Cartoon: Which Economic System Prevents Pandemics?

There’s two similar but distinct arguments I’ve heard on the left. One I agree with; the other inspired this cartoon.

There’s the correct and true argument that universal health care – in single payer or some other form – could have left us far better placed to deal with a pandemic.1 In a pandemic, anyone’s health can matter to everyone’s health. Right now, for many of us, the incentive when we get sick is to ignore it and hope it goes away, because medical care is too expensive for anything but an emergency.

Plus, not everyone has a job that allows them to take unlimited sick time (or sick time at all). Not everyone feels they can afford to stay home.

Add to that all the comorbidities that interact with pandemics. COVID19 is deadly enough by itself, but it’s even deadlier for people with untreated breathing issues, or untreated diabetes, etc etc etc. Any condition that has already weakened our immune systems or lungs increased the odds of COVID19 fatality.

In these ways, the US’s terrible health care system has made us much more vulnerable to a pandemic like this one.

But then there’s the argument that a good enough socialized health system would prevent pandemics like this. That the reason the U.S. has been hit by coronavirus is that we don’t have single payer. Single payer would be great. But it can’t and wouldn’t make us immune to a disease like this.

So I’ve now done two coronavirus-themed cartoons in a row – and there’s a third in progress. And maybe more after that. What became of my policy of concentrating on cartoons that will remain relevant for years to come?

I just couldn’t not address coronavirus. I had a cartoon already sketched and in progress before coronavirus took over all our lives – it’s another “two people arguing as they walk through a bucolic park” cartoon. And it just seemed so irrelevant to life now – and maybe a little bit mocking of our lives now – that I couldn’t draw it.

I’m sure I’ll get back to that cartoon and others like it. But for now, I think I need cartoons that acknowledge the biggest change in all our lives right now.

Welcome to my friend and now collaborator Frank Young, who colored this cartoon. There’s no way I could do justice to Frank’s resume – cartoonist, novelist, former editor of the Comics Journal, author of many nonfiction books about classic comics, and curator of many fine collections of classic comics.

The first time Frank colored this cartoon, he colored it like a regular cartoon – you know, with actual colors and stuff. I had to ask him to try again, this time using the sort of very limited palettes I usually prefer. I’m very happy with how the finished cartoon came out.

This cartoon I did something I almost never do – I copied the same coronavirus drawing from panel to panel, rather than drawing it new in each panel. Usually I don’t like the effect; it seems so unnatural for characters to be absolutely shock-still from panel to panel. Even someone sitting still makes some small movements. But in this case, I thought having the coronavirus character not move at all added a bit to the creepiness.


This cartoon has four panels, plus a small “kicker” panel below the bottom of the strip.

Each of the panels shows the same scene; two humans, and an anthropomorphized coronavirus (with a perfectly round head and little things sticking out of the head in every direction). Other than that, the corona virus has an ordinary human body.

The two humans are a woman with shoulder-length hair, wearing a turtleneck and a skirt with a floral pattern; and a woman with glasses, black bobbed hair (like Lucy from Peanuts), and a sleeveless dress over a striped short-sleeved shirt.

They’re sitting around a little round table with two cups of coffee on it. The two women are arguing. The coronavirus is just looking ahead blankly, not seeming to pay attention to what the women are saying.


GLASSES: It’s not a coincidence that cornonavirus began in a communist country. An unfettered free market wouldn’t have-

TURTLENECK: That’s crap!


TURTLENECK: Single payer could have prevented this!

GLASSES: Socialized medicine didn’t save Italy, Spain and Germany!


The same scene. The two women are leaning into their argument, their noses almost touching. The coronavirus, still without much expression, lifts a forefinger and speaks.

TURTLENECK: Just like capitalism didn’t-

GLASSES: How can you ignore-

CORONAVIRUS: Can I say something?


Silent panel.

The chair coronavirus was sitting in is empty, and coronavirus is not in this panel.

The two women slump against the table and chairs, dead. (They have little “X”s for eyes, cartoon symbols for being dead.) An overturned coffee mug on the table is spilling over the side of the table.


Two middle-aged men talk; one of them is Barry, the cartoonist. The first man looks inquisitive; Barry responds cheerfully.

MAN: So you’re saying both sides are equally bad?

BARRY: The phrase “fuck no” is woefully inadequate.

  1. I would say it’s necessary but not sufficient. []
Posted in Cartooning & comics | 43 Comments  

Cartoon: Sometimes It Feels Like Coronavirus Has Always Been With Us

If you enjoy these cartoons, be part of making more! Support the patreon!

I left the house this morning to put something in the mail. (Don’t worry, I didn’t touch the mailbox; I took a paper towel with me so I could use that to open the mailbox and then throw it away).

I honestly don’t know what was in the envelope; I made it my project this morning to clear the pile of mail off my desk, and I found a sealed envelope, ready to mail. It was a postage paid envelope from a company I do business with, so presumably it’s a form they wanted me to fill out. And I have no memory of the form, or filling it out, whatsoever.

