What’s That?


A thing to understand about my area of mid-Michigan is that there are sandwich shop chains. Particularly there are two sandwich shop chains with a New Jersey theme. There are good reasons for this. If you know them please submit them in writing care of an office. These events happened while I was eating lunch in one of them.

There was a kid sitting at the table next to mine. Well, sitting in the way that a young kid does, which is, hovering around the table and hopping onto and off of the chairs and putting her chin on the back of a chair and then calling out to an adult who existed somewhere about the prospect of having a cookie. She didn’t talk about the “prospect” of a cookie. That’s me putting words into her mouth, as she only had the promise of a future cookie. I’m not sure how old she was. Once they’re old enough to stand up reliably all kids look to me like they’re either four, ten, or sixteen. This kid was at the four-year-old level.

I wasn’t worried about the kid. Whatever she was up to, it wasn’t my fault, and the worst that you can really do at that age in a sandwich shop is spill your soda. She didn’t have a soda, so she must have got around to spilling it before I even got in. And then suddenly she asked me, “What’s that?”

I would have been happy to know what what she wanted the that to. I’m sorry, I feel seasick and have to lie down a bit. Okay, I’m back. I guessed she was pointing to the picture on the wall and tried to explain it was a woman sunbathing. This seemed to satisfy the kid so I thought, great! I’ve had my unplanned interaction with a stranger for the week. Now I don’t have to talk to anybody anymore. On later examination it turns out to be a picture of a woman on a sailboat.

“What’s that?” asked the kid again, pointing at about the same spot. I tried to follow her finger and guessed maybe she meant what the woman who was not sunbathing was part of. It’s a replica of one of those “Welcome To ____” postcards. This seemed like a vast conceptual universe to get across to a kid. I did my best: “It’s a picture of Point Pleasant. That’s a town on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a neat place. They used to have a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster and a beautiful merry-go-round there.” I was bluffing. But, like, it’s a Jersey Shore town. If they didn’t have a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a merry-go-round they weren’t even trying. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk! No, that’s in Point Pleasant Beach, a technically different borough in the same part of the Barnegat Peninsula. The kid was very interested in all this right up until I started answering. Still, she seemed satisfied so the world was all in order.

“What’s that?” the kid then asked again and I was running out of things to that about. My book? “It’s a book about Popeye,” I said and hoped that the kid would not be at all interested. I mean, I’d love for someone not-old to be interested in Popeye. But the book had a collection of strips from the 30s and 40s. And in those days comic strips had about eighteen panels each weekday, none of them with fewer than 600 words per panel. If the kid had any idea I was looking at comics she might want to read along and I won’t live long enough for that. But I could at least give an answer and hope that satisfied.

“What’s that?” she asked again. And I gave up. And now I must face knowing that, for all I think of myself as a self-confident and self-assured person, any four-year-old kid can break me with one question repeated four times. Maybe five if I wasn’t quite listening to start with. “What’s what?” I asked back and the kid wasn’t intersted in whatever I had to say.

She perhaps felt she had triumphed. She did not ask me “What’s that?” again. Instead she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. When she reached the end, I told her, “That’s a very nice song. Did you make it up?” She didn’t dignify me with an answer. Fair enough although I’m like 85% sure my niece would have let me get away with asking that when she was four years old. I was honestly intending to give her the chance to call me silly for thinking she had made that up, or let her get away with saying she had. She’s the one who out-thought me entirely.

So I have to credit the sandwich shop kid for handily winning whatever social game she was playing with me. I’m completely defeated and I might never be allowed to buy a sandwich from anyone ever again.

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In Which I Have Doubts About A Novelty Song, the United Kingdom


I was wondering why it was CB radio got so big in the 70s, rather than some other decade, and so went to Wikipedia where I found nothing useful. But I did get to the article about C W McCall’s 1975 novelty song Convoy. And now, you might not have listened to Convoy recently and remember it only as a catchy yet dumb song. This might make you wonder how the distorting lens of nostalgia has made your recollection of the song drift from the actual thing. So I would like to let you all know that it is, in fact, a catchy yet dumb song. Sometimes nostalgia gets these things dead on right.

But along the way I discovered a 1976 novelty song, by “Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks”, Convoy UK. Here, its appearance on I’m going to guess the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, because the only other British music show I know of is that one about picking your records for being stranded on a desert island and this doesn’t seem like this could be it:

So, some thoughts.

First. “The biggest blooming convoy outside the USA”? Oh now come on. Let’s put aside there was surely some goofball Soviet prestige project to line the whole population of Tajikistan into trucks. There’s Australian truck-trains that have a single vehicle hauling a load that’s longer than the whole British Isles. One behind the other for any cause would be a longer convoy than could possibly fit on the M1. So the premise of the song is wholly implausible.

Second. Gads, Argentina has to be so embarrassed they lost the Falklands War to these people. I’d still be waking up three mornings out of seven fuming about it. I can’t imagine.

The Stan Freberg Show: the twelfth show, with three major sketches


If you’re fascinated by early space race stuff you’ve probably seen Colonel John Stapp. His face anyway. He’s the guy there’s this black-and-white footage of a man being accelerated so fast that his face becomes this rippling, fluid shape. He was a physician and flight surgeon who became famous-in-the-right-circles for his work in understanding what acceleration (and deceleration) does to human bodies. He tested this, including on himself. In December 1954 he took a deceleration of 46.2 times the force of gravity. And lived through it, and thought human bodies could take even more than that. Much of what we understand about how to protect the human body from crashes traces to work he was part of.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No pre-theme sketch this time again. There’s also no introductory comments; they go right into a sketch.
00:55 Rocket Sled. Herman Busby (which I think is a new name here) interviews Leroy Straddle, hoping to bring reactions to Colonel Stapp’s rocket-sled experiment. Stapp’s admirably uninterested. The premise is that Straddle hopes to run alongside Stapp and the sketch commits to being about that. And then Busby’s spotted in Portland, Oregon. This initially made me think they were doing a follow-up to that UFO bit where Orville came from the Moon. I’m not sure what point Herman Busby serves in framing this sketch, except that it lets Straddle describe what he means to do in the face of Stapp’s indifference. But then why not write the sketch so Stapp is at least a bit interested?
05:10 Introductory Comments. Maybe? Freberg lays out the “agenda” for the show.
05:32 Billy May playing “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, a song I mostly know from Allan Sherman’s parody.
07:20 Faucet Repair. Sketch about the “average American husband” fixing a faucet. June Foray gets to play a nag. The faucet repair turns to actually making a wrench, a nice bit of expansion on the premise of following repair directions. There’s a weirdly big laugh at 09:33; maybe one of the performers had a great expression. It turns into Freberg trying to buy an electron microscope. There’s also a bit about the peculiarity of buying something cash. There were a lot of jokes and science fiction stories about credit cards in the 50s and it seems to reflect a cultural attitude about these exotic means of finance. The diversion from home-repair-going-awry to cash-as-a-threat-to-commerce seems weird and I’m not sure they didn’t stitch two half-written sketches together.
15:15 Peggy Taylor sings “I’ll Buy You The Moon” (I’m guessing).
18:26 Robert Tainter is back. Freberg introduces him by mentioning his research behind Paul Revere’s Ride, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and his grandfather at Custer’s Last Stand. There are several more Tainter sketches not mentioned here; I think his might be the most-done sketch in the show’s run. Tainter feigns not knowing Freberg. Tainter’s gone from exposes to something “even lower”, going into labor racketeering and demanding payment from Freberg for whatever he’s doing. I think this is riffing on Estes Kefauver’s televised investigations into organized crime. This was six years in the past by the time this episode aired, but they did make an impression.
23:09 Sh-boom. Adaptation — after several weeks of putting it off — of the comedy record. It’s also a commercial for Freberg’s album compiling a dozen comedy bits. The premise here is that a successful song has to be much less comprehensible. It does all get pretty raucous and fun to my ear. June Foray’s character is named Stella, I’m going ahead and guessing to make a Streetcar Named Desire joke.
27:50 Closing Remarks.
28:14 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. Let me know if you see one that isn’t.

Remembering The Good Things


The good thing about humanity is realizing just how much we all aren’t doomed.

The fence at an amusement park has a sign WARNING: Do not Sit or Lean on Fence. Facing away from it is a person sitting on the fence, and resting a big backpack.
Photograph taken by me at Kennywood amusement park last year, that I’m owning up to now because the statute of limitations has passed and the original owner can’t complain to the authorities. Yes, the ride being exited from there is called the Kangaroo, but that’s a bit of a misnomer as you don’t go riding in the pouch of anything for it. You are thinking of Zamperla’s Kang’A’Bounce ride instead.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Tiki Jansen Academically Eligible or What? August – November 2018.


Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.

If you’re reading this essay after about February 2019 it’s probably been superseded. A more recent plot summary should be at my Gil Thorp plot summary page here.

Gil Thorp.

27 August – 24 November 2018.

Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.

Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.


The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.

Teen: 'Bolek's into movies. Last year, he and his buddies borrowed a barricade.' Other teen: 'Borrowed?' Teen: 'A technicality. Anyway, they bought these little bitty paint brushes, blocked off a side street downtown, and Joe filmed them repainting a crosswalk.' (It flashes back to show this. The car in the central frame has license plate 'MST 3K'.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of September, 2018. I admit I don’t quite get the point of this video, but I also know teenagers who want to make films are going to make all sorts of strange, slightly Dadaist projects. So, all right. Yes, I see the license plate there, and so does Ray Kassinger.

This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.

Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.

Thorp's Assistant: 'We might get a punter because you watched a French movie?' Thorp: 'C'est la vie.' [ Next Morning, a classroom. ] Teacher: 'Late again, Mr Jansen?' Jansen: 'Sorry, Mr Stoddard. Car troubles.' (Thinking: 'And a slow sister problem.')
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of October, 2018. So I suppose Jansen thinking about his sister implies she must be a real person who has some real problem. But she hasn’t been seen on-screen and for a while I supposed she was just this convenient excuse to pin problems on. If she really is having trouble doing things, then, Jansen’s lateness is more understandable. And I suppose sometime in the next month or so of the story’s run they’ll try to remember to say what the issue is exactly.

Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.

Jansen: 'We're just renting for now, at the Pinetree Apartments.' Teen: 'The ones off 5th Street? You guys like it over there?' Jansen: 'Oh, yeah. It's nice.' [ Later ] Teen: 'That was helpful --- except the apartments are called Pine *Trace*.' Other Teen: 'And they're not off 5th, and they're kind of dumpy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of October, 2018. I would like to help you with character names but I’m just not sure, I’m sorry. Gil Thorp is pretty good about showing characters wearing varieties of clothing, which, good, but it means there’s fewer visual hooks to be sure of who’s who. That Rod Whigham tends to draw extreme angles and extreme variations in composition, panel to panel, doesn’t help me either. I’m not going to tell him to draw more boring, though, because that’s just stupid.

His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.

Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.

[ In Thorp's office. ] Jansen: 'I know it's a lame excuse for showing up 20 minutes before kickoff, but my car died.' Thorp: 'Mmm. Then why didn't you take the subway, or the bullet train? Oh, that's right. Because this is just *Milford*, where you can bike or jog or ride a unicycle!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 2nd of November, 2018. Fine, yes, Thorp has a point about Milford being a small town. But I’m sympathetic to the supposition that Jansen would get so absorbed in trying to get his car working that he wouldn’t accept that it didn’t make sense and he should just walk there instead. There’s a reason everybody knows the sunken cost fallacy.

Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.

Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.

Thorp: 'Your family rented an apartment no one is living in?' Jansen: 'Right. And officially, that's my address. So I'm totally legit for school --- and football.' [ Later ] Thorp's Assistant: 'School: probably. Football: problematic.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 13th of November, 2018. And yes, this Gil Thorp plot is now focused on the issue of what student-athlete eligibility rules are. So yeah, they’re now writing the strip entirely to appeal to me, a person who likes to play grand strategy games with lots of fine-grain micromanagement, so that my free time is bureaucracy sims.

Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.

Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.

[ Outside New Thayer High, Tiki Jansen's old friends renew acquaintances. A fist cocks ( to punch Jansen ) and --- ] Bolek, calling out: 'Hey, idiots! Over here!' (We see Bolek with a camera set up on a tripod.) 'Wave to the camera, fellas!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of November, 2018. The good part about Bolek’s plan is how there’s no way it can possibly go wrong! Also by the way see what I was saying earlier about the art. I grant it’s a little hard to read that last panel — too uniform a line weight, I think — but to have a fist in the extreme foreground and a tiny Bolek standing behind it is a good bit of staging.

This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.

Next Week!

I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.

If you don’t want to wait for more me-content, why not watch me Reading the Comics for the Mathematics Stuff, on my other blog? Or, now through the end of 2018, see me defining mathematics words, two per week. I’m looking at nominations for the last letters in the alphabet now, and you might make it.

Statistics Saturday: The WiFi Networks Detectable In Your Area


  • home-123
  • Comcast_sucks
  • [ That cryptic alien squiggle thing from that one Doctor Who episode a couple years ago. ]
  • ATT_sucks
  • FBI Surveillance Van #69
  • home-1138
  • . – –     ..     ..-.     ..
  • thegoodplace
  • Aphid Kruschev
  • Bill Wi The Science Fi
  • internet-of-thingamajigs
  • bobby tables privat wifi
  • outernet
  • Verison_suuucksssssS5SS5fiveSss
  • xfinity
  • Hipster-coffee-shop-Wifi
  • Hipster-coffee-shop-Wifi-5G
  • Buy_you_own_Wifi
  • Comcast_really_sucks
  • xfinity-wifi
  • memory-gamma
  • HOME-518
  • Paul Blart, Mall Jeb!
  • xfinity-wifi-sucks
  • Why-Fhy
  • landline
  • [ something incomprehensible that just feels like it’s probably a Rick and Morty reference but you can’t imagine ever being the sort of person who could possibly work up the energy to figure out whether it is ]
  • NSA Surveillance Van 420
  • computers-were-a-mistake-5G
  • THE CLOUD

Reference: Skyscraper: The Search for an American Style, 1891-1941, Roger Shepherd.

Gasoline Alley Is 100 Years Old As Of Saturday


Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)

There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.

Barney Google: 'Snuffy's right, Mutt! We're almost a 100! Shouldn't we get a little limelight?' Snuffy Smith: 'You could throw us a bodacious wing-ding with lots o' fiddlin' an' banjer picking'!' Mutt: 'Uh ... ' Google: 'That's what we thought you'd say!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of November, 2018. I, ah, can’t include the actual centennial strip because I won’t see that until at least five hours after this essay posts, so, sorry? Anyway, this is a continuing part of the Gasoline Alley celebration at the Old Comics Home. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have interrupted the action to demand some attention for themselves and yes, it’s gotten to a pie fight.

The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.

But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.

It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.

And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.

It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.

Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.


And when I do recap the developments in Gasoline Alley I’ll put the reports on a page at this link. Thanks as ever for reading.

In Which I Am Extremely Helpful Making Food For Thanksgiving


I hope to help in preparing things for Thanksgiving. I have reason to think I can. I cook most dinners. I don’t do advanced cooking. I mostly use the cooking trick of “warm up a food thing”. Make sure it’s a food thing (very important.) Warming it up is also important. You can try having, say, an un-warmed baked potato. The results are sad to taste, plus then you have a conversation afterwards about how you reached this point in life.

Still, warming is pretty much the one trick I’m good at. Thanksgiving dinners need two or even four tricks. So its cooking is a challenge. The first challenge is getting over my offense that we find recipes on the Internet. The thing is in the early 80s computer magazines would tell us three things. That we should learn BASIC to program computers. That we could use computers to store recipes. That we needed to know what “modem” was short for. This was all nonsense and I’m annoyed we’re letting computers give us recipes. I don’t care if it’s the only way to find out what a blanched tomato might even be. We don’t need to know that much. “Modem” is short for “modulator/demonstrator”.

So I take a recipe and step into action. I check first that it is a recipe for a thing we want to have at or around Thanksgiving. This isn’t my first rodeo. I confirm the ingredients:

  • 1 (one) loaf, adumbrated
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 5/8 cups water (rotational cut)
  • 4 tbsp cream cheese
  • 14-18 crackers, club
  • pinch allspice
  • two eggs (British-style)
  • pinch somespice
  • 1 can, peas or what have you, 8-12 oz (troy weight)
  • cheek-rub nutmeg
  • yellow squash (at least two parts yellow to one part squash)
  • 1 and 7/9th cups scuppered niblicks
  • some mushrooms of the “usual kynde” (Ref: Chaucer, c 1387)
  • 2/5th cup sugar (mixed white and dark, or as it is known to professional cooks, “chiarosucrose”)

I spread the cream cheese onto the crackers, interrupted by the two crackers that break in half mid-spread. Placing the smaller half on top allows these to become tiny pyramidal cream cheese snacks. It fortifies me for the work of making food. I’m lucky not to need a snack to get the fortification crackers ready. I discard 2/7 cups of water as surplus to requirements.

There’s sure to be a need for some milk product. I look over the cans: evaporated milk. Condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk. Unsweetened unevaporated milk. Powdered half-and-half. Half-and-unpowdered-half. Instant yoghurt [sic]. Partially assembled yogurt [sic]. Whipping cream. Whipped cream. Lightweight whipped cream. Summer-weight whipping cream. Pitted milk. Unpitted milk. De-unpitted milk. Re-pitted milk. Lots of pulp milk. Pitied milk. I take out a can of cheese soup stock and pretend to be dusting the cabinet shelf when challenged.

Anticipating a serving-spoon shortage I select some spoons, “fiiyne and trew” (Ref: Pepys, 1667), and set them in a secure spot, thereby causing the shortage.

Preheating the oven to 395 I start telling anyone who’ll listen of how I replaced the heating element in the old electric oven. The only one willing to listen is the new electric oven. I trust this story rallies it to new heights of oven skills, as like four months after I put the new element in we got rid of the old oven. Well, we had a new one. So with the old we looked through Craigslist. We found someone named Craig who wasn’t going to check their lawn any too often to see if someone abandoned an electric oven there. It has a good home now with a Craig who’s entertaining fantasies about some home-based food-making service, so far as we know.

There are instructions on one of the recipe pages printed out about fluting a pie. This is a prank and I pay it no attention.

I open the carton of bread crumbs. It’s a cherished carton, handed down in the family for decades now. The box’s design betrays its age. The lettering is in that check-numbers typeface they used for future-y stuff in computer magazines of the early 80s. Its UPC number is 4. I take a clean handful of crumbs and rub them against the loaf until the crumbs, themselves dryer than my hands if such a thing is possible, crumble. The cloud of bread crumb crumbles spreads in a vaporous movement off the counter. It settles on the floor, where it becomes a patch of the tile that never feels comfortable to walk on again, even in socks.

I set the microwave timer to 1:99, and switch it to 20 percent power, before turning it off.

The butter needs clarifying, as far as we know. We’ve been getting these “butter rolls” from the hipster farmer’s market. They’re cylinders about four inches in diameter and upwards up twenty feet long. I begin the clarification process by connecting it to our lie detector. It’s actually the old iPod Nano, with a broken pair of earbuds used as the sensors. Don’t tell it. We discuss its past and whether it feels any trauma from having once been milk. And then its feelings on converting from milk to butter. What is it to endure the process the dairy industry professionals know as milk-into-butter-converterization-processificationizing? We can only hope to know. Its alibi checks out and it is released from custody.

In a moment of whelming curiosity I look up what it is to “parbroil” a thing. It is to boil a food until it is partially cooked. This makes me rant about how “part boiled” is exactly the joke I would make about what it means. And it’s irresponsible of actual food-related people to pull a stunt like that. I start to ask whether it is a “pound” cake because of the many steps in which one punches the cake. Furthermore, I show with logic everyone agrees to be supremely correct and right and everyone else was wronggity wrong wrong wrong that the word “demonstrator” must imply the existence of a word “monstrator” which would be an explanation which makes the workings of a thing completely obscure.

