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>More About Smoking

>I wrote about smoking laws a few days back and got a lot of comments, mostly angry ones. I answered many of these comments with my own comments but people typically don’t read those and I keep getting the same accusations and derisions, so I thought I’d post my updated thoughts about smoking laws here.

1. Yes, I agree that second-hand smoke can be a health hazard. My argument is that occasionally passing a person on the street who is smoking will not give you cancer. (Note to asthma sufferers: I’m not talking about asthma here.)

2. I do NOT believe that ALL restaurants and bars should allow smoking. I hated those days, too. I’m saying that ALL restaurants and bars should not be REQUIRED to ban it. Most people do not like smoke and would choose smoke-free establishments so there would be plenty of them to choose from. Simple supply and demand. A small percentage would allow smoking, thus giving waitpersons and bartenders plenty of options for working in a smoke-free environment or one that allows smoking. (Note to anyone feeling indignation at this moment: I am NOT saying that you or your loved ones will have to work in a smoke-filled room. This is purely conjecture on my part. Just my opinion; life isn’t perfect, neither am I.)

3. I do NOT deny that smoking is a health hazard. My point is only that it is a long-term hazard for some people, not a death sentence for anyone who smells it wafting by on a windy day.

4. Yes, smoke smells bad to non-smokers. That’s reason enough to ban it in public buildings. You’re right. I agree. We smokers are despicable.

I hope this decree is taken in the spirit of reconciliation in which it is intended. Yes, I smoke cigars, but I won’t do it in your home, church or place of business unless you invite me to.

Thanks for reading and please don’t hate me. Now check out the next post, which features a cartoon.

>Smells

>Bizarro is brought to you today by A Good Read.

As many of my readers know, I’m not a fan of many of America’s anti-smoking laws and I can honestly say that I’d hold the same opinion even if I didn’t smoke. Quite frankly, blanket bans on public smoking verge on fascism. It proposes no health risk whatsoever to smell someone’s cigarette, cigar or pipe as it wafts by in an unenclosed space. None. You could smell smoke in a public park every day for a thousand years and not get cancer. Tobacco smoke is not cyanide gas.

Allowing merchants to ban smoking in their establishment is fine. But to ban it in all buildings, regardless of the preferences of the owner, manager, or patrons is ridiculous. Why can’t a bar owner in NYC decide for himself if he wants to allow smoking? No one is required to be in a bar. Proponents of these laws say that it exposes the employees to a health risk. First, the health risk of breathing second-hand smoke on the job is negligible, far less than eating meat and dairy. Second, no one is required to work there.

In California (and some other places) you can’t smoke within 25 feet of a building. For those of you outside of California, this isn’t a joke, they’re actually protecting the health of bricks and masonry. This law is clearly nothing more than a vendetta against a habit that some people find unappealing.

There are plenty of habits I find unappealing, if I can get enough people behind me, does it make sense in a free society to ban them? I love music but hearing music that I did not choose to listen to at that moment bugs the crap out of me, for instance: In cars, stores, restaurants, taxis, nightclubs, you name it. Nine times out of ten it is something I do not have on my iPod and I can honestly say that it annoys me as much as smelling smoke annoys other people. I’m sure there are other people who feel the same way, shall we outlaw all music that is audible to more than the person who chose to play it?

I don’t like ugly clothing or hairstyles, either. Let’s ban them in all public buildings and within 25 feet of doorways. And in public parks and on beaches, too. Soda pop and junk food also disgust me and are as clear a long-term health risk as is smoking. Out you go. And don’t get me started about some people’s accents. A nasally southern twang makes me want to jump in front of a train.

I’m guessing that most people don’t share my view and some may claim democracy and say the majority wins. But that’s not really what a free society is about. It means we’re all free to do what we choose if it isn’t injuring others. An odor we find unpleasant isn’t really injury, it’s momentary inconvenience, as it is with music, ugly hairdos and twangy nose-talkers.

Mind you, I don’t think smoking bans will ever be repealed, I’m just whining.

>Racist Humor?

>

(For a larger view, click a peep)
Bizarro is brought to you today by Other Peeps.

