Statistics Saturday: A Depressingly Long List Of Countries Where I Am Not Read


I recently reached my 11,000th reader here! And more recently, my 11,111th reader. But that doesn’t mean just anybody is looking at pages here so, based on the WordPress statistics page and a list of nations of the world that I found … somewhere … here’s as best I can figure all the countries that haven’t sent me even a single reader all the time I’ve been here, as of early the 29th of November:

Afghanistan Akrotiri American Samoa Andorra Angola
Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Armenia Aruba
Ashmore and Cartier Islands Azerbaijan The Bahamas Bassas da India Belarus
Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia
Botswana Bouvet Island British Indian Ocean Territory British Virgin Islands Brunei
Burkina Faso Burma Burundi Cambodia Cameroon
Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad China
Christmas Island Clipperton Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Comoros Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Republic of the Cook Islands Coral Sea Islands Cote d’Ivoire Croatia
Cuba Dhekelia Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic
Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia
Ethiopia Europa Island Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) Faroe Islands Federated States of Micronesia
Fiji French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern and Antarctic Lands Gabon
The Gambia Gaza Strip Georgia Gibraltar Glorioso Islands
Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guam Guatemala
Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Honduras Iran Isle of Man Jan Mayen
Jersey Jordan Juan de Nova Island Kenya Kiribati
Kyrgyzstan Laos Latvia Lesotho Liberia
Libya Liechtenstein Luxembourg Macau Madagascar
Malawi Maldives Mali Marshall Islands Martinique
Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Monaco Mongolia
Montserrat Mozambique Namibia Nauru Navassa Island
Nepal Netherlands Antilles New Caledonia Nicaragua Niger
Niue Norfolk Island North Korea Northern Mariana Islands Palau
Panama Papua New Guinea Paracel Islands Paraguay Pitcairn Islands
Reunion Rwanda Saint Helena Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia
Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe
Senegal Seychelles Sierra Leone Solomon Islands Somalia
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Spratly Islands Sudan Suriname Svalbard
Swaziland Syria Taiwan Tajikistan Timor-Leste
Togo Tokelau Tonga Tromelin Island Turkmenistan
Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Uzbekistan Vanuatu
Vatican City Virgin Islands Wake Island Wallis and Futuna West Bank
Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe

Have to be honest: I’m not surprised about Cuba, North Korea, or Mongolia. And I figure Syria, Sudan, Clipperton Island, and Eritrea have better things to do than deal with me. But Bermuda? That hurts, man, and not having both Luxemburg and Liechtenstein? Well, that’s just not fair.


I’m not sure of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the same place or not. I have a nagging recollection that they’re completely different places and I should know whether they are, but it’s embarrassing to admit that and I think I’m just going to put them in different table rows and hope nobody notices the listing because who’s actually going to read all those listed countries and see if I made up any of them?

Popeye: Hits And Missiles


I mentioned last week the first of the 1960s run of King Features-commissioned Popeye cartoons, “Hits and Missiles”, which was produced by Paramount Pictures Cartoon Studios, which had been Famous Cartoon Studios and before that Fleischer Studios, who made all the great Popeye cartoons that animation fans speak of in reverential whispers. I thought, why not discuss this one, which I had characterized as “not too bad”.

The obvious thing to say about this is: it’s cheap. You can really see the budget in the editing, both in its sluggishness and how many inset shots are of a character standing by himself or herself on a featureless background, or when the walk cycle shows no evidence of getting out of the cycle. Or how there’s almost as many as three people doing all the voices (and you can really hear the different recording sessions they were using). Or how dialogue (especially between Popeye and the Big Cheese once Popeye breaks out of jail) doesn’t actually quite flow. Besides the things obviously being laid in for reuse (isolated characters on featureless backgrounds) there’s stuff that was recycled from earlier, better cartoons; even the premise of Popeye accidentally blasted into space was done before, in Popeye’s “Rocket To Mars”. I could swear a Popeye cartoon had done the gag about a rocket punching a hole in the Big Dipper, but can’t think which one (it’s not “Popeye, The Ace Of Space”), and even if they didn’t, someone had.

And yet there’s some good stuff in it. First, throwing Popeye into space is a sensible modernization of the “send Popeye on a fantastic voyage” motif that generates so many of his best stories. The mountain of Swiss cheese that Popeye and Olive fall through is a good sequence, and would make a great amusement park ride. And the cartoon throws in little bits of business that are amusing even when they serve no role in the plot, like Wimpy’s under-the-hat frying pan, or Olive Oyl’s little makeup table. Remove them and, yeah, you’d have to get the rocket accidentally launched slightly differently, but Olive’s makeup table is there just as an amusing throwaway gag. Considering they’d have been justified just showing the Big Cheese and Popeye talking instead, it’s good they showed a gag. It’s an attempt to fill the cartoon with funny pictures.

The overall cartoon is not great, no; but compared to the lethargic efforts Famous Studios was putting out a couple years before such as “Popeye For President” or “Parlez Voo Woo”? The cartoon suggests that the TV run of Popeye might be decent.

Is Yoghurt Deliberately Slowing Down Internet TV?


Advertising has always been driven by a pathological hatred of the consumer, on the grounds that if people really, really hate the commercial they’re going to remember that hatred, and therefore buy the product sponsoring it because the name is kind of familiar-ish from somewhere. The theory is incredibly sound, based on longrunning experience like the time the advertisers themselves bought their homes from a guy they knew nothing about except that one time he leapt out of a dark alley and bludgeoned them with a small caribou. They were so impressed they spent decades searching out their assailant and talking him into taking up a career in real estate just so they could buy homes from him. This is how powerful a sales and skeletal impression the caribou made.