I am excused from the kitchen.

In Which I Want To Know The Deal, Tropical Storms Edition


So never you mind why I was looking at this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association table of tropical storm and hurricane frequency by month for the years 1851 to 2015. I have my reasons and they are sufficient and while I am nearly as loquacious a blogger as I am an unread blogger, I don’t need to share all my secrets with the public. Anyway it’s all sorts of fascinating data, like how in an average September there’s two-thirds of a hurricane striking the United States.

Thing is there’s this recorded one tropical storm in a February between 1851 and 2015 and now I want to know its deal. Like, I’m picturing the storm getting itself all organized and put together with an eye and everything, and it comes storming its way towards the Caribbean or something, and all these islands just turn and look at it and want to know, “Srsly?”

Yeah, there’s only one tropical storm on record for April, too, but that I can understand as a May storm that came early. You know how it is, you start organizing some project and then it comes together sooner than you figured. At least I’m told that happens sometime. But February just doesn’t make sense. The heck, you know?

The Stan Freberg Show: the eleventh show, after a fence has been cut


The big flu of 1957 was an outbreak of Influenza A subtype H2N2, a pandemic less severe than that of 1918 (but what wasn’t?). It wsa popularly referred to as the Asian Flu. I know it mostly from a Peanuts strip in 1958 where Charlie Brown suspects he’s coming down with it, and Lucy mocks him for getting the flu six months late. Smiley Burnette was one of those prolific singer-songwriters who’d get to play the sidekick to your Roy Rogers-class performer. So that’s some things you would be expected to know for this episode, which first aired the 22nd of September, 1957.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Opening Music. Once again no cold opening.
00:50 Opening Comments. Stan Freberg is getting over the “Swiss Flu”, so as not to offend anyone.
01:15 College Football Report. Report from the BearcatPantherTigers. Stan Freberg is doing a pretty sharp impersonation of Colgate Sports Newsreel reporter Bill Stern. The setup is easy, a long buildup to a question to which the athlete gives one- and two-word answers.
04:08 Peggy Taylor gives Stan Freberg the pretext to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Monkey Song”. They can’t all be “Stardust”.
07:22 How an Agent Operates. Foster Pelt, agent to 64 dogs. He gets them character parts a lot: derelicts, good-natured slobs, friend of the leading child. There’s a constrained structure here, where Pelt negates any joke that Freberg might advance. That’s okay as long as it’s building to something, like the dog that plays jazz trombone. But it does also have a tone like Pelt is trying to negate the sketch.
13:35 Question from the Audience. A guy doesn’t believe in the show so far.
13:55 Peggy Taylor singing “Famous Last Words”.
17:00 Composite Preview of TV Westerns for the Fall. “Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields” which (as usual) catches the sounds and tones and pacing of its primary source precisely. The actual radio Gunsmoke wasn’t quite so leisurely, but did run that way. It didn’t spend quite this much time establishing plot points either, but it could feel like that. The in-show sketch for “Puffed Grass” riffs on ads for Quaker Puffed Wheat (“the breakfast cereal shot from guns”) commercials. The relentless establishment of the fact the fence was cut evokes the throwaway joke at the start of St George and the Dragonet, about that 45 automatic being checked by the lab and learning that, yes, it was a gun. The close, a quick exchange with Pedro, riffs on the comic sidekick Pancho of the Cisco Kid. He’d close each episode with a corny gag. Gunsmoke was a grown-up western; Cisco Kid a kids’ one. So it is a tonal non sequitur that he should show up here.
28:12 Closing Remarks. Freberg encourages people to write for tickets and asks for something for cold, even if it’s just Dr Christian. Dr Christian was a long-running doctor’s-office-based light drama, the small-town doctor helping quarreling lovers reconcile and wayward youths straighten out, that sort of thing.
28:38 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

A Further Update On The Non-Despairing Auto Car Place Sign


Good news, everyone! They have their ‘E’ back. Both sides of the sign, too. We can go about whatever the heck it was we were doing before.

A Smile Makes The World A Little Brighter
This is the picture I used for the Mary Worth recap a couple weeks ago, but that’s all right. A new one would just look like this but with worse weather.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Who’s Now Writing Spider-Man? September – November 2018


Hi, sports fans. I know I promised a Gil Thorp plot update this week. But with the death of Stan Lee I figured people wanted more urgently to know what’s going on in The Amazing Spider-Man. So I’ll get to Milford next week at this link. And if you’re reading this, looking for Spider-Man plot elements, after about February 2019 I should have a more updated plot summary here.

My reading of comics for the mathematics bits continues at this link. I’ll finish the comics yet, surely.

And at least for this installment I’ll continue to credit the strip as written by Stan Lee and drawn by Alex Saviuk. But since it’s now getting admitted in The Hollywood Reporter that Roy Thomas has been ghost-writing the strip, I’ll go ahead and put that credit in. Then they’ll go double-cross me by putting some new name on the strip.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

16 September – 18 November 2018.

I last checked in on Spidey at a big moment in his team-up with Iron Fist. They, with Colleen Wing and heel-turned-face Suwan have tracked The Kingpin and Golden Claw to the Mammon Theatre. Kingpin and Golden Claw are using the closed-for-repairs theatre for a crime summit. Kingpin and Golden Claw explained to New York City’s mob bosses that they were taking over everybody’s rackets. The New York City mob replied with enthusiastic bullets.

As bullets pass through the ghostly images of Kingpin and Golden Claw, a mobster cries out 'Our shots are goin' through them two, like they ain't really here!' Golden Claw Hologram: 'THAT, fool, is because ... we never were!' Mobster: 'Th- they're fading away!' Spider-Man, behind the wall: 'Just like we figured.' Iron Fist: 'They were HOLOGRAMS all along!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 18th of September, 2018. “We first suspected them when they interrupted their plot to make a music video of ‘Truly Outrageous’!”

Spidey and Iron Fist are calm, though. The Kingpin and Golden Claw speaking before the crime summit were holograms, just like Spidey and Irony totally figured out. But then a gas canister drops from the ceiling. Spidey swings out to grab it, since there’s no way to guess whether it’s knockout or poison gas. That’s all right. Every crime boss in New York City is happy to start shooting at Spidey, canister in hand, even though they could draw the same conclusion. Luckily none of them can draw a bead, so Spidey is able to get backstage with the gas.

There’s a bit of a battle royale as crime bosses race Spider-Man and Iron Fist. But Iron Fist can do that thing where if a superhero punches the ground it knocks out people who are just standing on it. So he punches the ground and it knocks out people who are just standing on it. Not all the crime bosses, but that’s all right: the cops are here. Iron Fist, in his secret identity as billionaire rich man Danny Rand totally called them earlier. So there was always a cavalry on the way and he just didn’t have the chance to mention it before.

As mobsters swarm Our Heroes. Colleen; 'There's so many of them they're getting in each other's way!' Iron Fist: 'Still, they'll overwhelm us by sheer numbers --- unless I remind them WHY I'm called IRON FIST!' (He punches the ground, knocking people away.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 25th of September, 2018. I was distracted trying to work out that ‘SLKE’ noise from the sword too. I was reading the sound effect wrong: it’s ‘SLICE’, which also doesn’t quite make sense as a sound but all right.

Our Heroes infer that Kingpin and Golden Claw have to still be in the area. It would take too much energy to create realistic holograms if they weren’t nearby. That’s totally a logical reason the Kingpin and Golden Claw have to be in a helicopter taking off from atop the Mammon Theatre right now.

Let me pause. I know I’m sounding snarky here. A bit of me is. The story logic is not airtight. But understand: I’m enjoying it. The Amazing Spider-Man has this airy, cheerful, upbeat tone. I’ll go along with “They’re not really here, they’re holograms! Also they’re really here!” when I’m having fun. In this I am like everybody. I grant if you feel this story’s gone on too long for the plot points established then you’re not going to be won over by the reasoning that has Spider-Man and Iron Fist jumping onto a helicopter trying to flee Broadway. That’s fine. It’s good news for the oatmeal shortage.

So. Spidey and Irony punch the getaway helicopter. The good news: this does stop the helicopter. The bad news: the helicopter was in flight. Fortunately, Spider-Man’s overcome a temporary jam in his web shooter and is able to make an emergency parachute out of his webbing. I didn’t know that was a thing, and Spider-Man admits it’s been so long since he did that he didn’t know if he could anymore. Anyway, the empty helicopter crashes into the theatre.

Iron Man, falling from the damaged helicopter: 'The rooftop's coming up fast!' Spider-Man: 'We can't stop this chopper from crashing! But we don't have to go down in flames with it!' (Spidey makes a webbed parachute.) Iron Fist: 'A parachute made out of your webbing?' Spider-Man: 'Hadn't tried this in a while, but I guess it's like riding a bicycle!' Spidey, thinking: 'Good thing I managed to un-jam my web-shooter!'
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 12th of October, 2018. Never mind the astonishing engineering and materials science involved in Peter Parker having made his wrist web-slingers capable of spitting out an incredibly strong, incredibly adhesive, yet short-lived material. If he’s able to make this webbing spit out to form a parachute while falling, he’s got some crazy skills in packaging. Also in whatever mastery of user interfaces lets him weave something like that from his wrist and, like, two buttons?

Spider-Man and Iron Fist land in a construction site. It’s also where the Kingpin and Golden Claw have landed. The villains had emergency escape jet packs in the helicopter because of course they have. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just good sense.

So, the fight. It’s a tough one. The Kingpin has been studying Spider-Man’s methods ever since they last fought. He’s ready for anything Spidey can throw at him. Mostly it’s punches. No webs, which seems like an oversight to me. Meanwhile Golden Claw was figuring Iron Fist would eventually punch him, so he’s wearing a metal talon that’s got full anti-punch powers.

