Color Classics: Betty Boop in Poor Cinderella


I want to close out the string of Fleischer Color Classics cartons. There are a couple dozen more of them, but I think we’ve seen a fair sampling of what they’re like. For the last one, then, I’d like to go to the cartoon that inaugurated the series, Poor Cinderella, which as the title suggests, stars Betty Boop.

Of course it stars Betty Boop. When the Color Classics line of cartoons began, in 1934, the biggest stars Fleischer studios had were Betty Boop and Popeye and … well, actually, Popeye would probably be able to launch a line of musical cartoons on his own too. But Betty Boop was big. She still is; it’s still easy to find her licensed and marketed, which is all the more impressive when you consider there hasn’t been a new Betty Boop cartoon released since July of 1939. Let me put that in perspective: every single Tom and Jerry cartoon, and every Bugs Bunny cartoon, was made after Betty Boop was last in theaters (apart from cameo appearances as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and yet, she’s still at least recognizable.

(For my rhetorical purposes, yeah, I’m declaring A Wild Hare to be the first Bugs Bunny cartoon, but the precursors are hard to ignore.)

I honestly have no idea why Betty Boop wasn’t summoned for a series of cheaply-made cartoons in the 60s, at least, which seems like the natural era in which she might have got that degrading honor, or maybe in the early 80s as part of an attempt to show actual cartoons with female-type women as lead characters. A bunch of her cartoons were colorized, badly, in the 60s, at the same time a lot of the black-and-white Popeye cartoons were. This was done by South Korean animators hand-tracing and painting the frames, making the cartoons generally shoddier and more shady. Some madman then pulled out sequences to stitch together into a compilation cartoon titled Betty Boop For President, which can most properly be described as “Frankensteinian” and “dated and sexist in weird ways even for the 70s”. Wikipedia claims there was an attempt to make a new Betty Boop movie in the 90s that fell apart; I can accept that happening. I’m just surprised there hasn’t been more of that.

Poor Cinderella is Betty Boop’s only canonical appearance in color, although since at the time Disney had an exclusive license to use three-strip technicolor, Betty Boop’s cartoon was in two-strip Cinecolor. Cinecolor was built around red and cyan as the base colors. The color schemes to me look like vaguely reminiscent of old Christmas wrapping paper. It also gives the whole cartoon a faintly muted dreamlike attribute. I don’t think it’s just this cartoon; other Cinecolor films I’ve seen make a similar impression on me.

The cartoon — well, the story is exactly what the title implies. The Fleischers put in all their technical tricks to launch it well, though, with three-dimensional sets and lushly detailed animation, and didn’t forget the sorts of strange little comic asides that marked their most surreal work, even as the whole cartoon tries to be pretty sincerely direct and gentle.

The Prince is drawn in a rather realistic style, which never quite meshes with Betty Boop’s character design. That’s part of the price paid for trying to do a realistic-model cartoon with a character as stylized as Betty Boop at the core. The Fleischers had a similar problem with their first feature-length movie, Gulliver’s Travels, in which they needed characters ranging from rotoscoped-human-form (Gulliver, the Prince and Princess) through to very cartoonish (Gabby the Town Crier). Somehow Disney seems to have managed that blend more naturally in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, although it might be that that movie is so much a part of everyone’s childhood they don’t even notice that, somehow, Snow White and Grumpy exist on-screen at the same time.

The title song isn’t going to haunt your mind the way Dancing On The Moon still does, but I enjoy it, and hope that you do also.

Telling Lies About George Washington. Or Not. Hard To Say.


My love and I were talking about presidents, what with our just having gone past a day, and the way that Abraham Lincoln feels so close and accessible while George Washington feels remote. But Washington worked so hard his whole life after that first time he started a world war to project an unapproachable dignity, while Lincoln eagerly leapt at the chance to get in touch with ordinary folks, like the time he toured as Jenny Lind’s opening act. It struck me too that Lincoln is just so quotable, even among dialogue that wasn’t made up for his appearance opposite some space potatoes on Star Trek, while with Washington … well, can you think of anything Washington said besides his awesome squelching of the Newburgh Conspiracy and, of course, “I cannot tell a lie”, which he didn’t even say?

