We Have No Information About Whether The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Ever Seen A Raccoon


I concede that this is not part of the contentious issue about whether the people who draw Beetle Bailey have ever seen a squirrel. But it’s surely worth keeping track of what animals we can and can’t say they’ve seen, based on the artwork depicting such creatures.

And so last Friday we had the hope of a new entry to the roster of animals definitely seen or not seen by whoever it is draws Beetle Bailey these days. The credits say Greg Walker, but the credits also say Mort Walker, who died fifteen months ago now. I know there’s people who work ahead of deadline, but, this far ahead of deadline? I have my doubts.

Cookie: 'Did you take care of the raccoons in the dumpster?' Beetle (off-screen): 'No ... ' (On-screen; he's torn up and scratched much like if Sarge had beaten him up): 'They took care of me.'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 26th of April, 2019. All right, but does Beetle look any worse now than after any random encounter with Sarge? Except I guess he’s standing up instead of a heap of body rubble on the ground? Can we conclude from this that Sarge is a raccoon? He’s kind of tall for that, though. Maybe he’s a stack of five raccoons wearing a human mask? All right, but then why does Sarge get along so well with his dog Otto? Is it a keep-your-opponents-close thing? In short, I had a very busy weekend and not enough time to think about productive or useful things.

Anyway last Friday’s installment allows us to say: we have no idea whether the guy who draws Beetle Bailey has ever seen a raccoon. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Speaking of inconvenience, the Comics Kingdom redesign. While it’s getting less bad, it’s still bad. Besides ignoring the top row of the Sunday comics, they haven’t shown any new Vintage daily strips since Friday. And it’ll show the Vintage comic strips in a random order that’s not alphabetical and not the order I set for the comics to appear, or anything else. Yes, every web site redesign is about making things work less well, but they really overachieved on this one.

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What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What’s With Edward’s Dog Not Being Seen? February – April 2019


So the thing about Edward’s dog is that he’s ugly.

Like, supernaturally ugly.

Like, “that’s … a … dog???” ugly.

It’s how the strip introduced him. It’s how he’s presented each time he comes back. This is a running joke now. It’s one with respectable comic strip precedent.

[Sarah's friend from school has dropped by with his dog.] June: 'Well, hello, Edward.' Edward: 'Hiya, Mrs Morgan. I was out walking my dog and thought I'd stop by and see Sarah.' June: 'Oh .. that is quite the dog, all right. Wh ... what breed is it?' Edward: 'We don't exactly know. My dad says he's not convinced it's even really a dog. But that's just silly.' [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' and pointing to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 28th of September, 2017. The first appearance of Edward’s Dog. And here’s a side mystery for you: my brain insists on naming this person Edmund, Edgar, Edwin, basically anything except “Edward”, a name way more common and likely than any of these alternatives. What’s going on there, and why?

Al Capp introduced Lena the Hyena to Li’l Abner in summer of 1946 as “the world’s ugliest woman”. She first appeared unseen, with the editorial note that they must hide her face to protect the readers. She would be seen, when the great Basil Wolverton achived the horrible. I had thought there were more examples of too-hideous-to-see characters in the comics. I’d imagined there’d be one in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for example. I seem to be wrong about that, though. Ugly Christine had hair covering her face, but we did see most of her. (Searching for other unseeable characters lead me to Spots, only seen in profile or three-quarters shots, with spots floating in front of his face. He’s not on point for this, but he does present a heck of an image.)

Al Capp did also have Big Barnsmell, the “inside man” at the Skonk Works, who did unspeakable things with skunks for unknown reasons. I haven’t found reference about whether Barnsmell appeared on-screen, though. The last few appearances of Simple J Malarkey in Walt Kelly’s Pogo had the man’s head covered. (This was not a joke about Joe McCarthy’s deep ugliness, though. Kelly was working out his irritation at editors afraid of offending evil people, who demanded Malarkey’s face not be shown.)

There are more examples of this joke in other media. Most familiarly these days, Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, and Niles’s wife Maris on Frasier, were presented as too hideous to ever be seen. Then there’s old-time-radio. On Fibber McGee and Molly, half of Wallace Wimple’s whole schtick was telling horror stories of his wife. She would never be on-screen to present her case. … I’m a bit unsettled that Edward’s dog is the first example I can come up of too-ugly-to-see that isn’t about an adult woman we’re supposed to laugh at. (The other half of Wallace Wimple’s schtick was saying he would look something up in his “bird book”. They knew how to make a gag run back then.)

Rex, handing Sarah ice some money: 'This should be enough for a treat!' Sarah: 'Thanks, Dad!' (Outside.) Sarah: 'Hey, Edward! You heard the ice cream truck too?' Edward: 'Yeah, I was walking my dog and was gonna see if you were home.' [Narration: Due to editorial policy and space restrictions, we are unable to show you Edward's dog. Our apologies.] [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' points to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 23rd of April, 2019. A more recent appearance of Edward’s Dog, with an editorial box so full and explanatory that I feel like it’s got readers more confused. And yes, these two appearances do make it seem like Edward spends a lot of time walking his dog and checking in on Sarah, but that’s just an easy way to get him into the story.

In any event. Terry Beatty is mixing this running joke into Rex Morgan, M.D.. This is why the dog is only ever put off-screen, and explained with narrative bubbles and arrows pointing at ‘Dog’. I have no idea whether Beatty intends to ever depict Edward’s Dog, or to hold a similar contest. He may be satisfied with Dog as-is. He has been writing the comic as a more humorous one. The change in tone is less than what’s happened in Alley Oop, but still. He’s bringing more jokes in.

Edward’s dog, by the way, is named Dog. “We think it suits him,” was how Edward explained it, the 30th of September, 2017.

Anyway, if you’re hoping to have the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, and it’s later than about July 2019, there’s a good chance I have a more up-to-date essay here. If you’re reading in late April or early May 2019, carry on here. This should suit you fine.

If you’d like an argument that last Saturday’s Strange Brew comic strip was a really solid joke, I make it here. I also discuss some other mathematically-themed comic strips, as is my habit.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

3 February – 27 April 2019.

Rex Morgan’s plane was landing in the middle of the desert when I last checked in. It’s an extreme emergency, but the only way to keep Rex away from a medical conference in Phoenix. The touchdown takes a week of action, roughly, with Rex yelling reassuring things at his young temporary ward Brayden. And with Mister Cranky, who wanted booze and lots of it on the flight, yelling about how he was going to sue. Cranky was a particularly obnoxious fellow through January. But I can’t fault him yelling angry things about the airline as it lands by some ham radio operator’s shack in the desert.

The passengers, fully evacuated, get off the plane. Mister Cranky tries grabbing his carry-on, and gets scolded by the flight attendant. But again I sympathize; I don’t know how hard it would be for me to abandon my laptop in the circumstance. They’re well outside cell phone service range, but all’s not lost. The ham radio operator called in the emergency before driving his jeep up to the plane. His shack can be at least a gathering point for the passengers while a jet engine finishes exploding.

[ The passengers and crew await the arrival of emergency services ... ] Cranky: 'Why'd we have to leave the plane anyhow? No place to sit out here!' Rex Morgan: 'I'm pretty sure it has to do with that smoking engine that caused the emergency landing in the first place.' Cranky: 'Pffft! That don't seem like a big deal!' Brayden, whispering: 'Suddenly this guy's an expert on plane safety?' Rex, whispering: 'I'd bet this guy's an expert on EVERYTHING'. (Plane engine explodes.) Rex: 'Not a big deal, huh?' Cranky: '!' Brayden: 'It'd be nice if the emergency vehicles would get here.' Flight attendant, to the walking mass of passengers: 'Keep moving down the road and away from the plane!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of February, 2019. The jet engine exploding is fine as a story development. It seems a bit over-the-top that it send flaming shrapnel only through Mister Cranky’s luggage and carry-on and send a tongue of flame to singe off his hair and eyebrows and called his boss to tattle on him and hacked into his social media to post a sequence of pictures from the time cutting down that weed ailanthus tree in the backyard went so wrong. But, you know, I’m just the reader here. I don’t get a say in what’s written. Anyway, Rex, in the third row, second panel, there just pulls ahead of Mark Trail knowing a few things about Minke Whales in the open-qualifying Smug Comic Strip White Guy contest there.

Mister Cranky, having had enough of this, decides to leave. He notices the radio ham left the keys in his jeep. So he sits in the driver’s seat and is immediately snarled at by a large dog. Chased out from there, he sits on a large rock, ignoring Rex Morgan’s warning to Brayden about checking for scorpions. And what do you know, but, a scorpion bites him on the rear end! And the cops arrive and arrest him for trying to steal a car! Which has this curious state where it’s true, but I don’t think there’s any evidence except for his thought balloons. Cranky said he was “just sitting down” and I think that’s all they could prove. Anyway, he’s made fun of by the local news. On Morgan’s word the cops take him to the hospital first. But I’m sure as they transferred him from the ambulance to the hospital someone slipped, and his wheelchair rolled out of control, downhill into the county Manuratorium. And then he crawled out of that only for a cartoon elephant to sit on him.

Rex, and everyone, call to their loved ones as soon as they can. Brayden’s father is grateful beyond words for Rex’s help. You might ask what Rex did for Brayden. He was flying, unaccompanied, from his mother to his father. The flight attendant asked Rex to just watch over the weirdly old pre-teen. Brayden handled the emergency better than I would have, but still. Brayden’s father, wanting to do something for Rex, gives him a ride to the airport and a change of clothes from his store. All their stuff was left in the plane, after all. I did see commenters complain that this evokes the old, Woody Wilson-era “What Can We Give The Morgans Today” writing era. I guess that’s so. But the scene feels true to me. His son came through a plane crash unscathed. It’s natural for him to lavish money on the nearest person with the slightest involvement in that.