I could have opened the envelope to see what it was, but then I’d just have find a new envelope and what about postage and it just seemed like too much work, so I decided to trust me from three months ago and mail it.

My point is, this walk to the mailbox is the first time I’ve been further than my own yard in over a week. It feels so odd to be so housebound. And that’s a feeling, I’m sure, that lots of you reading this can now relate to. I actually can’t even say anymore when I started staying in the house. I mean, I know as a matter of logic around when I must have began, but I don’t remember it.

So thinking about this feeling, led to this cartoon. I hope you like it!

* * *

The art for this was fun to draw (and it felt good to be able to successfully concentrate on drawing a cartoon!). I think that Mrs. Macbeth in panel 2 came out especially well. .

My friend Frank Young writes a blog about the works of the cartoonist John Stanley, who is most famous for his Little Lulu comics from the 40s through the 60s. I was reading this blog post, collecting some of Stanley’s dialogless cartoons, and I was struck by how much I liked the very simple colors Stanley used for some cartoons. I didn’t directly steal those colors, but they definitely inspired the color choices in this cartoon.

Stay well and stay safe, folks! I hope everyone is getting through this all right. See you next cartoon.


This cartoon has four panels, each showing a different scene.


Most of this panel is taken up by very large, rough lettering, the title of the cartoon. “SOMETIMES IT FEELS LIKE CORONAVIRUS HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US.”

In the bottom of the comic, a woman is leaning on her elbows, looking wistfully out an upper floor window of a house.

WOMAN (thought): I can’t remember the last time I put on pants.


In the foreground, a woman in a Shakespearean-style gown is frantically washing her hands and yelling. Behind her, a man peeks through a doorway, holding up a forefinger in a “making a point” gesture and speaking very cheerfully. They are Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.


MACBETH: Remember to do that for at least twenty seconds, hon!


The panel shows several people hanging on crosses in Rome sometime in the first century. In the foreground, a well-off looking Roman man, dressed in robes, is giving an order to a Roman soldier, who is wearing a helmet and carrying a large wooden mallet. In the background, one of the people hanging on a cross speaks cheerfully towards the two in the foreground.

ROMAN DUDE: Make sure the crosses are six feet apart.

MAN ON CROSS: Thank you for caring!


Inside a cave, a cartoon caveman, wearing a shirt-thing made out of some animal with a spotted pattern on its fur, and carrying a big rough club, is speaking to a laptop computer which is open on top of a boulder. On the laptop’s screen, we can see another caveman. The first caveman, slapping a hand to his forehead, has a distressed expression.

CAVEMAN: I haven’t left my cave in weeks!


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Happy Stephen Sondheim’s 90th Birthday Everybody!!

Some of my favorite Sondheims – so much NOT a complete list – divided by category.

Heartbreak songs.

  • Losing My Mind. “Losing My Mind” bored me a bit the first time I heard “Follies.” Over the years its grown and grown on me, and now I have no idea what I was thinking back then.
  • Not A Day Goes By
  • Send In The Clowns. “Send In The Clowns” has been covered by of vocalists with magnificent, huge voices (most famously Barbra Streisand). But it was written for a less-than-magnificent voice, and somehow it works best that way.

Incredibly eloquent songs, usually with a strong side of resentment, where the vocalist starts out being calm and above it all but is all but screaming by the end.

  • Could I Leave You?
  • Ladies Who Lunch
  • Franklin Shepard, Inc. Although arguably Franklin Shepard Inc belongs on the list of heartbreak songs.
  • I’m Still Here. “Then you career from career to career.” Elaine Stritch, long past the point where she was vocally able to perform “I’m Still Here,” did a cover of it that’s actually pretty awesome.
  • Sunday In The Park With George. Actually, although that link is to the beginning of the song “Sunday In The Park With George,” the video contains the entire musical “Sunday In The Park With George,” with the original cast. Very well worth watching. (Star Trek fans, watch for Brent Spiner).

Epic songs for multiple characters that are almost miniplays themselves.

  • Someone In A Tree. Ya gotta love a song about epistemology! (“Korra” and “Airbender” fans, the narrator here voiced Uncle Iroh.)
  • Please Hello To quote Mark Horowitz’s article about this song:

    Among its attributes: it’s a musicalized scene; it’s a history lesson; it’s funny; it’s theatrical – with six primary participants, each with distinct characters and agendas; it shows off Sondheim’s unequaled facility at rhyme and lyric wit; and, for a composer who has been accused of being unmelodic, the number conservatively includes 10 primary melodic ideas (including verses and choruses), each of which is tuneful and contagious. And at one point, six of the themes are sung simultaneously.