And that got us thinking about the cherry-tree incident since my love and I realized that we all knew the story of how Young George Washington supposedly chopped down a tree and confessed it to his father, but we realized we had no idea why he chopped down the tree in the first place. It sounds like a jerk move, all around, and while yeah, boys can be jerks, it seems weird to tell a story that starts out from the premise that Young George Washington set out to be a jerk, but at least he talked about it to anyone who asked. So I got to looking up the whole cherry-tree thing.

We get the cherry-tree story of course form the biographer Mason Locke Weems, who was called Parson Weems even by his friends, to his face, while he was listening, and it turns out I might be wrong in thinking he just made the whole thing up. Apparently while there’s no independent source for the story, he claimed he got it from an old woman who claimed she knew Washington when they were both young, and anyway nobody’s found where he might have plagiarized it from, so, hey, maybe it did happen.

And that’s why I got to actually reading a little bit of the biography where Weems made up all this interesting stuff about Washington. Now, it’s probably inevitable for a biographer to get into really admiring the biographied person. It’s hard to spend all that time writing about someone and not find something you like, no matter how much bad there might be to say about the person. Edward Renehan’s 2005 biography of robber baron Jay Gould, for example, mentions in its introduction that “while Gould was guilty of stock-watering, back in those days the public called stock-watering many things that we now regard as ordinary business practice, as if that makes us look any good, and besides four separate grand juries refused to indict him for his habit of eating babies even after Gould stopped payment on his checks to them. I can show you the papers.” And Washington is an easier guy to like, what with his shallower connections to corrupt railroad corporations.

Indeed, Weems was really quite Washington-mad, as in this bit from the introduction which I am not making up or exaggerating: “And in all the ensigns of character amidst which he is generally drawn, you see none that represent him what he really was, `the Jupiter Conservator,’ the friend and benefactor of men.” This is true. Nearly every biography I’ve read about Washington treats him as an intelligent, reserved, image-conscious man who overcame the inability of groups of Americans to competently manage anything and not just get the British to pick on India instead of America but also to build a federal government just able to overcome seventeen guys in western Pennsylvania not paying the whisky tax, downplaying the part where he’s an Olympian god suckled by a goat.

And the whole book is like that, just magnificently brassy. Washington can’t even die peacefully sick: “Swift on angel’s wings the brightening saint ascended; while voices more than human were warbling through the happy regions, and hymning the great procession towards the gates of heaven. His glorious coming was seen afar off; and myriads of mighty angels hastened forth, with golden harps, to welcome the honoured stranger. High in front of the shouting hosts, were seen the beauteous forms of Franklin, Warren, Mercer, Scammel, and of him who fell at Quebec, with all the virtuous patriots, who, on the side of Columbia, toiled or bled for liberty and truth.” I feel positively curmudgeonly in asking the obvious question of “does anybody know who Scammel is supposed to be?” I’m none too sure about this Warren character either. Somebody check if he’s supposed to be on the list of myriad angel-hasteners.

Anyway, for the record, here’s the anecdote as Weems gives it.

“When George,” said she, “was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. `George,’ said his father, `do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden?’ This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, `I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.’ — `Run to my arms, you dearest boy,’ cried his father in transports, `run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold’.”

I can actually accept its core point, that someone was stupid enough to give a six-year-old a hatchet and this immediately produced a wide swath of things hatcheted into pieces. If there’s anything six-year-olds shouldn’t be given if you don’t want things hatcheted into pieces, it’s things.

Thingy Careers At Apple


I have another bunch of mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed over on my other blog that I’d like you to read, if you would. I’m aware that’s pretty soon after the last time I collected such a bunch of comics so there isn’t really a quite mad enough edition of Mell Lazarus’s Momma to highlight here, though I will say the dialogue of Wednesday’s strip is kind of weird.

Anyway, since I don’t have another comic strip I feel like showing off, I’d like to mention something I learned from that Caption This! thingy from Star Trek VI earlier this week, and that is: Apple’s spelling dictionary recognizes the word “thingamabob”. It also recognizes “thingumabob” as an equally good spelling of the word. It does not respect “thingimabob” or “thingemabob”, and it makes an audible yicking noise at “thingomabob”, even though that last one seems at least as plausible to me as “thingumabob”.

From this I must conclude that either someone at Apple decided of her own initiative that the `a’ and `u’ spellings of “thing*mabob” were acceptable while the `i’, `e’, and `o’ ones were right out, or else there was at least one staff meeting in which the matter was debated and decided. And I so hope they took minutes which will someday be available to corporate biographers.

