Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful


I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been stuck thinking about something I witnessed when I was getting my car registration renewal and license plate tags at the Secretary of State office nearby. I avoided any embarrassing presumptions about what one might or might not do at a Secretary of State office. What’s interesting is as I was leaving, a woman came storming out, telling her companion, “My license is suspended — indefinitely!” And he then made this into my favorite genre of accidentally overheard conversation, People Telling Other People They Totally Have To Get A Lawyer. “They can’t do that to you. You should get a lawyer.”

“I haven’t even been in trouble,” she went on to explain, “not since I got those three tickets in one day.” And he agreed that this was outrageous and he bet any lawyer would love to take the case, since this could get a million-dollar settlement. “I’m not even dealing anymore!” And that’s when I realized that I was one of the background characters in the establishing scene of a comedy about a couple people who are about 75 percent capable of handling the caper they’re about to undertake.

So I want to know what the plot is, and whether the movie turns out to be any good. I think I’d make a great background character in this sort of story, what with how I have nice expressive eyebrows and always look like I don’t know why I was brought in to this meeting.

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How To Dream


I have to explain right away what kind of dream I mean here. I don’t mean dreaming about how to alter your life so everything is great and happy and wonderful forever and ever. Those are all the dream to be an accomplished celebrity, and the trouble with that is you have to accomplish something worth celebrating. That’s a big pile of work, and even after that, you have to get really lucky, and after all that, you’ll just want to do something else anyway. And anyway the part you really want is people saying, “I’m sorry for all the times I wronged you”. It won’t happen. They’re waiting for you to apologize for the same thing.

What I mean is the kind of dream you have between when you lie down at night, trying to sleep and thinking about all the people who wronged you, and when you wake up in the morning because someone, somewhere, in the neighborhood has a dog. Dreams are a good way to distract from the feelings of helpless and loneliness and it’s a pity people aren’t trying that more.

The fundamental unit of dreaming is to deal with a thing that is also, somehow, another thing. Let me show. Start with one thing, such as a living room. Now pick another thing, such as a dining room. Imagining a place that’s both a living room and a dining room probably won’t explode your mind, what with having heard of efficiency apartments. But remember, there are some people reading this essay who don’t know how to dream to start with. We have to work up to the more complicated ideas.

Take as much time as needed with the living-room/dining-room dream. Explore its implications, such as whether in this context you may set a fork on the throw pillow. Or set a throw pillow on the serving plate. No: that serving plate is too nice for a throw pillow. Try one of the nice souvenir pillows that you keep locked up in the breakfront because they’re too nice to put on the sofa. But wait: why are you putting the nice serving plate on the table when it isn’t even Thanksgiving? It’s too nice for that. Because it’s a dream. You can take all the nice stuff out for that even when nothing special is going on.

Suppose you’ve gotten good at the living-room/dining-room dream. Now you can advance to more complicated things that are also other things. For example, imagine a public library that’s also a friendly dragon. What are the implications of this? Are the books the dragon’s teeth? Or scales? Do you have to venture warily into the dragon’s mouth to get your card renewed? Might it be necessary to go into the more advanced parts of the dragon’s digestive system in order to get the DVDs you’d put on hold? No, of course not. The dragon is a public library only to meet certain zoning requirements. Left to itself the library would rather be a griffin. Now you can have adventures in arranging exemptions to municipal zoning policy. These go well, because you are having a dream, which does not have to comply with open-public-meeting requirements.

Now, you may occasionally hear about really wild dreams. Like, ones where a chance hop out of the excessively large convenience-store/art-museum by your rabbit tips you off to a plan by some gangsters in an Adam West Batman-style Dive Bar (it’s tidier than the efficiency apartment your parents had when they first got married) to finally rub out Shemp, of the Three Stooges. And then you have to help the Fun, Pleasant Batman and Robin on a chase through New Year’s Eve Boston to keep the Stooges alive and maybe make their big show(?). These should be left to the advanced dreamer, one who has experience with all the legal clearances required for this kind of scenario. While you’re learning, stick to imagining people telling you how sorry they are for wronging you. It’s way easier to get the rights.

Do remember, though, there’s no truly wrong way to dream. Whatever things you want to put together are fine. And there’s not any wrong details to expand upon. So make sure to write down all the salient details of each night’s dream, so you can compare them with other people in your dreaming circles, and see who wins.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful


I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been caught up all day in rage. See, back in the 90s there was this New WKRP In Cincinnati. I understand why they’d make such a thing. It was just the thing to do back then, with stuff like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The New Monkees and another Johnny Quest and stuff like that. I’d have been glad to let that pass. But somehow I watched at least one episode. I know this because it was all about the controversy about whether WKRP would run this syndicated show by Rush Limbaugh expy “Lash Rambo”. After much shuffling back and forth including an appearance by “Lash Rambo”, Mister Carlson decides finally that it’s okay to have a racist hatemonger like that on the air since, hey, those rappers, they say mean stuff about cops who gun down black people.

And I am enraged that my brain has decided to latch onto this, of all the stupid things it possibly could have. Not just this stupid show. Not just this stupid episode. Not just stupid scenes with this stupid character but also the stupid name of this stupid character in this stupid scene of this stupid episode of this stupid show. And I know that it’s not even to any good point. I can’t even say that I was doing something valuable in carrying this little payload of unnecessary pop culture out to drop on you all here to get some comic value out of all that mental load, because it’s not like my brain is going to let this piece of stupidity go now. I’m stuck with this stupid thing for the rest of my life even as I can’t remember how many of my father’s uncles were named “Al” or “Vince”. (All of them were.) And they at least feature in cherished family stories about dubious choices and maybe the bookie at the town’s lead factory.

So anyway, I’m busy hating my brain for doing stuff like this to me and that’s why I couldn’t get anything done today.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful


I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been caught up all day in filling the water tanks we have in the basement. We keep the pond goldfish there all winter, and they seem happy enough. It’s great fun filling the tanks, since I get to do stuff like talk about doing a leak test by filling them partway and seeing if anything leaks, and that gives me all these nice NASA Engineer vibes. But I went and spoiled it by getting some five-way test strips that’ll let me know about the pH and the general hardness and the nitrate and the nitrite content of the water. We only ever measured ammonia before. So now I know all kinds of things.

Like, the pH is 7.0. I know that’s great. That’s almost as water-y as water can get. But, I understand that the General Hardness of our water is high. We live in a city with very hard water. Much of the year instead of a fine mist the shower sprays a refreshingly hot stream of grape-nuts. I like it, since that means I can shower and have breakfast at the same time, as long as I don’t mind Dr Bronners soap in my milk. But what does this mean for the fish? And does it mean anything considering we got water from the same tap and them from the same aquifer last year? Huh? I have a huge list of numbers and no context for them. Well, I have six numbers, and no context for four of them. One of the numbers is zero, which seems like it’s probably good, but the rest? So anyway, that’s why I couldn’t get anything done today.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful


I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve realized that the length of time between discovering a new random-generator Twitter bot and realizing that I’ve seen all of its tricks is getting dangerously short. If current trends continue, it’s likely that by the middle of October this year I won’t be amused by any mashing up of stockpiles of sentence structures and a table of nouns with another table of verbs. Maybe even no matter how many verbs there are. And then I’ll have no choice but to stay amused by people who craft sentences with deliberation and thought and even editing. Which is great, but they can’t produce something every hour on the hour.

Well, thank goodness Magic Realism Bot is there to skew my averages.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? July – September 2017


Last week I was all set to talk Gil Thorp when I realized it was Rex Morgan, M.D.‘s turn. I won’t make that mistake again! … But I’m writing this in late September, 2017. If it’s much later than September 2017 for you, the stories might have moved on. At or near the top of this link should be my most recent talk about the high school sports comic strip of high school sports comic strips. I hope something here is what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in other comics, my mathematics blog discusses some from the past week. I don’t think I explain any of the jokes, but I do talk about what the jokes make me think about. Might like it.

Gil Thorp.

10 July – 23 September 2017

I last discussed Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp near the end of a storyline. Spunky young reporter Dafne had discovered the Milford Mudlarks’ new pitching star was kicked out of private school for hitting his girlfriend. The secrecy that protects young, athletically skilled students makes it hard to be sure exactly what did happen. Dafne, shoving a friend into a door so hard he gets a black eye, comes to learn that sometimes battery just happens and it isn’t an open-and-shut case. She confesses her prior narrow-mindedness to the newspaper editor and is welcomed back onto the staff for a happy ending.

The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.

Heather Burns: 'We'll be out here [at the training field] most days.' Trey Davis: 'Us, too. But do me a favor ... keep it on the down-low. We should check in with Coach Thorp, though.' Jaquan Case: 'Absolutely. When I was fighting to be a normal student ... ' Davis: 'Or as normal as the next superstar could be.' Case: 'He was a big help.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 25th of July, 2017. I didn’t do athletics in high school, so I don’t know whether it’s authentic that stars of a decade past get to just come in and train when they feel like even before talking to the coach. I was for a while on the Physics Team, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean I can just pop in to the science classrooms and do that thing where you sit on a barstool chair while turning a spinning bicycle tire around.

And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.

So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.

Gil Thorp: 'I'm due at Milford CC. Can you give him a lift?' Burns: 'Sure. Jaquan, mind doing some running first?' Jaquan Case: 'Might as well, since my trainer bolted. Say, you're Switzerland in all this --- am I crazy to consider the NFL?' Burns: 'Sure. But that doesn't make it a BAD thing.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2017. I know that highlighting this comic out of a month’s worth of storyline will make it look like Coach Thorp had almost nothing to do with the characters doing things and making decisions, and when he was roped into the story got out as fast and with as little responsibility as possible.

And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.

Gil Thorp: 'Everybody sign up for baseline testing?' Assistant coach guy: 'Yup. By the first game, we'll have basic info on every kid. Measuring brain function with tests ... do you believe in it?' Thorp: 'I believe in anything that might keep these kids healthy --- and keep their parents from worrying.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2017. I’m sorry, I don’t know who the assistant-y coach-y guy is, but I do like that the second panel is something like one-fifth of all album covers from 1978 through 1985.

OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.

Next Week!

International espionage, secret government jink-enhighening, and a reporter’s last-ditch effort to save her career as we go back to Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Unanswerable: will we have any judge-work going on?

Statistics Saturday: The Major Star Trek Characters Ordered By Appearances In Episode Or Movie Titles


Star Trek: Discovery not included because I’ve been avoiding spoilers including episode title lists so la la la la do not tell me I can not hear you la la la.

Character Title Appearances
Q 6
Data 4
Mudd 3
Bashir 2
Spock 2
Dax 1
Khan 1
Quark 1
Sarek 1
Troi 1
Archer 0
Beverley Crusher 0
Chakotay 0
Chapel 0
Chekov 0
Guinan 0
Janeway 0
Kes 0
Kim 0
Kira 0
Kirk 0
LaForge 0
Mayweather 0
McCoy 0
Neelix 0
O’Brien 0
Odo 0
Paris 0
Phlox 0
Picard 0
Pulaski 0
Rand 0
Reed 0
Riker 0
Sato 0
Scott 0
Seven 0
Sisko 0
Sulu 0
T’Pol 0
Torres 0
Tucker 0
Tuvok 0
Uhura 0
Wesley Crusher 0
Worf 0
Yar 0

No, neither Mayweather nor Chakotay were actually significant characters. They are included to be nice.

In Which I Stall For The Reasons


I’m sorry. I saw the lawyer for the Insane Clown Posse, or the “Juggalawyer” as apparently they call him, while watching Samantha Bee’s show last night and I don’t really know what things are anymore.

So uh, here. Something from a park we visited last weekend. The question: Was the sign placed there fortuitously … or did they wait until a tree collapsed and figured that’s where to put the sign … or did someone fell a tree as a warning to the others? And if a warning, has this driven the other trees to greater productivity? Or has it driven the ice to try for more?

Warning sign: 'In high wind or icy conditions watch for falling limbs'. Surrounding it is a tree that's been cut down.
Also not looking to joke about the icy conditions since even though yes, it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get snow as early as 8:42 tonight.

How To Sketch A Thing


Drawing a thing can be a fun recreational and creative pastime, people who are able to draw tell us. For the rest of us it’s a lot of being angry at how we have this killer hilarious cartoon in our heads and it will never, ever be manifested in a way that doesn’t look like it was rendered by a squirrel that was handed a crayon and told there was an almond inside. And is now angry about being lied to. But still, you can’t get good at drawing without learning to sketch some, so let’s look into how to do that.

Before sketching the thing you should decide what kind of sketch to do. A “traditional” sketch is done with a pad of paper and pencils that have been handed down, from house move to house move, since you were in high school because they cost more than your house. I mean, yeow. They’re six-inch tubes of wood with colored lead inside, how do they run so much? Is the Koh-i-noor company thinking it will get rich piggybanking on artists? Have they considered, like, selling pencils to people with more money, like the folks with cardboard signs standing at streetcorners asking for any help and promising God blesses stopped cars? Good grief. Anyway. Traditional sketches are good because they’re easy and portable and you can hide them in your messenger bag for a quick getaway if someone asks why you’re drawing a picture of a squirrel without permission.

The other kind of sketch is “digital”, done on some glass-covered rectangular thing that has to be recharged. This is a popular choice not just because it means you can put off your drawing for the day for six hours while the battery fills back up. It’s also liked because you can effortlessly hit “undo” until your sketch looks not so completely messed up. And then you can try again, until the drawing program crashes. The main drawback is finding a good drawing program. There are six things that a drawing program needs to be good. Coding Law dictates that every drawing program has to leave one out. The one that looks like it has everything? I’m sorry, if you use that program now and then they send someone around to punch you in the stomach. It turns out there’s a secret seventh thing a good program needs: it needs to not sometimes send someone around to punch you in the stomach.

So, choose wisely, and then spend part of every day reconsidering your choice and wondering why you didn’t make a better one. It’s a little something to help you doze off better at work after staying up all night cursing the immutability of the past.

Now you need to figure whether you’re sketching something that exists or something that doesn’t. The advantage of sketching a thing that exists is you can check back on it to see what you’re doing wrong. The advantage of sketching a thing that doesn’t exist is that other people can’t say you draw it wrong. “But wait,” someone might say. “Sea serpents don’t have Popeye arms and warp nacelles!” And then you can glare at them and say, “Prove it.” This doesn’t help your sketch any, but it lets you win the argument, and isn’t that an even more precious thing in these troubled times? You get into some tricky metaphysical territory if you want to draw, like, Garfield, who as a creature of fiction doesn’t exist but who does have a well-agreed-upon appearance that you can’t vary from too much without getting fired by the Guy Who Does Garfield from your job drawing Garfield. If that’s your situation I got nothing for you. Sorry.

And the last thing is to decide whether you’re doing a realistic or a cartoony sketch. To make a realistic sketch, start by drawing a big oval on top of a slightly offset square. Then add cylindrical tubes to the side and the base. Then at the bottom put in a couple of rectangular boxes.

Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.
Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.

A cartoony sketch is very much like a realistic sketch, except that you draw while thinking about how you’re hungry. Start with an egg shape on top of a giant square food, such as a waffle. Instead of cylindrical tubes draw a couple of bloated hot dog shapes. Instead of rectangular boxes, draw mooshy dinner rolls. Then somewhere put in two dots with half-circles around so it has some emotion.

Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.
Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.

Now just add details to make your sketch look like the thing you wanted. Save it or scan it, and post it to your DeviantArt account with this caption:

Silly little sketch done to try getting back into the swing of things. Didn’t really come out like I figured but at least I like how that little mooshy dinner roll with the spaghetti curls came out. I’ll see if the art gods are nicer to me with tomorrow’s sketch.

Then, embarrassed by how much it is not what you thought the sketch would look like, put all your drawing equipment away for 34 months.

Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He's happy, in his way.
Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He’s happy, in his way.

In Which I Am Again Baffled By Modern Capitalism


So I was in Meijer’s, remembering to buy sandwich bags and forgetting to buy trash bags, because we’re in one of those occasional phases of life where we don’t have the right number of bags. I came upon a big pile of boxed consumer goods: a Michigan State University Spartans Crock-Pot.

I’m aware, Crock-Pot is an official licensed kitchen-appliance-themed product. We pretend that the non-trademarked name for them is “slow cookers”. And I’m aware that the Spartans are an official licensed university-themed product.

So there I stood, in front of a pile of Spartan Crock-Pots, pondering the box’s promise that this is “Officially Licensed”. Licensed by who? To who? Did someone at Spartan Master Command want the real Crock-Pot, trusting that nobody would buy a Spartan Slow Cooker? Did someone at Crock-Pot Master Command insist that, hey, this is the Lansing/East Lansing Market. We can’t make do with a University of Michigan/Flint Lansing Campus Crock-Pot?

Did they license to each other? Is this the future of capitalism, companies just looking for other companies they can swap licenses with, all in the cause of creating piles of small yet durable consumer goods between the aisles of discount department stores? I could use some help having a reaction to all this. Please come over. I’m by the Surprisingly Many Women’s Soaps aisle, curled up and weeping.

Watching Some Cartoons: Educated Fish


I realized I haven’t done one of those posts where I talk about a cartoon in a while. So here’s one. It’s from every 1930s animation fan’s favorite studio if they don’t admit that, yeah, Disney was doing amazing things then: Fleischer Studios. (It is hard to come up with an era when Disney wasn’t outclassing everybody on technique and story, although they often could be beaten for comedy or pacing.)

This is Educated Fish, an entry in the Color Classics series. It was originally released the 29th of October, 1937, and it was nominated for Best Animated Short. It lost to, of course, Disney, which put up the short The Old Mill the 5th of November. Tough competition; The Old Mill is the short in which Disney unveiled the multi-plane camera, as well as special effects for rain, water, wind, and careful realistic depiction of animal behavior. Disney would use the technology and skills showcased in that to make Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi, and a long train of cartoons after that. It’s hard to argue with the Academy’s choice.

I’m a bit sorry to get on the competition. Educated Fish can’t really compete. It’s a competently done example of the naughty-child-repents genre. There’s not enough of the Fleischer studio’s real strength, clever mechanical design. The flashes that are there of it elevate the cartoon, as do the more energetic moments. The structure of the plot doesn’t allow for fast stuff to happen until the end; when it does, the cartoon picks up.

Still, there’s some fun bits. The sardines arriving in a tin is the sort of thing that tickles me. The student giving the teacher an apple. The lesson being done as music. The naughty Tommy Cod playing pinball in his desk — alas, in that era, pinball machines were flipperless. Tommy swimming so fast he pulls his skeleton out of his body, the sort of whimsical body horror that made the Fleischer cartoons famous. The cartoon doesn’t reach the full potential of Fleischer studios, but then, fish are really challenging things to animate. It’s a good question whether anyone did them well before Finding Nemo. I mean besides Disney’s whales. You know how it is.

World Possibly Ending Sometime Wednesday


I know I’ll feel like a fool if we get to Friday and the world as we know it hasn’t ended, but I’ll deal with that if it comes. You know how your neighborhood has that vaguely creepy, inexplicable shop? Ours is this office supply shop. It’s got a faded poster for Fischer Space Pens on it, and a sign advertising their typewriter repair, and about four billion office chairs forming a sea of chair-space in the front half of the shop, and you never see anyone going into or out of it. Been there forever.

I have gone into it. We needed some manilla envelopes and I figured, hey, if I don’t patronize the weird local shops they might go under and we’ll have to rely on multinational-corporate creepy stores. Those are nowhere near as interesting, although they do have better bathrooms you can use. But it still seemed like a good idea so I went in, bumped my shin into fourteen different kinds of office chair, and eventually got to the cashier’s desk, in the middle of the shop, where nobody was.

And I stood, faintly anxious, and realizing that the store seemed to have a lot of desks and office chairs and typewriter supplies, but manilla envelopes? Not so clearly there. In back someone was talking on the phone, but I couldn’t make any sense of the conversation. Well, also I didn’t want to eavesdrop, since I was concluding the shop was a front maintained by aliens, possibly robot dinosaurs from another dimension, who were examining mid-Michigan most likely in advance of an invasion. Eventually someone wearing her finest human guise did come out, and was startled by me. I admitted my manilla-envelope needs and she went into the back room for what seems like too long, unless the room is much vaster inside than the laws of ordinary geometry would allow to fit in the building. She came back with four, not all the same color, and apologized that they were not properly manilla envelopes. She wrote out a receipt on one of those pads the waitstaff at a diner uses to scribble down nothing that looks like anything you ordered and a price that isn’t what the register actually rings up.

So yeah, secret portal back there where the alien robot dinosaurs keep enough office supplies to answer the curious venturer. Bear in mind, I didn’t let the manilla envelope thing stop me from ever stepping inside again. I went back a couple months later when we needed some security envelopes. Also this makes me realize our household envelope need is bigger and more diverse than I thought. But once again it was a good five awkward minutes before a “clerk” came out of the “back room” to see how to get me out of the base with as few suspicions raised as possible. And he had to go in back again for a dusty box of security envelopes and wrote out a receipt by hand for it all.

Wednesday, the local alt-weekly says, they’re going to be closing up their office-supply-store cover operation. The paper was vague about why they’re closing up just now, but my love reports that their Facebook page says … in July … some grumbling things about the landlord selling the building. Ah, but, before that: the news that their typewriter repair guy is back. And before that? That their typewriter repair guy is going to be out for “surgery” a while. That takes them to the start of the year.

So, I have to figure, the cover story of being an office furniture and typewriter repair shop has outlived its utility, and they’re going on to the next phase of their operation, and we’re going to have to live with the consequences. I’m figuring to spend the day no closer than Grand Rapids.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? June – September 2017


I am embarrassed to admit this is a story summary done in greater haste than usual. Somehow I’d got in my head that I was due to review Gil Thorp and was thinking about that storyline all week, and then late Saturday actually looked at my schedule. I’ll try to be fairly complete about this anyway. And for those hoping to understand Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., thanks for reading. If it’s much past September 2017 when you read this, the story might have drifted. If I have more recent updates they should be at or near the top of this page.

