Harold Lloyd in “Among Those Present”


For today I’d like to point to the 1921 Harold Lloyd comedy Among Those Present. It’s a piece about 35 minutes long and has what I think of as a distinctly 1920s setting: people ill-fit to uppertendom. It’s easy to imagine the Marx Brothers going crashing through things, but Harold Lloyd — who’s introduced here as the bellhop and gets woven into their lives for reasons that make sense within the genre. I doubt I could pass this off as naturalistic, although I like the idea of a world where Lloyd’s bellhop might say (as in one of the title cards) something like “Gee! If I only had the glad rags — I could act like any of those swells” without it being at least a bit of an affectation. Anyway, it’s Harold Lloyd; it’s outstanding comic acting and the occasional brilliant stroke of directing (as note when Lloyd’s character gets his first look at Mildred Davis’s, or the shadow on the stable door as shown about 31 minutes in), a bunch of animal stunts, and some pantslessness.

The title cards are a treat, at least to my tastes. They’re written by H M Walker, who’s got a slightly rococo style that I enjoy. If you aren’t amused a bit by, for example, “Evening — Twelve hours and a thousand yawns before the fox hunt. A wonderful and worthless gathering of 14-carat lounge lizards and re-painted wallflowers”, maybe the occasional illustration (on this card, of lizards) will spruce things up for you. And maybe imagining the text as read by the narrator from Rocky and Bullwinkle will sell you on it.

And I’m using this chance to reblog from the journal of Trav S D, an expert on vaudeville and comedy history. His book No Applause — Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, is outstanding in explaining vaudeville not just as a set of performances but also as an industry, a way of organizing performances which made compelling sense for its era and which doesn’t quite anymore, even if many of the acts would probably stand a good chance of going viral today. It’s very easy in reviews of older performers to focus on the performances; Trav S D’s book made me pay attention to how important the network of theaters and of booking agents and management were to making vaudeville.

Travalanche

Poster - Among Those Present (1921)_01

Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Harold Lloyd short Among Those Present (1921).

The plot begins with a daughter (Mildred Davis) who, like her  father (James T. Kelley) is down to earth. When we meet the pair, he is playing the fiddle and she is doing a jig. This infuriates and embarrasses the mother (Aggie Herring), who has social aspirations, egged on by a social secretary who turns out to be a con artist. Harold plays a bell hop who has fun pretending to be posh, wearing the glad rags left by rich folks in the cloakroom. He is tagged to pretend to be an English Lord to spice up the family’s big party. Everyone else at the party is pretentious, the room is filled with their smoke, and Harold naturally falls instantly in love with Mildred.

The next day (this…

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About the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame


Since my recent mention of the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame there’ve been a number of inquiries directed to this office asking for more information about this Hall of Fame, such as where it may be found and whether I made the whole thing up, and what sort of person gets inducted into the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame. The last is easiest: it tends to be people who draw feet, although there are exceptions made for people who have made great advances — strides, to use the industry jargon — in public awareness of foot-drawing and its associated fields, such as sock envisioning or the composition of toenail apologias.

The Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame as we know it was inspired by the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as many Halls of Fame were. Every baseball player of serious note has or at some point had feet, or knew someone who did, and yet did they get any mention in the Hall? Not a word, and P K Shrelk couldn’t help wondering where all these players would be without their feet? Down a couple inches, was his conclusion, and that was good enough to search out a way to celebrate the drawing of feet, because when he looked into the whole foot there was too much to consider. Just thinking of all the bones alone could make someone have to lie down and come back later. He imagined someday a network of foot-related halls of fame might allow the understanding of the foot in all its complexity for the interested foot viewer. Shrelk died a very tired man.

The Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame opened in 1967 in Sick River Junction, Missouri, making use of the famous sanitarium which was once the Missouri State Home for the Tall. One needn’t worry about the former residents of the home. Medical advances and changing social attitudes allowed Missouri to sort out the patients who could be readmitted to society from those who were incurably tall. Those unlucky persons were few enough that they could be placed in more general-care institutions with cathedral ceilings. Indeed, Anthony Millest — one of the last children to be taken in to the Home for the Tall — was found to be not just healthy but to have a foot-drawing talent great enough that he became one of the earliest docents at the museum. To this day he’s three days a week, greeting kids and sharing stories of the museum’s goals and accomplishments and plucking things off the top of the refrigerator.

