Adventures In Modern Consuming


I want to feel excited. The last big shopping trip we did, we used up all the coupons left in our little plastic folder of coupons. All that remains in it are some receipts with the codes we got after telling companies’ web sites how the shopping experience was and a loyalty card for the carousel ride at the Freehold Raceway Mall food court in Freehold, New Jersey. Being able to use up all the coupons we had feels like we should have unlocked a new achievement, like, “Market-Driven Consumer Capitalism Temporarily Bested: Plus 1”. But deep down I know what it really means is we let an offer of 50 cents off two packs of Sargento cheese sticks expire without noticing it in the middle of May.

We forgot to buy shampoo.

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Mathematics Comics and What Poets Know of the Moon


Over on my mathematics blog there’s another comic strips post. And I don’t mean to spoil things but there’s probably going to be another one on Tuesday. It’s been fairly busy over there this month.

The Moon, as a ninja, throws stars at a menacing cloud. The dog wonders if this is why poets call the moon 'a mysterious creature'. The raccoon explains 'poets know nothing! That's why they write poems!'
Gustavo Rodrigues’z Understanding Chaos for the 28th of June, 2015. You should be reading this comic strip.

And to give folks who stay resolutely here something to enjoy, please look at Gustavo Rodriguez’s Understanding Chaos. I’ve mentioned this before, but between the humor, the writing, the art, and the color palette this is a comic strip people should be paying attention to. I apologize to any poets who’re offended by the raccoon’s attitude.

Statistics Saturday: Count Of Words And Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles


Count of Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Word Count
the 48
of 25
part 15
a 10
man 4
Q 4
time/time’s 2
command 3
Data/Data’s/Datas 3
matter 3
arrow 2
best 2
birthright 2
both 2
chain 2
child 2
descent 2
enemy 2
ensign/ensigns 2
eye 2
factor 2
first 2
gambit 2
ground 2
has 2
honor 2
in 2
life 2
mind/mind’s 2
one 2
redemption 2
unification 2
where 2
who 2
worlds 2
age 1
all 1
allegiance 1
always 1
among 1
and 1
angel 1
aquiel 1
arsenal 1
as 1
at 1
attached 1
avatar 1
battle 1
before 1
beholder 1
big 1
bloodlines 1
bonding 1
booby 1
Borg 1
bottle 1
bough 1
breaks 1
brothers 1
captain’s 1
cause 1
chances 1
chase 1
clues 1
code 1
coming 1
conspiracy 1
contact 1
contagion 1
conundrum 1
cost 1
crisis 1
dark 1
Darmok 1
Datalore 1
dauphin 1
day 1
dear 1
decks 1
defector 1
degree 1
déjà 1
devil’s 1
disaster 1
drumhead 1
due 1
duty 1
effect 1
elementary 1
emergence 1
emissary 1
encounter 1
end 1
Enterprise 1
ethics 1
evil 1
evolution 1
face 1
family 1
farpoint 1
father 1
fear 1
final 1
firstborn 1
fistful 1
force 1
frame 1
freedom 1
friend 1
future 1
galaxy’s 1
game 1
Genesis 1
glory 1
gone 1
good 1
goodbye 1
gray 1
half 1
have 1
haven 1
heart 1
heir 1
hero 1
hide 1
high 1
holiday 1
hollow 1
home 1
homeward 1
host 1
human 1
hunted 1
I 1
Icarus 1
identity 1
imaginary 1
imperfect 1
inheritance 1
inner 1
interface 1
journey’s 1
justice 1
ladder 1
last 1
lease 1
legacy 1
lessons 1
liaisons 1
light 1
living 1
lonely 1
long 1
loss 1
loud 1
lower 1
manhunt 1
masks 1
masterpiece 1
mate 1
me 1
measure 1
ménage 1
mine 1
mission 1
most 1
naked 1
nature 1
neutral 1
new 1
next 1
night 1
no 1
now 1
nth 1
offspring 1
Okona 1
outcast 1
outpost 1
outrageous 1
own 1
page 1
pals 1
parallels 1
Paris 1
peak 1
Pegasus 1
pen 1
people 1
perfect 1
performance 1
perspective 1
phantasms 1
phase 1
play 1
power 1
preemptive 1
price 1
pursuits 1
Qpid 1
quality 1
rascals 1
realm 1
relics 1
remember 1
reunion 1
rightful 1
Ro 1
rosa 1
Royale 1
samaritan 1
Sarek 1
schisms 1
schizoid 1
season 1
second 1
selection 1
self 1
shades 1
ship 1
short 1
silence 1
silicon 1
sins 1
skin 1
snare 1
society 1
soil 1
squared 1
starship 1
strike 1
sub 1
suddenly 1
survivors 1
suspicions 1
symbiosis 1
tapestry 1
terrors 1
theory 1
thine 1
things 1
timescape 1
tin 1
too 1
toys 1
transfigurations 1
trap 1
Troi 1
true 1
unnatural 1
up 1
us 1
vengeance 1
violations 1
watchers 1
watches 1
we’ll 1
when 1
whisper 1
worship 1
wounded 1
yesterday’s 1
zone 1

Count of Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Non-Word Count
2 8
1 7
& 1
11001001 1

Note: Two-part episode titles are based on the episode’s original appearance. For example, “Gambit, Part 1” and “Gambit, Part 2” increase the count for “gambit” by two. “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things”, airing initially as single, two-hour, episodes, increase the count for the words in their titles by only one.

Note: Episode 139 is titled Time Squared and the title is written that way on-screen. Many sources list it as Time2 and I admit I’d have sworn it was written that way when the episode first aired but you can’t argue with the screen captions even though Time2 is so obviously the title it should have had.

Note: One occurrence of “a” is actually “à”.

Note: You know, considering Troi was a central character for all seven years of the show and kept popping up in other Treks whether she belonged there or not it’s surprising we never learned anything about what her home planet of Betazed was like, other than they get married naked.

Grampy for Mayor!


Betty Boop’s Grampy — I’m not committed to the idea he must be her grandfather, nor that he isn’t — appeared in ten cartoons from 1935 to 1937. They follow a clear template. Grampy gets put into a position with some problem, even if it’s just boredom. He puts on his thinking cap and, after some false starts has a flashing light and declares “I’ve got it!” and does a silly dance. Then the rest of the cartoon is spot gags of his innovations.

How interesting you find the cartoons — well, how interesting you find the second or third cartoon you watch — depends on how interesting you find the settings. The template can be quite flexible. I’m a bit sad they never thought to put Grampy in a really weird setting, like underwater or in outer space or the like, because I can imagine the kinds of exotic jokes he could have produced.