Being annoying used to be a scattershot business, advertisers just guessing at what would irritate the viewer, but now that computers make it easy for them to harass web site users into describing their demographic niches exactly (“no, we can’t POSSIBLY set up an account recording what birds you saw in the yard unless we know whether you’re male or female, your age to within five years, and whether you’ve ever been bludgeoned by a caribou with a postgraduate degree”) they can get much more exactingly infuriating. For me, this involves making me sit through yoghurt ads when I’m just trying to watch The Price Is Right online.

Watching a TV show you want online is its own kind of wondrous magic. Just think of a show you meant to watch and then figure out if it’s shown on Netflix, or Hulu, or that other site (there’s another site, right? I keep thinking there’s another site), or if it’s on the web site of the channel that made it, or if it’s on the web site for the channel that didn’t make it and had nothing to do with it but acquired the rights in a merger twenty years ago and stop asking them about it, and then go to the Shows section of that site, and then to the Watch Episodes page, and then find that the page is maybe two links to actual episodes for every eighty links to thirty-second clips from the episode, and curse whoever made that Javascript thing for modern web page design where nothing is a link, and none of the text appears for the first two minutes because they’re using some Extra Slim Sans Everything typeface that’s medium grey on a light grey background, and everything is on sliding rectangular sheets that scroll infinitely down, up, right, and left, and sometimes just wobble forward and back; and scrolling the page one way causes the stuff on the page to move the other so you can never see the stuff that’s cut off because it’s too far to the right or the left for your screen, and clicking on anything causes bubbles filled with boxes to pop up anywhere on the page except where you clicked. To find the episode you mean to see you have to hire a sturdy navigator, trusty boatsman, a load of trade goods and some oxen to lead you to the episode you wanted to see.

But finally you get to your episode, losing only several members of your party to dysentery, sea monsters, and a utopian colony founded in the Carribes, and you can watch your show just after you watch the most annoying commercial that has ever been made. And then watch it again because even though folks have been watching TV shows on web sites for like a decade now, the advertisers figure every web broadcast has only a single advertiser ever, and if you have any questions about that we’re going to give you the same commercial five times in every commercial break, not counting the interactive Flash ad that promises to customize your viewing experience by crashing, freezing up the whole video so you have to start over at the start.

I don’t know why the advertisers figure yoghurt ads are the way to irritate me. I had no strong feelings about yoghurt one way or another. I generally approve of the existence of yoghurt, as something that casually trolls people who spell it the other way and as something to eat in those contexts where society would frown on your eating pudding. But there it is; if I just want to see this contestant, that the connoisseurs of this stuff say is the most cracklingly incompetent The Price Is Right contestant ever to play Bonkers, I have to have yoghurt pitched at me fifteen times. It’s better than a caribou, but it’s a lot more common.

Twitter Roulette: Geoffrey Downes, Ferret


So, coming up one after the other in my Twitter feed this morning: Buggles/Asia/Yes keyboardist Geoffrey Downes enjoying himself while puttering around Tokyo, and a ferret sticking his tongue out, and I can offer no rational explantation for why this makes me giggle.

A selfie from Geoffrey Downes and a presumably non-selfie from a ferret sticking his tongue out.
Twitter Roulette: what does chance cause to line up in your feed?

MiSTed: What To Invent


Back in the days before the Earth’s crust had solidified, when Usenet was a thing, grew an art form called the MiSTing. The practice developed in the news groups dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was our modest imitation of the show: take some original posting and intersperse it with comments, along the line of the of the riffs that Joel or Mike and the robots (collectively, The Brains) would. The first MiSTing I’m aware of was called “Hopping Mad At MST3K”, a person’s rant about how those rotten kids these days won’t even watch an old movie without talking through it and this was obviously MST3K’s fault.

Rants would be one of the mainstays of MiSTings, back when the newsgroups were active and I was in touch with the MiSTing culture. Fan fictions were another mainstay; I firmly believe that MiSTing would not have had a culture if not for Stephen Ratliff’s notorious “Marissa Picard” Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. Surprisingly uncommon back in the glory days of Usenet MiSTings were examples of this group: the slightly pompous expository lump. This one is from the magazine Modern Mechanix, originally printed in 1937, and I only know of it because the Modern Mechanix blog summons old articles, some interesting, some funny, some both, to its pages.

The Thanksgiving season has always been a kind of unofficial Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday: it’s the anniversary of when the show first debuted, and many of their movies were dubbed turkeys, and Turkey Day MST3K marathons were shown first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, and today get done in organized online gatherings that I won’t participate in because our ISP doesn’t offer enough bandwidth to watch videos online. But the text form is pretty easy to enjoy at your leisure and I hope you do.

(This one is a slightly unusual form of the classic MiSTing; there’s no host sketches involved. The original material was too short to justify sketches. But a full-length MiSTing might be unreadable in WordPress form. We’ll see. Consider this an experiment.


Continue reading “MiSTed: What To Invent”

The Civic Process


I really mean to throw this letter out but it’s been bugging me. Shortly before the election I got one of those letters that tells you how often, according to public records, I’d voted in the elections and compared that to how often my neighbors had. It reported I had voted in only one of the past four elections, compared to the neighborhood average of two.

The thing is, that’s just not so. I’ve voted in all the November elections since I moved here, at least. So where do they get one vote out of four from? Maybe they’re thinking of those dinky little elections held at weird times when, like, there’s two people fighting for the right to fill in the last three months of a term on the district board of education, and I’ll admit to skipping those when I can’t convince myself I know enough about the situation to cast an informed ballot and none of the participants at least had the decency to plaster local street signs with hilarious campaign flyers about how the British Royal Family is involved in this somehow. But I know there weren’t four of those gone on the past year, when I’d voted in two of the election-gathering affairs.

