The Problem Of The Missionary


It isn’t that we don’t really want peace, you know. It’s just we don’t really want to be bothered by someone talking about it, since we figure that’s got to end up with being asked for money or, worse, effort. So, thanks for your card but we’re going to have to tell you we’re just not interested in peace. And that’s horrible because right after you admit you aren’t interested in peace you have to start saying things like how you’re opposed to puppies or you think that the Cowardly Lion needs to be taken down a couple pegs. This is why we need to get better at hiding under the table when people start looking interested in us, that’s all there is to it.

Advertisements

Comics and, well, more comics


Over on my mathematics blog is another review of comic strips that touch mathematics themes, including one joke that I didn’t get at the time and a commenter had to explain to me. If you’re not so interested in that, then, Working Daze has over the past couple weeks continued with its mock history, bringing the strip closer to the present and to comics that people who aren’t steeped in the field’s lore are more likely to recognize.

Finally, Peter Maresca’s Origins of the Sunday Comics last week had a bit of a novelty, a bit of W W Denslow-illustrated, L Frank Baum-written adventure of Dorothy in Oz. It’s hard to explain quite how big Oz was, when it originally came out; I’ve heard it argued that the worldwide fame of Harry Potter is the only thing that comes close, and that seems plausible enough. This is a bit of that enormous early influence. I’m sorry the text is hard to read, but I haven’t any control over that. If you hold the cursor over the middle of the comic, once it’s loaded, you should get an icon of a magnifying glass that lets you zoom in so it’s at least a little less awfully compressed, but it could still be better.

Peaceful Holiday Seasons


I don’t know if it’s just the Internet circles I move in but I’ve seen a lot less whining this year that Kwanzaa is merely an invented holiday, unlike (say) Columbus Day or Valentine’s Day or Flag Day or the like which are logical necessities for the universe to exist and which would be independently created by any society capable of developing a calendar. I’m glad for that. Whining about holidays is beneath people.

But I noticed Ray Billingsley’s comic strip Curtis hasn’t so far started its normal Kwanzaa storyline where the strip tries telling some kind of fable instead of its usual business. He was sick this year and maybe didn’t have the energy for it. But is it possible that the lack of a Kwanzaa fable for the end of the year’s Curtis comics has altered the national conversation about holidays to a much more pleasant, less annoying tone?

No, of course not. I have trouble believing Curtis drives the conversation on the Curtis comic strip fan sites, much less the world at large. But these two things happened so obviously there’s some link.

Fear of What Have You


I don’t know when it was online advertising figured that the biggest possible selling point was to show a picture of nobody particular and declare that some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him. I’d like to know how this got to be so popular; I imagine someone went around to advertising agencies saying marketing directors feared him. Now I saw one that says grocery stores fear him, and I just can’t help but think: boy, there seems to be some kind of subject/verb disagreement in “… some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him”. All my normal methods of studying this don’t seem to give me a satisfying answer. If I strike “like auto insurers” then the sentence reads perfectly well, but I want to put some example in, and the proximity of “insurers” and “fears” looks like a number mismatch even if I keep reassuring myself that it isn’t, and that’s keeping me up nights. But I can’t change that to say it’s “an auto insurer” fearing him because I don’t know an auto insurer that fears him. I don’t even know who he is. I feel like I should take the sentence out back and diagram it. I’m scared to try.

I’m Thinking Of The Days


I had a reputation as a calendar-giver, based on something like fourteen years in a row going by in which I figure that a calendar just the appropriate gift to give about three-quarters of the people I want to gift with something or other, mostly calendars. I’m not one of those johnny-come-latelies who’s gotten into giving out calendars because all the cool kids are. I gave them out because I have a deep belief that the people I care most deeply about could use a little more warning about just when this year April is expected to start and end.

What’s got me thinking about this is I was in one of those odd little shops, that only exists in malls in November and December, that sells calendars and special editions of the board game Sorry, and it had a calendar of animals telling jokes. Not one of those page-a-day calendars where someone had worked up 365 jokes that could be matched with photographs of animals, or even one of those chintzy ones where they combine Saturday and Sunday and only give you approximately 313 of them. It was a monthly calendar. One of the jokes, coming from a pig, asked what you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons. Answer: pork chops.

The calendar fascinates me. Who’s the person who wants a calendar which will, for not less than 28 days running, taunt you with the question “what do you get from a pig that’s taking karate lessons” and the answer “pork chops”? The first day, sure, you smile as broadly as anyone ever would. The second day, maybe a bit of a grin. The third, it registers as a kind of cute picture of a pig, I guess, with some text creeping around it. The fourth, you start to wonder what color belt the pig’s got to. The fifth, it’s now a question of how the pig would even tie the belt? Or would he have someone to do the belt-tying for him? Is it a him? Are boy or girl pigs more likely to take carate lessons? The sixth, you realize you spent all day yesterday treating the problem of pig karate as if it were serious and probably drove right past the turn for home three times before getting it right.