Meanwhile I’m so glad I went with “thingamabob” instead of “doohickey” for the caption because otherwise how might I have discovered all this?

Safety Pants


I bought a new pair of pants because … well, I’m not sure that actually needs justification. It seems like the fact of the purchase explains the reasoning behind it perfectly well: “I needed some new pants because somehow I don’t have quite enough to go a whole week without laundering them, even though I haven’t thrown any out or given any away and they’re all in good working order so I don’t know.”

Anyway, I bought a pair of the kinds of pants which are right for me, which is to say, cargo pants which come folded with such severely sharp creases they emphasize how much I dress like a Lego character. And I noticed one of the nearly four labels I had to remove (which isn’t an unreasonable number of labels, considering) before successfully wearing it in a non-test circumstance was a tag mentioning “Meets CPSC Safety Requirements”.

Of course like you I’m amused by the thought that someone checked that this pants design had proper safety railings and no unnecessarily exposed spinning metal blades, but what got me is this: somewhere out there is a person whose job is “overseeing cargo-pants safety guidelines”. And that person either grew up wanting to be a cargo-pants safety guideline overseer, or is someone whose career led there. Either way is a staggering thought.

Comic Strip _Momma_ Not Neglecting George Washington, Either


OK, so, something first: on my mathematics blog it’s the “19th Century German Mathematicians” edition, although it really only mentions two 19th Century German Mathematicians by name or any detail, and one of them thought he could prove that Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. So, you know, being good at infinity doesn’t mean you know everything.

Something second: Mell Lazarus’s Momma. The comic strip recently turned to Almanac-based humor, and last week raised questions about Abraham Lincoln as well as Canada’s “Heritage Day”, like, “does Canada have a `Heritage Day’?” And, since the comic strip gave us Abraham Lincoln just hanging around for no particular reason, would George Washington get the same treatment? Sure he would.

Momma and Francis see George Washington, who's alive and sitting angrily in a chair, and who thinks Momma and Francis don't appreciate how much hard work it is being George Washington.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 22nd of February, 2015, celebrating George Washington’s birthday by making us wonder what he’s so angry about anyway.

And I’m still baffled by it all, since while I have no trouble believing that Washington has carved a dresser out of a giant block of yellow butter, I’m stumped working out why he would have triangular pennants for the battles of Concord and of Saratoga, or the Treaty of Paris, which he had nothing to do with. And where the heck is the pennant for Monmouth Courthouse? Why not the winter encampments at Morristown, New Jersey? Heck, what about Newburgh? Also, are his drapes pattern that of a bunch of clouds, or is it Keith Knight characters mooning us? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Color Classics: Time For Love


For today’s Color Classic cartoon from the Fleischers I’d like to present Time For Love, released the 6th of September, 1935. It’s immediately familiar from the opening for using as the main theme “Love In Bloom”, marginally known as the Jack Benny tune, at least among the people who still remember Jack Benny. Folks should; you could run a course in how to write just based on how his shows were structured.

This cartoon hasn’t got anything to do with Jack Benny besides the musical reminder, though. It’s a pastoral cartoon, something a bit out of the Fleischer Brothers specialty, but it does mean the gorgeous three-dimensional sets in back can be ones of natural beauty.

The story, of a swan being seduced by a superficially impressive (black) swan who proves to be cruel, and needing rescue by her lover, does not present her in a very good light, it must be admitted, though her original lover comes out looking admirable. It struck me, though, as having essentially the structure of a certain strain of Popeye cartoons, ones in which Olive Oyl leaves Popeye for the apparent charms of Bluto, and you know where that’s going — cartoons like I Never Changes My Altitude or Beware of Barnacle Bill or The Man On The Flying Trapeze. The action isn’t as intense as those — a couple swans we never saw before aren’t going to have the narrative energy of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, and “Love In Bloom” isn’t as rousing a song as “The Man On The Flying Trapeze” — but I’m intrigued by how strongly the action is transposed to new characters.

I don’t suppose the Fleischers were thinking to do a Popeye cartoon in feathers here. If they were, well, we’d know it, by the swan’s lover being more of a presence. But there is this correspondence, and it makes a sweet little sentimental cartoon a touch more when you notice it.

