Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act
By Barry Yourgrau
After a me-or-the-mess ultimatum from his girlfriend, Barry Yourgrau reluctantly tackles his cluttered apartment, sorting through treasures, trash, and our messy relationship with accumulation. As part of what he comes to call his Project, he shadows "Disaster Masters" as they empty a hoarder's stash and navigates the "goat paths" of a British man's "hoarding Valhalla." Yourgrau, best known for his surreal fiction, comes to understand why it can be so absurdly hard to break free of the "intimate pull of objects."
The average lifespan of an Antarctic emperor penguin is 15 to 20 years. The average lifespan of an American comic strip is probably far shorter. Both are reasons to celebrate the 25th anniversary of This Modern World, Tom Tomorrow's unconventional political comic strip starring the endearingly acerbic Sparky the penguin.
Earlier this year, Tomorrow (AKA Dan Perkins) was nominated for a Pulitzer—not bad for an independent cartoonist who got his start in zines and alt-weeklies and survived the bumpy switch from newsprint to pixels, not to mention two Bush administrations. To commemorate this odds-defying accomplishment, Tomorrow has spent the past year tracking down just about everything he's drawn since 1990 and compiling it in a massive, two-volume set that he's self-publishing through a just-launched Kickstarter campaign. In addition to the awesome-looking collection, incentives for funding the project include a stuffed Sparky, swag from TMW pals Pearl Jam, and a chance to indelibly ink Tomorrow with an image of America's favorite flightless political observer.
Mother Jones: Sorry to put a damper on things, but I heard that print is dead. What are you doing compiling a 1,000-page, 15-pound set of volumes for people to buy?
Tom Tomorrow: The same people who say that print is dead are the same people who say that the future of print is artisanal. And I see this as a very artisanal project!
MJ: Tell me how you got the idea to put together almost everything you've done over 25 years.
A mockup of the 25-year This Modern World compendium Tom Tomorrow
TT: A couple of years ago, I ran across this big Taschen two-volume set of midcentury advertising. As I was looking at this whole package, something just clicked because I realized that my 25th anniversary was coming up. I always mark 1990 as the real start of my career because that's when the strip started getting picked up; it's when it stared getting political. (It's a little bit of an arbitrary date; really if you wanted to mark an anniversary it would have to be when I turned five, because I always drew cartoons as a kid.) But 1990 effectively marks 25 years as a professional cartoonist, and that's a big chunk of my life. And I thought it shouldn't pass without marking the moment.
MJ: Has going though 25 years of work been nostalgic?
TT: I wouldn't say it's been nostalgic. Initially, it was horrifying! The very early work, it makes me cringe a little bit. And then it gets pretty good within a couple of years, and I was relieved to find I was actually proud of it. A lot of this stuff I hadn't read in 20, 25 years. I was kind of surprised how well it held up, honestly.
MJ: Well, you've been hitting so many of the same themes throughout your career. Which topics or throughlines did you see as you went through your work?
TT: Certainly gun control, on which we've made almost no progress in 25 years. Heath care is a very interesting one as a person who's been a freelancer for 25 years. For a country that celebrates entrepreneurship, the peculiar American linkage of health care to employment status is puzzling. Obviously we have made progress on that one.
MJ: Some of the political figures, like the Clintons and Bushes, haven't changed.
TT: Yeah, I'm looking at all these years I've spent writing about the Bush family and hoping I don't have to do that beyond this next election.
Sparky, always the optimist Tom Tomorrow
MJ: How has your perspective on the strip changed?
TT: In 1990 there was no internet, there were no blogs, there was no social media. In those days I really viewed the strip as a vehicle for conveying information that people might not have had access to elsewhere. I don't see it quite in that light anymore; I assume people know how to use search engines. I think it's gotten a little more playful and less didactic. It's still the wordiest strip out there, but less than it used to be.
MJ: One of incentives for the stretch goals is that if you read your top goal, you will get a Sparky tattoo.
TT: It would be my first tattoo of my own creation. It's crazy expensive to make this; all the money is going to printers and to everyone that I've been working with who deserve to be paid for their work. It's been a tremendous amount of work to get this stuff located and scanned and sequenced. It's a labor of love until we hit some stretch goals. If we reach them, I was just trying to think of some extravagant gesture to show how much that would mean to me. So I just threw in the tattoo. I honestly didn't think about it a lot. I may come to regret it!
"They can call me a gadfly. They can call me whatever they want to call me."
"The NRA asked me to keep my mouth shut, but I've never run from a fuckin' interview in my life," Edward Peruta barks into the phone. The 66-year-old Vietnam vet, ex-cop, public-access TV host, worm farmer, legal investigator, crime scene videographer, and serial litigant has never been one to hold his tongue, and he's not about to start now that he's at the center of a high-profile case that could upend California's gun laws and wind up before the Supreme Court. "I am who I am," he says. "People know there's usually a hurricane comin' if they step on my rights."
Peruta is the lead plaintiff in Perutav. County of San Diego, a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn California's system of issuing concealed-weapon permits. Currently, the state's police chiefs and sheriffs may require applicants to show "good cause" for carrying a concealed gun in public. Such discretion is applied arbitrarily and violates the Second Amendment, according to Peruta and his legal team, which is backed by the National Rifle Association.
That argument swayed two judges on the 9th Circuit Court, who ruled in Peruta's favor in February. For a moment, it seemed that California would join the 37 "shall issue" states that issue concealed-carry permits to anyone who meets basic requirements such as a background check. Then California Attorney General Kamala Harris successfully petitioned the court to reconsider the ruling en banc. Next Tuesday, an 11-judge panel in San Francisco will hear oral arguments in the case.
The coming robot invasion is suddenly a hot topic again. This week, Fresh Air interviewed Martin Ford, whose book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future was just reviewed in the New York Times by Barbara Ehrenreich. The Harvard Business Review published a long article with advice for protecting your career from super-smart robots. And NPR's Planet Money has been producing a series of stories on how machines are getting really good at doing tasks from serving food and writing news articles to reading emotions.
As MoJo's Kevin Drum, who's been following this rapidly emerging trend for while, explains, by 2030 or 2040 we could see a major economic shift in which robots and computers start to make significant chunks of the human workforce obsolete: "When the robot revolution finally starts to happen, it's going to happen fast, and it's going to turn our world upside down."
So just how worried should you be that a bot or app is about to force you into early retirement? Planet Money made a nifty tool that spits out the chances that your job may soon be done by robots or computers. Some selected results:
Telemarketers: 99.0% chance of being automated
Umpires and referees: 98.3%
Manicurists and pedicurists: 94.5%
Massage therapists: 54.1%
Chief executives: 1.5%
Preschool teachers: 0.7%
The numbers, based on a 2013 study by an economist and a machine-learning prof from Oxford, are all over the board. In general, jobs that require negotiation, creativity, and people skills tend to have a lower chance of being done by a robot. So dancers and preschool teachers can sleep easy. As can CEOs, who will no doubt find a way to provide essential oversight of the new 24-7, benefit- and bathroom break-free workforce.
Some of the findings seem to push the bounds of what we're currently willing to let machines do. Robocalling people during dinnertime, sure. But will we really see a robot ump calling the 2040 World Series? In theory, a computer can call a strike more accurately than a person, but what's the fun in shouting "Get your vision algorithm debugged!" at a camera behind home plate?
Only a mindless machine would read these as precise probabilities. "The researchers admit that these estimates are rough and likely to be wrong," Planet Money concedes. Now if only there were a machine that was good at analyzing data to make reliable estimates…