Statistics Saturday: 2015, Compared To Projections, Update


Completed to date: 151 days. Planned for this date: 151 days. Planned for the year: 365 days.
How 2015 is progressing compared to projections for this point.

The good news is we’ve made a lot of progress since February! And that’s about all I have to say for that.

Possibly The Most Fleischer-iest Fleischer Cartoon Of Them All


Betty Boop’s boyfriend Bimbo appeared in a good number of cartoons. But he hasn’t got many of historical significance that aren’t really Betty Boop cartoons. Of course he is a much less important character, and many of the cartoons he’s in are … well, let’s say appreciated by historians more than watched for the fun of it. But he did appear in one cartoon that’s unmistakably great, one of the all-time best. Betty Boop does too. But she isn’t the protagonist.

I speak of Bimbo’s Initiation.

Fleischer cartoons are renowned for being surreal, for whimsy, for raucous strangeness, for dream-logic gags strung together. Bimbo’s Initiation could have single-handedly given it this reputation. The plot plays to the strengths of the Flesicher studios, though. The story has Bimbo accidentally stumble into a mysterious group wanting him to be a member, and when he tries to escape he races through a string of nightmare and dream-logic images.

But this cartoon has a strong narrative thread. It is not sloppy in the slightest. Pay attention to the length of the scenes. While the setting keeps changing as Bimbo flees, the scenes are nearly continuous. There are few cuts, and most of the cuts that appear are just close-ups on the same action. Note especially the long sequence after the swimming pool, when Bimbo is swallowed by a door. It starts at about 4:45 in. For about a full minute we follow Bimbo running through multiple scenes, in changing directions, and from changing viewpoints. There are cuts at 5:25 and 5:35, but just to zoom in and out on Bimbo.

Long shots are always impressive on-screen. Long shots in which complicated action happens, especially when the line of action changes repeatedly, are all the more so. This is a tightly constructed, well-plotted cartoon. It deserves its high esteem.

Working Out The World


My love and I were reminiscing things we did in elementary school for reasons we couldn’t figure. I don’t mean stuff like declaring someone who was busy with not playing kickball “The Kissing Bandit”. I mean stuff that doesn’t make sense, like the time my class got taken to the Garden State Arts Center and was taught how to clap with our hands curled. I guess we did other stuff there too, but the cupped hands was the lesson that stuck.

But the thing we shared was the class exercise thing about telling everyone else what our parents did for a living. I realize now I don’t know what the project was supposed to prove. That we could ask our parents what they did for a living, I guess. Maybe be able to tell our peers that our parents are shift supervisors. As skills I suppose that’s up there with cursive and being able to name vice-presidents who resigned, since you can test it. I don’t know how the teacher’s supposed to know if the kid was right, though.

But adult jobs are baffling concepts for a kid, anyway. What do adults need supervision for? They’re adults. Kids need supervision, because if you tell a kid, “stand right here, by the school bus stop, for five minutes and don’t wander away”, there’s an excellent chance before you even get to the second comma they’ve wandered off and got a beehive stuck in a nostril. All a kid knows is that their parents go months without unintentionally ingesting beehives, or they would know if they asked their parents.

For that matter, what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow. There are maybe five adult jobs a kid understands. There’s being an astronaut, there’s fighting stuff (fires, supervillains, crime, wrestlers [other]), there’s being a nurse, there’s being a teacher, and there’s driving a snowplow. Everything else is a bit shaky. For example, when I was a kid all I quite grasped about my father’s job was that he worked in a chemical factory in the parts that normally didn’t explode. He had to go in for eight or sometimes sixteen-hours shifts and I understood that most of the time things didn’t explode. But that leaves a gap in the imagination about just how he filled his working days. Come in, check that things hadn’t exploded, sure, and then it’s four hours, 56 minutes until lunch.

A kid might understand what someone in a service job does, because they could see a person bringing them food or taking clothes to clean or so. It’s why someone would be hired that’s the mystery, because getting that service means giving someone else money. Money’s hard stuff to come by, what with birthday cards arriving only for a one- or two-week stretch of the year, and maybe a bonus at Christmas if they’re lucky. The tooth fairy can help cover a little capital shortage, but that’s too erratic stuff for a real economy.