  • Putting It Together. I suspect that this is one of Sondheim’s most autobiographical songs.
  • A Weekend In The Country. The line “such elegant writing / So chic you hardly can read it!” cracks me up.
  • Opening Doors. The original 1981 cast performs it, in a film so blurry that it’s hard to make out anyone’s face at all (but it’s still interesting to see the staging). A couple minutes into the song a young Jason Alexander appears. And here’s the same cast performing the song, 21 years later.
  • Waiting For The Girls Upstairs
  • Now/Soon/Later
  • Your Fault/Last Midnight
    “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”
  • How I Saved Roosevelt
  • Quintet. This video, by the way, is from my high school’s startlingly good production of “West Side Story” (but long after I graduated).
  • Addison’s Trip

I Can Neither Fit This Into A Category Nor Leave It Off The List

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Open Post and Link Farm, Hopscotching Alone Edition

Honestly, I should have posted this ages ago – much of this now seems out of date. But on the other hand, maybe a mostly coronavirus-free list of stuff to read will be a relief to some?

  1. Conservative States Seek Billions to Brace for Disaster. (Just Don’t Call It Climate Change.) – The New York Times. (And an alternate link.)
  2. The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore – WSJ
    A former U.S. ambassador to Israel argues that the US doesn’t have many vital interests at stake in the middle east anymore, but our policy hasn’t changed to reflect that.
  3. People First Language is a Problem, Not A Solution, For Fat People – Dances With Fat
    Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  4. A Black Market for Life-Saving Insulin Thrives on Social Media | OneZero
    What’s really nice about this is that it’s not a money market, for the most part. It’s people helping people out with their extra bits of insulin.
  5. Opinion | Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t – The New York Times. (Alternate link.)
    We’re facing a plausible future where Republicans will be able to control the government with just 30% of the popular vote.
  6. Republicans push to weaken court that caught them rigging elections | US news | The Guardian
    They will do anything to avoid having to win elections by getting the support of a majority of voters.
  7. The Debate Link: Technically, Any Number of Seconds Can Be Split Any Number of Times
    A darkly amusing note about the “split second decision” metric used to defend police officers.
  8. Billy Joel Plays “Piano Man” for the First Time At the Bar He Based the Song On – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
  9. The “perfect storm” behind the recent college closings in New England | Boston.comAs incomes fail to rise, and as there are fewer high school graduates, small colleges will close in coming years. This will also be bad for small towns where the economy depends on the local college existing.
  10. States with unified GOP control spend more on higher education when there is an overrepresentation of white students and less when there is not.
  11. Portion of US border wall in California falls over in high winds and lands on Mexican side – CNNPolitics
    This was a new portion of the wall – apparently the concrete foundation had not finished curing. Or maybe it was God’s judgement. Hard to say. (Just kidding, it’s easy to say, I’m an atheist.)
  12. A local theater played a program of all of 2020’s Oscar-nominated live action and animated films. A lot of them were very good, but I think my favorite was The Neighbors’ Window. Of the animated movies, I think my favorite was Mémorable, but unfortunately I can’t find a copy of that online with english subtitles.
  13. American Dirt controversy: How it happened and what publishers have learned.
    I thought this was interesting: “But the most common take on the American Dirt fiasco is that it resulted from Flatiron’s hubristic failure in what the industry refers to as “positioning”—that is, communicating the genre a house considers a new book to fit into.” In this theory, by positioning and marketing the book as a serious social commentary, rather than as a light thriller, the publishers invited a kind of scrutiny the book couldn’t withstand.
  14. GOP lawmaker can’t identify where the constitution says socialists ‘either go to prison or are shot’ – Raw Story
    How is this not an Onion headline?
  15. CityLab Daily: There’s No Such Thing as a Dangerous Neighborhood – CityLab
    Dangerous violence in cities is concentrated with a tiny portion of the population.
  16. State-federal task forces are out of control – The Washington Post
    An FBI agent and a state officer jointly beat the crap out of an innocent man. But they’re incredibly hard to sue, because they effectively claim that they’re a Federal task force when sued under state law, but a state task force when sued under Federal law.
  17. America’s monopoly and antitrust problem, explained by your internet bill – Vox
  18. To Dream of a Jewish President | The New Republic
    Inspired by Talmudic approaches, this article examines what it would mean if Bernie wins and we have a Jewish president.
  19. The top and bottom images are paintings by the French street artist Seth, whose work is as playful (and sometimes as dark) as childhood itself.

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COVID-19 pandemic open thread

Hello, everyone.

This is a COVID-19 (aka SARS-cov-2, aka “novel coronavirus”) thread. Post what you like, including resources. I may incorporate the best of those into this original post so that people have them available. Initially, I’m working from memory, but I’ll edit the post and insert sources as I comb back through my communications and find them.

We are at the start of a global pandemic. The virus is highly contagious. Epidemiologists estimate that, in roughly the next year, 30% to 70% of the human beings on the planet will be infected with it. Initial reports suggest an approximately 2% fatality rate, overall (weighted heavily toward the elderly, but not entirely). If half of us get it, and of those, 2% die from it, we’re looking at, very roughly, 1% of the human population dead from it. In round figures, for a planetary population of almost 8 billion, that’s 80 million dead people in the next year. Even if, in the end, it’s half that lethal, that’s 40 million dead people. That’s with medical care, of course; it’s perfectly possible that, as it overwhelms the medical systems of countries all over the world, that it will be much more lethal than 2%. In China, about 15% of people with COVID-19 required hospitalization, and about 5% of the infected required intensive care, while in Italy, more than half of people with COVID-19 needed hospitalization, and 10% needed the ICU. 1 People who need ventilators and don’t get them typically die. Let’s say 90% of them. So, if 4 billion people get COVID-19, and 5% of them need intensive care, and most of those don’t get it, we’re looking at a mortality rate of around 4.5%, or about 200 million people dead worldwide.

