Crustacean revelation: coconut crab’s claw is stunningly strong
By Will Dunham | WASHINGTON
It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. Its claw is a mighty weapon.
Scientists on Wednesday said they measured the pinch strength of this large land crab that inhabits islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, calculating that its claw can exert up to an amazing 742 pounds (336.5 kg) of force.
The coconut crab’s pinch strength even matches or beats the bite strength of most land predators.
“The pinching force of the largest coconut crab is almost equal to the bite force of adult lions,” said marine biologist Shin-ichiro Oka of Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Foundation, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
OK, so, I admit I was looking for an excuse not to wrestle any coconut crabs this weekend. Call me a coward if you will. I’ll be over here calling a Patagonian Cavy names until it starts whining.
But three things caught me by the end of that third paragraph. The first: next time I make a mind-bogglingly stupid science fiction move set in the dystopian future I’m going to name something in it PLOS ONE. Maybe the megacity everyone’s trying to escape. Maybe the computer-god-supercorporation ruling everyone. Maybe the spunky talking motorcycle the hero rides to save the day. But something.
Second: the dateline. Reuters wants us to know that Will Dunham reviewed PLOS ONE while writing for the Washington office, I suppose. It would have totally different connotations if the story were filed from New York, or Lisbon, or New Delhi, or Buenos Aires.
Third: “It may not be wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab”. May not. May not. Dunham is willing to concede there are circumstances in which it is wise to get into a scrap with a coconut crab. He can’t think of any himself, but he’s aware of his fallibility. He grants there are people whose lives bring them to the point of scrapping with coconut crabs, which are ten-legged monstrosities as much as three feet long. And he’ll allow there are people for whom that is a wise and even good path for their lives to take. I appreciate the open-mindedness. Someone might look back on their life and say, “It all turned around for me when I wrestled that giant crab”, and wouldn’t you like to know how that came about? I mean, you don’t want to know that so much as you feel you feel you ought to find out how Norman Borlaug had the idea of ending world hunger. (“Well, what if people had something to eat? I thought that might help.”) But still you’d like to know. I’m still using the excuse to avoid Saturday’s scrap myself.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index, the mainstream one, rose sharply six points today. And that would be fine and dandy except for once the alternate index did something different, rising only five points to 105 and that’s scrambled all the plans to merge the mainstream and alternate indices back together. Seriously, the two indices were doing the exact same thing for like ever and now that it doesn’t matter anymore it breaks? It’s not right, that’s all there is to it.
And some big news! After that awkward elevator incident the mainstream and the alternate traders for the Another Blog, Meanwhile index have worked out a deal. They’ve agreed to merge the groups back into a single trading community, saving everyone a lot of stress as they don’t know which group to participate in or what might happen if they pick the wrong one. And it saves me the stress of figuring which of the indices I should be reporting on. Anyway there’s some paperwork they have to work out but they’re hoping to have that all sorted out tonight or tomorrow. For the record the mainstream and the alternate indices both rose two points yesterday, getting both back to 100, which is exactly where this all started. Isn’t that all just perfectly lined up? I’m amazed by it too.
So something weird has happened with story strips lately. I suppose it’s coincidence, properly. But something’s happened to them since last year’s Apartment 3-Gocalypse. I figured to take some time and write about them. I’m going to start with the strip that had the most dramatic and first big change of the lot, one going back far before the end of that comic.
I’m not sure when I started reading Dick Tracy as an adult. I know it was in the 2000s, and that it was encouraged by partners in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips. And that’s because the strip was awful. Not just bad, mind you, but awful in a super-spectacular fashion. The kind the most punishing yet hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes are based on. In the last years of his tenure on the comic Dick Locher’s storytelling had collapsed into something like a structuralist parody of comics. Nothing would happen, at great length, endlessly repeated. I observed that if you put together a week’s worth of the daily strips — which the Houston Chronicle web site used to make easy to do — you could read the panels top down, first panel of each day of the week, then second panel, then third panel, and have exactly as coherent a story. It was compelling in its outsider-art insanity.
That came to an end (and I’m shocked to realize this) over five years ago. From the 14th of March, 2011, the team of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis took over. The change was immediately obvious: the art alone was much more controlled, more precise, and easier to read than Locher’s had been. And the stories had stuff happen. My understanding is Staton and Curtis were under editorial direction to have no story last more than a month; Locher’s last years had averaged about three to four months per storyline.
So finally we had a story strip with pacing. You know, the way they had in the old days. There were drawbacks to this. Four or five weeks at three panels a day — more can’t really fit — plus the long Sunday installments still doesn’t give much space. To introduce a villain, work out a scheme, have Tracy do something about it, and wrap it up? Challenging work. The first several stories I came out thinking that I didn’t know precisely what had happened, but I’d enjoyed the ride.