On my other blog, I have not just the usual roundup of mathematically-themed comic strips but also my finally noticing something shocking about the cast of John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Please, let me know your opinion on this.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

26 June – 17 September 2017.

My last summary of Rex Morgan, M.D. missed by one week the conclusion of the Kelly-Niki-Holly love triangle plot, when it was revealed Niki didn’t know Kelly was jealous of his time with Holly. Niki needed some advice from her parents on how to cope with a non-heterosexual friend because millennials have so much trouble coping with this stuff than their parents do. That’s all.

The 2nd of July started the new and current storyline, when June Morgan’s childhood friend Margie Taylor dropped into town. She bring along her son Johnny, played by Norm Feuti’s Gil, who instantly gets along with Sarah and Michael Morgan. Margie talks about how she’d had to leave town as a teen when her mother died, and how screwed up her life had gotten, and how she’s straightened out enough things that she had the courage to look up June Morgan again.

Rex: 'Is your friend showing up soon?' June: 'Should be here any time now.' (Ding dong!) 'Like I said, any time now!' (At the door.) 'Margie!' 'June!' June: 'It's been ages, but I'd have known you ANYWHERE!' Margie: 'You, too. How could I ever forget my BEST FRIEND?' Toddler: 'Mam?' June: 'OH MY! Who's THIS little sweetheart?' Margie: 'That's my SURPRISE --- my SON, Johnny.' June: 'That's a nice surprise!' Sarah: 'Look, Michael --- Mommy's friend brought someone for you to PLAY with!' June: 'Well, what are we STANDING here for? Come on in!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of July, 2017. By the way, Johnny in the last row there? That’s me at every social event. Except I’ve got a beard, and I somehow put on a shirt and pants that don’t quite match even though you can’t really say just why. And my pants are black half the time. The instructions say that’s supposed to work with anything. I don’t know what’s gone wrong.

So yeah, Margie’s dying. June’s the first to mention it, to Rex, who does enough medicine to agree. It takes a couple weeks of reader time for Margie to open up about it. But she’s got third-stage plot complications and expects them to be imminently fatal. Margie panels the people in Rex and June Morgan’s lives about how good they are as parents and the reports are favorable. “Yeah, there was that weird thing where they let a mob widow muscle the Museum into publishing and buying a zillion copies of her book of horse drawings, and I guess June’s pregnancy did get into the tenth trimester before she gave birth, but they’re basically pretty good eggs,” answered person after person, verbatim.

Rex: 'Kids are asleep?' Margie: 'Michael is. Sarah's in bed reading.' 'The girl DOES love her books.' 'GOSH --- I wonder how she came by THAT.' 'So, your friend is all settled in?' 'Yeah, seems to be. You saw she was sick right away didn't you?' 'Pretty much.' 'Took me a while. But when she went into her purse for her car keys, I couldn't help seeing the PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS she's packing.' 'Opiates?' 'Uh-huh'.
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of July, 2017. I realize that this strip and the previous one make it look like Rex has spent this entire storyline staring intently into a book while talking distractedly to his wife, but … uhm … I’m not sure he actually hasn’t.

Margie asks June if she and Rex will adopt Johnny. June, hoping to stall long enough for the writer to change his mind, agrees to consider it if Margie agrees to see some specialists that she and Rex will think up. Margie agrees. While June and Rex take seriously the question of whether to adopt an all-but-certainly-orphaned boy, Margie tells babysitter Kelly that she’s off to run some errands, hugs Johnny, and walks out. She leaves behind a letter to the court asking that the Morgans be named Johnny’s guardian, and a note to not try to find her.

Margie: 'What a nice little park.' June: 'The kids enjoy it. It's one of the things that sold me on this neighborhood.' Margie: 'You've made quite a life for yourself, June.' June: 'I'm sorry things haven't worked out well for you, Margie.' Margie: 'I had Johnny. That's the one good thing. But now ... oh, this is hard to say.' June: 'It's okay, Margie. Take your time. Whatever you need to tell me.' Margie: 'You and Rex know I'm sick, don't you?' 'We could tell, yes.' 'I beat it twice, June --- but this time it looks like three strikes and I'm out.' 'And you're looking for someone to take Johnny when you're gone.' 'There's no family that can take him, on either side.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of August, 2017. This isn’t the important thing, but I like public pavilions with that top panel’s style of brick-clad support pillars. The trash bin lined with vertical wood slats works for me too.

So that’s an exciting development. The police are vague about whether this does count as child abandonment or any other specific crime, which surprises me. I grant the situation’s not common, but it seems like it’s got to be something everyone who does child and family welfare cases has to hear about. I’m also curious what actual real-world case law suggests. My gut says that yeah, it wouldn’t be abandonment to leave a child with someone responsible who’d given you a verbal agreement to an adoption, along with a letter stating your intention to give the child to their custody, and contact information for your attorney (who’s presumably been clearly told the intention). But if I learned anything from watching too much of The People’s Court as a kid, the thing that seems instinctively right is contravened by actual law. (There must be some guide for this for soap opera writers, mustn’t there? So that if they want the story to go in a crazy direction they can do it in ways that don’t sound obviously crazy?)

And that’s where we land in mid-September. I am surprised to have another child airlifted into the Morgan family. For one, in previous months someone else in the comic — I forget who — had mentioned how she wanted a child. It seemed like a solution being set up for a problem. Also having a ready-made new child dropped into their lives feels a little like a return to the gifts-bestowed-on-the-Morgans format that Terry Beatty had drawn back from. There’s important differences, though. Particularly, the Morgans here think early and often about how much responsibility this child is, and how adopting him messes up reasonably made plans. Kids are work, and there’s been no discussion between June and Rex suggesting they’re thinking of how fun a third child could be.