Morgan attends the conference after all, although since it’s all medical talk we don’t see it. On the flight home, who sits next to him but … Mister Cranky?

Well, no. It’s a sweet, polite, kindly person who just looks like him. He’s J T Needle. Mister Cranky was his twin brother, T J Needle. J T demonstrates how he’s the good identical twin by explaining how he’s always been the nice brother. T J’s always been self-centered and rude, doing stuff like trash-talking his relatives and all. Morgan questions the plausibility of sitting right next to Mister Cranky’s twin on the flight home. But he points out, he and his brother both live in Arizona, while their parents live in Glenwood, so of course they’d fly between those cities. Morgan accepts that this coincidence will now not get listed under Plot Holes.

J T: 'Your boys are twins?' Rex Morgan: 'No, but they may as well be. One's adopted, but exactly the same age. They share a birthday.' J T: 'And you think being on a flight my brother and then me is a coincidence!' Rex: 'Stranger things have happened, I guess.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of March, 2019. Rex picks nervously at the threads which suspend disbelief, pondering how it is their adopted son has the same birthday as their non-adopted one. Or why their life is full of filled with unexplained and improbably strange coincidences. He doesn’t need to worry about that, he tells himself. There’s no reason being it. It’s just … the world is strange and confusing and sometimes things work out in improbable ways? That’s believable. He can stop questioning that.

The last plot thread — about when Rex Morgan would get his luggage back — was resolved the first of April. The airline delivered his stuff back to his house. So that’s all covered.


Starting the 6th of April came the tease of a new storyline. Jordan Harris is ready to open his restaurant. He’s invited the Morgans to be part ofa test-run night. His fiancee Michelle Carter is the acting hostess. Everything’s going great. This includes Delmer Robertson. He’s recovering from his addiction and homelessness and kidney transplant and all that.


That’s not, so far as I can tell, the story. It was an epilogue to the Jordan/Michelle/Delmer storyline from last fall. Instead we’re following young Sarah, and her former-bully-turned-friend Edward. And his improbably ugly dog. They run across a crying young girl. Some older kids made her drop her ice cream. Edward buys her a replacement before his sister makes him come home. And it looks like Sarah has a new friend. That’s all we’ve seen about this storyline so far.

Next Week!

SPORTS!

Statistics Saturday: Some Fictional Road Signs


  • Caution: Road
  • Stock Photographs next 3 miles
  • No Weather Zone
  • Keep Right Except To Giraffe
  • In-Jokes
  • Mediocrity Far As The Eye Can See
  • Dental Technicians And Supporters Only
  • To The South Is
  • Impertinent Scoundrels, All
  • Wark Zone Ahead: Watch For Seagulls
  • Save Your Files
  • You’ll Make It Through This
  • Orbs, Mister Christian. Orbs
  • Perfected Frost Zone
  • Nostalgic Haze – Visibility 15-20 Years Ago
  • You Had Your Chance
  • Monitor Helicopters For Speeding
  • It Made Sense In Context
  • Welp
  • A NEW CAR!

Reference: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

So This Is Just My Research Method Now


So I got to wondering about Mötley Crüe because you know what? Stop asking such nosey questions. Anyway I got to thinking about the metal thing of putting hilariously unneeded umlauts over things. Mostly letters. Like, where did this tradition come from, and why, and who started it, and why did umlauts catch on when perfectly good other diacritics like cedillas went unused. I figure there’s no way of actually researching this, so instead I’m just going to edit the band’s Wikipedia page to say they were the first band to put unnecessary umlauts in their name. Then go back two months later to edit it into saying they were the last metal band to put unnecessary umlauts in their name. The plan being that two months after that, I would go to the discussion page and see where the argument had gotten. Which is a great idea except that it’ll take four months to get results, by which time I’ll have completely forgotten ever caring about the subject. But the important thing is that I can name my imaginary 80s glam metal band “Unnecessary Umlauts”. I don’t mean all the time. When they do a Command Performance for the Queen they’ll be the “Unneedful Umlauts”.

What There Is To Do About E-mail


In a sense there’s nothing to do about e-mail. We have almost completely overcome the use of e-mail to communicate with people. E-mail is this decentralized, open service. It lets you use anything you like to send or to receive messages you can display and organize in any way you like and keep, or delete, at your leisure. We couldn’t keep using a scheme like that. We have to communicate by direct messages channeled through a social-media tech corporation. This lets them sell us quarrels and procedurally generated t-shirts.

But there are still purposes to what e-mail remains. Understanding them will let us understand this doomed system. What their purpose is depends on the context of the e-mail. For example, the first purpose of work e-mails is showing that you are working on whatever you were supposed to be working on. And how you can’t do that unless other people to work on whatever it is they are supposed to work on. The second purpose of work e-mail is to compile lists of take-out orders complicated enough that they can never be ordered or fully paid for. Past that work e-mail lets us know what silly Internet pastime is annoying the IT department. They want very much to tamp it down now.

The first kind of work-based e-mails is easiest to answer. In response to any e-mail of this type, assert good progress. And that you’ve been enjoying some breakthroughs. Still, though, you have to admit that completion is running behind deadline. But allow that it would be easier if not for the efforts of some other person. It’s better off leaving vague “who”, in case the boss tries to work out who. If you work for a large enough corporation, you can leave hints that point to a person who does not, and perhaps never has, existed.

The second kind you can answer by making sure that there is always an extra tub of sweet and sour sauce left over once the lunch is delivered. This lets everyone enjoy the unsettling feeling they have the wrong order. The exception to this is when everyone is ordering Chinese food for lunch. In this case there should be one missing tub.

The third kind of work e-mail is obsolete because it turns out people have phones. The IT department is still very cross about things, but they always will be. It makes them happy. Promise them you’ll never ever use your work computer to play Farmville. If you want them to smile, add that you’re swearing off Friendster, YikYak, and what the heck, Apple eWorld.

Another once-popular form of e-mail was the mailing list. These were created to let people who all liked one thing share talk about something entirely else. The working process here was to have one person notice a fact, real or imagined. When they determine the rest of the list has not sufficiently acknowledged it, they send it on to the list. The response here is then to contradict the fact as being either irrelevant or untrue. This has one correct response, which in the busy days of a mailing list would be sent by five people. That response is that no, the fact has been amply discussed in earlier discussions on the list. And furthermore this could be proven by consulting the archives, as soon as someone finds them.

The alternate use for a mailing list was to have people announce personal moments. These could include a marriage, a graduation, the discovery that one has a child, the announcement one is leaving the mailing list forever except that this time they mean it, or that someone else has been born. There are two stages to answering these. In the first stage send congratulations. in the second, send a cascade of the same twelve puns these threads always use. But you’re forgiven if you slack off. No one person has to respond to any particular messages. This is why every mailing list died out around 2014.

Commercial e-mails are sent by corporations. They believe that your staying in a hotel means now you need someone to suggest reserving a hotel room to you. You need this at least four times a day, so far, based on how little you do hotel-room-reservation-ing. It has to be some kind of insecurity. They realize that, like, a corporation isn’t even a thing. It’s the imaginary friend of someone with capital. Shake your head at the folly of humanity but do not encourage them any.

There are a number of other purposes for e-mail. This number is four.

Another Stupid Thing To Lower My Per-Post Word Count Average


Reykjavik: a major city in Iceland or the thing you need to do when there’s leaves all over your vik?

(This post, fulfilling last week’s promise made after considering retrospectives, was partially supported by a grant from the Carnac Foundation. Please stop in next week as I ponder whether after being infatuated a person might find themselves refatuated.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures has hiccup, also strange event


There are many things I don’t understand, even now, about the Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. Who makes them, for example, like, is it a single writer-or-director? A team? Several individuals? How many are they going to make? How many do they plan to make? Are they still making new cartoons, and are they responding to audience reactions in making them? Why does the YouTube channel posting these have it labelled in some places as ‘Popeye For Kids’? And what is the release schedule? I often can’t find a new cartoon until a Monday, which makes me feel nervous when I know I have, like, two things I have to do on Tuesday. I’ve been thinking about passing one week on purpose just to give myself some margin and chance to see a cartoon before writing about it.

And then there’s the strange conclusion to this week’s entry, Sick of the Hiccups, which the title also says offers ‘AND MORE’. That more is other Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. After all the hiccups are done we get reruns of Feeling Blue, and then Can’t Handle The Tooth, and then Popeye Squared, and finally Heatwave. But with no title cards or clear breaks between cartoons you could be forgiven for not knowing what the heck is going on.

But the first cartoon of this eleven-minute video is new, so let me talk about that first two minutes, seventeen seconds.

The short started with the sort of simple, traditional premise I usually like in these: Popeye has hiccups. It disrupts his eating oatmeal. I like the camera move of his bowl leaping into the air and landing on his head. And I like Eugene popping in and imitating Popeye’s clumsy eating. There’s not much reason for Eugene to do it, but a clever animal like a Jeep can just stop in and mess with people.

Popeye heads off, hiccuping every few steps, to Olive Oyl’s. Meanwhile Bluto, dressed as a giant flower, sneaks into the short. Olive gets to play her role as smart person who knows how to find things in books and stuff, and puts Popeye through a couple of the traditional sure-fire hiccup cures that I only ever see people in comic strips or old-time sitcoms use. Popeye trying to drink a water while upside-down is a funny idea, but I don’t feel it this short.

