Cartoonist Dan Piraro looks up from his drawing monitor: “You mind if I keep working a little bit on the side here while we talk?”
Piraro is a busy man.
His one-panel comic series Bizarro is featured in more than 350 daily and Sunday newspapers, which requires him to churn out a hand-cramping seven cartoons a week.
He maintains a strict routine to keep up with this level of demand so he alternates his attention between his work station and his webcam where he chats with me via Skype.
Piraro is absolutely absorbed by his literal task at hand.
He responds to each of my questions with a laid-back gusto- not dissimilar to the feel of his daily strip, although there are some topics that get him going. Take the environment for example.
“Virtually all animals know not to shit where they sleep,” Piraro said. “They try to defecate as far away from where they live and raise their families. In a local sense we do that but in a larger sense we’re poisoning the one planet that’s inhabitable to us.”
That’s one of the few riffs Piraro goes on during our 28-minute conversation.
He is a man of passion when he feels drawn to a topic.
It was the way he was raised.
His parents were Kennedy Democrats.
Public service was a big deal in their home and they wanted their children, Dan and his sisters, to show the same sense of responsibility their beloved president had.
“I was raised to believe that certain things in life are more important than your job or social standing,” Piraro said. “We were sort of raised with that notion that it’s up to everyone to build and maintain a society worth living in.”
Piraro doesn’t hide his liberal political views in his strip but he said that he doesn’t consider himself much of a political cartoonist either.
He’s different. Hard to pin down. So is his work.
In the world of syndicated cartoons, there are humorous comic strips featuring cute kids or sarcastic animals and then there are political strips that maybe feature cute kids or sarcastic animals who have a bone to pick with a specific politician or political party.
Piraro tries to keep himself within the lines but sometimes his sensibilities get the best of him.
This happened in 2005 when he drew a panel relating to gay marriage and changed it due to concerns that it would not be received well.
Piraro said that sometimes he worries that his panel will be received differently to a general audience that he wants it to be.
“My editor will call me saying that a certain cartoon might upset people in more conservative markets,” Piraro said. “It could result in losing a newspaper client and getting my strip replaced with something that doesn’t make pointed political statements.”
Piraro will sometimes side with his editor.
It’s not worth losing a client over a panel he isn’t 100% invested in.
But most of the time, Piraro said that he will take the risk of getting his point across.
Public service, remember?
“I’m not a balls-to-the-walls political activist but with my strip I have a growing audience and a sense of obligation to address some issues that seemed to me to be social injustices that could be repaired with changes in attitude,” Piraro said.
Despite the reluctance of syndicated strips to go political, Piraro says there’s one figure everyone’s making an exception for.
“When I started doing cartoons on Donald Trump I expected a similar response as to when I was doing George W. Bush cartoons,” Piraro said. “Lose a paper here or there but nothing happened. They didn’t mind I was taking these pot shots at Trump even though I’m technically not allowed to delve into politics.”
Readers don’t seem to mind either.
Dan claims his readership has actually gone up since Trump took office but he’s not allowing for “anti-president” material to dominate his strip any time soon.
He limits himself to one Trump cartoon for every seven panels he produces.
For now, Bizarro is more focused on the patented absurdism that makes it unlike anything else in the funnies.
Whether it’s a crossdresser lamenting the pointlessness of cross dressing in the Middle East or God creating mankind when he was piss drunk over a wild weekend, Bizaroo is the product of Dan Piraro’s hypernormal imagination.
It’s not die-hard political satire but it’s not exactly a cat who for some reason enjoys lasagna.
“My cartoons are an artistic representation of the way I think and imagine things,” Piraro said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not a millionaire.”
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.
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Over the course of American history, politicians have adopted a clever, yet nefarious way of using racial stereotypes as a tool for political gain.
From the War on Drugs that frames black men as “criminals” to the emergence of the so called “welfare queen,” history has shown us that framing particularly disadvantaged groups as “dangerous” or “unworthy” enables politicians to gain political support from the public, particularly white middle and low-class Americans.
If I had to sum up, in two words, the United States’ racial marginalization of the poor and financially dependent, “welfare queen” is as good and as bad as it gets.
The myth of the welfare queen is still a prominent weapon used today in U.S politics that tends to go unnoticed.
The U.S political system has maintained these false ideas about marginalized people in our society by reducing them to a second class citizen status and enacting discriminatory policies that perpetuate durable systems of injustice within our democracy.
The legacy of legal discrimination persists in our society today as low-income mother’s struggle to gain and maintain financial benefits from the government.
The burden of the welfare queen has become one of the most cutting stereotypes that plagues families across the United States.