Just as I predicted, I got an angry letter from someone who thought this cartoon was racist. It is my humble opinion that many Americans are confused about the very definition of the word, believing that any mention of a minority group in anything other than complimentary terms constitutes racism. They are wrong.

If this cartoon had implied that all African Americans dressed or talked this way, or were somehow inferior, untrustworthy, un-anything you’d have racism. All this cartoon does is depict an alternative meaning of a common phrase used by a common person in common dress. Yes, this character is a stereotype but he is one that roams my Brooklyn neighborhood in droves and the cartoon does not disparage him. It only depicts him. You may feel that stereotypes of any kind are wrong, but then you’d have to start complaining about every businessman or housewife or family dog in every cartoon you ever read. That would get tiresome, although I would doubtless get a lot of entertainment from the letters.

Cartoonists deal in stereotypes routinely, it is how we communicate. It is also what enables the reader to recognize the character and gives context to their predicament or dialogue. It is my opinion that calling everything racism detracts from actual racism.

It should be noted that the person who wrote to me wasn’t even black. Oy vey.

>Naughty Priests

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Unconventional Clerics.

I probably should have predicted that this cartoon would receive some complaints but I didn’t. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic Schools, was even an altar boy, and even though I am atheist now, one thing I’ve always liked about Catholics – over some other Christian denominations I’ve been acquainted with – is that they tend to have a pretty good sense of humor about their beliefs. That doesn’t include every Catholic, obviously, so objections and outrage were expressed.

My suspicion is that the outrage wasn’t as much about this cartoon as about public scrutiny of Catholics in general. Because some Catholic priests have been under attack in recent years for their improprieties with children, some Catholics are more sensitive than they might otherwise be.

Here’s my amateur “expert” opinion on the pedophilia situation, and remember, it’s worth what you’re paying for it:

Nobody determines their sexual appetite, it just happens to us. Gay, straight, fat, thin, young, old, blonde, brunette, we like what we like and we can’t change that. Many people with unpopular or even illegal sexual proclivities – homosexuals, pedophiles – are raised to feel guilty about their desires and some attempt to take refuge in the celibacy of the priesthood. I seriously doubt any of these priests joined the priesthood with the intention of molesting anyone. My guess is that they thought that their faith and lifestyle within the church would protect them from their desires. But sexual desire is among the strongest forces known in nature and most people cannot keep theirs at bay forever. So they give in and then go to great lengths to try to hide it.

I think it bears noting that there has never been a shortage of priests who break their vows of celibacy in legal ways, but they don’t make headlines because they have not broken the law and the sex was consensual. Celibacy is a bitch, no matter who you are or what your reasons. (You may quote me.)

This is in no way meant to imply that homosexuals are pedophiles or that homosexuality is even in the same class of socially dangerous behavior. I only grouped them together here in the category of “sexual orientations likely to cause guilt.” While sex with children is a devastating act that can never be condoned and guilt is therefore appropriate, we have only ourselves to blame for making homosexuals feel guilty about relations between consenting adults. The notion that homosexuality between consenting adults is “wrong” is archaic and, quite frankly, idiotic. Even more idiotic are people who think that anyone “chooses” their sexual orientation. If you are one of these people, ask yourself if you chose yours. Now ask yourself if you could completely change those desires if you put your mind to it – become gay if you’re straight, or vice versa. Of course not.

Regarding this cartoon, just as the vast majority of priests have not molested children, I suspect that virtually none share what they hear in confession. The preposterous nature of the scenario is what makes it funny. If it’s funny at all, of course.

That’s my take on the predatory priest situation. For what it’s worth, in all the years I was a kid in the church, no one ever said or did anything to me that was in the least inappropriate. Which, to be honest, made me feel ugly and undesirable.*

*Kidding. No more complaints, please.

>Destroying the Lives of Children

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Animal Husbandry.

Last week my cartoon was drawing attacks from all quarters. Yesterday’s post was a bout a plagiarism accusation, today’s is about my mistreatment of preschool icons. Below is the email I received, in its entirety:

I usually do not take the time to write someone about a comic strip. But this time I could not just ignore it.