The Candid Candidate, originally release the 27th of August, 1937, is a fair example of putting Grampy in a setting that gives more room to play. After Betty Boop’s short rally he’s elected mayor, and then has to go about fixing the city’s problems. I admit it takes time to get going. Citizens complaining in rhyme is amusing enough, but it isn’t what Grampy does best. I think the cartoon also shows what makes a Fleischer cartoon just that extra dose weirder. Anyone could imagine protecting a city from the rain by using a giant enough umbrella. Who would have thought of Grampy’s solution instead?

Also the cartoon amuses me because its Wikipedia article, as of this moment, describes the start in this way:

Betty Boop campaigns for Grampy for Mayor, and wins by one vote (despite the fact the town’s paper says it’s a landslide).

The sentence has everything wonderful about Wikipedia. The dry facts are basically correct, but the sentence has been edited to something grammatically dubious, and one of the jokes got earnestly explained. All it needs is a dubious citation and it’d be perfect.

Senior Physicist Sought!


I try to read the local alt-weekly, the City Pulse, every alt-week. I keep finding wonderful things in it. That’s not even counting how the architectural critic for the Eyesore Of The Week column is out of control. He’s taken to insulting fine enough houses that have too large a picture window next to the driveway.

One of this week’s wonderful things is in the classified ads. These are normally almost one-third of a page of shakily formatted ads. Some of them aren’t even for the newspaper itself. This week, literally next to the ad for Lawn Mowing Service (“Ask for Dave”) and the appeal to “Donate plasma and earn $$$!” (to earn three $ and a whole factorial is a special treat), was an ad for physicists. Here’s how it starts:

Physicist: The Michigan State University National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory seeks qualified candidates for the following full-time positions: Senior Physicist (East Lansing, MI).

Senior Physicists wanted! Act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager.
Job listing in the Lansing City Pulse from the 23rd of June, 2015. Say, you don’t suppose that in asking for someone to “Act as [ … ] Manager” they mean they don’t want an actual manager, just someone who can pretend convincingly, do you?

Sure, who isn’t seeking qualified candidates for the position of senior physicist? Well, besides the newspaper. They need an advertising sales representative and a route driver. And I know what you’re thinking. “You have a math blog, Nebushumor or whatever your actual name is [ it’s Joseph ], you should apply!” I’m flattered. Thank you. But the listing says they’re looking for someone with:

exp in the design, construction, system integration and commissioning of a hadron linear accelerator with a beam power of an order of 1 MW, including electromagnetic and mechanical designs of accelerating cavities, beam focusing elements and vacuum systems for use in an accelerator.

As a mathematician naturally I have exp all over the place. I would imagine sweeping it out periodically except — you know what? Just trust me that this was heading in the direction of a mathematics joke. Mathematics and some physics majors were already giggling in anticipation. Forgive them. Anyway, I’m weak on the mechanical design of beam focusing elements for use in an accelerator. Whenever they were the lecture topic I was staring out the window at the campus’s albino squirrel.

Yes, I’m excited by the invitation to “act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager responsible for the integrated design and commissioning, and coordination of construction of the driver linear accelerator segments 1, 2, and 3 technical systems”. I’m so excited I didn’t even notice they used the Oxford comma inconsistently compared to the one quoted above. It spruces up the back pages of the newspaper. That’s the neighborhood where they run an ad for themselves showing Dave boasting how he got fifteen calls in April from his classified ad for lawn mowing. I assume it’s Dave. They don’t actually say.

I have to wonder how many applications the advert is going to get, though. Sure, anyone might be qualified to “design, fabricate and install complex superconducting accelerators”. But how many of them happen to read the classifieds in the alt-weekly any given week? There’s only so many people going into the hipster bar and the bagel shop at any moment.

It’s possible they already have someone in mind and are only posting the advertisement for form’s sake. They do specify they need candidates with “a PhD in Physics or a closely related field + 5 years exp. as a Research Scientist or any related physics research position”. But that seems like a fair requirement for an aspiring FRIBLSA Manager. It’s so reasonable that I didn’t even notice they were inconsistent about including a dot after abbreviating “experience”.

But what if they don’t? What if this is the best idea they’ve got for finding FRIBLSA Management talent? Maybe they got plenty of applicants interested in research and integration of linac segments from the normal physics-job channels, but still felt something missing. Maybe all the CVs got to looking the same. And then the head of the FRIBLSA Management Search Committee threw up her hands and said, “We need new talent!” And someone looked up from checking whether the new Hideous Art Museum was named Eyesore of the Week and pointed out they had the classifieds section.

I’d love to know if it works. I’d love to see a picture of a physicist saying “I received 15 calls in June from my City Pulse Pulsified for senior physicists.” Wouldn’t you?

Also if you are a Senior Physicist and get this job because I mentioned it let me know since my placement fees are reasonable.

From The Dream Game Show


It was a thrilling-looking game show starting up in that dream. You could tell just from the introduction of the contestants. One was the returning champion, of course, and one was from a place I had lived. Seeing someone from somewhere you know is always thrilling for absolutely no good reason. And the final contestant was the collective of world-famous architecture by the renowned Hugo Gropius. And I’m sorry that I woke up at that point and couldn’t get the dream back because I was eager to see if it would figure into gameplay at all that there was no such renowned architect. I’d love to know whether it was actually the work of Walter Gropius or of Hugo Grotius. Certainly Gropius’s work would be a formidable contestant in any general-trivia quiz show. Meanwhile, Grotius’s work was more about establishing the foundations of international law and for freedom of the seas, but no body of architectural work of any note I’m aware of. Maybe I can catch the reveal in reruns.

After The Storms


We had some terrible storms in Michigan yesterday. It was serious stuff. But we got off easily. Yes, we had over 26 feet of rain in two and a quarter hours. I had been outside during the afternoon, during the lighter part, and needed a five-minute shower to dry off. And we got those flashes of lightning that just linger, leaving a glow in the sky that lasts for … well, the longest I made out at lasting for twelve minutes. I’m sure that’s normal. We had to spend most of the day today picking up the sidewalk and squeezing out the water, which is, again, a really petty chore to have given the weather. The biggest surprise was that our goldfish pond had got washed five feet down river. Second-biggest is that our goldfish think they’ve had enough water for a while now, thanks. It was a night. A lot of people had it much worse.

In Which I Am An Awful Person


There was this guy at the bowling alley with a couple kids, the kind you see at bowling alleys, the ones that are nearly three-quarters as tall as the pins. They had the bumpers up because a kid that small has no chance of a ball rolling all the way down the lane without it falling in the gutter. A kid that small has only a sixty percent chance of the ball rolling all the way down the lane. But this kid took the ball and heaved it from the front line, and it dribbled sideways, not even making it as far as the bumpers, and it dropped in the gutter. And, dear reader, I laughed. I am ashamed, but in my defense, this actually happened. Please forgive me.

