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The "Thes"
Talk to an Angelino, and before long you’ll hear a reference to freeways. They are central to life, and especially travel, in Southern California. As it is with most metropolitan areas, the art of choosing the right route to your destination has become highly refined there. In Los Angeles, this savvy mostly involves choosing among a snarl of high-speed expressways.

What is also different in such discussions in L.A. is that freeways are given a special linguistic status. Interstate 5, for instance, is simply called “5” by the rest of California. South of the San Gabriel Mountains, however, you will hear it called the 5. You will also hear allusions to the 10, the 110, the 134, the 405, and even the 1. Not just the number of the highway is used, then, but the article “the” is also attached to it.

This practice has long troubled me. Perhaps the roots of my agitation can be traced to my slight revulsion at all things L.A. (go Giants), but I think the issue is bigger than that. In one sense, I have come to understand the impulse to tack on that article. It grants to freeways a standing as edifices separate and distinct from their surroundings. It is a prestige they clearly deserve. They connect to city streets as part of a larger transportation system, but they are clearly their own things — like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Still, I am troubled. As I have said, the issue here is bigger than regional naming conventions and petty conflicts between cultures. This is about the language we speak and the triumph of reason over the forces of chaos.

So it is that I must reject the Angelino fashion of adding the to the titles of numbered freeways. Not because it’s an L.A. thing, but because of all the “thes”. There are too many of them. Not just on our freeways, but in our language. It is time we rid ourselves of them.

Thes serve no real purpose in our language. Oh, they may provide a little clarity now and then, but does Golden Gate Bridge really need one? Or Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Or World Champion San Francisco Giants? Their identity as nouns is secure with or without this archaic appendage. Dump them, I say.

The operation will not be painless, I know. There will need to be some exceptions, some nouns that will be out of focus without their linguistic crutches. But such variances should only be granted when they are genuinely needed.

I will continue, certainly, to refer to Los Angeles’ baseball team as Da Bums, if only for the sake of clarity.
The Cartooning of Personal Destruction
There are some public figures I don’t like. And by “don’t like,” I mean I hate their guts. The way they smile, the way they talk, the way they part their hair… I feel the revulsion knotting up my viscera just thinking about it.

This is the kind of attitude, we all know, that can lead to purely ad hominem attacks —cartoons that have no other purpose than personal vilification. And I’m not just talking about character assassination by way of ugly metaphor; I’m talking about caricature, too. When I draw Newt Gingrich, I try to make him as loathsome and vile as the art of cartooning will permit.

These feelings might be grounded, I admit, in the hate object’s politics, or in their willful ignorance, or in their propensity to say they know things that they know they don’t know (otherwise known as lying). But I will not lie. Though I draw cartoons that are attacks on what these people do, the drawings are often designed to dehumanize them. I have made judgments about their character as human beings, and I have let those judgments color my satire (in bile yellow, mostly, with envy green highlights).

In my defense, let me say that I am not proud of myself for feeling this way. In fact, I hate myself for hating. It’s wrong, it’s counter-productive, and it’s certainly not life affirming. Normally, I’m for affirming the hell out of life, making the world a better place, and all that kind of high-minded crap. I’m dead set against hatred, particularly in others. Let the record reflect that I think hate is bad.

Not only is all this negativity corroding my aura, it’s diluting the credibility of my satire. The billions of readers who look to me for perspective in making their most important civic decisions are being denied a truly detached take on the world. How does it help them to know that I hate the Koch brothers (David slightly more than Charles, in case you’re wondering)? Why should they care if I claim that Ted Cruz is not qualified to be president because he was born in Transylvania? And let’s face it: no matter how personally detestable Mitch McConnell is, an attack on his character is as much about me as it about his sorry, obstructive ass.

See? The hatred is creeping in even in the middle of this prayer for forgiveness. But please believe me; I am working on my feelings — trying to change and become a better cartoonist, if not a better person. Perhaps this confession will help. I’m hoping that laying my soul bare might exorcise this demon of personal animus and allow me to produce satire that actually makes a difference.

After all, aren’t public figures human beings, just like you and me? Aren’t we just as apt as John Edwards to have a child out of wedlock while our champ of a mate is dying of cancer — all while we’re running for president? Of course we would; we’re only human.