The Kingpin: 'I'm not afraid of some beareded clown with a hand that glows like a firefly!' Iron Fist: 'Well, at the risk of dispensing unwanted advice ... maybe you should be!' (He punches Kingpin, with a SZZRAK noise; Kingpin falls backwards.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of October, 2018. [ Extremely nerdy voice ] Uhm, excuse me Mister Kingpin but I believe if you examine closely you will realize the glowing part of the firefly is not its hand.

The fight is a stalemate. Spidey and Irony can only hope to hold out until Kickpuncher can arrive. Spidey and Irony figure, hey, why not try punching the other guy’s villain? And that works out great. The Kingpin might be ready for Spider-Man’s punches, but for Iron Fist’s punches? Not nearly. Meanwhile Golden Claw might be ready to deal with Iron Fist’s punches, but when Spider-Man tries kicking? Ta-da. And you thought I was putting up a cheap Kickpuncher reference there.

Golden Claw: 'You can't stand against my POWER TALON, young fool!' Spidey, swinging on his webs from a crane: 'Not by facing it head-on! But what if I ... go around it!' (And he kicks Golden Claw in the face.)
Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 26th of October, 2018. Honestly not sure in the first panel there whether Spider-Man’s on the ground or not. I suppose it’s not important to the line of action.

Our villains are resoundingly punched and kicked. Also turned over to the cops. Spider-Man and Iron Fist go off for a little chat. Spider-Man wants to make good on earlier in the story, when he didn’t reciprocate Iron Fist’s revelation of his secret identity. But Iron Fist isn’t having it. He’s been thinking about it, and realized he was being presumptuous earlier. If he, billionaire Danny Rand, had his secret identity leaked he could still protect himself and loved ones. Spidey? Not likely. So, you know, cool. Anyway, if Spider-Man needs him he’ll be at the Rand Tower and totally answering his phone and not evading Spider-Man to go on weirdly nonspecific missions, like usually happens when Spidey needs the help of the X-Men or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or somebody.

Incidentally, Spider-Man as he tries to unmask mentions that it’s Halloween. This is part of the weird flow of time in the newspaper Spider-Man universe. All this action since September, our time, has taken place over the same day. It could easily be under an hour of time. The strip does this sort of compression of time, naturally. But it will also sometimes throw in a reference to the date of publication. I don’t think there were any other specific days mentioned this storyline. But it would be plausible for one in-strip day to be mentioned as being, like, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving at different parts of the story. Not sure why the comic strip wants to draw attention to the weirdness of time like that. I suppose the writers figure, you know, we readers should relax.

Anyway, Spider-Man looks on in dismay at the destruction of the Mammon Theatre. This was where Mary Jane Parker had been performing. No telling how long that’ll be closed now. Mary Jane’s accepting of it: now her publicity tour, which took her to Las Vegas (with Rocket Raccoon) and Los Angeles (with Melvin, King of the Mole Men) and Miami (with the Incredible Hulk), can end and she can go home.

J Jonah Jameson’s home too, as of the 10th of November. Which I’m calling the start of the new story.


The new story: Jameson is figuring to find and expose Spider-Man once and for all etc etc. But he’s got a new plan this time. He’s hired Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to find and expose Spider-Man etc etc. After breaking down managing editor Robbie Robertson, though, Cage has bad news: he’s nota hero for hire anymore. If Jameson proves he’s a crook, Cage will haul him in. But he won’t do it for money. He’s just in it for smashing in newspaper managing editors’ doors. Well, that’s relatable. And that’s what’s happening as of today.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation! It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings! This time I mean it!

Statistics Saturday: Questions Raised By Learning Kings Dominion Amusement Park Had A Wayne’s-World-Theme Area


I swear.

  • Buh?
  • Wait, what?
  • Really?
  • Like, Wayne’s World the movies?
  • Oh wait wait wait. I mean, “Way”?
  • They had Wayne and Garth impersonators at the thing?
  • The 90s, huh?
  • All right but how can Wayne’s World be part of a whole Kings’ Dominion? Are we to believe the dominion encompasses more than a single world? Given the difficulties in establishing a functioning imperial bureaucracy over even a single planet?
  • Is this a bit?
  • The heck?

OK, but the “Mid-No-Way” is worth a chuckle at least the first time you hear it.

Reference: Functional Analysis: A Short Course, Edward W Packel.

While I Check The Weather, Urgently


You know that time the Silver Bells In The City parade got destroyed by a monsoon? This year’s parade is tonight. I’ll send word if the weather decides to give us all the weather we can take. Send umbrellas.

No, more umbrellas than that.

Also maybe something to warm our hands up since it’s going to be a bit chilly this time around.

But mostly umbrellas.

Someone running through the rain-soaked street that would otherwise be a parade.
Silver Bells 2016: I’m still getting water out of my boots. It might be that I need to get new boots. I pretty much always need new shoes because I’m tired of how my current shoes hurt my feet.

Everything There Is To Say About Keeping Your Hands Warm


With the arrival of winter expected soon it’s worth thinking about how to keep hands warm. The first thing is to worry about your own hands. If it’s someone else’s hands, make sure you have standing. It’s fine to worry about the warmth of the hands of some loved one who’s right there. Or to worry about the hands of an exposure victim while you’re some sort of medical professional. Going up to strangers and telling them, “Hey! You’re keeping your hands warm the wrong way! This is what you should be doing instead!” is a good way to get slugged. For further ways to get slugged please visit this department in two weeks for the essay “Everything There Is to Say About Good Ways To Get Yourself Slugged”.

The surest way to keep hands warm is to keep them someplace where it’s not cold. Please feel free to jot down this note and to return this essay when ready. I have some projects I can be doing in the meanwhile. Warm places for hands include locations such as Singapore, outside of over-air-conditioned convenience stores; active saunas; the surface of Venus; right above space heaters; and in bed two minutes after the alarm clock has rung but it’s still dark outside. There are unpleasant side-effects to being in some of these locations. Like if people hear you’re in Singapore they want to know how you’re going to get to your 2pm shift at the Jersey Mike’s sub shop on Hooper Avenue in Silverton, New Jersey?

If you can’t keep your whole self somewhere warm, it’s tempting just to keep your hands somewhere warm. That’s great for your hands. But it leaves the rest of you stuck, since then you can’t zip up your jacket before going outside. Also you have to open the door by some undignified method, like by grabbing the doorknob in your feet or your mouth. Maybe you’re experienced and you zip up your jacket and open the door before setting your hands down in the sunlit window. But then you have the trouble of what to do when you get wherever you’re going.

Wearing gloves is a great way to turn hands that are cold into hands that shouldn’t be cold but are. Scientists have many hypotheses about why it works out like that. One good thought is that maybe you just need a more insulating glove. This lets you have hands that shouldn’t be cold but are, and are wearing more expensive gloves. One time I read the suggestion that what you really needed was to wear a thin disposable rubber glove underneath the real glove. My experiments with this that winter revealed it was a great way to make the back of my hand smell like that talcum-ish powdery stuff you get from disposable rubber gloves while still being cold.

If gloves aren’t working, have you tried mittens? The hypothesis here is that sure, any isolated finger resting in a fabric sleeve is going to be cold on its own. But if you put four whole fingers together in a fabric sleeve, then they’re going to be cold together. In exchange for this convenience, you’re less dextrous, true. But it does help you get into character pretending you’re a giant plush doll that’s somehow gotten the job of leaving the bed and going out to work a shift at a Jersey Mike’s or something, to support the family. You know, to an extent, whatever story gets you to doing what you need to do is all right.

Looking over all this I realize it sounds like I’m not very good with keeping hands warm. I’m not sure my hands have been warm since I left Singapore, except for brief periods when I was standing in the direct sunlight at the height of summer. For this I apologize, to you, and to my hands. I will try making it up to them by keeping them under warm-to-hot running water, toweling them off, and then dunking them into five-gallon jugs full of skin lotion through to about April. It’s the best I can do. Summer in 2019 is projected to be eight feet, two inches high.

Who’s Writing and Drawing Alley Oop Now? Who Is Li’l Alley Oop?


Good news as I make these things out. Alley Oop, the dean of the time-travelling caveman-adventure newspaper-syndicated serial story comics, is not doomed. I mean not particularly doomed. In early 2019 new strips are to start, from a new writer and artist team.

D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, is who I got the news from. Joey Alison Sayers, who draws for GoComics.com and for The Nib, is to take over writing. Jonathan Lemon, of Rabbits Against Magic, is to take over the art. Both believe they’ve got their workflows figured out to where they can keep doing their other strips as well as Alley Oop, so, good luck there. I remember when I thought I could do two things in a day myself.

8 Ball: 'What would happen if your protest had its intended effect and closed down the magic show?' Weenus, holding a megaphone and sign reading 'Rabbit Rights': 'I'd be able to venture out into the world, thus setting myself up for a lifetime of disappointment and failure.' 8 Ball: 'You're a glass-fully-emptied-and-smashed-on-the-floor kind of guy.'
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 12th of November, 2018. Lemon’s to draw the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

The Daily Cartoonist links to an episode of the Tall Tale Radio comics podcast which I haven’t listened to. But in it Lemon and Sayers discuss the comic and how their work on it came about, according to the show notes. I assume they’re going to resume the strip as a serial-adventure comic, but don’t actually know that.

According to The New York Times’s article on this new writing team, there’ll be a separate storyline for Sunday strips. They’ll “tell the story of Li’l Oop, a new preteen version of Alley Oop that will focus on his early middle-school years”. I’m intrigued by this prospect. Not just because it’ll let me add another article to my reliable “What’s Going On In” roster. But for whatever reason I’ve always liked “Li’l ___” versions of characters, ever since I was too young to read and encountered them in Archie comics. (I have no memories of ever being too young to read.)

Joey: 'Sometimes I think what if everyone else is a robot and I'm the only one who's a human.' Friend: 'That sounds paranoid and more than a little egotistical.' Joey: 'What? No! It's wishful thinking. It would take the pressure off having to act normal all the time.'
Joey Alison Sayers’s Joey Alison Sayers Comics for the 14th of September, 2018. Sayers is to write the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

I don’t know why it appeals, but as long as the Li’l Version is about having its own adventures rather than explaining every little quirk of the original, it does appeal. I would also be excited by a variant where they’re all costumed Silver Age superheroes. And maybe one where they’re robots in a Jetsonian future. And if you’re about to tell me “time-travelling robot caveman from a shiny happy future” is way too much stuff then tell me why the Office of Original Character Registration rushed to approve my plans and even sent me a certificate of total OC awesomeness? Explain that. Check and mate, thank you.