The first artist admitted into the Hall of Fame was one Pelter Rebleat, who was of no particular renown in the field of foot-drawing, truth be told, but the directors felt they needed to start with some impressive names. Rebleat was surprised by his induction, as the letter of invitation had been addressed to Peltier Rebleat (arguably the more impressive name) and because of what he described as the kidnapping which brought him to the opening ceremonies. Since then the policy of “once-famous, always-famous” has blocked all attempts to remove him from the hall, and people bring him fresh clothes and adequate food. He often gets together with Millest to play checkers and agree that things have changed and there’s probably not much of a way to stop that, especially on the web sites they use all the time.

Besides hosting the third-largest collection of drawings of feet among states whose names start with M, the Hall of Fame offers informational classes designed to help would-be artists overcome their natural fear of drawing feet. According to longtime museum defender Anabess Sweetkludge, the most common thing artists do wrong in drawing feet is begin too far up the leg, so that the feet fall out of frame. This can be overcome most easily by getting a slightly larger sketchbook or, for those artists who work digitally, holding the drawing tablet closer to themselves. A more complicated solution is to engineer an artistic movement by which ankles and their environs are regarded as the true measure of artistic accomplishment, but that’s regarded as too much work just for some pictures of feet.

I hope this answers some of the more serious questions. If it doesn’t, perhaps this answers some other ones instead.

Math Comics, And Isn’t That Enough?


Over on my mathematics blog there’s another of my collections of comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, and cartoonists were able to find another way to mention the infinite monkey problem of Shakespeare-writing, so, there’s that.

I’d like to offer the non-mathematically-inclined readers some comic strips to talk about here, but right now, I haven’t got anything good, I’m afraid. I suppose I could discuss some of the comics that I find compelling in their badness, but, this is the Internet. You can find something agonizingly bad just by looking at something, and if that doesn’t make you feel bad enough, look at a forum for its fan community, or its Wikipedia Talk page, and that’s enough to make you regret things in general and that thing in particular.

How It Being Barefoot Weather Changes The Sense Of How Clean The Floor Is (Illustrated)


A foot, in a sock, as drawn by me.
Figure 1. A foot, in a sock, as drawn by me.

Figure 1 shows a sock-clad foot. With the sock on, the floor feels clean, smooth, almost like that little ice rink that Jerry and that Other Mouse made out of the kitchen in that Tom and Jerry where they go ice skating to the tune of that music they lifted off Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s hard to resist gliding around the living room and tripping over the fence used to keep the rabbit out of the dining room. You could imagine the floor to be liquid helium for all the friction you feel on it, except for not actually falling over.

A foot, not in a sock, as drawn by me.
Figure 2. A foot, not in a sock, as drawn by me.

Figure 2 shows a sock-unclad foot. It … hey, come to think of it, these are some pretty good drawings of feet. I mean, the leg in the first is clearly better, but the foot in the second is nothing to sneeze at. I’m not saying that I expect an invite to the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame, not on the strength of these drawings alone, but I am saying that for someone who’s in my skill grade of foot-drawing, that’s doing pretty good. I mean, you can mostly tell what all the major parts of the foot are without labelling, and there’s even toenails and there’s that one where you can see the little bitty toe knuckle or whatever they call it when it’s on the foot. I’m not bragging here, I know there’s friends of mine who could draw a foot that so evokes “foot” that it would smash my drawing flat, I’m just saying that is definitely a drawing of a foot, and it came out way better than I figured it should, and I’m just awfully proud. And it’s not just a side view, this is in kind of an isometric view or something like that where you have to see things from a tricky angle, and it all works out basically all right. That’s pretty good stuff. Thanks for putting up with me. Is the big toe on the correct side of the foot there?

Theme, Parked


I don’t want to brag, but I believe I’m one of the top-notch people for being vaguely dissatisfied with every WordPress theme there is. I can pull up the samples and look over the different ways they have of presenting articles and blog names and all that and almost right away see something that I’d do at least a little bit differently, like, maybe use a color, or perhaps have some recognition for there being a “cite” tag instead of just rendering it as plain text or maybe good grief, you break anything in a “cite” tag to its own separate line of right-aligned text? What kind of mad man designed this? sorry, something or other came up.