That figure does not include people who need critical care for other reasons but won’t get it because the system is overwhelmed.

Note that these are not worst-case figures. Worst case: 70% of humans get it, and the mortality rate turns out to be 4.5% because the medical systems are overwhelmed. In round figures, that’s 250 million dead people, still not including people who need critical care for other reasons who don’t get it.

In people aged 20-29, this virus appears to ride along symptom-free at high rates.2 That means that, by the time many people in that age cohort have symptoms, they have already been infecting other people for the incubation period, which is around 5-14 days. That makes it very hard to contain.

It does not appear to be transmitted in a passively airborne fashion, like measles. However, viruses of this type can apparently survive for up to nine days on hard surfaces3, and this specific virus has been shown to survive at least three days4. So it’s not just people; it’s things which people touch, including handrails and elevator buttons.

As of today, 03-16, the United States has no way to test widely for it. (We were offered tests, but we refused the offers of help and tried to develop our own, but then developed a faulty test kit which had to be redesigned, which meant substantive delays.) Initial testing protocol was pointless, because no test kits were available. Now that they are starting to become available, there aren’t enough, and people are still being refused testing unless they have had contact with a confirmed case or travelled from a known hotspot, like Iran or Italy. In other words, we are flying blind, having no good measurement of size of the problem.

One way to try to infer the size of the infected-but-undetected population is to look at the number of tests of suspected cases which are positive. Based on that work, as of roughly 03-12, we probably had 100,000 infected people in the United States already.5

The United States has prepared very poorly. First, in 2018 we eliminated our federal pandemic response agency. Then, in the earliest days, we didn’t socially distance early enough, and we still aren’t; a large percentage of the population is being encouraged by some media to go out and mingle.

Also, we have a population without universal health care, many with high-deductible coverage. Our population is used to rationing healthcare themselves, to deciding for themselves whether it’s worth the cost to seek medical help. One result of such a system is that many people who should seek help or screening don’t do so.

Also, we have a population in which large numbers of people don’t have sick leave or employment protections. It is absolutely routine for people in service sector jobs to work even when they know they’re sick. Restaurant servers, for instance, when they do call in sick are routinely asked, “When can you come in?” or told to pop DayQuil and come in or lose their jobs. This means a large number of people have serious short-term incentives to engage in behavior which will result is a high rate of transmission.

Also, our supply of ICU beds, and ventilators, is much lower than what will be necessary for a pandemic of this size, so we’re probably headed into a situation where we have to look at the “no ventilator” death rates, above.

To make matters worse, President Trump declared a travel ban in a manner which prompted a lot of people abroad to panic and fly home at the earliest opportunity, creating huge logjams of people in United States airports where people were packed closely for six hours or more. There are reports that the lines of suspected infected were queued up inches away from people who showed no sign of infection. It would have been hard to create a better system for spreading the virus among incoming travellers.

And here we are. Say what you need to say, being mindful of the commenting policy. Citations are helpful, and if anyone can help me source references or correct numbers, I’ll be grateful; I wasn’t planning on writing this, and didn’t take good notes as I educated myself.

Finally, because humor will be one of the things which gets most of us through this: remember that it’s only a quarantine if it’s from the Quara region of France. From anywhere else, it’s “sparkling isolation”.



First, the best overall summary piece I’ve seen yet, as of 03-10.

The best hand washing video I’ve seen yet. You may have thought you knew how, but unless you’re a scrub nurse or a surgeon, I’ll bet that you didn’t.

Current status.

Current status, presented graphically.

COVID-19 community calculator. Put your ZIP code in and see how your community will fare.

  1. []
  2. See the image below, a comparison of South Korean cases versus Italian cases. In South Korea, they are testing everyone. In Italy, they are testing only people with symptoms. Look how many more cases in the 20-29 age cohort they are finding in South Korea. []
  3. []
  4. various media sources, easily searched []
  5. I’m looking for the cite on this []
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Cartoon: Copyright, The Biggest Government Giveaway of All (featuring Bill Gates)

This one was directly inspired by this Dean Baker essay.

The issue can be seen as a distinction between someone who wins a big pile of money in a lottery and someone who slips in a fake card to win the poker pot. If we recognize that patent and copyright monopolies are government policies, that could be completely restructured or even eliminated altogether, it destroys the idea that technology has been responsible for upward redistribution or even a major factor in upward redistribution.

If Bill Gates got very rich because of Windows and other Microsoft software, it was not because of the technology, but rather because the government gave him copyright and patent monopolies on this software.