So the letter haunts me: did they just make a mistake in the letter sent me? Did votes I cast for somebody or other back in August in the vote about something or other not register? Are they just making up stuff in the hopes of inspiring civic-minded people to have sleepless nights worrying about the integrity of the voting process? And why do this to me? Don’t I have better things to worry about? No, in fact, I don’t.

Now I’m not so egotistical as to think some mysterious shadowy organization went to a lot of bother to just make me self-conscious about stuff I do on otherwise slow Tuesdays. I hardly need help with that. They must be doing this for everybody they can name, although I don’t think they sent my love anything, come to think of it.

Calm Urged As Comic Strip _The Better Half_ Ends


So remember that thing from last week where it looked like The Better Half might be ending? It’s not just a rumor planted by a newspaper looking to replace it with The Lockhorns without getting a lot of whiny complaints from its readers: according to cartoonist Randy Glasbergen himself, he’s decided not to renew his contract to produce the comic strip, mostly because his freelance business demands too much of his time. And allegedly King Features Syndicate is getting enough controversy about “legacy strips”, which is the industry jargon for “comic strips where the person who made them great died as recently as Franklin Roosevelt’s second term but the comic strip is still running somehow”, so they’re letting the strip end rather than replace him as cartoonist.

And I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I feel instinctively bad about any comic strip ending. On the other I do feel like it’s important new comics get to appear in newspapers, and newspaper editors have made it pretty clear that in practice they will not drop a comic strip if they are not forced into it, and that’ll be either by the strip ending or the newspaper not being able to afford comics anymore (looking at you, New York Post, before you go out of business in maybe March). But I also know deep down that the space won’t go into new comics; it’s hard to figure any editor not deciding to replace it with The Lockhorns or maybe nothing.

And, honestly, who goes to the newspapers for their comics anymore? It’s so vastly easier to read them online, where you get more comics, and a better variety of them, and you don’t have the daily reminder of the flimsy, poorly-edited, vaguely sad thing that’s become your local newspaper surrounding them. From that view there’s really no reason to end a comic apart from the one Glasbergen himself said, that he’s got more useful things to do with his time, which in his case turn out to also be drawing comic strips.


And as that warmup probably made you expect, my mathematics blog got another bunch of comic strips to write about. That was a couple days ago, actually, but I had the big Friday post and then the video and Statistics Saturday rituals to get through first. They’ll keep.

Statistics Saturday: An Arbitrarily Indexed List Of Some People Who Do Not Look Like Russell Crowe


Person Who Does Not Look Like Russell Crowe Arbitrary Index
Alice Ghostley 83
Angelique Pettyjohn 38
Ellen Weston 39
Frank de Vol 11
Jack Gilford 7
Mel Brooks 26
Robert Karvelas 91
Ted de Corsia 73
Tom Poston 21
William Schallert 22

Omitted from the list: Leonard Nimoy, Richard Gautier, and Larry Storch, on whom I can kind of see a resemblance there.

Krazy Kat: The World’s Fair/Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You


Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:


In the early 60s, when King Features decided it needed a bunch of new Popeye cartoons, it hired pretty much everyone who could hold a pencil to make a cartoon, and in two years they made about as many cartoons as Fleischer/Famous/Paramount Cartoon Studios had made in the previous thirty years combined. There were some good sides to this — characters like Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep finally reappeared after decades, and some characters like the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon finally got animated — but overall, the results are probably best described as “god-awful”, though some at least get fever-dream weird.

And yet … the first of this batch animated by Paramount Cartoon Studios, Hits And Missiles, is not too bad. It’s not Popeye at his best, but this story bringing Popeye to the Moon for reasons related to it being the early 60s is noticeably better than the lethargic efforts Paramount had been putting out before its series ended in 1957. Maybe a couple years off and having the time to recharge helped. If you judged just by the debut feature, you’d be justified in saying the 60s glut of Popeye cartoons was a pretty good new adaptation of the character.

So you probably know where I’m going with this: granted that the first Krazy Kat cartoon of the 1960s run was a pretty good adaptation of the comic strip to TV cartoons. What was the rest of the series like?

And thus I come to a convenient pair of episodes, The World’s Fair and Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You, and I admit feeling betrayed by them. The World’s Fair starts with a premise I can imagine almost fitting into the comic strip, that of Coconino County hosting its own you-know-what, and then slumps into a couple of foreign-country jokes and a logically confusing plot about the international pavilions being some kind of contest. Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You disappoints me more: it’s a string of Going To Vaudeville jokes that could be run in any cartoon or on any sitcom with the premise “let’s try out for a show”, without reflecting personality or character or anything specific to who’s performing them.

I haven’t watched all the King Features Krazy Kat cartoons, so I can’t say whether these happen to be the worst of the series (well, at least the ones that are the worst-adapted), and this was apparently one of the last cartoons aired, and probably made, so perhaps they had burned off all the easily-adapted stories anyone could think of by then and they had to do something. But it’s disheartening to see.

Is it fundamentally impossible to turn George Herriman’s comic strip into anything but what it started as? The track record of these cartoons hasn’t been encouraging, though it’s hard to say that anyone gave the comic strip a serious try, especially as many of these cartoons were made on very tight deadlines not necessarily allowing writers to do things like compose second drafts or sleep. I would think that the comic strip could be turned into cartoons and make sense, but, a half-century after the last cartoon adaptation, and seven decades after the comic strip last ran, would anyone try?

I note for the record that a jazz ballet based on the comic strip was made in 1922, and I remember it being performed again within the past few years. However, I haven’t seen it, and I’m ignorant enough of ballet that even if I had seen it I couldn’t say whether it was any good as ballet.