A Funky Discovery


OK, first, I want to alert people to some of my mathematics blog entries. These are the comic strip roundups, and I get to talk a bit about what makes them mathematical and, sometimes, even what makes them funny. There was one back on Tuesday, yes, but it was a busy week and I had another installment on Saturday which I padded out to appear on Sunday too. Though there were more strips than I expected so this split was kind of legitimate after all.


Now, in other news, I’d been quivering with impotent fanboy rage over the past week’s run of Funky Winkerbean, by Tom Batiuk. As you might have noted if you read any comics blog ever, the strip has long been a soap operatic parade of misery and doom, interrupted by confusing “time warps” where the characters suddenly get ten years older and more decrepit while their backstories make slightly less sense. Though since the last time warp Batiuk has been going on a slightly different tack: instead of every character suffering personal injury and professional humiliation, they’re instead being given exactly what they might dream of, only to have it shrivel up and die in their hands. It’s an exciting bathetic direction to take.

Why doesn't Les write something about Lisa? You know Lisa, the only topic of conversation that Les even has!
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 20th of June, 2015. Yes, everyone else wants to punch Les too.

This brings us to the past week, in which Boy Lisa — the kid who appears in ever-receding shade in the above strip — finishes illustrating the graphic novel Les whipped up as a belated first and second anniversary present for his wife Cayla last year. And, yes, he forgot his first anniversary. This is because Les is obsessed with his dead first wife Lisa, who died, in-strip, eighteen to twenty years ago. And yet Lisa is ever foremost in his thoughts. He wrote a successful book about how she got breast cancer and died. He does a charity run every autumn. When he was put in charge of the high school reunion he made sure the memorial wall to Lisa was adequate, but failed to actually book a venue to host it. He chats with her ghost on a surprisingly regular basis. He was somehow around when a made-for-TV adaptation of his book collapsed just as he was angst-ridden over how they were disrespecting her story. He says more to and about her than he does to his actual present wife, a woman whom I hope has more to live for than the attention and affection of her defectively-eyebrowed husband.

And the strip has given Les the terrible, ingenious idea to have Les write some more about Lisa. (Here’s how they met: they had a class together. Later, she left the school because she was pregnant, but Les ran into her.)

This can’t all be coincidence, right? The ironic reading of Funky Winkerbean is one of the Internet’s largest growth industries — you’re part of it right now — and he’s just decided to give up and write for that readership, hasn’t he?

Statistics Saturday: What Father’s Day Cards Talk About Versus What I Need Them To Say


What Father's Day cards talk about: sports, beer, 'You Kids Drive Me Krazy!', outdoor grills, tools, flatulence. What I need: 'I had an emotion, but it's all right, I think it'll pass'.
I guess there’s also cars and money.

Not researched: cards for your siblings who’re now fathers; cards for pet owners who present themselves as parents. Also not depicted: how comically inept Father’s Day Cards fathers are, as opposed to any real-world fathers I’ve known.

Admittedly, I tend to run a little bit stoic.

Meeting Betty Boop’s Grampy, Maybe


Popular cartoon characters attract relatives. It’s mandatory. Donald Duck has his nephews, Mickey Mouse a gaggle of orphans that cling to him. Popeye got nephews and a father, and in the comic strips even his grandmother. Betty Boop also picked up some relatives. The best-known of them is Grampy.

At least, I assume Grampy is Betty Boop’s grandfather. It’s not actually said. While she calls him Grampy, so does everybody else. On the other hand, there’s only one cartoon in which he appears without Betty Boop, and he’s typically present to solve Betty’s problems or to entertain her. Apparently Betty Boop’s official license-minders consider him her grandfather, so I guess that’s as definitive a word as we can expect. This isn’t the only mystery of Grampy’s nature. It’s not known who is voice actor was. Jack Mercer — the voice of Popeye and many other characters from the studio — is most often listed as Grampy’s actor, but I’m not sure that sounds right to my ear. But there’s no known contemporary documentation of who it was, just post facto attempts to place the voice.

Betty Boop And Grampy, released the 16th of August, 1935, sets the pattern for Grampy cartoons. We see Grampy, and he sets up an array of Rube Goldberg contraptions, that we get to see come to life. It’s a simple form, and it’s charming. Grampy cartoons tend to be a string of spot gags, free of tension or drama, just a steady sequence of amusements until some big contraption gets shown off. His is a world of fake-outs and sight gags, and if you find using an umbrella skeleton to slice a cake amusing you’re in good stead.

The cartoon is from 1935, and the artwork is continuing to improve amazingly. Most of the backgrounds are wonderfully precise but fluid drawings with watercolor washes, just beautiful to look at. And the Fleischers show off one of their tricks as Betty walks down the street. They had worked out a camera rigging to place animation cels in front of real, model backgrounds that could move with the camera, for uncanny realism. The sets are made to look cartoony, so that the whole project has an animated-universe existence unlike anything before the era of computer-animated cartoons.

Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered


A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.

Some Stuff To Look At


Over on my mathematics blog, yes, I looked at comic strips again. No equations, I promise.

Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.

Castor Oyl and Bernice the Whiffle Hen are haunted by a mysterious, shrouded figure.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre (Popeye) for the 1st of January, 1919. Popeye is a few weeks from being introduced and taking over.

The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.

The Cards


I like my father-in-law. I don’t think that’s a weird quirk of my personality. So I want to send him a decent Father’s Day card. He does a lot for us as a couple, much of it related to worrying about our light fixtures, and he deserves some note for that.

So I’d like to know why greeting card companies don’t have Father’s Day cards for father-in-laws. There’s some for couples sending a joint card. But greeting card companies, the people who put in every supermarket card rack cards for a 90th birthday, for someone returning to work after being away somewhere, and cards from the cat to its “dad” don’t figure an individual might have his own relationship with his father-in-law.

I’m exaggerating. Of course I am. Just this week I got back from the Hallmark store that seems to be closing or renovating or something, we guess, because they haven’t got so much stuff in there anymore and what is there is 40 percent off except the cards. They had three Father-in-Law Father’s Day cards. Well, two of them were the same design, except that one was smaller than the other. I suppose that’s for people who want to express how they feel the same way they did about their father-in-law last year, only not so biggishly.

All I need is a good-quality photo of a cute dog or a squirrel doing something amusing that isn’t tied to a bad double-entendre. Is that too much for greeting card companies to make? Yes, by far.