The glory of this is it means anytime I want I can scroll through the WordPress themes and find myself dissatisfied with the world at large, which keeps me from writing cranky letters to the editor about the state of things in general. Instead I can try looking up how to make my own WordPress theme, and discover that through the use of a few simple APIs and some basic knowledge of style sheets, it’s impossible to make my own WordPress theme and I should go lie down until the feeling passes. I’m getting better at that, too. When I first started it could take upwards of a half-hour before I decided I couldn’t possibly make my own theme. Now, I can go from dissatisfaction with every theme in the world, to learning how to make my own, to lying down letting the feeling pass in under ten minutes, and I have optimistic thoughts about breaking the eight-minute barrier.

Does This Old-Time Radio Plot Really Make Sense?


So I was listening to an episode of Inner Sanctum, the old-time radio series that you maybe heard of from that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he says this creaking door “sounds like Inner Sanctum,”, and it was an episode where the newlywed husband spends the whole train ride back home tying little nooses out of loose pieces of string and warning his new wife that if he ever goes crazy she’ll just have to shoot him, which sounds pretty dire but is actually one of the more upbeat episodes of Inner Sanctum. It’s kind of what I love about the show. That and that the narrator delivers, archly, the kind of jokes that you think are gallows humor when you’re twelve, like, “a bachelor ghoul is someone who knows two can die as cheaply as one”, and I’m not even making that one up. I’m not sure anyone ever made that one up.

Anyway, the villain turns out to be the Creepy Butler, voiced by Jackson Beck, also known as the cartoon voice of Bluto or, in this particular episode, the Other Character In The Story. It turns out he, his father, his grandfather, and so on back for generations have been the servants of the groom, the groom’s father, grandfather, et cetera, going back generations, and each of them have been busy waiting for their employers to get married and then kill their wives in horrible mysterious circumstances so as to perpetuate a curse, all because generations ago the groom’s great-something-grandfather wronged Bluto’s great-something-grandfather.

Gotta say. I admire traditions, especially quirky local traditions that are clearly not mass-produced and supported by commercial interests. I just don’t see how being a lifelong servant of the guy who’s wronged you pays out, especially given the extra workload involved in being a serial killer. And passing that down through generations? I mean, I can barely keep track of my own grudges, and I only have two of them. If my father (hi, Dad!) wanted me to pick up one of his grudges, I guess I’d tell him I was going to, but I can’t see putting more effort into it than making some snarky comments about someone on the Internet. I realize that wasn’t an option in the days of Inner Sanctum, because that series ran from 1941 to 1952 when the Internet was just a big round-robin typing circle, and typewriters were strictly rationed during the War so it’d be hard to requisition one just to insult someone your Dad was angry about, but.

Of course, if all Bluto’s ancestors in this were that good about killing their employers’ brides, how have they got around to like four generations of this? I guess I’m just having problems with the inner logic of this. I hope I’m not hurting the feelings of whoever wrote that episode. I don’t think I’m hurting Bluto’s feelings by saying all this.

Also, you know, killing wives for decades because one guy cheated another guy about a gold mine or whatever it was people in the west did to wrong themselves in the mid-19th century? Besides being a ripe slice of evil there’s also incompetent planning at work here; there’s supposed to be a karmic link in a good story of horror and retribution and here it’s just … what? Yes, the groom are being pretty irresponsible in not mentioning the “long string of horrible, mysterious deaths” to their wives before getting married, and introducing it by giving her the gun she should use to shoot him if he starts getting murder-y is just … you know, I’m glad I don’t live in an old-time radio suspense series, that’s all I can really say about it.

Statistics Saturday: Some Words Which Are Auto-Corrected And Some Words Which Are Not


Word Other Word
Lugubrious Rake
Councilig Mediocratize
Stele Reak
Rhythmus 21
Sward Roke
Productiver Impatiens
Aker Screetch
Value-Neutral Whimisical
Hosta Hofstra
Instanec Pais

Betty Boop’s Penthouse


For today’s video, please consider Betty Boop’s Penthouse, one of those Fleischer Brothers shorts I couldn’t remember anything about from the title. In story terms, it’s rather generic: Koko the Clown and Bimbo putter around a little, notice and get a crush on Betty; Betty sings an unmemorable song; there’s a monster who threatens Betty, and the threat dissipates in a moment.