I take EXTREME OFFENSE at your comic today. I am surprised Sesame Street hasn’t talked to you yet. (How does she know they haven’t?)
The Birds
(Capitalized?) in the your comic strip today are very obviously Big Bird and Foghorn Leghorn.

You are making these characters out to be bullies. That is NOT what these characters stand for.
They are good characters, and I feel you are beating up on their images by using them.

I have two younger children that love to read the comics everyday with me (age 7 & 10).
When they saw what you had drawn, I’m not sure they will never want to see your comic strip again.
They were both extremely offended (as was I) and at the ages they are they knew that Big Bird would
NEVER do anything like that!!!!!! (Then what is the problem?)

It is NOT FUNNY to bully someone’s image like that, to infer that they would do anything like that.
(I believe she means “insinuate.” “Inferring” is what she’s doing.)

To pick on an image that has been out in this world doing nothing but good for over 40 years is SHAMEFUL!!!
You should be ashamed of yourself for picking on something as PURE as Big Bird!

Sincerely,
Name withheld because I’m embarrassed for her.

I responded politely to her note, as I invariably do, and told her that everyone knows that Big Bird would never act this way and that is what makes it funny. I suggested that if she explained that to her children they would no longer be upset by the cartoon and learn a little something about the way humor works, too. I got no response.

Oh, the tremendous weight of social responsibility that a cartoonist bears.

>Challenges of the Musically Challenged

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Educational Literature.

I have a good friend back in Texas who has run a recording studio for decades. Every now and then he’ll share some of the more “noteworthy” music that he has recorded for clients there and I often wonder how he survives. As we know from the popular TV show, “American Idol,” (which I am proud to say I’ve never watched a moment of, the commercials are plenty) not everyone who thinks they can be a rock star has a single iota of talent.

For reasons unclear to me, I’m particularly sensitive to music. I literally cannot tolerate listening to music that I don’t like. I become instantly irritable, my heart rate rises, my teeth turn into fangs and I am not satisfied until someone is dead. I don’t mean to say that I’m a public *sshole about it, but I will quietly leave a store or restaurant if the music is offensive to me, whether I’ve finished my business there or not. This is perhaps the biggest reason I dislike the Xmas season so much, the offensive music is ubiquitous.

It wouldn’t be such a curse if I liked most popular music, but I don’t. I’m very picky. Any single song from any recording of such popular bands as Eagles, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band, Abba, Billy Joel, Metallica, Rush, all hip hop (yes, I know that is a very general statement, but I can’t stand ‘rhyme talking’ of any kind,) drives me over a cliff. And that’s just a fraction of the bands I can’t stand. I wish I wasn’t this way, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

That being said, I’ve been learning to play the guitar and have been writing songs and recording them on my computer. One day I’m going to record them in a “real” studio and sell a CD through my website and this blog. So I may be the guy behind the glass in the cartoon above soon enough (though it’s a cinch my music will ever be popular enough to drive shoppers from stores.)

Until tomorrow, be well, earth travelers.

>Playing With Your Food

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Bill Maher.

As a lot of you know, like my friend Bill Maher, I’m an ethical vegan. (As opposed to someone who is vegan purely for his own health.) I occasionally think of cartoons that have to do with this topic and its related issues – nutrition, cruelty, health, the environment – and I toss them into the mix. I have been guilty of being pretty preachy about it in the past, it is difficult not to be when you are fighting against the suffering of those unable to speak for themselves, but I try very hard not to be and I hope I’m getting better.
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>Obsessive Compulsive Cartooning (OCC)

>Bizarro is brought to you today by The Magically Aging Man.

Whenever I do cartoons about disabilities or diseases, I get complaints from people who think it is insensitive to make fun of people with problems. I did a cartoon a few years ago about a band called the “A.D.D.s” in which all of the teenage musicians were scattered about the stage, busy doing something other than playing music. I got a ton of mail from angry parents of kids with A.D.D. Same thing happens if I do one on dyslexia or amputees.

In this case, I figured it was safe to make fun of this topic because I have a touch of OCD myself. Just as predicted, I got a ton of mail complaining about this cartoon. Although, perhaps not surprisingly, it was all from the same person.