Oh, sure, you can give the calendar to a little kid who’s too young to be driving and that avoids the issue on the sixth, but that just means whoever’s responsible for the kid is going to have to answer whether the pig in the picture wanted to take karate lessons and, if so, was it just for the fun of it or was it because of bullies in the farmyard. Maybe it is. Then you’re going to have to explain why the farmer puts up with bullies, and that’s going to lead to questions about whether they’re doing it to impress the cows, and the question of why they aren’t called cowies, and you don’t really have a good answer to that. The English language is able to attach a diminutive ending to any word that’s got an ending, so why should it step briskly back from a cowie? Before long you’d be peeking ahead to the next month hoping it’s something blissfully simple like a sheep making a pun on “ewe” but then someone has to explain why that isn’t pronounced “eewiee” and that’s exactly what you were hoping to not explain.

If this had been a joke-a-day calendar I’d understand, since by the time you’d got to being haunted by the implications of the pork chop joke you’d have had four or five other gags about fish schools or owls asking who’s there and cow astronomers discovering the Milky Way to crowd them out of your mind. But this presentation just sits on you and makes you think about it and keep on thinking about it.

On the other hand, the joke isn’t going to be there more than 31 days, unless you lose so much interest in continuing to live that you never advance the calendar again, in which case the karate pig probably isn’t the real issue. So maybe it’s for people who want to be haunted by these kinds of problems but not indefinitely.

Explaining The Angles


I’ve been working on a biography of Donald Coxeter, one of the most important geometers of the 20th century. I mean reading it, since the hard work of writing it was already done by someone else (Siobhan Roberts), and the even harder work of being an important geometer of the 20th century was done by another person entirely (Donald Coxeter). Mine is really the easiest part except for the people who aren’t reading it, who can do that anytime and from anywhere. Anyway, I’d run across some of his work in references to H M S Coxeter, and a careful examination of the first paragraph pointed out that “Donald” is not one of the leading names with an initial H, M, or S.

Anyway, Roberts explains that Donald’s parents wanted to call him Donald, and they did, but “the birth certificate recorded his first name officially as MacDonald, after his father’s father”. Fine and/or dandy. His mother added “Scott” to honor another relative, and a godparent suggested that he should have his father’s name of Harold, too, and that’s why he was Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter.

And I just admire how very much that looks as if it explained the situation.

The Stormy Gift-giving Season


Weather Underground sees a temperature of NA Fahrenheit and -9999 Celsius for Lansing.

I like relying on weatherunderground.com for checking on weather, and it doesn’t usually mislead me, apart form a little stretch the other day when the temperature was NA Fahrenheit (or -9999 Celsius). The other day one of their little side ads suggested, “Give a friend the gift of weather”. Now I’m considering ordering for myself something small and cheap, maybe a late-morning fog or one of those odd little flashes of lightning you sometimes get as you’re trying to go to sleep and that isn’t accompanied by thunder or a storm or even other flashes of lightning. I don’t need them, obviously, but I’m dying to know how they’re packaged. I have to suppose in something non-conductive and resistant to moistness, but there’s literally two or three kinds of package like that.

Thinking Thoughts


So if people are going to be doing all this thinking, they’re most often doing their thinking with their heads, at least according to idiom. Sometimes they’ll do the thinking with their hearts. Some people will go a littler farther and do their thinking with their bellies. There are one or two other organs that get to do thinking sometimes, but there’s still a whole universe of body parts that don’t seem to get to do any thinking done. When have you met someone who’s noted for doing his thinking with his wrist, and is it for anything besides grasping onto stuff such as jars and bolt cutters? Or how about doing his thinking with his knees, which probably marks a person who does a lot less squatting than the rest of us? Does anyone think with their fingernails? If they do, is it in favor of itching, so fingernails get to be useful for scratching purposes, or against itching so as to get a break?

What The Pac-Mummy Teaches Me


I won’t detail the series of several independent events that lead me to looking up plot summaries for the Pac-Man cartoon that Hanna-Barbera made back in the early 80s when apparently they were just going to see what they could possibly animate before someone called them on it. Wikipedia’s got a summary of the various episodes, and some of them I remember, usually because I had serious qualms about the soundness of evil villain Mezmaron’s time-travel logic or was disturbed by the environmental implications of stuffing every Power Pellet from the Power Pellet Forest in the cargo bay of the space shuttle only for Pac-Man to eat every single one of them, even though I now couldn’t give you the full name of the kid who lived across the street from us for six years.

Some of the episodes I’ve forgotten, though, such as the one summarized as episode number 26:

26 “The Pac-Mummy” December 18, 1982

The Mezmaron discovers a mummy, so he uses it to kidnap Pepper and Pac-Baby.

Anyway, thanks to that “so”, now I have a new favorite sentence.

Making Years Without A Santa Claus


Like most people do this time of year we’ve been watching Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials and trying to figure out more of how the whole Rankin/Bass Christmasverse works together. But we were on The Year Without A Santa Claus yesterday and noticed that a lot of Mickey Rooney’s dialogue as Santa is various grunts and groans and aching and paining about, which fits the whole plot about calling Christmas off because he’s too grumpy this year.