Story isn’t everything. One of the defining traits of Fleischer Cartoons at their best is that they’re stuffed with little throwaway gags. This short has one of the highest throwaway gag counts I’ve noticed; I wonder if the cartoonists didn’t realize there wasn’t much story so they had to fill it up instead. (Or if, in the absence of plot, they could stuff everything in.) There’s throwaway explosions, metamorphoses, skeletons, gloves that clap by themselves, anthropomorphic flame, a Frankenstein allusion, and plenty of good old-fashioned nightmare fuel.

That said, there’s also a blackface joke, the Al Jolson reference that’s so obligatory I wonder if animators even realized they had a choice not to include it when a character’s face was blackened by an explosion, and a bit that seems to be floating around the homosexual-as-pansy stereotype that I guess at least makes sense in the story.

There’s also a really striking moment of seeing Betty Boop in the reflection of a water-drop which shows that when the Fleischers wanted they could do some pretty stunning special effects, and a few unusual camera angles — including a shot of Betty Boop from above that I don’t remember ever seeing done somewhere else — which add to the cartoon’s appeal.

How The 11:00 Conference Call Turns Out


10:45. You set your cell phone on the table. Turn it on. Stare at it anxiously.

10:55. Wonder if there’s enough time to read all of TrekBBS before the call starts.

11:00. Watch entire minute pass without the phone ringing.

11:01. Elation: you have avoided being called into the conference call. Elation gone when you remember they probably haven’t excused you from the call, they’re just saving up to have you be even more in the conference call.

11:04. Realize that you have a need to go to the bathroom more intense and more urgent than any other need you have ever felt in my life. It’s the way you might feel the need to move your foot if it were underneath the rear tire of a truck holding a lump of neutron star, although with less of the mass of three Jupiters pressing down on your foot and more a wondering if you could hear the phone from all the way in the bathroom.

11:10. Wonder if they’ve forgotten you.

11:15. Send e-mail to someone supposed to be in the conference call to see if they’ve forgotten you. Kind of hope that they have, except that might encourage ideas of maybe they don’t need you for non-conference-call things. Wonder if maybe you should’ve been running March Madness pools so they’d want you around for that at least. It’s desperately far from March. It’d look odd if you started talking up next year’s anytime before June 22nd. The conference call will probably be settled by then.

11:25. Phone rings. This call is to warn you the real call is running about a half-hour late but they didn’t want you to worry.

11:32. You’re worried.

11:38. It may be preferable to explode from bathroom-related needs than wait for the call.

11:40. They call. The conference call is starting, except two of the participants have to finish up other calls that have been going since the late Middle Ages. These calls are cherished, handed down from a long line of mid-level management, to be someday handed down to levels of mid-level management not yet imagined. They cannot be discharged or dismissed lightly. You might be on hold. Suddenly you appreciate hold music: listening to something you don’t want to listen to provides reassurance that you are remembered to exist by telephone systems that are not aware you exist.

11:43. Everyone is able to talk with everyone else and would like to explain how glad they are that everyone else is glad to be there, and doing well, and all agree that it’s been far too long since we had a chat like this, and we’re looking forward to the way we’ll smooth out a couple of little issues.

11:46. The conference call enters that condition of being pretty much the same as guiding your parents through updating their digital camera’s device drivers only your boss is listening in.

12:02. The phrase “the button marked SUBMIT in the upper right corner” is proven to be either intolerably vague or to not refer to anything the other people on the call have ever seen.

12:05. logmein is summoned.

12:07. Emergency e-mails to people who thought they were going to lunch already establish that logmein would have worked except we had the password wrong, the capitalization wrong, and some kind of domain thing wrong.

12:18. You apologize for needing to step away for a moment, which they take to mean that you need the bathroom, which you do, but you use the moment to step outside and berate a chipmunk who proves to have a perfectly good understanding of the limits of Ajax-enabled web technology blah blah blah and why yes, it does have to have Internet to work.

12:29. All agree this has been about the greatest and most productive conference call since the idea of communication began and we’ve done enough of it, and hang up before anyone can suggest otherwise.