But non-service jobs are harder to understand. What is an office job anymore except fiddling with a computer? And a computer job is a matter of pressing buttons so that electrons will go into different places than they otherwise might have. A bad day at that sort of job is one where the electrons have come back for later review. On a good day the electrons all go somewhere you don’t have to think about them again. But the electrons aren’t getting anything out of this. They’re not happy, or sad, or anything at all based on where they’re sent. And they’re not the one getting paid for it anyway. They’d be fine if we just left them alone. All we do by getting involved in their fates is make ourselves unhappy but paid, and we get tired along the way.

The jobs might be leaving us alone soon anyway. Capitalism interprets a salary as a constant drain of capital, and does its level best to eliminate that. For service jobs this means doing less service, making the customers unhappy and making the remaining staff tired and unhappy. For office jobs this means never getting electrons to where they’re supposed to be, because otherwise you’d be an obvious mark for layoffs.

I know my father eventually moved to a job as an ISO 9000 consultant. In that role he ordered companies to put together a list of every word they had ever used for everything they had ever done. Then they put that into a cross-referenced volume of every document every word had ever appeared in. By the time that was done, the company might qualify for a certificate. Or my father had to explain what they had to do again, using different words and Happy Meal toys to get the point across. As a kid, I’d have been better off if he just told me he taught companies how to clap. Sometimes he probably did.

Cheese, Spam, Poetry


I’ve only ever committed a few acts of poetry. Mostly they’ve been things written part-jokingly. This way I could run them in the unread left-wing student newspaper back at college in the “Ebb and Flow” literary section but could fall back in a bit of cowardice and claim I meant it for the Humor section (“about herring…”) instead. But my spammers are not so inhibited. Here’s one of their recent masterpieces:

Now I am ready to do my breakfast,

once having my breakfast coming yet

again to read additional news.

But maybe I’m just a sucker for any suggestion that events that are about to happen already happened and might just be happening again if I don’t miss them.

Also, I see in my notes the phrase “time cheese”. I do not remember at this point if it was a spam or funny search term, or if it was notes from a dream, or if I had ambitions of writing something particular about it. All I know is the idea is there, and some cheese-eating organism might be attempting to disrupt the normal flow of time from past to future. I’ll let you know if any cheese is had for breakfast in the past.

(Those were the actual section names for the creative-writing/photography section and the humor section, though the humor section’s name changed with each new editor. So now you know exactly how earnest a newspaper The Rutgers Review was in my day. When I finally was made editor of the humor section I named it “Humor”, because I felt like trying to be funny about the section name encouraged the reader to challenge whether this was in fact funny even before our blistering jokes about the campus bus system or the broken computers in the Roost. So now you know exactly what kind of person I am. Also I never actually got anything into “about herring…”, though I did better under other editors.)

Caption This: From The Adventures Of Scotty In The 24th Century


Scott stands in front of the bright red door from the original Star Trek bridge. Well, a holodeck replica. You know how these things go.
From the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics”, in which a time-displaced Scotty feels lost, isolated, and depressed, and is visited by everybody in the cast except Deanna Troi, the ship’s professional counselor.

“Um, Scotty … there’s a handle. A handle. Just turn the … it’s … you have to put your hand out and … you just … ”


Or, well, a 24th century replica of the 23rd century, while he’s in the 24th century because … oh, look, it just makes sense if you see the episode, OK? Meanwhile if you have an idea what to do with this picture please share it! We’ve just got till the year 2369 or something to do something for the poor guy.

From The Dawn Of Talkartooning


I mentioned last week Noah’s Lark, one of the Fleischer Talkartoon series. This one didn’t feature Betty Boop, or even Boop-related characters like Bimbo or Koko the Clown. It’s a stand-alone in a series created to be sound cartoons. Let me share it with you.