Popeye tries holding his breath, and spinaches things up to do it better. This makes him manifest an air tank, swim fins, and breathing mask. I don’t mind him doing that, but the combination is weird. It isn’t like you’re holding your breath in scuba gear, not if you’re using it right. I feel like they had the Popeye-in-diving-suit stuff for another short and reused it here. I don’t mind him manifesting hardware like that, it’s just … this isn’t how you hold your breath. I know, the short is aimed at kids, and you never really imagine what you were like as a kid. I think, though — on the grounds of my documented complaints, at age eight, about the plausibility of The Far-Out Space Nuts — that if I were a kid I’d be bothered by that.

I don’t mind him manifesting the hardware. His accidentally puncturing the air tank on a harpoon that Olive has in the umbrella stand is … something that unsettles me more every time I think about it. The puncture sends Popeye flying out of control, back towards his house, while Olive resolves to scare him out of the hiccups.

Finally — and it’s a bit weird it can feel like “finally” when it’s only been about 75 seconds — we get back to Bluto. He’s snuck into Popeye’s garden, and sees a pile of spinach cans. He gets this delighted look as he sees he can steal all Popeye’s canned spinach. And it is such an endearing look. I think my favorite part of these new shorts might be the moments, like at 1:33 here, where Bluto’s joyfully surprised. He swipes the stack just ahead of Popeye, and then Olive Oyl, arriving.

Olive’s dressed as a ghost to which Popeye is indifferent. Popeye sees the missing spinach, though, and is horrified, scared out of his hiccups and, briefly, the ability to stand. It’s the obvious joke, yes, but obvious doesn’t mean wrong, and it resolves the story’s problem sensibly. And I like the animation of Popeye’s point of view and how the missing cans get highlighted.

Olive cleans up the loose ends, using her bedsheet ghost costume to wrangle Bluto. Popeye hugs Bluto, grateful, and that’s again the obvious resolution but also the one that makes sense. And I like when, occasionally, a cartoon ends with Popeye glad for Bluto. A circumstance like this where Bluto has no idea why Popeye’s hugging him makes it better. And Bluto has hiccups, since the premise of cartoon hiccups is that they never go away, they just transmit from one being to another.

I’ve said, I think, many warm things about this short. Do I like it? … Not so much, really. I think it’s a good start, but I only really liked a few moments in it. Bluto’s delighted face at finding the spinach free, for example. But it never gets wild or imaginative enough for me. I don’t think the short does anything wrong. Once again I suspect this would play better as the skeleton of a full-length cartoon instead.

I have no idea why they’ve started putting more shorts on the end of these cartoons, or how they pick the ones they have. I do wonder if, like, five weeks from now when they stack this onto the end of some short, they’ll also put the other nine minutes of cartoons on. I’m imagining the day when each of these videos is two minutes, ten seconds of, like, Young Popeye playing a video game and then a four-hour block of previous Island Adventures, some of them repeated a dozen times over. That seems like it’s nothing too extreme to me.


I’m do try to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link. If I do take an off week to give myself more writing time, eh, you’ll see something about it. Don’t worry.

In Which Have You Maybe Considered IT’S YOU WHO ARE VERY UPSET PAAS CHANGED ITS DYE KITS INSTEAD?


No, really, I am COMPLETELY FINE WITH LEARNING that Paas went and changed its egg dye kits over the last year so now there’s NONE that tell you that you have to use vinegar, or you better not use vinegar, and you don’t have to pick out the pink one for ANY special treatment. That’s FINE. That makes EVERYBODY’S LIFE ALL THE MUCH BETTER and I am NOT AT ALL UPSET that my guide from last week is now COMPLETELY USELESS except for people who have kits from last year and before, all right? I’m FINE. THANK you. Everybody STOP ASKING. And we are NOT having an argument about which of the two they-sure-look-pink tablets is the TRUE pink this year.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Will I ever stop complaining about the Comics Kingdom redesign? January – April 2019


I’m glad you want to know the happenings in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom. If you’re reading this after about July 2019, this recap may be out of date. A more up-to-date recap should be at this link, as will be recaps of the weekday continuity. Also, The PhantomWiki is a nice handy reference for stuff. And the Comics Kingdom redesign has gotten less bad but I’m still not happy, and shall explain later.

The Phantom (Sundays).

27 January – 21 April 2019.

The Phantom Sunday continuity was partway through its flashback when I last checked in. He had returned a Xanangan child to her village. She was a stowaway on a vintage B-29. The plane’s crew flew at air shows. And they flew stolen wildlife from show to show. And don’t you think Mark Trail won’t be quite cross about all this smuggling when he finds out. But The Little Detective, accidentally locked into the cargo hold, started keeping notes. She dropped postcards at airshows. She trusted someone would mail them off.

Finally someone did. It was a letter to her family, who finally had some assurance that was alive and somehow in Sweden. Her family turned the news over to the Jungle Patrol. They turned it over to the Unknown Commander, our favorite stripey-panted walker. Meanwhile she keeps notes on what the smugglers take, and where they take them.

Smuggler: 'C'mon! Which one of you pigs keeps cleaning out our grub store?' Smuggler Two: 'And to whoever took my flashlight ... oh, man, you must be *trying* toget hurt!' The Phantom, narrating: 'Our young heroine documented every move the crew made in the unlawful trade in wildlife. Philippine forest turtles. The endangered Philippine crocodile. From Australia, lace monitors and black-headed pythons. Our intrepid little detective had the goods on this gang of smugglers! It was time for her to come home.' (It's shown examples of the Little Detective looking at each animal; the final panel is the Phantom sneaking up on the B-29 at a small, sleepy nighttime airport.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 17th of February, 2019. So the Comics Kingdom web site redesign has been tinkered with. It’s no longer so sluggish or all-around annoyingly bad. But it still isn’t as good as what the site used to be. The Sunday strips, particularly, are turning into messes like this. The four-row, two-column format might not be too bad, if the comic naturally rendered at the full width of my browser, the way it did in the old design. As it is, I can zoom in on the image, and see parts of the art in good detail. But … I mean, my eyes are good, for their age, and they’re not finding this an easy read.

The Phantom catches up with the B-29. I’m not sure where. He must have figured there aren’t that many touring B-29s that have made stops in Bangalla recently. He sneaks into the cargo hold at night, catching The Little Detective by surprise. Diana points out, so, he and his wolf named Devil, in the middle of the night, snuck into the cargo hold where a lone girl has been hiding from the crew for months. He concedes he could have introduced himself less alarmingly. But there was a deadline. The plane was leaving just before dawn; this was his best chance of contacting her before a fight.

The smugglers return to the plane. The Phantom glad-handles them, praising their cleverness and what a great story they’ll have to tell in prison. One of the smugglers spoils the cheery mood by taking out a gun. The Phantom takes back the scene, though. He explains he’s just moving the action over there so nobody accidentally shoots the airplane. It’s a deft touch, showing how simple persuasion is a superpower. The smugglers hardly notice they are letting The Phantom lead them, not until he grabs their gun.

Smuggler with gun on The Phantom: 'I'm leaving you two right here, masked man! And the wolf!' Phantom: "Devil ... stay!' Smuggler: 'I said GET THOSE HANDS UP!' Phantom: 'I'm going to turn the both of us. Turn us slowly. I'm telling you what I'm doing so you're not frightened. You're nervous, but that's not the same thing. You should be nervous. I'm turning us because nobody wants you to put a hole in the aircraft.' (They turn away from the B-29; Phantom, thinking: 'The girl's safe now.') Phantom: 'It's our flight home to Bangalla. And yours to Boomsby.' Smuggler: 'S-stop talking to me! I know what you're trying to do! Mister, I'm warning you! Don't start thinking you're faster than a bullet!' Phantom: 'Is it me against the bullet, do you think? Or me against you?' (Phantom suddenly flips around and grabs the gunman's arm; he fires, completely missing.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of March, 2019. And here we go. About half of the archived strips are four-row formatted strips. But about half of them are two-row formats like this. The panels are a little bit larger, and so easier to read, but not all that much bigger. And I know there are plenty of newspaper readers who’ve been getting this format forever, but I’m used to the pacing of the strip in its three-row format. I do not like the two- or the four-row formats at all. And this thing Comics Kingdom whipped up for today, the 21st? Where it’ll show some strips as six rows of one panel each, each panel just large enough that you can make out there might be something there? That’s exquisitely bad. That’s not just blowing off the usability tests, like everybody has since 2002, that’s going out of your way to be unusable.

Having blown it, the smugglers try to appeal to The Phantom’s patriotism. At least his historical enthusiasm. How can we possibly have both vintage World War II aircraft operating and some pangolin left surviving somewhere in the wild, after all? The smuggler starts some Greatest Generation talk when The Phantom slugs him, correctly. I mean, first, War Hardware fans are the worst. Second, Bangalla was part of the British Commonwealth of Fictional Nations. They, and their Buranda and Qumran brethren, were having people killed for a year and a half before the Americans put anything on the line. Still, The Phantom’s reaction is only at the level of punching. It’s not like these are Avro Arrow fanboys.

And yeah, I talk a smug game. But I know where my standing is weak. I kinda like the various preposterous ideas to do a lunar landing with Gemini spacecraft. There is an audience to which this is a very funny thing to admit and it is not my fault that you are not in it. Anyway that’s where the action has gotten by now.

Next Week!

So how’s the plane crash going? Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. promised excitement and an emergency touchdown. In a week, barring emergencies, I’ll recap what’s happened since then.

And until then? I keep reading the comic strips for mathematical themes, and share the results on my other blog. I’d be glad if you considered that, too. This week’s mathematics comic strip essay is here.