Some Ways That I Act Like A Guy


I don’t participate in most traditional guy behaviors. This is because most traditional guy behaviors are bottomlessly terrible. The generic formula for making a guy behavior is to find something which might be interesting or exciting and do so much of it that it’s awful, which is how we get hot-sauce-drinking-contests, World War I, soccer riots, and pieces of furniture set on fire and shoved into the streets. Guys are pretty much the male dolphins of civilized society, which is why we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. But there are some guy behaviors which are not terrible to the point of cruelty, and I partake in some of them.

The commonest is bringing in the groceries. It’s very important that I bring the groceries inside with as few trips as possible. My love is amused to see how I’ll hang shopping bags all the way up and down my arms, and maybe loop a couple around my legs, and hang two or three lighter bags from each ear, and if I could get away with it I’d hold one in my mouth too. Sometimes I’ve bought an unnecessary Chapstik or roll of Necco wafers so I could stuff them in my nose just so I can bring in more stuff on the one trip. The saddest thing I can do is get up to the door and realize I’m surrounded by a protective layer of grocery bags reaching up to the second-floor windows, because that means I have to set something down to fit through the door, which I forgot to open so I have to kick it in and repair the frame afterwards. But, boy, if I can get it all in in one trip and fall over into a titanic sprawling mass of packs of frozen French fries and cans of condensed milk that roll through the dining room, into the living room, and come to a rest under our pet rabbit, whose ears are perked up to full attention over this collapse, then I am happy.

Less common but at least as satisfying is hardware stores. I feel a wonderful sense of place when I’m in a hardware store, for whatever reason, and I would let my father mention here how hilarious this is except when I asked him to write something about it he started laughing hysterically and he’s barely stopped to take breaths, much less to get his composure enough to write anything, since, and it’s been eighteen days now. I am not your traditionally handy person. Would you believe that I have attempted to change a flat tire and, after having got the car jacked up not nearly enough to do this but finding myself unable to either lift it higher or let it get back to the ground again, I’ve abandoned my car in the intersection where the flat tire became un-ignorable and taken the bus home, on three separate occasions? Sure you would, and it doesn’t even matter that nothing all that much like this has never happened to me, because it makes too much sense that this is the sort of thing that should, and you know that too.

But set me in a hardware store, where I have absolutely no business being and no ability to identify anything past “this is probably not a wrench”, and I feel this wonderful inner peace. I think it’s the sense of a world of potential all organized into little grey boxes of metal and plastic parts, surrounded by tools that for some reason aren’t in alphabetical order. Or it’s getting to occasionally overhear people talking about “joists”. I’m not sure what a joist is but I know they are subjects of legitimate discussion when in hardware stores, and that reassures me. Life may be chaos and a struggle for comprehension, but for a little while, there’s cylinders of steel or iron or aluminum of something and gaskets of some kind of plastic or whatnot, and people walking around casually hefting things that are probably not wrenches and they have plans to make joists of things and maybe fix the doorframe. It’s perfect.

You know, I suspect I’d be happier if I could get the groceries in without any trips, but I haven’t worked out the details of that just yet.

Meanwhile, On A Bad Star Trek: Voyager Episode


Mutated lizard-man Tom Paris wears jammies and kidnaps Captain Janeway, because this made sense in context.
Screen capture from “Threshold”, which is a legendarily awful Star Trek: Voyager episode, and shut up, fans can too tell. And yeah, it’s pretty bad, but in its defense, it’s gloriously bad instead of being just boring.

Mutated Lizard-Man Tom Paris ponders, “You know, I thought this would make me happy for sure.”

How I Annoy Squirrels


We’ve got a bunch of planters around the yard, since this is a good way to get a little extra soil space for growing carrots or flowers or those slightly smelly plants that our pet rabbit likes to eat, and they turn out to be a little more fun as the early stages of fall set in because of the squirrels that hop into the planters, sniff around the soil, determine that it won’t do for their various squirrel-related needs, and hop off again to chase off other squirrels who’re also examining the planters.

This week with winter setting in abruptly — last night the xenon condensed out of the atmosphere, which would cover the land with a thin layer of a mysterious lavender film if we hadn’t sold off all the xenon rights to some mysterious Dutch pinball manufacturer years ago — and I had to go about moving the planters inside so the cycle of freezing and thawing that we dearly hope develops at some point this winter won’t go cracking them.

I knew this wouldn’t be popular with the squirrels, who were busy staring angrily at me through all this, but I didn’t realize the red squirrel was going to give me the “got my eyes on you” gesture. I kind of hope that all us humans look alike to the red squirrels so there’s only a one in seven billion chance he exacts his vengeance on me. (Or her vengeance. I suppose something like half of red squirrels have to be female.)

What I Now Know About The Cigarette Industry In Summer 1974


So why am I the kind of person who’ll read They Satisfy, Robert Sobel’s 1978 history of the cigarette industry in America? It’s because of passages like this:

There was a plethora of new brands in the summer of 1974, most of which were unimaginative and soon were discontinued. For years Lorillard had attempted to find a counterpart to Marlboro — a full-flavored smoke witha western motif. It had marketed Maverick, Redford, and Luke, all of which failed. Now it introduced Zach, which in tests featured a pack that looked like blue denim. Zach lasted less than a year. Brown & Williamson had even less luck with Tramps, an attempt to cash in on a revived interest in Charlie Chaplin. Although Chaplin’s face and form weren’t used in commercials, the company paid the retired actor two cents per pack in royalties so as to be able to suggest the connection. American Tobacco had Safari and Super M Menthol; L&M tried the market with St. Moritz, and Philip Morris produced Philip Morris International. This last smoke, a longer version of the old standard, did find a following, but the others were gone by early 1975.