Awake In The Nick Of Time


I’d like to point out I realized it was just a school stress dream. It had that classic form where I remembered in the midst of helping somebody or other move somewhere or other that the professor said we didn’t have to turn anything in by any particular time. That’s plausible enough for grad school, since the only actual requirement of grad school is “eventually, you have to leave”. It’s the best. But in the dream I realized I had started thinking maybe the second week of class that I could do this stuff later, and now it was way later, and then I realized that of course I was just having a dream, luckily moments before the City Fathers — the giant vacuum-tube supercomputers running the space-travelling New York City in James Blish’s classic science fiction Cities In Flight series of novels — ordered my summary execution. Fortunately, imaginary computers have little power over people in dreams. Also classic science fiction mostly means “it’s probably better if you don’t go back and re-read it while paying attention”.

Back To The Enterprise


Everybody's just kind of standing around their Space Pool Mini-Table.
This is from the Enterprise episode Breaking The Ice, in which the ship has ventured dozens of light-years beyond human space so everybody can romp on a comet. Yes, there’s snowman-building included and I’m not even making that up.

It’s not until you look back on a TV show like a decade later that you realize: “so, in the 22nd century we’re going to spend a lot of time reenacting Wings’s Back To The Egg album, then?”


That’s just a passing thought, so, here’s some others. My mathematics blog had another roundup of comic strips that seemed enough on point for it. It also includes links to a grammar strip and to a general teaching strip. I hope you like.

Statistics Saturday: My Use Of The Term ‘Crazypants’ Versus Time


Recent peaks: discussing the crazypants art teacher in the comic strip _Luann_, finally reading a plot summary of 1979's film _The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh_, and making this chart.
Until recently I just assumed The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh was one of those 1970s magic-animal-saving-stuff movies. It turns out it’s more a crazypants disco basketball movie.

You know how it is you just sometimes realize you’re using a word way more than normal? This happened to me recently.

If you’ve got any notable uses of the word “crazypants” or are curious about my other word uses let me know!

Not charted: the crazypants Immanuel Kant quote that kind of set off this whole recent crazypants phrasing.

When Rabbits And Flappers Perform Dentistry


Remakes have always been with us. Famously, the only version of The Wizard of Oz anyone cares about is at least the fifth filmed version of L Frank Baum’s classic, and nowhere near the last. The only version of The Maltese Falcon anyone watches is the third made between 1929 and 1939. Partly that’s because a good idea is worth doing again, certainly at least until it’s done well. Partly that’s because movies are kind of disposable. Oh, a movie will last as long as the film, or the file, lasts, and you can experience it as long as it lasts. But as a commercial prospect, a movie comes into being, is watched a while, and then is forgotten. A remake gives it a new season in the popular culture. Cartoons get remade a lot, probably because the same reasons that make it sensible to remake a movie apply even more to cartoon shorts.

I wanted to write about the Betty Boop short Ha! Ha! Ha, released the 2nd of March, 1934, because it’s listed as the last theatrical appearance of Koko the Clown. Koko was, at least in a few shorts, Betty Boop’s second boyfriend, although he was more often just a friend of hers. And he was the star of the Fleischer’s cartoons from the 1920s, including many of their oddest features. He was also star of a 1960s string of Out Of The Inkwell cartoons.

Ha! Ha! Ha! gets described as a remake of the 1924 Koko the Clown short The Cure. I think that’s overstating things. There are some pieces the shorts have in common. The framing is that of the Out Of The Inkwell cartoons: producer Max Fleischer draws a character out of the inkwell, and the cartoon characters interact a bit with the real world. Then they try extracting a tooth and eventually cartoon laughing-gas escapes into the real world, to produce some amazing and disturbing real-world animation. But I don’t think that’s enough to call one a remake of the other.

The Betty Boop cartoon is the more professional of the two, I must admit. It’s better drawn and the story holds together better. The line of action from the cartoon paper, to the office, to the city makes more sense. And it’s remarkably funny considering the last quarter of the short is just one joke — something new encounters laughing gas, and starts laughing — repeated over and over.

But The Cure might be better. Some of this is that I’m charmed by how the short features a rabbit as Koko’s partner. But I also like the way the story doesn’t quite hang together. It’s got a more dreamlike, loopy quality, and more of an improvised feel. And while the Betty Boop version has some magnificent images as laughing gas escapes to the world — the gravestones, particularly, are the sort of image that will last in the mind — I think the earlier version has better jokes all around. And the interactions between the live action and the animated figures are more ambitious and thus more fun.

After Our Rabbit’s Holiday


“So you’ve been a bit of a terror, by reports,” I said to our pet rabbit. He was looking at the open pet carrier, and considering whether to punch it.

“They were desperate times,” he finally pronounced.

“They were times at your vacation cottage.” This would be my love’s parents’ house. They watch our pet rabbit when we have to be away more than a day. Our pet rabbit can’t be left unattended that long, because he’ll run up long-distance telephone calls. The funny thing is they’re not even calls that would make sense, like ordering stacks of particularly tasty hay. It’s like he just gets carried away with the fun of dialing. In many ways our pet rabbit is a little kid, except that he doesn’t give us colds or tell us complicated and rambling stories about what happened in school.

“There were dogs chasing me!”

“I know those dogs. They’re four years older than the letter `W’.”

“So they’ve had time to practice their fiendish ways!”

“They don’t have fiendish ways. They’re barely up to falling down anymore.” He sneezed, because somehow our pet rabbit sneezes, and then turned that into a snort. “They haven’t even been growling at me because they can’t work up the energy for that anymore.” And this is true. When I first started visiting my love’s parents, the dogs would take turns barking furiously at me, because they were afraid that if they didn’t, I might go on existing. Eventually they would settle down, only for one or the other to suddenly realize that I was still a thing that existed, so they had to go through it all over again. Since then, sadly, the dogs have gotten more frail. They’ll wander up to me and mutter a half-articulated hwurmf. I tell them that’s very good barking and then they collapse on the floor where they are. I’d pat their heads if that didn’t seem like taunting.

Our rabbit put his paws together and shoved on the front of his carrier, a traditional rabbit way of expressing the concept “I want this shoved over there a little”. It works better on hay and towels and light vegetables. I picked him up by his hind legs and shoved him in the carrier, a traditional rabbit-keeper way of expressing the concept “if you won’t go in I’ll just put you in”. He turned around and punched the carrier’s bars.

Finally he said, “I can scare dogs away.”

“You can scare those dogs away. They’re very timid dogs.”

“I didn’t even have to bite and the bigger one ran away!” The dogs are the same size, but perhaps there are rabbit ways of classifying dogs I don’t understand.

“That dog’s been scared away by clouds. You’re not saying you’re just as ferocious as a cloud, are you?”

“Bring me a cloud and I’ll see who scares who!”

“You’re figuring to make a cloud quiver its knees? What has got into you?”

“I had to spend forever fending off dogs!”

It struck me: the “larger” dog came up to the edge of our rabbit’s pen before running away, while the “smaller” one was too afraid of the interloper to get that close. By “running” I mean “kind of shambling about in a way that isn’t technically falling over most of the time”.