Statistics Saturday: When Easter Is Scheduled To Occur, 2020-2038


  • 2020: Sunday
  • 2021: Sunday (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)
  • 2022: Sunday
  • 2023: Sunday
  • 2024: Sunday
  • 2025: Sunday
  • 2026: Sunday (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)
  • 2027: Sunday (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)
  • 2028: Sunday
  • 2029: Sunday
  • 2030: Sunday
  • 2031: Sunday
  • 2032: Sunday
  • 2033: Sunday
  • 2034: Sunday (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)
  • 2035: Sunday
  • 2036: Sunday
  • 2037: Sunday (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)
  • 2038: [ Will not occur due to the Year 2038 or “Chuckletrousers” bug ] (Western); Sunday (Orthodox)

Reference: Look sometimes you’re trying to develop like four ideas and every one of them seems promising and like it should work and then it turns out none of them are coming together and deadline is and you have to go with the thing you have that is the least not-satisfying, all right? That’s my reference.

Which Color Paas Tablet Is Purple? Which is Red? Which is Pink?


Today I post what will surely come to be my most-referenced post of all time. Last year after yet again being annoyed that we couldn’t tell which color Paas Easter-egg tablet matched with which color I did something: I took pictures of every tablet, and how it looked mixed with vinegar or water, and how the resulting egg looked. I share that information with you here and now. In this way we can maybe prevent the catastrophe of that one tablet that’s supposed to be mixed with vinegar instead of hot water for some reason, only to find you used the other tablet of basically the same color and now everybody is shouting and there aren’t enough of those little plastic ones that wrap around the egg with a complicated scene instead and Easter is just ruined.

Colors are a hard thing to reproduce online, so I took pictures of as much as I could with a can of Coke Zero Sugar, so you can use that as reference. See if you can spot the moment when I realized I was letting the tablets be shaded by the soda can and swapped their placement!

Also there was a six-tablet Paas packet, and a nine-tablet Paas packet. I’ll label which is which. The nine-tablet packet is all the stuff from the six-tablet package, plus an extra package of three more colors. I took a picture of the six normal dye tablets before we started mixing things up, but I didn’t think to take a picture of the extra three tablets. So, well, good luck with those.

And because I forgot to mention: all the eggs were dyed to about the same length of time. It was about three minutes, although I can’t say precisely how long. I remember the fact that I timed it by some piece of music that came on the iPod but I don’t remember which song it was. Well, check my or my love’s iPods and pick a song that seems like it would have been on when we were dyeing eggs last year and there you go.

The pack of six normal dye tablets.
The pack of six normal dye tablets.

The nine eggs, as they look when they're getting more dry.
The nine eggs, as they look when they’re getting more dry.

The dyes which produced these eggs, in the same positions.
The dyes which produced these eggs, in the same positions.

Continue reading “Which Color Paas Tablet Is Purple? Which is Red? Which is Pink?”

Everything There Is To Say About Hurt Feet Except For What I Forget To Say


Do your feet hurt? And, come to think of it, who do your feet hurt? And if who, then what do they hurt? You might choose to stop them if they’re hurting someone else. Whether you want to do that depends on your history together. If your foot is emotionally hurting them instead things are also going to be more confused and difficult. Expect a long session of being scolded for not taking their side in your argument with them.

If your feet hurt you then the problem is more immediate. Giving your feet a good talking-to may be appropriate. There are times when you could want your feet to hurt. Those are when having a small but not provable ailment will get you out of something. For example, if there’s a spirit in the air that someone should move the fold-out couch up seven flights of stairs. If your feet are starting to hurt, then don’t waste time. Hang around eight-story buildings and make friends who have couches. You may as well get the credit for being totally willing to help, if only your feet allowed.

If you have got sore feet, there’s a process to follow. Check first that they are your own. Perhaps you were confused this morning and put on someone else’s by mistake. Perhaps you put them on deliberately. Are you one of those rotters trying to mess up a good thing for everyone else? We don’t need that. Why are you being that person? Did they hurt your feet so now you’re hurting your feet in retaliation? How does any of that make sense?

Which part of the foot hurts affects what to do about it. The foot has many parts, including the ankle, the toes, the arch, the support, the drawbridge, the toll booth, the pier, and the starling. Consult a team of expert engineers to identify structural weaknesses. If necessary they might design the complete replacement of your foot, perhaps with one of those elegant new cable-stayed feet. These can be most lovely with their long, graceful tapering curves of supporting wires. They’ll draw to your foot steady traffic of grateful tourists. You’ll want to dress appropriately. You’ll expect to find me make some crack about footbridges. That would be silly. It’s more profitable to have freight tunnels under your ankles. Fund this new foot with thirty-year construction bonds financed by tolls.

Should there be spare money it’s also a good idea to bring in a team of inexpert engineers, who’ll be funny to watch. You can get a team of inexpert engineers going for hours by pretending to not be certain which ones are your feet. You can ask them to prove those on you are actually your feet. Make sure you have your original receipt on foot lest they nab you for Grand Theft Navicular. That last joke was researched and is therefore funny. Ask if you’re supposed to identify with feet simply because you were physically attached to them. Should they instead be your feet because of the strong emotional connection you have with them? If they say “emotional connection” then grin. You have them. Point out how good the cat’s feet feel when you’re half-awake and the cat is patting your belly. Watch the inexpert engineers try to claim they were supposed to help the person the next house over.

If you rule out complete structural replacement of the foot then it’s on to repairs. There are several routes to fixing a sore foot. For example, you can apply pressure to it. If that doesn’t work, try removing pressure on it. You can try applying heat to it. If that’s no good, try not applying heat to it. You can go on pretty near forever trying to be sure whether the other approach would work better. If it keeps you occupied and feeling productive that alone is an accomplishment and you shouldn’t ignore that. There are all sorts of body parts that you have that aren’t doing as much. What’s important is the sense of participation.

Above all else, though, do remember that in 1923 BF Goodrich sold almost half a million Zipper Boots. This has nothing to do with your situation, but it is something researched, and therefore, is also funny.

My Offering Of Another Quick Dumb Thing Which Lowers My Words-Per-Post Average


Given that we can have a retrospective of a thing, does this mean the first time we encounter a thing is its trospective? If we are planning out a thing, is this its pretrospective?

(This fulfills the promise made last week, when I asked whether a thing being decrepit meant it was possible for it to be crepit or recrepit. Please visit next week when I ask about what it is to Reykjavik.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures springs leaks


This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure has the title Plumbing Problems. It set my expectations high. Plumbing has been a really good theme for cartoons. Plumbing Is The Pipe, from 1938, was another of the masterful Fleischer-era Popeye cartoons. Famous Studios did one as Floor Flusher, in 1954, and that was pretty solid despite the layer of general boredom that settled on Popeye cartoons of that era. When King Features cranked out 286,000 shorts in twelve minutes in the early 60s, one of them was Plumbers Pipe Dream and while I can’t call that one good, it is certainly deeply weird and unpredictable and thus interesting. I may do a separate review of just that carton because it is so … so … very much itself.

So how was Plumbing Problems?

I didn’t like this one. I mean, not so much as I liked Popeye the Painter. Nor some of the other plumbing cartoons. The storyline seems too scattershot for me. What I think gives most plumbing cartoons their comic energy is how they normally have this nice, built-in ratcheting of comic tension. Water is coming, and then more water is coming, and everything done to stop the water makes the problem worse, until things get truly dire. I don’t insist that all jokes can be explained as releases of tension. But there are many jokes which do work that way, so this is a good platform to build on.

It’s a competent start: Olive Oyl tries to make tea, but there’s no water. Leaks appear all over her house. Popeye tries plugging them up, first with an umbrella. I liked the umbrella handle spewing water; that’s a good bit. Olive Oyl and Popeye take miscellaneous objects, a lot of them clam shells, to stuff into the leaks, which works for the moment that comic timing requires. The sink becomes a geyser, and Olive tries to make emergency repairs. This fits in line with her Island Adventures characterization as a tinkerer.

Popeye hands Olive Oyl a heap of miscellaneous things. After stuffing them all in the drain, the leak’s stopped for a moment. It doesn’t last, which says exciting things about Olive Oyl’s water pressure. The geyser returns, shooting all this kitchen stuff into the air.

And here — 59 seconds in — Bluto finally enters the short. He’s minding his own business, a nice change of pace for the villain. He’s startled by the fork landing in front of him, and cringes when he sees Olive Oyl’s kitchen flying toward him. The dining table, chairs, plates, and candlestick land in perfect shape, another good bit of business. And that’s ended well with Olive’s flower-in-a-shoe landing in Bluto’s face. And Bluto gets an idea.

So Bluto presents himself as a plumber. His fee: a can of spinach. This fits a long history of Bluto being smart enough to understand the importance of spinach, but not smart enough to just buy it himself. (Although since we’ve seen Popeye canning his own spinach maybe there isn’t an island grocery.) And this gives Popeye the idea of trying to use spinach to fix the leaks. This fits a long history of Popeye not just eating spinach early enough to head off his problems. Stuffing some spinach into the drain, for a wonder, doesn’t work. But it does give Bluto the chance to swipe the rest of Popeye’s spinach. I credit the cartoon for subverting my expectations. But: is this all that funny? It makes sense Bluto would use an opportunity like this to make mischief. It makes sense Bluto would try stealing spinach. But this means he’s skipping out on the main plot tension of the water in order to swipe spinach. I don’t think the short has enough time — two minutes, fifteen seconds — to make that change of plot focus work.