In the U.S., the original copyright law gave creators a monopoly for fourteen years. Owning intellectual property isn’t a natural state; it’s something the law gives creators (of any sort), so they’ll have an incentive to keep on creating.  As the U.S. Constitution says, the government has the power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

That’s the rightful purpose of copyright – the public interest. But that purpose has been mostly forgotten in our current, ridiculous system, which often harms the public interest. Nowhere is that harm more extreme than in prescription drugs, in which copyright monopolies enable drug companies to charge ridiculous prices. (I really should do a cartoon about that.)

This cartoon was fun to draw. The biggest challenge, of course, was five panels in a row of drawing a cartoon of a real person. It’s easy to stiffen up when drawing real people, and to lose the cartoonyness because of trying too hard to be faithful to the real person’s features. Hopefully I avoided that here!

If you like these cartoons, help me make more by supporting my Patreon! A $1 or $2 pledge really matters.


This cartoon has five panels, plus a small “kicker” panel under the cartoon. All of the panels show the same setting: a sidewalk next to a grassy field with a couple of scattered trees.


A balding man is talking on his cell phone, ranting to a friend or perhaps calling in to talk radio. He’s wearing a short sleeved shirt with a “!” on front. Behind him, Bill Gates is walking up to him with a friendly expression, raising a forefinger in a “making a point” gesture.

MAN: I say, Bill Gates earned every dollar of his $108 billion! The government had nothing to do with it!

BILL GATES: Actually, that’s not true.


The man, turning around, jumps with surprise.

MAN: Gasp! Bill Gates!

GATES: I owe my fortune to the biggest government giveaway of all… Copyright law!


A close-up of Gates, smiling and explaining.

GATES: People talk about copyright for “lifetime plus seventy years” as if it’s a law of nature. It’ snot! It’s a law that big corps like Disney lobbied for!


A longer shot of Gates, spreading his hands as he talks.

GATES: If copyright only lasted five years, I might have to get by on “only” $25 million, and consumers would save a ton of money!

GATES: Plus, less monopoly would probably mean better products.


Gates walks away, looking upward and holding one hand out towards the sky in a “I am a visionary” sort of gesture. Behind him, the balm man is happily cheering.

GATES: Now, if you’ll excuse me, somewhere out there is a small company with a great product. I’ll buy them out and make sure no one sees that great product for seventy years!

GATES: Just another way consumers get screwed by… Copyright law!

MAN: Hooray! Thank you Bill Gates!


Barry the cartoonist, looking mildly surprised, is talking to the bald man, who is smiling.

BARRY: Why are you cheering? Aren’t you against government interference with free markets?

MAN: Mainly I just worship rich people.

Posted in Capitalism, Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | Comments Off  

Spring (or Fall or Summer, But Never Winter) is a Time for Change

Guest post by J. Squid

Some of you in my meatspace have known this for some time. And a couple of you in my cyberspace have known as well. For the last year and a half, plus or minus, I have been transitioning. You can probably get a fairly good idea of when I started by looking at when I changed my commenting name from Jake Squid to J. Squid. I will be changing it again in the near future. The reason I haven’t announced this before is that if word of my transition had gotten back to my employer, I would have been immediately fired. As I have left that job (for my 2nd retirement), I no longer have to be closeted in most places and times. When I first told people, I said that I had done a reasonable facsimile of a man for 50 years and now I’m going to do a reasonable facsimile of a woman for the next 50 years.

I’ve known since some time before I was 10 that I was (or would do better as, the context of time and place certainly had its influence on me) a girl. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no such thing as transitioning as far as any of us knew. When I did learn about the possibility of transition, 10 or so years later, it wasn’t realistically achievable for me. I’m a terrible actor and there was no way I was going to pull off being super feminine for psychiatric and medical professionals. So it wasn’t a possibility for me.

And then, you know, life continues. I fell in love, got married and lived 10 years as the victim in an abusive relationship. When that broke up, just before my 31st birthday, I strongly considered transitioning and looked at it again. Alas, it was just as unachievable for me as it had been 10 and 15 years earlier, so I put it out of mind.

And, once again, life continued. I fell in love for the second time, got married and lived for close to 20 years with a wonderful and loving partner, Mrs. Squid. And then, just after my 50th birthday, my doctors FINALLY became concerned about the lump in my chest I’d been complaining about for 30 years – apparently, it just had to get BIG enough to scare them. That concern morphed, over a short period, into a mastectomy. During that whole process, the shocked look from the doctor, meeting with the surgeon, mammograms and sonograms and biopsies, more meetings with surgeons, surgery and recovery was the best time in my entire life, to that point. It was a gas and I was so very, very happy. I’d like to be happy like that again one day, but I digress…

After I had recovered from the mastectomy, I was appalled and disturbed by having nothing but chest wall on that side. On the advice of everybody in the world, I waited a year before deciding what to do. I decided I needed reconstruction. It was during that process that I began to realize that just getting back what I had before wasn’t what I wanted and I found myself disappointed that no reconstructive surgeon suggested implants. I thought about that for a couple of months and realized that what I really wanted was to transition. Can I tell you how nervous I was when I told Mrs. Squid? I mean, I was as certain as one could be that she would be okay with it, but that doesn’t really hold back the fear that you’re about to destroy your most important relationship. She listened to me, looked at me, and said, “I was wondering when you were going to figure that out.” That still brings tears to my eyes. My family was just as accepting. My friends were even more accepting and were calling me by my new name so fast it left my head spinning. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do.