So I’m sorry, okay? I promise to do better. I vow never to take part in the cartooning of personal destruction again. I only wish I could take back all those vicious ad hominem attacks I’ve made over the years.

But not the Newt stuff; I hate that son of a bitch.
Which Is It?
My local paper printed two letters recently on the topic of Edward Snowden. He’s the contractor who blew the whistle on phone snooping by our National Security Agency. The headline for one letter read “Snowden a Traitor”; for the other, “Snowden a Patriot.” Both seem to have been written by liberals, and both were filled with righteous outrage.

Lefties aren’t the only ones divided by this story. On the right, the neocons are crying treason while the libertarians huff about Big Brother. Perhaps the divide isn’t so much political as it is internal. None of us is used to thinking about these issues in quite this way. The right to privacy and the need for security aren’t usually pitted against each other. In fact, they could be viewed as two aspects of the simple human longing to be left alone.

Now, however, they are in conflict. Terrorism isn’t just crime, it’s super crime — crime rising almost to the level of war in its indiscriminate destructiveness. How far are we from the suitcase-sized nuclear bomb? Not far, by some reckonings, and when the Nuclear Age meets the Information Age in that context, security and privacy may be torn apart for good. If one of those bombs goes off, where will the libertarians and defenders of privacy stand then? If the perpetrators are homegrown militiamen like Timothy McVeigh, how will the authoritarian right respond? And what will the anti-terrorists of the left say when the right to privacy finally evaporates completely?

Technology is pushing us toward decisions we are not prepared to make. The capacity to destroy is growing at a frightening rate, our freedom and individuality are shrinking with each new digital breakthrough, and we are left to sort through the consequences using outdated standards of right and wrong. There is nothing in our history or experience that can keep pace with our own ever-expanding inventiveness. How are we expected to make such choices?

I don’t know if Edward Snowden is a traitor or a patriot. I saw a Rob Rogers cartoon last week that called him a “traitriot.” Snowden made his stand, and then he ran away and hid. He was clearly not prepared to make his decision, but he felt he had to make it anyway. Given the direction in which technology is leading us, we may all become traitriots soon.
The NRA is Right
I’ve had a change of heart recently on the subject of gun control. The change comes as a result of listening carefully to the arguments of gun rights advocates, particularly those of the NRA.

According to them, we on the left want nothing less than to strip them of their rights under the Constitution and come after them and their guns. That argument has been the driving force over the last few years behind the great surge in weapons sales here in the United States. The more I listened to this argument, the more it made sense. The NRA is right; that is the position I should be advocating.

Before I came to this realization, I had been taking a fair and open (liberal, that is) stance on the subject of guns. Gun ownership in and of itself is not wrong, I had reasoned, and firearms have an honored place in American history and culture that ought to be respected. I had conceded the valid points made by gun enthusiasts and restrained myself from overreacting to incidents of gun violence.

Not anymore. My new position, as recommended by the NRA, calls for the immediate confiscation of all guns everywhere in this country, including from the police. I will not call for the death penalty for firearm possession, as I consider life in prison without possibility of parole a sufficient deterrent. I might, however, be open to the forfeiture of citizenship as punishment, just to make doubly sure the law is obeyed.

I would acknowledge that this kind of confiscation might prove to be an unfair hardship to responsible, conscientious gun owners, but I am not convinced that such people actually exist. During the recent debate in Congress over requiring background checks for gun purchases, it was widely reported that 74% of NRA members supported such checks. If there is such a thing as responsible, conscientious gun owners, then surely they would be part of that 74%. So where were they when the NRA leadership fought hard against the checks and stopped the measure? Where were the mass resignations and the angry letters? Where was the stepping up and taking of responsibility?

There was none. Their profession of righteousness was a pose. Their concern about the carnage was hollow. The 74% are lousy fellow citizens because they do not recognize the duties that come with the exercise of any right. 74% — that’s roughly three and a half million gun owners — do not see a duty to keep these weapons out of the hands of criminals, crazies, and terrorists. These people deserve to have their citizenship forfeited.

It’s possible that, given my history of vacillation on this issue, I might switch back to my old stance on guns. I might return to a more balanced and reasonable position, but unless the 74% start acting like grown ups, that return is hard to imagine. If they start living up to the basic duties of citizenship, I might still come around. Until then, I will do exactly what the NRA expects me to.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon