The Long-Term Forecast


So Australia’s looking like they’re committed to not asking me to prime ministrate for them. Fine, all right. It’s time for some long-term planning. If you don’t agree it’s time for that, come back in ten minutes and see if it’s time then. If that still doesn’t work, come back in 1,425 years and then we’ll see who’s saying what. No, that’s not me tricking you into long-term planning. I’m thinking of something that’s really long term. Like, longer even than 1,430 years.

If we keep looking forward we find the Sun’s going to keep shining. This just makes sense. The costs of constructing the Sun have been nearly completely amortized. Replacing it with something else that would provide the same services would be fiscally irresponsible. Just complying with the changes in zoning regulations would make the whole project economically dubious. If you disagree I can put you in touch with the Comptroller, but do be warned, he’s a hugger.

The thing about the Sun shining that’s relevant here is that it puts out all sorts of light. A bit of it presses down on our ground. The rest goes off somewhere, we don’t know where. It’s probably harmless. But while light doesn’t have mass, it does carry momentum, as it had the idea that this would make it more popular in middle school. This worked as well as every plan to be more popular in middle school. Nevertheless, when light hits the surface of the Earth, it delivers this momentum, pushing down on the planet just like tennis balls hitting the ground would, only without the benefit of line judges.

Imagine the Earth were made of Play-Doh. This is a simplification for the purpose of planning. It’s really made of a Silly Putty alloy. Nevertheless, if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you’ll quickly get distracted by that weird not-exactly-polymer smell. Push past that, though. Roll the thing into a ball and set it on a table. It doesn’t stay round forever. The pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but that’s all right. You can let this run for billions of years, if that’s what it takes. You don’t have plans that far out, even though you somehow don’t have the time to do anything either.

The Earth isn’t just sitting on a table, which is a relief, since it would probably leave a stain on the tablecloth. But the pressure of that sunlight has a similar effect, except for going the opposite way. As the sunlight presses on the Earth, the planet’s also rotating, which implies we’ll eventually have the planet rolled out into a long and skinny pole, several inches wide and unspeakably long. It’s astounding enough to think of it twirling around the solar system like an enormous baton. But imagine the size of the matching cheerleaders and marching band. All Jupiter would barely be enough material to make the tuba.

What can we expect for life on this Pole World to be like? The obvious supposition is that it will serve very well the descendants of modern large cities. People who’ve gotten very used to standing on crowded buses and subway cars would be great at clinging to a pole for stability. This is too facile an analysis. It overlooks that, obviously, subway service will have stopped long before the Earth becomes a rod only a couple inches across. Bus service can continue a bit longer after subways become impossible, of course. But even that will have to end no later than when the Earth is a cylinder at most ten feet in diameter.

Without subway or bus service most large-city commuting will be impossible. This will require a major restructuring of the economy. But given how much demand there’s likely to be for hooks or straps that could catch onto the Pole World, for stability, this restructuring was probably going to happen anyway.

It’ll also be tough for burrowing animals. But they’ll evolve adjustments to these changes gradually. This means we will most likely not get a great moment where a groundhog shuffles off, confident it’s going to get away from whatever is annoying it, and starts digging, and then accidentally pops out the other side of the planet and looks stymied and confused. Reality does have a way of spoiling the cool stuff like that. But animals that cling to branches or vines seem set to do well. Two- and three-toed sloths may find the geography extremely comfortable except when someone’s trying to pass.

But who really knows? As the city-dwellers example shows, the full reality of something can have weird and counter-intuitive results. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future. Well, we can check back in a couple dozen gabillion years and see how it’s all turned out.

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The Mystery


It turns out that my love and I both happened to be at the same Meijer’s, the one at the far side of town that we don’t go to except for weird reasons. We were both there picking up a couple pharmacy items. We both left and drove the same path home. While doing so, we both listened to the same episode of the same dear-Lord-the-Simpsons-is-awful-anymore podcast. Along the way, we both got caught by the podcast hosts mentioning the same trivia about Homer Simpson established this episode. We both arrived home within a minute of each other. Now: could I prove, to the satisfaction of a court of law, that we were not there together? That it just so happened we both were doing the same thing two times over? No, and I don’t know how to even start, in case I should need to. I’m asking if someone out there will cover for us, just in case it comes up. Thanks.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Used: Popeye’s Premiere, Given A New Look


When I set out reviewing the two-reel Popeye cartoons I figured I could make six weeks of cartoon-discussion out of them. One week for each cartoon, and one week for each clip carton that reused that footage. This went wrong when it turned out I can’t find an online copy of the two cartoons made out of Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. I was ready to declare that the clip made of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp was also not online. I am very nearly correct in this. The only copy I can find is this Dailymotion video. It’s truncated. It’s, for some reason, flipped horizontally. And it makes me (at least) watch an irritating advertisement every five minutes. And then watch the advertisement again, just in case I wasn’t fed up yet. Well, mutilated is better than not at all. Roughly.

Popeye’s Premiere was released the 23rd of March, 1949. This makes it the first of the clip cartoons based on the two-reelers. It was still over a decade after the original cartoon was in theaters. So we can’t accuse Famous Studios of boring people with cartoons fresh in their memories. And I can at least describe the action.

The framing device for the clip cartoon is … that they’re showing the cartoon. Apparently, Olive Oyl’s script made it through a tortured development process. The setting is the premiere of the movie, with Popeye and Olive Oyl as stars. Dailymotion’s copy truncates their arrival at the theater, and cuts right to Popeye-the-actor nervously waiting for the premiere. And then it starts. Popeye’s very excited by the action. And he seems to be confused about the difference between stuff happening to him and stuff happening to the character he played.

This is a long clip cartoon. It’s about eleven minutes total, putting it at twice the length of the average Popeye cartoon. And most of that is reused footage, spoiling my earlier conjectures about how much new content they maybe had to have for a clip cartoon. As I make it out the original footage is:

  • The first 21 seconds of this clipped version, plus however much animation came before that; maybe a minute total.
  • Popeye getting too excited at the action, from about 1:09 to 1:16 in the DailyMotion version.
  • Popeye getting too excited again and being shushed, from about 2:45 to 2:50 in this version.
  • Popeye-the-actor breaking the fourth wall and defying logic by throwing spinach into the scene of Popeye-as-Aladdin on-screen, about 8:20 to 8:26.
  • Popeye and Olive Oyl cheering on Aladdin, about 9:15 to 9:22.
  • The close, from 10:00 through to the end, about 35 seconds.

Add all that together and it can’t be more than two minutes. The original Aladdin short was enormous — 21 minutes — and the clipped version is still nine minutes long. Big Bad Sindbad shrank sixteen minutes of cartoon down to two and a half minutes of fighting, plus framing devices. This gives the viewer a fair chance at understanding the original two-reeler and what was interesting about it.

Although they will find it less interesting. They re-recorded, I believe, all the audio for the Aladdin clips. Which is reasonable. They don’t want old music, particularly, highlighting where they edited things down. Much of the dialogue is preserved straight from Aladdin and that’s great. But where they do change the dialogue it’s almost all for the worse. It’s for economy of time, I suppose.

But it also drains personality from the short. For example: in the original, when the Vizier gets the lamp, the Genie is shocked, and is whipped into compliance with the Vizier’s orders. Here, he’s shocked but falls in line fast. It’s quicker, but it’s not so interesting. In the original, Aladdin eats four (count ’em!) cans of spinach, each of the last three powering up to fight a new menace. Here, there’s just one extra can of spinach. That’s to fight the dragon, the coolest-looking of the menaces. But there’s not much of that fight either. The sword-fight with the disappearing Vizier shrinks to almost nothing. The baffling conclusion of the Vizier turning into a fish is gone. It’s economical. You get the whole storyline down. But is it fun?

Even the new music for the clipped segments is … fine enough. But it only incidentally fits any of the action. The original finishes off — like many Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoons — with the action scored to The Stars and Strips Forever. Famous Studios used The Stars and Strips Forever rarely, maybe never. That’s fine; that’s a style choice. But what do they have in its place? I watched this cartoon a half-hour ago; I have no recollection of the melody now. The only point where the new cartoon improves on the old is in the next-to-the-last bit of new footage, as Olive-Oyl-the-Actor calls for Popeye to give ’em the old onesie-twosie, moments before Olive-Oyl-the-Princess calls for Popeye to give ’em the old onesie-twosie.

So this clip cartoon is a fascinating one, especially compared to Big Bad Sindbad. This is a better clip cartoon, in that it shows more of the original cartoon. And it put more effort into the extracted cartoon. The re-recorded dialogue preserves most of what’s good about the original cartoon. And it puts Jackson Beck’s voice in for the Vizier’s; the touch of Bluto helps. It feels to me like more of an effort is being made to have the resulting cartoon be good. I appreciate that.

Looking Back: As Much Coin-Collecting Stuff As I Really Do


Today I want to bring some archival attention to A State Of Constant Change, one of my longform essays and one that steps right up to the brink of being curmudgeonly. It’s based, as a lot of my curmudgeon-adjacent stuff is, on reality, which is that I am into these State Quarters and State National Park Quarters. I can’t say why. I really only go looking them over when I decide I’ve got a big enough heap of unsorted coins that I should go through and see if there were any that I didn’t have before. And then when I’ve found all the duplicates I get to go outside with, like, $6.25 in quarters and feel positively flush with capital. But I don’t go paying close attention to the details of coin collecting. It’s entirely possible that I do it just because I’m so clearly the personality type that should collect coins that it’s too much bother not to.

My recollection is that I had specific reasons to bring up these quarters, too. I believe it was the coin-collectors store in the nearby mall. There had been a little piece in the local news about how the guy who owns the coin-collecting store — also one of the few places in town you could change British pounds to something good for our debts, public and private — had produced a movie. I forget what the movie was about. I have the faint memory that it came out in favor of gold. Anyway, on reading it, I realize that the thing that made me write that essay, and not any of the others I might have written, isn’t actually in it. Such are the ways of inspiration, I suppose.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Cheating? In GOLF? June – August 2018


Do you like Milford? Sure, if you’re here. If you are here, and it’s after about November 2018, this plot recap has probably been superseded. More current goings-on for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp should be at this link. Thanks and good luck finding what you need. If that’s mathematically-themed comic strips used to start discussions, you’ll want my other blog. Thanks for reading.

Gil Thorp.

4 June – 25 August 2018

Last time Gil Thorp was starting up a sequel to a story from before I did plot recaps. So let me recap that one from the distant, relatively happy times of 2016: Milford boys’ softball star Barry Bader’s father Del was on trial for drunk driving. While that trial was underway, he’d had a liquid lunch and got into a minor accident with beloved Milford girls’ softball star “Boo” Radley. She wasn’t hurt by that. She died when another car crashed into Radley’s stopped car. Del Bader has been in jail since. Barry Bader has been angry, pretty intensely so.

Two years later. Milford Trumpet reporter Dafne Dafonte nags Barry Bader into an interview about how everybody hates his Dad and doesn’t much like him. She mentions him being short-tempered, and he complains about how society casually spits on short guys. To that point I honestly didn’t realize he was supposed to be conspicuously short. Rod Whigham’s art has always avoided straight-on shots, and casually varies the angle. I didn’t attach any particular importance to apparent size.

Jay: 'I've been thinking about Dafne all day, when I should be thinking about Valley Tech.' Trumpet Editor: 'I hear you, Jay.' [ At the jailhouse interview ] Dafne: 'Do you concede that you were a repeat drunk driver?' Del Bader: 'No! I hadn't been convicted yet on my first arrest. I got railroaded.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of June, 2018. Ah, those precious moments where being correct — he wasn’t yet convicted when the accident happened — actually makes your position a bit weaker. Still, how did Dafne get to this question? That she did screw up a pretty obvious thing — that he couldn’t be a repeat drunk driver before his first conviction — suggests inexperience, which is authentic to her being a high school reporter. But we don’t see how her screw-up was reflected in the story, which other characters treat as having been reported correctly.

Eventually Dafne nags the elder Bader into an interview, too. This promises to be a glorious fiasco. Mr Bader was a ball of rage even before his drunk-driving convictions. He was also a bundle of sexist rage, offended by the discovery that a mere woman could be in charge of a courtroom. And now some teenage girl he never heard of wants him to talk about all this. I wouldn’t blame Bader for refusing to have anything to do with her. If any character ever asked Dafne what precise public service was being done by poking the Baders I never saw a good answer. It’d be interesting? I guess, but that’s not by itself journalism.

Del Bader starts off all right: his wife and son are struggling without him, and he’s treated as an awful person, for an accident. He points out how “Boo” Radley being an attractive, popular teenage sports star makes people view him more harshly than they would “if I’d hit a 50-year-old named Joe Smith”. But he also tries arguing, like, he was not a repeat drunk driver. He hadn’t been convicted for his first arrest yet. “I got railroaded”. Sometimes the literal truth does not make your case better.

Dafne: 'I let the Baders know roughly what to expect, so Barry shouldn't be --- ' Barry: 'YOU SNAKE! You lied! You told us you'd be fair!' Dafne: 'I was, Barry. I stand by every word. The dad you described isn't the one I met. And you KNOW I didn't misquote you.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 7th of July, 2018. I understand Barry Bader should have a different view on his father’s conviction than other people have. And that there’s only so much space a comic strip can have. But I did feel cheated there weren’t any specifics. Like, what’s something that Dafne reported that Barry believes was wrong, or unfair? I feel like that would have given the emotions shown in the story more effect.

Dafne writes a story leading off, “three hours from his comfortable home in Milford, Del Bader is in prison — and in denial.” It’s a catchy start and I hope someone ran it past the school paper’s attorneys. Barry Bader is furious. But his mother — she asks Dafne to come over. She wants to do an intervention. Mrs Bader has Barry sit down and hear about how his father really screwed up, and is screwing up Barry. And Barry needs to think seriously about being something besides a weirdly intensely angry high school athlete.

I’m not sure the exact role Dafne serves by being there. I suppose just that having an outside yet semi-involved party can keep a family dispute from growing too intense. Anyway it all seems to have a good effect. Bader returns to the team apologizing for being such a jerk. And he gets to close out his senior year hitting a three-run inside-the-park home run. Not bad, yeah.


Kevin: 'I'm glad for Ryan, but how come he's getting recruited and I'm not?' Gil Thorp: 'Because unlike you, Kevin, he had the foresight to be a left-handed pitcher.' Kevin: 'Good point ... but I'm still gonna take it out on Madison.' [ Sure enough: two homers, four RBI! ]
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 18th of June, 2018. As much a sideline as it was, I was endeared to Kevin Pelwicki’s weird little intense, nerdly turn towards perfecting his baseball technique. It’s revealed in the story that Pelwicki affects a pose of being a lunkhead. But actually gets better grades than I did in high school. And hey, look how I turned out! … so. Uhm.

There is — well, not really a subplot. Subplot, to me, suggests something that highlights the main plot, either by contrast or by reinforcement. This is just other stuff going on along the side. Senior Kevin Pelwecki got crazily obsessed with setting records and getting a college baseball scholarship. Coach Gil Thorp, rising above the cliche that he doesn’t really care, helps Pelwecki get his play up to form. But he’s not that serious about finding a college team that’ll offer Pelwecki a spot. He’s able to get Pelwecki a tryout, although as best I can tell the same tryout anyone would. That’s all right, though. Pelwecki finishes the season with 11 home runs, third-highest for the team, and comes to realize that he didn’t really want to play college ball. He wanted to be good enough that he could. I can understand that.


So Bader’s and Pelwicki’s storyline finished off, the 28th of July. with the 30th of July started the new, current storyline. It features the Official Sport of Comic Strip Artists For Some Reason: golf. (I think the reason is that golf was The Sport for Army officers in World War I. So Army enlisted men tried it in World War II. And since every comic strip from 1946 through 1969 was started by someone who’d been enlisted in World War II they carried their interest over.)

Wilson Casey and Tony Paul are really interested in golf. And seriously interested too: they’ll play in the rain, because hey, they get course time nobody else wants. They’re not Milford students; they attend St Fabian, and there’s mention that Gil Thorp is coaching them as part of his summer job. All right. Casey and Paul are really into the game. They just wish those snobs from Pine Ridge weren’t so obnoxious. And this sets off my Jim Scancarelli alarm. “Pine Ridge, Arkansas” was the setting for long-running old-time-radio serial comedy Lum and Abner. Probably just coincidence, though. The defining traits of both Lum and Abner — and most characters from Pine Ridge, Arkansas — was their complete lack of guile. This is not an accurate characterization of these kids.

In qualifications for the Valley Juniors golf tournament the Pine Ridge kids are teamed up with Blackthorne Country Club kids. And they together start cheating, cutting a few strokes off their holes. The St Fabian kids are ruthlessly honest about their play. In an earlier game one had counted a bunker as two strokes because he believed he felt his club strike the ball twice. Paul hits for 83; Casey for 82, scores Gil Thorp said should qualify them easily. The cheaters turn in scores in the 70s, and bump Paul and Casey out.

Pine Ridge pro: 'Sometimes a kid gets on a roll.' Gil Thorp: 'But not EIGHT of them, playing together. You're the adult. If you let this slide, you'r as guilty as they are.' (Later, to his players.) Thorp: 'In a sport built on honor, they cheated, but that doesn't diminish what you did.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of August, 2018. The tournament scorekeepers were skeptical about the Pine Ridge and Blackthorne players’ scores, but had nothing to go on.

They’re stunned. They know the guys were playing in the 90s the previous week. I admit I’m stunned too; I had just assumed in this sort of contest some tournament official would follow each group. Shows what I know. Well, there’s stuff at pinball tournaments you probably wouldn’t guess happened either.

Thorp goes to the Pine Ridge Country Club pro with the question: come on, srsly? The Pine Ridge guy shrugs, saying, hey, golf is a streaky game. Sometimes a group of eight teens will all happen to play fifteen strokes better than their average all at once. Thorp tries to honor-shame the Pine Ridge guy, and goes back to his players with talk about how good their performance truly was.

And that’s the current standings: a summer storyline about cheating in golf. I realize it’s easy to snark about the insignificance of the subject. But it’s resolutely the sort of thing Gil Thorp is the right comic strip to write about. Really I’m still getting over learning that cheating in tournament golf play is apparently just that easy.

Next Week!

Has Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker gotten all plot-heavy and crazy? We’ll just see what might or might not have happened.

Statistics Saturday: Trivia Night Questions, By Kind


Questions Everyone Else Knew The Correct Answer To; Questions Everyone Else Knew The Correct Answer To But I Knew The Wrong Answer For; That One Question I Knew, But C'mon, It Was About Grover Cleveland, And I'm From New Jersey, How Could I Miss That?; "Questions Nobody Had Any Idea About; Tigers Pitchers
And yet they think I’m the indispensable one on the team.

Reference: A History of Physics in its Elementary Branches (Through 1925): Including the Evolution of Physical Laboratories, Florian Cajori.

In Which I Respond To Australia Selecting A Prime Minister Who Is Not Me


Well, you know. I’m not hurt. Really. I offered to prime ministrate for Australia purely out of my sense that I might do some good for people who need some good done. It wasn’t meant in any kind of self-aggrandizing spirit. And, besides, I was offering pretty late in the day, considering they were figuring whether to put in a new prime minister like the same hour I posted my offer. Honestly, I’m not bothered. I had some personal stuff come up that’s scrambled my plans for the next couple days anyway, so this kind of works out for everyone involved.

And I’m not saying this to set myself up for the next time an Australian prime minister has to figure out whether to leave or get kicked out. Honestly, I wish only the best for their new prime minister, whom I’m going ahead and guessing is named Aussie McPerthillibong. I’m sorry, I don’t have tears in my eyes keeping me from reading the news about whoever the heck he is clearly. I hope everything works out great for you and for Australia and, you know, just, keep me in mind if you need any light tasks done. Not, like, helping you move to a new apartment. We don’t have that good a relationship yet. But I’m happy to help on levels where we really belong together.

In Which I Offer To Help Fix Australia’s Political Crisis


I want to talk about a political situation in another country here. So I acknowledge how I’m coming from a position of weakness. I’m from the United States, where yeah, everything is on fire. Actually, everything’s on some kind of hyperfire. The hyperfire doesn’t just occupy volume and duration. It reaches into strange other dimensions previously only suspected by research geometers. And it’s some kind of fractal hyperfire, since each flame itself contains another hyperfire. And each flame of that hyperfire contains a tiny hurricane. And that hurricane is made of buckets of rabid turds. And the buckets are themselves actually killbots. And each killbot is poorly electrically grounded. And I suspect the situation is even worse than that.

But. Do you know what’s going on in Australia? I mean besides the wildlife. The wildlife is adorable (the greater microcuddling woomera). Or deadly (the laser stanthorpe, which has has enough venom in each ankle to render the world’s mammal population and most of its fish flabbergasted six times over, and has eight ankles somehow despite having no legs). Or both (the trinitrootoluene kangaroo). I’m talking about the political situation. I’ve got a bunch of Australian friends who can not believe what’s going on. So let me explain what’s going on: I don’t know.

The thing is Australia runs a Westminster Parliament-style government. This is a standard issue of government. But again, I’m from the United States, where we just … don’t? And it’s hard wrapping my head around the thing. My introduction to how parliamentary governments work was as a kid hearing Italy had gone through like 48 governments in the forty years since World War II. I thought this meant, like, they’d had that many revolutions in that time. It staggered me. I tried to imagine how you could write even that many different constitutions. If I were on the constitution-writing committee of the Provisional Government I’d run out of ideas of what to even do differently. About four governments in I’d start submitting what we used three Republics ago and hope nobody noticed. I’d be so scared I forgot to update the number and someone would ask me why this was the Constitution for the 52nd Italian Postwar Republic when we were on the 54th.

Now I’m better-informed. When they say a parliamentary government has fallen, all they mean is the lower house of parliament planned to vote on something and didn’t. So then they have to go have a general election. If it was something important they didn’t vote on they hold a snap election. This wraps everything up in six weeks. If it was something boring they didn’t vote on they hold a more leisurely regular election. (They also do this if nothing didn’t get not voted on, but parliament had gone on a couple years and everyone was getting tired of the same old faces.) That wraps up in eight weeks. Anyway during the election everybody hopes there’ll be a hung parliament, because that sounds weird and exciting. But what happens instead is some big boring party teams up with some tiny right-wing party. This forms a coalition, and whoever runs the big boring party goes on being prime minister.

There’s also an upper house. It’s made of deceased wealthy representatives from each of the political subdivisions of the country. Its job is to have a huge, fancy, well-varnished wooden stick called a “mace” on a table up front. Any important legislation must spend a couple days in the upper house before it becomes law anyway. I think the legislation is to observe the mace and work out that if it laws badly it will get hit with a big stick. That’s just a guess. Anyway it seems important to do. The upper house members are expected to every few years produce a scandal about how they use their travel allowances. This keeps the government balanced.

Anyway, right now Australia is going through a political crisis caused by I don’t know. I keep reading explanations but then they get to how the ruling Liberal Party is the conservative party and I ask my Australian friends if this is a bit and they act all innocent. Anyway, key thing is the Australian people don’t like prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Liberal Party doesn’t like him either. Turnbull himself has been staring into a closet asking why he should like himself. And the closet door keeps stubbing his toe. Firing him would be easy. Even easier on his feet. But there’s the problem of who to make prime minister in his place. Australia’s been trying out all kinds of prime ministers since 2010 and hasn’t liked any of them. Some have lasted weeks in office. Some haven’t been nearly that stable. The crisis is getting urgent. Last week it emerged that Italy and New Zealand were huddling together and cackling at these guys. There’s a real chance some of these countries are going to start pantsing each other.

So here we get to me. Australia, I want you to know, I’m willing to come over and prime ministrate you for a while. I know this might be controversial. I’m not an Australian citizen. I’ve never even been to the country-continent. But I have liked basically every cartoon with a kangaroo in it ever. And in the Singapore Zoo’s walk-through enclosure I once petted a wallaby who seemed not distressed by my attention. She looked back with an expression one could describe as “Yes, well, ah. So if you didn’t need anything further I had some projects to get back to so, if you could scoot over a bit.” Oh, and I like Violet Crumble. It’s this Australian candy bar that you can eat once and spend the rest of your life picking honeycomb-toffee out of your teeth. Also sometimes I get that Kinks song stuck in my head. These might seem like slender qualifications to be prime minister of Australia. Even slenderer if I can’t tell you what my every game of Tropico goes like.

Small kangaroo, possibly a wallaby, staring right at my camera. From the Singapore zoo.
Not the kangaroo I petted, but one I got a better picture of, because I didn’t have to go finding that picture.

But I’m not looking to rule Australia, mind you. I figure to lead what’s called a “caretaker” government. In a caretaker government the prime minister doesn’t try to start any major initiatives. They just go around bringing mugs of hot chocolate and giving hugs to people who need it. I can add to that expectation a certain number of back-rubs. At the risk of bragging, I’m pretty good for being completely untrained in back-rubbing. I’m not looking to do this forever, mind you. I only want Australia to have some breathing space to figure out what it’s looking for in a government, and go out and have an election and get one. If you need to take an extra-long election cycle, like nine weeks or so, I bet I could swing that. I’ll need high-speed Internet so I can keep up with my day job. And airfare, please. I want to help, but I do have travel expenses of my own.

[[[ NOTE TO SELF double-check before this posts to see if they get a new prime minister in the next four hours ]]]

[[[ ALSO NOTE TO ALSO SELF find out why spellcheck isn’t flagging ‘hyperfire’. could be important ]]]

Uh-Oh.


So I got this in the mail.

There’s a chance that it’s completely harmless.

Trivial, even.

I mean, we’re getting to about the time when my car registration needs renewal.

And I haven’t had a proper fiasco putting on the licence plate tags in, oh, three years now.

Still, though, given what I was just writing

Level with me, kind readers.

Did one of you snitch?

Letter from the Michigan Secretary of State, with the demand that I open immediately.
I did NOT open immediately and now let’s see if one of you reports me for THAT.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp


For the fifth week of my reviews of the three Popeye two-reelers we get to the last, and longest: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. It’s got four credited animators: David Tendlar, Nicholas Tafuri, William Sturm, and Reuben Grossman. Tendlar animated everything the Fleischers and Famous Sudios ever did, and then went on to Terrytoons, Filmation, and Hanna-Barbera. Tafuri first animated for the Fleischers in 1934 with the Popeye cartoon The Two-Alarm Fire. He’d stick around until Famous Studios closed. Sturm did a number of Popeye cartoons and then went off to Jam Handy Films; if you’ve seen the Handy Studio’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer you’ve seen more of his work. Grossman seems to have this as his first animation credit. He’d do some more Fleischer/Famous Studios work through 1945. Then he seems to disappear until the late 50s, doing TV animation for Felix the Cat, Linus the Lion-Hearted, and The Mighty Hercules.

It premiered the 7th of April, 1939, more than a year after Popeye met Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves, and about eight months before the studios’ first feature-length movie, Gulliver’s Travels. It’s more than a year since Disney shocked everybody with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And it’s about ten months before Disney would release their second feature-length movie, Pinocchio. I offer this for context about what long-form animation was like.

Now. The best print I can find of the short is on YouTube and therefore subject to vanishing at any moment. I suspect it’s just ripped from the Popeye DVDs released last decade and that when some copyright-holder notices they’ll file a claim. The original short is in the public domain and that’s on Archive.org, so should stick around forever. I’ll include that too, but the prints on Archive.org are the horribly faded ones that you found on every public-domain videotape in the 90s. So they’ll be around, but look like used chewing gum.

And a small content warning. The short’s set in Cartoon Arabia. There are some minor characters who’re black and drawn in that “Hey! African people sure have lips, don’t they?” style. Blink and you miss it, but, how do I know when you’re going to blink? There’s also a quick bit where a character salaam-ing make the first wordplay joke you’d think of.

And here is an Archive.org link for a more stable copy of the short.


The cartoon opens with a framing device. Olive Oyl’s writing treatments for Surprise Pictures. Why?

Well, so they have a punch line for the end of the cartoon, sure. It sets up for a joke so obvious (“if it’s a good picture, it’s a Surprise”) that Wikipedia’s fooled into thinking it’s in the short. The joke hanging, unresolved, for twenty minutes makes it much funnier than it would have been in a one-reeler version of this cartoon. But … so what? What would we lose if the framing device were chopped off?

I’m not just padding my word count. The choice to frame the cartoon action was made for reasons. But what? SCTV demonstrated the brilliance of framing everything as a movie-of-the-week production. You could write only the parts of the sketch that you liked. Skip the boring stuff and the audience can follow along. As a draft movie script Olive Oyl has an even bigger advantage. If some part of the story doesn’t make sense (“But why does the Vizier turn into a fish?”) that’s fine. It’s something they’ll iron out in rewrites. But apart from the one intertitle, at about 4:10 in, the short doesn’t do that. And the intertitle, that great silent-movie innovation explaining the stuff that couldn’t be conveyed by expression, action, and the audience having a lick of sense, could have been in an unframed short anyway.

So what does the framing get us? And the best answer I can see is that it gives a reason for Popeye to be playing the character of Aladdin. Popeye had by this point done 69 cartoons, but always as Popeye. Perhaps they didn’t realize that he could be Popeye inhabiting another role.

Which is an historical irony. In the earliest years of Thimble Theatre — long before Popeye made the strip interesting, and even before it became a serial adventure strip — Segar cast the strip as, well, a nightly theatrical production. The framing device was that Olive Oyl, Ham Gravy, et al were characters. They’d be set up with a card about today, Olive’s the wife of Ham (or whatever) and here’s the evil mortgage-holder, and then they’d do the joke. Next day, here Olive’s the attractive waitress and Ham and some other character are customers and all that. It’s a cute pretext and if some web comic isn’t using that, they should. But for daily jokes it’s way too much overhead. It would work better for serial storylines and maybe that’s how Thimble Theatre transitioned into being a serial-story comic. I don’t know; I haven’t read examples of the strip in its transition.

You see an (unintentional?) echo of this in the way Popeye shorts start with the basic characters but scramble their relationships. Here Popeye and Olive Oyl are all but married and Bluto threatens to break them up. Here Popeye and Bluto are old friends and they’re enchanted when they meet this waitress. Here Popeye and Wimpy are roommates and Olive Oyl tries to invite Popeye over for lunch. But they’re always Popeye and Olive Oyl and Bluto and Wimpy. To date, only Bluto’s arguable roles as Sindbad and Abu Hassan have had him as an actor playing a part.

It seems a strange lack of faith in the characters that they’d let Popeye play Aladdin only with an excuse. I think they could have gotten away with it had they skipped the framing and just had everyone say of course Popeye is Aladdin. But I have the advantage of hindsight; nobody could know what the cartoon would play like before it was made. And I grew up watching Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol and its spinoff series The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo. I had the idea of cartoon characters playing other roles presented in a good, accessible way early on. It’s hard to say whether Mister Magoo was more born to play Ebeneezer Scrooge, Victor Frankenstein, Don Quixote, or Puck.

And there’s more reason to be sad they didn’t try an unframed story. Leslie Cabarga, in The Fleischer Story, mentions that while preparing their first feature-length film the studio considered having Popeye play Lemuel Gulliver. I don’t know why they didn’t go with that; possibly it was fear that Popeye as a character would be too weird for a feature-length movie. Would that have been a better movie? With everything else the same but the more charismatic Popeye at its center? … Probably. And “casting” Popeye would have made the rest of the story different.

So that’s eight hundred words on the short they didn’t make. What about the one they did?

Well, for one, it’s a short made without the three-dimensional set-back process that Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves used. Why not? It can’t be that the process was getting too expensive; they were using it for pretty near every regular short, both color and black-and-white, at the time. Possibly they couldn’t think of a good place to use the process. Except, like, they already had a cave set built for Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Why not have the magic lantern be in that cave, alongside jewels left over from Sindbad the Sailor? They were apparently considering it. FleischerStudios.com has a 1939 Popular Science short about how animation works that shows off scenes from the making of this short. It includes, about 3:45 in, footage of the setback process being used for Aladdin. It shows off a nice three-dimensional castle and a reappearance by the Rokh from Sindbad. No idea why that was cut; perhaps they felt the sequence too long or too discursive. Or maybe the setback scene was staged for Popular Science with sets and cells they happened to have around. (I’m not sure that Olive Oyl is drawn, in the Rokh’s claws, as the Princess rather than as she was dressed in Sindbad.) Maybe the Fleischers felt that pulling out the three-dimensional sets would break the “reality” of the Aladdin story being a movie. Maybe Surprise Pictures didn’t go in for location shooting.

It’s also made without Bluto, or a character who looks like Bluto. This makes more sense. The evil Vizier — I guess he’s just called the Villain here — needs to suggest cunning and devious wit. The one scene where he’d really need it, coaxing Aladdin into the Secret Cave, is disposed of in a title card. But the character has to be believable in his scheming. Bluto has might to him, but scheming? Not so much. Wimpy — another missing character — could scheme very well. But his schemes are devoted to more petty grifts. Swiping free food? Sure. Killing Aladdin, stealing the kingdom, and marrying Olive Oyl? Too mean, and too much work, for him. Of the regular Popeye characters the only one who’s really got the combination of cunning and evil and ambition for the role would be the Sea Hag. That would be some interesting casting. But it’d be hard to do the marrying-the-princess story in 1939. And the Sea Hag never got animated by the Fleischers (or Famous Studios), sorry to say. Maybe Poopdeck Pappy could have done the role but that would also have complicated the story.

It seems to me like Wimpy could have been cast as the Genie. Don’t know why they didn’t. I guess they better liked their impression of That Guy I Keep Thinking Is Ed Wynn But Isn’t. You know. I’m having no luck pinning down who I do mean.

More exceptional stuff about this short. Unlike the other two-reelers the villain isn’t introduced with a song. Or gets a song at all; only Popeye does, the right solid “What Can I Do For You”. There’s no long lazy introduction to the scenery, either. It’s all introduced quickly, with the story moving along at a steady, solid clip. And the characters finally get to have dialogue. I mean, they say stuff that’s got personality and that’s reliably funny. It’s even playful, teasing the fourth wall (Popeye’s riff about having never made love in Technicolor before) or the short’s continuity (the new lap exchanged for the old being a flashlight).

This is the longest Popeye short, and his longest appearance in theaters until Robert Altman’s work. 21 minutes in all. I don’t blame TV syndication for not showing it too often. It also makes three two-reelers. Among them all, that’s just under 55 minutes of stories, all from the 1001 Arabian Nights, or at least adjacent to them. It’s got me wondering why they didn’t make another two-reeler cartoon, set up some framing device, and then release it as a Popeye motion picture. Add another twenty-minute short on and you have something near enough the length of the movie they did release, Gulliver’s Travels (76 minutes) and Mister Bug Goes To Town (78 minutes).

In the climax — and it’s a fantastic climax — Popeye eats four cans of spinach. I believe that’s the most he eats in any short; the only possible ties are clip cartoons where a bunch of his daring-escapes get featured. It’s a great climax, four rallies of the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man theme in slightly higher keys, followed by a really long rendition of The Stars And Stripes Forever. A lot of action. A lot of great action. It also set a record for Coolest Looking Dragon That Gets Disappointingly Instantly Foiled which stood until Rankin/Bass’s 1985 adaption of L Frank Baum’s The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus.

There may, inexplicably, have been no three-dimensional footage for this short. There’s still great moments. The long zoom into the Secret Cave is one. The Princess’s diamond sparkling so brightly that it forms a spotlight, and panning out to Aladdin on his horse, is another. Often Fleischer cartoons have a sort of rambling, jazzy quality, where it feels like they didn’t work out the storyline much before filming. And that’s great for giving a cartoon a spontaneous, out-of-control feeling. But this one is well-crafted. Consider the moment where the Vizier, having lost the lamp, sits miserably at a table sipping coffee, while Aladdin as the prince zooms past. In a moment this scene tells everything about that the Vizier was doing, and how his understanding of everything has changed, and it sets him back into action, all the while that Aladdin’s storyline is moving toward romancing the Princess. It’s tight, efficient writing that doesn’t feel like it’s forcing the plot along. It’s a foreshadowing of the Superman cartoons the studio would make in the 1940s, in being these beautiful and, generally, well-scripted and awesome affairs.

Looking Back: No More Looking Back


I’m not actually figuring this to be the end of these little retrospective pieces. They’re doing too much to help me get ahead of deadline. If I could write fewer than 2,500 words about some dopey Popeye clip cartoon from 1951 I wouldn’t have to do this sort of thing.

Also I have a lot of fun doing my own archive-binging. Sometimes it’s helped me notice that I have recurring motifs. Sometimes it lets me just watch how my odd little obsessions have developed. One of them is Ray Davies, of the Kinks. Who had among their many great songs “No More Looking Back” so you see why I have a correctly formed joke up in the subject line there.

So here’s an early example of my Ray Davies interest. It’s about some piece of biographical trivia that might even be true, regarding Ray Davies. Also about my interest in getting through life without being punched by Ray Davies. Almost exactly two years later I fused that interest with the way my brain sometimes latches onto a word it’s decided to read wrongly. In this case “unmade”, as in “an unmade movie”.

And earlier this year came this query: Is Ray Davis A Normal Person? This one started as conversation with my love in the car. I forget why we started on this particular topic. In any case it’s a piece I love. Thomas K Dye pointed out (on Twitter) a piece in favor of Ray Davies’s normal-ness that he apparently suffers from hay fever. This is another Kinks song title reference. Also the essay includes me making up a British mailing address, which I find over a hundred godzillion times funnier than everyone else in the whole world combined and I don’t care. In the darkest times of this year I have gone back to it and read the whole address out to myself and felt like things were a little less bleak. I’m sorry it’s not doing that for anyone else, but I like it.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Pinball and Roadside Tourism, May – August 2018.


If you want the most recent happenings in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., good news! It’s here. If you’re reading this not too long after August 2018. If it’s past about November 2018, I should have a more up-to-date essay here. May you find the context for the current goings-on that you need.

Now, if you’re looking for mathematically-themed comic strip discussion, that’s my other blog. That’s a fun blog too, I think. But, yes, consider the person making that claim.

Griffy, explaining to the audience: 'A realistic 'pretty girl' has invaded th'Zippy strip! I'm on a search for th'strip she came from so I can get her back home! I've redrawn myself in a realistic style so I can easily enter these 'continuity' strips and accomplish my mission! Hmmm ... 'Rex Morgan, M.D.' looks suspicious! I'll begin with him!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 14th of August, 2002. Part of the same storyline that gave me that great Mary Worth panel. And this isn’t all!

Rex Morgan, M.D.

27 May – 19 August 2018.

Heather Avery was working out the implications of her husband’s death last time I checked in. The big one: she asked the Avery International to continue on being rich and successful. The little one: she was going to sell the now-empty mansion in town. So Jordan, the live-in caretaker, would have to find somewhere else to live, at least once it sells. Her suggestion: that he use this big pile of money from the freezer to open that restaurant he always wanted to. His own “yes, and” idea: that he marry Michelle, his longtime girlfriend and partner in mansion-sitting. She likes the idea too.

Rex: 'As happy as I am for the newly engaged couple --- we still have patients waiting to be seen.' June: 'Of course. To work, everybody.' Rex: 'I'm looking forward to *that* wedding. Knowing Jordan, the food at the reception will be great!' June: 'The way to a man's heart ... '
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 28th of July, 2018. So this is when we reset the ‘days since Rex Morgan last pretended to do something medical’ counter, by the way.

Heather Avery takes her chance to visit Rex Morgan and family. She explains that in light of her husband’s death, and their child’s birth, she just doesn’t think she can bear to be in the comic strip anymore. She’ll stay in touch, she promises, but she’ll leave everyone else to get about their business.

[ Heather's visit with the Morgans winds down. ] June: 'We'll miss you terribly, you know.' Heather: 'And I you --- but I need to make a fresh start.' Rex: 'We understand and wish you and little Phoenix the best of luck.' Sarah: 'I want Phoenix to have Mr Fuzzy.' (She hands a small teddy bear up to Heather.) Heather: 'How sweet of you, Sarah --- I gave him to you when *you* were a baby.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of June, 2018. I honestly don’t know whether I expect this to be Heather Avery’s farewell from the strip. It at least gives good reason not to worry about her until such time as Beatty (or a successor) has a solid idea, though.

That business is Buck and Mindy, pleasant supporting characters. They’re getting married. They’re doing it in Las Vegas, at a wedding chapel that features an Elvis impersonator who’ll walk the bride down the aisle. Nice to see things working out for them. Buck’s kid Corey is happy with the wedding plans too.

It’s a destination wedding. But at least all the characters who’ve been invited are able to afford the travel. And make the time for it. The characters who made the most time are 50s horror-comics star “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son, Horrible Jr. They started their cross-country tourist-attractions expedition back in May or possibly 1946 and have been going strong ever since. For a while that was just little check-ins, in the disposable title-panel row of the Sunday strips. They’d mention how they were looking at giant ice cream cone guys, statues of Popeye, large soup cans, mystery castles, and so on. All the filming locations of the improbably long-running King Features comic strip Zippy the Pinhead.

(I’m not ridiculing Zippy the Pinhead, by the way. I love the comic. And I feel good about King Features that it keeps running a comic strip that would be hard-pressed to be less commercial. It’s a good legacy for the syndicate that ran Krazy Kat despite that comic almost trying to shake off readers.)

Hank Sr: 'Now if you can hold still for a while, I can draw your portrait.' Millie: 'That doesn't take much effort. Aside from waitin' on folks, at this age I don't move around much anyhow! But if I close my eyes and start in to snoring', wake me up!' Hank Sr: 'I'm just glad we decided to stop here. It's quite a treat to run into an old friend.' Millie: 'Still, it's one heck of a coincidence that you chose THIS diner, not knowing it was mine.' Hank Jr: 'Pop has a way of stumbling into the darndest situations, Millie. Always has.' Hank Sr: 'I hate to say it --- but when I'm done with this drawing, we'd better hit the road. Maybe we should get our bill so we can settle up.' Millie: 'Oh, you're money's no good here, old man. This one's on the house.' Hank Sr: 'That's mighty sweet of you, Millie. Maybe we'll drop in again on our return trip. But you have to let me pay next time.' Millie: 'My daughter takes over the place next week. You'll have to invite me to dine with you, and since I'll be retired, I' okay with you paying.' Hank Sr (as they do leave): 'Oh --- this is for you. So long, Millie.' Millie: 'Well --- would you look at that ... ' (He's drawn Millie as she looked in high school.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of July, 2018. At the diner that Hank Senior just happened to stumble his way into. I admit I’m a bit impressed that he could steer a trip designed to be a sort of ambling, shuffling, let’s-see-where-we-figure-on-going-today expedition to get to the diner where his high school romance worked, and in her last week working there. Be a heck of a thing if he’d gone to all that trouble and she was taking the day off, though.

This threatened to completely overwhelm the comic, too, much as Zippy talking to roadside attraction statues took over that comic for about a decade. It was interspersed with Jordan-and-Michelle, and with Buck-and-Mindy, weeks. And then a bit that seriously broke up their looking at the world’s largest strawberry or the Oz Museum or stuff. In a small town diner Hank Senior encounters … Millie Gray. They were a pretty serious thing back in high school, but went their separate ways and had nice happy lives anyway. It’s a sweet little sentimental interlude, closed with Hank Senior admitting to his son that he knew exactly who was working that small-town diner, thank you.

Also breaking up the roster of watching people look at tourist traps: their RV breaks down. They rent an SUV to make the rest of the trip. So that breaks up a lot of them admitting that things are there to be seen. Still, they get to Las Vegas in time for the wedding and that’s all nice. Rex Morgan takes a moment to reflect on how great it is even if it’s slightly daft and hey, did you see where there’s a fourth wall over there? Anyway, pleasant stuff.

[ At the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas ] Hank Jr: 'We'd better get back to our hotel, Pop. You'll need your nap before the wedding.' Hank Sr: 'I suppose so. Wouldn't want to snooze during the nuptials --- but let me finish this game first. I'm going for a personal record.' Hank Jr, picking up his cell phone: 'Okay. I'll get it on video so you can relive the moment.' Hank Sr: 'That's my boy!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of August, 2018. So I assume no cartoonists read what I write. Even though, yes, I know that The Phantom‘s writer Tony DePaul checks in now and then. I’m just not important. But. It’s not literally true that when I’m not blogging I’m playing pinball. It’s near enough. The Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame is one of the major things I hope to get to. And its founders have connections to my hometown, as it’s run by someone who ran Pinball Pete’s, the venerable East-Lansing-and-Ann-Arbor institution. So if I were conspiracy-minded, and thought it even the faintest bit plausible that Beatty knew anything about me including the fact that I exist, I could paint this as a crazily obscure call-out to me. But I’m not, and I don’t, and it isn’t. It’s just a neat coincidence.
Also it is absolutely true that having something big and important and impossible to reschedule to get to will make you have the best pinball game of your life. Nobody understands how this happens, but if the effect could be harnessed it would revolutionize competitive pinball.

If it sounds like not a lot has actually, you know, happened I suppose I can’t argue otherwise. The stories have advanced only in little pieces and none of them has been that dramatic. I say, admitting that one couple has married and another has decided to marry. I do them some disservice by unwinding the story threads like this. It makes the action seems even slighter than it was. But, hey, sometimes everybody’s just having a nice calm time in their lives and manage a pretty good road trip. I say this not two days after my love and I learned that a correct answer to “Just how many tiny public parks with WPA-era 25-foot-long battleships built out of poor-grade ore rock can there be in this tiny copper-country Michigan village?” is “no fewer than two”. Touring quirky roadside stuff is for people who can handle ambiguous directions.

(Also we’re hoping in the coming week to eat at a Li’l Abner-themed restaurant but will be all right if it turns out we’re just not able to.).

Next Week!

It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp! So how did The Milford Trumpet’s attempt at journalistic bear-baiting go? We’ll see what Barry Bader has to insist was taken out of context. At least if my plans turn out right.

And Then I Thought About Fun


I know there’s exceptions to this next statement. But, generally, going to an amusement park is fun. I mean for the people going to the park for the purpose of fun. Just let me have this point, please. Where I’m going is that there are other things that are fun, too. Like, there’s going to karaoke night and singing the one song you’re kind of able to sing with mostly the right tones and pacing. That’s fun. So is making clicking noises back at a squirrel who seems to be trying to work out what your deal is. That’s fun. Again, if you want to do that.

But here’s where I’ve gotten. All these kinds of fun are very different activities. You can’t swap one out for the other without noticing that something is very different. One could not mistake chatting with a squirrel for talking about how you can’t imagine someone riding anything where you go upside-down. That is to say, fun is not fungible.

And so continues my lifelong discovery in adulthood of, oh, yeah, that’s why everybody treated my like that in middle school.

Everything There Is To Say About Making Art


OK, first thing, the title’s a fib. This isn’t everything there is to say about making art. That would be two or even three whole essays, at 700 to 900 words per kilogram. But I already wrote the title down and it’s pretty snappy as it is and “One-Half or Even One-Third Of Everything There Is To Say About Making Art” reads as wimpy. And not in the good ways.

Also I don’t want to talk about making real art. Real art is too hard. It’s hard enough getting agreement on what “art” even is. “Art” is anything that, when you call it “art”, gets you into an argument about what “art” is. And that’s all great stuff. If you’re willing to get into the argument you get to seriously looking at 2,038 coats of paint brushed onto some wood salvaged from the Demolishing All The Buildings With Character Neighborhood-Revitalization Project and then gouged by a putty knife so you see about half of the colors. If you’re not willing to get into the argument, then you get to point and laugh at the people who’re seriously looking at the scraped over-painted rubble that some creamer-potato of an MFA has titled Renewal. Everybody gets something they enjoy! A “Building With Character” is one that has chipped asbestos and exposed live electrical wires and in each stairway at least two duct-taped steps.

Sidewalk with the chalk inscription on it, 'ART THIS WAY' and an arrow pointing inside a building.
Don’t tell me how to art.

I’m thinking more about low-argument kinds of deployed creativity. Stuff like painting, for example, drawing. Drawing is great because even without specialized tools you can get great responses. Right near you this moment there should be a decent pencil and a clean sheet of paper that you could draw on right this moment. There’s not. Everyone agrees there should be. The closest to either of this is a notepad from that Knights Inn Express Deluxe you stayed at overnight eight months ago. You know. When you were having too much fun in Findlay, Ohio, to get back home that night. The one with four sheets of paper, each dogeared somehow a different amount and bearing coffee stains. The only writing tool is one of those pens with the spring-loaded button up top that, when pressed, makes the pen fall apart. The writing stylus will roll under the heaviest furniture you have.

But you can imagine all the stuff you need to draw on hand. This takes one trip to an art supply store, where you can get a 60-page sketchpad. This will last you fourteen years and survive four major moves, one to another part of the country, and six garage sales. Also get a mechanical pencil with lead so soft that it feels like butter. It feels so comfortable and smooth that you have to be restrained from brushing it on your skin or rolling in a big pile of it.

Amateurs think that drawing is a matter of imagining something and then putting down lines that represent it. This is needlessly hard. I mean, you can sympathize with someone figuring they can’t draw a cool-looking basilisk by looking at a basilisk and then sketching really quickly before your death sets in. But most any drawing is done better with references. With references, you find a thing and look at it, and then you don’t draw that. To make it cool, add sunglasses and a confident attitude. This is expressed by thumbs up.

Like, suppose you want to draw a chair. Why is your business; I don’t judge. Take an example chair. Look hard at it. Then sketch in some rectangular boxes. I mean on your paper. Maybe add a circular box for the curvey part. There’s no boxes in the chair. Unless you’re using it as storage space which I would totally do if my love let me get away with it. But. If you draw the boxes that you don’t see in the chair, and then keep adding more lines, you get a drawing of the chair. It’s as simple as that!

(Yes yes, this simplicity comes with a cost. If you want to draw a box, you have to start out by drawing bunches of chairs. And now you know why you could never convince your friend who does art but for real to draw a box for you!)

Used bookstore shelf labelled 'How To Art Books'
I’m sorry, this essay is about arting drawings. Arting books is a different essay.

Putting in those lines that turn boxes into chairs takes experience, yes. But that’s no reason to be shy about trying. The wonderful thing about drawing is in lines. The more lines a drawing has, the better it is. So keep on putting in lines until it looks like what you want. Or until pressing the button to make more lead come out of the mechanical pencil causes the pencil to fall apart. This lets you learn what your heaviest furniture is now, after the garage sale. What’s important is how much fun it is to get to this point. It is about 58 units of fun. 62 if the chair looks cool which, again, you do by adding sunglasses and thumbs up.

In Which I Have To Take Back Nice Stuff I Said About Michigan’s Secretary Of State


So, I know that the last time I expressed thoughts about Michigan’s Secretary of State I made a fool of myself. Secretary of State offices around here fill the role that other states have a Department of Motor Vehicles for, and I thought that was just a quirk of terminology. And I learned that I understimated the office. At any of these offices you can do all the work that you might do by visiting the Secretary of State herself, without any necessarily awkward conversations or having to answer questions about how you broke into her home and whether you know it’s 1:45 am.

And that’s fine but recently I discovered what they need to issue a replacement driver’s license, in case you lose yours, something that I haven’t done in fourteen years and in another state anyway:

Michigan Secretary of State web site listing what is needed to request a duplicate driver's license online. It requires: the last four digits of your social security number; your driver's license number; and your date of birth and eye color.
Eye color is an easy question for me. I have eyes that look as though the angels designing my body perused my nascent face and said, “Brown. Done. NEXT” and hit flood-fill as I was on the way out.

I’d like to ask the Secretary of State where I’m supposed to get my driver’s license number if I need to replace my driver’s license, but it’s too much work for me to leave the house at 1:45 am except to confirm my fear that I left the lawn sprinkler running since 3 pm Friday. I understand why they thought someone might have memorized their driver’s license number, if they thought that people were still seventeen and in the last age cohort that saw a driver’s license as something desirable, instead of something you need to get to avoid the civil penalties for failure to sufficiently car. But, yeesh. I’m good at remembering numbers and all I could tell you about my Michigan driver’s license is that it probably has some digits in it.

Also no fear for that license I lost fourteen years ago. I got a replacement, for which I did not need to know my license number, which I did have memorized. Several months later the original license reappeared, as you might expect, as a bookmark in my copy of John Steele Gordon’s book about the transatlantic telegraph cable.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Reused: Two I Can’t Show You


I had a great idea going here. I’d show one of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons, and then show its reincarnation as a one-reeler clip cartoon. I’m foiled here. Not because Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves wasn’t used for a clip cartoon. Because I can’t find a copy of the clip cartoon online. I’m surprised and baffled by this. I could accept it somehow not having fallen into the same public-domain existence that so many other Famous Studios cartoons did. But to just evaporate altogether?

Ah well. And that’s particularly bad as there’s two clip cartoons based on Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. One I remember with confidence so let me talk about that. It’s Popeye Makes A Movie. This was released the 11th of August, 1950, or over two years before Big Bad Sindbad. That it is so much earlier may be why Popeye has the full complement of four nephews in it. By 1952 there were cutbacks.

The premise is … well, right there in the title. Popeye’s explicitly an actor here, and he’s making a movie about fighting Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Is it supposed to be the two-reeler movie actually released in the 1930s? Oh, who cares. If you have fun doing that, go ahead, but there’s just no fitting it all into one continuity. But Popeye’s an actor here, and he brings his nephews to watch a day of filming. And that’s the framework on which the clips are hung. There’s some of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy walking through the desert. There’s the bandit raid on the city, at which point the nephews get confused between fact and fiction and start punching Abu Hassan or maybe Bluto.

That seems to me a fair way to break up the clips. It’s a more interesting one than in Big Bad Sindbad, when the surviving nephews asked Popeye whether he got killed. That now there’s two clip cartoons that break up the clipping mid-action, where it’s not really needed, makes me wonder. Remember my wondering if there a production rule about how much of the cartoon could be recycled footage? I can’t time the clips from Popeye Makes A Movie, but the clips from Big Bad Sindbad were suspiciously close to 50% of the runtime. Now I wonder if there was a production rule about how long reused footage could be without some new footage.

The interruption also lets the clip cartoon go right to Popeye in Abu Hassan’s cage. It gets to the point where Popeye’s captured and lowered into the shark pit. Here the nephews again forget they’re watching some pretend action, and toss Popeye a can of spinach. This would seem to produce a continuity error in the movie being made. If we take the two-reeler as the produced movie, then, they must have done reshoots when the nephews were safely away from the studio.

It’s a fair enough premise. Gives a reason to show clips. If you’re alert enough to the realities of film production to question whether they’d film a walking-in-the-desert scene, a raid-on-a-city scene, and a battle-in-a-cave scene on the same day, well, shut up and go play outside. All right.


The other clip cartoon with Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves I remember more vaguely. But it’s interesting in that it’s also a clip cartoon for Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. And it, too, isn’t available online that I can find. It’s Spinach Packin’ Popeye, originally released the 21st of July, 1944. The name is a riff on Pistol-Packin’ Mama. That’s an inescapably popular and catchy song which made up about two-fifths of all sound during World War II. (If you look at the posters on the wall at R K Maroon’s office in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you’ll see a card for a Pistol-Packin’ Possum, another riff on the song.) I know, I know, you think — from movies and TV shows — that it was Glenn Miller’s version of American Patrol. No. It’s just easier for modern productions to record dialogue over an instrumental. In reality, between the 14th of October, 1943 and the 26th of March 1944, not a single sound that wasn’t Pistol-Packin’ Mama was produced domestically, and it stayed popular with soldiers until the USO performers curled up into helpless little balls pleading, “no … no … no more requests”.

The premise for this clip cartoon is more boring. Popeye goes to a scheduled boxing match with Bluto after donating blood. The weakened sailor gets knocked out. Olive Oyl declares she’s finished with this weakling. Popeye tries to argue he is not a weakling, and shows his photo album to prove it. The album has pictures(?) from Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. These come to life to show the clips, a device used in earlier clip cartoons too. None of this convinces Olive Oyl, but that’s all right, since his being knocked out was all a dream anyway.

Gathering around the photo album is a dull way to introduce clips. But it’s the sort of dull that doesn’t get in the way of the action either. I suspect it’s the clip-show equivalent of, in prose, tagging speech with “Name said”. It’s just invisible. I know I had to read the plot summary to have any memory of what the framing device was, and even the still frames on that Popeye Wikia didn’t help me much. The title card looks great, at least.

But there again is that breaking up of clips into at least two segments. This encourages my thinking that there was some production rule here. One might wonder why this cartoon featured two of the two-reelers and not more recent footage. A sufficient answer there is that they’d have had to be too recent footage. This was, if Wikipedia has the production schedules right, only the fifth color one-reeler Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s first one-reel color outing, Her Honor The Mare, was released the 26th of November, 1943. A snarky cartoon series of today might have characters flashing back to the stuff they aired last week. I can’t imagine getting away with that in theatrical shorts of the 40s.

I would have sworn there were other Popeye shorts that used “weakness after blood donation” as a premise for showing clips. Actually researching this suggests indicates I’m just wrong. I’m a touch surprised that Popeye, given his general moral-upstandingness, wasn’t shown to donate blood more. But it’s hard to figure a joke line to follow that. People getting Popeye’s blood and going on to feats of impossikible strength is obvious, but they’d do that from just eating spinach at his direction. (Which, come to think of it, is another storyline I don’t think they used.) Maybe they were working around guidelines about how to present the effects of blood transfusion. Maybe it just never occurred to anyone.

Looking Back: Being Unaware Of Stuff


If there’s a motif to my writing besides “slightly overresearched nonsense” it’s a love of historical footnotes. These might be the same thing. But sometimes something really thrilling happens. Like, my mind noticing one of those invisible phrases normally used to make some writing longer. So that’s how I got to wondering about how many people you’d expect to know that in the early 60s Disney considered building an amusement park in Saint Louis. This would not be the only time I had cause to write about Saint Louis, either, although I think this might be the only other. If we don’t count this little essay too. I’ve studied logic.

I’m sorry for the formatting on the blockquote in that second article. The theme I’m using right now interacts weirdly with the ‘cite’ tag that I was using to highlight the titles of TV shows. But I don’t want to change it because I feel like, well, it’s a title. Of course it goes in a ‘cite’ tag, what else would a ‘cite’ mean? But I’m not exactly giving a citation of a work there, and in any case it’s being displayed in a way that makes no sense. Now, of course I could hack the style sheets for that page to make things display correctly. But if you learn anything about style sheets it’s that there’s no hacking them to make things display correctly. You fiddle with things to make a box appear in the center of the page and suddenly you get text that doesn’t appear at all on mobile devices; it’s instead carved into the surface of Saturn’s moon Iaepetus. Nobody understands this and the only cure is to remove all the formatting information.

If the above paragraph made no sense to you, don’t worry. You can ask whoever it is in your life knows style sheets and they will agree: it makes no sense, but that’s how style sheets work. Oh, also it’s extremely funny that I correctly identified something which annoys people who do a lot of this particular kind of thing. What is humor writing, indeed, except correctly identifying things that people who know a thing will agree exists?

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Is The Rat Dead YET? May – August 2018


Looking to understand the events in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity? I’m happy to help. This update should get you ready for mid-August 2018, and maybe for a month or so after that. If it’s later than about November 2018, I should have a more up-to-date story summary and you can read it here. That link will also catch you up on the separate weekday continuity. Happy to help.

The Phantom (Sundays)

20 May – 12 August 2018.

The Rat Must Die, promised this story, which began back in October of last year. The Rat figured he could ease his way out of Bangallan prison by turning jailhouse-informant on his former partner, The Boss. The warden laughed him off. The Boss ordered a hit on him. The Phantom decided to take The Rat up on this offer. Not for freedom, just for The Phantom’s good word recommending a lighter sentence. They began a long hike out of Boomsby Prison, and then through the jungle. This lead them to the neighboring fascist state of Rhodia, where the Partner’s mansion was.

Last time I checked in, The Rat made another attempt at getting free of The Phantom, shoving the Ghost Who Walks into a carport. This fails instantly. One of the recurring motifs of The Rat’s story is his utter failure. He failed at whatever criminal activity sent him to prison, obviously. He failed at selling information for freedom. He failed several times over at breaking away from The Phantom. He failed to talk The Phantom into giving up his superhero ways. It leaves me a little sad for him. But his plans are all fairly dumb ones; he acts as if he figures, he’s a big, tough guy. Of course he can do whatever he wants. And it just doesn’t work. (It reminds me of dumb Mob scion Mikey D’Moda, from several Sunday stories ago.) Anyway, trying to take The Phantom by surprise just gets him clobbered, knocked out in two blows.

Minion, leaving the rec room: '[ Belching ] Anyone want anything from the kitchen?' The Phantom, thinking: 'He's not coming back, but it's the thought that counts.' [ A Bad Man Alone With The Phantom, in the kitchen. ] Minion, chopping up fruits for a smoothie: o/`I .. don't ... like your ... lit-tle games .. o/` (He runs the blender, and pours the smoothie.) The Phantom: 'That looks good.' (The Minion gasps, and The Phantom clobbers him. The Phantom sneaks up on the rec room, drinking the smoothie.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 10th of June, 2018. The Phantom’s really got to like the chance to drink with bendy straws if it’s going to make him go to the effort of cleaning his fingerprints off that glass. I empathize.

The Phantom strolls into The Boss’s house and takes out the guards easily. Comically so. Well, it’s late at night, nothing much has been happening, they figure The Rat is already dead. You never expect The Phantom to go knocking heads together. In a free moment The Phantom calls the Jungle Patrol. In his guise as the Unknown Commander he orders the extraction of The Boss’s minions. Also The Boss and The Rat. And that The Rat should get time off for helping bring The Boss to justice.

Then it’s just a matter of actually grabbing The Boss. That’s easy enough, since he’s sitting in a hot tub, not paying attention to some women there with him. The women flee. He comes along with The Phantom, protesting how this is totally illegal. Then The Rat clobbers The Phantom with a The Shovel. This gets The Rat and The Boss back on good terms. At least for long enough to talk themselves out of shooting The Phantom in the head.

The Boss: 'Hey! Let me get SHOES on my feet!' Phantom: 'No need ... they have prison shoes where you're going.' [ Criminal likes the law for once. ] Boss: 'It's not right! I --- I can't be extradited to Bangalla! Rhodian law says I can't!' Phantom: 'Are you a citizen of Rhodia?' Boss: 'Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. The point is --- you don't know I'm not!' Phantom: 'No difference to me either way ... file a complaint with your friend, The Rat!' (As they approach the garage.) Phantom: 'He's right over ... ' (He's not there.) '... Here?' (The Rat clobbers The Phantom with a shovel.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of July, 2018. I will say this for The Boss: best I can tell, he avoided building a McMansion for his criminal lair. The place looks big, yes, but all the elements seem reasonably scaled, and all the rooms we see have clear purposes and are scaled about right for those purposes. So, you know, The Boss has a not-awful side.

The Rat at least has a stroke of conscience about it. All their conversation while journeying has left him kind of liking The Ghost Who Small Talks. The Boss, well, he just wants to “turn this guy into soup” before shooting him. This he starts by trying to run The Phantom down with his car. This raises natural questions about the quality of his corn chowder. Phantom wakes up in time to start dodging. But he only has his sidearm against a rampaging car; he’s faced with maybe shooting The Boss. Bad form to use deadly force if there’s an alternative, but what alternative does he have?

And that’s where we stand as of mid-August, 2018.

Next Week!

Why do I think there’s maybe a 40 percent chance that Terry Beatty is snarking back at me? Read my planned recap of the last several months of Rex Morgan, M.D. to find out! Or look at my Twitter feed a couple days ago. Well, whatever you feel moved to do, you can see what mathematically-themed comic strips I’ve talked about recently on my other blog. You might enjoy that too. I know I do.

Statistics Saturday: Eight Embarrassing Things Of My Past


  • Oh, all right, it was “Chi-Chi-mangas” shut up I wasn’t even ten years old.
  • Mmm. No.
  • Nah.
  • You don’t need to know this one either.
  • “Bisement” but understand I had this weird kind of half-burp while I was trying to talk about the basement and that’s just how it turned out.
  • Yeah no I’m not telling you that either.
  • Confidently telling a friend that — hold up, you know what? You don’t need to hear this one either.
  • No.

Reference: Harpo Speaks!, Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber.

Me, In Two Memories, One Of Which Does Not Exist


Me: vividly remembers precisely the way the then-younger he mispronounced “chimichangas” for like three weeks after first being introduced to them at Chi-Chi’s, which obviously must have invented this wonder food of tomorrow of 1982 and no you may not ask what it was and expect an answer.

Also me: could not convince myself, either by memory or appeal to reason, that I had washed my hair in the shower, a mere thirty minutes after taking it this morning and so there was nothing to do but repeat the whole process. Spoiler: it turns out I had washed my hair, as I had for every shower since 1982.

Everything There Is To Say About Landing On An Asteroid


So you want to land on an asteroid. That is you, isn’t it? It looked like you from a distance. If it’s not you, keep these notes until you encounter someone who looks like you from afar. For now I’ll suppose it is you, and congratulate you. That’s the sort of public-spirited ambition that we don’t see enough in these troubled times. It’s the sort of ambition that is sure to get you somewhere. That somewhere is landed on an asteroid. If I have anything to do with it, anyway.

The first and most essential thing is to check that you have an asteroid to land on. If you don’t have anything to land on you’ll get stuck at the last step. Your foot will go swinging around freely and you’ll worry you look like a fool. You might, but who’s going to know? But let’s suppose you have something to land on. Make sure that it’s not a meteorite. That would land you, not on an asteroid, but on a dull argument with pedantic sorts who want you to know it’s very important to tell the difference between a meteor, a meteoroid, a meteorite, a meteoroceros, and a meteorostomy.

Even if you surrender and admit that it’s important to use exactly the right word all the time they might not stop. The truly dull know-it-all will continue to harass you for ever have been fool enough to get the terms wrong. As a recovering know-it-all I can give you this diversionary maneuver. Ask whether it’s better to say “three dollars and forty cents is your change” or “three dollars and forty cents are your change”. Whatever answer they give, point out the change was actually four dollars and fifteen cents and they’re out the difference. If anyone other than me mentions “minor planets” poke them with your largest regulation stick.

(Note that “other than me” slickly put in there. I know how some of these sentences are going to end!)

Suppose you’re already comfortably near the asteroid. Start with a clean desk and spread a tablecloth neatly across the surface, smoothing out any folds as you do. With this tidy workplace inspect the asteroid. You want to see any distinguishing marks or hazards, such as rocky terrain, a thin crust of ice over a great gaping nothing, or 30-minute parking spaces. Stuff starts happening when you’re satisfied you have a clear landing spot and that no competing spacecraft are trying to get to the same place.

Turn the spacecraft around and extend the landing legs. (Don’t tell me you forgot the landing legs! Fib if you must!) Back in slowly. Don’t worry about the warning beeps, which can’t be heard in space. It’s hard to tell how far you are above the surface of an asteroid, so look for clear signs of when to stop. These include the contact light coming on, the landing legs feeling stiff resistance, the landing party yelling that you’re on their foot, the spaceship going right through to the other side of the asteroid (this is really bad as your crew will be joking about you all the way home), or seeing a victory screen and credits listing all the people who worked on this space program. When you get to a stopping point, stop. Going any further will complicate your life and not in the good ways.

Just because you’re landed doesn’t mean you’re done. Most asteroids don’t have very much gravity, what with the cost of importing it all the way from Jupiter. It could be years before any new gravity comes in. Until it does, make sure your spaceship doesn’t hear any hilarious jokes that cause it to reflexively jump and slap its forehead and potentially drift away. Also discourage the crew from doing things like synchronized jumping jacks. Yes, they’ll want to synchronize doing something. Suggest they try out synchronized laying still, or if need be, synchronized worrying about how it has all come to this. They might be doing that already and just need the reassurance that to carry on doing this is as all right as anything can be in these troubled times and on an asteroid.

Anyway, once you’re there go ahead and take care of whatever you needed on that asteroid. I don’t know your business. You’re doing pretty well if you do.

Yes, I’m Still Trying To Work Out ‘Graffiti’ And It’s Not Going Well


All right, so, wait. I got myself all ready to believe that Gene Mora’s Graffiti has got to be in reruns because at the top it reads “Copyright 2018 UFS Dist. by Andrews McMeel for UFS”. And UFS here is the United Feature Syndicate, which hasn’t been around since 2011. It had sold its licensing over to Iconix Brand Group, whose Wikipedia page claims they could get licensed products into Sears, KMart, and JC Penny’s. So I’m sure these are people who can handle the future of licensed Fort Knox merchandise. And then it sold the rest of itself to Universal Uclick, as part of that stage of pre-revolutionary capitalism where every thing is divided up between the bigger company and the smaller company. So it’s got to be reruns, with the copyright date just changed because somehow they can do that when they reprint comic strips for some reason. And fine. But then I got looking at one of John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not strips from last week.

1. While digging the Metro Red subway line in Los Angeles, crews uncovered fossils containing 39 species of newly discovered extinct fish. 2. The municipal police in Madrid, Spain, have successfully trained a service dog to demonstrate CPR. 3. A negative Kelvin temperature is actually hotter than a positive one.
John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for the 2nd of August, 2018. The thing about negative Kelvin temperatures touches on my mathematics specialty. I wrote on my other blog about what negative absolute temperatures are, and why they’re real legitimate things, and why they are actually quite hot. I like to think it’s accessible to a normal person. HemingwayApp rated the prose at about a sixth-grade reading level. Give it a try, please. I love the topic. Also it still weirds me out to write “Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

OK, and that’s also got a Distributed by Andrews McMeel for UFS sticker on it. And that strip talks way too much about quirky oddball news items, printed one lead-time after everybody heard about them, for them all to have been made before 2011. Unless John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is eight years into the most astounding string of forecasts of future mildly quirky events ever known to humanity and they’re saving that to reveal on the comic strip’s centennial this December.

That or both Gene Mora and John Graziano got like ten thousand “Distributed by UFS” stickers printed up and they’re not going to waste them until they’ve used every one of them up. Or someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided to keep the name UFS around, as a sentimental thing for fans of comic strip syndication companies. Which, all right. So that’s something for me and maybe like nobody else in the world ever.

So in short I don’t know what’s going on with this weird minor comic strip. And if I ever find out, it’ll probably be a little bit disappointing.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves


Today my subject is the second of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons. Its original release was the 26th of November, 1937. This is one day short of a year after the previous two-reeler, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. The credited animators are Willard Bowski, Geroge Germanetti, and Orestes Calpini, all of whom worked on Sindbad.

So, ah, this short. You see what the title is. I’m not quite sure that I need to warn people about its content. It’s got a lot of characters meant to be Arabian. And it was drawn in the 1930s. I don’t think there’s ethnic stereotypes direct enough to be offensive. But there’s stuff close enough to leave me uncomfortable. Most of it comes to Popeye being a surprisingly bad traveller, grumbling that he can’t read the menu or stuff like that.

This short opens gorgeously. One of the Fleischer’s greatest technical tricks was the setback camera. It let them use real, three-dimensional models as backdrop to animation. They used it to good effect. They had a knack for making models that looked like animated backgrounds. It — and a multiplane camera — get used for the opening credits. It’s almost a dare to the Disney studios, challenging them as masters of animation. Disney would respond by releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves the next month. So, yeah, Disney won the year. But it was a close one.

Still. As much as the setback camera got shown off in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, here it gets used. I lost track of how many backgrounds are three-dimensional settings. But it seems less showy to me. The setback seems to be used only to make the camera moves more interesting. It strikes me as being like the difference between a technology demonstration and a mature use of the technology.

As with Sindbad the short opens with the heavy, looking like Bluto playing a part, singing about himself. It’s not as long or as catchy a song as Sindbad’s bragging song. It’s not bad. But Sindbad had a nice call-and-response bit, and call-and-response songs are always more fun. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy get on screen much sooner than in Sindbad. They’re even given something of a reason to encounter Abu Hassan, with Popeye and Wimpy the Coast Guard (huh?) troops responding to the worldwide (huh?) distress call. Popeye’s boat turning into an airplane is as loopy a thing as the logic for his involvement. And I love the way this gets treated. It’s casual and confident, sure that the audience will buy all this. (Does the ship-plane crashing count as another shipwreck for Popeye?)

I’m impressed by how well this cartoon is put together. It’s got a clear plot. But it’s still got plenty of time for amusing sidelights. And many great little asides by Jack Mercer as Popeye.

Yet it still seems lesser than Sindbad. I’m not sure what it’s missing. It might be in the efficient, quick way that this cartoon gets to work. Sindbad opens with a lot of atmosphere. It luxuriates in the vastness of Sindbad’s island. It builds slowly. It gives this impression of hugeness.

Forty Thieves has a great, vast desert. A good-looking city. The cave of the Forty Thieves, too. But I don’t feel the same epic scale to this. Maybe the editing is too sharp and the story progression too efficient. The short has a few moments that feel it. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy in the incredible distance walking across the desert by night and day, particularly. But that doesn’t last long. The short has plenty of stuff happening. But it feels more like a regular (if good) Popeye cartoon running longer, instead of something different in kind.

Once again it’s surprisingly long for Popeye to meet the heavy. Popeye doesn’t face Abu Hassan until about 8:40 in. That’s 40 seconds sooner than Popeye met Sindbad, in a carton that’s a full minute longer. It’s still longer than the average Popeye cartoon just for them to be on-screen together. Their first fight is funnier than Popeye’s meeting with Sindbad. There’s something delightful and childlike about Abu Hassan stealing Popeye’s belt. Popeye swiping his long underwear right back is a perfect topper.

As I watch it, and re-watch it, I’m left wondering why I don’t like it as much as Sindbad. The animation’s at least as good. The plotting may be stronger. The dialogue is much better. A lot of the best bits are Jack Mercer muttering whatever popped into his head. But so much of what he thought of was great. Seriously, Popeye slamming uselessly against the solid wall of the Forty Thieves’ cave and declaring “it’s giving way”? Perfect. He’s got many other great lines too; listen to any random fifteen-second bit and there’ll be something you like. The biggest story weakness is how little Wimpy adds to the proceedings. His pursuit of a duck in Sindbad had a clear story to it. Here, he’s just here. But even he gets a great blink-and-you-miss-it joke in snagging some chicken while chained to a post.

There’s less direct interaction between the animated characters and the real, setback backgrounds. Nothing like Sindbad picking up a handful of gems and letting them drop. The most dramatic is Popeye and all coming up to a traffic signal in the desert, and that’s nothing but them watching a thing change. But there’s also much more real background. The final battle between Popeye and Abu Hassan feels slight. Possibly it’s diffused too much by Popeye having to get past the Forty Thieves first. I am aware that last time around I thought there could be a battle between Popeye and all the animal residents of Sindbad’s island. And this time I get a battle between Popeye and all the Forty Thieves and I’m still not satisfied. Somehow, despite it being a nice big battle. Maybe Popeye needed to use the twisker punch again.

Something you notice in the Thimble Theatre comic strip is that Popeye spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. Possibly Segar thought that irresistibly funny a setup. And now here we are in the second of the two-reelers, and he’s wandering the desert. And I can’t help remembering that the 1980s version of Popeye — the G.I.Joe cartoon’s Shipwreck — was also first encountered in the desert. There’s something deep going on here.

Looking Back: I Do Not Have A Cold


I haven’t got a cold. This stands out. It feels to me like I always have a cold. Mostly that’s because I do have a nagging cough that’s persisted from about 1994. The doctor’s ruled out asthma, and maybe sometime I should go back to find out what might be ruled in for it. Mostly it doesn’t impair my life any. I mean I haven’t yet coughed intensely enough in the shower to actually black out.

Anyway, this has been reflected in a bunch of essays posted here so I thought I’d share a couple years’ thoughts on the colds that come back to me.

From 2013: Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds. (Which is not a bad premise and maybe I should re-write the thing.)

From 2015: Cold Comforts (where I see I go on about zinc again.)

From 2017: Hack Work for May 2017 (no zinc mention this time; huh.)

From 2018: Explaining The Common Cold (and I don’t remember whether I had a cold back in April, but I wrote about it, so I probably did?)

Stay healthy, everyone. Somewhere in here I’ll find my 2014 and 2016 bits about colds.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Special Zippy the Pinhead Edition, May – August 2018


I thank you all for your interest in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. My most recent posts about the strip should be at this link. If it’s past November 2018 by the time you read this, I may have a less out-of-date essay for you. And I’ve got comic strips discussed by their mathematical content over here. Please enjoy that, or this, as you like.

Also please enjoy this bit from a sequence of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. It’s from an August 2002 sequence where a strangely realistically-drawn woman turns up in the underground-styled comic strip. I discovered this from reading a strip compilation I borrowed from the library and felt as though Griffith were drawing a storyline just for me. (The woman turned out to be from — well, I won’t spoil the story unnecessarily.) And it’ll make a nice graphic for those times, like today, when the auto care place hasn’t updated its inspirational-despair sign.

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. I’m seriously considering using the last panel of this as my icon for What’s Going On In Mary Worth essays. There’s a similar, though less great, panel for Judge Parker and a fair one for Mark Trail. The one for Apartment 3-G would be great but that strip exists only in Vintage form anymore.

Mary Worth.

14 May – 5 August 2018.

Mary Worth had just talked a despairing Wilbur Weston off the cliff face last time I checked in. He’d been going through a rough time. His column got dropped from the local newspaper. His former girlfriend had a shiny new boyfriend. His shower radio broke. His daughter’s off in Europe arranging a major professor-student relationship scandal. But she promised him things weren’t as dire as all that. And he figured he could go along with a gag.

It worked out well, too. The local newspaper reinstated his paper, citing reader demand. I swear I didn’t write in. I’m cutting back on my ironic reading of stuff. His daughter writes in to say how he’s happy and nobody from the college Human Resources department has asked any questions. And Mary treats Wilbur to a dinner with friends during karaoke night. And they push him to actually performing for once. It’s one of those moves that either turns out great or disastrous. Here it turns out great. He sings the theme from The Golden Girls. It’s one of those moves so corny that it falls over the edge to be sweet again.

[ At Karaoke ] Wilbur: 'SING in front of all of you? No, I can't!' Mary Worth: 'You can! We're here to cheer you on!' Iris: 'Let it out! We know you want to!' Professor Papagoras: 'What have you got to lose?'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 31st of May, 2018. “Will you be less anxious singing in public if we tell you we’ve all heard you singing in your shower for years now? No? Huh. Well, uh, what if we tell you we were fibbing about hearing you sing Frank Crumit’s `The Parlor Is A Pleasant Place To Sit On Sunday Night’ every morning, then? No?”

And that’s followed by a week’s victory lap. Mostly Jeff telling Mary Worth how great it is that she can fix people up and not marry him. The new, and current, story started the 10th of June.

It’s about Iris’s son Tommy. He’s flirted successfully with coworker Brandy. They have a late-night dinner together that goes well. He’s figured he’s in love already, and he’s only more sure when they go to see Action-Adventure Movie. They do talk about the movie a little, about what you do when you lose choices and about trusting in strained circumstances. It all feels like foreshadowing. Also slightly foggy movie discussion, but I accept this as a convention of the medium. (Any actual movie, even if it were on point, would be out of the theaters before Moy and Bridgman could depict it in the strip. And there’s not the space to describe a made-up movie’s plot in detail.)

[ When Brnady reveals why she doesn't drink ] Brandy: 'I saw firsthand what the misuse of alcohol and drugs can do to a person you love.' Tommy: 'I'm sorry about what you went through growing up.' Brandy: 'Sigh. It affected my trust in people. My father became a different person when he drank and used drugs! He beat my mother ... and he cursed at me! When he suddenly left us ... we struggled to make ends meet! That's why I don't drink or do drugs! Just the thought of it makes me sick!' [ Tommy feels ashamed of his past. ] Tommy, with that deer-in-headlights stare, thinks: 'GULP!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 15th of July, 2018. So for people who weren’t reading along, Brandy was named for that song about what a fine girl she was and a good wife she should be. Tommy correctly recognized this reference and sang a bit of the song to her. Tommy also recognized the wordplay implicit in a woman named Brandy who resents drink. She likes him anyway, so we know this is true affectionate coexistence.

Going to the bar afterwards reveals the drama. Brandy doesn’t drink alcohol. Her father was an alcoholic and drug abuser. She doesn’t want that kind of trouble in her life. Tommy doesn’t drink either. He quit after getting addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s been clean for over a year now, and has a support group that he feels comfortable with. Brandy’s talk about how this damaged her ability to trust people, and how she can cope with it only by banishing drink and drugs from her life, shatters Tommy’s hopes.

He’s spent the time since then in a self-inquisitive spiral. He’s clean now, yes. But he did get hooked. And he worries about relapsing. He started using alcohol and painkillers after he was badly injured at work, yes. So, you know, he’s not one of those people who have drug problems because they’re bad. He just needed relief from never-ending severe pain. Still, he can foresee Brandy learning about his past and blocking him out. (And for all my snark, I agree both Brandy and Tommy have reasonable fears that they act on appropriately.)

[ As Mary returns from shopping ] (Her grocery bag breaks open, with cans of tomatoes falling out.) Mary Worth: 'OH NO!' [ She's offered a helping hand! ] Tommy, picking up cans: 'I GOT IT!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 24th of July, 2018. I admit this is not a load-bearing strip for the current storyline. But I am tickled by the first panel making a grocery bag tearing into an action scene. And also that Brigman does so well with it.

But Tommy remembers what comic strip he’s in. He lays out the situation for Mary Worth. She offers the reasonable advice that she would have to learn of his past. But also that Tommy is not Brandy’s father. But this is serious stuff, so she kicks the problem up a level, to God. Tommy goes to confession, revealing that I guess he’s Roman Catholic too. And he gets some decent talk about growing through your sins.