Why I Shouldn’t Be Left In The Kitchen


So I picked up a box of paczki from the Quality Dairy convenience store. I’d had to pop in for cash anyway and they had so many boxes of so many doughnuts that it felt like a mercy to buy some. Plus I was thinking of my father, who can’t appreciate them considering the state he’s in (South Carolina). On the box’s side is a paragraph of information titled The Paczki Tradition, provided I guess in the charming belief that Americans might require some coaxing into eating doughnuts that are slightly thicker than usual.

The paragraph, by one Herbert A Holinko, “Recipient of the Cavalier’s Cross, Poland’s highest civilian award”, explains that they’re made of the finest ingredients and covered with several types of sugar or glaze, and was traditionally made “to use up the ingredients in our households” before the Lenten fasts. I hope he means using up doughnut ingredients. If we tried to use up all the ingredients in our pantry ahead of Lent we’d be making paczki bulging with rice, dry spaghetti, six different bottles of vinegar each with about a quarter-inch of liquid we assume to be vinegar in them, packets of mee goreng-flavored ramen noodles, and a bin of those Boston Baked Beans candies that we only tried for the first time like a month ago and it turns out they’re pretty great. I cannot say what kind of pastry this bundle of ingredients would produce but I imagine anyone eating it would fall back on the oft-used “Frankensteinian” adjective before fleeing our house, never to return.

Holinko also explains “Our German neighbors to the west call them Berliners and our Austrian friends to the south celebrate with the Krapfen”. This is, I believe, the kindest thing any high-ranking Polish person has said about Germans or Austrians since 1683, when Jan Sobieski said, “You know, I like these coffee shops Vienna’s got all of a sudden, and this bagel thing seems like a good idea if we just added some salt or garlic or maybe chocolate chips and blueberries to it. Anyway, good start, maybe needs just a little work or cinnamon jalapeno cream cheese”.

I got to a little bit of work on a bagel yesterday when I realized we’d forgot to take any out of the freezer and wanted to have one as breakfast. Rather than give up on the bagel idea, maybe having the ramen instead, maybe carving a hole out of the center of a potato and smearing enough cream cheese on it that nobody would care about the difference instead. Since I had already gone plainly mad — it was a salt bagel, not a plain, anyway — I tried defrosting it in the microwave.

The microwave has got a defrost setting, I assume, somewhere in that collection of neglected buttons showing pictures of potatoes and popcorn and pizza and whatever other foods whose name starts with the letter ‘P’ they could think of. So I tried setting it for sixty seconds on fifty percent power and the microwave went to work on a sixty-minute cooking cycle and that is not me comically exaggerating, that is me somehow failing to press ‘6 0 Power 5 Start’. And here I need to point out that while it is technically true that I hold a doctorate in mathematics from a very well-regarded university, microwave oven button use constitutes only a very small section of one course in Functional Analysis and it’s not like you remember everything you get to in a course like that.

So I got that straightened out and the bagel down to defrosting for two minutes, at the end of which … it was piping hot and soft and, when I sliced it open, warm and flaky, with little clouds of steam rising and I’m not certain but I believe that an angel rose up from its center and gently brushed my cheek. I have known harder croissants, not to mention firmer clouds of water vapor, and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since that I committed some gross offense against the laws of bagel-preparing. I wouldn’t have had this problem with ramen; there’s very little need to defrost that, most of the time.

Also, Local Architecture Critic Running Amok


So in non-Momma news: our local alternate weekly has an Eyesore Of The Week column, one of those things you’re supposed to read for the vicious joy of watching some slumlord get called out on, like, how there’s been a garbage bin stuck through the front door for over three years now and it’s been on fire since November and nobody does anything about it. Oh, they excuse the column as a public service, shaming absentee owners into cleaning up their properties, but if they could be shamed they wouldn’t be absentee-owner slumlords.

Anyway, the paper hired a real proper experienced architectural critic, which has had weird effects, such as now sometimes what makes it the Eyesore of the Week is just that “the community college built it and it was 1973 and these things just happened like that back then and everybody involved is sorry”. And now the last one I read went on about a house where the major sins are — and I’m not deliberately exaggerating — that the aluminum siding pieces are too tall, and the upstairs window is horizontally divided rather than vertically.