Thing is that’s got us wondering about the voice recording sessions. Did Mickey Rooney just do his dialogue for every scene in order, including his grunts about his aching ball joins and whatnot, as they came, or did they crowd all those into a single afternoon of recording Mickey Rooney go “Oooh. Owww. Ugh. Argh”? And, did he get all the groans down in one take, or did the director have to say stuff like, “OK, Mickey, that was great but could you do that round of grunting again, this time with maybe a hint of the agony from suspecting that somewhere there might be a mouse writing bad stuff about you in the local newspaper? How many feet of recording tape are nothing but out-takes of Santa groans? And who has possession of that Santa groan out-take tape today? What are they keeping it for? What do they intend to do with it?

To borrow a phrase, these are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

The Slippery Slope


According to Reuters, a District Court judge has ordered a cargo ship with 110,000 cartons of overripe bananas held in port while Del Monte Fresh Produce and the Seatrade Group argue about whose fault it is the bananas spoiled on the way from Guatemala to Gloucester City, New Jersey. This is an argument going on in court, so please don’t think Judge Robert Kugler was just overhearing big corporations squabbling and figuring he could get in on the action. They brought him into this.

Still, why keep all the bananas around? Everybody involved seems to agree they’re spoiled, and they’re not going to get any less spoiled waiting in harbor. I’d expect the spoiled-ness of the bananas to be taken as given and then sent to wherever bad bananas go, or at least to bad banana purgatory. I have to figure Judge Kugler wants the bananas for himself and has something in mind, and keeping the bananas in port is just a means to the end. My guess is he’s arranging to have Delaware slip and fall right on the Twelve-Mile Circle.

Is This A Bad Impression?


Making impressions is important, because reputation is the modern currency, the old currency of getting paid having been discontinued when employers found out they were expected to do the paying. So I want to talk about how to tell if you’re making a bad impression. And I have to explain that I’m talking about the impression you make on a hypothetical person who hasn’t got any fixed properties, including existence. Thing is I’m sticking to the male pronouns for this person not because I don’t think women can be hypothetical but because when I read this over, imagining me having these interactions with someone female, it comes across as pretty skeevy. I’m trying to make a less skeevy impression.

  • On meeting him, did you leap into his arms? Exuberance is nice, but to be done successfully you have to make sure you’re leaping into a load-bearing set of arms. To be on the safe side wait until you meet this person’s fork lift and then jump onto its … uh … the things out front that actually do the lifting, because those are considerably stronger. (See, right away this is trouble, since imagining me leaping into anyone’s arms is trouble but with a guy it might be hijinks and with a woman it comes across as battery.)
  • Do you wait for him to tell a joke before you laugh? Or do you just trust that he wouldn’t have paused if he weren’t telling a joke? I know it’s hard when you meet someone to both listen and not explode in panic at having to talk with someone, but, you don’t want to focus so much on not breaking into a panic that you have no idea what’s been said. He might have just asked, say, “Did you know they had filmed part of William McKinley’s inauguration?” and laughing just then will make him think you know how to spell Leon Czolgosz.
  • Did you throw up on him? In fact, did you have any body-produced fluids or semi-fluids emerge onto him except in a clearly defined context, such as you were giving blood in a process what required he smear it on his face or something like that? If you have this will probably count against you, even if it was to a greater purpose such as your showing off your prowess in washing other people off. (You see why I don’t want this hypothetical person to be female. You can throw up on guys and have it be just in the spirit of a merry little jest, until they start punching anyway.)
  • Did he catch you stealing his iPhone? There are very few times in a relationship when you can steal the other person’s consumer electronics without it leaving at least some impression of you being a mean-spirited sort. This goes double when you’re first meeting, because whatever kind of person you might be in the long haul just isn’t obvious. If you’ve got to swipe anything, don’t get caught, or if you just can’t do without, then get caught stealing his BlackBerry.
  • On meeting him, did you stare wide-eyed, murmur inaudibly, and then flee to behind a nearby wall? If you did, was it through a door or other partition or did you just break through the drywall? If it wasn’t drywall, then was it plaster you broke through? Any of these are likely to leave a bad impression, unless you were trying to establish yourself as an expert in tool-free demolition work. There’s only a small market for that, and it’s fiercely competitive what with tool-free demolishers being able to run into each other and knock each other down, so he would probably understand your trying to make an impression. Whether you want to do spec work before even the possibility of a contract is discussed is something you have to talk about with everyone on your tool-free demolition freelancers web forum, because then you can get into tedious arguments about how whatever it was you did is just wrong. The murmuring is probably a mistake too. (See, this one feels worse imagining the other person being hypothetically female.)

You know, actually, this whole thing is coming across as a mistake. I think I’m giving people the impression I’m always worried I’ll do ludicrously absurd things as if I had absolutely no control over what my body was doing at any moment. I probably shouldn’t even let you see this. I’m sorry. Please don’t think worse of me.

Silent Comedies: The Mechanic (1924)


I’d like to offer another silent comedy bit today, so, let me offer The Mechanic, from 1924, starring Jimmy Aubrey, who I admit I don’t know much about. Wikipedia offers that he worked with Charlie Chaplin and with Laurel & Hardy, but that’s not so distinguishing a set of properties as you might think as Chaplin, Laurel, and Aubrey worked for Fred Karno. Karno was one of the leading producers for music hall performances, and brought quite a few of the greats of British stage comedy to British and to American attention, and so is one of the basic links to use if you need to connect any early 20th century stage performers. (And maybe later ones: Wikipedia delights me by noting that Karno’s houseboat, the Astoria, is still afloat at Hampton, Middlesex, where Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour uses it as a recording studio.)