The cartoon’s primitive, stylistically. The cartoon is in black-and-white, without grey shades, the way the Fleischers’ silent cartoons would be done. The synchronization of sound is shaky. For much of their 1930s work the Fleischers recorded sound after animating the cartoon. In the Popeye series particularly this encouraged the voice actors to mumble improvisations around the plot. Apparently this early on the voice actors didn’t feel confident enough to do that.

The way the cartoon diverts from jokes about Noah’s Ark at sea over to an amusement park may seem baffling. I suspect it would have been less confusing to audiences when it was released, the 25th of October, 1929. Noah’s Arks would have been familiar to audiences as one of that decade’s popular amusement park attractions. These were built as rocking wooden ark structures. Patrons walk through a series of dark-ride stunts, like shaking floorboards or moving-prop animals and pirates attacking, flimsy-looking paths over lava pits, that sort of thing. You can see how spooky haunted-house attractions and the tale of Noah’s Ark go together to … well, I don’t know why it worked. But it did, and they were popular in the 1920s.

Sadly the only Noah’s Ark that I’m aware of still existing is the one at Kennywood, in Pittsburgh. It’s worth the visit. That was originally built in 1936 and might be the last one ever built. I don’t see why; the ride idea is weird but reliable enough. The cartoon possibly referencing it is similarly weird but reliable.

Robert Benchley: Movie Boners


I tend to think of picking out continuity errors in movies as a modern practice. It feels like the habit of nerdly-minded individuals who love knowing how movies are made, and love catching movie-makers in the process of getting something wrong. But in this classic piece, from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, Robert Benchley teaches the uniformly unsettling rule of history: the ancients were not so different from us. Besides being a magnificent piece, this essay would lead to another wonderful follow-up.

Movie Boners

One of the most popular pastimes among movie fans is picking out mistakes in the details of a picture. It is a good game, because it takes your mind off the picture.

For example (Fr. par example) in the picture called One Night Alone — for a Change, the Prince enters the door of the poolroom in the full regalia of an officer in the Hussars. As we pick him up coming in the door, in the next shot, he has on chaps and a sombrero. Somewhere on the threshold he must have changed. This is just sheer carelessness on the part of the director.


In We Need a New Title for This, we have seen Jim, when he came to the farm, fall in love with Elsie, although what Elsie does not know is that Jim is really a character from another picture. The old Squire, however, knows all about it and is holding it over Jim, threatening to expose him and have him sent back to the other picture, which is an independent, costing only a hundred thousand dollars.

Now, when Jim tells Elsie that he loves her (and, before this, we have already been told that Elsie has been in New York, working as secretary to a chorus girl who was just about to get the star’s part on the opening night) he says that he is a full-blooded Indian, because he knows that Elsie likes Indians. So far, so good.

But in a later sequence, when they strike oil in Elsie’s father (in a previous shot we have seen Elsie’s father and have learned that he has given an option on himself to a big oil company which is competing with the old Squire, but what the old Squire does not know is that his house is afire) and when Elsie comes to Jim to tell him that she can’t marry him, the clock in the sitting room says ten-thirty. When she leaves it says ten-twenty. That would make her interview minus ten minutes long.


In Throw Me Away! the street car conductor is seen haggling with the Morelli gang over the disposition of the body of Artie (“Muskrat”) Weeler. In the next shot we see Artie haggling with the street-car conductor over the disposition of the bodies of the Morelli gang. This is sloppy cutting.

In Dr. Tanner Can’t Eat there is a scene laid in Budapest. There is no such place as Budapest.

What the general public does not know is that these mistakes in detail come from the practice of “block-booking” in the moving picture industry. In “block-booking” a girl, known as the “script-girl,” holds the book of the picture and is supposed to check up, at the beginning of each “take”` (or “baby-broad”), to see that the actors are the same ones as those in the previous “take.”

The confusion comes when the “script-girl” goes out to lunch and goes back to the wrong “set.” Thus, we might have one scene in The Little Minister where everybody was dressed in the costumes of The Scarlet Empress, only The Little Minister and The Scarlet Empress were made on different “lots” and at different times.