And if you do want regular comic strip news you should be reading it or a similar web site. But I know it’s hard to start reading new web sites. I have the same problem myself. I mention all this so people who aren’t plugged in to the comic strip news circles, such as myself, get their Alley Oop news.

The Andrews-McMeel Syndicate press release mentions that Alley Oop currently runs in “three dozen” newspapers. That’s a bit off the comic’s peak of 800. The strip also has 22,720 subscribers on GoComics.com. So I guess that gives an idea of what kind of existing audience they regard as enough to keep a venerable comic strip going.

The press release also mentions that catchy song from the 60s. And that Alley Oop’s among the many characters, many of them comic strip characters, to make a cameo in the Clifford Simak novel The Goblin Reservation, which marks the first time a non-old science fiction fan has mentioned Clifford Simak since 1998. Which is a shame since Simak’s great. The release also says “Alley Oop” comes from the French gymnastics command “Allez, ho!”, meaning, “Go, hop!”, which is the kind of explanation that I would give except that I’d be making it up, and afterwards I’d be told I may not explain stuff to my nieces anymore.

Anyway, any plot recaps or other Alley Oop news I’ll try to keep at this link.

The Stan Freberg Show: the tenth show, as things fall apart


This episode of The Stan Freberg Show first aired the 15th of September, 1957. I didn’t notice any references so timely that they needed explanation. It does include a bit of a now quite funny genre of jokes made in the late 50s, riffing on the absurd and surely ephemeral fame of Elvis Presley. It would mutate in the 60s to jokes about those Beatles musicians.

Here’s what happens:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No pre-show bit this time.
00:52 Introduction. People share their pet gripes about highways. Freberg introduces Henry Cloverleaf, “inventor of the American freeway system”. They clobber him.
02:30 The Freberg Built-It-Yourself Knock-Down Grand Piano. Stan Freberg and June Foray riffing on do-it-yourself projects. I think there’s a seal noise as Freberg empties out the box of parts. Not to be that guy, but if Freberg’s cutting out 88 ivory keys, he only needs to make 87 cuts. The piano’s collapse is one of the natural resolutions of the premise.
07:17 Peggy Taylor singing “Send for Me”. Introduced with some backwards-recorded sound to suggest the collapsed piano coming back together. Also a good reason to have the piano fall apart as the end of the previous sketch.
10:05 Albert T Wong. Talk with a “literary giant”. He writes Chinese fortune cookies. It’s a bit neat to see what read as plausible fortune cookie messages that long ago. Also that the joke about ‘help me, I am being held captive in a Chinese fortune cookie factory’ is at least that old. I was nervous at the start of this sketch, since “Chinese person” and “1950s comedy” are rarely combinations that age well. I think it’s held up, since the sketch’s focus is on giving writing advice as though fortune cookies were the same sort of competitive paying market that, say, magazines or radio programs were. Really the stories about how to be a fortune cookie writer are played so straight the only real joke is the premise, that fortune cookies could be a professional market for writers.
15:38 The Jud Conlan Rhythmaires singing “Just One Of Those Things”. With an introduction of each performer. This I think is the first time they’ve had a second song that wasn’t part of a comic bit.
18:22 Dr Herman Horn returns. (He’d been in the fifth show and in the fourth show.) A third hi-fi presentation. He remains an example of that sort of annoying nerd who can’t concede decent people might not share his particular obsession. And then he gets into riotously soft sounds. And he talks about the sounds of a cheap $5,000 hi-fi system, which is a nice bit of hyperbole. The collapse of the hi-fi system at the end echoes the destruction of the build-it-yourself piano and promises the end of Dr Herman Horn. I haven’t checked to see if that does happen.
26:30 “Sh’Boom”, promised last week, is put off, owing to alleged requests not to do rock-and-roll. So instead here’s a bit of “Heartbreak Hotel”. This was also a Freberg comedy album, although truncated here. The jokes in it are on the same premise as Sh’Boom, about making the song unintelligible so it’s salable. In the full “Heartbreak Hotel” Freberg, as Elvis Presley, tears his jeans; this is a reason in the radio version he says he can’t continue.
28:00 Closing. Freberg answers questions about Elvis Presley.
28:40 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

I Don’t Know Who’s Officially Writing Spider-Man Now


[ Edited the 28 of March, 2019 to add this. ] The newspaper comic strip is officially on hiatus. It’s showing reruns, for now, from 2014. The syndicate says that they are looking to put together a new creative team. I haven’t heard of one being hired, or auditioned, yet. I have some thoughts about the close of the comic strip’s run at this link.


Stan Lee has died. Many people have written better eulogies and retrospectives than I could for a man who was one of the most important writers and editors of comic books for like 14,680 years, going back to the discovery of pigments. It’s oversimplifying to say that if you think of a comic book, you think of something that was in part Stan Lee’s idea of what a comic book should be. But it’s a starting point toward truth.

What’s relevant around Another Blog, Meanwhile is: Stan Lee’s the credited author of the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip. What happens now that he’s died?

I don’t expect much. None of the people into the serious business of comic strips thought Stan Lee was literally writing the daily strips. I’d heard questions about whether he at least gave story ideas or overall direction, but never a clear answer that he particularly did, or didn’t. D D Degg, writing for The Daily Cartoonist about the retirement of artist Larry Leiber, mentioned “it is generally known that Roy Thomas is the ghost-writer” of the comic strip. Thomas didn’t start getting author credit when Leiber’s name dropped off the comics. Perhaps that will change.

Spider-Man, having stopped a car from crashing full-speed into a wall, fails to notice a cracked brick coming loose. It THONNKs him on the head, which *that* he notices.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of March, 2007. I do not know whether Thomas was the ghost-writer for this 11-year-old installment or how much Lee was involved in this particular but very popular moment

I’m three weeks out from my scheduled recap of The Amazing Spider-Man. But I may bump that up to reflect what I assume will be reader interest in what’s going on there.


Also yes, I’ve heard the news about Alley Oop. I’m hoping to write something for that for Wednesday.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Who Was That Incompetent Mugger? August – November 2018


Thanks for your interest in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This plot summary’s good for the couple of months leading up to November 2018. If you want earlier plot recaps, or if you’re reading this after about February 2019 and want a later recap, you should find it at this link.

If you’d like to read about mathematical topics raised in the comic strips, you should find that at this link. Also over on my mathematics blog I’m explaining mathematical words and short phrases. It’s fun for me. You might like it too.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

19 August – 11 November 2018.

We last checked in on Rex Morgan at the Elvis-assisted Las Vegas wedding of Buck and Mindy. At the reception Rex and June apologize and say they have to get back to doing medical stuff. After everyone gets done laughing Penn and Teller walk over to give “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior tickets to the show. The Harwoods figure to continue their road trip home.

Horrible Hank: 'Trying to call the diner to see about Millie joining us for lunch --- but nobody's answering.' Hank Jr 'That's kind of odd. Maybe they're just too busy. We'll be there in an hour anywhow. I'm sure we can make it all work once we get there.' Horrible: 'Sounds right.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 30th of August, 2018. By the way it’s been since about late August since I was last able to call my father on his cell phone and get an answer, but that’s not because of anything more ominous than Verizon having managed to screw up our accounts so severely that we’re somehow now blocked from communicating with the other.

Hank wants to visit Millie’s Diner again. Skip the roadside attractions. They get to the restaurant where he reunited with his old high school flame. It’s closed. She died the night after their visit. They can get to her visitation. Her family talks of how joyed she was that last day. So, good reminder there about reaching out to people you just drifted away from. It’s a sobering end to this thread. After it the Harwoods go home. It closes this plot.


The new plot started the 10th of September. It’s about Jordan and Michelle, until recently housesitters for the Avery mansion. Heather Avery’s given Jordan startup capital for his restaurant. He’s bought a former hardware store downtown for his place. This seems odd. But there’s a bunch of restaurants in the area already. Maybe the only choice was converting a place that wasn’t already food-ready. Jordan and Michelle talk out what kind of restaurant he’ll open. Then an intoxicated, shabby-looking guy runs at them, demands Michelle’s purse, trips on his own feet, and knocks himself out.

Michelle: 'It's a little chilly. Glad I wore a sweater.' Jordan: 'And me with no jacket'. (An intoxicated man staggers toward them.) Jordan: 'What's going on with this guy? Hey, pal, are you okay?' The man, stumbling toward and then past them: 'Gimme 'at purse!' (Michelle and Jordan are shocked, as the man stumbles forward and thuds on the sidewalk.) Jordan: 'You all right?' Michelle: 'Yeah. All my years of akido practice and the guy takes himself out by tripping. ... Do you think he's hurt? Jordan: 'A little.' (The man groans.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 16th of September, 2018. I feel bad for how I find Delmer’s faceplant here funny, even as I’m confident Beatty wanted readers to find it funny and then feel bad for finding it funny.

So they turn him over to the cops. Over dinner they talk about how they’re the lucky veterans. They’d come through their combat experiences basically all right. Many don’t, and they wonder if their would-be mugger is a traumatized vet. Then someone at another table passes out, possibly choking. Michelle, a nurse, is the person to rescue him, and they enjoy the rare double 9-1-1 call night.

The cops ask Jordan and Michelle if they want to press charges against their mugger, Delmer Robertson. He realizes he knew a “Delmer Robertson” back in high school. Lost touch with the guy after they both went into the army. Jordan, in food services, lost his leg when some catastrophe struck as he was getting fruits and vegetables. Delmer … who knows, exactly? But Jordan does mention how he’s built up the story of how he lost his leg to something more exciting for the civilians back home. I’m not sure if this is setting up a plot point for the current (or a coming) story. Terry Beatty might be retconning something established when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. If it is a retcon, I don’t know what the point of it is.