And now my mind is captivated by the scene in Tobacco Industry Master Command, sometime around February 1974. “Gentlemen,” says the President of Tobacco, a burly guy who insists on people calling him “The Head Honcho” believe he thinks that makes him sound approachable and friendly before he kicks their knees in. “This is 1974! It’s a turbulent year! Nixon’s destroying the national belief that government can be a useful force, and America is about to finish the last Skylab mission! What are we going to do to get more people to smoke?”

And one meek fellow from Lorillard says, “We were thinking, maybe, we could try a blue denim-y package?”

A guy from Brown & Williamson says, “I don’t want to brag, but, we have a little project in mind wherein we’re going to just start giving Charlie Chaplin money without getting anything specific in return!”

The guys from American Tobacco and L&M were dozing through the question, but the Philip Morris guy said, “Um … maybe … do the same stuff, only more?”

And the President of Tobacco leans back, puts his feet up on the desk and says, “Boys, I don’t know who, but someone who walked into this room today just had the best cigarette idea of 1974.” Everyone else applauds The Head Honcho, or else.

And that’s why I read these kinds of books.

The Last Half, Plus Math Comics


There’s a rumor going around that at the end of the month Randy Glasbergen’s comic The Better Half will end; at least one newspaper’s already asked readers to tell them what to replace it with because they don’t want to have to make this difficult editorial decision. (Spoiler: they’re going to replace it with a box ad saying people should advertise in the newspaper because newspaper ads are effective, like the one the Trenton Times’s been running as a full-page ad on the back of section one every day for the past six years.)

Five panel jokes that are pretty much what The Better Half is all about.
Randy Glasbergen’s The Better Half for the 16th of November, 2014. The rumor is the strip’s ending with November, so, enjoy while it lasts.

I imagine the strip ending, if it’s true it is, won’t wreck many people’s lives; to the extent they think of the strip at all it’s probably as “that weak-tea imitator of The Lockhorns,” although actually The Better Half came out first; it debuted in 1956, a dozen years before The Lockhorns got going. But it’s always a bit of a loss to see a comic strip ending, especially one that’s been going since Eisenhower’s first term. I have to admit what I always thought about it, growing up, was that it had that certain indefatigable nature that got it doing five panel jokes on Sundays in addition to the strip-a-day load, although since The Lockhorns did that too it doesn’t even make this strip stand out.

Wikipedia says that a pilot for a sitcom based on it, starring Lily Tomlin and James Coco, was made in the early 70s. I actually would kind of like to know how that turend out; comic-strip-to-live-action adaptations are pretty rare. I know there was a Skippy movie in the 1930s, and a couple Li’l Abner and Barney Google movies, and a string of Blondie films. Dennis the Menace made a successful TV series. I can’t think of successful live-action adaptations since then, though, except for the one you’re right about to name and which I’m going to feel stupid not saying first.


In the meanwhile, my mathematics blog has a bunch of comics to discuss, because comic strips decided Friday the most important thing they could possibly do is say something that inspired me to talk mathematics. I don’t know either.

Statistics Saturday: The Questions Wikipedia’s Detroit Zoo History Raises


Drawn from Wikipedia’s Detroit Zoo page, in the history section, because I wanted to know whether the Detroit Zoo had ever actually been in Detroit rather than in the suburbs of Royal Oak and Huntingdon Woods:

The first Detroit Zoo opened in 1883 on Michigan and Trumbull Avenues, across from the then site of Tiger Stadium.

Wait, they called any ballpark before Yankee Stadium a Stadium? (No: Tigers Stadium was named Navin Field when it opened, in 1911, and before that the Tigers played in Bennett Park.) Wait, Bennett Park goes back to 1883? (No: to 1896). Wait, the Tigers go back to 1883? (No: to 1894.) Wait, did baseball even have the Western League, which is what the American League started as, in 1883? (No, but that’s kind of complicated.)

Sentences Completed: 1
Total Questions Raised: 4

A circus had arrived in town, only to go broke financially.

As opposed to going broke morally?

Sentences Completed: 2
Total Questions Raised: 5

Luther Beecher, a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist, financed the purchase of the circus animals and erected a building for their display called the Detroit Zoological Garden.

By calling him a leading Detroit citizen and capitalist I imagine he just strode around town wearing evening dress and holding sacks full of money while explaining to the working class that he was uplifting them morally by not paying them more money; that can’t be right, can it? (There’s no article about Luther Beecher, so I am going to suppose that anything you say about him can be true, like, “he was raised as an abolitionist, but later in life painted Christmas oranges blue in order to satisfy his belief that they should rhyme”.)

Sentences Completed: 3
Total Questions Raised: 6

The zoo closed the following year and the building converted into a horse auction.[5]

So what the heck does this thing have to do with the actual Detroit Zoo? Also what happened to the animals? Do I want to know? (I’m betting ‘no’.)

Sentences Completed: 4
Total Questions Raised: 9

The Detroit Zoological Society was founded in 1911, but the zoo’s official opening did not occur until August 1, 1928.

Were … they just puttering around town asking people to put up their giraffes for seventeen years then? And people did?

Sentences Completed: 5
Total Questions Raised: 11

At the opening ceremony, acting Mayor John C. Nagel was to speak to the gathered crowd.

I honestly don’t have any questions about this. I’m a little curious why they had an acting Mayor instead of the regular kind, but I know that cities just go through stretches where they have acting Mayors instead sometimes and that’s a normal function of city mayoralties.