1:04. You emerge from the curled-up ball of yourself that was underneath the table weeping.

2:45. You finish editing the things you needed to get out of the conference call into a series of four questions, e-mailed to the other main party, with the explanation you need to know which of the two options for each question they want before you can do anything.

Three Days Later, 9:15. The e-mail is returned with the note, “That’s great, exactly that! Thanx for understanding.”

Eight Days After That, 3:23. The suggestion is floated that maybe we just need one more conference call to sort it all out.

Trouble In The Yard


And now it’s been literally days since our pet rabbit was last out, and so of course things are going wrong. The weed maples have been brutal, scattering all over everywhere and everything, and now some of the hostas came in to complain that some of the little trees have been ganging up and bullying them. I take this seriously, of course, as hostas are really not drama-prone plants and I just know if they’re driven to complain then some plants with lower self-esteem, like the lemon balm, are probably being driven almost out of their xylem with frustration. Don’t tell our rabbit; he’d insist that he told us so, and he didn’t say anything of the sort when we’ve talked about the yard.

PS to whoever at WordPress is in charge of stuff in general: is “xylem” a plant thing? If not pls replace with something that is. Pref not too sticky; have enough of those things that need weird-colored goopy things to clean. Tnx.

A Labor Of Like: What You Don’t Know About Colors


[ John, author of the A Labor of Like humor blog, was inspired the other day by my guide to the risk I’ll correctly identify a color. With his permission I’d like to put his comment up on the front page so people have a better chance of reading it. ]

What most people don’t know is that Indigo started as a Violet separatist movement by wavelengths that thought the name “purple” sounded stupid, and wanted their own, slightly bluer homeland. The establishment of the Indigan state occurred near the end of the 30 Hues War, which began in 1905 when colors such as brown and silver demanded seats at the wheel of the Knights of the Round Spectrum. After the War ended at the Battle of Rainbow Bridge, the Councils of Tempera and Crayola increased the size of the palette to 16 and 64, respectively. Indigo now holds a permanent seat on the security council of the United Colors of Benetton in New York.

Indigo is a monarchy, currently ruled by King Royston the Fourth, Duke of Grape and Earl of Blueberry. His people lovingly refer to him as “Roy ‘GB’ IV” for short.

So, In Short, We’re All Doomed (Corporate Capitalism Edition)


The offering comes in the mail from a corporation, one of those big ones that I suspect is a multinational although I can’t work up quite enough interest to look it up. It had the odd size of the smaller greeting cards, and a brown envelope, and that lettering that looks like handwriting if you haven’t looked a lot at handwriting. Clearly, the company, which my Love has been a customer for for years, possibly a decade now, wanted to make sure we had the experience of something with the flavor of a personal connection, so as to convince us to buy something we didn’t want.

The letter got our name wrong in no less than two prominent ways.

Mind you, that’s partly our fault, since the name used to be wrong in only the one way, and getting it fixed resulted in introducing the second glitch. Extremely boring conversations about this have allowed us to determine that the easiest way to get the glitches fixed is to wait for the company to go bankrupt and be liquidated, to be replaced with another company providing similar services which aren’t quite as good but which cost more, at which point we’ll get a chance to have fake handwritten greeting-card type advertisements with even more parts of our names wrong.

I’m just not completely sure that we’re any good at things anymore.

Math Comics and the Quintessence of Wimpy


Once again over on my mathematics blog there’s a group of comic strips with mathematics subjects. It’s also got a bit of talk about the Rubik’s Cube, which based on the tweets of my friends today turns 40 years old, ah, today. I had no idea and if I had, I’d probably have still fumbled doing something interesting about it. Anyway, I mention the Rubik’s Cube cartoon but don’t watch it because I just know I shouldn’t have watched it to begin with.

Hy Eisman's _Popeye_, 18 May 2014: Wimpy speaks of developing a social networking algorithm. Honest.
A quintessential moment of J Wellington Wimpy: he’s exactly the person who’d decide to develop an algorithm for a social network.

