterly perverted to suit right wing efforts to chill speech.

A few relevant links:

The linguist and progressive activist George Lakoff, author of “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, is being sued for defamation by a wealthy Georgian-American businessman who was present at the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. Lakoff cited the businessman’s alleged involvement in money-laundering in a TV interview. The businessman’s legal team includes a lawyer who represented Trump in a previous lawsuit. I find this incredibly chilling, and deserving of much, much wider coverage than it’s getting. Lakoff has a GoFundMe set up for his legal expenses.

Also deserving major headlines is the plight of the “J20″ inauguration protesters still facing felony rioting charges. Many had their charges dropped, but 59 people still face the possibility of years in prison for merely being present when a few people engaged in vandalism. This is huge news with major implications for the right to protest.

Then there’s the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.” In this day and age of neo-Nazis, it sounds fine, right? But in practice, it conflates legitimate criticism of the Israeli government with bigotry. Many liberal Jewish groups are opposed to it for this reason. Of course, the Trump administration is appointing a fervent supporter of the act to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.

If Watergate Happened With Today’s Media

I was busy gestating during the Watergate crisis, and not paying much attention to the news, but hopefully this re-creation will resonate with people who lived through it. This comic was of course inspired by the Nunes memo, about which an objective headline might look something like: “Republicans release piece of garbage intended to mislead public about the Russia investigation.”

An amazing and highly-relevant detail that should be household knowledge but that I learned only this week: the origins of Fox News can be traced back to the Nixon White House. The Nixon administration wanted more favorable coverage in the media and hatched the idea of creating a pro-GOP news network. Roger Ailes offered to do it, though it took some 25 years for the network to actually materialize. Via the late Gawker (which was sued out of business by billionaire Trump backer Peter Thiel):

But according to a remarkable document buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the intellectual forerunner for Fox News was a nakedly partisan 1970 plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the “prejudices of network news” and deliver “pro-administration” stories to heartland television viewers.

The memo—called, simply enough, “A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News”— is included in a 318-page cache of documents detailing Ailes’ work for both the Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations that we obtained from the Nixon and Bush presidential libraries.

Flash forward to February 1, 2018. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera tells Sean Hannity “Nixon never would have been forced to resign if you existed in your current state back in 1972, ’73, ’74.” (Hat tip to Daily Kos commenter MiketheLiberal who alerted me to this development, which I’d missed).

Between the corrupt Fox and an intimidated/lobotomized mainstream media deathly afraid of showing “liberal bias,” we have a crisis of journalistic ethics on our hands, one that deeply threatens American democracy and, ultimately, the freedom of the press itself.

(Full disclosure: I currently do editing work for the company that used to publish Gawker.)




The next cryptocurrencies

As I was penciling this, Paul Krugman’s latest column on the Bitcoin bubble went up. Krugman makes some of the same points I make in the cartoon.

For more on the incredible energy use that goes into mining Bitcoin, this Arstechnica piece is a good place to start. This site has some eyebrow-raising stats, such as the fact that the number of U.S. households that could be powered by Bitcoin is 4,252,394. To quote from this Motherboard article making the Denmark comparison:

Even in the optimistic scenario, just mining one bitcoin in 2020 would require a shocking 5,500 kWh, or about half the annual electricity consumption of an American household. And even if we assume that by that time only half of that electricity is generated by fossil fuels, still over 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide would be emitted per bitcoin mined. It makes you wonder whether bitcoin could still be called a virtual currency, when the physical effects could become so tangible.

Emphasis mine. It’s extremely ironic, then, that a currency this inefficient and destructive to the planet — it’s mostly powered by Chinese coal-burning plants, according to Digiconomist — has become the darling of Libertarian utopianists who think they’re creating a futuristic paradise.

The Corruption Cycle

Lost in the shuffle of recent headlines about shutdowns and porn stars is the fact that Republicans are eviscerating Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A case in point.

I’m going to quote from myself here, from a post I wrote last April:

It’s not big or small government that I care about; it’s smart or stupid. In other words, it’s about policy, not “the government.” Once you start doing away with government, or the idea that government regulation is necessary, you grant more power to corporations and Wall Street. Government exists as a check on abuses of power by moneyed interests. While government can be corrupt to varying degrees, the fashionably cynical belief that all government is inherently corrupt is an idea that enables corruption.

The primary way to end government corruption is through campaign finance reform and publicly-funded elections. Anti-government libertarians have not supported candidates or policies that would lead to this outcome. Gorsuch will uphold Citizens United, ensuring future corruption of politicians by moneyed interests, furthering the right-wing ideology that government is inherently corrupt. And so the cycle continues.

We tend to talk about politics in terms of individual personalities.  But I think it’s more useful to look at the broken system of incentives, which invariably compromises even well-meaning public officials to some degree. (I’m talking about Dems here; the entire Republican party is nothing but a scam at this point.) This is not to say we can’t point fingers at specific people, but the problem is systemic. And nothing is going to change without the Supreme Court.

Sadly, much of our mediascape is now terribly corrupted as well, with Fox being almost pure disinformation; I’m not sure how you begin to fix this, but campaign finance is a start.

Worse Than Idiocracy

I realize I’m hardly the first person to make an analogy between the Trump administration and Idiocracy (one of my favorite movies of all time, let it be known). While doing some Googling, I found that Cracked made the case for Idiocracy being superior to our current state of affairs. But given Trump’s recent comments and porn star revelations, it seemed a direct comparison with Camacho was in order, one that went beyond merely pointing out their similar lack of qualifications and flamboyance. And the verdict is: I’ll take Camacho, thanks!

See No Evil

This comic was initially inspired by Sheriff David Clarke’s over-the-top tweetstorm last week. He railed against “fake news” and promised to “bitch slap these scum bags.”  “Punch them in the nose & MAKE THEM TASTE THEIR OWN BLOOD. Nothing gets a bully like LYING LIB MEDIA’S attention better than to give them a taste of their own blood” he added. In earlier times, a prominent supporter of the president making unhinged violent threats against journalists like this might have been perceived as scandalous and embarrassing, but it’s just another day in the Trump era, where this kind of authoritarian rhetoric has been normalized.

Just this last Sunday, hotheaded Trump adviser Stephen Miller had an interview cut off by Jake Tapper on CNN, providing some extra backdrop for the cartoon.

Cartoon Flashback: The Game

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.