Delmer: 'Jordan --- I'm awful sorry, man. I didn't even know that was you. I didn't even know what I was doin'.' Jordan: 'I got that impression from the way you stumbled unconscious onto the concrete.' Delmer: 'I've had better days, man. Things have been pretty rough lately. I've been sein' things, Jordan!' Jordan; 'Seeing things?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of November, 2018. I understand the strip needs characters to recap what went before, for new readers or readers who’ve forgotten what went before. But in the first panel this makes Jordan come off like a snarky jerkface to me. At least I have trouble not hearing Comic Book Guy read it, in that mode where a nerd says something sarcastic but literally true. It’s not an emotionally open mode, not for people who don’t know each other.

Jordan confirms that this guy was the Delmer he knew way back when. And that Delmer’s had a tough time since getting back from the army. So he asks the court to be lenient with Delmer, and offers to help him get back on his feet. The court is fine with this, even if it sounds a bit like the setup for a Dan Harmon sitcom.

(In the medical clinic waiting room) Delmer: 'You ever talk to anybody about losing the leg? I mean, you gotta have issues with that. I sure would.' Jordan: 'Many not as much as I should have, Red. Maybe we could both use a little counseling, huh?' Delmer: 'Yeah. Hey, do you see spiders on my arm? Cause I see spiders on my arm.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of November, 2018. I’m open to the notion that Jordan has unresolved trauma from the loss of his leg. But I haven’t felt like that’s a problem he’s been living with. Actually until it was brought up this storyline I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that he had lost a leg. I don’t want the comic strip to act more like Funky Winkerbean, since I don’t want to have to punch it harder than I’ve wanted to punch anything else in my life ever. But maybe it could play up a bit more of what’s Jordan’s problem besides renovating a place into a restaurant before he’s decided what kind of restaurant he means to open.

Jordan meets up with Delmer, and they have the sort of awkward-but-hopeful conversation you might expect as they go to Rex Morgan’s clinic. Where Michelle’s a nurse. They promise they’re trying to help Delmer get the help he needs. And he needs more: according to someone who passed medical information on to Rex Morgan, he has both diabetes and failing kidneys. So that’s a bit of seriousness after some amusing follies.

And that’s where the plot of Rex Morgan, M.D. stands as of the 11th of November, 2018.

Next Week!

Golf! Football! That annoying kid who’s trying to be a cinema snob! Yet another kid who’s being all coy about his home situation. It’s time for Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp to take its innings. Catch you then.

Update On The Non-Despairing Auto Car Place Sign


So, that message from the car care place that was definitely no kind of quiet despair? An ‘E’ either fell off or it got stolen. And now instead of promising that a smile makes the world a little brighter, it’s now promising to make the world a little bright R. I’m sure this does not mean we’re about to see the planet shattered to a non-spherical shape and irradiated to the point that it glows even at night. But maybe let’s be careful just in case?

Auto Surgeon sign: 'A SMILE MAKES THE WORLD A LITTLE BRIGHT R'
Even if the world is about to meet some terrible fate, we can at least take consolation from how neither of those M’s is just a W put upside-down.

How To Remember A Fact


Remembering things used to be an essential skill. But these days it’s only really needed by podcasters who are recording in front of a convention audience a live episode where they discuss whether Star Trek V was a bad movie or not. Everyone else can mostly just look stuff up or decide that they don’t need to remember a thing after all. In the old days, you needed a certain kind of person who could tell you, oh, what the code words were to trigger Shipwreck’s hypnotically suppressed memory of a formula to make water explode in that one episode of G.I.Joe where he wakes up seven years in the future. Today, we have Google to tell us whether water ought to be exploding. It ought not.

But it remains a fun hobby, among a certain kind of person, to have things that they just remember. And there are different kinds of things to remember. There are things that you are expected to do or to not do. I don’t mean to talk about that, even though it seems like that covers everything possible. That breaks down quickly when I ask if you’ve ever written a note to yourself so that you potholder. I repeat the admonition to your confused face. Then we get into a debate about whether ‘to pothold’ is a verb and, if it isn’t, then is ‘potholdest’ a comparative? In the confusion I can sneak out undetected.

But I don’t. I want to discuss remembering facts. Any literate, well-informed person could encounter nearly 96 facts worth remembering by their age and decaying range of knee mobility. But how to keep them available? How to keep them from turning into this, a typical remembered fact:

By the time he was 42(? 44? 32?) years old, Ludwig von (van? van der?) Beethoven had been part of over (nearly? under?) 120 (20? 220?) without once [ something ] except for the ~one time(s?) in [ Bonn / Vienna / ^W with E T A Hoffman ].

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

There are two good ways to ensure you will never forget a fact. The first we know from that time you were in fourth grade, and were prepared to give the most thoroughly awesome presentation on “water” that your science class had ever seen. And you even had real actual cubes of ice stored in the thermos bottle to show off alongside some water you got from the one water fountain in school that didn’t just dribble a tiny trickle of warm, indistinctly smelly water down the spout. And how you began by declaring how aitch-two-oh was the technical name that scientists gave the water “molly-cah-loo-la-lee”. And how since that day you have known the generally agreed-upon pronunciation of “molecule” with the thoroughness that somehow everyone else in your class knew because why would they laugh so much? And you know it with such thoroughness that you feel jabs of embarrassment whenever you see the word “molecule” in print, or hear someone talking about molecules, or you make use of a molecule of something.

So tying a fact to embarrassment lets you remember it easily. Indeed, oppressively, to the point that you cannot possibly forget even facts you wish to. This is what makes mnemonics work. Bind a fact you wish to know to something too dumb to let anyone know you know. Once you’ve composed:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sulfuric acid is
Formula aitch-two-ess-oh-four

The terror that someone will learn about the meter of that last line will ensure you’ll never mistakenly put roses in your heap of “things which are blue”.

You don’t need to use embarrassment to commit facts to memory, no. But the second way to sear a fact into your eternally-present memory is to tie it to shame. And, you know, look around your country. Whichever country you’re in right now. There’s enough you’re ashamed of as is. We don’t need to add to that heap of shame by trying to use it to remember which chemical element is abbreviated Ci. It is cinnamon. You’re looking at a “periodic table” of spices. Stick to embarrassment.

Shipwreck’s hypnotic activation phrase was “frogs in winter”. I’m not going to try to convince you Star Trek V was good, but I will insist William Shatner’s directing was solid. If you find your water starting to explode try smothering the blast with the good, stern look your fourth-grade science teacher gave the class after she finished smirking. That’ll help.

In The Not-Too-Distant Future, Next Christmas, AD


A friend brought to my attention this Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed Christmas moon ornament. (Or “Moonyament” as they call it in the trade; yes, the sounds get elided in weird ways, but it’s what happens naturally when you try to say it.) It looks nice, I’ll agree. I’m not saying this in order to hint that I want one, mind you. I’ve reached the point of my MST3K fandom where I’m not sure I need anything from the show anymore or even necessarily to watch it, since there’s so many demands on my time otherwise. I just hope to answer a question raised by its description.

Advertising copy for the MST3K Moon Ornament, which reproduces the MST3k 'meatball' logo: a 'beauty [that] could be your regular Saturday Night in December thing'. Note: this glass ornament has a circumference of approximately 10 inches.
Now me, I’ve got a bunch of foam-rubber MST3K meatballs, which were sent as packing material when I bought a DVD set a couple years back. They’re great fun and bring me minutes of joy when I go back and find the box I’ve left them in.

So … why do they tell us it has a ten-inch circumference, instead of the much more obviously useful measure, that it has a surface area of approximately 16.9 square inches? I mean, c’mon, we’re all completely normal and unexceptional hew-mons here, let’s express our communicativity like such.

The Stan Freberg Show: The ninth episode, revisiting the Abominable Snowman


Confidential was a celebrity-expose magazine notorious in the 1950s. It got sued in 1957 in a trial that was enormous and long and filled with twists and turns. The trial was barely under way when this episode aired, the 8th of September, 1957. Drew Pearson wrote the longrunning syndicated Washington Merry-Go-Round column, which wasn’t just about publishing leaked documents, but it might have felt like that. Jack Anderson took over the column after Pearson died.

This is, I think, the first episode not to include an adaptation of some earlier Freberg comedy album. The second, if you count how the debut only used a few quick segments of various albums to set up Freberg’s credentials.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No introductory segment again.
00:53 Introductory Comments. Freberg asks if you know what this sound, the same one used several weeks in a row, is. It’s “a condensed version of the Confidential magazine trial.” Then there’s an introduction of a size-26 orange sneaker. Speaks of it as being like “being given half a garbage scow”. So he’s off to the Himalayas.
01:55 Abominable Snowman Revisited. He was last seen on the second episode. He hopes to be called Francis Abominoyamaya Snowman. He only has the one business card. Talks about the Halloween party, bobbing for mountain climbers, pinning the tail on the timberwolves. Music played on frozen snakes. The Snowman shares news of his engagement to Gladys, from Bangalore. She thinks Stan Freberg is cute and wants to keep him as pet. Freberg uses his putative friendship with Pat Boone to get safe.
09:02 Robert E Tainter. He’s back after two weeks away. He’s happy to talk about his past, except for 1943. He was in Germany, “getting my kicks for the Gestapo”. But he’s found something secret and confidential-not-the-magazine about the Revolutionary War, not even leaked to Drew Pearson. Dated January 1780 in New Jersey. Freberg worries about something alarming regarding Washington’s crossing of the Delaware; Tainter says Washington is “clean as the bomb”.
11:28 Washington Crossing the Delaware. Washington’s worried about his men in their cold and silly three-cornered hats. Lieutenant Wright can’t give his report well. “What’s a spicer?” “What’s a passer?” “What’s a ramser?” It’s not a spy; it’s Daws Butler as “Heinrich Flugelman”, getting ready to paint the historical moment. Flugelman insists he’s Swiss, “that way we won’t offend anyone”. Lieutenant Wright orders the ice cleaned up before the painting can be done. Flugelman paints the scene before Washington gets in the boat. It’s a long way to a silly turn of phrase and I was so busy trying to think why a private was named “Crossington” that I didn’t get to the punch line before the sketch did. This is the first Robert E Tainter-based bit that doesn’t lead up to how a historical figure demands to be paid for doing their heroic actions.
19:02 Peggy Taylor. They sing a duet about going to sleep. I can’t find the title; “I Can’t Sleep” or “The Go-To-Sleep Blues” seem like good plausible names for it.
22:10 The Honeyearthers. Framed as television from the Moon. Blend of jokes about the TV series and alien/science-y jokes. It really sounds like one of those Warner Brothers cartoons where they’re mice, I don’t think just because the actors are the same. Anyway, it’s a scene of Ralph and Alice at home, Ralph feeling Alice is upset, Ralph talking with Norton, and then Ralph and Alice watch an organ-grinder with a human dancing around.
27:54 Closing comments. Tap Dancing Around The World is still being organized. Freberg promises next time will include “Sh’Boom”, one of the records he’d released before. Freberg invites people to write for tickets. Better hurry; there’s only six episodes left.
28:22 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

I’m Sorry, This Is Sitting On My … Oh, Wait.