Having made the decision, I was referred by my therapist to another therapist who specializes in trans issues. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better match and her help has been invaluable. So in September of 2018, I began taking hormones. The changes over the next several months were very welcome. After about 13 months, I decided the time had come to stop vaping. (Here, I will digress, once more, to tell you how much better vaping is than not vaping, but here I find myself…) Once I stopped vaping, the effect of the hormones increased unbelievably. I had heard that oral HRT is less effective for smokers, but they really undersold that.

It has, so far, been a revelation. I am, without question, feeling better about myself than I ever have. If it hadn’t been for the degrading situation at work (they kicked out the hated brother-in-law who, it seems, was the one responsible for a great work environment), everything would’ve been perfect. Work, however, had been getting me increasingly down since last summer. The collapse of my thyroid function (after 10 years of cromulent management of the problem, I had forgotten the symptoms and didn’t realize that’s what was going on) left me crying from exhaustion every night in the shower and really broke down my resistance to the horrible work environment that had been created. On Valentine’s Day, I reached my limit and was fortunate enough to have saved enough money that I didn’t need the job, and gave my two weeks notice.

I am hopeful that once I get over the panic of not having an income for the first time since 1996 (even though I don’t actually need an income any time soon) that I will get back to feeling, well, if not happy then, at least, not depressed. We’ll call that a victory.

I have an appointment with a surgeon next month and I’m looking forward to not being lopsided for the first time in over 30 years. I can finally be me all the time and everywhere and now I can get a wardrobe together, search for the job I want and present myself as the me that I am. I’ll have time to see my friends and to get my spaces at home organized and to work on my writing and all those other things that I haven’t had time and energy for. As I enter the second half of my life (my family tends to be exceptionally long lived and I shall be optimistic about my chances), I am increasingly of the belief that I should enjoy myself while I can.

At some point I’ll reconcile my need to transition with my belief that men and women are the same – they’re people. Or I’ll decide that there is no need to reconcile those two things. Whatever.

So, yes, I am more content with myself than I have ever been, my friends and family are the best I could ever ask for, strangers are kind enough to treat you the way you signal you’d like to be treated and my hair is magnificent. MAGNIFICENT!

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Cartoon: Billionaires Discuss Economics

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However the Democratic primary turns out, I’m grateful to both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for making increasing taxes on the wealthy a more prominent issue.

This one was fun to draw. The biggest drawing problem this strip presented was that three characters who had only been seen once each by the readers, would have to be recognizable as the same characters in the final panel. So a lot of thought went into the character design; each character had to have very distinctive head shapes and clothing, so that (hopefully) readers will be able to see that they’re the same characters in the final panel.

The last panel was especially fun to draw. Honestly, cartoony people freaking out is always fun to draw. (Bulge those eyeballs! Unhinge that jaw!) I also really enjoyed drawing the flowers in panel one, because they’re not the sort of thing I usually draw, and they came out well. (Drawing is always more fun when things come out well).

* * *


This cartoon has five panels, plus a small “kicker” panel below the bottom of the final panel.


This is a title panel, showing a sedate arrangement of flowers in front of a vase. That’s all just the background for the lettering, which says: “Another edifying episode of… Billionaires discuss Economics”


A middle aged-man sits in a high-backed desk chair; there is a desk in front of him, with a laptop and a cup of coffee on a saucer. He’s reading a magazine called “Tax Dodge Monthly.” But at this moment he’s looked up from the magazine to address the viewer, smiling.

SEATED MAN: Giving poor people handouts creates a culture of dependency, so the best way to help is to give them nothing.


A younger man, wearing glasses and a Yale tee shirt, stands on a tennis court, holding a tennis racket over one shoulder. He speaks to the reader, looking friendly.

TENNIS: My great-great-grandfather made a fortune busting unions and paying workers a pittance. And eventually I inherited that fortune! Why can’t poor people just do that?


A middle-aged man, balding, with a neat, pointy beard just on his chin, speaks sternly to the readers, one forefinger raised as if making a point. He’s wearing a double-breasted blazer and a necktie. Next to him, his dog looks up at him calmly. Behind him is an enormous mansion with big pillars surrounding the door.

BEARD: I’m sorry some people can’t afford health care, but we can’t help everyone with every little problem. People need to toughen up.


The three characters from the previous three panels are all in this panel, looking frightened and panicked.

SITTING MAN: A small tax increase on income over fifty million dollars? It’s highway robbery!

TENNIS: Where’s their compassion?

BEARD: Why don’t they care what happens to us?


The “Beard” character from panel four is chewing out Barry, the cartoonist.