Curious touch: Johnny is mentioned as having been born the same day as June and Rex’s second child, Michael. The adults remarked on the coincidence. It’s a remarkable coincidence. And none at all, of course, since Beatty got to choose when Johnny was born. So I’m left pondering: what is the artistic choice being made in having the adopted child be born the same day as the non-adopted one? It feels meaningful, but I can’t pin down what the meaning is to me. I’m curious if other readers have a similar sense, or thought about what it does mean.

Next Week!

Apparently I’m just that hungry to get back to Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. You’ll join me, won’t you? Thanks.

Statistics Saturday: Some Things That Yeah, We’ve Tried Already, They Didn’t Work


  • Turning it off and back on again.
  • Going back into the other room and thinking what we wanted to come in here for.
  • Club soda.
  • Writing an apology for losing our temper, at least, since it is true to say we were wrong to do that.
  • Trigonometric substitution.
  • Offering it again, with a raisin as treat.
  • Unplugging and replugging it.
  • Putting “make to-do list” as the first item on the to-do list.
  • Counting the seconds off.
  • Putting a plastic ruler on top of the drawing tablet to make the reference lines.
  • Drop-catching the pinball.
  • Translating the sentence into Latin to see if its meaning is clear.
  • Screaming into the pillow.
  • Keeping a log of every time this happens so you can prove you aren’t imagining it.
  • Dedicating 15 minutes a day to resolving e-mails until there’s only like a couple dozen in there.
  • Jiggling the key.
  • Putting both spellings into Google to see if one’s way more common than the other.
  • Preemptively striking.
  • Having a little tray on the endtable for all keys.
  • Celery. Lots and lots of celery. All the celery.

Oh! But a slant rhyme, I bet that’s exactly what we need!

On The Problems Of Credit In The 19th Century New England Economy


I don’t expect a letter of gratitude from Josh Lauer, author of Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, for being the first person to take his new book of that identity out from the library, but I wouldn’t turn it down either. Anyway, what’s got me is this mention about early credit reports:

The Merchants’ Protective Union in Norwich, Connecticut employed an even more baroque scheme. In addition to eleven uppercase alphabetical ratings, from A (“considered honest but unable to pay”) to K (“is paying on bills formerly reported”), another eighteen lowercase letters were used to indicate the type of retailer to whom debts were owed, from bakers and butchers to furniture dealers and undertakers.

So, first thought. There were enough people burying folks on credit in 19th century Norwich, Connecticut, that undertakers needed to check on who was behind on their debts to other area undertakers? I suppose that’s fair. This was an era when childhood mortality was something like 1.8 children for every child born, with the average New England wife having something like 12 pregnancies every ten years and the family only propagating by kidnapping Canadians who stood a little too close to the edge of Maine. And that’s before you factor in lives lost to cholera, malaria, more cholera, yellow fever, malnutrition, extra-cholera, train derailments, factory accidents, more yellow fever, and striking factory workers being shot by Federal troops before being run over by a cholera-bearing yellow-fever train. There was a lot of undertaking to, uh, undertake.

Second. There were eighteen kinds of retailers back then? I’ve done some reading on 19th Century American commerce. Not enough to get my Masters or anything, you know, but enough to not panic if I wandered into an academic conference about the thing. But if you asked me to list what retail establishments existed in that era I would have come up with this:

  1. General store selling loose, stale crackers and/or soap or possibly grain scooped out of the same wooden barrels.
  2. Department store where women point out lengths of ribbons they wanted to buy, which were then wrapped up and delivered to their homes, without the customer ever being allowed within ten feet of an actual product.
  3. Dentist who does “painless” extractions by letting the patient suckle a while on a chilled glass pacifier soaked in whiskey and arsenic.
  4. Yes, undertaker.
  5. Shoe cobbler who’s angry at all these shenanigans.
  6. Other, less successful, general store selling tinned items, with the clerk played by Harold Lloyd.

Yes, I know Harold Lloyd is too young to have clerked at a 19th Century general store. I am talking about how the store was portrayed in the movie about how he went from humble general store clerk to becoming the love of Mildred Davis’s life. Anyway that still leaves me short of twelve different kinds of establishment that could be owed money by creditors. I know what you’re thinking: what about the drayage industry? Won’t do. Why would the Merchants’ Protective Union have anything of interest to say to them? They’re not merchants, they’re people who have the ability to haul things from one location to another. Something is clearly missing. Oh, I guess there’s “sweets vendor who sells a lick on a ring of `ice cream’ that’s a wad of cotton glued to a metal post kept in ice water so people think they tasted something for their three cents”, but that’s still eleven more kinds of merchant to go.

Anyway the book’s interesting and I hope to read it sometime.

How To Clean A Thing


We continue this department’s investigation into the getting-done of things that were left un-done and have no questions in mind for anyone about why they were not already done. We understand. We’ve got stuff to do too that gets in the way of anything being done. There’s probably verb tenses working against us.

How To Clean A Thing

The first most important task to do when cleaning a thing is to ask yourself. Having finished that, the next most important task is to determine: is this a thing which is bigger than you are, which is smaller than you are, or which is about the same size as you? If you don’t like the answer, are you able to alter your size enough to matter? Your relative sizes do affect how the cleaning gets done, and if so, whether it does, and good luck diagramming this sentence.

It is generally easier to clean a thing which is smaller than you. Your greater size allows you to intimidate the thing, by occluding its light or just by overpowering it. Even should matters not come to that, it’s useful to know that you could, if pressed, overpower (say) the pantry shelves or at least eat them. Not every interaction with things should be a matter of domination and submission, but the option helps clarify matters. So should you have to clean a larger thing, try to enlarge yourself, or to shrink the thing, and then proceed as you would with a smaller thing.