It hurts because it has worked in changing policy.
The birth of this political myth emerged after the criminalization of Linda Taylor, an African American woman, who quickly became the embodiment of a pernicious stereotype after being sentenced to prison for welfare fraud in 1977.
Ronald Reagan gave a speech in his unsuccessful 1976 campaign for president that managed to frame poor African American and Latina mothers as “users of the system” without any concrete evidence other than the act of a single woman.
“She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”
One woman who cheated the system evidently became the face of all welfare recipients, despite the fact that white families, typically, have been more likely to be on welfare.
Although it is not entirely clear all of which she fraudulated, Reagan’s intent became less about exposing the ways in which “liberal policies” had fractured the economy and more about turning the white American majority against minorities as a tool for political gain.
Reagan’s attack on welfare suggested that programs such as these, paid by tax dollars, only aided irresponsible black people.
Using the story of Linda Taylor, Reagan labeled millions of America’s poorest people as “deceitful” and funneled the belief that welfare fraud was a nationwide epidemic that needed to be terminated.
This image of widespread and unbridled welfare fraud allowed Reagan to convince voters to support his cuts to public assistance spending.
This was not the first instance that an American politician used self serving tactics to turn the public against the poor and displaced.
Much like the coined term “American Negro” the welfare queen became a convenient target for hate by simply framing Linda Taylor as the stereotypical lazy, black con artist.
Despite the fact that Reagan gave Taylor the most critical identity, the welfare queen stemmed from a longer and much deeper racialized history of prejudice and animosity toward families receiving welfare benefits in the United States.
This inequitable idea of the “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor” became a political weapon that Reagan introduced into U.S politics that his forerunners would all sustain.
Today, over 20 years after the implementation of Bill Clinton era welfare reform, the unwarranted stigma against poor women of color remains.
This telling of the “welfare queen” as users of the system continues to influence public policy by distinguishing between those who are “deserving” of support and those who are not.
President Donald Trump’s administrative budget cuts are now putting Americans on edge, especially those who rely heavily on public assistance programs.
Trump’s budget will potentially force millions of poor people off of food stamps and benefit programs such as Medicaid.
A recent article from Time Magazine states:
Cuts include a whopping $193 billion from food stamps over the coming decade — a cut of more than 25 per cent — implemented by cutting back eligibility and imposing additional work requirements, according to talking points circulated by the White House. The program presently serves about 42 million people.
Among these 42 million people, is my own mother, a 59 year old, single Latina mother suffering from chronic kidney disease, who directly relies on welfare benefits.
Being raised by a single mother on public assistance has allotted me with a perspective that a majority of politicians and policy makers could never understand.
It is clear that public policy continues to reflect the interests of the elite rather than the needs of the poor.
Such conditions only further the economic and racial divide in the U.S and perpetuates existing stereotypes about families and women receiving government assistance.
Although my mother has been on welfare my whole life, she is not your stereotypical “welfare queen.”
She is not Linda Taylor nor is she a “user of the system.”
My mother is a woman who managed to raise six children on her own with the little help she did receive from programs like Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Yet, our story will remain under the scrutiny of those who may have never had to step foot in a welfare office.
Ending the myth of the welfare queen within public policy means acknowledging how we manifest these stereotypes in our everyday lives.
It means recognizing that one person’s mistake cannot suddenly be the burden of others that look like them.
For far too long, our society has reduced people of color to a second class citizen status, resulting in the unremitting struggle to overcome the burden of such baseless conclusions.
We must overcome this myth by restructuring and developing policy around families as they are—not who society deems them to be.
Rather than stigmatizing recipients of public assistance programs, the government must strengthen the ways in which these programs respond to critical social and economic needs.
Even more so, we must acknowledge how failure to reconcile the racial discrimination of our nation’s past infringes our ability to ensure that all Americans have the dignity they deserve in the present.
We can fight against this stigma by advocating for the full participation of all Americans our society and the economy.
Instead of dwelling on individual failures or mistakes, we should be asking ourselves how we got here and how we can move towards a more equitable society.
RISE NEWS is a news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.
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Spinks Megginson has a rare mix of entrepreneurial spirit and love of weather. He also really can’t stand that weather app you have in your pocket right now and has little patience for national weather sources.
He has a bit of a radical idea- that people want to get good weather information and a sense of community while receiving it.
He launched RedZone Weather, a hyperlocal weather and information brand in early 2015. It has quickly grown into a sustainable business by serving the communities that dot Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida. But he has dreams for bigger things as well.
Here’s 10 questions with Spinks Megginson:
1) RISE NEWS- Where did your whole fascination with weather come from?