So I’m sorry I’m not being productive at all today, but I got to looking up some villains from a comic book I read in like 1990 and it lead me to the Marvel Comics Wikia and these sentences:

The Headmen continued on with their machinations to rule the world through non-violent means, through the use of social, political and economic scheming. Morgan went to France, while Nagan went to India using Morgan’s shrinking particles to shrink important political figures. Back in the United States, Ruby Thursday was running for president.

And there’s a lot that’s screwed up in comic book worlds. But I like this vision of a politics where evildoers are going around making each other small. Also there’s some part where one of the characters gets his mind put in the body of a baby deer, but I don’t see where they say what happens to the baby deer’s mind.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Is The Rat Nearing Death Yet? August – November 2018


There’s always two answers about what’s going on in The Phantom. The Sunday strips, written by Tony DePaul and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, are one thread. That’s the one I recap here. The weekday strips, written by Tony DePaul again but illustrated by Mike Manley, are a different storyline. Both have plot recaps at this link, because I can’t think of a better way to arrange the tags. I never learned that you can easily have subsidiary categories of a main tag, and have been able to on WordPress blogs for years, you see. It’s a shame and someone should tell me. Anyway, both storylines are recapped there and you can get the most recent update to both by using it and a bit of sense.

The Rat is getting farther from death, but on the other side of the event.

Also, I look at comic strips for mathematical topics. That’s over there. You might like it. You might also like my progress through the alphabet, looking at and explaining mathematical terms. Thanks for considering it all.

The Phantom (Sundays).

12 August – 4 November 2018.

The story of The Rat, who must Die, reached its one-year mark since the last time I checked in. The Rat had lead The Phantom to his former partner-in-crime, The Boss. The Phantom had promised to recommend time off The Rat’s sentence for his help bringing in The Boss. The Rat failed spectacularly at getting away from The Phantom. But in the struggle between The Phantom and The Boss, he took a chance to clobber The Phantom with The Shovel. And The Boss was readying to run down The Phantom with his car.

The Phantom shoots his gun at the driver. He forgets that in Rhodia they drive on the other side of the road. I liked that bit. I like superheroes who make realistic mistakes such as that. The car still smashes against The Phantom. The Boss comes out to kick The Phantom before shooting him. The Phantom staggers to his feet, holding a knife against The Boss. The Rat warns that The Phantom’s never going to give up. The Rat finds The Phantom’s other gun, and declares he knows for sure how this plays out.

Phantom: 'I'm giving you one chance ... to drop ... that ... weapon.' Boss: 'Ha ha! Do you believe this guy?' Rat: 'I do! He never gives up!'' [ Cutaway: Jungle Patrol inbound. ] Rat: 'Hey! I got his other gun right here! Now I know for sure how this thing plays out ...' (Rat oints the gun toward Phantom.) Rat, to Boss: ' ... Old Buddy.' Boss thinks, 'Uh-oh'. The Rat shoots the Boss, who shoots back.
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2018. When I first read it, I did misunderstand the action of the final panel, and thought The Boss had shot at The Phantom as he was being shot himself.

The Rat turns again: he shoots The Boss, who fires back. They’ve killed each other. The Rat takes a bit longer to die. It gives him the chance to say how he wished he could have a life more like The Phantom’s. And chuckles that, hey, he got out of Boomsby Prison, never to return, after all.

[ Final Matters ] The Rat, dying: 'Sorry about the sucker punch. Oh, and yeah, the, uh, shove.' Phantom: 'Don't mention it.' Rat: 'It feels so weird ... doing something not for me ... for somebody else ... *told you* I wasn't going back to Boomsby! ... I owe you, brother.' Phantom: 'You owe me? How do you figure that?' Rat: 'You got me out.' (He dies; the Jungle Patrol helicopters arrive.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 30th of September, 2018. That’s a pretty neat split-screen effect in the first panel, bottom row. It reads well even though it defies the normal left-to-right order of word balloons.

Jungle Patrol arrives. The Phantom had called in his private air cavalry earlier in the story. They collect the bodies and return to Bangalla, and Boomsby Prison. The Warden soon has a report for Bangalla’s president, Lamanda Luaga. They believe The Phantom kidnapped and executed The Rat. They don’t know the Jungle Patrol is under The Phantom’s control. President Luaga publicly dismisses this as legend. And privately concedes he doesn’t know why The Phantom wanted The Rat dead but is sure he had a good reason. It’s nice to see a superhero who’s got the confidence of the authorities these days. But, jeez, that’s putting a lot of trust in someone’s judgement.

And there’s another mystery. The Rat’s corpse has disappeared from the morgue. The Phantom took it, of course. He’s giving The Rat a funeral, with the help of Bandar pallbearers. His wife asks a question that’s been nagging at me for a year-plus: what was his name? The Phantom doesn’t know.

[ Last Rites for the Rat ] Diana: 'Who was this man? A friend of yours?' Phantom: 'Not exactly ... what an honor! To be carried on one's final walk by great Bandar leaders! Guran, Babudan, friends! Please follow me.' (He leads the pallbearers into a cave.) Diana: 'Darling, what was this man's name?' Phantom: 'Name? I suppose he must have had one. I never knew it. To some he was The Rat. To others, prisoner number 5364278. Let's just call him a man who has gone missing. And so here we are ... the Vault of Missing Men!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of November, 2018. So I know what you’re thinking: if The Phantom didn’t know The Rat’s name, how did he tell the Jungle Patrol that The Rat should get time off his sentence for his cooperation? And the answer is that The Phantom described The Rat, and what was to be done, but trusted that The Rat would be left alive when picked up by the Jungle Patrol.

Tony DePaul was kind enough to reveal this story’s set to end the 11th of November. I’m sorry to miss the end of the story by such a slight margin, but what am I to do, adjust my arbitrarily set schedule for good reason? No, I’ll just include a sentence or two about the end of this story when I get to the next Sunday-continuity recap, sometime around February 2019.

Next Week!

It’s a look at three months of action in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. Have we seen the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame? Have we talked to every roadside statue in the midwest? Has Rex Morgan seen a patient or done a doctor-y type thing? Well, no, probably not that. But they must have done something or other.

Statistics Saturday: The Letters Of The Spanish Alphabet


For those who aren’t spelling in French today.

  • la A
  • el B
  • el C
  • la D
  • el E
  • la F
  • el G
  • la H
  • la I
  • la J
  • la K
  • el L
  • la M
  • el N
  • el Ñ
  • el O
  • el P
  • el Q
  • el R
  • el S
  • la T
  • el U
  • la V
  • los W
  • la X
  • el Y
  • la Z

Reference: Jerseyana: The Underside of New Jersey History. Marc Mappen.

Statistics October: How Good It Is For Me When Longrunning Comic Strips End


Given the choice, I’d rather comic strips not end. Oh, there are strips I don’t like, even ones I won’t read. But for the most part, I like comics. I like them carrying on. I love it when a new creator comes in and revives a moribund property. But even something that’s just marking time is this comfortable, familiar friend for whom nothing exciting is happening, but nothing bad is happening either. And that’s consoling, especially in the face of a terrifying world.

So I expected the ending of Hazel and then Henry to bring readers here, since who else writes anything about either? Besides actual comic strip news sites. Still, people did come. Partly from the comic strip news. Partly spillover from my mathematics blog, which hosted the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival at the end of September. Give that a try, please. You might find something delightful there. Here’s how the figures worked out, precisely:

3,070 views; 1,681 visitors. 1.83 views per visitor. 31 posts published. 99 page views, on average, per day.
Yes, I am thrilled to be back above three thousand page views for the first time in four months.

WordPress tells me of 3,070 page views in October. That’s way up from September’s 2,644 and August’s 2,848. These views came from 1,681 unique visitors, again way up from September’s 1,436 but basically level with August’s 1,619. Still, there were 173 likes submitted around here in October. That’s basically the same as September’s 174, August’s 180, and really every month going back to April. It’s been in a 165-to-180 range all this time now. I don’t know. The number of comments jumped, up to 67, the highest figure since March. September had 50 comments and August 39. I’m trying to be comfortable with people talking to me.

Comic strip talk made up the bulk of my readership. Part of this is comic strip endings or major changes. Part of this is story strips getting really confusing. Here’s the top five posts for October:

Yes, none of them actually published in October. My most popular thing actually published in October was In Which I Am Distracted By Ziggy For Crying Out Loud, a cry of despair provoked by paying too much attention to the art one strip. I had a lot of well-liked short pieces, by the way, possibly because I got into this good groove of having an amusing trifle and being able to put it down in 150 words. My most popular long-form piece was, like, the 814th most popular thing around here last month. That was Regarding The Time When I Had Too Much Desiccant, showing that what really amuses people is me somehow having problems with petty stuff.

Here by the way is my schedule for upcoming What’s Going On In The Story Strip posts. Subject to change if some fast-breaking news breakfasts:

I also have another seven weeks of recaps of The Stan Freberg Show to run. Don’t think I’m not already panicked about what to write about after that.