It might happen, even at that.

Statistics Saturday: The Hardest Things To Understand In Old Movies


The racial and ethnic stereotypes are hard to understand, especially the obsolete stereotypes, but what throws more people than you might imagine is how they used to pronounce 'robot'.
Also hard to get used to: how they said ‘Los Angeles’ with a hard g, the way Bugs Bunny did when he was affecting a manner or something.

Betty Boop: So Where Did Bimbo Come From?


(Also, I reached 17,000 views the past day! Hooray!)

Fearless Fred was Betty Boop’s second or maybe third boyfriend. What about her first? That would be Bimbo the cartoon dog. At least mostly he’s a dog. There are a few cartoons where what looks like the same character is a cat. They weren’t so tightly bound to character models in 1930.

That point adds a bit of challenge to what I mean to do this week. I’d wanted to show the first Bimbo cartoon, to match the first Fearless Fred and the many firsts I found for Betty Boop. But it isn’t quite clear which one that is. Wikipedia, and the Betty Boop wiki I consult, suggest the credit goes to the Talkartoon Hot Dog, released the 29th of March, 1930. It also credits this as the first Fleischer cartoon to use grey tones, rather than illustrate everything in stark black-and-white. Noah’s Lark and Radio Riot, two of the earlier Talkartoons, are certainly black-and-white pieces. Marriage Wows I haven’t been able to see; the cartoon isn’t lost but only the UCLA film library has a print anyone knows about. Trusting that Marriage Wows hasn’t got Bimbo or greys, then, here it is:

So here’s my difficulty: who in this cartoon is Bimbo? The protagonist doesn’t look very much like the Bimbo we’d see four cartoons later, in Dizzy Dishes. The first police officer looks more like the standard-model Bimbo, except for being large and authoritative and an antagonist and all that. But I can believe Bimbo changing body shape and color more easily than I can believe his changing his plot function. It’s easier to see Bimbo as the guy who plays a non sequitur banjo for two and a half minutes than as effective authority. Still, it raises fine questions about identity that I’m just not the person to answer.

Making Myself Not Understood


I was at Taco Bell, which is a tiny bit interesting because until about two years ago I’d never eaten at one. It isn’t like I have anything particular against Taco Bell, even though their corporate overlords used to have the supervillain-corporate name of Tricon Global, and now have the faintly-Orwellian menace name of Yum! Brands, Inc. I just never got around to it before. I probably should have. I sincerely like their extruded burritos. But I’ve always liked extruded things.

What I want to get at is that besides the seven-extruded burrito and a cheese quesadilla I ordered a pop. I did this because I was thirsty and this was Michigan. One thing I’ve known since childhood about the midwest was that “soda” was called “pop” there. This I heard before the 90s, when everybody got on the Internet and started discussing how they call the same things by different names and how other places than home pronounce words wrong. (That was all anyone talked about online all 1997.) When I moved to Michigan, I found this “pop” thing was true. But the guy working the register didn’t understand me. I said a regular pop, and please, and still didn’t get my point across. So I gave up and said “soda” and that was fine.

Thing is, this keeps happening to me. Or at least around me. I ask for pop from people who should be used to people asking for pop, and they don’t know what to make of that. I’d understand confusion if I asked for pop from someone that would be unusual, such as in New Jersey, at a furniture store, from the guy the building code office sent to check on a crack in a load-bearing pillow. I couldn’t complain much if the guy chose to slug me. But why is this confusing?

I have to figure the problem is my accent. I come from New Jersey, and I’m not more defensive about that than average, and I must just say words like “pop” in ways they don’t understand. I don’t have a very strong New Jersey accent. I routinely surprise people when they hear where I’m from. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” is the sort of thing I get. “I’d have guessed you were from … ” and then they’re not able to pin down just where they were thinking I was from, and they knock over a pyramid of soda cans and run away in the confusion.

