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The humbling power of those cards and letters

Published Oct. 13, 2005

In addition to drawing editorial cartoons in the Times, yours truly also is guilty of a syndicated comic panel called Bent Offerings that appears in newspapers around the country, including this one. One such cartoon, reprinted here, stirred anger in the breast of Edna van der Schelling, who wrote in care of Creators Syndicate from Los Angeles:

"How can you print such an unfeeling & cruel cartoon as you did of Don Addis _ tying the trunk of an elephant to a fence so the owner can go in for a drink? It is grossly cruel . . ."

This woman is upset about cruelty to animals in a cartoon. Has she never seen a Roadrunner animated flick? Are there no Tom and Jerry cartoons in L.A.? It's the elephant that's unfeeling, Edna. He can't feel because he's not real. He's a cartoon. Go do something to save real animals from cruelty.

Besides, have you ever tried to tie a knot in an elephant's trunk? I haven't either, but I'm certain (and any mahout worth a hoot would confirm) if the elephant didn't want you to, you couldn't. I further suspect that the attempt would result in retaliatory activity on the pachyderm's part that might be considered by judgmental persons to be "grossly cruel" to humans.

And it's not a fence, Edna. It's a hitching post.

Yes, we get letters. Often they have a valuable humbling effect. For example, a reader writes to both Robert Friedman and me, "Since both of you are obviously over the hill on your initial expertise, why are you making fools of yourselves by commencing new careers in something you are eminently unqualified." (If you're looking for a question mark on that question, it must have gone the way of the preposition we also were expecting.)

On another occasion, that same reader scolded fellow cartoonist Clay Bennett and me for our stance against "scientific creationism" _ the shameless attempt to sneak fundamentalist religion into the classroom disguised in a lab coat. Mr. M of Hudson writes: "Addis depicts more a mirror of his stupidity than that of those he attempts to ridicule." He further suggests that Bennett and I have attained "the depth of cheap and evil journalism." Sweet talk will get you nowhere with this old mirror depicter, Mr. M _ but it often reduces Clay to clay.

One becomes accustomed to harsh words from readers who disagree strongly, but none are more humbling than those that begin like this one did: "Dear Sirs, This comment is directed to Mr. Dick Addis . . ."

You want crazy? I'll give you crazy: In Louisiana, a judge ruled that it's okay for the state to force drugs on an insane prisoner to make him "competent" for execution. You say that's not crazy enough for you?

The Supreme Court said it was okay as long as it's "in the prisoner's best interest." Is that crazy enough for you?

What do you suppose is the thinking behind this curious perspective? Is it that there's no point in killing the guy if he's not lucid enough for it to be a lesson to him? Is it that it's no fun for the inflictors if the inflictee isn't feeling terror? Why is it okay to kill him while he's drugged but not okay while he's insane? Either way, his mind isn't his. And once it's done, how is a dead competent brain distinguishable from a dead insane brain?

Forgive my ignorance of jurisprudence and all that, but I can't see how the condemned man's competence is essential to his execution. It's not as though he played a vital supervisory role in the procedure.

Bulletin: A new study tells us that smoking may increase facial wrinkling. Well, I should think so. Especially when you get a spark in your eye.

Bulletin II: Another study says the job market is biased against black men. (I'm sure we all needed a study to tell us that.) I wonder how many of the poll takers were black.

Some say they can see the face of Jesus in a forkful of spaghetti on a Pizza Hut billboard in Georgia. I hear the "miracle" has resulted in a theological rift between the thin-and-crispy and the thick-and-chewy Pasta-terians.

A man in Kuwait was sentenced to 15 years for wearing a T-shirt with Saddam Hussein's picture on it. And you thought Mr. Blackwell was a stern fashion critic.

No one really believes there's a state-level sex scandal behind that "body" that was found in Tallahassee _ the one that turned out to be an inflatable party doll. But police say it took only minutes for A Current Affair to show up, seize upon the party doll and blow it all out of proportion.

The town library in Huntington, Ind., has established an exhibit of Dan Quayle memorabilia. In a similar vein, Leland, Miss., is opening a Muppet Museum.

Fathers in Jordan are banned from attending their daughters' sports events because, I guess, they might get a glimpse of stocking. If they were any more prudish about sex over there, you'd think they were in America.

In Quito, Ecuador, four former nuns with 22 pounds of cocaine hidden under their habits were arrested by authorities who noticed they were walking funny. Sounds fine as far as it goes, but several innocent penguins were arrested in the same roundup.

Don Addis is a cartoonist for the St. Petersburg Times.