Tuesday, November 14, 2006

With All Candor

What follows is a partial response to some questions I received in the combox to my post I Was Wrong. Answering took up quite a bit of space, and my philosophy on comboxes is that they should be used for comments. I've been drawn once or twice into a combox sermon, but feel that the medium is best suited to a brief remark or two. More than two or three short paragraphs and you've got yourself a post, not a comment. As these observations are written about a particular comic strip and to a particular interlocutor, you may find them boring or irrelevant. If so, skip the post. Hit the B-team button down the page; you will find quite a few excellent writers there, and doubtless more interesting fare.

Hello again, Richard,

I've gone over your comments now and I see that you have them categorized into two basic themes. The first, I think we can put under the heading of "Election Fraud Issues," the second, under "Literary Merit and Qualities of Candorville. "

Under the first theme you have made (as far as I can see) four basic points. First, vote fraud is commonplace in American elections whether or not we choose to see it. Second, it was a deciding factor in the last several election cycles. Third, as Republicans were in control, either of the executive branch or of certain key states in those elections, responsibility for fraud, at least for right now, can be laid at the feet of that party. Fourth, eternal vigilance on the part of somebody (voters? Democrats? the media? Rock the Vote? You don't seem to specify) led to problems in the recent elections being intercepted in the nick of time so that they could finally be considered incorrupt, or close enough. You point out that all the alleged "problems" in recent cycles have favored Republicans (Not quite. I seem to recall some matter of attempts to discount overseas military ballots, and a race in the Pacific Northwest that ended under a cloud, though I don't recall all the details. You could look it up.) You also bring up Santorum's loss in support of the notion that allegations of fraud go both ways.

I'm not gonna argue what some in the Santorum campaign might have said; I wasn't there. As I've already pointed out, the candidate's prospects for success were considered guarded by his own campaign before the election, and his loss was by a wide enough margin that a few flipped votes shouldn't have made a lick of difference. If an unverifiable assertion was made, it was a stupid move. I will say, though, that IMHO, an awful lot of vote fraud outcry has been a straw man. It hasn't been lost on me that much of it seems to have been unsubstantiated, and that the loudest and most frequent complaints have come from a fringe element of the losing party. That's all I'm saying at this point, because doing justice to the subject matter will require extensive fact-checking. I'm not interested in coming back at you with theories and speculations, I'm interested in the facts of the matter. So that discussion, I'm afraid, you'll have to wait on. Try dropping by in a week or so, but realize that I don't always have a lot of free computer time. It could take longer.

Your second theme comes down to an exchange of opinions, and can therefore be easily addressed right now. You are unquestionably a more frequent Candorville reader than I am, and are thus more abreast of Bell's storylines. I must stay with general impressions based on two or three strips a week, but I think that that method of reading can also provide some insights. Cartoonists generally tend to plan their storylines with two kinds of readers in mind, so that a daily reader can follow the story, but a weekend reader will get the basic point being made. This may be growing less common in the age of the Internet, but there are still enough newspaper readers out there that I doubt it's gone out of style yet.

You mention, in your second comment, that "people who use mockery to dismiss this never, ever explain why all the anomalies favored the Republican party in 2004." You've provided one possibility why the anomalies favored Republicans; I have, I hope, at least suggested another. But what interests me in that sentence right now was your word choice. I did use "mockery" to dismiss Bell as a serious claimant to the facts; Bell himself often uses similar "mockery" to promote his own opinions. Surely you don't see his "cautionary tale" of a vote decided by one thug's paper ballot after a whole precint has been negated as anything but hyperbole? The day that happens here, get ready for the tanks to roll into town! Satire requires careful handling--let loose too much and you trivialize the point that you are trying to make. Comparing the present-day U. S. to a police state, even in jest, merely demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what police states are really like.

You say you believe I am reading ulterior motives into the strip's storyline: whereas I see it as an attempt at timely political commentary, you see it merely as a "cautionary tale" of something that could happen if we don't watch our ways. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's enough subtlety there for there to be anything ulterior about it. But I don't see Bell channeling H. G. Wells or Bradbury or Vonnegut, either. I see him looking at the news (and maybe a few carefully chosen political blogs,) selecting a topic that speaks to his worldview, then recasting that topic in the context of his strip. If his intent is to craft a futuristic dystopia fable, his efforts are a bit too muddled with the contents of the daily headlines for him to be really successful.