I know what people expect from a New Jersey accent. It’s a bit loud and fast, with touches of 1940s Movie Brooklyn in it. College football is unpronounced. The average sentence will have something that has to get beeped out. Instead of clearly pronouncing the “-ing” at the end of words, speakers punch something. Maybe a person, maybe a tree, maybe the shoreline, maybe the abstract concept of justice, maybe a vending machine. Just something that’s available. The New Jersey accent is a crossing of the basic Atlantic Midlands dialect with swerving across four lanes of heavy traffic to cut someone off. I haven’t got a strong accent, because I’m too shy to punch an extruded burrito in a Taco Bell in Michigan. Most of my accent expresses itself in referring to Bruce Springsteen as if we were on a first-name basis, taking a surprising amount of guff for talking about people in queues being “on line”, and in getting into tiresome arguments about how people in other states are forced to pump their own gas. Also I expect to be able to order pork roll, although not at Taco Bell. I like to think my natural speech is a good bit rhotic, but I have no idea what that means. I might just want to be rhotic for the attention.

Except that doesn’t make sense because I hate drawing attention to myself. I feel like I’m taking too much of the cashier’s attention just by ordering my food. Going back around and explaining that by a pop I mean a soda, which is how he would have said pop is just horrible. I want to curl up in a ball underneath the plastic packs of chili sauce and go unnoticed, except they’d probably catch me when I snuck off to the bathroom. Except what would I have to go to the bathroom for if I can’t get a pop to drink?

Finding the Fun: Caffeine Edition


I was hanging out online, since that’s easier than interacting with people, and the conversation turned to caffeine. One person piped up with this:

Fun fact, Red Bull actually has less caffiene than a regular cup of coffee.

While I was getting ready to have a reaction to that — don’t tell me you could respond to that without some warm-up first — someone else laid this on the group:

Fun fact: the lethal amount of caffeine is equal to 10,000 cups of coffee … at once.

OK, so, even if either or both of those are facts, this is fun? What kind of crowd am I moving in?

This is why I mostly drink coffee only when I misunderstood the question.

Caption This: Discovering How Aliens See Us


'Trip' Tucker and a silver-clad orange alien standing in a technicolor spider-web in space.
From the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Unexpected”, when the show ventured into any MTv music video circa 1982.

“So, is it true your people learned everything about humans from watching the Sid and Marty Krofft Supershow?”


(And as before, I’m interested what you kind folks make of this scene.)

In Which I Am Doomed, Doomed I Tell You


I don’t figure this week’s big piece is going to be another massive composition based on what I happen to be reading. This is because I’m reading Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation by Michael Harris. I had thought it was a mathematician’s memoir and thoughts about explaining mathematics to people who aren’t necessarily students. I realized by page fourteen that this is some completely different kind of book, because there it laid this on me:

Be assured that this is not a series of clippings from my autobiography. “When the studies of a philosopher, and especially of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries recorded, and his writings considered, his history has been written. There is little else to say of such a man: his private life is generally uninteresting and unvaried.” 20 Too true! I can’t even begin to imagine what might make for an interesting private life. The “I” of this chapter’s title [ How I Acquired Charisma ] is not the hateful “I” of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées but rather the hypothetical “I” of a Weberian ideal type. “Type of what?” Maybe we’ll know by the end of this book.

That wasn’t even the end of this paragraph! And I haven’t dared look to the endnotes to see what the 20 is.

I realized this was going to be a more challenging read when a couple pages before that the book laid “apodictically” on me, but since my love is a professional philosopher I was warned about words like “apodictic” existing and meaning something. But this … this ….

I may not make it through the book alive, I’m sorry. That’s all.

Comics, Plus Other Comics


On my other blog is another roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips. It features one of the handful of anecdotes worth sharing from my time working retail. It doesn’t rate inclusion on any blogs about how awful customers are, mind.

So folks who hang around here have something to read, I’d like to bring up a couple of comic strips I like and suggest people try reading. It’s easy to despair about the state of syndicated newspaper comics. There are always reasons to not.

Agnes has made a dress from a Fourth of July bunting, bleached her hair blond, and used a new blush, with red spray paint on other spots. Her friend Trout says 'You look like the mammal version of a parfait'. She is correct.
Tony Cochran’s Agnes for the 17th of May, 2015.