They’ve had several years now, and are still going strong. They’re allowed longer stories now. They’ve gotten to be astoundingly good at planting stuff for future stories. They’re quite comfortable dropping in a panel that doesn’t seem to mean anything — sometimes with the promise that it will be returned to — so they have the plot point on the record when they need it a year or more later. And they’ve brought a fannish glee to the stories. I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but the pace and the art and the glee are too good to pass up.
Staton and Curtis show all signs of knowing everything that has ever appeared in pop culture, ever. And they’re happy to bring it in to their comic. Some of this is great. They brought [ Little Orphan ] Annie into the strip, resolving the cliffhanger that that long-running-yet-cancelled story strip ended on. And has brought her back a couple times after. They’ve called in Brenda Starr — another long-running-yet-cancelled story strip — for research. They spent a week with Funky Winkerbean for some reason, which might be how Sam Catchem’s wife got cancer.
And they’ve dug through the deep, bizarre canon of Dick Tracy. I mean, they brought back The Pouch, a minor criminal who after losing hundreds of pounds of weight sewed snap-tight pouches into his acres of flesh, the better to be an informer and courier when not selling balloons to kids. I love everything about how daft that is.
Back in the 60s the comic’s creator, Chester Gould, went a little mad and threw in a bunch of nonsense about Moon People and magnetic spaceships and all that and wrote funny stuff about how this was just as grounded in fact as the scientific investigation methods of Tracy. One might snicker and respectfully not disagree with that. But it was a lot of silly Space Race goofiness, fun but probably wisely not mentioned after the mid-70s.
So they brought this back, and mentioned it. Not just in passing; a major theme in the comic the past five years have been struggles for Diet Smith’s Space Coupe technologies and the mystery of whatever happened to the Moon Valley and the making of new, cloned-or-whatever Moon Maid with electric superpowers and everything. I suppose it’s plausible if we grant this silliness happened that it would become big stuff, certainly for Tracy’s circles. But could we have let the silliness alone? Space-opera antics are fun, and there’s no other comic strip that can even try at them, but Dick Tracy is supposed to be a procedural-detective strip about deformed people committing crimes and dying by their own, if detective-assisted, hands.
A matter of taste. There’s something to be said for embracing, as far as plausible, the implications of world-breaking stuff the comic did in the 60s.
Less disputable, though: everything in the strip is a freaking reference to something else anymore. Everything. There’s less referential seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not just to Dick Tracy‘s long history, or even to other story strips. They made the Jumble word game part of a storyline. Last year they went to a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol with Mister Magoo for crying out loud. Think about that. Earlier this year villain Abner Kadaver lured Tracy to the Reichenbach Falls with just a reference to meet him at “the fearful place”, because of course Tracy would pick up on that reference. And yes, they struggled at the falls and went over the side. I don’t think we’ve seen his body, although Kadavner’s even more immune to death than normal for compelling villains in this sort of story.
Tracy got rescued, of course. By an obsessed fan. Not of Tracy; he’s already been through that story in the Staton-Curtis regime. An obsessed fan of Sherlock Holmes, who insists on thinking Tracy is actually Holmes and won’t listen to anything contradicting him. An obsessed fan named Dr Bulwer Lytton. Good grief.
I was set for a little Misery-style knockoff, but Staton and Curtis faked me out. They do that often, must say, and with ease and in ways that don’t feel like cheats. That’s one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about the strip. Instead of an intense psychological thriller about how to make his escape, Tracy just stands up and declares he’s had enough of this. Mercifully sane. But part of me just knows, Staton and Curtis were trying to think of a way to have Graham Champan wearing a colonel’s uniform step on panel and declare this had all got very silly and they were to go on to the next thing now. I figure they’re going to manage that within the next two years.
It’s quite worth reading, if you can take the strangeness of advancing a complicated story in a few moments a day and that not everything will quite hang together. But the more attention you pay the more you realize how deftly crafted everything about it is.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points. Trading was hurried as everyone had forgotten to do anything until market analysts came in just before deadline to ask how things had turned out so they could say why that happened instead of something else entirely. Now analysts are trying to figure out if any of this happened for a reason or if traders were just throwing any old nonsense together. They’re suspicious.
Pokemon Peas and Carrots (scheduled release June 2017)
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile Index (alternate) was unchanged over the course of trading today. But it was a different unchanged from the unchanged it was on Thursday when nobody was there. This time they tried all they could to change it and it didn’t budge. Well, they were only halfheartedly trying anyway because of this big secret I can’t talk about but you know now because I wouldn’t say something like that if you didn’t have a good idea what it was. Just saying, but you didn’t hear it from me.
I’d like to say a word for my mathematics blog which had some more mathematical comics to review the other day, so, here: Tintinnabulation. Thank you.