And the critic didn’t content himself with the picture of the Eyesore, but called out some rendering software to show what the house would look like if the siding were replaced with narrower wooden siding and the upstairs window vertically divided. I guess it looks different and I’ll trust the architecture critic that it looks better, since that guy’s the critic and I just read the alternate weekly, but what I really noticed was that in the computer-generated image the neighboring houses are completely different. It suggests the problem is only a bit of detailing on the house, and that it instead ought to be in a different neighborhood, one with houses that take much less rendering time. This may be true, but I don’t see how it’s anything that the owner can do anything about.

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad


I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

Belarus Diplomat Delivers Warning From Dream World


I want to thank whoever at Reuters created this headline, because it’s one of the best I’ve seen in ages:

Belarus diplomat worries topless, mayo-throwing women could disrupt U.N.

Specifically, in a discussion about opening up the Conference on Disarmament discussions to the general public the Belarus delegate worried about what this could do to security and allegedly, according to the official summary, said, “What if there were topless ladies screaming from the public gallery throwing bottles of mayonnaise”. Reuters doesn’t say what the answer was, but then, what kind of answer could you give besides “hope the sergeant-at-arms hasn’t run out of catsup”? The correct answer was given by Mexico’s representative: since the public was already allowed to attend plenary sessions, “in theory [they] could already drop mayonnaise onto delegates”. Also there were only two people watching right now, anyway.

Actually, Reuters doesn’t even say who the Belarus delegate was, so I can’t swear that this isn’t entirely a prank put in to see if anybody’s reading the summaries. But if it did happen, then, I have to suppose that Belarus has gotten a warning from the dream world about a future in which Disarmament Conferences are held much closer to a Roy Rogers’ Fixin’s Bar, which is good news for the people trying to bring the Roy Rogers franchise back from being just four stands in service plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike. It just feels like the sort of thing you wouldn’t fear unless you had some specific reason to, though, doesn’t it?

Yet I can’t help feeling a little sad. I can’t convince myself that the guy from Belarus wasn’t making a really sly, snarky joke — I mean, the specificity of topless women with mayonnaise is suggestive — and then Mexico’s guy didn’t realize it and answered flatly. If that’s the case I hope the Belarus guy just went home with that smug feeling that comes from making a joke so deadpan that nobody realizes you’re joking.

Comic Strip Momma Extends Descent Into Madness


I’m neither the first person to notice this, nor is this the first time I’ve noticed this, but Mell Lazarus’s comic strip Momma is going full-on crazy. Consider the entry from the 12th of February, which observes Lincoln’s Birthday with a comic strip that makes you really wonder: why did he sign his name to it in two separate places not counting the copyright notice? Also, what the heck is any of it supposed to mean?

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

The strip for the 13th is no less baffling, because once again Mell Lazarus signs his name twice plus puts it in the copyright notice, and I’m not sure that the drawings of Momma in the first and last panel are even on the same model. I admit that Lazarus’s style has always been so loose that it’s hard to say when someone is quite off-model, but … I honestly wonder if the strip isn’t being assembled from reprints of past scenes that more or less fit the script. It would explain the setting jump from Francis on the front porch to Francis lounging on the sofa holding a beer between panels.

Also, why does his dating in the lower right corner smudged, like he changed his mind about the date?

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

While that’s all busy sitting on your head, I have a bunch of comics whose jokes I understand, since they’re trying to talk about mathematical topics, and pretty much succeed. I’d be glad if you gave reading them a try.

Color Classics: All’s Fair At The Fair


For today’s cartoon I’m stepping back into the Fleischer Color Classics, with a short released the 26th of August, 1938: All’s Fair At The Fair. The title gives away the subject: it’s a World’s Fair cartoon, and since it was the late 30s it’s a severely Art Deco setting to show off the automated and mechanized world of tomorrow, the one that doesn’t really need people in it.

This is a setting, and a hook to hang jokes on, that’s well-designed for the Fleischer Cartoons: Max and Dave Fleischer had a particular thrill for ingenious mechanisms and gadgetry. Sometimes I suspect they’re a little bothered to have to have characters in their cartoons, and so the automated, people-less World of Tomorrow plays to their strengths. After the initial scenes this is a very empty World’s Fair, with just one country-hick pair of characters appearing at all. I’m not sure the characters even had any written dialogue. The way they mutter evokes the contemporary Popeye style, in which the voices were recorded after animation. But Elmer and Miranda haven’t got the personality of Popeye and Olive Oyl, and Jack Mercer (the voice of Popeye) and Margie Hines (who had taken over voicing Olive Oyl and Betty Boop) couldn’t do much to give them character.