The Mechanic is at archive.org, although it’s obviously not complete: credits, particularly, are missing, and if someone cut scenes from the reel before archive.org got hold of it I wouldn’t know. The jokes are stagy and somewhat padded, I admit, but the timing of jokes, particularly slapstick ones, has gotten generally much faster over the decades. The short, like many silents, also has the distracting value that if you look away from the action you can see actual Los Angeles of that time, and for that matter just the view of a garage back in the days when garages might be called things like Gasoline Alley are interesting. On archive.org the film is in two bits, a fifteen-minute main sequence and for some reason thirteen seconds that didn’t quite fit. Embedded below ought to be a YouTube copy of the first portion of this, and I trust you can find the last quarter-minute.

What is the Draconitic Cycle?


In my reading I just came across a mention that the moon has something called the draconitic cycle, or sometimes, the draconitic period (or “draconic” if someone is getting all tense about “draconitic” as a word). The term is a bit of a holdover from medieval astronomy, when everybody was worried all the time that an eclipse might sneak up on them, and so you can see the use in a term which represents how long it takes between successive passages of the moon through its ascending node. Really, it’s amazing they thought they needed to name that at all; surely the idea of successive passages through the ascending node is so common that it barely needs a word, the way we express such concepts as “       ” or “      ” or even “        ” by leaving a gap hanging in our conversations and just waving our arms frantically at people who don’t know what we’re going on about. Anyway, it picked up the name “draonitic cycle” just as you might expect, by astronomers watching the skies night after night to see how long it takes the Moon to be run over by a bicycle, which took until about 1890. Before then bicycles were just those hilarious things with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one that you could ride for parts of a second before tipping over and falling down. The cycles are much quicker these days.

Around the House


I don’t want you all to be too intimidated by my general handiness but in the last couple of months I’ve done all sorts of useful stuff around the house, including fixing plywood boards to other pieces of wood with nothing but an electric screwdriver to help me, and getting some stuck window screens un-stuck and storm windows put in their place. It’s got me feeling pretty good about all this. I’ve reached the point that I’m doing enough handy stuff around the house that I worry I haven’t got enough safety equipment so people who glance at me doing stuff know I’m serious. Oh, I’ve got safety goggles and work gloves, sure, but what if a fire should break out? Shouldn’t I be carrying a little fire extinguisher around?

No, of course not. If I managed to set something on fire while getting the screens out of the window frame it would be because I was showing off somehow, and I would deserve the fire damage that resulted. I don’t think it’s even possible to set window screens on fire just by taking them out of the windows, at least not since they ended the production of “Lucifer” grade screens soaked in white phosphorous and prone to exploding into flame when they’re just called harsh names. The modern safety window screen needs to be struck against a piece of sandpaper to burst into fire, and that’s easily protected against because I don’t remember where we left the sandpaper.

Weather Forecast Now Just Messing With Me


So it’s going to be sunny and in the mid-teens tonight, dropping to dark and snowy after sunset, following which it’ll be snowy before sunrise and rise to the low 20s, after which it’s going to pop up to the upper 50s with three to eight feet of snow, then back down to single digits with intermittent rains of ghost dolphins using bow-and-arrow to chase down homoiousian heretics, and then everybody just giving up and staying under the electric blanket. Going to be a heck of a week.

From My Visit To Dream Canada


Somewhere along the border, the long latitudinal part anyway, there’s this remarkably charming monument to the spot where, apparently, my brain thinks in that some enormously long-running story which in the X-Men backstory started just after World War II, got started. It’s even labelled as the point where some kind of WorldPlot began, whatever that is. It’s also got a nice map showing all the nations of the world which came together — Canada, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Australia, China, really, a whole lot of the world and 44 of the 48 United States (as I remember, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon prominently refused to participate) — for whatever this purpose was. Made for an inspiring map of countries and states outlined in a pleasant blue.

Mind you, the historical marker maps are just offensively overpriced. I don’t know what WorldPlot is, exactly, but the park isn’t that big and there’s no way that it’s worth C$45.99 to have a pamphlet that explains it all. Maybe the park is just a big fundraising scam for whatever the WorldPlot is, I don’t know, but you’d think after nearly seventy years they’d be done with it already. Anyway, there’s lots of other things nice about Dream Canada, probably, but I had to get up.

Also, in the Comics


Again over on my mathematics blog is a gathering of some comics that mention mathematics themes and some elaboration on the topics they’ve got into, at least when they inspire something. The allegation that one never uses algebra in real life doesn’t really inspire much to me and kind of makes me wonder if the cartoonist feels inspired. I mean, when I think of a joke that seems particularly clever I feel this wonderful thrill of invention and cleverness as well as giggling at my own joke; does anyone get that when they have the idea to make a character say “I haven’t needed algebra since I left eighth grade”? If not, why do they even do it?

Meanwhile, the comic strip Working Daze has advanced its mock history into the 1970s and once again had one of its former cartoonists get fired and die in apparent professional misery. I’m sure that doesn’t signify anything.