I’ve gotten out of the habit of showing off Charles Boyce’s earnest yet strangely off panel comic Compu-Toon lately. There’s not a lot to say about it except, well, it’s baffling and not exactly funny but the cartoonist seems too sincere about his mission to really mock. And then this week he turned up this comic.
Deep down, I suspect Boyce just figured “cut and paste” is a computer term so he could put it at the bottom of any old panel. But as a riff on how guys-on-desert-islands is a weirdly omnipresent panel strip premise it’s pretty good. I just need some help understanding whether to enjoy this ironically or not.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
In the return to trading after the holiday shares shot considerably up. The mainstream index rose from 85 to 93 on rumors that something really big was up. Nobody’s willing to say what but I just bet it has to do with that elevator incident a couple days ago. All the pieces are just fitting together too well.
A great many Thanksgiving traditions have origins. Don’t you? Let’s review.
To Eat Turkey. Of course everyone knows the Pilgrims, who didn’t think they were, didn’t have turkey on the Original Thanksgiving. They were short on food. All they could do is each take a lick and pass along a cobblestone they’d gotten from a street in Leiden. By the time of that first Thanksgiving the stone was getting pretty worn out. And it still tasted like a regression from the grace with God they wanted. Mostly the attendees at that First Thanksgiving had to listen to the raccoons pointing and calling them “turkeys”. And that insult wouldn’t reach full potency until the late 1970s.
But that did give the Pilgrims, unless they were Puritans, an idea. And for the Second Thanksgiving, which we don’t know when it was, they made a deal with the turkeys to take turns, humans eating turkeys and turkeys eating humans. This was lousy for the Puritans, unless they were Separatists, since the turkeys took their turn eating humans first. Oh, how the Pilgrims squawked at that. The turkeys were satisfied though. The second time, for the Third Thanksgiving, which we also don’t know when it was, humans took their turn eating turkeys and called no backsies. That’s all pretty rotten dealing and I’m glad to be having Tofurkey myself. We haven’t double-crossed tofu on anything nearly that major in decades.
To Notice We Have Like Six Half-Empty Bottles Of Store-Brand Windex. This is not in fact a Thanksgiving custom. It is associated with Thanksgiving because of the major house cleanup done then, but this happens at every major house cleanup, like that at Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving, or the one that other time we mean to do, or at Thanksgiving. As such its origins have no place here.
To Watch The Detroit Lions. This dates back to the earliest days of football, back before the sport had decided that having an actual ball was the way to go. Many thought they’d do better using the honor system of everyone agreeing where a ball should go. Back then the Detroit Lions weren’t yet in Michigan, and were still the Fort Wayne Zollner Lions. “Hey,” one of the players said, “Detroit is in Wayne County. Is that named for the same General “Mad Anthony” Wayne that Fort Wayne’s named after?” This sounded plausible, but nobody could look it up, as this was literally over two months before the invention of Wikipedia.
While talking it over they got a bit giggly about where they could use “wayne” in place of some other word. This started out tortured. They’d, say, use it for “when” and say “Wayne are we going to get a football to play?” Or “Wayne [ we’ll ] meet you there!” The Lions went on like this for about three weeks before the locals shared with the Lions their brooms and many shouts of exasperation. This is how the Lions moved to Detroit. Fort Wayne residents promised to keep an eye on the Lions in case they got near town again and vowed never to forget. They forgot and settled the Lions-watching down to two days a year, Thanksgiving and the New Jersey Big Sea Day. Football decided to start using footballs in 1973, to make Monday Night Football games show up better.
To Have Big Arguments With Loved Ones. If I believe what I read in comic strips this is one of the major ways to spend Thanksgiving. But if I believe comic strips then I’d have to accept people are always tweeting Facebooks to their app instead of reading books. Also everyone is talking about whatever everyone was talking about eight weeks ago only less specifically. Anyway I’ve never seen this in the real actual world. Maybe it’s my family. Maybe we don’t happen to feel that emotional charge about the things we differ on. And we’re decent about talking out the things that irritate us. And we’re almost sure the time Grandmom set the table on fire it was an accident. Maybe we’re just better at family than you are? Don’t know. But I have to rate this tradition as “maybe completely made up” and so unworthy of an origin.
To Have A Parade With Giant Balloons. Let me summarize Professor Mi Gyung Kim’s The Imagined Empire: Balloon Enlightenments in Revolutionary Europe to explain this one. It dates back to the Age of Enlightenment, when the idea of giant balloons captured the European imagination. Little did the Europeans suspect they were about to be overrun with giant balloons. None could believe the speed and success of conquest. “They’re so lumbering and slow-moving,” civilians observed, “and you just have to poke them with a stick!” True, but they were also as much as ten feet higher up than anyone realized and so could not be reached by the sticks available to that semi-industrialized age.
The giant balloons had no taste for managing their conquests. They preferred their normal pastimes of drifting into streetlights and being featured in human-interest news pieces about parade setup. So in exchange for an annual victory triumph they let us go about our business the rest of the time. We got off light, which is the way the giant balloons like it too.
While we have many more Thanksgiving customs there are only the top few we’ve lost the receipt for and so can not send back.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Neither the mainstream nor the side Another Blog, Meanwhile indices had any trading activity today. They’ve wanted to have a holiday a while now, but I believe they really like those rare days when trading activity gets reported as “UNCH”. Also I don’t want to promise too much but I think something may be happening after they got stuck in that elevator yesterday. Just saying.
So I was reading Godfrey Hodgson’s pop history A Great And Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving. And there on pages 80 and 81 Hodgson writes about the first scouting expeditions in what would be Plymouth by the people we now call Pilgrims because they can’t hear us calling them that. This is three or maybe four days after their first landing, while they were trying to figure out just where they were and whether it was all right to be there and what the heck might be lurking ready to catch them:
In the morning they got lost in the woods, and found an Indian deer trap, “a very pretty device,” thought [ Edward ] Winslow, as artful as any English rope maker could have made, made by bending a sapling as a spring, and scattering acorns to tempt the deer. William Bradford came up to look. The trap gave a sudden jerk, and he was caught by the leg.
I don’t want to overstate things, but it appears that, yes, the earliest white settlers in Massachusetts were Warner Brothers cartoon characters. I feel so much better knowing this.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped a point today in a scheduled half-day of trading ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Trading was extremely light, as everyone was watching the clock until they figured it was close enough to lunch to go home early. So when the — in this case — alternate index had a trade everyone stretched and said, “well, that traffic isn’t going to beat itself” which they then thought sounded vaguely dirty or something. They weren’t sure. But then all the traders from the mainstream index who had just the same sort of day had the same idea and they all got stuck on the same elevator. Well, serves them right.
Old-time radio had many genres of show. Many of them still exist, albeit on television. (In the United States, where commercial interests sent them.) Soap operas, famously, still carry on, though nobody would say they’re healthy. Police and detective shows we’ll never be rid of. Medical dramas too. Suspense anthologies … all right, we don’t really have that anymore, although thrillers and crime procedurals nearly cover that gap. Sitcoms — with or without laugh tracks — come and go, but they’re steadily around. Game shows have mutated, but they’re still around.
But there’s one that isn’t really still around, not in United States anyway. I’m not even sure what exactly to call it. It’s the kind of show typefied by The Jack Benny Program. It’s centered around a strong, comic host, and there’s a set of regular supporting cast with clear punchy comic personas. There’s some topic, often drawn from the news, that all the regulars riff on for a while. Then a musical interlude. Then a spoof of something or other. A lot of shows fit this admittedly quite general template. Jack Benny fits it (less perfectly as the show ages and it turns into a semi-sitcom). Fred Allen too. Bob Hope. Red Skelton. Some of these shows are great. Some are agony, at least to my tastes. Depends on whether you like the host.
So here’s an example of that genre. It stars Henry Morgan, a comedian who is reliably described as “caustic”. This episode doesn’t show off anything “caustic”. I would describe it more as “sly”.
I wanted to use the embeddable little radio player that archive.org offers. But it won’t link to the file I want because whoever uploaded this episode in the first place included spaces in the file name. WordPress’s thing for embedding archive.org audio can’t handle that. So I’m afraid I must ask you to download or open in a fresh tab one of these links:
It’s a fast-paced show, with as its first centerpiece a mock-documentary about the discovery of air. I love mock-documentaries. Always have. The form of the factual essay and the content of nonsense tickles me. It ends with a spoof of game shows. Along the way there’s riffs about the other leading radio shows of the day, which was September 1946. It’s a sharp, densely written mix of stuff. I’m sorry the audio gets fuzzy at a few spots mid-show, but I want to feature more of Henry Morgan and this seemed to be a pretty good introduction, all things considered.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Today it was the mainstream index’s turn to drop two points. Traders working on the Another Blog, Meanwhile index say they totally meant to get the number up to something impressively big, like 94 or even 95. Which isn’t all that big, but is still a pretty good-sized uptick. But then they noticed how distracted I got trying to find the episode of The Henry Morgan Show I really wanted to show off, and if it’s on archive.org I don’t know where, and they were feeling down because I was clearly irritated by all this. And that was before I found out embedding the episode I settled on was another hassle. It’s kind of them to worry so but they really shouldn’t. I can cope with bigger disappointments than having to show off a different episode of a favored comedian than I otherwise might.
So, Lansing has this little downtown event the Friday before Thanksgiving. Silver Bells in the City. An after-dark parade ending with Santa arriving before Thanksgiving because who’s crazy enough to do a nighttime event in mid-Michigan weather after Thanksgiving, a little street festival, Santa Claus holding court in the City Market, that sort of thing. And then this past weekend …
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:13 pm.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:17 pm. The walrus-y figure there is Big Lug, the kind-of dragon-y mascot for the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team. The tusks are lug nuts or something poking out. The team name made more sense back when they were playing at Oldsmobile Park.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:19 pm. Like twenty second later on as we all race for any kind of shelter. Where? We had no idea. My love saw a single isolated shoe left on the flooded streets. I didn’t see it even though I was following close behind. It was a bit mad.