With that done, the next most important task is to determine what kind of cleaning the thing needs. For example, does it merely need tidying? Tidying is the best sort of cleaning because it is done by taking a thing and setting it atop another thing. By creating this stack of things, both are tidied. The stacks can themselves be stacked. It is within the Marquis of Cleansbury Rules to tidy your entire house by stacking everything in it on top of everything else. This is why when you visit the house of your tidiest friend the entire first floor is a vast, empty space, decorated with a single futon capable of seating two people uncomfortably and a wall-mounted television that only gets shows about people buying houses in Peru.

I should say, the tidying urge runs strong in my family. I’m not saying that we’re experts. But we are good. Behind my house is a stack of like four love seats, a dining room table, a roll-away dishwasher, 426 linear feet of books, and eighteen potted plants one atop the other in a writhing pillar of photosynthesis. But it’s all stacked, and neat, and won’t tip over as long as the guy wires don’t snap or we don’t get a breeze. If it does, that’s all right. I have my tidying instincts to rely on. I could stack all that into a good enough pile so fast it wouldn’t even use up all my stockpiled podcasts. Yes, I have a pile of unfinished podcasts. It’s only about fourteen inches tall, but you better find that impressive or I’ll come over and glare at you.

But maybe the thing needs a real, proper cleaning. If the thing is smaller than you, great. Pick the thing up and carry it to a riverbank or body of water. A pond, say, or if you need something larger a hyperpond. And now I’m thrown because my spell checker is not objecting to “hyperpond”. I can’t have put that in my dictionary. There’s no way that’s a real word, though, right? Is my spell checker broken? Flurple. Cn’tr. Flxible. No, these things are getting highlighted. This is all very disturbing and I don’t know that I can continue from here. Knwo. Cnotineu. Yeah, it’s just broken about hyperpond. Hyperlake. No, it allows that too. Hyperocean. That too. Apparently my spell checker thinks “hyper” is a legitimate prefix to any body of water. Hyperriver. Hypercreek. Ah! It doesn’t like that one. Hyporiver. No, it doesn’t mind “hyporiver”. Hypocreek gets rejected. I’m sorry to get bothered by this but if you’re not bothered by this, what are you bothered by?

My TextWrangler window showing the paragraph with words like 'hyperpond' in it and not underlined for being suspect misspellings.
The eternal debate: when you discover a happy accident like this, work it into the piece or separate it out into something else? On the one hand, breaking the flow of an essay is a kind of comic path that can feel very tired to the reader. It’s a little stream-of-consciousness and that can read pretty cheap as a joke. On the other hand, it’s delightful to be surprised like that and why not embrace that delight?

I have to conclude that there’s some serious cleaning-up needed on my dictionary. Anyway, uh, for cleaning up your things I don’t know, try working from the top and getting to the bottom and use small, gentle circular motions. That usually does something. Good luck.

In Which I Just Have To Suppose Someone’s Being Naughty


So I was looking up the Dennis the Menace comic strip on Wikipedia for some reason and got to this at the top of its Wikipedia page:

This article is about the US newspaper strip Dennis the Menace. For other uses, see Dennis the Menace.
Not to be confused with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher.

Dennis the Menace and Gnasher is the British comic strip that started the same day in March 1951 but five hours earlier owing to time zones. This is very slightly famous in circles where you might talk about the Dennis the Menace comic strip.

Anyway, down in the US comic strip’s page is mentioned:

TV shows and specials

  1. Dennis the Menace (1959, live-action)
  2. Dennis the Menace in Mayday for Mother (1981, animated, TV special)
  3. Dennis the Menace (1986, animated)
  4. All-New Dennis the Menace (1993, animated)
  5. Dennis & Gnasher (1996, animated)
  6. Dennis & Gnasher (2009, animated)
  7. Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! (2017-present, animated)

This all brings me to the question: wait, Dennis’s father is an aerospace engineer? Really? I must have known that at some point, there’s no way Young Me could have let something like that go without memorizing. But what the heck?

Oh also, I did talk about some comic strips on my mathematics blog and none of them were Dennis the Menace so don’t worry about that.

Mind You, I Still Haven’t Seen The Original Face/Off So Who Am I To Talk?


I realize we have bigger problems right now. But I’m stuck on this one: how is it that we, as a society, never made the movie Face/Off 2? The original was a popular yet dumb thing featuring people we weren’t really tired of on screen while stuff blowed up. And we were sated by this? Huh? In fact, up to this paragraph didn’t you just assume someone had made a Face/Off 2 that you never paid attention to?

I’m not sure what exactly the bigger, dopier, somewhat less likable sequel would be, but I imagine Face/Off 2: Facier/Offier would need to take any of the many chances to be more preposterous. Since it would have to come out in the late 90s I bet there’d be some hilarious Internet component to it. Like, there’s some info-highway site where criminals of all kinds can upload their faces for downloading onto other bodies to commit face-crimes, and John Travolta has to go on a cyber-hunt through a 3-D rendering of a Sears portrait studio to find the master computer allowing all this, before the super-villain — I’m guessing Jon Voight — can merge with the Y2K bug, and there’s a climactic scene where his face blends with a polygon rendering of Jon Voight’s face in the end? And a lot of other stuff blows up. Somehow we did not make this movie, and how did we not? Someone has to explain something to somebody else, is what I’m saying.

Do I Know Too Much About The XFL?


My love argues that I know a startling amount about the XFL, the short-lived attempt by pro wrestling to create something that was like football but would be cheaper for NBC to air back in 2001. Do I? Let me share with you what I do know about the XFL:

  1. They tried some weird kind of scramble for the ball instead of doing a kickoff to start the halves.
  2. They made the sports reporters sit in the open weather instead of in a press booth so that … I don’t know, the fans wouldn’t think the reporters were more comfortable than they were? Some kind of Stupid Populist thing anyway.
  3. The game tried taking away a bunch of rules about player safety that they had to reinstate after it turned out players got hurt a lot.
  4. Not really sure about this, but I’m guessing some pro wrestling participant said something really racist while doing cheerleader-type commentary during a broadcast.
  5. There was something Movie Mafia about the New York/New Jersey team name?
  6. There was that guy with “He Hate Me” as his uniform’s “name”.