Sentences Completed: 6
Total Questions Raised: 11

Arriving late, Nagel parked his car behind the bear dens and as he came rushing around the front, Morris, a polar bear, leaped from his moat and stood directly in front of Nagel.

Why did the zoo put the mayor’s parking spot within leaping range of the polar bears? Also why didn’t they make a moat that was bigger than what a polar bear could leap across?

Sentences Completed: 7
Total Questions Raised: 13

Unaware how precarious his situation was, Nagel stuck out his hand and walked toward the polar bear joking, “He’s the reception committee.”

Did grown-ups not know back then that between the options of rushing towards a polar bear and rushing away from the polar bear, the better option is nearly invariably rushing away from the polar bear? Is this maybe why they didn’t have a regular mayor and were making do on an acting basis? Was the regular mayor before Nagel perhaps lost when he accidentally slathered himself in bacon grease and rolled around in shredded cheese and sour cream until he was a mayor-flavored shell-less burrito and climbed into the mouth of a surprised yet compliant tiger?

Sentences Completed: 8
Total Questions Raised: 16

The keepers rushed the bear and forced him back into the moat, leaving the mayor uninjured.[6]

Wait, the polar bear was named Morris?

Sentences Completed: 9
Total Questions Raised: 17 (though that should’ve been counted against two sentences back).


At this point I cease reading because if I learn anything more about the history of the Detroit Zoo I will have completely obliterated my ability to know anything about the history of the Detroit Zoo.

Oh yeah, as for my original question, about whether the Detroit Zoo had ever been in the actual City of Detroit, as opposed to the suburbs of Royal Oak and Huntington Woods? I have no idea.

Krazy Kat: Housewarming


Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:

So, television. After decades of anticipation, and a false start just ahead of World War II, and a couple rounds of confusion about various technical schemes that among other things took Channel 1 off the air, television finally became a successful mass medium in the 1950s. And more than anything else it needed programming, or as we call it these days, content. Movie libraries were the obvious cheap stuff to program, and they were raided with a vengeance, resulting in jokes about all the rotten old movies you caught on TV that filled up non-television mediums through the decade.

Programmers quickly figured out that kids would watch cartoons, and concluded that kids needed new cartoons, because apparently they had never met any kids and didn’t realize that they are actually pretty much fine with watching the same cartoon every day for what feels like a century. King Features Syndicate, in a rush that looks to me strikingly similar to their attempt to make every comic strip they had into a cartoon in the 1910s, decided in the early 60s to raid their comic strip properties and make lots of cartoons. Thus we got a new series of Popeye cartoons, as well as Beetle Bailey and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and for that matter Krazy Kat.

Fifty of these were made, between 1962 and 1964, animated by the legendary Gene Deitch and his studio in Prague, which you may remember as the studio that produced those really weird Tom and Jerry cartoons that sound like they were recorded in a bathroom and play out like fever dreams (I think they’re great, or at least a good step ahead of the Cinemascope cartoons). Deitch’s studio brought the mid-century modern feel and style of UPA cartoons to what it drew, and while I do not know for a fact that he was a fan of the comic strip, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that of course he was. The animation style is on-model for George Herriman’s comic strip in a way not seen since Li’l Ainjil:

Even more remarkably, in this, the debut of the series, the characters are on-model. The basic relationship of cat-mouse-brick-dog is made plain early on, and the characters stick to it. I don’t know that the first two scenes, of Krazy walking past Offisa Pupp with a door and a window, are drawn from the original comic strip, but they have to me the feel of them, particularly in the curious way the dialogue is both sparse and rococo. It builds into a wonderfully weird scene of Krazy’s imaginary house in the midst of a surreal landscape. I can see someone who liked this cartoon going to the comic strip and seeing something that may be different but is at least compatible, and probably more easily than someone could go from the 1930s Popeye cartoons to the comic strip.

So finally, and in a medium, and in an era for that medium, that gets no respect, we finally see what might be the best adaptation of Krazy Kat into a cartoon.

And yet …

The Cranberry Riders


Apparently for its sesquicentennial Rider University in New Jersey got people organized to set the Guinness World Record for the “longest line of fruits”, by stringing together 10,036 cranberries. I don’t question the wisdom of this, naturally. I don’t know a better way to celebrate a sesquicentennial than setting a fruit-string record. I’m reminded of how Piscataway, New Jersey, celebrated its sesquicentennial by placing in a line an estimated twelve tomatos. (It was founded in 1666, so its sesquicentennial was in 1816, so it was harder to get fresh fruits back then, so lay off. Also it was only Piscataway.)

And I don’t argue with the choice of cranberries. If you want to set a record that’s going to stand you’re going to need a lot of fruits, and cranberries are pretty good because you get a lot of them from wherever it is cranberries come from and they’re all small, so you’re not going to have to up all your storage space for cranberry depository needs. If you were trying to string together over ten thousand watermelons you might well have a line that runs out of New Jersey, through Pennsylvania, and into a little bit of Kentucky before someone checks the map and says that’s not possible.

Plus, and I don’t want to sound too enthusiastic about the state of my birth, but New Jersey is a great place to get cranberries. It’s not obvious from the toll roads, but nearly three-quarters of the land area that isn’t toll roads, outlet malls, or that little bitty mountain range in the upper left corner are cranberry bogs. There’s so many cranberries in New Jersey that you can’t toss an otter into a cranberry bog without getting a lot of cranberries tossed back at you by otter-defending cranberry beasts. Compare this to the in-state availability of, say, durian and you can see why cranberries are almost inevitable.