You have declared yourself a Candorville fan, and from what I can see you certainly do seem zealous about the strip. As much as I hate to offend, I respectfully disagree. It isn't just a political matter: I read Doonesbury for (literally) two decades (haven't in recent years; it's not in my paper and I'm not a big enough fan to chase it on the Internet) and probably disagreed with it 98% of the time, but I seldom felt Trudeau was insulting my intelligence. I read Boondocks reruns now, and while I sometimes think MacGruder a little harsh, I find his satire fairly equitably dispensed and his social commentary frequently incisive. I'm sorry, but Candorville just doesn't give me that vibe. I tend to react to it with an inward groan of "Oh, please, not another nutty conspiracy theory." I find Bell much too quick to seize on talk points and urban myths from the least rational segment of the political left, and display them as if they were documented facts. I cannot take him seriously when he does this. I certainly don't consider it thoughtful or thought-provoking. The instance that started this discussion isn't the only case I've seen of this tendency, either. My issuing of a tinfoil hat was sort of a "lifetime achievement award" in that respect.

The strip is cutely drawn and occasionally humorous. I appreciate Bell's commitment to diversity, but I'd be more inclined to take it seriously if his characters were a little more diverse--and I don't just mean racially. I wouldn't rely on Candorville as anything resembling an information source, or even as really good social commentary, and thus I'm afraid I can't bring myself to call it "a good work of art." That, for what it's worth, is my opinion.



Anonymous Richard said...

Well, we're just talking subjectivity, and to each his own. Personally, I never could stand Doonesbury. Way too boring and strident to me. I think Candorville's great social commentary and a good source of information. I used to write to the cartoonist to challenge his facts, and he was very nice and always wrote back insanely long e-mails with footnotes and links to sources. I don't agree with a lot of his opinions, but the guy gets his facts straight. For instance, when he did a comic pointing out how terror alerts coincided with the troughs in W.'s approval ratings, I did some legwork and it turned out he was right. Now, I don't know if I agree with the implication that it was on purpose (although I wouldn't put anything past a politician, no matter the party), but it did coincide and it was something worth thinking about.

All I'm saying is, it's easy to just say it's conspiracy thinking, but for me to buy that you'd have to point out some facts Candorville's used that aren't true or some conclusions it's made that are unreasonable. So far I haven't seen it to be unreasonable.

The electronic voting thing was totally reasonable given what's happened over the last few years, and how tests by Princeton and other folks before this election showed the machines could be easily hacked by any nutjob with a mini-bar key (wouldn't take a conspiracy, just one lone person could swing an election, all on his own according to the tests). Democrats winning this time doesn't change that.

I'm a zealous fan of Candorville, just like I was a zealous fan of Bloom County and half a dozen other comics. I wanted to be a cartoonist all my life, and the only thing that stopped me was a lack of talent, so I admire anyone who I think is able to pull it off well.

Like I said, though, to each his own.

9:23 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Well, Richard,
I did say it was a matter of opinion, didn't I? You suit yourself, but if it's all the same to you I've said about all I'm gonna say about Candorville and comic strips in general. They may be a big deal to you, but to me they are a few minutes' light reading a few days a week.

You may note if you reread what I have said up to this point that I haven't questioned the plausibility of tampering with votes on a touchscreen. For the record, after the 2000 elections when we were all treated to a media barrage on the theme of "We need touchscreens! The rest of the civilized world already uses them," I reflected that, if you wanted to meddle with an election without leaving a paper trail, computers would be a good way to do it. Well, we finally got into the 21st century (literally and figuratively) and lo! the touchscreen saviors of the republic were suddenly rife with problems and the results questionable. And so on, until the loudest complainers got a result they liked. The public is supposed to assume that because it's "reasonable" to expect the machines to--well--act like computers (we couldn't have predicted that in 2000?) the only plausible explanations for certain election results in the intervening years are fraud and glitches?

As I already said I wan't interested in discussing the vote fraud question until I'd had time to do some fact-checking, that will be the extent of my commentary on that for now. Check back in a week to a week and a half. I anticipate a Thanksgiving invasion next week and election fraud will be the least of my worries, so I guarantee I won't get around to it before next weekend.

7:19 PM  

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