Meanwhile, in other Popeye-based news: while the weekday Popeye comic strip has been in reruns for over two decades now, King Features has for some reason contracted Hy Eisman to draw new Sunday panels. I don’t know why. I guess they just like Hy Eisman and don’t want him to go completely unemployed — they also have him drawing The Katzenjammer Kids For Some Reason on Sundays — but don’t quite like him enough to have him write and draw a daily strip that’s run in like six newspapers worldwide, three of which are the fake newspapers that police officers in cop shows pick up to see that there’s been a new murder or a politician has said something about their case.

Anyway, here is the May 18th installment, in which — with his talk of having “made up my mind to develop an algorithm for a social network” — you just see how Eisman has captured the essential worldview and rhythms of speech and patterns of plotting that really make J Wellington Wimpy, and for that matter, the whole Thimble Theater universe. It’s just perfect Wimpy.

Statistics Saturday: Risk That I Will Correctly Identify A Color By Its Name Alone


Color Risk That I Will Correctly Identify This Color By Its Name Alone What CSS Thinks The Color Is
Red 99%
Blue 99%
Green 99%
Yellow 98%
Cyan 94%
Magenta 65%
Prussian Blue 38%
Teal 35%
Maroon 24%
Fuchsia 18%
Chartreuse 0%
Turquoise 16% (This is what I think Teal ought to be)
Goldenrod 12%
Ivory 99 44/100%
Violet 95%
Indigo (Still not sure this isn’t just purple with good marketing)
Mauve (Only if this is 1894 for crying out loud)
Plum 60%
Aquamarine (This isn’t just Aqua? Colors why must you be difficult?)
Lavender 33% (Higher if you’ll just let me call purple or indigo “Lavender”)
Khaki 40%
Atomic Tangerine (What, really?)
Avocado 55%
Viridian (whimper)
Heliotrope 0% (This is what I think Chartreuse ought to be)
Battleship Grey 85%
Puce (Oh good heavens Wikipedia Talk pages make this complicated)

Alice In A Silent Wonderland


I’d like to again point people over to the Movies, Silently blog, as this week they’ve posted another interesting movie: a 1903 British film version of Alice in Wonderland, thought to be the oldest made. It’s hard to see how much older an adaptation could be, although narrative stories were being made for a few years before this.

The film hasn’t got the wealth of camera effects tricks of Georges Méliès and A Trip To The Moon — a year older than this — but it’s still wondrous to see, particularly since the tricks they do use are effective in adapting a couple scenes of Lewis Carroll’s work. And the sets and costumes are magnificent in that late-Victorian/Edwardian style that just looks so eagerly like itself.

After Our Pet Rabbit Had A Day Outdoors


“The floor isn’t food here!” complained our pet rabbit.

It was a complaint I knew was coming. I couldn’t realistically pretend otherwise. So I said, “I agree with you.”

He sat up and rested his front paws on the cage, the traditional pose for indicating this was a major issue or it was dinnertime. “So make it better!”

We had taken him outside a couple days ago, when it was warm and sunny and we had some work to do on the yard. So we set up his pen and then pulled him, against his express wishes, into the pet carrier for the trip outside. Once there, and convinced that we weren’t going to take him anywhere in the car, he came out of his shell, or at least the carrier, and judged that this was all not intolerably bad.

Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.
Our pet rabbit, as seen outside in the yard.

“You don’t want me to do that.”

“I know it means going in the box but it’s so short a ride in the car I’ll forgive it!”

“Yes, but it’s cold out today, and it’s rainy. You wouldn’t like having water drizzling all over your body all the time you’re out there.”

“I’m not scared! I drink water all the time.” It’s possible we haven’t let him outside quite enough to understand.

“You’d hate it. It’d tamp down all the fur you were planning to shed for a couple days and nothing would get into the air. It’d set you back by days.”

“Oh.” He’s still recovering from when we vacuumed out his cage, filling nearly two bags and reducing the amount of fur in the room not at all. “Are you fibbing?”

“ … Fibbing?”

“Because you’re afraid of what I’ll do out there!” I brushed his head, which made him squinch his eyes a little, and made enough fur shed that I had a loose glove when I took my hand off. He shook it off and said, “I’m ferocious!”

“I saw you out there. You really mowed down those dandelions.”

“I ate a tree!”

I nodded, but, “Technically.”

“All the way, too, leaves down to roots!”

