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Mauldin on the Attack/Michigan's Defense/News Bites

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Mauldin on the Attack

Bill Mauldin's response to the infamous 1969 raid on the Black Panthers was a drawing of bullets bursting through a chain-locked door, the holes forming a swastika in the wood. It was a brutal statement for a Sun-Times cartoonist to make about the Chicago police, even though anyone with eyes could see that the police story of a "shoot-out," in which two Panthers were killed and no cops were nicked, was contradicted by the physical evidence.

But Mauldin didn't draw that cartoon for the Sun-Times. It ran on the cover of the December 1969 Chicago Journalism Review, where Mauldin did a lot of his best work and wasn't paid a penny. Ron Dorfman, a CJR founder in 1968 and its editor until 1974, considers this cartoon "every bit the equal of his weeping-Lincoln image after the Kennedy assassination. [It] perfectly captures the shock and horror we all felt after that middle-of-the-night attack on people asleep in their beds."

CJR was born in the anger of working journalists at their bosses' craven response to the billy clubbing of demonstrators by Mayor Daley's police during the 1968 Democratic convention. Mauldin, whose own anger was bone deep, drew most of the CJR covers during the monthly's first three years (thanks to WFMT commentator Andrew Patner for reminding me of this). "He was at heart a Movement person," Dorfman E-mailed me, "and certainly had the spirit of the times."

Mauldin's first cover, Dorfman remembers, was one of Daley "in a Keystone Kops getup seated like a little kid cutting paper dolls out of the 'Chicago Press,' except that the cutouts spelled 'We Love Mayor Daley.' We used that cartoon again in June of 1971, surrounded by the editorial-page masts of all four dailies--with the heads of the editorials endorsing Daley for a fifth term."

That was after dozens of staff at the two Field papers--the Daily News and the Sun-Times--bought full-page ads in their own papers repudiating the endorsements. Mauldin signed the Sun-Times ad.

"Bill's second cartoon for CJR," Dorfman's E-mail continued, "was another inspired piece of work, to illustrate a story on the Chicago police Red Squad: a sniffing bloodhound insufficiently (but over-the-top) disguised with peace and love paraphernalia. For a cover story on censorship in March '69 Bill drew a bowler-hatted cop looking guiltily over his shoulder as he covers the Venus de Milo's tits with his hands. This was stuff Mauldin couldn't have gotten into the newspapers, and he clearly relished it."

In March 1970 CJR looked back at the ludicrous Chicago Seven conspiracy trial, which had just ended with five convictions (all later reversed). "Here we have the classic blindfolded Justice, with sword and scales," Dorfman recalled, "except that she's badly disheveled, very pregnant, and staggering away from an encounter with [Judge] Julius Hoffman, who's shown peering around the corner, rubbing his hands."

Mauldin died last week in the California nursing home where he'd been since he was scalded in the bathtub of a residential hotel. His final years were bleak and blighted by Alzheimer's, but he hung on to a memory of himself as one of the most powerful and important cartoonists of the 20th century. His first wife, Jean, who returned to his life five years ago to take care of him, once told me that he went off to World War II "a sweet, tender, sober man." He returned home none of those things. But he had a Pulitzer for his Willie and Joe cartoons, and he was a hero to a generation of soldiers.

"It takes a mighty thin skin to be that effective a voice," says Mauldin's son David, an artist who lives in Santa Fe. "He always needed to be somebody, which is why he hated it so much when some officer walked all over him. He was aggressive and thin-skinned and smart--a cartoonist's recipe."

A couple of years ago I tracked down Jean and Bill Mauldin at a motel in Santa Ana, California. She told me a story about an editorial cartoonist at a west-coast daily who'd sent Mauldin a Willie and Joe cartoon he'd done as a tribute. The guy had retired, and he and his wife set out on a road trip that eventually brought them to the great man's door. "They sent us several cards along the way," Jean said.

Mauldin had lost most of his memory by then, but nothing was clearer to him than Willie and Joe. When the cartoonist arrived--"a lovely man," said Jean--Mauldin "came downstairs and really verbally tore him to pieces. He'd copied Bill's characters and put words in their mouth, and they were not what Bill would have had them saying. Bill dressed him down a very long time."

"Dad was very protective of his characters," says David. "You could mention them, but you couldn't draw them. His copyright was his bread and butter." When Mauldin died, other cartoonists drew Willie and Joe in tribute. David knew what his dad would have thought. "He'd be clawing his way out of his casket. 'Wait a minute! I'll sue!'"

David Mauldin wants to create a book out of the 10,000 letters his father received from old GIs in just the last six months. A GI who'd visited Mauldin in the nursing home alerted other veterans and a local columnist to the straits he was in, and other writers such as Bob Greene picked up the story. Jack Lemon, owner of Chicago's Landfall Press, had been talking to David about reproducing Mauldin's original artwork in an expensive limited edition. But Lemon decided not to proceed without the artist.

Mauldin was buried this week in Arlington National Cemetery--"which at some point he decided he wanted," says David. "The last I'd heard, he wanted to crash his airplane into a swimming pool."

Michigan's Defense

The media debate over the University of Michigan's admissions policy has been stronger on gut feelings than facts. I asked the school to fax me a copy of its now notorious Selection Index Worksheet, which gives applicants up to 150 points, 20 of them if they fit in the category of "underrepresented racial/ethnic minority identification or education." These are the bonus points that have President Bush hopping mad.