But this isn’t one to watch for the characters. It’s one to watch for gadgets doing things, and for the lovely background and set designs. That works, all, doesn’t it?

In Which Suddenly I Know Anything About Rugby, Belgium


A Reuters article filed under “Oddly Enough” makes me aware that a Belgian rugby club is appealing to have a weekend match annulled, on the grounds that the referee arrived more than an hour late. I’m surprised by all that because I had just assumed rugby was organized enough that it didn’t have problems with referees not being around.

I understand that in the early days of a major sport you can have embarrassing lapses of organization. Baseball’s first attempt at a major league, in May of 1871, flopped when the Cleveland Nine and the Fort Wayne Nine both thought they were the home team and so were hundreds of miles apart. The lapse in planning is obvious, once you’ve seen the accident, but beforehand who could guess that both teams would need names? And after the NFL was first organized in a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, in 1920, the Akron Pros won the first championship because the runner-up Decatur Staleys just couldn’t make themselves believe there was such a thing as a “Hupmobile”. Their skepticism was justified, although the Hupmobile dealer asked some pointed questions about the so-called “Staley”. The NBA is still trying to work out its pre-season challenge between the upper and lower divisions, owing to a failure of many venues to build two-level basketball courts.

Anyway, the referee didn’t turn up for the match between the Soignies (pronounced “quinoa” incorrectly) and the Kituro (ditto), and as far as I can tell from Reuters he still hasn’t been accounted for. I hope he’s all right and the problem is just that he was busy playing something on his iPad or maybe he went to the wrong city and thinks everybody else bailed on him. But they found a substitute referee, who got there more than an hour after the game was to start. I don’t think that’s doing badly. If you called on me to substitute-referee a Belgian rugby game I’d need more time than that to get fully ready. Oh, now I hope they don’t think I was the original referee; I’m pretty sure they would have said something to me before the game if I was supposed to oversee it, but you never know. I might have lost the invitation and they might have figured I’d say something if I couldn’t do it.

The game finally got under way, although Stephan Carnol, the club secretary for Soignies complained, with only 17 players instead of the normal squad of 22, which makes me wonder what those five were up to that they couldn’t hang around until a referee got there. I have no idea how long Belgian rugby matches take but I’d imagine it runs longer than an hour, so they probably didn’t have to get somewhere all that quickly. Maybe they were refereeing other games later in the evening, except then why couldn’t one of them referee the game he was at? Sure, any call he made would immediately escalate into a quarrel about his fairness, but that just adds a level of excitement because you know both his team and the opponent feel passionately about bludgeoning him.

Soignies went on to lose by 356 to 3, as Kituro ran in 56 tries, which sounds like a pretty lopsided score if you have no idea that a score in rugby is called a try, apparently. I’m supposing it is because it would be dastardly of Reuters to go telling people that Kituro “ran in 56 tries” if that doesn’t actually mean anything. Also a try is good for five points, which they say directly, which means that Kituro didn’t just run in 56 tries but also picked up 76 points from somewhere, possibly fallen behind the couch cushions. I have no explanation for Soignies’s three points; maybe they reflect poise or good comportment? Maybe they picked up a couple points playing soccer in a side match. Despite the loss, Reuters reports, Soignies is still third in the league, and a point ahead of Kituro in the standings.

The former worst rugby blowout was in 1984, in the French league, when Lavardac beat Vergt by a score of 350 to 0, with 66 tries that got run in. But back then a try was four points, so Lavardac also brought in 86 points from maybe a basketball game that wasn’t using them anymore. Vergt wasn’t competing, though, in protest of some player suspensions, which makes me wonder why Lavardac had all those non-try-based points. There must be something to it I’m not following.

And The Golden Moment


Well, since people have been kind enough to tell me how to pronounce “quinoa” now I guess I don’t have much choice but to go visit Promontory Summit, Utah. I was pretty sure from the way I remembered it in history class that it was Promontory Point, Utah, by the way, which is at least closer to it than my father got since he figured he just had to reach Ogden, Utah, and maybe ask around. I’m still not clear on the difference between Promontory Point and Promontory Summit, but I suppose Wikipedia probably has a fair idea of the location where the Golden Spike for the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad Unless You Count The One In Panama, Which Does Honestly Seem Like Cheating, was laid.