The remainder of festivities is cancelled due to extreme weather. Please get to safety.
Meanwhile this reassuring tweet went out. You know you’re having a good time when you get the instruction, “Please get to safety”.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:23 pm. Also so apparently they had emergency fife bands ready just in case everything outside was cancelled and they had a slice of a hundred-thousand-person mob in City Hall who needed something to mill around in front of?
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:43 pm, after the worst of the winds had blown through.
So we were laughing about being through all this through to about mid-day Sunday when we were finding dollar bills in our wallets were still damp and we’re still seized with a couple giggles. In the meanwhile have you seen my humor blog and its talk about comic strips? It hasn’t got any nearly so dramatic pictures, I admit.
So we were at Meijer’s trying hard to think of what we went to Meijer’s to buy. We succeeded as far as we know. The store had some toys in those little mid-aisle displays that make it harder to get around the aisle. This one was of those giant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. Well, I guess they’re not giant. They are like four feet tall and I think that’s about life-size for the Ninja Turtles. The 1980s Ninja Turtles anyway, that I’m kind of sure-ish about. They’re way giant compared to any toys.
We were walking past and this kid ran out of Seasonals, punched a Michaelangelo right in the stomach, and then ran off before the Ninja Turtle could retaliate.
It all seemed mysterious. And quite unfair. Who sucker-punches a Ninja Turtle? I mean a Ninja Turtle other than Raphael. There must be some story we’re not getting behind this.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
So the main Another Blog, Meanwhile Index dropped seven whole points in scattered trading interrupted by thunderstorms. Analysts say this isn’t going to affect their long-term plans because they just “had a feeling” something like this was going to happen, what with the way the dog was walking funny and tried to eat the flameless votive candle off the coffee table. So they say. I say they were just as surprised as everyone else including the dog was.
You know everybody was happy when the index was sitting at 100. That’s exactly where it started, and then yes we all got a little loopy when it was sitting way above 100 for so long. And everyone was feeling so bad when it dropped below 100 that I thought traders were going to call the whole thing off without losing anything. But no, they had to carry on and now they dropped ten points in the one day. It could be worse, it could be down twelve or even thirteen points but still. Oh, this is just reporting for the alternate index, but you know this whole plan to separate the main and the alternate indices isn’t doing anything for anybody, right?
Contestant on The Price Is Right playing “That’s Too Much” all wrong.
The bird feeder.
The trim brakes added to this roller coaster at Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana, where we do not live.
Web sites that give you the mobile version even when you’re on a regular computer.
This sparrow that wasn’t even looking at the red squirrel, honestly.
The shockingly narrow limits of human empathy for other humans even.
Cracked spines on paperback books.
The temperature drop overnight.
That it’s still so warm for this time of year.
How long it takes favorite podcasts to post new episodes.
Honestly this is making me feel a little better.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The … main index? Yeah. Pretty sure it’s the mainstream Another Blog, Meanwhile index that’s reporting today. I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble keeping this straight. I think it’s because the alternating of indices is matched up with which ear our pet rabbit is supposed to get some medicine in. And I have a little note on the calendar to keep that straight, so why don’t I keep the index-reporting on a calendar like that? I don’t know, I’m just daft that way. Anyway, the mainstream index rose a point in trading that was pretty halfhearted, must be said. I think they were just going through the motions since they knew this all just got them back where they started.
Is it ever possible to be too organized? Of course it is. Imagine you were to get so organized that you put all of the matter and energy in the universe together in a single, infinitesimally small pile. This would promptly cause a new Big Bang, obliterating this universe and creating a new one with potentially quite different laws. Perhaps life would be possible in this new universe, but under very different laws. We might see something like the knights in a chess game moving two spaces in one direction and then two crosswise in a single turn. Or there might be even madder consequences, like gravity being replaced by a system of emotional bonds and obligations.
So there are limits to organization. And this is good as it takes the pressure off us to achieve perfection. If we think really hard about how a new-created universe might work — might tic-tac-toe be played with + signs and little diamonds instead of O’s and X’s? — it takes the pressure off us to achieve adequacy. At least that’s my excuse and I know my love understands while glaring, pained, at my side of the room.
And in practice there’s limits to organization even before you get to universe-wrecking consequences. For example, stuff disappears when it’s where it belongs. Consider that box of paperclips that would be useful for clipping paper together. If it were possible to open its plastic case without breaking off the tabs you’re supposed to use to open it. And which wouldn’t open even if you did break the tabs off. It sits on the table for months, maybe years. Everyone knows exactly where it is. People walking past the house come to a halt and stare in the window, waving more passers-by over to point and stare at the paperclips. And that takes some doing, because they have to get past some really prickly bushes to get up to the window.