It was a weed maple, something with about two leaves and maybe three inches tall, including the roots. It’s been a banner year for weed maples, with something like four hundred thousand growing in the driveway alone, and their getting even denser on the ground where there’s dirt or soil or older, less self-confident plants to grow on top of. We don’t know why; maybe it was the harshness of the winter, or maybe the local innovation center gave the maples a seed grant. Anyway, our rabbit had spotted it as a thing, and hopped over, and started eating before we could wonder whether he ought to be eating itty-bitty little maple trees.

He noticed how impressed I wasn’t. “Did you ever eat an entire tree?”

This seemed like something I’d have to answer no, but, could I be quite sure I hadn’t ever eaten something which could be taken as equivalent to a tree? I thought about whether eating an acorn could qualify as eating an acorn tree, except that I couldn’t think of myself eating an acorn, unless I did it when I was very young and so put anything in my mouth. Later, of course, I’d realize that I have eaten apple seeds, and any definition by which acorn-eating qualified one for tree-eating status would be satisfied by apple-seed-eating (I don’t share a birthday with Johnny Appleseed for nothing, though I haven’t got much out of the coincidence), but that’s the kind of idea that comes to me too late. This sort of thinking is why it can take me up to five minutes to answer a question such as “would you like to buy this pair of pants?” There’s too much to ponder about the issue of “like”.

“Look, even if it weren’t pouring out, it’d be unfair to take you outside because you scare the squirrels.” And this is without exaggeration true. There are normally anywhere between two and fourteen hundred squirrels are in the backyard. When we took him out, the squirrels all vanished. Yet within a minute of his going back in, they’d come back. None of the squirrels said they were afraid of him specifically, but, they were.

“I’m ferocious!” he said. “But I’ll let squirrels share the floor with me. Tell them that.” I nodded, but he said, “Wait! I’ll share it just as soon as the floor is food again! Work on that first.”

I peeked in his dishes. “You’ve got lettuce left over from the morning. Eat that first.”

“But that’s just lettuce,” he said.

“You’re not hungry if you’ve got lettuce left.”

He hopped over with some ka-dunks that rattle the living room floor, and said, “I can eat whole trees.”

“Technically.”

“And any time I want.”

Math Comics and Ziggy


Once again my mathematics blog has gotten a bunch of comic strips to talk about, and while I know there’s a good crossover in the humor blog readership and the mathematics blog readership, there’s people who follow one or the other and might be interested in the other.

I’m afraid I haven’t got much else of interest in comic strips to talk about, so, let me point out that Ziggy asserted last week that Ziggy is Popeye’s third cousin. This doesn’t seem to advance the thoroughly dropped question of Popeye’s last name any, but, it’s there. I don’t know Ziggy’s last name.

Robert Benchley: Noting An Increase In Bigamy


[ I’d like to turn again to the pages of Love Conquers All and Robert Benchley writing about … well, nominally, about a rash of bigamy reports that I suppose were current sometime around 1920. Benchley starts from that and follows a series of distractions that cause me to think he was self-satirizing. Benchley articles often pull in marginally related topics, and this reaches a relative extreme. The result is, despite a couple reminders that the article is from about 85 years ago, strikingly modern. Make a handful of edits to remove distractingly dated terms and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Dave Barry submitting this same piece. ]

Either more men are marrying more wives than ever before, or they are getting more careless about it. During the past week bigamy has crowded baseball out of the papers, and while this may be due in part to the fact that it was a cold, rainy week and little baseball could be played, yet there is a tendency to be noted there somewhere. All those wishing to note a tendency will continue on into the next paragraph.

There is, of course, nothing new in bigamy. Anyone who goes in for it with the idea of originating a new fad which shall be known by his name, like the daguerreotype or potatoes O’Brien, will have to reckon with the priority claims of several hundred generations of historical characters, most of them wearing brown beards. Just why beards and bigamy seem to have gone hand in hand through the ages is a matter for the professional humorists to determine. We certainly haven’t got time to do it here.

But the multiple-marriages unearthed during the past week have a certain homey flavor lacking in some of those which have gone before. For instance, the man in New Jersey who had two wives living right with him all of the time in the same apartment. No need for subterfuge here, no deceiving one about the other. It was just a matter of walking back and forth between the dining-room and the study. This is, of course, bigamy under ideal conditions.