First, Agnes, by Tony Cochran. It’s a well-written strip in the wise-child genre, focusing on Agnes, her grandmother, and her best friend Trout. This makes it one of the too-rare kind of comic for which the lead characters are all strong girls or women. I’m drawn to the writing, though: Cochran doesn’t just make Agnes an imaginative and weird girl. Cochran brings great craft to the writing. A line such as “you look like the mammal version of a parfait” is not just funny but brings to mind how many ways a joke like this could be written that wouldn’t be so well-constructed (“you look like a human candy cane”, for example).

A raccoon and dog see in the clouds the Moon notice and race away from a cloud that looks like a shark. But it's too slow, and the shark-cloud takes a bite out, leaving the crescent moon behind. The raccoon says 'I've been telling people for years but no one believes me'.
Gustavo Rodriguez’s Understanding Chaos for the 17th of May, 2015. Also I’m fond of comic strips with raccoons in them.

Next, Understanding Chaos, by Gustavo Rodriguez. It’s set in the suburbs and divides time between the kids and their families and the animals and their lives. It’s funny, often surreal; but I’m particularly taken by the art. The drawings are evocative, but the compositions and the coloring are great. A comic strip about worms playing band in the flower-pot of a plant that’s actually an extraterrestrial scout would be funny enough. To do that in an illustration worth studying is accomplishment.

Statistics Saturday: An Incomplete List Of People Who Were All Alive At The Same Time


  • Adolphe Sax
  • Albert Einstein
  • Alexander Woollcott
  • Thomas Henry Huxley
  • “Typhoid” Mary Mallon
  • Francis X Bushman
  • Alfred Nobel
  • Arthur Schesinger Sr
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Casey Jones
  • Chester W Nimitz
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Conrad Hilton
  • Dwight David Eisenhower
  • Walt Whitman
  • Edward Everett Horton
  • Edwin Hubble
  • Elihu Root
  • Adolphe Menjou
  • Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Susan B Anthony
  • T E Lawrence
  • Ford Madox Ford
  • Franz Kafka
  • Garret A Hobert
  • Jules Verne
  • Avery Brundage
  • Georg Cantor
  • Grover Cleveland Alexander
  • Samuel Gompers
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Harpo Marx
  • Helena Blavatsky
  • Henry “Hap” Arnold
  • Herman Melville
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Joel Chandler Harris
  • Horatio Alger Jr
  • Willis O’Brien
  • Alexandre Dumas, fils
  • Irving Berlin
  • Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom
  • Jay Gould
  • Paul Reuter
  • Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II
  • Lady Olave Baden-Powell
  • John Maynard Keynes
  • Otto von Bismarck
  • Louis Vuitton
  • L Frank Baum
  • Frank Morgan
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Matthew Brady
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • George Washington Ferris, Jr
  • Maurice Chevalier
  • Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia
  • P T Barnum
  • Neville Chamberlain
  • Louis Pasteur
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Robert Benchley
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Rutherford B Hayes
  • Thomas Edison
  • Upton Sinclair
  • Walter Gropius
  • William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Winsor McCay

Betty Boop: Goodbye, Freddie, nice knowing you


I decided to look at another Fearless Fred Betty Boop cartoon this week. I might do one more, at the risk of exhausting his catalogue. This week’s is also Freddy’s last outing, No! No! A Thousand Times No!, originally released the 24th of May, 1935. How could I resist something so close to its 80th anniversary?

As with his debut, She Wronged Him Right, this is a story set in the frame of a theater. It’s not the same theater as in that cartoon, nor in Betty Boop’s Prize Show. So the Fleischers might be recycling general ideas, but not swiping old animation for new cartoons yet.

The cartoon is enjoyable but also confusing. The animation is merry, the story strong and funny. The framing of the stage allows for neat optical illusions and ingenious tricks to suggest how the show might be done on an actual stage. But why have the stage?

