The Sorensen Monologues

A comic essay on medical marijuana

Go check out this piece I edited for Fusion, a comic essay by Adam Bessie and Marc Parenteau that makes a compelling case for letting people use medical marijuana to ease their suffering.
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Cartoon: Algorithm Blues

I click on items in my Facebook feed as much as the next person, but I’m also a print subscriber to the New York Times, and I love finding articles I never would have come across any other way. As we are increasingly served information based on personal data, it seems a narrowness of range is inevitable. Reality bubbles get reinforced, and news that is important but not-so-sharable gets lost in the shuffle.

Of course, I’m hoping the algorithm gods smile favorably upon this comic.



Cruzin’ under the radar

This Bloomberg profile of Ted Cruz’s biggest backer, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is so chock full of delicious details, I implore you to read the whole thing. For example, more on those owls:

Mercer has dubbed his house the Owl’s Nest. Owls seem to be something of a familiar for Mercer. He’s commissioned a succession of yachts, all called Sea Owl, the latest of which stretches to 203 feet, with a pirate-themed playroom for the grandkids and a chandelier of Venetian glass. At least one Sea Owl was fitted with a medical center and video links, so a stroke at sea, for instance, could be diagnosed and treated remotely by a former White House physician ashore…

At the Owl’s Nest, visitors pass through pillars crowned by a pair of owl statues, their wings outstretched as if taking flight. People who’ve been inside describe a pistol range, a series of secret passages, and an octagonal tower holding a two-story library.

Among Mercer’s other financial beneficiaries is an idiosyncratic guy (to say the least) conducting experiments on 14,000 vials of urine on a sheep farm in remote Oregon. It’s hard to explain, and even harder to fit into a cartoon, unfortunately. You’ll just have to read about it.

This would all be purely amusing were it not a reminder of the growing power of the far-right fringe, especially in the era of Citizens United.

Of course, this cartoon is by no means a complete list of Cruz’s shortcomings. The man is vile in too many ways to enumerate here.



Cartoon: Hell’s shells

As we close in on Tax Day, a time when many of us will be writing sizable checks to the IRS (ahem), well-heeled people around the world are enjoying their wealth tax-free thanks to secret accounts. On rare occasion, one of these immense piggy banks briefly becomes visible thanks to a data dump such as the Panama Papers. It’s worth noting that the US already has many agencies in lightly-regulated states that can help set up shell companies, thus likely explaining the relatively small number of Americans exposed in this case.



Odds and ends

A couple things I’ve been up to lately: I edited this illustrated essay by Juana Medina about her Kafkaesque experience immigrating to the U.S. Moving here legally and permanently from another country isn’t as easy as some people think.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing comedy writer Nell Scovell (credits: The Simpsons, The Muppets, Spy Magazine, among many others) for the Austin Chronicle’s SXSW coverage. We had a nice chat about bullshit and women in comedy.


Candidates we can all get behind

Just having some fun this week. If you do a Google image search for “Justin Trudeau boxing” you get some interesting results.



North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom law stinks

Seems like the GOP wastes an awful lot of time and money creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. Voter ID laws are one example. North Carolina’s recent anti-LGBT law concerning public restrooms is another. Now, stop me if I’m going out on a limb here, folks, but it’s almost as if Republicans have some sort of agenda against certain groups of people.

The billboard slogan in the last panel is inspired by North Carolina’s “First in Flight” motto. I’ll bet even Orville and Wilbur would be ashamed.



Obama Nominates Fern to Supreme Court

Apologies to the Honorable Merrick Garland for the comparison to a moisture-loving houseplant. I’m sure he has more going on upstairs than your average Nephrolepis exaltata. It’s just that he was not the most inspiring pick in a year when the Democrats really need to inspire the base.  The choice of Garland was likely intended to highlight the GOP’s absurd obstructionism. Perhaps he’s the only pick Dems think can make it through the blockade, somehow. While he would almost certainly be much better than any Republican nominee, it’s not clear to me that the “reasonable bipartisan” approach Obama often favors actually gets results at the polls, or in the court of public opinion.

For more on fern sex, please consult The American Fern Society.



The 2016 elections and the Elvis Factor

In a 2003 column (“Who Can Beat President Doofus?”), Molly Ivins wrote about John Kerry’s lack of Elvis:

My early take on Kerry was that he has gravitas–sumbitch about bent over double with gravitas–but that he has no Elvis. Minus-zero on the Elvis Scale was my first read. No point in nominating some good and worthy candidate, like Fritz Mondale or Michael Dukakis, if they got no Elvis. The object is to get these people elected. Can’t get elected without a soupçon of Elvis.