“Luckily,” he said, “I know what to do with dogs.”

“You know what to do with those dogs. You’re an expert at existing.”

“I spent my whole life getting ready to exist!”

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
Our pet rabbit, existing, with panache.

“You could be in trouble if you had to face other dogs, you know.”

He almost stopped wriggling his nose a moment. “What other dogs?”

“You know there’s more than two dogs in the world.”

“No, I heard them both.”

“Did you ever notice the dogs going over to the window and barking like crazy, then stopping and hiding from the window?”

He nodded, which is the sort of thing that involves a lot of ear-flapping. “When they forgot where I was!”

“No, that’s when they saw there was another dog walking past, outside. They stopped when the other dog noticed them.”

He pushed the carrier door with one paw, letting his fingers melt through the bars. “So there are … 98 dogs in the world?”

“More than that, even. Some dogs they didn’t notice.” I figured it not worth mentioning some of the dogs were walked past the house several times, mostly on different days.

He sniffed. “More than 98 dogs seems like too many. Let’s get home.”

I don’t agree with him on the dog count, but getting home was what I hoped for too.

Statistical Insight


WordPress has been busy redesigning things. Web sites do that, whenever they hear enough people remarking, “I understand where everything is and it works about like I expect.” Among the redesigns this month they changed the statistics page so you can’t find the old, designed, statistics page. They’ve also added a new little tab called “Insights” that means you get to click another time to see your grand total number of page views. Also among the Insights is a visual record of Posting Activity. For example, for this little humor blog, we have this:

Tiny, vertically-aligned calendars with mostly the correct record of one post per day. 26 dates in the past year have the wrong count.
WordPress’s visual representation of posting activity here for the past year. Light blue is ‘one post on this day’; dark blue is ‘two posts’; light grey is ‘no posts’. Actual posting activity has been one post per day, up to the present day.

Now, if there’s anything this blog maintains, it’s “one post a day, thank you”. So there’s 26 outbursts of posting activity that it’s recorded wrong here. The lesson, surely, is: stop worrying about your WordPress statistics already, because even if they told you anything, they’re the wrong things, so what they would have to say doesn’t make any difference. Well played, WordPress Redesigning Things Master Command. That is indeed an insight worth having. I’d like to track how many insights that is you’ve offered, but the count of them keeps coming out wrong.

And second?


So Reuters had this headline yesterday:

Russia Builds World’s Largest Helicopter Made Of Horsemeat Sausages

It’s not a tactically deployable helicopter. That fact should relieve everyone worried about the impact it might have on NATO’s NH90 materiel-support quinoa helicopter. It’s just a helicopter made of 120 kilograms of sausage created to mark an anniversary for … I’m not positive. The video suggests it’s the town of Kumertau, which is apparently somewhere in Russia, although because this is an amusing little “people do something silly” article it ignores basic journalism standards like having a clear dateline or providing instructions for people who’ve got a couple pounds of Tofurky kielbasa and an interest in making replica flexible-wing aircraft. Also, no reaction from the people who now hold the record for merely the world’s second- or even third-largest helicopters made of horsemeat sausages? They must think we’re so dazzled by the headline that we’re not interested in more detail. Mind, it is a pretty dazzling headline.

While the prospect of Russian sausage helicopters float around your head, though, why not peek over at my mathematics blog, which had another round of comic strips to talk about recently? If you don’t like that you might also like the A-to-Z challenge I’m doing, in which I take mathematics terms and try to explain them without too many other mathematics terms.

You know, it’s not even a sausage helicopter anybody can eat. That seems disrespectful to the sausage-makers as well as the horses.

Robert Benchley: What, No Budapest?


Someone trying to be funny is, generally, hoping to get feedback that they have successfully made someone laugh. People saying that they loved the piece are always welcome. More satisfying, I believe, is hearing that your attempt to be funny helped someone through a lousy time in life, or gave someone despairing reason to feel cheer. But I do know what is the most wonderful bit of feedback a humorist can get. I’ve gotten it a few blissful times. The most wonderful feedback a humorist can get is an angry scolding from someone who didn’t get the joke. Robert Benchley must have gotten that all the time, since he was so good at writing things that began more or less normal or plausible and continued until they were past bizarre. And at least once he turned that angry scolding into a new magnificent piece. Please let me share that, from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew with you.

What —— No Budapest?

A few weeks ago, in this space, I wrote a little treatise on “Movie Boners,” in which I tried to follow the popular custom of picking technical flaws in motion pictures, detecting, for example, that when a character enters a room he has on a bow tie and when he leaves it a four-in-hand.

In the course of this fascinating article I wrote: “In the picture called Dr. Tanner Can’t Eat, there is a scene laid in Budapest. There is no such place as Budapest.”


In answer to this I have received the following communication from M. Schwartzer, of New York City:

“Ask for your money back from your geography teacher. There is such a place as Budapest, and it is not a small village, either. Budapest is the capital of Hungary. In case you never heard of Hungary, it is in Europe. Do you know where Europe is? Respectfully yours,” etc.

I am standing by my guns, Mr. Schwartzer. There is no such place as Budapest. Perhaps you are thinking of Bucharest, and there is no such place as Bucharest, either.


I gather that your geography teacher didn’t tell you about the Treaty of Ulm in 1802, in which Budapest was eliminated. By the terms of this treaty (I quote from memory):

“Be it hereby enacted that there shall be no more Budapest. This city has been getting altogether too large lately, and the coffee hasn’t been any too good, either. So, no more Budapest is the decree of this conference, and if the residents don’t like it they can move to some other place.”

This treaty was made at the close of the war of 1805, which was unique in that it began in 1805 and ended in 1802, thereby confusing the contestants so that both sides gave in at once. Budapest was the focal point of the war, as the Slovenes were trying to get rid of it to the Bulgks, and the Bulgks were trying to make the Slovenes keep it. This will explain, Mr. Schwartzer, why there is no such place as Budapest.


If any word other than mine were needed to convince you that you have made a rather ludicrous mistake in this matter, I will quote from a noted authority on non-existent cities, Dr. Almer Doctor, Pinsk Professor of Obduracy in the university of that name. In his Vanished Cities of Central Europe he writes:

“Since 1802 there has been no such place as Budapest. It is too bad, but let’s face it!”

Or, again, from Nerdlinger’s Atlas (revised for the Carnation Show in London in 1921):

“A great many uninformed people look in their atlases for the city of Budapest and complain to us when they cannot find it. Let us take this opportunity to make it clear that there is no such place as Budapest and has not been since 1802. The spot which was once known as Budapest is now known as the Danube River, by Strauss.”


I would not rebuke you so publicly, Mr. Schwartzer, had it not been for that crack of yours about my geography teacher. My geography teacher was a very fine woman and later became the mother of four bouncing boys, two of whom are still bouncing. She knew about what happened to Budapest, and she made no bones about it.