Spinks Megginson: I’ve wanted to study weather and teach others about meteorology for as long as I can remember, and that’s no exaggeration. I am incredibly thankful for my family and their support even when I was quite young. I can remember when I was 3 or 4, they would ask me to point to the “red spot” on the television screen. That’s one of the reasons why my company is RedZone Weather.
Also when I was super young, I was learning states and geography by putting glass stick-on puzzles together on the back door. They bought me maps, atlases, and books.
We also went through Hurricane Opal in 1995 as a family, and that was a defining experience. Nine years later, I had a Gateway (remember that?) desktop computer and I was able to track Hurricane Ivan as a seventh grader.
I think there’s a natural interest there and there always has been. That, in combination with my family fostering the development of an interest, has been a real blessing.
2) RISE- How did that development continue when you got to high school? Did you ever express your weather love in class?
Spinks Megginson: I can see #weatherlove trending!
I worked at WEBJ Radio in my hometown of Brewton, Alabama during high school. This allowed me to learn quite a bit not only about communication during severe weather events, but also about announcing news, daily weather, and sports. I also became a student member of the National Weather Association. That gave me some insight into the weather enterprise through their publications.
I didn’t ever really express how much I enjoyed meteorology to others in class during high school, but it definitely was a known fact that I was interested in the subject. People would often ask me about weather, even then.
3) RISE- What about your college experience? How did it help you on your path?
Spinks Megginson: College was an integral part of my growth, both personally and professionally. In addition to learning a tremendous amount about the broadcast communication industry, I connected with many different people across the nation. I am thrilled to maintain these connections even now, more than two years after graduating from The University of Alabama.
My professors at UA were truly spectacular. Dr. Chandra Clark and Dr. Jason Senkbeil are the two professors that really stand out. I learned a vast amount of knowledge and acquired “real world” experience just by taking their classes. Dr. Clark is a former television producer, while Dr. Senkbeil is a former television meteorologist.
I think the specific opportunity that helped me most was being able to work on staff at WVUA23-TV during and after college. It was an honor to be one of the only weather interns to ever be offered a job at WVUA. The staff at WVUA, particularly Chief Meteorologist Richard Scott, involved me in daily operations and also in multiple severe weather events. That enabled me to learn so much more than being in a class ever could. I also worked with WVUA-FM, furthering my radio résumé.
4) RISE- How long have you been thinking about something like RedZone Weather then? Because it seems like you had other career options coming out of school.
Spinks Megginson: It’s true that I’ve had several job offers to do TV weather, right after college and as recently as a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to have those opportunities and I’ll certainly consider each opportunity I’m given. I consider it an honor to even have the chance to work with some of the great people in television in Alabama and beyond. I still occasionally do fill-in work on the evening newscasts at WVUA. I like to “keep my feet wet” in the TV world. Moreover, I like to be reminded of just how wonderful my current schedule is outside of television.
RedZone Weather is a bit of a culmination of my life experiences and a grandiose opportunity that I couldn’t ignore. I’ve been thinking about the concept for years, and that’s not an exaggeration. No “old media (for now, anyway).” Simply “new media.” That’s the goal. Meet people where they are already. People aren’t watching 10 o’clock newscasts. For many reasons, but that’s a discussion for another day. People ARE, however, increasingly on their smartphones and tablets all the time. The initial thought was to build a company around that. My time at UA helped me form the initial thought process on how to successfully do something like this. Ten months after graduating college, I started the company.
I didn’t, and still don’t, have all the answers. It’s a day-by-day learning experience. I’m having a blast though. I’ve done so many presentations about RedZone over the past few weeks and months that I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve met. That’s been a highlight. It’s truly a wonderful company with hopefully a bright, sunny future.
5) RISE- What has been the hardest part of starting your own media business?
Spinks Megginson: I’m the “everything” for this company. That means I’m the weather guy, sometimes the producer, director, janitor, PR man, IT coordinator, CEO, editor, “you name it, I do it” individual. That fact has its perks at times, but overall, I wish there were more people involved. It’s a fine balance though because I’m not interested in having a massive company right now, either.
Bruce Thompson has been with me since the start… I told him about what I wanted to see with RedZone, and he helped me set up the company as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Bruce also has been active on severe weather days with the company. He and Leigh Margaret Bostic, who is one of my best friends, have been phenomenal at producing on-screen content during the severe weather events of the past few months. I’m thrilled to not only call both of them friends, but also have them involved in RedZone Group, LLC.
It’s certainly difficult being a “one man band” at times, but so far, thankfully it hasn’t been an insurmountable challenge.
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6) RISE- So you’ve been active with it for over a year now and things have seemed to go well. Have you been happy with the response from the community?