But there it sits, ready and demanding attention, ready to provide paperclip services just in case we ever open it. Sometimes it moves a bit, trying to sidle up to the remote control and judge whether it can prey upon the appliance-related implement. Maybe it tries to conceal the chunk of hematite I got for $1.49 from the science store like twenty years ago that hasn’t yet grown into a collection of pretty rocks. Anyone could find the box even if the house were blacked out and your eyes held closed by rogue paperclips.
Ah, but then comes the day we finally organize the place. We take the box of paperclips and find the sensible spot for them: in one of the drawers of the side table where we keep the stamps, blank envelopes, stationery, and the stapler that we can’t find staples for. Come back and we find the table is gone. There’s hints of where it had been, indentations in the rug and all that, but no hint of table. It’s as though the idea of horizontal surfaces has been eliminated from the world. I’d write a stern letter to somebody about this, but can’t find the stationery. And when I get back from that the rug is gone too. They’ve snuck off to the game room and hidden behind the game. The game is a 1979 Williams Tri-Zone pinball. I can find them by the chuckling. Furniture may be well-camouflaged, but it is only two-thirds as clever as it thinks it is.
I don’t usually get so much stuff lost when organizing. I mean except when cleaning up for Thanksgiving, a time when we get so busy tidying stuff up that we can lose bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, and back in 2014 the guest bathroom. There’s not a hint there even ever was a second bathroom in the house. The home would even be architecturally senseless with a second one. That cleaning-up job lasted for hours before it was all chaos again.
But I find my own natural limits. I tend to figure I’ve got things as organized as reasonable when I hold up two socks. They look like they’re the same color in the dim light of the morning when I might have to go out somewhere. In sunlight they’re nothing like the same color. One is a navy blue, the other is an enraged red squirrel holding a penknife. But when I reach that point I ponder whether any two socks are “a pair” of socks, even if they haven’t got anything in common except they are the socks without anything in common. The conclusion of this is that any socks can be a pair of socks and therefore they can be put into the pile of pairs of socks. When I get to reasoning like this you can imagine the shape of my DVD shelf. It is a rhombic triacontahedron.
The case of paperclips won’t open because there’s cellophane tape holding together the sides. I can’t find the cellophane either.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The … alternate index? I think that’s the one supposed to report today. Well, the alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped three points today after their old-time radio podcast had this interesting late-70s adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth hosted by Tom Bosley For Some Reason. And I’m not supposed to tell you what the mainstream blog did today but you already know because this whole alternate-reporting thing is just them being silly.
I understand existing is hard and all that but I did have stuff I wanted to do on Tuesday.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Neither side of the Another Blog, Meanwhile index war has been willing to yield yet, and they’re still counting on me to report just one index or the other. And you know, the strain of being caught between these two is not the kind of thing I need right now. Well, fine, whatever. It’s the mainstream index’s chance today and that dropped two points from yesterday and I won’t tell you what the alternate one did but you can’t be surprised now.
I’m still in an old-time radio mood. So here’s a 1941 installment of Fibber McGee and Molly. The show’s got great name recognition, if allusions to it on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any guide. Granted, by that standard, Averell Harriman still has great name recognition.
But it’s of historical importance. The show was one of those that created the situation-comedy genre. As often the case with those that create a form it doesn’t have the form quite right. The show tends to have very loose plots, to the extent it has plots at all. There’s typically just a gimmick for the episode and then riffing around that. The bunch of wacky neighbors and friends come on, usually one at a time, to add their riffs, and then after 25 minutes of this, two musical numbers, and a minute spent praising Johnson’s Wax, something ends the situation. It hardly seems like the same sort of entertainment as, say, Arrested Development.
But I think it’s of more than just historic importance, at least in some episodes. The one I’ve picked here, “Leaving for Hollywood” and originally run the 24th of June, 1941, closed out the broadcast season. It’s built on the McGees closing up their house and saying goodbye to everyone because they’re off to Hollywood for the summer … to make one of the movies based on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. The movie, Look Who’s Laughing (mentioned in the show as the Old-Timer worries about the title) featured most of the radio program’s cast in a story that intersects with Lucille Ball and Edgar-Bergen-and-Charlie-McCarthy and some story about the town’s airstrip.