In future communications with me I will thank you to keep her name out of this brawl.

Statistics May: Or, Statistics April, Continued Again


Finally I have a window to explore the strange state of my readership statistics. I’d had a weird, catastrophic drop in my readership, from 1,053 views by 483 visitors in march down to 808 views by 303 visitors in April. That trend … well, in May the number of views dropped to 759, though the number of unique viewers rose back to 359. I don’t know what to make of this. The number of views per visitor was more in line with what I’d expect. That was 2.11 in May, compared to April’s anomalously high 2.67. March was 2.18, which is about what I expect.

Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.

If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.

Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.

Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:

As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.

Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean:

Statistics Saturday: Why There’s Not Commodore Computers Anymore


Among the problems, 'some of the keys are wrong', 'computer was on fire', 'was actually a papier-mâché box containing a modest number of irked but mellow bees'. Commodore had problems.
These results are for the main computers although the results were pretty similar for people buying disc drives, Datasettes, or printers.

I must say that as a Commodore 64 owner from way back it pains me to admit this, but, boy were they kind of a dodgy outfit. Also technically speaking my Commodore 64 was basically fine although some of the keys were wrong, but not in really important ways. Years later some of the ROM chips broke, but they were ones I could fix in software.

A Last Look At Betty Boop’s First Boyfriend


Bimbo didn’t last through the whole Betty Boop series. As best I can figure, his last appearance was in I Heard. The cartoon was released the 1st of September, 1933, and it opens with a long introduction from Don Redman And His Orchestra. Jazz orchestras would be key parts to several of the best Betty Boop cartoons, including Minnie the Moocher and Snow White. Those cartoons feature rotoscoped action based on Cab Calloway. I Heard just has the music.

I Heard hasn’t got the reputation of Snow White or Minnie the Moocher and I suppose that’s fair. It builds up to a great and strange sequence that sounds like a dream animated — once you’ve seen the cartoon describe it in five words — but it takes some time to get there. It gets there by way of a fun string of jokes about a mine and Betty Boop’s Tavern Or Saloon, depending whether you look at the cartoon or the Don Redman opening. I don’t want to understate the value of those gags, either. They all work, and many shots, particularly of the elevators moving, show the sort of ingenious mechanism that the Fleischers specialized in. They’ll set up contraptions and the fun will be in watching how they can possibly work.

I had the impression that the singer/waiter in the opening minutes at Betty Boop’s Tavern was the Bimbo model used in Dizzy Dishes, the generally-accepted first appearance of Betty. I was remembering badly. The characters have some resemblance in their body types and the way they move, and that their business is being a waiter, but there’s not much resemblance past that. Shame. There would have been a lovely symmetry in the last Bimbo cartoon recalling something from the first Betty Boop one.

That Moving Spirit


I had something remarkable happen. A friend asked me to help him move. I see this as a big deal. It’s not like I even own a truck. I’d never own a truck. If you own a truck you have to deal with a never-ending string of people asking for help moving. They’re not even people you know in the slightest. Travel sometime to a place where strangers gather, so far as anybody gathers anymore. A mall food court, or a town hall meeting, or a stunt organized by the radio station. You’ll encounter folks going up to strangers and saying, “Do you own a truck you could help me move with?”

But as a truck-less person the question has a different connotation. Someone would ask me to help them move just because they think I might be a tall guy who can probably hoist stuff. And they’re right. Even for a tall guy I’m pretty good at hoisting stuff and lugging it around. This is because I used to be a tall, fat guy, and I had to build up some serious hoisting and lugging muscles just to stand up and waddle over to lunch. I’ve lost most of that weight. You’d be surprised what you can throw in the dumpster behind a Shop-Rite before they catch you. But I’ve kept most of my hoisting and lugging muscles.

Really I kind of hope for chances to show off my hoisting and lugging prowess. But it’s awkward just asking people, “Can I help you move this weekend?” It has connotations of your hoping to get rid of them. They’ll let you ask once or twice, and then decide they’re never going to move, just to spite you. And just walking down the street, holding a cardboard banker’s box full of books is no way to go, because a cardboard banker’s box full of books weighs two and a half times what Mars’s moon Phobos does, and the cardboard will tear and they’ll all drop on your foot, denting some of the books. You have to just wait for an offer to lug stuff around.

Yes, this does sound like the kind of thing standard-issue guys would do. And yes, it’s a good rule of thumb that “stuff guys do should never be done by decent people”. Granted. But I’m not talking about lugging stuff around until somebody weeps. I’m just talking about, you know, here are some masses of things, and they could be somewhere else, and I am the kind of guy who can make that happen.

So I was glad to be asked, and to be able to say yes. But the really thrilling thing is that the question came from a friend of my love’s. He and I had gotten to be friendly, yes, but what we mostly had in common was knowing my love. We had some things to talk about, like how he beats me handily every time we play pool, and how I could beat him handily when we play pinball yet somehow do not, but we didn’t have any serious connection. And now we do.

Asking someone to help you move when there’s not truck ownership involved shows you think the friendship has reached a higher level. It marks the falling-away of a certain guardedness and reserve. Someone who’s asked you to help them move is saying, “I trust you to not freak out when you see how I arrange stuff in the moving van all the wrong way. It’s like, do we even recognize the same principles of spatial reasoning? No we do not but I believe you are a person who can accept that and not turn this into a quarrel, unlike some people we could name but won’t, like D----.” This is meaningful stuff.

This is also important to me because it signifies my forming a new real friendship. Most of my social circle is made of Internet friends. Internet friends are much like real friends, except that your Internet friends have a built-in excuse for not being able to help you move, and you’ll eventually break up with your Internet friends in a shockingly bitter fight that starts over which of you better exemplifies the ideals of the “Mane Six” characters on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I like my Internet friends, the ones who are left after I told them I don’t ever want to hear about any of the characters on My Little Pony. I feel a little dirty every time I encounter the phrase “Mane Six”. But getting to this fresh level of friendship with someone in real life is a wonder.

I hope the new place has an elevator.

MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 4 of 4


Part 1, introduction and John Glenn.

Part 2, German cows and procognition.

Part 3, how can a woman be right?

A bit about the actual history of thalidomide. Dr Frances Kelsey was neither acting arbitrarily nor capriciously when she refused to approve thalidomide. What she did was read the data which manufacturer Richardson Merrell had submitted to prove the drug’s safety and notice that it didn’t actually demonstrate that. She had also read in the medical literature the then-new discovery that drugs could pass through the placenta, from mother to fetus, and she requested evidence that thalidomide wasn’t doing that. And she had encountered a British study which found a nervous system side-effect from the drug and asked the maker to explain that. In short, she looked at the data, and where it was lacking, asked for more data; she read the medical literature and understood it; and she thought about consequences and asked about them. Thalidomide’s disastrous side was a horrible surprise. But it was a surprise that a curious and alert mind paying attention would catch.