But in tracing a tendency like this, we must not deal so much with concrete cases as with drifts and curves. A couple of statistics are also necessary, especially if it is an alarming tendency that is being traced. The statistics follow, in alphabetical order:

In the United States during the years 1918 – 1919 there were 4,956,673 weddings. 2,485,845 of these were church weddings, strongly against the wishes of the bridegrooms concerned. In these weddings 10,489,392 silver olive-forks were received as gifts.

Starting with these figures as a basis, we turn to the report of the Pennsylvania State Committee on Outdoor Gymnastics for the year beginning January 4th, 1920, and ending a year later.

This report being pretty fairly uninteresting, we leave it and turn to another report, which covers the manufacture and sale of rugs. This has a picture of a rug in it, and a darned good likeness it is, too.

In this rug report we find that it takes a Navajo Indian only eleven days to weave a rug 12 x 5, with a swastika design in the middle. Eleven days. It seems incredible. Why, it takes only 365 days to make a year!

Now, having seen that there are 73,000 men and women in this country today who can neither read nor write, and that of these only 4%, or a little over half, are colored, what are we to conclude? What is to be the effect on our national morale? Who is to pay this gigantic bill for naval armament?

Before answering these questions any further than this, let us quote from an authority on the subject, a man who has given the best years, or at any rate some very good years, of his life to research in this field, and who now takes exactly the stand which we have been outlining in this article.

“I would not,” he says in a speech delivered before the Girls’ Friendly Society of Laurel Hill, “I would not for one minute detract from the glory of those who have brought this country to its present state of financial prominence among the nations of the world, and yet as I think back on those dark days, I am impelled to voice the protest of millions of American citizens yet unborn.”

Perhaps some of our little readers remember what the major premise of this article was. If so, will they please communicate with the writer.

Oh, yes! Bigamy!

Well, it certainly is funny how many cases of bigamy you hear about nowadays. Either more men are marrying more wives than ever before, or they are getting more careless about it. (That sounds very, very familiar. It is barely possible that it is the sentence with which this article opens. We say so many things in the course of one article that repetitions are quite likely to creep in).

At any rate, the tendency seems to be toward an increase in bigamy.

Why People Just Stop Talking To Me Until I Wind Down


One friend: “Saturdays are usually busy for me.”

Me: “What with?”

That friend: “It varies, but usually trails or volunteering related.”

Other friend: “You volunteer to be a trail?”

Me: “She was always prone to letting people walk all over her.”

(Correctly, no one laughs.)

Me: “She tried sitting up, but they fell off.”

(And everyone is silent until I remember that just because a sentence appears in my mind that’s no reason I have to put it out where anybody else has to live through it.)

NBC Cancels Entire Primetime Lineup; Will Air Reruns From ’90s


Since my last bit of humor reblogging worked out well for all involved, why not go again? Austin Hodgens is an indefatigable writer with pretty near daily mock-news articles, many of them focused on the center of general weirdness which is living in Maine.

This particular article isn’t, obviously; it’s a bit of more general absurdity directed at NBC, which kind of deserves whatever you might say about it. (Well, almost. I am at peace with NBC’s cancelling Community, much as I like the show, because I can’t very well say they didn’t give it plenty of chances to find an audience. I would have liked their final episode to feel less like an unfinished draft for the final episode, but I don’t think that’s NBC’s fault either.) Anyway, do please enjoy the article, and his other writings, if you do.

The Return of the Modern Philosopher

NBC logo This is the time of year, Modern Philosophers when the television networks announce which primetime programs are being renewed or cancelled, and which new shows will be a part of the Fall TV lineup.

NBC, long mocked for its horrible programming, has decided to make a very bold move.  The network announced today that it was cancelling every show in its primetime lineup, and replacing them with reruns of old NBC hits mostly from the 1990s.

“We know it’s a bold move,” admitted the NBC executive who drew the short straw and had to face the media.  “But when you think about it, what choice did we really have?”

This Modern Philosopher is not a fan of the move.  I will certainly miss shows like “Parks & Recreation”, “Parenthood”, and “Revolution”.

Wow.  Is that really all I watch on NBC aside from “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live”?  Yikes!

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