It’s the number that’s got me: why did they stop at 10,036, instead of the obvious round number of 10,030? Why not go on to a clearly more attractive 10,044? It’s not that the previous record was 10,035; the article I read about it said they broke the old fruit string record by over four thousand pieces of fruit. Possibly they ran out of cranberries, although I’d imagine for the cause of getting to a lofty number like 10,054 someone could have run to the store and got another can, or taunt a nearby otter. Maybe they ran out of string. I could see that stopping the whole project dead. They could resort to twine for the end, although that might get them in trouble, and besides any ball of twine anyone thinks they have is always, always, purely notional. Nobody has had the twine they thought they had since 1942, which wasn’t any particular anniversary for Rider University.

Rider’s director of media relations, Kristine Brown, pointed out that Guinness requires that food used for records be “used in some way”, so apparently when all the record-certifying is done, and someone goes home knowing that their career has caused them to take a trip for the purpose of verifying a string of cranberries, “we’re gonna string them on the trees around campus so all the birds and the squirrels and everybody can enjoy them”. And this offers another clue why cranberries were used, because you can see obvious problems in trying to decorate a university campus with strings of some other fruit, such as squash: I don’t think squash is a fruit.

I’m not sure the exact biology of it but I’m pretty sure fruits are defined as “the plants that people eat because they like eating them, as long as candy bars aren’t available”, while vegetables are “the plants people eat because they feel they should be eating vegetables or because it’s winter and they retain oven heat like crazy”, and then there’s big leafy stuff like lettuce and spinach that people eat because they hold salad dressing. You couldn’t put even world-record-setting strands of squash around campus, not without getting caught or the string breaking.

Also, I had never before thought to frock a university campus in strands of cranberries for the fall, but now, I have a new prank to play.

People Who Do Things To Metals


I was reading a collection of the writings of Count Rumford, the late-18th/early-19th century scientist who pioneered the study of heat and was only a traitor to his country by certain definitions of the term, and ran across this in a paper he wrote about, among other things, whether it’s better to wear a fur coat with the fur pointing outward or inward (this was just, like, a little one-page digression, plus back then they didn’t know so much about which stuff needed to be scientifically proven):

Experiment No. 14. — Procuring from a gold-beater a quantity of leaf gold and leaf silver about three times as thick as that which is commonly used by gilders, I covered the surfaces of the two large cylindrical vessels, No. 1 and No. 2, with a single coating of oil varnish; and, when it was sufficiently dry for my purpose, I gilt the instrument No. 1 with the gold leaf, and covered the other, No. 2, with silver leaf. When the varnish was perfectly dry and hard, I wiped the instruments with cotton, to remove the superfluous particles of the gold and silver, and then repeated the experiment, so often mentioned, of filling the instruments with boiling-hot water, and exposing them to the cool in the air of a large quiet room.

OK, so, wait a second: there’s a profession called “gold-beater”? And not only are they responsible for beating gold, they’re adulterous gold-beaters because they also smack silver around? Or at least back two hundred years ago you could be a professional beater of gold. It leaves me wondering about other such professions which involve doing terrible things to elements; have we now progressed to the point that someone could have a job as:

  • cobalt-burglar
  • yttrium-flasher
  • manganese-spindler
  • nitrogen-embezzler
  • helium-poisoner
  • niobium-arsonist
  • beryllium-libeller
  • xenon-ransomer
  • praseodymium-speller
  • polonium-strangler
  • rhenium-kidnapper

Of course not, because you can’t libel beryllium, since anything awful you say about it is true. But it’s got me wondering about the others. The world is suddenly bigger and more complicated than I thought and I need to blame someone for this, so I fault beryllium.

Finley Peter Dunne: A Book Review


It’s been ages since I featured anything by Finley Peter Dunne, whose columns, presented as the voice of Mister Dooley, fictional owner of an Irish pub in the South Side of Chicago. Dunne reached heights of influence and attention that most writers dream of. His blend of wit, satire, and folksiness achieves a timelessness that belies how much his stuff was written in response to what was news that week. Here, from the 1900 collection Mister Dooley’s Philosophy, is a review of the book describing an implausible character’s experiences in the Cuban War.


“Well sir,” said Mr. Dooley, “I jus’ got hold iv a book, Hinnissy, that suits me up to th’ handle, a gran’ book, th’ grandest iver seen. Ye know I’m not much throubled be lithrachoor, havin’ manny worries iv me own, but I’m not prejudiced again’ books. I am not. Whin a rale good book comes along I’m as quick as anny wan to say it isn’t so bad, an’ this here book is fine. I tell ye ’tis fine.”

“What is it?” Mr. Hennessy asked languidly.

“‘Tis ‘Th’ Biography iv a Hero be Wan who Knows.’ ‘Tis ‘Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man be an Actual Eye Witness.’ ‘Tis ‘Th’ Account iv th’ Desthruction iv Spanish Power in th’ Ant Hills,’ as it fell fr’m th’ lips iv Tiddy Rosenfelt an’ was took down be his own hands. Ye see ’twas this way, Hinnissy, as I r-read th’ book. Whin Tiddy was blowed up in th’ harbor iv Havana he instantly con-cluded they must be war. He debated th’ question long an’ earnestly an’ fin’lly passed a jint resolution declarin’ war. So far so good. But there was no wan to carry it on. What shud he do? I will lave th’ janial author tell th’ story in his own wurruds.