So that’s the standings as of early August, 2018.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

  • “The greatest test of courage on the Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” — R G Ingersoll, 13 May 2018.
  • “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bernard Williams, 20 May 2018.
  • “Find a place where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” — Joseph Campbell, 27 May 2018.
  • “My friends are my estate.” — Emily Dickinson, 3 June 2018.
  • “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” — Marilyn vos Savant, 10 June 2018.
  • “Don’t fall in love; rise with it.” — Amit Abraham, 17 June 2018.
  • “Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” — Dag Hammarskjöld, 24 June 2018.
  • “The simple act of caring is heroic.” — Edward Albert, 1 July 2018.
  • “Gamble everything for love if you are a true human being.” — Rumi, 8 July 2018.
  • “We all have our secrets. We all have our vulnerabilities.” — Brett Dalton, 15 July 2018.
  • “Fear is the mother of morality.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, 22 July 2018.
  • “When in doubt, tell the truth.” — Mark Twain, 29 July 2018.
  • “Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.” — Bruce Wilkinson, 5 August 2018.

Next Week!

The Rat Must Die! So did The Rat die yet? I check back in on the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. See you then!

Statistics Saturday: Eight August Holidays


  • 6th. Orthodox Christmas in July.
  • 9th. Subtweet a future Disgraced Former President Day.
  • 11th. Manasquan, New Jersey, Big Sea Day, or as it is known in giant communities, “Little Sea Day”.
  • 14th. 545th birthday of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Surprise party; don’t tell her. No shouting or fireworks at the reveal please.
  • 18th. Alumni Magazine Reunion Day.
  • 21st. Belated Remembering Of My Brother’s Birthday And Calling The One Whose Birthday Was In July By Accident Day.
  • 27th. Orboween. (Observed)
  • 28th. Orboween. (Actual)

Reference: The Making Of Kubrick’s 2001, Jerome Agel.

Statistics July: What Was Popular and How So Here, Recently


If there’s anything that I know for the first week of a month, it’s that I look at the previous month. Usually with relief. But also so I can stare into what my readership looked like, and whether I had any. Maybe also to figure out what people like and what they don’t, in case I can capitalize on that. I already know the best reader response I got for last month, as my love burst out laughing while reading one of my pieces. So I should write more like that. It’s the hardest kind of thing to write, but then, if being a humor blogger were going to be easy I’d have already finished doing it.

Enough padding. Let me look at what my readership figures were like and see how much this month looked like every month.

July 2018, total views: 2,984. Visitors: 1,569. Views per visitor: 1.90. Posts published: 31.
July 2018’s page view and unique impressions count. My big old bustling downtown is looking less prominent, but just because there’s a lot of towers about the same height now.

Aw. My readership dropped below 3,000 page views for the first time this year. There were 2,984 page views, from 1,569 unique visitors. That’s well down from June’s 3,454 page views from 1,791 visitors, or May’s 3,227 views and 1,871 visitors. I’m not sure that I’m reading this right. It looks to me like earlier months I’d get a lot of page views from a mention in some high-volume forum or other. Doesn’t look like there was one in July. I just needed to log out and hit refresh on one of my pages sixteen more times is all. Still, this suggests I do get about three thousand page views even without any particular spikes or strokes of luck. There was a spike when the article about Gasoline Alley’s plot went up, and that’s likely a one-off. But it wasn’t that big a one.

I got 165 likes in July. That’s not quite up to June’s 172 or May’s 175, but it’s not so very different either. There were 36 comments, another crash after, like, June’s 56 or May’s 54. Nothing like back in January (148!). But still a fair number, better than most months in 2017. It makes me wonder what would happen if I knew how to self-promote.

So here’s the top postings from the past month. The top five are all comics posts.

That Phantom update is the most popular thing I published from July. My most popular long-form piece from July was How To Have A Small Business, published mid-month.

So now let me look at a bit list of countries with numbers set beside them. There were 66 countries sending me readers, compared to 71 in June and 78 in May. From this we can conclude the world is shrinking and some countries might have disappeared altogether. If anyone’s seen Paraguay recently please submit a note to that effect.

Country Readers
United States 2305
India 143
United Kingdom 89
Canada 74
Australia 48
Philippines 43
Malaysia 23
Italy 22
Finland 19
Germany 18
South Africa 16
Brazil 14
Romania 14
Spain 11
Norway 9
Mexico 8
Indonesia 7
Sweden 7
Colombia 6
Israel 6
Singapore 6
Denmark 5
France 5
Japan 5
Netherlands 5
New Zealand 4
Peru 4
Portugal 4
El Salvador 3
Georgia 3
Ireland 3
South Korea 3
Ukraine 3
Argentina 2
Austria 2
Belgium 2
Brunei 2
Chile 2
Egypt 2
Greece 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Lebanon 2
Namibia 2
Serbia 2
Switzerland 2
Taiwan 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Turkey 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Croatia 1
Czech Republic 1
Isle of Man 1
Jersey 1
Kuwait 1 (*)
Macedonia 1
Mauritius 1
Nepal 1
Pakistan 1
Paraguay 1
Qatar 1
Russia 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Slovakia 1
Thailand 1 (***)
Venezuela 1
Zambia 1

That’s 17 single-reader countries, down from June’s 22 and May’s 25. I told you countries were going missing. Thanks for spotting Paraguay for me there, though. Kuwait’s on its second month of being a single-reader country. Thailand’s on its fourth. And this seems like more Channel Islands sending me readers than I expect. But maybe I haven’t been paying attention. That list of fake Canadian provinces or territories didn’t do a thing for my Canadian readership. My French readership was down too after that list of imaginary eras in their history. This is wrong of both Canada and France. Just saying.

August I started with 94,025 pages viewed from a reported 51,658 unique visitors. I’d had 212 posts to date, and a total of 488 comments. This works out to an average 2.3 comments per post, just like they were at the start of July. There were 1,318 total likes, for an average of 6.2 likes per posting. That’s down form 6.4 likes per post at the start of July. I published a total of 20,229 words (as they count words) over July, for a total of 138,259 words so far this year. That’s an average for the year of 652.2 words per post, rather close to the start of July’s 652.1. And it’s an average of 652.6 words per post in July, for whatever good that is. By the way when I started this I always figured 700 words was about what I could hope to do once a week for the long-form piece. So I have a lead about why I sometimes feel like I have run out of words to put to my own purposes.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, I won’t stop you. Here’s the RSS feed so that you can read it in the manner you find most convenient. You can also add it to your WordPress Reader by clicking the button on the upper right corner of the page which promises to add it to your WordPress Reader. I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, ad if you spot me on Pinterest it’s because I looked for an image of something and now can’t get it, even though it’s right there. Thank you.

Two people were searching for “mary worth snarks” here. While yes, I do snark on the story strips, I like to think I do that from a place of affection, and after taking the story with sincere interest. Someone (else?) was searching for “nebus hot” and thanks, my love, for that. Oh, wait, the Isle of Man is nowhere near any Channel Islands. I mean unless you’re comparing it to, like, how close Isla de los Estados, Argentina, is.

Everything There Is To Say About The History Of Tying Shoes


There’s a good chance you don’t think much about the history of tying shoes. I don’t blame you. There are so many other things to think about. There’s that odd smell of burning plastic every time you walk past the bathroom between 9 and 10 pm and no other time of day. There’s what to do about the seam line on Saturn’s totally natural “moon” Iapetus. There’s why all those people are setting up a circus tent in your backyard without even asking. But still, tying shoes is something you could be thinking about, and aren’t.

For over 60 percent of human history there wasn’t any tying of shoes. There were many reasons for this. One was that there weren’t shoes. People in these ancient times might talk about tying shoes. But they were laughed down as impractical dreamers. Such is the fate of everyone who sees an obvious problem and fixes it a little too early. Shoes were invented in 1817, after everyone took a good hard look at how lousy the previous year had been on feet. The French Academy offered prizes to anyone who could invent a practical way to cover the foot. And teams across Europe and Asia did, by the simple process of covering it. The invention was a great success and by 1820 everyone agreed they should have been doing this for hundreds of years.

Still, these early shoes were not easy to put on or take off. To get a secure fit, one had to start with a couple pieces of shoe material. Or, as they called it in the trade, “shoeterial”. Then set your foot in the middle of that, take needle and thread, and stitch the shoeterial closed around your foot. Finishing this could take until near enough bedtime. And then there was nothing to do but un-sew it all. This was quicker, as you could use one of those sewing tools you never quite get the name of, but that you remember grandmom being comfortable with. It could undo the stitching in like no time.

So as happy as everyone was with shoes, they also figured, there’s some better way. Union armies experimented during the United States’s Civil War with welding shoes onto soldiers. This resulted in a great many burned ankles, and even more slugged welders. Rivets were tried in Scotland. But this got nowhere fast. The striking action of putting the rivets would cause the iron slugs to become magnetized. So people would walk naturally toward magnetic north, and stop at the shoreline, which isn’t all that far away in Scotland. They would have got farther if the rivets had started in southern England, but not all that much farther. Now, if they had started in Guatemala, that could have got really far. But they didn’t, and that’s just the history we have to live with.

The breakthrough came in 1878, in the Ottoman Empire. One shoemaker for the Sultan said, “What if we punched parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then threaded a strong enough string to tie them temporarily together?” Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When the hole-punching turned out to be a great success he nodded as if that was what he intended all along. But he still ordered an investigation into what was going on with shoes, just in case.

The first attempts at tying used separate laces and loops with each pair of holes. This took forever but you know the late Victorian era and how everything had to be way too decorative for its own good. We’re lucky the shoelaces didn’t come with doilies attached. For all I know they did. To save time people tried lacing only the one pair of holes they liked best, but then their toes would pop out the empty space between the laces. And you did not want to be a late Victorian with exposed toes. Not given the street-cleaning standards of the day, which held that if the street were clean it was jolly well time to tip over some coal sludge and even more unmentionable things.

So the compensation was to try putting the lace through enough holes that toes wouldn’t pop out, but not so many holes that it was too bothersome. and so by 1889, on a Tuesday, we finally had shoes and shoelaces tied in ways that we would recognize even today, on a Friday.

Anyway that’s how I hear. I wear loafers myself.

No, I’m still not learning about the history of socks.

What’s The Deal With The Comic Strip Graffiti?


I don’t mean to pick on utterly harmless obscure comic strips. A lot of them are. And I have some knack for discovering comic strips so obscure that I’m not even sure the cartoonist’s family knows it’s being made. So please understand, I’m not saying that I want Gene Mora to quit writing and drawing Graffiti. But, I mean, look at yesterday’s.

Written on a wooden plank wall; 'Don Rickles was the first Dale Carnegie dropout'.
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 31st of July, 2018. There’s, like, no information about the comic strip anywhere. Like even Wikipedia just lists that it’s a comic strip with a name beginning ‘G’, and it doesn’t even get into the question of whether this actually is a comic strip. The comic strip’s About page doesn’t say anything about when Gene Mora was born or how he got into cartooning or how Graffiti totally runs in like three hundred newspapers worldwide. (Comic strips always say they run in about three hundred newspapers worldwide.) The strip just exists without any causal agent.

This … has to be a rerun, right? I mean, yes, comic strips usually have a weird lag in their pop-culture awareness. And that lag only gets worse as a comic strip ages. And Graffiti has been running since Apollo 9 was on the launchpad. I guess? I don’t know. Sometime 1969 anyway. It might have been running only since Apollo 12 was on the launchpad. So given that it would be remarkable if the comic strip could reference anything more current than Disney’s Dinosaur.

And please understand, it’s not like I dislike the thing. I even have a weird nostalgic feeling about it. I remember as a kid reading it in the News Tribune. It was one of those weird comic strips they didn’t allow on the comics page. It just floated around somewhere in that section, waiting for people to happen across a drawing of a wall with text on it.

I mean, the copyright is 2018, but that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Why would it be copyright Andrews McMeel when they haven’t called themselves that since 2011? Right? Unless Gene Mora just had a whole lot of page blanks with the old name put up and is still using them? Which is ridiculous, but if you’re anything like me you know how long a comic strip still in production will show last year’s copyright sticker even after the new year’s begun. And, like, comic strips that would seem to take a lot more work, like Funky Winkerbean or Andy Capp, famously got a year or more ahead of publication. Could Graffiti? I just don’t know.

Don’t read the comments, but yeah, commenter, I’m sure a lot of people get their lives ruined when they’re sued for being politically incorrect. Happens all the time.