And there is something almost strikingly modern. We have the fictional conceit that we’re listening to the stuff happening to the McGees and their acquaintances. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall a couple times each episode for the needs of commerce or just to let Jim Jordan get in a good side crack. But here’s a story all about winding up the “real” affairs of the McGees for long enough to let them make a movie about themselves. It’s a weird blending of layers of fiction. I don’t think the 1941 audience was confused or blown away by this; it just feels too natural that the listeners are in on the artifice of the show. (Note the biggest laugh of the episode is one that subverts the show’s best-remembered joke. And its next-most-famous running gag appears just to be mocked too.) I imagine someone listening to the show for the first time would find nothing surprising about the structure, except maybe for the conceit that perfectly good half-hour radio comedies should be adapted into 80-minute movies with far too much plot and nothing happening. It’s only weird if you stop and point it out, which I hope you see now that I have.
Minor note: the second musical number within the show, about 19:30 in, is the Kingsmen singing “The Reluctant Dragon”, based on the Disney partly-animated Robert Benchley vehicle and that’s fun.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
So here we are, trying out reporting just the breakaway alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile Index and that’s up two points from where it was yesterday. And I don’t want to say anything to the traders who are trying to work out why it is there’s been no divergence in the indices since they split off all that while ago. But I will say that based on what I have they’re in for a nasty surprise regarding today’s mainstream index returns.
Also last week Weather Underground started pulling this again in the ten-day forecast and I want to know what they know about Friday.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Another Blog, Meanwhile index traders agreed to just try not reporting their figures on the same day to see if they can break out of this happening-to-be-equal style. I’m skeptical about this myself since how often do we make things better by hiding information? Actually, it’s rather often if we’re hiding information about what some beloved cartoon or movie from our childhood was really like as opposed to what we remember through the mists of nostalgia and memory. But this isn’t that sort of situation. Anyway, the mainstream index rose four points and while I’m not going to tell you what the alterante index did until tomorrow you just know how this scheme to fix the problem turned out. Srsly.
Everybody loves spoofs. I suppose they satisfy our desire for transgressive mockery without demanding the self-cutting introspection of satire. That makes me sound snobby about spoofs and it shouldn’t. A great spoof is a celebration of the good and bad of something. And we need sometimes entertainment that doesn’t ask how we justify our thinking.
Stan Freberg among many things produced fantastic spoofs. His Dragnet spoof made his name and solidified “Just the facts, ma’am” as the phrase the original show would be known by. In his one-season radio show he’d do a lot of spoofs, many of them really great.
A great spoof needs to capture something essential about the original. It might be the original’s rhythm, it might be its attitude, it might be just the way it sounds. To some extent a spoof needs to be precise. It needs to follow a template that could plausibly be the original’s. If it doesn’t then it becomes something like an Elvis or a William Shatner impersonation, something that at one time had something to do with the original but now is an entity unto itself. That’s not to say they’re necessarily bad, but to say that they’re their own thing, no longer based on the original.
But there’s a danger in capturing the sound of the original too precisely. That problem it’ll eventually be sixty years later and nobody is going to know what your spoof was going on about. There’s a bit of this in the Stan Freberg Show I want to share here. It aired originally the 22nd of September, 1957.
So. There’s two big spoofs there, one of a sports-radio announcer/interviewer, another of a western. If you’re not a fan of old-time radio then I’m going to guess the sports-radio thing made better sense. There are still sports announcers and interviewers kind of like this and you can imagine an interview coming close to but not quite that. The other spoof is of a western and that probably sounds all the more bizarre.
Freberg was taking seriously his responsibility to get his spoof right, to make it just this close to the thing he was spoofing. The sports-radio guy he’s spoofing was Bill Stern, pioneer of radio sports reporting. A fair number of his recordings survive. He had this bombastic and, must be said, addictive style, delivered in a breathless rush and sprinkled with amazing human-interest stories that might even be true.
The western, now, that probably reads stranger. We just don’t have so many westerns. And the image of the old-time radio western is, well, what people think The Lone Ranger was. Big, broad, cartoonish melodrama with dramatic declarations and gunfights and claim-grabbers and salted gold mines and big, broad dumb gags. That was one thread of western, yes. But there was another line, which for want of a better term I’ll call “adult westerns”. These varied, of course, but they would try for a more sedate, more grown-up tone. They’d be more meticulously paced and there’d be more of the sound effects of men walking in full, noisy garb than of gunshots. They’d try to address more grown-up topics, like drought, economic failure, and racial tension. Gunsmoke, the show Freberg was most specifically targeting, could be wretchedly depressing. It was the sort of show where the silver lining is that at least the floods will put out the range fire before washing away the railroad bridge the ranch-hands would use to get into town to riot.
So if this seems like a bizarre segment to listen to that’s just the problem that Freberg captured the sound of Gunsmoke and its ilk too well. I think you can infer what he’s mocking from this, but it is easier to understand, and funnier, if you’ve heard more of the adult westerns that 1950s radio offered. (Many are easy to find.)
The “sponsor” is an easier spoof to understand. That’s mocking Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice. These breakfast cereals were shot from guns on every 15-minute program radio aired between 1939 and 1958, if my sampling is representative. That maybe communicates easier since we’re still spoofing commercials, and there’s an inherent goofiness that doesn’t need much setup.