BEARD: This cartoon is yet another example of pervasive anti-billionaire bigotry!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | Comments Off  

Cartoon: Sexist Joke

If you like these cartoons, please support them on Patreon! A $1 pledge really helps.

This cartoon is another collaboration between me and the wonderful Becky Hawkins. As well as political cartoons, Becky and I collaborate on the webcomic SuperButch – hey, did I tell you folks SuperButch won a Prism Award? – and of course please check out Becky’s solo work.

My favorite parts of this cartoon – the extreme perspective in panel 2, the red panel, and the spiral lettering – were all Becky’s ideas.

That’s the best part of collaboration, for me – seeing the ideas that Becky comes up with that I hadn’t even considered when I wrote the script. Becky and I work well together because we think about comics similarly in many ways – but its our dissimilarities I enjoy the most.

This cartoon is about what’s (sometimes derisively) termed “microaggressions.” Quoting Wikipedia: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups. ”

In some ways, microaggressions are actually more stressful to experience than flat-out aggression. For example, if someone yells “hey fatso!” at me out of a passing car, that’s easy for me to categorize and deal with. I give the car the finger, and later on I sneer about it to my friends, who I can be sure will take my side. Microaggressions, on the other hand, are mentally stressful. Should I say something? Will I seem oversensitive if I complain? Will anyone take my side?

That stress – and the time and mental energy microaggressions can cause us to lose – is what this cartoon’s about. For all of my readers who have experienced and been bothered by microaggressions, I hope this cartoon makes you feel a bit seen.


This cartoon has five panels.


We can see five people around a table in a business conference room (although there are probably more people around the table, we’re only seeing part of the table). All the people are wearing business clothes, and there’s a whiteboard at one end of the room, showing a growth chart. There’s a glass of water in front of each person.

At the end of the table, a gray-haired man is standing, addressing the room, grinning as he speaks. Everyone else – all men – is laughing uproariously (there’s a “ha ha ha ha” sound effect). Except for one woman, in the foreground, who is not laughing and looks subtly alarmed. She’s wearing glasses and a pink business blazer.

GRAY HAIR DUDE: They scampered like frightened little girls!

EVERYONE: Ha ha ha ha

GLASSES WOMAN (thought): Oh God that was so sexist what should I do?


The same scene, except now shown in more dramatic perspective, with the woman with glasses in the extreme foreground looking at her colleagues.

GLASSES WOMAN (thought): I could say something but I need my colleagues to like me.


This panel shows the woman’s nervous face, looking straight out at the reader, floating in an abstract face. A spiral of words – her thoughts – are superimposed over her face, going around and around her.

GLASSES WOMAN (thought in a spiral pattern): It was just a joke! I don’t want to see shrill and humorless but this wasn’t the first “joke” … If I speak out would anyone take my side? But it’s not just me, it’s all the women in the office! But I don’t wanna be the office buzzkill. But if I don’t say anything then…


A narrow panel, all in red, shows a very tight close-up of her determined face.

GLASSES WOMAN (thought): I’m gonna say something!


The room is dark. There’s no one in the room but Glasses Woman, who looks surprised, and a woman in a janitor’s uniform who’s mopping the floor.

GLASSES WOMAN: Hey, where’d everyone go?

CUSTODIAN: They went home an hour ago.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | Comments Off  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Riding The Junk Fish Edition