But there are other categories that give some applicants the same 20 points. An applicant gets them for being a "scholarship athlete"--eminently fair, of course, since it's in the national interest to keep the Ohio State game competitive. Or for being at a "socio-economic disadvantage," an award we can think of as "blue-collar white folk catch a break." Finally, 20 points can be awarded at the "provost's discretion," an opportunity that suggests the "when all else fails, have connections" principle on which civilization stands.

On the worksheet these categories are listed collectively as "miscellaneous," and only one of them can be checked. The worksheet is divided into two columns, and "miscellaneous" is in the bottom right-hand corner, at the end of the column labeled "Other Factors." Here are the rest of those factors: Four points for having a parent who went to Michigan--perhaps it troubles President Bush that at Michigan it's five times as helpful to be poor or black as it is to be a legacy. Up to three points for the admissions essay, up to five points for "personal achievement," another five for "leadership & service," ten for being a Michigan resident, and six for hailing from an "underrepresented Michigan county."

Though a perfect score on "other factors" would be 53 points, no more than 40 can be awarded on the right side of the worksheet. As many as 110 can come from the left side, which is labeled "Academic." Columnists have dissected the "Other Factors," but for some reason they've paid less attention to "Academic."

Michigan thinks the best predictor of college success is high school success, so it stresses grade point average using a sliding scale that ranges from 40 points for a 2.0 GPA to 80 points for a 4.0. But some schools are better than others, so Michigan also grades the high schools where these GPAs are achieved from zero to five; on the worksheet it awards points that are double this grade. For example, a graduate of Chicago's Latin School would receive eight points; a graduate of Whitney Young or North Side Prep only four. Given the criteria for a one-point high school--"at least 7 AP/IB courses. Seventy-five percent attend college. SAT I average range of 1050-1120 and ACT average of 23 or 24"--applicants from most Chicago high schools would get no points at all. Another criterion is "curriculum factor." High school seniors taking challenging courses can get as many as eight extra points. Seniors who don't take those courses are graded down--though it's worse in Michigan's eyes to avoid your school's hard courses than to go to a school that doesn't offer any.

The final category on the worksheet is "Test Score." Here students are rewarded for their achievements on the ACT and SAT exams. A 400 to a 920 on the SAT gets an applicant no points at all; above that the scale climbs from 6 points for a 930-to-1000 score to 12 for a 1360-to-1600.

By the time some students sit down to take the SAT they've already done countless practice exams, thanks to courses such as the Princeton Review. (Some who went to aggressive grade schools even started taking the PSAT in sixth grade.) The Princeton Review course costs $899, but there's a guarantee that it will raise a student's SAT score by at least 100 points--and a counselor tells me the usual improvement is actually in the 140- to 190-point range. The difference between an SAT score of 920 and a score of 1010 is ten points on the University of Michigan application form.

Michigan's in trouble, says a high school counselor I know, because its 150-point scale feigns an objectivity no admissions officer believes in for a second. Given a pool of applicants a university believes can do the work, nothing's more subjective than choosing among them to create a class that's good for the students in it and for the school. One reason universities try to admit a diverse student body, the counselor told me, is that students want one. "Urban kids absolutely crave it," she says. "They want something that feels like a city." A senior who comes home from a college visit and announces, "Everyone sure looked white," is rarely paying a compliment.

News Bites

George Will's column in the Sun-Times on January 23 was a nimble piece of work. He ridiculed the empty sloganeering of the peace movement, calling the left these days "little other than an amalgam of baby boomer nostalgia and moral vanity."

Will asserted, "The left cannot mount a critique that rises above rock lyrics and name-calling. Perhaps that is because a serious critique would arise from conservative sensibilities, including respect for the law of unintended consequences, and the fact that a government's ability to control events anywhere is severely limited because a community, a nation and the world are like mobiles--jiggle something here, and lots of things are set in motion over there."

Will noted what's written on posters waved at demonstrations and called that the leftist critique. And he covertly tried out his own conservative argument against war under the pretext of attacking liberals for not making it. If Karl Rove doesn't TP his house, maybe next time Will will say the same thing on his own authority.

In the flurry of recent articles noting the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one stood out: the January 20 piece by the Tribune's Judith Graham on the 51 percent of Americans (according to Gallup) whose response to legal abortion is "yes, but," the issue having led them into "a gray zone of complicated feelings and competing values, of vexing moral questions without easy answers."

Graham's article was exceptional for examining the middle ground on which this majority stands, though she shifted to automatic pilot when she called it "the potential swing voters" both sides in the abortion debate would like to co-opt. "Over the years," she wrote, "experts have called this difficult-to-categorize group the 'mushy middle' or the 'muddled middle'"--as if only a lack of intellectual clarity kept it from moving to the poles. The details of Graham's article suggest that this middle doesn't need to catch up with the debate. It's gone on ahead of it.

Tribune Company is not often portrayed as a warm and folksy place. Last Sunday the Tribune carried an editorial on the chess showdown between Garry Kasparov and the computer program Deep Junior. The Tribune said it would be rooting for the computer.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/courtesy Ron Dorfman.

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