The plot is fairly strong and linear. There’s room for a few of the classic Fleischer-y flights of fancy, though, such as the Dick Dastardly-esque villain’s morphing into a wolf, and topping that by putting on a sheep costume. So why did the Fleischers bother with the framing? Why not just declare in the title that it was set in the era of the Spoof Melodrama? There’s some fun in the convention that all this is happening on stage, but several of the jokes, like the inset shots of the diamond ring or the plate of pearl-carrying oysters, would not be visible on stage. They only make sense as inset shots on screen.

I wonder if the Fleischers supposed that Betty Boop was necessarily a contemporary character who couldn’t be tossed into an arbitrary background. Popeye and, to the best of my knowledge, Koko the Clown similarly were almost always set in a contemporary world. If they were to go to medieval times there would be some explicit in-cartoon reason for the diversion. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is explicitly set in the contemporary world, and the Popeye cartoon Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp is framed as a screenplay.

Yet this cartoon was released almost a year after Poor Cinderella, in which Betty explicitly plays a character and successfully so. Perhaps, having experimented with the Spoof Victorian Melodrama and this framing device before, they felt the need to stick with it.

It’s a shame because at least part of the dullness of later Betty Boop cartoons is that they got too similar and too routine. Betty could have played a character in a strange setting, especially in fairy tale or spoofs. Why not do more like this?

Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already


The book isn’t stupid, to be exact. It’s Beggar Thy Neighbor: a History of Usury and Debt, by Charles R Geisst, who probably knows what he’s talking about overall. The book’s from a university library. It doesn’t have a jacket. These are all marks of book respectability. But then I run into a line like this — and it’s exactly like this, in chapter 4 — and I’m thrown:

In 1853 the secretary of the Treasury estimated that around 60 percent of the bonds issued by Boston and Jersey City and 25 percent of those issued by New York City were held by foreigners.

It’s a straightforward sentence even if it’s rated “very hard to read” and is too short to judge what its readability is like anyway. Yet I’m wondering things I know I’ll never get answered. Here’s some.

  1. Obviously, the big one: Thomas Corwin or James Guthrie? I mean, c’mon, this wasn’t even a boring change of presidential administration like in 1857. This was a major change in the political status quo. Why, Corwin and Guthrie were born in completely different north-central Kentucky counties. So which one was estimating?
  2. Why was Corwin or Guthrie estimating this? Did it come up as part of the daily work of Treasury Secretary-ing? What work, then? I know he can’t have just finished the work of signing every new-issued dollar bill early that day and gone casting about for some way to fill an hour and forty minutes before he could duck out for home in good conscience. Maybe he was quarreling with the State Department. Perhaps he figured if he whipped out some snappy numbers about city bond holding by foreigners then it would help. Or was he just idly working it out, the way you might work out how much of Florida would sink beneath sea level if all the elephants of the world were to stand on Kissimmee? Was his curiosity professional, I mean?
  3. If he was working it out for a quarrel with the State Department (or whoever), did the numbers help his case any? It’d be a fine thing to work out foreign bond holding for Boston, Jersey City, and New York City and then find the answer made you look like the bigger fool. I guess it helped or we wouldn’t have heard the answer, unless someone on his staff leaked the numbers to make him look bad. Read any history of the United States in the 1850s and you get all this talk about the runup to the Civil War. Nobody mentions what assistant secretary of the Treasury might be trying to make Corwin or Guthrie look bad in a quarrel with the State Department about foreign-held municipal bonds.
  4. Why study Boston, Jersey City, and New York City? What made that the short list and not some other cities? Was the foreign-held municipal debt situation of Novi, Michigan too boring to consider? What did Milledgeville, Georgia, do to not rate consideration? Were Corwin and Guthrie even aware of Batesville, Arkansas? I don’t quarrel with looking into the municipal debt situation of Boston and New York City, since they’re interesting towns. But why does Jersey City make the list? I vaguely like the place, since I’m from New Jersey and we’re deeply invested in insisting Jersey City is the next Hoboken which is the next Brooklyn which is a good thing we swear. And Jersey City has a lot to recommend it. For example, its Pavonia neighborhood is indirectly named for peacocks, and how many neighborhoods can you say that about? Besides the Peacock District that I’m assuming exists in Kaatsheuvel, in North Brabant in the Netherlands, I’m guessing not many. Plus Jersey City has the Pulaski Skyway, not a single square foot of which isn’t terrifying in every way. But why would that bring the city’s bond situation to the Treasury Secretary’s attention? In 1853 the Pulaski Skyway was literally less than 150 years away from being built. That can’t have attracted their attention.
  5. Why worry about foreigners holding municipal bonds, anyway? Was the Treasury scared the foreigners would do something disreputable with them, such as lick the bonds before redeeming them? But then why not have the finance department just open overseas mail while wearing gloves?