Popeye and Olive Oyl realize Bluto’s trick. Popeye eats his remaining can of spinach and turns into … I’m not sure. He looks a little like your classic Von Braun Man-Will-Conquer-Space-Soon style rocket. Or maybe an anchor? Neither quite makes sense, since he uses the geyser from the sink to launch into the air. Popeye grabs a windsock, and wraps up Bluto before he’s gotten all that far. Seems like Popeye could probably have caught him by running, too, although then where would the windsock have come from? The water floods out of Olive’s house, and Popeye has the idea to replace all the leaking pipes with empty spinach cans. This works right up until Olive Oyl tests it, when instead of water, spinach pours out of the faucets. This is what happens when you pay attention to your own needs more than those of the friend you’re doing the work for.

So none of these are bad ideas. But the short feels episodic, a bunch of good starting points for jokes. The storyline felt scattershot, as if the writer couldn’t think of a funny thing to do with Olive’s house leaking. Or a funny reason for it to have started leaking. It’s among the weaker of these cartoons.


I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Where I’m At Today, a Monday


I was just struck by the recollection of this time in maybe 1997 or 1998, on Usenet. Someone had been explaining the etymological origins of the names for the days of the week. You know, like how Thursday comes from Thor’s Day, or Wednesday from Woden’s Day, or Friday from Freya’s Day. And after this quite reasonable, quick description of the origins of day names someone comes in and declares, “I don’t believe it. Sounds like a folk etymology to me.” Anyway so I’m angry about that all over again and just hope that the person who insisted it was absurd to think that, like, Tuesday had anything to do with Tyr has had this come back to humiliate them, ideally by blowing what would otherwise have been a decisive victory in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. You know, in the way people have normal and healthy reactions to things.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? How can you scam a Mary Worth character? January – April 2019


It is a refreshing change that I am not upset with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I am still upset with Comics Kingdom, since the redesigned site is quite bad. But that won’t stop me recapping the plot of the last three months. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2019, I may have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.

If what you need is mathematically themed comic strips, though? I’ve got them here. Please, enjoy. Some of last week’s comics should be at this link.

Mary Worth.

20 January – 12 April 2019

Last time you’ll recall, Toby thought her marriage to Ian was in danger. The danger was Jannie. She’s one of Ian’s students. She can stop talking about what an inspirational teacher Ian is only long enough to point out he’s brilliant too. Toby could not believe someone saying stuff like that about her Ian. Ian had no doubts that he is, truly, the greatest Local College instructor of all time. Jannie had no doubts that she had Ian wrapped around her fingers. Toby was sure they must be having an affair. Ian was unaware that this could be, or could even look like, an affair. It’s a specific sort of obliviousness that I believe in.

Jannie figures it’s time to slack off. And she commits to it, slacking off as much as she buttered up Ian in the first place. She skips turning in an assignment, giving Ian nothing but a wink instead. Ian gets so mopey about having to fail a student who didn’t turn in an assignment that it convinces Toby he’s having an affair. Mary Worth reminds her that “talking with your husband about things that distress you” is an option. Toby is unconvinced.

Jannie: 'The ONLY thing you inspire in me is disdain and derision, you old man! In face the ONLY thing you inspire in people my age is EXASPERATION! Why are old &%$!s like you still AROUND?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 2nd of February, 2019. And you may ask whether the comics have enjoyed a more wonderful facial expression than Ian’s in the second panel there. The answer is no, not in 2019, not yet.

Jannie is angry that she failed. Ian tries to explain that she didn’t turn in the assignment. She unloads on what an old fool he is and demands to know, pretty much, why he isn’t dead or something. We don’t actually see her ask if she can get extra credit. Jannie goes back to wherever temporary Mary Worth characters go after their plots have ended. She tries to hook up with Michael, who’d been interested in her when she was flattering Ian. He’s got a girlfriend now. So, she can’t talk with him anymore. She’s got to smoke her collapsible blackboard pointer by herself.

Ian comes home, moping about what a fool he is. He tells Toby he needs to talk. This is lucky. Mary Worth has been trying, continuously, since the start of the year to get Toby to try talking with Ian about her anxieties. And it finally took! Ian laughs off the idea he was having an affair with one of his students. Or even that one of his students could find him attractive or inspirational. Fair enough that he doubts himself, in the situation. But it also means his answer to “I’m worried you’re having an affair with one of your students” is “Oh, no, that student was only using me for my gradebook”.

But that is, after all, a happy ending. Toby and Ian are extremely married. They’re happy that they are too. And they’ll even try this “communicating” thing, in case a problem ever comes up again, which it never will.


The new, and current, plot started the 18th of February. It began with a visit to Estelle, who I never figured on seeing again. She’s the widow who adopted Libby, the one-eyed cat that Mary picked up after pet-dating Saul Wynter. Estelle and Libby are having a great time. But Mary Worth is going to keep visiting until Estelle gets herself a very heterosexual relationship. So Estelle tries out a seniors dating web site. Mary is so happy with the prospect she doesn’t even have time to register disapproval of doing stuff on the Internet.

Mary Worth thinks: 'Estelle is a lovely woman. I hope she has some luck with online dating.' Her luck: a man 14 years older than death. 'Oh no!' A chauvinist from a 70s sitcom: 'Check, please!' A huge, blubbering polygamist: 'NOPING right out of here.' A dirty, homeless-looking guy who's licking the plate: 'No way!' A Talosian explaining about how The Last Jedi sucks: 'UGH!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 3rd of March, 2019. So, yeah, the Sunday strips are among the things that Comics Kingdom has screwed up with their very bad redesign. The way the strips had been, this comic would run on three rows, and be larger and easier to read. I believe it might also have had another panel. The more old-fashioned Sunday strips are often designed with a panel that can be dropped without loss of narrative cohesion in order to allow newspapers to lay them out like this. I’m not sure, because I didn’t save this strip at the time of publication. (More modern strips, here I mean the ones that will use a full Sunday spread to do, like, a two-panel comic but with lots of solid-colored background shapes, don’t do this. I don’t know whether the artists draw different compositions for newspaper needs or whether they just don’t offer alternate layouts.)

Estelle tries out a couple of dates, which all go hilariously wrong. One guy turns out to be old! Another is a male chauvinist. Another is polygamous. One is even a poor. It’s a fun week watching her have fantastically bad dates. Fun enough I don’t mind that they could have talked on the phone for ten minutes before the date. Or they could have gotten a coffee mid-afternoon instead. Estelle could have saved herself some awful evenings. I don’t care.

And Estelle doesn’t give up. She’s going to keep online-dating until she finds the right scam to fall for. That would be Arthur Zerro, a “widower, construction engineering manager, music lover, and traveller”. He’s working in Malaysia. But he lives in Santa Royale, and is eager to get back home in a couple months. It looks like a great match. They both love travel. Estelle says she loves “multicultural cuisine”. We longtime Mary Worth snarkers take this to mean she likes those combined Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken/Pizza Hut places.

Mary Worth: 'How long have you been corresponding with Arthur?' Estelle: 'A few weeks. It's been a whirlwind. His voice and his words fill me with joy! He professed his love ... and I may feel the same!' Mary: 'That's ... GREAT!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of March, 2019. Contrary to the easy jokes, Mary Worth likes the Internet. It allowed her the chance to be an advice columnist for people all over the world who can’t figure out how to ask their appropriately suitable partner what’s worrying them, and who need an inspirational quote of dubious origin to set them straight.

Arthur Z continues being too good to be real. He loves cats. He calls to read poetry to Estelle. He wants to devote his retirement to Estelle’s happiness. And she thinks that sounds great. He wants to have a nice exchange of questionnaires, the way real people will really do for real in reality. She offers answers. Her favorite food. Her hobbies. What kind of car her drives. What was her elementary school teacher’s pet’s maiden name. What’s her bank’s routing number. Still, the questionnaire part goes great. Arthur even has the same favorite band that she does! It’s the Beatles.

It’s not much of a story if nothing weird happens, though. In an e-mail Arthur misspells his name. I’d be snarkier about this except I know how many times autocorrect has fixed my ‘Jsoeph’ at the end of e-mails this past month. I think my keyboard has issues. Anyway, we also finally see Arth[e|u]r on-screen. He’s not the stunningly good-looking man of his profile picture. He’s more what you get when Louie DePalma didn’t realize that Oscar Madison was also in the transporter pod. So now we experienced readers know something must be up. Persons are only untidy because they’re using all their organizing energy running a confidence scheme.

Artheur falls silent. When he finally connects he has woes. There was an accident on the job site. He’s all right, but the job is going to take months, maybe a year longer now. At least, unless someone has ten thousand dollars that she could wire him. Just as a loan. You know, like someone whose credit score has fluttered between 785 and 813 for the past thirty-six months might be able to swing. Its a hard story, but Estelle decides she had best fall for it.

Estelle: 'Arthur's return was delayed due to an on-site job accident.' Mary Worth: 'Is he all right?' Estelle: 'Thankfully, yes! And he'll be back on schedule now that he has his money to repair his equipment!' Mary: 'Money from ... you?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 2nd of April, 2019. “Well, yeah, but only like fifty bucks. I needed it to get the IndieGogo campaign seeded. It’s going pretty well, we’ve had it up four days and it’s already collected $3,500 so we’re thinking there’s a good chance it’ll succeed. I think what’s putting it over is Artheur recording these videos where he explains how to do home-repair stuff anyone who donates $25 does. There’s, like, thousands of people who just let the faucets leak a little bit because they’re afraid of how to fix them, and Artheur’s got this great stage persona that lets you know this is about as challenging as replacing the battery in your car. And, gosh, I never realized that was like three minutes of work if you did it slow, not before Artheur did that video about how it works.”