My question to you: do I, in fact, know too many things about the XFL?

(Yes. Yes, I do. I know at least four things too many about the XFL.)

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? May – September 2017


Thank you, reader, for being interested in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. This essay is about the Sundays-only continuity, which runs independently of DePaul and Mike Manley’s Monday-to-Saturday Phantom storylines. I have updates on those as well. The weekday story recaps, as well as any Sunday story recaps that have been posted since the mid-September 2017 writing of this essay, should be at this link. Good luck finding what you were looking for.

And if you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematical themes, please consider my mathematics blog, which reviewed some of them earlier today. And should review some on Tuesday, too.

The Phantom.

14 May – 9 September 2017.

The current storyline — The Phantom is Everywhere — began with the Jungle Patrol jailing some of the terrorist Chatu’s followers. The Phantom’s private little army was celebrating the three arrests when I last reviewed the Sunday Phantom continuity. The killers broke out of jail, though, killing several on their way. This quite riles up the Jungle Patrol, to the point they might have done something irresponsible for a self-selected private army acting outside the control of any governing body.

But they come to their senses, checking in with the Unknown Commander, so far as they know. Luckily it’s is The Phantom they check with. The Phantom’s plan regarding the fugitive terrorist supporters: find them. For this, he doesn’t rely on the Jungle Patrol but rather the many associates of the Bandar Tribe. The Phantom, Babudan, and Guran take their drummers and their expertise to hunt each of the three killers.

Killers on the run. Trail starts here. Jungle Patrol officer on the phone: 'Oh, nothing much, securing a crime scene. So, how have you been? ... Really? And then what did you say?' Guran taps her shoulder. 'Officer?' And blows some sleeping powder into the officer's face. Person on the phone: 'Hello? Did I lose you?' The Phantom and his partners look over the tracks. The Phantom thinks: 'When these killers split up, Devil can't do all the tracking we need. Enter Babudan! Master Trail Finder!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2017. I’m glad to have a Master Trail Finder on the job, since when this is wrapped up they can pop over to North Dakota and not just arrest the bank robber but also help Mark finally do that prairie dog census.

The drummers are an important part of the plan. Their drumming serves to instill in each of the killers the sense that The Ghost Who Walks might be nearby. At any moment he might appear and punch them out. And then what do you know, but he appears and punches them out. That’s probably fairly good psychology, although as storytelling it got confusing. For a couple weeks there it seemed like The Phantom was sneaking up on the same guy, by a campfire, and decking him, week after week. That they were different people didn’t quite stand out at weekly intervals.

It also suggests that the splitting-up of the three killers wasn’t all that useful a plan. They might, theoretically, have ganged up on The Phantom had they stuck together. But they probably also guessed they’d be separated more than about fifteen minutes before The Phantom got the drop on them. I gather they’re supposed to be pretty well-separated. But the three were found in the same night, and The Phantom was able to drop in and clobber each before sunrise.

So, The Phantom was able to deliver the killers into Jungle Patrol custody by morning. Presumably this will satisfy the desire for vengeance that threatened Jungle Patrol’s operating morale. And serve the cause of justice by putting the accused in the hands of a privately-raised police force whose funding and lines of authority are not at all clear to me. Probably nothing to worry about there.

'Phantom moves faster than lightning' --- Old Jungle Saying. Phantom, beating up one of the killers: 'HOW MANY EARS have you filled with THE PYTHON's hateful words?' Killer: 'My COMRADES, Phantom! Find them!! Take them! I beg you!' Phantom: 'I AM taking them. I'm taking you ALL ... at this very moment in time. NONE OF YOU are safe tonight!' Killer, drawing his gun in what he thinks is secrecy: 'I --- I follow YOU now, Phantom! I RENOUNCE the PYTHON! I --- ' And the Phantom slugs him.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of August, 2017. So I suppose the intent was to give the killers a story that would let them think that maybe somehow all three of them were caught at the same time by The Phantom, and so enhance his prestige as a supernatural entity. Fine enough, although having The Phantom actually there means he does have to be in three possibly distant parts of the jungle nearly simultaneously, and that none of the three have to have checked their phones or watches to see about what time it is, so they could tell the timeline wasn’t actually that close. Also, yeah, I missed the guy in the penultimate panel drawing his gun the first time through, and thought he was just taking that craven turn to the bigger-scarier-boss-guy, which The Phantom would reject on principle. I’m a very word-balloon-oriented reader, I admit.

There’s not been a formal wrap-up panel. But this week’s installation feels like the resolution. I can see, especially reading the whole sequence in short order to summarize the plot, how it works. Still, my impression as the story progressed especially in July and August was that of not being sure I hadn’t seen The Phantom sneak up on and punch this guy last week? Or was that the previous guy? Or was it just a lot of punching? Read all together, the story flows more obviously, although that also points out how linear the narrative was. The Sunday continuity does have a disadvantage, though. It’s much harder to fit a story in to about six panels of space per week; compare how more complex the weekday storyline has been over roughly the same couple months. I am interested in seeing how the Jungle Patrol, riled by the killers escaping prison, reacts to their recapture not involving a single member of the Patrol besides the Unknown Commander. That ought to involve some weird political dynamics.

I hope to be able to share that in the next essay describing what’s going on in The Phantom, in probably something like three months.

Next Week!

It’s time to return to one of the inspirations for these What’s Going On In essays, as I try to explain Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D..