Now for the running of the countries. There were 69 countries, if you count the European Union as one and Trinidad & Tobago as one other. And Bosnia & Herzegovina as another one. In August and September there were 60 such countries. In August and September there were 16 single-reader countries. In October? 17. So I’m clearly in a growth spiral here. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,329
Australia 140
Canada 96
United Kingdom 54
Spain 53
India 47
Italy 31
Philippines 26
Germany 24
Japan 19
Brazil 18
Mexico 17
Hong Kong SAR China 16
Netherlands 13
Romania 13
France 12
Saudi Arabia 11
Sweden 10
Belgium 9
Finland 9
Denmark 7
Sri Lanka 7
Colombia 6
Pakistan 6
South Africa 6
Ireland 4
New Zealand 4
Norway 4
Peru 4
Singapore 4
Taiwan 4
China 3
Czech Republic 3
Latvia 3
Malaysia 3
Slovenia 3
Thailand 3
Zimbabwe 3
Chile 2
Ecuador 2
European Union 2
Greece 2
Indonesia 2
Nigeria 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
Slovakia 2
South Korea 2
Turkey 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Argentina 1
Austria 1
Bahrain 1
Bangladesh 1 (*)
Bosnia & Herzegovina 1
Croatia 1
Curaçao 1
Cyprus 1
El Salvador 1
Estonia 1
Kazakhstan 1
Luxembourg 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
St Lucia 1
Suriname 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1

Bangladesh was a single-reader country in September. No other countries were, though, and no country’s sent me a single reader each month for three months running now.

According to Insights, by the end of October I had published 195,599 total words in 304 posts for the year. This is 643 words per post total, on average. I had been averaging 641 words per post at the start of October. There were 18,418 words published around here in October, over 31 posts. That’s up a little bit from September’s total, although really only because there were only 30 September posts. Huh. Anyway, I’ve had 742 total comments for the year, as of the start of November. 2.4 comments per post this year up from 2.3 at the start of October. 6.1 likes, on average, per post, the same number as at the start of October. 1,844 total likes so far this year, by the way, if you wondered.

November opened with the blog having had a total of 102,048 page views, from 56,394 unique visitors. And yes, I reached my 100,000th page view this past month, and celebrated it with a special Statistics Saturday post.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, please do. You can add it to your WordPress reader. You can add it by RSS reader, using whatever tool you like to read my content, and maybe even get the versions with the dumb typoes and grammatical errors not corrected out. And if you’d like to see me on social media, that’s your business. But I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, so that’s an option. Choose wisely.

Spelling And Why Not


I want to talk about spelling as we know it. I don’t mean the kind of spelling where, like, you end up with a potion of eternal width or with magic shoes that won’t let the person wearing them stop dancing. I mean the kind where you end up with a word, by putting together word components. You know, consonants, eyes of a vowel, gizzard of gerund endings, that stuff. Please adjust your expectations accordingly and report back when they’re settled down.

Spelling as we know it began in 16th century France, where the regular consistent coding of words served as a way for persecuted Hugenots to acknowledge one another without detection by the King’s agents. With the Edict of Nantes temporarily resolving that whole fight about how much everybody loved God more, the need for the secrecy faded. So the idea went looking for more exciting spots. It spread first to Holland. Then to Poland, where it got lost and ended up back in Holland. Next time around it set out for Italy, but misunderstood the directions through the Swiss Alps and ended up right back in Holland. Having had enough of ending up in Holland, spelling jumped into the English Channel and swam furiously west. Fourteen days later it washed up in Holland, where it threw up its arms and said, “Fine, then,” and got all sullen.

Spelling might have remained in the United Provinces forever except for the Great Fire of London of 1666. Samuel Pepys, renowned for his diaries and how fun it is to say his name and probably other stuff I’m guessing, realized the use of regular, consistent spellings during this disaster. His first warning of the fire came from a young boy of laddish age who ran past yelling out, “Taike kare! Taykke kaire! A graette Fyren cowmes here frum Puddenge-Lain!” Pepys had no idea what the kid was talking about. He asked the kid to repeat it, and it didn’t get much better. The child added, “Rayce the allarum! Phire raigges throo the Citty!” This left Pepys feeling awkward. So he let the child go and figured if it was all that important he’d hear about it.

The still-smoldering Pepys figured nobody needed that kind of brush with death. So he figured maybe the city could be built fireproof. Also maybe write things down in consistent ways so it doesn’t take four tries to understand people. His friend John Evelyn considered this series of events, pointing out that if the child had said all this, the spelling shouldn’t matter. But why would the child have written out such a message about the Fire when he was running around and talking to people about it? Pepys eloquently shoved his friend into the Tyburn river. Evelyn conceded the point.

And so consistent spelling caught on in English. It did well, thanks to early breakthroughs like “silent E” and “n-apostrophe-t” charming the population with their elegant whimsy. “Onk” was also a big selling point. We still live in a world where it would be fun to see many people get a bonk on some appropriate bonk-absorbing part of their person. For a while there was a market in switching out “ks” for “x”, or vice-versa, but that’s gotten to be seen as old-fashioned. And don’t get me started on how you can’t just write “connexion” anymore without being accused of cheating. Also everybody follows the “q is followed by a u” rule, but they don’t understand it. It’s a pun. Once you see it, you’ll never un-see it. I hope to see it myself someday.

This is not to say that spelling in English is perfectly consistent. It couldn’t be, not given the need of aristocracy to show itself as better than real people. Thus would Spelling Book authors compose all sorts of new and exotic letter patterns. This led to many never-before-suspected innovations, like “hiccough” or “untowardsmanship”. Long after the fad for ostentatiousnessocity had passed, we were left with the remains. Most of the worst offenders slid out of the English language, owing to foreign tourists taking oddities home with them. And the rest are a reminder of how far we have come, or have yet to go, or have ended up where we are. Granted this describes many things, but only because they are like that.

Betty Boop with Henry: the lone cartoon pairing


I maybe have been beating the Henry drum loudly the last couple weeks. On the other hand, when else would I have an audience for this? And Roy Kassinger asked if I had ever reviewed the animated cartoon with Betty Boop and Henry. I hadn’t, so, what better time than now to do it? Maybe last week, then.

This cartoon originally debuted the 22nd of November, 1935. It was the 47th of the Betty Boop line of cartoons, which took the place of the Talkartoons after that series wrapped up.

So, some context. In 1933 the Fleischers launched the Popeye cartoon series, for good reason. Popular comic strips already had a long history of being adapted into animated cartoons. Popeye’s debut was officially in a Betty Boop cartoon. Her presence is a slight thing — she shows up for a musical number in the midst of the action. But it did mean the studio could work out whether Popeye was adaptable to cartoons in a way with minimum risk of failure.

Popeye was a brilliant success, of course. So there’s little else to do but try to repeat the trick. And here we get to Henry. The character had been around three years. The comic strip proper was around about one year when the Flesichers made this short. It was popular, sensibly enough. Henry as a character is clever but lazy, kind but a bit selfish, pleasure-seeking but not hedonist, with a bit of hard-luck about him. He fits in the line of characters like the Little Tramp, Mickey Mouse, or Dagwood Bumstead. It’s easy to like him. And, William Foster notes, was decades ahead of the curve in presenting non-white characters with dignity. There’s great reason to try him out.

There wasn’t a Henry series to follow this. I can’t call that an injustice. The short is pleasant enough. But there’s just not much there. Henry watches Betty Boop’s pet store while she’s out, makes a mess of things, and then re-catches the birds he’d let out. That’s not much of a plot, but it is something. It should have been plenty for the Fleischers. A Fleischer specialty is characters doing a simple thing in complicated ways. They had just months earlier introduced Grampy to the Betty Boop series. His entire point was thinking up Rube Goldberg contraptions to play music or turn the apartment building into a roller coaster or something. And Henry accidentally messing up something and fixing it in some ingenious complicated way would be a natural.

Here, though? The only clever thing he does is drop birdseed on his head to attract birds. And he does that a lot. There’s cute business, like, dancing with Pudgy, or setting two lovebirds together. But that’s a cute sideline, not action. (And the scene with the monkey ought to be funny, and then you remember pet stores would sell monkeys back then, and that’s awful and depressing.) Heck, the opening scene — Henry appearing to walk a plank between mountains, revealed to be a billboard — was clever, at least, with a nice reveal of what’s going on. What if the whole short had been like that? If it had been three minutes of earning animals’ trust and cleaning them or feeding them in silly ways, maybe Henry could have gone to series.

Maybe. One problem with Henry’s cast of characters is that he doesn’t have antagonists. I guess there’s a bully, and he has a teacher he’s afraid of, and his parents will make him take a bath or something. But that’s all a very gentle menace. Popeye comes from, in the comic strip, an action-adventure background. It’s natural to have a big-bad villain there. Popeye and the villain fighting for Olive Oyl gives stories an obvious point. And a reason for something exciting to happen on-screen.

It also helped that Popeye had stuff to say. In the comic strip Henry was mute, much as that distresses me when he’s put on the phone. But presumably he could speak; we just don’t see him doing so. (Apparently in the comic books he spoke as normal.) Popeye, in the comic strip, had personality from his first line. It’s easy to write stuff that’s definitely what Popeye might say and to rule out things he would not. Not his mangled speech; that’s just a marker. “I am what I am and that’s all what I am” is a declaration of character. When he talked in the cartoon it made sense. But Henry? What’s a Henry-esque turn of phrase? Henry’s voice actor — I guess Ann Rothschild, if I’m inferring things from Wikipedia right — tries. But Henry hasn’t got anything to say that shows character.

I could be wrong, though. Little Lulu has a protagonist who’s got that similar pleasant, soft, antagonist-free place as Henry does. And she was adapted into a successful enough string of cartoons by Fleischer Studios successor Famous Studios. And then changed into Little Audrey, when Famous Studios dropped the Little Lulu license. I don’t count myself a fan of them, but each was a successful enough series. Maybe this was a good idea hobbled by a bad first attempt.