>
> Test 1 is the animal test. Thalidomide proved
> completely harmless — in fact completely ineffective!
> — to the usual laboratory animals.

CROW: We’ve sent them a stern note about not being visibly harmed by drugs earlier and more clearly.

> (Since the blowup,
> it’s been found that enormous doses of thalidomide will
> not make a rabbit sleep

MIKE: But a cup of cocoa and a nice bit of reading will.

> . . . but will cause a pregnant
> rabbit to produce abnormal young.

TOM: So it would have passed animal testing as long as nobody noticed the deformed animals.

> Equally massive doses
> of barbiturates don’t do that; they kill the rabbit.

ALL: [ A few seconds of Elmer Fudd-style cackling before giving up with an ‘ugh’. ]

> It
> wouldn’t have indicated anything to the investigators
> except that thalidomide was safer than barbiturates!

CROW: And to be fair, who could foresee humans being pregnant just because rabbits can be?

> And
> it has now been discovered that, for reasons so far known
> only to God, thalidomide does make horses sleep! But who
> uses horses as “convenient laboratory animals for testing
> new drugs”?

MIKE: So how do we know thalidomide makes horses sleep?

TOM: Who looks at a drug that makes horribly deformed human babies and asks, ‘What will this do for horses?’

> And why should they; horses are herbivores,
> with a metabolism quite a long way from Man’s. Monkeys
> are expensive — and they don’t really match Man.)

CROW: Unlike mankind’s closest living relatives, rabbits.

>
> Test 2 — trying it on a small group of patients
> first.

MIKE: Is that a few patients or just on patients who are very tiny?

TOM: Picturing a study on human adults each eighteen inches tall?

MIKE: Pretty much.

>
> Now the first slight indication that thalidomide
> could have some bad side-effects was that neuritis
> business. It results from prolonged overuse of the drug.

TOM: Also the deformed babies, but that could just be the mothers’ fault.

>
> The doctors administering the first test-use of
> the new drug would, of course, regulate it carefully.

CROW: Unlike in the real world, where they gave out two and a half million tablets to a thousand doctors while waiting for the FDA to approve selling them.

> There would be no long-continued overuse under their
> administration — and therefore thalidomide wouldn’t
> have produced any neuritis.

TOM: As long as they didn’t do anything that produced any problems there’d never be any problems turning up.

>
> On that first, limited-sample test, there would
> be an inevitable, human tendency to avoid pregnant young
> women as test subjects for so experimental a drug.

CROW: Because it’s only a scientific test if you avoid real-world conditions that would be messy or hard to deal with.

>
> Result: thalidomide would have checked in as one
> hundred per cent safe and effective.

MIKE: Except for rabbits.

>
> The final two-year test was several thousand
> people. On this one we don’t have to guess; we’ve got the
> statistics.

TOM: Knowing the answers as we do, we can sound smarter than the people who were asking questions.

>
> During the time thalidomide was being considered
> by the Federal Drug Administration for licensing in this
> country, selected physicians in the United States were
> sent supplies of the drug for experimental use.

CROW: Under the ‘What the heck, like something could go wrong?’ program.

>
> Under this program, 15,904 people are known to
> have taken the pills.

MIKE: But we probably should’ve written down who they were, somewhere.

> Certainly that’s a good-sized
> second-level testing group for our proposed
> hyper-cautious test system.

TOM: I’d like to see it bigger and less cautious, of course, but we make do with what we have.

>
> Of those nearly 16,000 people, about 1 in 5 —
> 3,272 — were women of child-bearing age, and 207 of
> them were pregnant at the time.

CROW: 86 of those listened to and enjoyed The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. This is irrelevant to my point but is interesting nevertheless.

>
> There were no abnormal babies born, and no cases
> of polyneuritis reported.

TOM: And by ‘no’ I mean ‘seventeen’, but that’s close enough to ‘no’ for real science.

>
> Thalidomide passed the cautious tests with flying
> colors.

MIKE: Melting off the walls and pooling into a flavor of brick.

>
> Now the abnormalities that thalidomide does cause
> are some kind of misdirection of the normal growth-forces
> of the foetus.

TOM: But in the future we could have limitless abnormalities!

> The abnormalities are of a type that was
> well known to medicine long before thalidomide came along
> — abnormal babies have been produced for all the years
> the human race has existed, remember.

CROW: Heck, all things considered it’s the non-deformed babies that are the real sickos.

MIKE: Yeah, after this one I’m going to my bedroom and cry.

>
> Suppose that in our test, some women did bear
> abnormal babies. Say three of them were abnormal, and
> lived.

CROW: They can be an example to the rest of us!

> (A goodly number of the thalidomide-distorted
> babies died within hours.

MIKE: Technically everyone dies within hours if you count high enough.

> It doesn’t only affect arms and
> legs; thalidomide can mix up the internal organs as
> though they had been stirred with a spoon.)

TOM: Thanks, that detail doesn’t make me want to kill myself.

>
> So . . . ? So what? Aren’t a certain number of
> abnormal babies appearing all the time anyway?

TOM: Yeah! Well, one in four million, born like that.

> And with
> all this atomic-bomb testing going on . . . and this
> woman was examined repeatedly by X ray during pregnancy .

CROW: Really, with how complicated life is how can we ever really blame anything for anything?

> . . and remember that in the normal course of nine months
> of living, she will have taken dozens of other drugs,

MIKE: Because it’s the early 60s and we don’t want to think about what we’re pumping into our bodies.

> been exposed to uncountable other environmental
> influences, perhaps been in a minor automobile accident .
> . .

TOM: And you know how scaring the mother will leave a permanent mark on the children, right?

>
> Not until the drug is “tested” on literally
> millions of human beings will it be possible to get
> sufficiently numerous statistical samplings to be able to
> get significant results.

TOM: Slightly more, in Canada.

> Toss a coin three times, and it
> may come heads every time. This proves coins fall
> heads-up when tossed?

CROW: And even if it did, how would we know coin-tossing was causal and not merely correlated to coins coming up at all?

MIKE: It’s basic logic.

>
> Another drug was introduced for experimental
> testing some years ago.

TOM: Case closed.

> The physicians who got it were
> told to check their experimental patients carefully for
> possibilities of damage to liver, stomach and/or kidneys,

CROW: Also if the drug punched anyone in the face and ran off with their wallet.

> the expected possible undesirable side-effects of the
> drug. Practically no such damage was found — the drug
> was effective, and only in the very exceptional patient

TOM: The best kind! Everyone needs to be more like them.

