The Breakfast Table

Ted Rall and Steve Brodner

Dear Steve:

Hope all’s well. I myself have been keeping busy maintaining the aftermath of my Village Voice piece on Art Spiegelman–just got the new issue of the Comics Journal with your quotes in it, by the way–but I honestly wish this whole thing would go away. But as an editorial cartoonist, nothing depresses me more than the overnight disintegration of the once-interesting “Week in Review” section–where the New York Times runs three or four cartoons each Sunday–into the same mainstream tripe that Newsweek’s “Perspectives” section and USA Today’s Friday editorial page offer. It was never perfect, but the “Week in Review” used to run the more daring and adventurous editorial cartoons around (stuff that actually editorialized!) by Tom Tomorrow, Ruben “Tom the Dancing Bug” Bolling, and yours truly; now it’s back to cross-hatching, elephants and donkeys, and dumb gags about the news. Can you and I agree that any cartoonist who uses pachyderms to denote the GOP should be dispatched to Afghanistan for ritual stoning at the Talidrome?

I know few of my leftie pals will be sad for the Colt gun company, which is laying off hundreds of its West Hartford, Conn., workers and trashing its consumer business because it’s been savaged by lawsuits. But guns are a legal product, and I find it yet another statement about the post-Clintonian world we live in that we don’t have the balls to simply make a product illegal but see nothing wrong with using the courts to harrass its manufacturers out of business. For instance, smoking should obviously be banned as the No. 1 cause of premature death in this country, not to mention of countless house and forest fires. But since no politician has the guts to advocate such a drastic (in my view, rational) measure, we end up with zillions of lawsuits by people who’ve always known that smoking was dangerous against tobacco companies. It’s the same with guns; if we as a society decide that we want to get rid of the Second Amendment, then let’s do that instead of abusing the court system and driving perfectly law-abiding businesses into bankruptcy.

Stephen Kinzer continues his dispatches from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan in today’s New York Times. Last week, it was a missive from a yak farm about that country’s ancient tradition of nomadism; this week he’s covering an enclave of ethnic Germans who live near the capital of Bishkek. I just got back from Central Asia a week ago–I passed through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, western China, Kashmir Province (from where, incidentally, I can report that the Taliban now occupy a large part of what used to be Pakistani-held Kashmir in a bid to bring Pakistan over to Islamic fundamentalist rule), and Pakistan proper. Kyrgyzstan is a stunning place of amazing mountains and lakes, grinding poverty and lost ideology, and of course oodles of history. There’s a chance Americans will be sending troops out to Central Asia in coming years to defend American oil interests, so we should all be reading up on this stuff. And Kinzer is an awesome writer.

I was leaning toward supporting a mainstream presidential candidate–Al Gore, because he’s the only guy who understands that the budget doesn’t much matter if global warming puts the entire planet under water–until I read this morning’s Times interview with campaign manager Donna Brazile. She refers to herself as a “diva.” Um, Donna, divas sing. They sing well. Really well. I checked just now, and couldn’t find any Donna Brazile CDs. This trend of people confusing divas with anyone arrogant and annoying is itself seriously annoying.

The beginning of the trial of Russell Henderson, who’s accused of beating Matthew Shepard to death in Laramie, Wyo., last year, coincides with more calls for hate-crime bills as well as for the death penalty among liberals who ought to know better. All lives ought to be considered equal under the law; if you kill someone because they’re gay, it shouldn’t be worse than killing someone because they like the Mets. It’s still damned awful, and you shouldn’t see much sunlight for the rest of your life either way. As for the death penalty, it’s not like murderers don’t deserve to die; of course they do. It’s just that the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing them–it turns every single taxpayer into a killer.

Bill Bradley voted for the 1981 Reagan budget, which pushed Generation X into underemployment and student-loan hell for more than a decade, destroyed the welfare state, and symbolized the new American view that no one should give a damn about anyone else. For this reason alone, he deserves to never hold any kind of public office.

Wow–am I ever cranky this morning! I’d better go get some coffee.

Your turn.

Very truly yours,