Spinks Megginson: For me to simply answer yes would be an understatement. I’ve had so many people from around the region rally around what I’m doing. I think it’s obvious, based on the comments that are publicly accessible on Facebook and Twitter and based on the large number of positive comments people have said to me in person, that this service is truly beneficial for our community and our region.
RedZone Weather is one of those things that people didn’t realize they needed until it benefited them directly. Like on February 15 and 23rd, when two EF3 tornadoes moved across our region. It’s a hyperlocal weather service designed with rural communities first in mind. This isn’t about putting profits at the forefront, like most radio and television stations have to do. This is about helping people. Communicating urgent weather information that has the potential to save a life. Being present in the community across the region and actually caring that people know what to do during severe weather. That’s what it’s about.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I don’t know who said that quote, and evidently the Internet doesn’t either based on my Google search, but it’s exactly what I want RedZone to be about. So far, I think we’re doing alright with that.
WATCH: RedZone Weather report on the start of Hurricane Season.
7) RISE- How do you compete with the notion that some people have that apps do a fine job of giving local weather information?
Spinks Megginson: Great question. Why should weather guys like me still be a part of a person’s life on a regular basis when he or she could easily look at the free iPhone weather app that comes preloaded on every device?
That means I’m competing with the app in almost everyone’s pocket. Android has a weather app. I assume Windows/Blackberry phones do too. I assume even most feature/flip phones have some type of weather access. That’s a pretty daunting challenge.
The difference with what I’m doing versus the apps is huge.
What most people don’t realize is nearly every weather app (including the iPhone weather app, by the way) is a view of raw model output statistics. No specific model is always right. Not one. They all have individual flaws. I take a blend of individual models AND incorporate what I know about specific recurring model errors. Models can’t do that. I can. TV weather guys can. I then apply corrections and refinements and produce a forecast.
Don’t even get me started about how many times I’ve seen the stock iPhone weather app be dead wrong. I can communicate “a line of storms will move through around 6AM Tuesday, followed by cooler temperatures and clearing skies.” The iPhone app displays nothing but a lightning icon for days in advance. The same holds true for many other apps. This isn’t a far-fetched example… It happened recently!
The media for how we communicate weather information is changing — and always will be changing. What doesn’t change is the need for people to communicate weather patterns. Weather-related models, computers, and apps are getting better. Slowly, but surely. I’m convinced that there won’t be any time in our lifetimes, no matter if you’re 4 years old or 84, that we don’t need people to communicate weather info, especially in the high-risk, panic-prone moments of a tornado or a hurricane.
8) RISE- So in a way, you are trying to push back a bit against the blandness of automated information sources like apps and broad ones like the Weather Channel?
Spinks Megginson: I view the network you mentioned and others like it as entertainment/broad information sources. Certain large weather vendors seem to have lost the local connection and the targeted focus of their past. There are a few large weather vendors that do a nice job, but that’s also a discussion for another day.
9) RISE- Right now you are entirely focused on a specific geographic area (Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida). How do you keep up with everything happening in your region?
Spinks Megginson: It’s impossible to keep up with a massive number of events. I do try to keep up with as many events as I can. People seem to really like the hyperlocal forecasting for specific events, so I try to incorporate as much of that as feasibly possible.
Some events are regularly scheduled, like high school and college football games. I had many encouraging comments about providing specific forecasts for those last year, and I would imagine we will do some of those again.
I’ve had requests to do forecasts for other sports and miscellaneous events. There’s a balance, though, of keeping things generalized to cater to a wide audience from across our ten county dedicated coverage area as well.
10) RISE- Where is RedZone Weather going? What do you think the future of it will be?
Spinks Megginson: I have somewhat of a grand vision for RedZone Group, LLC. I think the next step is continuing the daily grind of building the company. What does that look like? I think visiting and being a part of our local communities — and not just my hometown. I think the exposure and brand recognition in my hometown (where RedZone started) has been fantastic. I am SO appreciative to everyone who supports us in Brewton, Alabama. I think there’s more to it than strictly Brewton, however.
Presentations, lectures, helping people with weather radios, seeking opportunities to help communities around the region and around the state.
This next step isn’t as “sexy” as other things we do. It’s not necessarily “in the spotlight” for everyone to see, but I think it’s a necessary step. Getting to know people takes time and letting them know how much you care takes time.
I can’t imagine ever retiring from something like this (says the 24 year old who probably doesn’t realize what he’s actually saying). I’m having a blast. Another ill-defined quote that I love… “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I truly love what I do. It’s sometimes not the most agreeable or pleasant job, but it’s always worth it. What an honor it is to be able to talk with people about something that affects literally ALL of our lives. 100% of us are directly and indirectly affected by… Weather.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.