Estelle mentions Artheur’s problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth underplays her concern. She just asks if it was a lot of money Artheur needed. How well Estelle knows Artheur. Whether Estelle does, in fact, have the common sense that God bestowed upon gravel. But, Mary hasn’t got actual evidence.

So what’s there to do but call on Toby? Who is an expert in this sort of thing. In a sequence that ran in the strip like 800 years ago she fell for a phishing e-mail and she had to get a whole credit card cancelled and replaced. So Toby has skills, and a need to prove them. She’ll wipe out the shame of falling for a “you’re account has exhalated” notice yet! It’s on to a series of panels of “people looking at a laptop”. Thanks to Google Image Search she finds Artheur Zerro’s picture is really that of a “South African male model named Ivan Inghem”. I’m disappointed that my own DuckDuckGo search indicates there’s no such person. I would have been so impressed had Mary Worth used some obscure-to-Americans attractive face.

Anyway, Artheur Zerro’s name is fake too. So now the problem is how to break this to Estelle. That should go great, though. What person do we love more than whoever makes it impossible to ignore how titanic our blunders were? Mary tries the direct approach: show her pictures of Ivan Inghem. Point out nobody in the construction industry knows the name “Artheur Zerro”. That he took ten thousand bucks off her. So this all looks like it’s going well.

I am delighted to have a whole Mary Worth plot recap that does not leave me furious with the story. It’s been a couple of stories of gentle emotional charge. Jannie, Ian, Toby, and Estelle have been acting like clods. But they mostly acted like clods in ways I can accept. Jannie assumed she had a level of trust she didn’t. Ian didn’t think his little problems worth discussing. Toby thought her problems too big to discuss. Estelle fell for a decent line from a scammer. They’re believable enough. And I’m pleasantly surprised that Mary Worth is going back and checking in on the cat she couldn’t adopt because Doctor Jeff was allergic. I’m curious what’s going to follow Estelle’s fall.

Auto Surgeon sign: 'YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF YOU TRY'
I was starting to fear that the car care place wouldn’t update their inspirational-yet-I-can-make-it-despairing message board. But I had just finished the draft on Mark Trail last week when I saw, yay! They had a new message! And only I feel it interrogating me, “So why do you refuse to try?”

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

  • “I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.
  • “Communication is something we all take for granted.” — Miriam Margolyes, 27 January 2019.
  • “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 3 February 2019.
  • “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare, 10 February 2019.
  • “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” — Mignon McLaughlin, 17 February 2019.
  • “As daddy said, life is 95 percent anticipation.” — Gloria Swanson, 24 February 2019.
  • “The single life is not one I willingly chose for myself.” — Jessica Savitch, 3 March 2019.
  • “Falling in love as we know it is an addictive experience.” — Susan Cheever, 10 March 2019.
  • “Falling in love and having a relationship are two different things.” — Keanu Reeves, 17 March 2019.
  • “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe, 24 March 2019.
  • “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” — Henry David Thoreau, 31 March 2019.
  • “It is by doubting that we come to investigate, and by investigating that we recognize the truth.” — Peter Abelard, 7 April 2019.
  • “Love is blind.” — William Shakespeare, 14 April 2019.

Next Week!

The Rat is quite dead. But there is The Little Detective, and her work in finding animal smugglers Mark Trail was too busy to handle. Next week, barring emergencies, I’ll look at Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. And if you like seeing anything about any of the story strips, they’re gathered at this link. Thanks for sticking around.

Statistics Saturday: Some English Words That Amazingly All Share A Common Proto-Indo-European Root


  • father
  • paternal
  • fraternity
  • pitter-patter
  • pastie
  • infatuation
  • contrapunctual
  • spats
  • twelve
  • pantropy
  • paddleboat
  • burrito
  • fatuousity
  • potato
  • waters
  • expropriation
  • factithesis
  • disappearance
  • burritino
  • Thursday

Reference: Report of the Apollo 13 Review Board [ The Cortright Commission ]

A Stray Thought About That Black Hole Photograph


I would not say anything to detract from how astounding the photograph of that black hole is. It’s just got me thinking of the progress of technology. Think of the challenge facing when 18th century astronomers. When they wanted to record the image of a black hole 55 million light-years away they had to station people around the world and get them to all paint watercolor pictures of the hole at the same time. And, like, half of them had to grind their own paints because just buying ‘red’ was seen as some kind of being a poser or something. It’s amazing.

All Kinds Of Thoughts About A Bucket Of Water And The Universe


I should clarify I mean the bucket contains water, and is itself in the universe. If this is not understood then I will be confusing.

Newton’s Bucket is one of the innumerable great physics problems involving buckets. By innumerable I mean two. The other one is the problem of how many buckets you can place over the head of a person sleeping in physics class before they startle awake. But this problem is of only historical interest anymore. Now that they have cell phones students don’t sleep in class, or anywhere else. This has helped them reach the level of maturity where we’re all tired and anxious. That surely helps.

So this is the other great bucket-based physics problem. And the fun thing is that you can work on it without having a bucket of your own. You don’t even need your own Newton, which makes things easier on all of us. First, imagine if you had a bucket. If you really do have a bucket, your imagination is either quite vivid or it’s not good at all. I don’t have a preferred interpretation. You can fight it out with your friends. Make sure to bring up the time they volunteered at the improv night and froze up on stage. That will surely help.

But take your bucket, imaginary or not, and put some water in. You can get water by imagining that you’ve burned some amines and filtered out the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides. Or you can use the tap if you aren’t any fun. Imagine spinning the bucket, though. As you twirl it around, your arm gets very tired and, if you don’t stop, it falls off. So we maybe imagine hanging the bucket from a rope or a chain that can twirl around without being your arm.

Bartender: 'Here's one. How many theoretical physicists does it take to change a light bulb?' Lard: 'No idea, Phil.' Bartender: 'Two! One to hold the light bulb. The other to rotate the universe.' The gnome who's there with Lard looks horrified by the punch line.
Keith Tutt and Daniel Saunders’s Lard’s World Peace Tips for the 10th of April, 2019. It’s a surprisingly timely comic strip given my subject this week, and it’s completely on-topic if you don’t actually read it! Or if you wonder how this advances the cause of world peace.

The question is: while you’re spinning the bucket, how do you know the bucket and water are spinning? How do you know they’re not actually staying still while the entire universe spins around them, like the way it works when you’re riding a carousel? For us this is easy to answer. As the bucket spins, it spills water onto your socks. This makes you growl and set the bucket down. You go to change into oh, it turns out those were your last clean socks. Great. Now the day is spilled. You mean spoiled, but it’s spoiled by being spilled, so maybe they’re the same word after all and just look different and mean different things. Anyway your setting the bucket down settles the matter. If the whole universe were spinning instead, it would have to be that your socks spilled into the water. And you know that didn’t happen, unless you stepped into the bucket.

That’s the practical matter. Now imagine this, though. What if there were nothing in the universe except the bucket and the water and the chain it hung from? Then how would you know it was the bucket and water spinning instead? And this is the question that makes cosmologists say “whoooooah” to each other. Meanwhile the other people in the physics department? The ones working on, like, the dispersal of shock waves in rarefied fluids near a phase transition? They’ll say things like, “Yeah, they’re not with us” and “that person with the physics degree and the post as physics professor with an office in the physics department is … uh … we’re going to say in Evo Psych.” The evolutionary psychologists, happy to have someone talking about them in a non-derogatory way, agree.

But this does nothing to answer the question, which we have to do for some reason. So if there was almost nothing in the universe. There’s no distant galaxies. No planets. No things that wiggle. No pillows with flower prints. No battery-powered plastic candles. No nothing except this bucket and this water, how would you know if it were spinning? And the answer is that you don’t know, because you don’t exist. Not unless you’re either the bucket or the water. And we can be sure you’re not the bucket, not with your sense of dignity.

Can we be sure you’re not the water? This is a harder question to answer. To say for sure that you’re water would require pressing yourself into a sponge, pulling back out, and seeing if you can’t. But as the question set out, there are no sponges in the universe. So therefore there’s no way to do this experiment and thus tell.

And so we see the importance of Newton’s Bucket. Thanks to it we understand how fortunate we are to live in a world with sponges, as we would otherwise have no knowledge of which things were spinning. This surely helps.

One More Quick, Dumb Thing To Lower My Words-Per-Post Average


So from the word “decrepit” may we conclude that it is possible for a thing to be “crepit” or even “recrepit” too?

(This fulfills the promise made last week, when I asked “Aquaman or Thequaman”, although in slightly different wording from what I promised then, as I had thoughts during the editing process. Please come back next week while I ask whether having a retrospective means the first time we encounter a thing is its trospective, or whether planning the thing out would be our pretrospective.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures tries some art


This week’s is a short Popeye’s Island Adventure. I clock it at running two minutes exactly. That’s all right. It’s really funny as it is. Popeye The Painter doesn’t need to be longer just to be longer. Let’s watch.

There’s almost no plot to this short. It’s all setup and punchline. It works. Maybe because the premise is both simple and flexible. Popeye wants a painting. Setup: he tries painting something. Punchline: we see what he’s looking at. Repeat for as many good jokes as the still-unknown-to-us writers have. Add any running jokes and you have a story.

It’s all solid enough jokes, too. Fine art almost always harmonizes well with cartoons. I’m not sure why. It might be that the technical skill of a masterpiece gives a cartoon a better sounding board for its jokes. It might be that animators get really excited about playing with great art. Maybe not; the animation here was about the same as ever, with the writing setting up the comedy. In any case it usually goes well, unless the cartoon goes on about modern art.

