CSotD: Damn the canaries – Full speed ahead!

Tom Toles offers one of the more depressing cartoons of this brand new year and decade.


What’s happening in Australia is so far off the norm that we should all be horrified and focused: People are heading for the ocean,  prepared to simply leap into the water to escape the bushfires destroying their towns.

The best we can say about the world’s response so far is that at least we’re not racist.

That is, we never gave a damn when rising ocean levels were wiping out the islands that little brown people live on.

It’s like when a ferry sinks and drowns 100 people in one of those little brown countries: It goes on Page 5, while a bus accident that kills three Americans or Europeans is on Page One.

So I guess it’s to our credit that we not give a damn either, when climate change strikes people who share our color and our language.

Perhaps the best parallel in Toles’ metaphor is that, in the actual coal mining business, the people who go underground can complain about safety but the people in suits and ties above ground will simply tell them to keep digging and make sure nothing stands in the way of productivity.

Don’t worry, Australia: We’re going to start using paper straws.

Meanwhile, y’all keep on keepin’ on. Thoughts and prayers!


And as long as we’re on such a downer course, here’s Matt Wuerker with a thought about newspapers and news coverage and, yes, another opportunity for me to complain about Wall Street ownership and blind stupidity.

But to be honest, there are portions that are simply stupid and parts that are the inevitable consequence of progress.

Over the past century, the advertising pie has been divided into more and more slices.

When “Modern Advertising,” the landmark guide to the profession, was published in 1905, advertising was basically divided between print — newspapers, magazines and catalogs — and placards on streetcars, with oddities like barn painting being small potatoes in the overall trade.

Radio took a bite out of that pie, but a look at newspapers in the 1940s still shows ads for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Ivory soap, categories that would soon migrate to television.

The Internet offered a variety of challenges, and, as noted here the other day, ownership’s failure to respond to Craig’s List was a disaster for local papers, though, as Jack Shafer properly points out, it’s a lot more complex than simply losing that local money.

However, his analysis assumes that corporate ownership of newspapers was inevitable.

Left to their own devices, some locally owned newspapers would have made foolish decisions and others would have made smart decisions, but, like the coal miners who know they are digging into dangerous territory, corporately owned papers have no power to operate with their own needs in mind.

I’m not speaking theoretically: I have watched local moves that were working squelched by orders from HQ to halt those innovations and, instead, implement ideas that fell flat, most of which were designed to ship revenues directly to Corporate rather than to the individual papers anyway.

Locally owned papers can still work, reporting not only on what is being debated at City Hall but who won the high school basketball game, who earned Eagle Scout status, who was born, who got married and who died.

But they have to be content to run on a shoestring: There are few local drug stores, hardware stores or pharmacies to buy ads anymore, and Rite Aid and Wal-Mart would rather purchase national TV and cover all their stores than micromanage promotion of individual outlets.

Washington may be the nation’s capital, but Wall Street calls a lot of the shots.


And, as Jen Sorensen notes, fighting back against that reality tends to descend into an absurd argument over definitions.

I will admit that the term “populism” makes me grab my wallet, largely because, as she notes, it’s been misapplied or, at best, applied to a slick appeal to the common people that carries a stink of phoniness and exploitation.

Which is to say that it can, in fact, be equally applied to Donald Trump and to Bernie Sanders, which, to my mind, suggests that we should throw it out and find more specific definitions.

Bearing in mind that several people have suggested that our Twenties are an awful lot like the last set of Twenties, which included a substantial Red Scare over the term “socialist.”

A term that can be applied both to communists and to social workers, to Vladimir Lenin and to Jesus of Nazareth.


The New York State Assembly started out the 1920s with a bang, and, yes, the five duly elected Reds got their hearing later, for all the good it did them.

Still, arguing over definitions is too often a distraction from the task of rolling up our sleeves and getting things done.

Meanwhile, examples speak louder than words.

My TV streaming service is currently cycling St. Jude’s public service announcements, which show little bald-headed cancer kids while their parents tell of the relief of not having to worry about paying for treatment.

Plus I watch a lot of NFL Network, and the league is celebrating its 100th anniversary by encouraging players to get involved in their communities, so I see a lot of large young men taking underprivileged kids on shopping sprees for toys but also for clothing and groceries.


Sure, when a rookie superstar with a history of understanding generosity decides to donate his first game check to some cafeteria workers who lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey, the team makes sure a camera crew tags along.

But why not point out the example?

Between some people ignorantly screaming “Socialist!” and others — including editorial cartoonists — intentionally repeating the lie that those who promote health care, housing and education expect it to be “free,” decency and generosity are fighting an uphill battle.

I think that, when you’re dreaming of things that never were, and asking why not, it’s persuasive to let examples take the place of rhetoric.


5 thoughts on “CSotD: Damn the canaries – Full speed ahead!

  1. One thing I must confess not understanding is why papers like the NYTimes now hide behind a paywall — and yet every page is slammed full of advertising of one form or another. You’d think the online ads would be about as expensive to run on the Times’ website as they would be in print.

  2. not sure about the NYT but in general digital ads are nowhere near what it costs to run a print ad in a newspaper.

  3. Arlington, Texas (“home of the Cowboys”) had a daily newspaper until 2010, when it was “given new life” by turning it into a free weekly:


    We’d find it lying in the driveway every Wednesday, sometimes not even in a puddle.

    They pulled the plug last week:


    And this is in a city of almost half a million people. I’m sure a few of them still cared about what was going on in the local schools.

  4. Maybe people like AOC should embrace the word “Progressive”. We need people like “Fighting Bob” La Follette these days. I don’t know if they are out there.

  5. I drew a cartoon on the same theme as Toles’s a while back. The miners were labeled as Republicans, and the first one exclaimed “Hey! The canary’s dead!”

    The second one has already turned away. “Aw, boo hoo, the poor widdle birdie died–c’mon, this stuff ain’t gonna dig itself.”

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