> caused sufficient liver, stomach or kidney reaction to
> indicate it should be discontinued.
>
> Only it caused blindness.

MIKE: Well, what was it supposed to do?

CROW: Risk damaging the liver, stomach, and kidneys, apparently.

MIKE: Man, the eyes are nowhere near any of those, no wonder they didn’t approve it.

>

TOM: I hope they didn’t.

> The reaction was frequent and severe enough to
> make the drug absolutely impossible as a medicament —
> and was totally unexpected.

CROW: Nobody saw the blindness coming — oh, now I feel like going to my bedroom and weeping.

TOM: Yeah, this is a brutal one.

> It had not caused any such
> reaction in any of the experimental animals.

MIKE: In retrospect, testing exclusively on star-nosed moles may have been a mistake.

>
> No — the lesson of thalidomide is quite simple.

TOM: It’s ‘thalidomide’, not ‘thalidomine’, however much you think you remember it the other way.

MIKE: Hey, wait, it is, isn’t it?

>
> So long as human beings hope to make progress in
> control of disease and misery, some people will be lost
> in the exploration of the unknown.

CROW: Don’t go looking for them. There’s grues there.

>
> There is no way to prevent that. There is no
> possible system of tests that can avoid it — only
> minimize the risk.

TOM: By shoving unproved drugs down millions of people’s throats just in case one of them is good for something! The drugs, I mean, not the people.

>
> We could, of course, simply stop trying new drugs
> at all.

MIKE: Gotta say, it does sound like we’re not very good at making them.

> The animals never did try the pain and the risk
> of fire. They’re still animals, too.
>
> January 1963 John W Campbell

TOM: Who died of drinking DDT in a lead-lined glass while smoking an asbestos-filtered cigarette laced with cyclamates.

CROW: And saying none of it was statistically proven.

MIKE: John Glenn, everybody. John Glenn.

TOM: Let’s just get out of this popsicle stand.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW are in a line. ]

MIKE: Well, Pearl, wherever you are … I hope you’re satisfied with this heap of misery you’ve inflicted on us.

TOM: I think the only thing that’ll rescue our mood is the lighthearted yet barbed whimsy of the Rankin/Bass universe.

CROW: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is on.

MIKE: The one where our hero Rudolph is searching for the Baby New Year, which will make thousand-year-old Aeon die.

TOM: Oh good heavens.
[ CROW flops over, defeated. ]

MIKE: Happy new year, everyone, and to all … guh.



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Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell them what I’ve been up to all these years. The essay ‘The Lesson Of Thalidomide’ by John W Campbell was originally published in Analog and appeared in the archive.org resource Collected Editorials From Analog, https://archive.org/details/collectededitori01camp where it and much other writing can be enjoyed at your leisure. Nothing untoward or mean is meant toward John W Campbell or anyone at Analog, and I’m not irritated with archive.org or anything either. If you’re feeling bad about all this, consider: the word ‘bunny’ seems to come from Gaelic ‘bun’, referring to their tails, and doesn’t that make you grin some?

> for all I can know, she may have perfect and
> reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
> she was reading the medical reports published in late
> 1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
> trans-temporal data.

MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 3 of 4


Part 1, introduction and John Glenn.

Part 2, German cows and precognition.

John W Campbell’s gotten an enormous reputation in science fiction circles, and he deserves both sides of that. He did bring a remarkable professionalism to the field in the 1940s. But he was also a crank. He was one of the first enthusiasts of Dianetics, and a startling cross-section of writers in the 1950s wrote that, or mild variants of it, into their published stories. He was sure of the Dean Drive, a gadget that could move objects in defiance of the laws of conservation of momentum, of angular momentum, and of energy. He was so sure of the Heironymous Machine, a magic-energy machine, that their inventor, Thomas Galen Heironymous, thought Campbell was taking it too far. The time has largely faded when science fiction could include telepathy and psionics superpowers and such. But that there was a time when even “hard”, scientifically rigorous, science fiction could include such was largely Campbell’s doing. Also, yes, John W Campbell was quite sexist, but at least you aren’t hearing his views on the races.


>
> A German doctor was the first to suspect
> thalidomide of its actual disastrous characteristic —

CROW: Its spelling.

> and it was November 15, 1961 that he first warned the
> Grunenthal company that he suspected their thalidomide
> preparation of being responsible for the “seal-baby”
> epidemic then appearing in Germany.

CROW: To sold-out crowds!

MIKE: Well, I’m feeling worse about myself now.
Continue reading “MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 3 of 4”

MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 2 of 4


Part 1, introduction and John Glenn.

John W Campbell was, as you might’ve gathered, a wee bit cranky. By a wee bit I mean “almost cranky enough to be an old white guy in science fiction today”. When he started editing Astounding Science Fiction — the magazine which would become Analog and which is the best-read of the surviving science fiction magazines — he insisted on greater levels of competence and thoughtfulness than were common in the field before, though. And his attitude of challenging accepted wisdom is not a bad starting point for fiction writers. But he was also, as best I can tell, never plagued with doubts about his own wisdom. Someday I promise I will share the very funny thing he said about tungsten, and why it’s funny.


>
> Study the history of thalidomide briefly: It was
> synthesized first by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm.

MIKE: When you put it like that, it’s amazing anyone ever had questions about it.

> Tests
> of the new compound were made on animals, and it was
> found that thalidomide had no effects — either positive
> or negative.

CROW: Of course Switzerland would make a neutral drug.

TOM: Way to fight the stereotype, guys.

> It was an “inert ingredient” so far as the
> animals were concerned; the substance was abandoned in
> 1954.

MIKE: To be held in reserve in case we ever needed animals to feel more nothing particular.
Continue reading “MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 2 of 4”

MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 1 of 4


So I have a bit of a format-breaking thing this week. Among my pastimes is writing Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. Late last year I wrote this bit. It takes an early 60s editorial from John W Campbell, the Thomas Midgley Jr of Science Fiction, and tries to find the fun in it. The essay was long, and made longer by the process of adding commentary to it. This is why I’m breaking it up into briefer pieces. If WordPress is anything, it is “not a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction site” and I wish to respect the audience I’ve got here.


[ OPENING CREDITS, SEASON TEN STYLE. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, and CROW are hotly debating; MIKE is not particularly hotly listening. ]

TOM: So I know you’re wondering about the Rankin/Bass special Twas The Night Before Christmas, Mike.

MIKE: Pretty sure I’m not.

CROW: Obviously we all wonder how Albert Mouse could continue insisting Santa Claus doesn’t exist when Santa starts refusing all letters from Junctionville, New York, when refusing letters is a prima facie case that the intended recipient exists.

MIKE: You know Pearl’s scheduled a short for us to keep us busy while she screens a Magic Garden marathon, right?

Continue reading “MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 1 of 4”