Popeye’s first painting is a riff on Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, starring Olive Oyl, Eugene, and Swee’Pea. The reality is less glamorous: Olive Oyl, Eugene, and Swee’Pea are trying desperately to escape a giant man-eating clam. It’s a funny setup, and I like seeing how the other characters are off having adventures even when we’re busy watching Popeye.

Then we get a version of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, featuring Popeye and Bluto. It’s theologically weird. But we can ask whether Popeye would have been such a great cartoon character if he didn’t have Bluto to play against. There are many cartoons without Bluto, but they are typically less interesting. The “reality” scene is a bit odd too. Bluto’s hanging from a crane in what looks like the aftermath of a scheme to make mischief. That’s fine, and again, I like the suggestion the characters have other stuff going on. Also that apparently Bluto mistook the scarecrow Popeye for the real one, pleasantly goofy. Popeye throwing away the painting makes sense; that this hits the crane’s controls and sends Bluto spinning away seems imbalanced, though. I feel like just abandoning Bluto to his plight would fit better.

On to modern art! Cartoons and comic strips are usually very cranky old men regarding modern art, the last place you can get paid for saying “my kid could’ve drawn that”. This cartoon isn’t so cranky. Popeye paints a Picasso-esque Portrait of Dora Maar. Eugene’s horrified by how distorted his head’s gotten; a good sneeze fixes things.

Then Swee’Pea in a version of Edvard Munch’s Scream. Swee’Pea has something to scream at: it’s the giant man-eating clam, off on a rampage. It’s sudden and funny and by making a running joke gives the cartoon just enough story.

Finally Popeye gets inspiration, drawing a spinached up version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. There’s some nice variations on the eating-the-spinach routine here. In past art cartoons Popeye’s eaten a can of spinach to gain artistic skill. Here he just uses it as a dab of paint, and that’s another smile for me. The music is different too, doing a more chamber music version of the New Popeye theme. He’s finally got the right painting for his wall. Meanwhile Olive Oyl, Eugene, Bluto, and Swee’Pea are fleeing the giant rampaging man-eating clam. Perfect resolution.

I watch these shorts several times over before writing them up, and usually another time while writing an essay. Sometimes shorts improve on the rewatching; sometimes I need a couple watches to get it. This is one I just got right away, and liked from the start. Good concept, well executed. And it finds space to fit in a Magritte joke that’s thematically appropriate to the cartoon and a riff on how Young Popeye doesn’t have his pipe. Good work all around.

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Another One Of Those Little Scenes That Lets You Know Exactly Who I Am


This would be me, getting my hair cut, and finally feeling comfortable about it when the barber mentions having these nice wireless razors and other electric hair-trimming appliances. I agree how it’s great that he can have all this stuff and not have those dense clouds of tangled wires that could themselves use some kind of wire combing device. I express curiosity what’s happened that barber-shop equipment manufacturers can make these devices now, when they would surely have been at least as popular ten years ago. He doesn’t know. I agree I don’t know. We retire from the field, tied. I tip $4 on a $16 bill and am glad the base charge wasn’t, like, $17 or $18 that would make a fair tip awkward.

Tomorrow, I project applying forty times the amount of shampoo which my hair could use.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why did Comics Kingdom screw up its web site? January – April 2019.


I have no idea why Comics Kingdom decided to screw up its web site. But they went and redesigned it, so now it works worse by every measure. It’s that thing where a web site decides to see what it can do to annoy its regular customers. For me, that’s by two approaches: I can’t load all my comics in one go anymore. You know, the way you’d think a comics page on a comics-page site would do. I have to keep hitting ‘load six more comics’, and hoping that the site doesn’t hang, so that I have to reload the entire thing from scratch. Since the site redesign I have gotten through the day’s comics without a glitch exactly zero times. Also for me, that’s the trashing of archives. Comics Kingdom used to let me look at seven comics on a single page, which is invaluable for following a story comic. They’ve forgotten to include that in the redesign. So I’ll be sending them notes about this lost functionality until they stop reading complaints about things they broke. That would be when I first sent any complaint at all.

Anyway. If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Or I’ve given up on comics altogether as a bad job. If I haven’t, though, my newer plot recaps should be at this link. Thanks for sticking with me through this mess.

Mark Trail.

13 January – 7 April 2019.

Mark Trail’s long journey in Mexico seemed ready to end, last time I checked in. Mark and responsible-ish authority-like figures found Rusty Trail and Mara. They, in turn, had found Boss and Jefe, who were smuggling archeological finds out of Professor Carter’s dig site. And Mark Trail knew them: in early 2016 they were smuggling people into the United States. Along the way Boss and Jefe left Mark and company for dead, in an enormous and amazing cavern system. Now, finally, Mark Trail has someone to punch.

Juanito, watching Mark Trail punching guys, thinks: 'Boy! That guy made quick work of Jose and Jefe --- I'm running for it!' He runs for it. Jose the cop sees this and thinks: 'Uh-oh ... that third guy is getting away! I've got to stop him!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of January, 2019. So this gets a bit confusing because José is also the name of the cop in the second and third panels, and he was finally established as being on the good side in the weeks before this strip ran. The guy that Juanito thinks of as Jose was being called Boss before. I’m not sure if this was a slip of James Allen’s pen or if they were just both named José. It would be one of those coincidences that happens all the time in real life. In fiction, though, it’s supposed to mean something or else just confuse people. But this storyline went a long time without naming any of the Mexican characters.

Mark and Jose are able to punch, and catch, Boss, Jefe, and their underling Juanito. They don’t find Rusty and Mara right away, though. The last they saw, the kids were heading towards the old library Boss and Jefe had been using. Rusty and Mara are there, playing Go Fish with Raul. You remember Raul: he’s the slightly bearded motorcycle … agent … who was part of the ring trying to catch the smugglers. So everyone’s reunited, the bad guys are foiled, and it’s been a productive day that’s run since, like, July of last year.

The rest of the Mexico visit is quiet. The Trails spend time on the beach watching nature. Rusty and Mara agree to swap e-mail addresses, in case either of them ever sends an e-mail. And there’s a lot of pictures of toucans, a running joke this storyline that I don’t understand. While flying home, Mark Trail takes time to explain how he loves the great adventure comics of the past. He cites particularly Jungle Jim, which ran from 1934 to 1954. This seems a little old for Mark Trail, if he’s not supposed to be a timeless, unageing spirit. Maybe he encountered it in reprints. Jungle Jim, written by Don Moore and illustrated by Alex Raymond, is a Vintage reprint on Comics Kingdom. Good luck reading it.

Jose, entering the library, seeing Raul, Mara, and Rusty: 'Raul ... ' Jose and Mark Trail: 'You're playing cards?' Raul: 'I told you I would deal with the kids!' Mara: 'Raul has been cheating!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2019. Oh, yes, you see, “deal” with the kids. It’s part of how Raul talks like he’s in a genially dopey mid-80s action comedy. Also, they’re playing Go Fish, which is a game you can’t cheat in without the other party knowing you’re cheating. Now, one time I was playing chess with this like seven-year-old who loved the idea of becoming a chess player, but didn’t know enough to realize that, like, I wasn’t making up castling. But I’m not going to go crushing young enthusiasm. Somewhere around five moves in, he left the king incredibly open, and I had to shuffle around for three or four moves before he finally noticed, or maybe just moved by accident to close the vulnerability. And that was the last game of chess I ever won.

The close to the Mexico storyline came the 9th of March. Rusty Trail got a package. After a couple days spent talking about how good it is to read the comics, Rusty opened it: it’s the Zuni fetish doll. The one that turned up without explanation at the archeologists’ camp. The one that revealed Mark Trail knew of the word “fetish”. Even though it’s not that kind of fetish. Anyway, with that note, something that surely refers to something I don’t know, we could leave Mexico in the past.


But before that was another “Dirty” Dyer interlude. We hadn’t seen him since April 2018. He’s still figuring to kill Mark Trail. We meet him testing out a flamethrower in the Bahamas. He’s trying out that and a rocket launcher supplied by a Mister Smith. Smith is surprisingly curious about why Dyer wants to buy stuff that can kill someone so much. Dyer is surprisingly upfront about it: he wants to kill someone so much.

Smith: 'Using the rocket launcher to kill someone, however, might be a bit of overkill!' Dyer: 'Well, you haven't met Mark Trail yet!' Smith, astounded: 'Mark Trail? You mean the famous writer!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 22nd of February, 2019. Wait a minute, a fez-wearing guy who asks us to call him ‘Mr Smith’? Is this some slightly baffling reference to the Eleventh Doctor? … Eh, probably just coincidence. But … eh. We’ll see when “Dirty” Dyer’s story picks up next.

And Smith is surprised who Dyer wants to kill. He knows of Mark Trail, and loves his articles. He’s glad to help kill Mark Trail. He’d like to get an autograph first, but it’s not like he’s going to run out of Mark Trail archives. Also surprisingly interested in joining the fun: Semo, the cabana boy. He’s good at forging passports and other legal documents. And he knows Microsoft Office, so that’s useful. Also he’s tired of being a cabana boy and getting, like, crazy demands from guests such as David Hasselhoff. (Yes, the text in that strip is written in an odd, evasive style. But on the 4th of March Dyer names “The Hoff”.)