That location, it turns out, is at Stanford University, located in Stanford Summit Point, California, which is not Utah, owing to certain technicalities. This makes it sound like a pretty good joke on those railroad millionaires who drove in the Golden Spike, since they obviously weren’t very good at it, until you notice that the National Park Service’s page about the Golden Spike National Historic Site warns how satellite navigators are liable to send visitors to the wrong place, so maybe they were just following directions and ended up in California by accident. Anyway, Utah or California or somewhere else, I guess I’ve got to go there. I’ll let you know.

A Grain Of Solace


I’ve come to realize that I have no idea how to pronounce “quinoa”, and furthermore, that I’m fine with that. Perhaps someday I will learn to say it aloud, perhaps someday I will not, but I am disinterested in what the outcome will be. As life ambitions go it’s rather like hoping to someday see Promontory Summit, Utah; it would be kind of nice to, but I would not think my life ill-spent if it turns out I never do.

I confess I’m not sure exactly what quinoa is; the name makes it look something kind of grain-y, and I guess that’s fine, what with the world needing grains so the farmers feel like they’re not just keeping busy. I know from reading the comic strips that there are people who’ve decided to eat it, and possibly nothing but it, lately; and that there are a lot of people who think this is the most absurd silly foolish thing ever, what with quinoa being a thing they didn’t eat, so far as they remember, back when food was normal and not scary or weird, when they were eight.

All I really know food-wise is that the stores around here have gotten filled with boxes of paczki, as every Meijer’s and Kroger’s and convenience store builds a fortress of doughnut boxes. I appreciate paczki, sure, what with it being food and all that, but the quantities of it are mystifying to this transplant. I accept it as part of human nature’s beautiful diversity, the way in Michigan people also elect the state Attorney General and follow college football. I do know how to pronounce paczki, half because of the Polish side of my heritage, half because the boxes and signs all spell out how to pronounce it. I don’t think they have anything to do with quinoa.

And Commander Data Tries Out Something Else Wrong


Data holds Riker by the chin in the famous 'smooth as an android's bottom' scene that always gets on the Top 100 Moments From The Last Two Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies lists.
Both characters hope if they’re very quiet then Star Trek: Insurrection will get bored and go away and they can be in a more interesting movie. Unluckily, they got Nemesis instead.

Riker: “No, this isn’t how wrist puppets work, Data.”

Mary Worth Taken Over By Brain-Eating Virus


I don’t want to bore you too much with the story comics, because they are story comics, engaged in some race to produce the most boring storyline imaginable, and last year’s sequence in Apartment 3-G — where Tommie and Some Other Woman spent literally and without exaggeration more than thirty days engaged in a series of two-shots talking about how they ought to talk about something — is a ferociously high bar of boredom to meet. But, well, just look at this Sunday’s Mary Worth:

Of a conflict between mother and daughter about the mother getting married, Mary Worth says, 'These things tend to have a way of working themselves out, anyway', in violation of everything the comic strip has ever stood for, for crying out loud.
Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth for the 8th of February, 2015, and — in the bottom row, first panel — Mary Worth completely losing track of her mission statement.

Now, Hanna and Sean are getting married because they’re two unmarried people who got on-panel in Mary Worth, so they have to. Hanna’s daughter Amy is angry about the wedding because (a) she doesn’t know Sean at all, and (b) her mother has started refusing when Amy’s brought her child over to Hanna’s place, unannounced, for baby-sitting whenever Amy discovers she has an unexpected date for the night. Hanna concluded that it’s best if she just married Sean and let Amy find out about it afterwards, and Mary Worth agreed on-panel that this was a good idea. And then, today, well.

“These things tend to have a way of working themselves out, anyway”?

This is already a boring strip, but if Mary Worth is going to take up the attitude that all troubles will someday pass, and that to exert oneself unduly is counter-productive, then the comic strip could achieve a vast expanding swath of nothingness that destroys all possible content, so I guess the story comics aren’t in for a good decade after all.

I could go on, at disturbing length, complaining about all the things that have gone wrong in this storyline to have reached this point, but the main thing is the script reached the point of Mary Worth declaring “these things tend to have a way of working themselves out”. Yes, there was one time Captain Kirk let the planet of the week keep their omnipotent computer-god overlord too, but that was the time McCoy had contracted a fatal case of We Need Him To Go Off And Get Temporarily Married syndrome, so Kirk’s mind was on other stuff. Mary Worth hasn’t got any excuse.