Well, I hope you enjoy the show however much sense it makes.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points and then just knew it when it turned out the alternate index also rose four points. Someone went off and wrote a paper about how this proved that the markets were reflecting underlying real value and therefore the index traders were perfectly efficient. This went over 98 percent as well as you’d expect and there was a lot of pointing and snickering over the matter.
After both the mainstream and the alternate Indices both dropped three points yesterday they figured this weird synchronization just couldn’t keep on happening. And so the mainstream Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped a whole six points, figuring for sure they’d lose their copycats this time. And yet that didn’t happen: the alternate index also fell six points, although they say it was an accident from counting the previous day’s three-point dropoff twice, once for the main and once for the alternate.
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped three points back to 100, which it’s been seeing a lot. However, the mainstream traders explained they figured dropping by three would finally shake off the copycat alternate traders. The alternate traders, meanwhile, had the same idea and their Another Blog, Meanwhile index also dropped by three points. You’d think this would help encourage talk of reconciliation between the groups but so far that’s not getting anywhere.
After a holdout of just over four thousand and thirteen years, the Phoenician letter Sade has announced its return to the alphabet. The late-Thursday announcement took by surprise thousands of dictionary writers, spelling bee contestants, Linotype keyboardists, and font designers still recovering from sprained ligatures. It set off an hour of panicked spelling on the Amsterdam Diphthong and Fricatives Exchange. The markets are expected to return to normal if anyone remembers what normal even is anymore.
Speaking before the press Sade shook off questions about the start of its holdout. It said the source was “obscure and, now that I’m a wiser, silly arguments. In hindsight I should not have been so stubborn”. (The Palmyrene letter Samek insisted the problem was about Sade not paying back a loan of about 25 obolus cash.) Sade denied allegations its long absence had left it an irrelevancy. Sade went on to explain that “you’ve all carried on as best you could, and for some of you that’s been very good”. This was taken to be a reference to power-letter superstar E.
“But you have been overlooking the wealth of words that rely on me, or that could.” To support this claim Sade suggested a word starting with it, and appearing in all three syllables. It would express a mild worry that you’ve left the coffee maker to burn an empty pot even though the light is off, just because you can’t be completely sure you’ve ever noticed that particular smell from the kitchen before. “And you didn’t even know you needed to express that,” Sade added, as three reporters stared at the break room.
“And it’s not as if I’ve been completely unknown,” it said to multiple polite coughs. “I’ve kept enrolled in the official newsletter. And I do play at least two games each year in Worcester [Massachusetts], per the custom.” Residents of Worcester confirmed that it had been doing that. One expressed relief to find out what the games with the strange symbol were all about. Nobody had ever had an explanation that quite satisfied. It had been supposed to just be a quirky habit of a long-time New England resident. The way some will compose witty epitaphs on gravestones and others will make johnnycakes on purpose.
The head of Rhode Island’s Department of Motor Vehicles, assuming there is one, announced the state would recognize Sade as part of the alphabet. “With luck,” she or maybe he said, “we’ll get to reduce license plate length one or two characters.” The savings would be returned to car owners, assuming they can be found.
If the letter is to be generally accepted back in there will have to be adjustments. Asked where it might fit in the alphabet — records of its old position are ambiguous or available only on web sites you have to sign up way too much for — Sade said it would be happy anywhere. “But I think I’m at my best fitting between the Z and the Upsilon.” To the silent press room it said, “There’s a few linguistics majors out there chuckling, anyway.” They are. “Seriously, I think I’d fit in best near the D. But the important thing is putting in my part for the team. Remember,” and here it smiled as if it just thought of this, “you can’t spell team with ‘Sade’, if all goes well.”
The team seems to have mixed feelings. Rookie letters J and W were quoted as saying they “knew of” Sade but “never expected to be in the same word”. J, interviewed before quite waking up, admitted “I didn’t know Sade was even still alive”. There has been no comment yet from E, whose rise to dominance began with Sade’s holdout. E seems to have stayed in its house since the announcement, doors locked and curtains drawn. Its only tweets have been some apparently pre-scheduled photos of tripping squirrels, a regular feature of its feed.
All these plans may be for nothing if spring training turns out to be too much for the long-inactive letter. Few forget how Qoppa had to retire 2,477 years ago after a wrenched serif. Sade is not worried. It noted such an accident could not happen now thanks to modern printing technology.
Sade noted how it was already available in Unicode, but what isn’t?
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
This time the alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index fell three points. At the end of the day they looked up and saw the main index had also dropped to 103. So now the rival traders are accusing the mainstream ones of just copying them. The quarrel is getting pretty nasty, although it’s all in the polite and snarky quasi-academic tone the analysts like to use. It’d be funny if not for whatever it was that’s presumably on the line being on the line.