Cover Photo Credit: Spinks Megginson.Post Views: 313
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By Mario Moussa and Derek Newberry
As we get ready to watch the second presidential debate, you might be scratching your head about a tale of two countries.
In Trump’s telling, America is a nation in decline that needs a turnaround.
Clinton sees a leading world power that should continue on the positive trajectory created under the Obama administration.
As business school professors who specialize in the human side of organizations, there is one thing – that many may find surprising – each candidate needs during this next debate: a story.
At this point, you might be thinking that elections are really all about pocketbook issues and politicians’ stories are just a bunch of fluff.
We have a different point of view: hard-nosed policies and strategies are worthless without a good story. Whether people realize it or not, they think in stories. The best communicators know this and make the most of it.
Storytelling: The Crucial Leadership Skill
A famous experiment by two psychologists in the 1940s showed subjects a short clip of two triangles and a circle moving around, and asked them to describe what they saw.
Where some described a bully terrorizing two children and a jealous father protecting his daughter, others saw different dramas.
The imagined scenarios differed, but what they had in common was that nearly all of the subjects told a story about the shapes without any prompting.
Why are stories so pervasive?
Because they are how people make sense of their environment and get along with co-workers or fellow citizens.
The most brilliant policy can fall flat if it is not communicated with a strong narrative that makes it real and compelling for the people who are supposed to implement it.
Far from fluff, good story-telling is a crucial leadership skill for motivating commitment and moving a strategy from abstract idea to action.
Hence the importance of the two recent political conventions.
Like an annual corporate retreat, their purpose is not only to explain a specific policy platform but also to tell a story that motivates and guides those who need to carry it out.
In this respect, we think Clinton right now is in a stronger position as she goes into his next debate.
She does three things especially well.
And the next time you need to get your point across, you should remember them:
In any good story, the audience should empathize with the main characters.
According to screenwriter Robert McKee, the key to creating empathy is to portray a character who is overcoming a struggle.
This can make even an unsympathetic person relatable.
Steve Jobs wasn’t known for his humility, but his story about returning to Apple after having been pushed out is one we can all root for.
Trump has been focused on communicating his greatness, but not on talking about overcoming hardships to get there.
Just recently, he stumbled again by referring to the jobs he has created as one of his “sacrifices.”
Clinton creates empathy by acknowledging that she struggles with the “public” part of public service – that is, the aspect of it that involves public speaking.
She deftly turns this weakness into a strength by recounting how she pushes through it because she cares deeply about the service part.
Paint a Picture
If you boil any rom-com movie down to its most basic elements, they are all pretty much the same: beginning, middle, and end.
In other words, every story starts with a typical everyday situation, which is then disrupted by some new or unusual event, which sets in motion of series of actions that lead to a resolution and a return to normalcy.
So what separates a classic like Annie Hall from a flop like Gigli? The difference is in the detail.
Good stories use vivid imagery to make abstract ideas feel real and bring the audience along.
On this count, Trump misses the mark. When his family talks, their speeches provide a great opportunity to show the candidate’s lighter side.
While the Trump clan mentions plenty of great qualities, their speeches are light on anecdotes that would help us visualize how he lives these values in his everyday life.
By giving details about Hillary’s personal life, such as how she met Bill or how she stays connected to Chelsea while on the road, the Clintons paint a more compelling picture of the Democratic candidate’s values.
Make the Audience Your Hero
As speaking coach Nick Morgan reminds us, every story has a hero and when you need other people to help you get things done, you are likely to get more buy-in if you put them in the starring role.
Think of how rockstar Bono has driven support for his ONE campaign by imploring: “We can be the generation that ends poverty.”
This is why Trump’s declaration that “I alone can fix” the political system is perhaps the weakest moment of his debate.
Clinton, by contrast, hits on the theme of becoming “stronger together,” making voters the heroes of her campaign’s story.
Far from fluff, stories are a critical execution tool.
On the campaign trail, they help leaders communicate strategy, rally support and guide implementation.
Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who headed up communications for the George W. Bush campaigns, once said that the successful candidate is the one who tells the better story.
So far, by this measure, we think Clinton is pulling away from her opponent.
Dr. Mario Moussa and Dr. Derek Newberry are the authors of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance. Dr. Moussa teaches in the Executive Programs at Wharton School of Executive Education. Dr. Newberry is a lecturer at the Wharton School. Connect with Dr. Moussa at www.moussaconsulting.com, and with Dr. Newberry via Twitter, @derekonewberry.Post Views: 112
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