Rewritten by machine and new technology


To Whom It May Concern
YouTube Master Command
I’m Guessing Somewhere At Google, Maybe You Could Look Up Where, Thanks
Googleopolis, GO 900913

Dear May,

Sorry to give bad news but someone’s pretending to be you in e-mail, and maybe you’re not all that worried about this but you might want to check and see if someone’s sneaking in to YouTube Master Command after hours and messing around. Business experts estimate that nearly two-thirds of all corporate collapses are initiated by someone sneaking into Master Command after hours and messing around, so, just think about what your people are doing.

The e-mail, by the way, claims I got it because I indicated I was willing to receive occasional YouTube product-related mail. I’m willing to suppose that I actually have signed up for this, I guess because if found some way of watching videos that’s different to watching videos I’d find that interesting. For example, if you found some way to embed them subcutaneously as tattoos then I’d want to know that fact. While I might not be interested in having one, I could imagine thinking about getting a video embedded for example in the arch of my foot, so I could be endlessly walking on something, and selecting the correct video to endlessly step on could make for small talk at a party that’s gotten a little bit odd if it’s reached in-foot-video levels.

Also I don’t deny that the end of the year is an occasion, although it’s a little bit early to be calling this the end of the year and how do we know there aren’t going to be ten really big surprise hits over the next three weeks, mm? So that tipped me off there’s something fishy here. If they’d sent me it from a YouTube.co.uk address they might have claimed the occasion was it being 11/12/13, but obviously, that didn’t happen.

The e-mail congratulated me for being among the first twenty percent of people to discover one of the top ten trending videos of 2013. Yes, it was that “What Does The Fox Say?” video, which as of Tuesday afternoon had a recorded 518,6872,4316,47634,130506,4105 views. It’s had so many views they can’t even write the number in three-digit groups anymore, I know. And sure I saw it. It’s just there’s not any chance that I was in the first twenty percent of the world to see it.

See, I have not ever been among the first twenty percent of people in on any Internet thing. I’m lucky to be in the first 90 percent of people. Remember the “Where’re you gonna see lions? Only in Ken-ya” video? I learned of it when friends started sending me goofy parodies like the one where people in lion pajamas danced around to imitate the original video and they wondered what was wrong with me that I wasn’t laughing at all this. I first encountered “I Can Has Cheeseburger” when the captions were being stuffed into the discount books at Borders. I still haven’t even heard of River Tam.

My problem is that I’m a square. This isn’t some pose or affectation, thank you. I come by my squareness honestly: it’s the result of a lot of work spent trying to impose right angles on my natural rhomboid state. I have an almost supernatural ability to not be with whatever’s current. I’m still on Usenet, for crying out loud. I use terms like “square” or “pert near” or “hep” without a trace of ironic affection but just because they seem like the best ways to express myself, sad as that is, and I’m trying to get “twelvemonth” and “inst” back into English.

I don’t mind people who are all hep like I have never been and will never be. Many of them are quite pleasant and forgiving of my obliviousness, or they’re keeping me around because I’m cute to chuckle over, watching the with-it people the helpless way a guinea pig might stare at a heated debate in Model United Nations. I’m just not among them and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.

Anyway, all told, YouTube Master Command, someone is apparently going around sending fibbing letters to people about their watching “What Does The Fox Say”. I don’t know what you should do about fibbing like this, but you should do that now. Thank you.

             Yrs pert near truly,
             Joseph Nebus

Robert Benchley: Opera Synopses III


[ And now let me finish off Robert Benchley’s Opera synopses with the third part, “Lucy de Lima”, taken again from Love Conquers All. Obviously I’ll have to find something completely different to do for next Thursday. The first part of this ran two weeks ago. ]

LUCY DE LIMA

Scene: Wales.

Time: 1700 (Greenwich).

Cast

William Wont, Lord of Glennnn Basso
Lucy Wagstaff, his daughter Soprano
Bertram, her lover Tenor
Lord Roger, friend of Bertram. Soprano
Irma, attendant to Lucy Basso
Friends, Retainers and Members of the local Lodge of Elks.

Argument

“Lucy de Lima,” is founded on the well-known story by Boccaccio of the same name and address.

ACT I

Gypsy Camp Near Waterbury.—The gypsies, led by Edith, go singing through the camp on the way to the fair. Following them comes Despard, the gypsy leader, carrying Ethel, whom he has just kidnapped from her father, who had previously just kidnapped her from her mother. Despard places Ethel on the ground and tells Mona, the old hag, to watch over her. Mona nurses a secret grudge against Despard for having once cut off her leg and decides to change Ethel for Nettie, another kidnapped child. Ethel pleads with Mona to let her stay with Despard, for she has fallen in love with him on the ride over. But Mona is obdurate.

ACT 2

The Fair.—A crowd of sightseers and villagers is present. Roger appears, looking for Laura. He can not find her. Laura appears, looking for Roger. She can not find him. The gypsy queen approaches Roger and thrusts into his hand the locket stolen from Lord Brym. Roger looks at it and is frozen with astonishment, for it contains the portrait of his mother when she was in high school. He then realizes that Laura must be his sister, and starts out to find her.