Ivins noted that Kerry seemed to be working on his Elvis, which gave her some hope, though as we now know, her initial judgment was unfortunately correct.

I imagine some will dismiss this as a silly way of evaluating candidates, but I think the Elvis Factor is to be taken seriously. We can parse the candidates’ utterances until the cows come home, but the fact remains that elections are largely irrational. I’m assuming a certain level of wonkery among readers of this cartoon. (You’re welcome!) Imagine for a moment that everything you know about politics vanishes except for what you’ve heard on cable news. All the book learnin’ and well-reported articles, gone in a puff. This is the starting point for many voters. And they value certain personality traits, for better or worse. Mostly worse.

Honestly, I’m a little worried that both Hillary and Bernie are low on Elvis. Those who feel Sanders is a Hunka Hunka Bernin’ Love are free to disagree.



Proof of density: The Supreme Court weighs Texas abortion laws

As if Texas’s over-the-top regulation of abortion clinics in the name of “protecting women’s health” wasn’t ridiculous enough, enter the spectacularly misplaced skepticism of Justice Alito during oral arguments at the Supreme Court last week. While questioning the clinics’ counsel Stephanie Toti, Alito asserted, “There is very little specific evidence in the record in this case with respect to why any particular clinic closed.” This prompted an awesome rebuttal from Justice Kagan. From the great Dahlia Lithwick:

So frustrated is Justice Elena Kagan by the conservatives’ repeated insistence that perhaps the clinics just coincidentally all closed within days of HB 2’s passage that she finally has to intervene. “Is it right,” she asks Toti, “that in the two­-week period that the ASC requirement was in effect, that over a dozen facilities shut their doors, and then when that was stayed, when that was lifted, they reopened again immediately?” Toti agrees. “It’s almost like the perfect controlled experiment,” continues Kagan, “as to the effect of the law, isn’t it? It’s like you put the law into effect, 12 clinics closed. You take the law out of effect, they reopen?”

Here’s an argument I haven’t heard yet: given that the state’s requirements are medically unnecessary — there was no problem in the first place — it seems to me that women will face statistically greater risk of death or injury driving on Texas highways to get to a clinic 200 miles away than if their local clinic remained open. If Texas Republicans are so incredibly serious about protecting the safety of ladies, should that not factor into the equation? Not to mention the botched back-alley abortions, of course. Those never factor into the equation.

That tweet from former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is here.



The New Normal



How not to be a sexist jerk this election season

I swore I wasn’t going to do an election strip this week, but the alternative was a comic about excessive amounts of cellulose filler found in cans of grated Parmesan cheese. You can guess how well that went.

Let me say up front that I do not consider Bernie to be a sexist jerk, since I know that’s what many people are going to assume. To the contrary, I think he’s a feminist. He did, however, say something uncool that I felt needed calling out (in the same spirit, let’s say, that he publicly criticizes Obama when he disagrees with him). For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Bernie was defending a controversial comment made by the rapper Killer Mike (who was actually quoting a feminist scholar friend) about a uterus not qualifying one to be president. Setting aside the point that I think most Hillary supporters are factoring in more than just the uterus situation, Bernie’s claim that he would never ask voters to support him because he’s a man struck me as an odd case of false equivalence, the kind of context-free, ahistorical argument we tend to hear from right-wingers shooting down affirmative action or calls for greater workplace diversity. Of course he wouldn’t ask people to vote for him because he’s a man. There’s no need!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not particularly attached to either Hillary or Bernie, but I do think we need more women in politics. While gender certainly — obviously! — shouldn’t be the only factor, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a female president. And while I think the “Bernie Bro” phenomenon has been somewhat overstated, I’ve come to realize that a lot of otherwise well-meaning people just don’t quite take our nation’s glaring absence of a single female president or vice president very seriously. You don’t even have to support Hillary to acknowledge that solving the problem is important. Just as President Obama has provided a positive role model and sense of possibility to countless numbers of people, a woman in the Oval Office would have a powerful effect.




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Jen Sorensen is a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Progressive, The Nation, Daily Kos, Austin Chronicle, NPR, Ms., Politico, and many other publications. The recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she tweets at @JenSorensen.

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