  1. Two recent Democratic party primary series that I’ve found interesting to read (or at least skim). The New York Times did moderate-depth interviews with all the then-still-in-the-race candidates. And Vox has begun a series of articles arguing their best case for each candidate. There are two up so far: The Case For Bernie Sanders and The case for Elizabeth Warren.
  2. Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall | Public Books
    A short, good article about Issac Asimov’s famous habit of groping women around him, and why it wasn’t okay.
  3. Gougers ‘R’ Us: How Private Equity is Gobbling Up Medical Care | The American Conservative
    Private Equity really is the worse – they add no value, just extract money from businesses that are actually productive – and is leading to needlessly higher medical bills.
  4. The Long Long Man series of gum commercials.
    Eleven commercials, forming a single continuous narrative, from a Japanese gum maker announcing its new line of extra-long gum. It’s… amazing.
  5. Largest Art Heist In History Happened in Germany this month | Daily Mail Online
    As far as I can tell, the thieves – who are described as exceptionally small – cut off electricity to the entire building by doing something to an electrical station on a bridge a block away, then broke a small window to crawl into the museum. The museum isn’t sure how they broke the shatter-proof glass of the display cases. Sounds like a heist movie.
  6. Opinion | I Almost Lost My Career Because I Had the Wrong Passport – The New York Times And an alternate link.
    Anti-immigration demagogues in Denmark have successfully made immigrants feel unwelcome – at considerable cost to Denmark.
  7. Brigham Young University to Students on Medicaid: Buy Private Coverage, or Drop Out – The New York Times (Alternate link.)
    Update: In the face of bad publicity and student protests, BYU relented.
  8. A List of Some Terms Used to Describe Genitals in Fanfiction
  9. On perfect communication and the tyranny of “platform responsibility” | Go Make Me a Sandwich
  10. Does Letting Police Enter Your House Give Them Permission To Wreck It? –
    According to the Ninth Circuit court, yes, it does.
  11. William Barr, Donald Trump, and the post-Christian culture wars – Vox
    The Christian Right sees themselves as being oppressively crushed by an endlessly hostile and all-powerful left with no scruples. They’re wrong, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that they really, really believe this.
  12. How ‘The Penis Monologues’ Challenges China’s Toxic Masculinity
    A Chinese play against what we’d call toxic masculinity, inspired by “The Vagina Monologues.”
  13. A Harvard journal’s wild plan to save democracy by adding 127 states – Vox
    Literally nothing in the Constitution prevents Congress from admitting the Obama family’s personal DC residence as a state — a state which would then be entitled to two senators, one member of the House, and exactly as much say on whether the Constitution should be amended as the entire state of Texas.”
  14. This collaboration between a pole dancer and an animator is amazing.
    The great cartoonist Windsor McCay, around 1911, did an act like this, in which he interacted live with an animated dinosaur. But I’m sure that the interaction was not this intricate.
  15. Friends, join me for a pleasant journey into the very tolerant world of Apu fandom
    “We must be unflappable, and if we flap, it’s proof we’re the histrionic, outraged minority lefties they always knew we were.”
  16. A court just blocked Trump’s attempt to slash legal immigration – Vox
    Conservatives are against all immigrants (or at least all non-white immigrants), not just unauthorized immigrants.
  17. The Battle Over E. B. White’s “Stuart Little” | The New Yorker
    The most influential children’s librarian in the country – a woman who literally created the idea of children’s libraries, and who was actually pretty awesome in many ways – hated that little mouse.
  18. Trump’s policies at the border weren’t designed to keep out Mexican asylum seekers — until now – Vox
    “One woman had approached CBP officials at the port in El Paso on three occasions identifying herself as a Mexican asylum seeker, but was turned away. She has a strong asylum case: Cartel members kidnapped her son and told her they would send her his severed head in a cooler if she didn’t pay an extortion fee.”
  19. Canceling | ContraPoints – YouTube
    The vlogger, who was recently “canceled” herself, uploads a looong video with her thoughts on “cancel culture” and her experiences. One thing I liked is that she provides the seeds of a way of distinguishing between cancellation and criticism – in my head-canon, it really shouldn’t be called a cancellation if it doesn’t include at least three of the cancel culture tropes.
  20. Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not? – The New York Times And an alternate link.
  21. Climate change: From the beginning, models have been remarkably accurate – Vox
    Unsurprisingly, the models are better at predicting the physics (outputs) than the “humans” (inputs).
  22. Hieronymus Bosch Butt Music – YouTube
    “Music printed on the butt of one of the tortured souls in the 15th Century Hieronymus Bosch painting ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights,’ played on (What else?) Lute, Harp, and Hurdy-Gurdy by James Spalink.”
  23. Muhammad Ali in a Broadway Musical? It Happened – The New York Times (Alternative link)
    The almost completely forgotten 1969 musical “Buck White.” Only one copy of the script is known to still exist.
  24. Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness
    “This paper reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. […] Individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are much more likely to make a change and are happier six months later than those who were told by the coin to maintain the status quo.”
  25. An American Revolution at Sing Sing – Reasons to be Cheerful
    An in-prison production of the musical 1776.
  26. House Votes to Restore the Voting Rights Act – Mother Jones
    “Although the VRAA has no chance of becoming law this year, the passage of the bill lays the groundwork for Democrats to make voting rights a major legislative priority should they recapture the Senate and the White House in 2020.”
  27. Why Are So Many Evangelicals Okay with David Being a Murderer, But Not a Rapist? | Libby Anne
    Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  28. There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written | Smart News | Smithsonian
  29. St. Marys Kansas and Christian Withdrawal – The Atlantic
    A town in Kansas where the overwhelming majority of residents are members of the right-wing SSPX church. On the one hand, great: People should be able to form communities. On the other hand, it can really suck for non-church-members in town, and especially for children raised there who dissent (or would like to dissent) from the town’s orthodoxy.
  30. Henry Lee Lucas Was Considered America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer. But He Was Really a Serial Liar.
    And a serial killer, too, but with many fewer victims than he claimed.
  31. The corporate poo patrol is coming after your precious toilet time | WIRED UK
    Toilets are being designed to be less comfortable to discourage workers from spending time in the bathroom.
  32. The Grooming Gap: What “Looking the Part” Costs Women – In These Times
    There’s an actual wage penalty for women who buck the (sometimes unsaid) grooming requirements.
  33. Quiz: Which of these 2020 Democrats agrees with you most? – Washington Post
    I wound up with Warren in first, at 15; Sanders and Yang tied for second, at 11; and Biden dead last, at 5.
  34. This post is illustrated with photos of two works by Italian street artist Mr. Thoms, whose website is full of fantastic and surreal paintings.

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