ACT 3

Hall in the Castle.—Lucy is seen surrounded by every luxury, but her heart is sad. She has just been shown a forged letter from Stewart saying that he no longer loves her, and she remembers her old free life in the mountains and longs for another romp with Ravensbane and Wolfshead, her old pair of rompers. The guests begin to assemble for the wedding, each bringing a roast ox. They chide Lucy for not having her dress changed. Just at this moment the gypsy band bursts in and Cleon tells the wedding party that Elsie and not Edith is the child who was stolen from the summer-house, showing the blood-stained derby as proof. At this, Lord Brym repents and gives his blessing on the pair, while the fishermen and their wives celebrate in the courtyard.

Ben Turpin: Mr Flip


I haven’t the time to be entertaining on my own today, so let me instead point you to Ben Turpin’s 1909 short feature Mr. Flip. It’s got a lot of what you imagine to see in silent comedies, including what Wikipedia credits as the first filmed pie-in-the-face gag. I certainly accept that it’s an early one, since the pie-in-the-face isn’t framed very well or set up as clearly as it probably would be if the director, “Broncho Billy” Anderson (who played three roles in The Great Train Robbery), or Ben Turpin realized they were producing the first filmed instance of such a slapstick icon. (It’s in the final scene, at about 3:35 into the action.)

Ben Turpin achieved his greatest fame in Mack Sennett comedies and if his face looks familiar it’s probably because, well, it’s a very distinctive face and you probably saw him in clips from the Sennett shorts.

As before, the Archive.org link above is probably going to be a lasting URL, but it’s easier to embed from YouTube so here’s that.

Further From Ohio


I guess I’m wondering now, if I needed to fly from White Plains, New York, to Akron, Ohio, on some day other than January 6th, would United Airlines be enthusiastic about it? Maybe if I picked the correct day I’d see not just the online system giving me my ticket reservation, but the person who lurks behind the system — the one normally deciding when to just give you a page that’s got all the headers and footers and navigation menus and advertisements but a blank page where the search results come up — suddenly wakes up and e-mails me a note of deep gratitude that someone’s asking for the travel. Perhaps they’ve been sitting around United Airlines Secret Command, fretting that nobody’s going to take them up on the prospect of flying to Akron on, say, January 7th, and the first person who makes such a reservation will be greeted as royalty. “Here,” says the flight attendant as the flyer boards, “We brought out a warm bathrobe just for you, and you don’t even have to turn off your iPhone while we take off.” That’s how grateful they’d be on the 7th. But the 6th? Absolutely not. That’s a day where they bring out the whole flight crew to kick you in the shins. Seems only fair.

Georges Melies: Le Melomane


I’d like to put forth another amusing short film from Georges Méliès, this one titled Le Mélomane. It’s another amusing bit of playing with stop-motion and multiple-exposure animation, which is impressive stuff considering the film was made 110 years ago, and all the more impressive when you realize: wait, this was made 110 years ago. Méliès did effects like this mostly in-camera, without edits; to do a multiple-exposure shot he would wind the camera backwards the correct number of frames, meaning he counted the number of frames he needed for each bit of action, and simply shoot again. This has the side effect of making the multiple exposures a little ghostly in effect, but to me, that just makes it all the more amazing that he does this.

As with these, there’s a link to archive.org which ought to be good for, well, archival purposes, but I can’t figure how to embed the film from that. So here’s the video embedded by YouTube, which is easier to see today but might be broken sometime in the future:

Flight To Ohio


While looking for schemes to fly around the holidays I discovered that United Airlines is willing to fly me, or possibly anyone, from White Plains, New York, to Akron, Ohio, on January 6th, leaving at 7:36 am and arriving at 3:24 pm, for only $883. Of course it’s not nonstop. For that kind of cash you’re lucky they’re landing at all instead of just circling around Akron, pointing it out to you, and laughing as they sail off to Louisville.

That’s intrigued me. United appears to believe that there are people who need to get from White Plains to Akron on the first Monday of the new year so desperately that they’ll pay nearly a thousand dollars for the privilege. Or else United really, really hates the idea of getting up in the morning, for which I can’t blame them, although they’re the ones who don’t think they could just get started two hours later and let people get into Akron in time for dinner. Maybe United is trying to insult one of the towns, but in that case, is it White Plains or Akron they’re being snarky about? I’m guessing it’s not White Plains, given how that municipality has such convenient access to Rye Playland, but beating up on Akron seems just mean-spirited. Maybe it’s January 6th that they’re trying to insult, supposing that the day has too much going for it and needs to be taken down a peg?

I wonder how many people are taking them up on the offer. Will the people who do gather in the lounge at White Plains Something Or Other Airport and swap stories about what’s in Akron that’s worth nearly a thousand dollars, eight hours of travel time, and a stop in O’Hare for. “I dunno,” I imagine their saying, “Just wasn’t hep enough for the flight from Binghamton to Moline, Illinois, I suppose.”