NOTE: I think it bears mentioning that in each of these types of circumstances (and last week during the “Death With Dignity” controversy) I also get mail from people within these movements or suffering from these afflictions who really enjoy the humorous take on the subject at hand. Many people understand the healing properties of laughing at one’s own hardships.

>Death Controversy

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Ways To Get Arrested in the Park.

When this cartoon published a week ago, I got a flood of emails from angry readers. What I thought was an innocent albeit surreal take on an old expression – death with dignity – was seen by many to be a jab at the political movement to secure a person’s right to physician-assisted suicide. Unbeknownst to me, (because I don’t pay much attention to life outside of my own tiny world, I suppose) there is a law in Oregon about this called the Death with Dignity Act.

This topic doesn’t get much press here in NYC, at least not that I’ve noticed, so I didn’t actually think about this when doing this cartoon. I don’t mind offending people with whom I disagree if I feel strongly enough about a topic, but I hate offending people by accident, especially when I agree with them in the first place.

I’ve long supported any person’s right to end their life when they wish to, especially in situations of chronic pain and illness. I think that denying this fundamental right of self determination is superstitious, archaic, and cruel. The sad truth is that even if a person is in excruciating pain, has no chance of survival and decides completely of their own sound mind that they want to end their life, anyone who aids them in any way can go to jail. As I understand it (and correct me if I’m wrong) in most states even if a person attains the means to do this on their own, anyone present while they do it can go to jail. So a person who somehow gets hold of enough pills to kill themself wants to go peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, they can’t unless everyone in the room is willing to head to the slammer. Instead, their only option is to die alone, climb out of a window, hang themselves, blow their brains out, whatever they can manage in their condition. Of course, most people just choose to waste away slowly in agony because it is their only legal option. This is the law’s idea of “respect” for human life.

So I spent a couple of days writing apologies to various readers and making statements to various groups and I think I’ve straightened it all out. I certainly hope that if the time comes that I want to check out of this life with some dignity, the law allows me the freedom to do so.

>Hatred Holidays

>Bizarro is brought to you today by Here Come The Holidays.

I’m not one of those people who complain about seeing Santa and hearing Xmas songs before Thanksgiving. I tend to complain that I have to endure these things at all, any time of year, because I truly despise the ugly, crass, festival of insincerity that Xmas has become. This is a holiday that should be celebrated quietly at home, if at all, and those of us who do not celebrate it should not even notice its passing. Like Yom Kippur.

That’s the way it was before Washington Irving decided to make up a lot of holiday traditions and promote the idea that Xmas should be a big, noisy, tacky whoop-de-doo. Stores caught onto the idea and helped it along and before you know it, most Americans were celebrating Xmas with gifts and songs and decorations as if it were an ancient tradition.

I’m sure things were more-or-less within reason in those early days, but like everything else modern-day America touches, it is now a ghastly commercial orgy that assaults the eyes and ears of everyone within 500 miles of its borders. I even saw giant Xmas decorations at a department store in a Buddhist country in Asia back in 2000. Apparently you have to go to Iran to escape elves and flying reindeer.

So I say, “Pull that trigger, Mr. Pilgrim, and bury the evidence before it gets out of hand. You have no idea what you’re in for.

Yes, I know I’m a huge pain-in-the-ass Grinch/Scrooge about this. All my friends and family gleefully celebrate Xmas while I sit quietly at home without decorations and with the TV mute on, lest I accidentally subject myself to the sound of jingling bells during a Best Buy commercial. (Just typing that made my skin crawl.)

How did I get this way? I have no idea. I enjoyed it as a kid – Santa, toys, the food, the tree, the TV specials, the songs, mom bringing home sailors on holiday leave and making me wait in a box in the basement, the lights and decorations. But as an adult, year by year, I became increasingly uncomfortable with it until I finally snapped like a dry holly branch under the hoof of a plummeting reindeer and declared myself the archenemy of all things Xmas. Self indulgent hypocrisy has always turned my stomach and modern American Xmas is the blaring, screeching, glittering, multi-billion-dollar embodiment of it. To my mind, anyway.

Here’s hoping you all have a nice holiday season, please keep the noise down.

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