“‘Th’ sicrety iv war had offered me,’ he says, ‘th’ command of a rig’mint,’ he says, ‘but I cud not consint to remain in Tampa while perhaps less audacious heroes was at th’ front,’ he says. ‘Besides,’ he says, ‘I felt I was incompetent f’r to command a rig’mint raised be another,’ he says. ‘I detarmined to raise wan iv me own,’ he says. ‘I selected fr’m me acquaintances in th’ West,’ he says, ‘men that had thravelled with me acrost th’ desert an’ th’ storm-wreathed mountain,’ he says, ‘sharin’ me burdens an’ at times confrontin’ perils almost as gr-reat as anny that beset me path,’ he says. ‘Together we had faced th’ turrors iv th’ large but vilent West,’ he says, ‘an’ these brave men had seen me with me trusty rifle shootin’ down th’ buffalo, th’ elk, th’ moose, th’ grizzly bear, th’ mountain goat,’ he says, ‘th’ silver man, an’ other ferocious beasts iv thim parts,’ he says. ‘An’ they niver flinched,’ he says. ‘In a few days I had thim perfectly tamed,’ he says, ‘an’ ready to go annywhere I led,’ he says. ‘On th’ thransport goi’n to Cubia,’ he says, ‘I wud stand beside wan iv these r-rough men threatin’ him as a akel, which he was in ivrything but birth, education, rank an’ courage, an’ together we wud look up at th’ admirable stars iv that tolerable southern sky an’ quote th’ bible fr’m Walt Whitman,’ he says. ‘Honest, loyal, thrue-hearted la-ads, how kind I was to thim,’ he says.”

“‘We had no sooner landed in Cubia than it become nicessry f’r me to take command iv th’ ar-rmy which I did at wanst. A number of days was spint be me in reconnoitring, attinded on’y be me brave an’ fluent body guard, Richard Harding Davis. I discovered that th’ inimy was heavily inthrenched on th’ top iv San Juon hill immejiately in front iv me. At this time it become apparent that I was handicapped be th’ prisence iv th’ ar-rmy,’ he says. ‘Wan day whin I was about to charge a block house sturdily definded be an ar-rmy corps undher Gin’ral Tamale, th’ brave Castile that I aftherwards killed with a small ink-eraser that I always carry, I r-ran into th’ entire military force iv th’ United States lying on its stomach. ‘If ye won’t fight,’ says I, ‘let me go through, ‘I says. ‘Who ar-re ye?’ says they. ‘Colonel Rosenfelt,’ says I. ‘Oh, excuse me,’ says the gin’ral in command (if me mimry serves me thrue it was Miles) r-risin’ to his knees an’ salutin’. This showed me ‘twud be impossible f’r to carry th’ war to a successful con-clusion unless I was free, so I sint th’ ar-rmy home an’ attackted San Juon hill. Ar-rmed on’y with a small thirty-two which I used in th’ West to shoot th’ fleet prairie dog, I climbed that precipitous ascent in th’ face iv th’ most gallin’ fire I iver knew or heerd iv. But I had a few r-rounds iv gall mesilf an’ what cared I? I dashed madly on cheerin’ as I wint. Th’ Spanish throops was dhrawn up in a long line in th’ formation known among military men as a long line. I fired at th’ man nearest to me an’ I knew be th’ expression iv his face that th’ trusty bullet wint home. It passed through his frame, he fell, an’ wan little home in far-off Catalonia was made happy be th’ thought that their riprisintative had been kilt be th’ future governor iv New York. Th’ bullet sped on its mad flight an’ passed through th’ intire line fin’lly imbeddin’ itself in th’ abdomen iv th’ Ar-rch-bishop iv Santiago eight miles away. This ended th’ war.’

“‘They has been some discussion as to who was th’ first man to r-reach th’ summit iv San Juon hill. I will not attempt to dispute th’ merits iv th’ manny gallant sojers, statesmen, corryspondints an’ kinetoscope men who claim th’ distinction. They ar-re all brave men an’ if they wish to wear my laurels they may. I have so manny annyhow that it keeps me broke havin’ thim blocked an’ irned. But I will say f’r th’ binifit iv Posterity that I was th’ on’y man I see. An I had a tillyscope.'”

“I have thried, Hinnissy,” Mr. Dooley continued, “to give you a fair idee iv th’ contints iv this remarkable book, but what I’ve tol’ ye is on’y what Hogan calls an outline iv th’ principal pints. Ye’ll have to r-read th’ book ye’ersilf to get a thrue conciption. I haven’t time f’r to tell ye th’ wurruk Tiddy did in ar-rmin’ an’ equippin’ himself, how he fed himsilf, how he steadied himsilf in battle an’ encouraged himsilf with a few well-chosen wurruds whin th’ sky was darkest. Ye’ll have to take a squint into th’ book ye’ersilf to l’arn thim things.”

“I won’t do it,” said Mr. Hennessy. “I think Tiddy Rosenfelt is all r-right an’ if he wants to blow his hor-rn lave him do it.”

“Thrue f’r ye,” said Mr. Dooley, “an’ if his valliant deeds didn’t get into this book ‘twud be a long time befure they appeared in Shafter’s histhry iv th’ war. No man that bears a gredge again’ himsilf ‘ll iver be governor iv a state. An’ if Tiddy done it all he ought to say so an’ relieve th’ suspinse. But if I was him I’d call th’ book ‘Alone in Cubia.'”

Math Comics Plus a Compu-Toon I Found Funny


It’s only fair to say when Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon is not a strange and baffling comic strip with humor only vaguely discernable, so, here it is: the strip from the 6th of November, a panel I understand and find funny. There’s still nothing happening in Apartment 3-G, but it’s a different kind of nothing from what wasn’t happening before, focusing on different characters who aren’t doing anything.

'In order for Irving to defeat a slimy non-vertebrate monstrous beast, he had to become one,' which is unmistakably a joke.
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 6th of November, 2014.

Meanwhile, over in my mathematics blog, there’s a bunch of comics reviewed, and two of them even include pictures.