Thinking About Rifftrax’s Queen of Snow Bees


Like over twelve but under eighty million people nationwide I was at the Rifftrax Live movie theater thingy to see people who own cars and houses make fun of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which included this short feature Santa and the Snow Fairy Queen. The Rifftrax guys explained that the Snow Fairy Queen was from some Germanic folklore and she was the Queen of Snowflakes that Look Like Bees. I don’t dispute that there are snowflakes that look like bees, for sufficient definitions of look like and bees and snowflakes. It’s just the specificity of the queendom here that captures my imagination.

I admit I grew up with pretty pedestrian fairy tale habits, mostly getting what I could out of the Fractured Fairy Tale segments on Bullwinkle, which was mostly different ways they did Rumpelstiltskin, who in the proper original fairy tale just gets cheated, and lots and lots and lots of versions of Sleeping Beauty. But while I’d imagined that sure, you needed a fairy queen of snowflakes, the idea of partitioning them into (at minimum!) Snowflakes That Look Like Bees as well as Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees was something I just didn’t see coming. I don’t doubt that it comes from an actual fairy tale because who could possibly make that up? I mean, other than the person who made up the fairy tale?

Unless they got it from someone with a vested interest in the borders of the Fairy Queendom Of Snowflakes That Look Like Bees. If it was that, then, was it someone who was happy with the snowflake situation, or was it some anti-Looking-Like-Bee irredentist who was promulgating the propaganda campaign to establish a casus belli for an invasion from the Fairy Queendom of Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees? Or vice-versa? We’d need specialists to say.

Just Like It Turned Out


And now the weekend forecast:

Friday. Highs in the upper 200s, Kelvin, or the lower negative 40s in one of those freak temperature scales almanacs say exist but can’t cite for actually being used by anyone but the freak temperature scale inventor. You can get into a good argument about whether “freak” refers to the scale or the inventor over on Usenet group alt.weird.mensuration over in the thriving Usenet community of 1997.

Friday evening. Nagging showers find their focus, indeed their point in life, by getting to the question of whether you’ve got snow tired put on the garage for the winter haul. They won’t be sated by how a garage really doesn’t need snow tires except as an attractive accessory, since most fixed structures — whether attached or detached — have given up their nomadic ways and need very little traction power. Such is life.

Saturday Morning. Even if you were to wake up and even if you found any cartoons playing you won’t recognize any of them, and any attempts to complain about this would be met with your friends insisting the cartoons you used to watch weren’t any good anyway, not even the Looney Tunes, which were from the later years they were boring. Some friends. Skip it.

Saturday. Probability of more than 40 percent that you’ll sit bolt-upright in bed, realizing that you finally have the epilogue scene for that roman-à-clef you were writing back fifteen years ago when you were just out of college. While the original manuscript is now lost somewhere in an avalanche of 3.5″ discs all labelled “Saved Civ II Games” (look for the one where you keep a little Aztec colony intact on Madagascar just so you can finish the spaceship instead of conquering the Earth in 1787), you can still open up a fresh document and start typing your great closer:

Fifteen years out of college, Protagonist [ you don’t remember what exactly he was named but he probably had some name that should go there; anyway, that’s what you have editors for ] was lazing about one Saturday morning when he sat bolt-upright in bed realizing, “I could just look up what `roman-à-clef’ means!” He clapped his hands together, smiled to himself, and fell back into the pillows and the blankets that were oh, so warm. So very warm. So embracing.

However, you won’t, because you’ll almost certainly fall back into bed where it’s so warm and easy to let that novel wait until some better time to deal with it.

Saturday Night. The nagging rain turns on its heels and goes up to its room, slamming the door on its way. This is because it’s going through a phase, the Moon promises, and it should outgrow it soon enough. This little white lie covers up the fact that it can’t possibly be outgrown soon enough. When the rain emerges it’s switched over to a passive-aggressive layer of fine volcanic soot, but only because it wants attention. Pay it no heed.

Sunday Morning. Disturbing dreams seem to be a recollection that you don’t have an editor for your roman-à-clef anyway, or if you did, you forgot where you left him. 25 percent chance you’ll jot down a note to check exactly what you did leave in that storage locker you moved away from back in 2007, but won’t be able to read it when you wake up. In fact they reflect a high-pressure front moving in, bringing along those little solid lines with triangles pointing out on the weather maps.

Sunday. An abnormal mid-day low is reached when you put a $10 in the automated car wash machine and don’t get any change, and don’t get a car wash except for the initial spray of water as you drive in, and the cashier inside the gas station insists that it can’t possibly have taken your money because you’re just supposed to enter codes there. Best remedies include using the giant sized mugs for hot chocolate mixed with marshmallows and whipped cream or just kicking the back of the garage until it rolls down the driveway a little.

Sunday Night. The nagging rain shifts over to a petty, snarky bundle of attitude that’s really funny for the first couple minutes and then leaves you feeling kind of hollow. Let it pass.

Robert Benchley: Opera Synopses II


[ Since the first of Robert Benchley’s Soap Opera synopses last week was reasonably well-received, let me follow up with the next from Love Conquers All. It’s some lighthearted fun, and should let me break in this new theme I’m trying out in place of Clean Home. ]

IL MINNESTRONE

(PEASANT LOVE)

Scene: Venice and Old Point Comfort.

Time: Early 16th Century.