Also, the book is not at all clear that quotes from around 1820 from the New-York Daily Times are not from the New York Times we know today. There were like six New York Timeses between the 1820s one and the modern one. I’m comically impotently enraged by all this.

And the book goes on for hundreds more pages. How can I finish? (I finished reading it on Monday.)

Caption This: From the first season of Star Trek Enterprise


Two Andorians hold phase pistols on the regulars while T'Pol's head pops up into view.
In the episode The Andorian Incident, the crazy paranoid overly suspicious Andorians think there’s a secret spy base inside a Vulcan Space Monastery. They’re right, but can only prove this by the traditional method of getting anything done on Star Trek: Enterprise, which is punching Captain Archer over and over and over. Which is fine with everyone.

What really enraged the Andorians was the relentless Vulcan campaign of photobombing.


(I’m interested what other folks might make of this, especially given that lovely woodwork in the Vulcan Space Monastery.)

Franklin P Adams: Sporadic Fiction


[ It’s been too long since I’ve posted a poem from Franklin P Adams. Let me fix that. From Tobogganing on Parnassus here’s a piece complaining about the way magazines of the early 20th century treated fiction. It’s a treatment completely, wholly, utterly alien to people searching for content on the Internet. ]

Sporadic Fiction

Why not a poem as they treat
The stories in the magazines?
“Eustacia’s lips were very sweet.
   He stooped to” — and here intervenes
A line — italics — telling one
   Where one may learn the things that he,
The noble hero, had begun.
   (Continuation on page 3.)

Page 3 —- oh, here it is — no, here —
   “Kiss them. Eustacia hung her head;
Whereat he said, ‘Eustacia dear’ —
   And sweetly low Eustacia said:”
      (Continued on page 17.)
   Here, just between the corset ad.
And that of Smithers’ Canderine.
   (Eustacia sweet, you drive me mad.)

“No, no, not that! But let me tell
   You why I scorn your ardent kiss —
Not that I do not love you well;”
   No, Archibald, the reason’s this:
      (Continued on page 24.)
   Turn, turn my leaves, and let me learn
Eustacia’s fate; I pine for more;
   Oh, turn and turn and turn and turn!

“Because— and yet I ought not say
   The wherefore of my sudden whim.”
Here Archibald looked at Eusta-
   Cia, and Eustacia looked at him.
“Because,” continued she, “my head — ”
   I never knew Eustacia’s fate,
I never knew what ‘Stack said.
   (Continued on page 58.)

Maybe I Could Be A Generalist, Though?


Like most of us I’m looking for the sort of job where people give me money for no clear reason. So I have a couple web sites that send me their comic attempts at locating jobs and I think in seven years of having them set up none has ever sent me anything remotely plausible. But today I hit a grand new one. It’s for a “Specialist Sputtering Engineer”, in Singapore.

I never realized sputtering was the sort of thing needing engineering. I thought it just came from trying to get your point across with more exasperation and less time than you really need. Alas, I know I’m not qualified. I sputter only very rarely. If they needed a stammering engineer I’d be set. I don’t mean to brag but I can stammer even before I’ve really woken up for the day.

So if you know anyone looking for a world-class stammering engineer — freelance or fulltime — please let me know care of the address. Any address will do. I don’t know that I can qualify for a specialist stammering engineer right off the bat. But there’s probably some online certification I could get for it if I knew there was demand.