Cast

Alfonso, Duke of Minnestrone Baritone
Partola, a Peasant Girl Soprano
Cleanso Young Noblemen of Venice. Tenor
Turino Young Noblemen of Venice. Tenor
Bombo Young Noblemen of Venice. Basso
Ludovico Assassins in the service of Cafeteria Rusticana Basso
Astolfo Assassins in the service of Cafeteria Rusticana Methodist
Townspeople, Cabbies and Sparrows

Argument

Il Minnestrone is an allegory of the two sides of a man’s nature (good and bad), ending at last in an awfully comical mess with everyone dead.

ACT I

A Public Square, Ferrara.—During a peasant festival held to celebrate the sixth consecutive day of rain, Rudolpho, a young nobleman, sees Lilliano, daughter of the village bell-ringer, dancing along throwing artificial roses at herself. He asks of his secretary who the young woman is, and his secretary, in order to confuse Rudolpho and thereby win the hand of his ward, tells him that it is his (Rudolpho’s) own mother, disguised for the festival. Rudolpho is astounded. He orders her arrest.

ACT 2

Banquet Hall in Gorgio’s Palace.—Lilliano has not forgotten Breda, her old nurse, in spite of her troubles, and determines to avenge herself for the many insults she received in her youth by poisoning her (Breda). She therefore invites the old nurse to a banquet and poisons her. Presently a knock is heard. It is Ugolfo. He has come to carry away the body of Michelo and to leave an extra quart of pasteurized. Lilliano tells him that she no longer loves him, at which he goes away, dragging his feet sulkily.

ACT 3

In Front of Emilo’s House.—Still thinking of the old man’s curse, Borsa has an interview with Cleanso, believing him to be the Duke’s wife. He tells him things can’t go on as they are, and Cleanso stabs him. Just at this moment Betty comes rushing in from school and falls in a faint. Her worst fears have been realized. She has been insulted by Sigmundo, and presently dies of old age. In a fury, Ugolfo rushes out to kill Sigmundo and, as he does so, the dying Rosenblatt rises on one elbow and curses his mother.

Math Comics, over there


I just wanted to give a heads-up that over on my mathematics blog I put up a roster of a bunch of comics with mathematics themes or mentions or the like. Also I tried out a new theme, so the page has a more interesting color scheme. The new theme doesn’t include any kind of bold or italics or other special note for titles, which I put inside the HTML “cite” tag, because I do that and because themes do that and I’m honestly annoyed enough by this I’m thinking of ditching this theme altogether and finding some different one. I don’t know who to blame for my sense of graphic design getting in the way of my world like this, but I’m going to choose the editors of 80’s children’s science magazine 3-2-1 Contact. I have my reasons.

The snow is just a little bit of silliness and I like it. Yes, the magazine was a promotional tie-in to the TV show.

The Abandoned Cathy


I borrow a lot of books from the library, since that’s a great way for a compulsive reader like myself to get exposed to books I have literally no way of telling how many previous readers have held while sitting on the toilet. Plus you get discoveries: in this case, a Cathy comic strip someone clipped from the newspaper and used as a bookmark. The thing is the comic strip is dated 1998, and the book was published in 2004, so whoever left the bookmark had been using it for at least six years before abandoning it.

So now I’m left trying to understand the story of the bookmark-abandoner. Did he find this comic of Cathy doing exercises (spoiler: she doesn’t do a lot of exercise) speaking to him for over a half a decade, and then suddenly, realize that it just didn’t need to be part of his life and he left it in the book in the hopes a future reader would find some meaningful link to the universe through it? Was the clipped-out strip an unwanted gift and he finally found a way to “accidentally” lose it and apologize that it must have been an oversight? Since the bookmark was around page 50 of a 300-page book, is it possible he was interrupted while reading, and returned the book without remembering the bookmark was in there, and he’s been searching the library ever since for the comic strip he wanted back?

With no knowledge of why the strip was clipped out, or how it was viewed, or why it was left so early in the book, I can’t say why it was there, and neither can you, unless it was your bookmark in which case I’ll probably bring it back to the library next week. I use fast food receipts for my bookmarks anyway.

The Show Didn’t Predict The Existence of Minnesota, That Would Be Silly


If you remember anything about the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Coach it’s probably because you’re too good at remembering things and should maybe take a course in Useful Forgetting from your county college. Never mind. But if you do remember any of that it’s likely that what you remember is most of the show was set at Minnesota State University, which didn’t exist, because setting college shows at imaginary colleges lets the production staff have a giggle when they meet someone claiming they went there as an undergraduate, something they can’t get if they just meet someone who insists he went to Rutgers, like, I want to say, Scott Baio’s character on Who’s The Boss because I only partly completed my Useful Forgetting course.

Anyway, thing is, nowadays there is a Minnesota State University, formed when a couple universities in Minnesota changed their names and teamed up to fight evil. And now that’s got me wondering if fanboys of Coach get all smug about how their show predicted how there’d just have to be a Minnesota State and the universe didn’t make sense without it, the way certain Star Trek fanboys insist there wouldn’t be cell phones if it weren’t for communicators. And if they do, does anyone call them on it, or do their friends figure they should get to enjoy whatever reflected Coach-based glory they can get?

All this is a ridiculous thing to wonder and I apologize for taking so much of your time with it.