The new story got started the 11th of March. Doc had sad news: his old buddy Amos died. And he tells a story of when he and Amos were working a dude ranch. One day a bearded stranger came to them with the map of a vanished gold mine. He’d said the Native Americans who worked the strange mine with an entrance that moved around had left a rich cache of gold. They’d gone with him, and followed the map. The stranger dug underneath a pile of rocks, going into the opening alone, and emerged hours later with bags of gold. The stranger left town, saying he had all the gold he needed. Doc and Amos and other boys from town searched the area the next day, but the land seemed to have changed.

Doc, recounting an illustrated memory: 'As we removed the pile of rocks, the skies grew dark as clouds rolled in, bringing thunder and lightning with them! The stranger descended to the unearthed opening alone! Hours later he came back --- his arms weighed down with bags of gold!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of March, 2019. Yeah, I’m really not sure I’m into Disney’s CGI remake of Aladdin.

So that’s the story. Amos had the stranger’s map. His widow is giving it to Doc. He wonders what became of the mine that he swears he saw. So, let’s put on a mining expedition! Besides, Mark can probably photograph some Sonoran desert creatures and make a story about it and maybe blow up a jeep or something. They fly to Phoenix, a city where I know surprisingly many people considering I’ve never been in Arizona. And set out to get gold-prospecting equipment while trading facts about the Sonoran Desert. This has offered a lot of chances to show animals in the foreground and large vehicles driving in the mid-background. They meet up with J J Looper, who owns a supply store, and acts friendly even though he’s got a stubbly beard. But Looper offers his expertise in gold-prospecting and in gold-prospecting lore. The folklore might be handy this adventure.

Cherry Trail, picking up satchels of things in the prospecting supply store: 'There are two types of gold deposits --- lode and tracer.' Looper: 'That's correct! Pardon me for interrupting ... I'm J J Looper, and this is my shop!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2019. So is anyone else wondering why Mark Trail has clearly vowed to revenge himself by all methods possible on J J Looper for how he just went and confirmed Cherry’s knowledge of the principal types of gold deposit?

So they’re ready to set off. I should be ready to check back in on them around late June or early July of this year. Whatever I have to report should appear at this link.

Also, hey, I read comic strips for their mathematical content too. Here’s some discussion of five comic strips, which you might like to read.

Sunday Animals Watch

What wonders of the natural world — animals, plants, phenomena — have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? And how much have we specifically doomed them? Here’s your roundup.

  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened. Yet.
  • Tanzanite, 20 January 2019. It was discovered only in 1967, and there’s one spot where it’s known to occur, but don’t worry: the American Gem Trade Association has named it a birthstone so we’ll be doing something terrible to people to get it now.
  • Spotted Lanternflies, 27 January 2019. They’re doing very well, now that they’re an invasive species in the United States Northeast.
  • Redback Spider, 3 February 2019. It’s in Australia so I assume any one of them is able to poison over one-quarter of the world’s human population.
  • The United States Forest Service, 10 February 2019. Incredibly endangered.
  • Albatrosses, 17 February 2019. Threatened or endangered, plus, you start talking about them and some nerd does Monty Python at you.
  • Tortugas National Park, Florida, 24 February 2019. Unbelievably doomed.
  • The Horned Marsupial Frog, 3 March 2019. We’d thought it was extinct the last decade, but it’s turned up in Ecuador, so that’s something.
  • King Vultures, 10 March 2019. Not particularly threatened, although they do live in Brazil, so, mm. That won’t end well.
  • The Deep-Sea Cucumber, Enyphiastes Eximia, 17 March 2019. It’s a deep sea creature. Who even knows?
  • Scorpions, 24 March 2019. They seem safe. The panel gives “Special Thanks to Jude Nelson”. So we may infer that scorpion in your room is Jude’s doing.
  • Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle, 31 March 2019. It’s a turtle you never heard of, so, you see where this is going.
  • The Vaquita Porpoise, 7 April 2019. There might be as many as fifteen of them left alive.

Next Week!

Am I angry with Karen Moy and June Brigman? As of my writing these words no, I am not. Will that change in seven days? We’ll know in under 169 hours what I think’s going on with Mary Worth.

Statistics Saturday: The Seven-Day Minus-Forecast


  • Sunday: 1st April
  • Monday: 2nd of April
  • Tuesday: 3rd of April
  • Wednesday: 4th of April
  • Thursday: 5th of April
  • Friday: 6th of April
  • Saturday: 7th of April

Reference: The Mathematical Experience, , Philip J Davis and Reuben Hersh.

The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Still Never Seen A Squirrel


Yes, I know, I mostly want to complain about the redesign of Comics Kingdom. Like every web site redesign, it uses more Javascript so as to make things slower, and show the comics smaller, and make the archive not work at all. I’m having a merry little freak-out about how I’m going to describe three months’ worth of Mark Trail. I mean freak-out by my standards, which is to say, if someone in person specifically asked me, “Hey, are you feeling confident you’re going to be able to review three months’ worth of Mark Trail and select several representative comic strips to illustrate the plot before Sunday night?” I would admit to having doubts. I underplay my feelings.

But I’ll save my complaints about that for the Comics Kingdom tech support, who won’t do anything about them, or read them. Instead I’d like to offer a follow-up to the August 2017 question, Has The Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Ever Seen A Squirrel?

Beetle, tossing some crumbs at a couple of ... shaggy, dog-like squirrels running off (the implication is one is chasing the other two): 'I've noticed that with animals, the biggest is usually the boss.' In the commissary Beetle demands of Cookie: 'From now on, I want THREE helpings!'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 4th of April, 2019. Beetle has never observed a red squirrel, which is a tiny, aggressive model squirrel that’s about the size of a golf ball, chase off a pack of four or more fox squirrels, which are the size of subcompact cars, to get at the squirrel feeder with the door that the red squirrel is too small to open without help.

I have to rule “No, not yet.”

In Which I Imagine Having A Job I Would Be Very Bad At


I was thinking of something from a couple years ago. The alternatives are thinking of the present, or worse, of the future. But you know how it is. You read something and then you go and remember it. It spoils the fun of re-reading the thing. But it’s no longer possible to re-find a thing you once read anyway. Once you glance away, it’s gone. You can subscribe to our fun newsletter but you’ll never find it again.

So this is as best I remembered the thing. It was in Russia and like a decade ago. They were having this problem with groups holing up in bunkers and things and waiting for the end of the world. And, like, sure you understand that now. But this was like 2010, when all the Internet was furious about was how Apple sent everybody a U2 album. But there were enough groups holing up waiting for the end of the world that they had an office to deal with this. And that’s what I keep coming back to.

Because I try to imagine working for that office. I’d go out, find a group of people who are in a bunker or a cave or an abandoned factory or something, waiting for the end of the world. And then … what can I do to get them out? I assume I’m trying to get them out. If I weren’t, why would I even leave the office? Maybe there’s a good restaurant nearby I’d wanted to try for lunch. That’s not likely. I’m not an adventurous lunch-goer. It took me six years to try the Big John’s Steak and Onions sandwich shop. It’s like a mile and a half from home and I pass it every time I go anywhere. And that I had to approach slowly, feigning like I was going to the jewelers’ next door and peering at the menu while the cashier looked upset with me.

So grant that I’m there to talk them out. I have a reputation among my friends for being diplomatic. This is because they don’t know about the time I could not convince my love that I was not upset about making the asparagus with sweetened condensed, rather than evaporated, milk. It’s been years and neither of us has suggested having asparagus since. So you can see where I’d fall short handling this. What can negotiations be like?

“Come on out,” I’d probably say. “The world’s not ending anytime soon.” You can see why I have this reputation for diplomacy in my social circles.

But I haven’t made my case. “No,” they’re sure to say. “The world is coming to an end very soon and we’re going to hide.”

“What are you hoping to get by hiding, though?” Here I’m figuring that all I want is them out in the world. It’s fine if they figure it’s ending soon. “Did anything you didn’t like ever go away by hiding? Did school go away by hiding?”

An answer. “I never hid from school. I liked it, except for this algebra teacher in eighth grade.”

“You too?” I’d say. “I didn’t understand a word from my teacher that year. The only thing I ever learned was this two-week stretch we had a substitute.”

And here we have recognition. “She taught this little tic-tac-toe board thing? Kind of a weird magic square for factoring quadratic polynomials?”

“Exactly!” And now that seems good. The person has said something kind of friendly to me, so now I’m bonded. Experience indicates I’ll now take fifteen years of their berating me before I acknowledge we’re not friends, but we could be if they showed more consideration. So that’s all great. I have someone new I can get e-mails from that I’ll never answer because I feel too bad that I haven’t answered them already. But it hasn’t done a thing about getting the holed-up group out, or getting me in. I don’t see how this makes any progress.

And then another thing, if this is a group in Russia like I had read about. I have to trust someone in the group understands English. Someone has to be helping me along there. Oh, wouldn’t that be my luck, if whoever spoke English in the cave wanted to mess with all of us?

Another Quick, Dumb Thing Because I Still Want To Lower My Words-Per-Post Average


Is he merely Aquaman, or is he so singular as to be, in fact, Thequaman?

(This is as promised last week, in my “Elvis, or Le Vis” post. Thank you for reading this. Please come back next week for my “Decrepit: so might a thing be crepit or recrepit too?” post.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures has dark, stormy night


One of those questions you never think to ask until you look hard at the record: is Popeye a good sailor? And the reflexive answer is, of course he is. But if you go looking at all the classic cartoons, and many of the comic strip adventures … he ends up adrift at sea a lot. That isn’t by itself a sign of being a bad sailor. After all, I have a perfect record so far of never being adrift at sea. But I live in Lansing, Michigan. The most sailing I do is pedaling a swan boat at an amusement park and reading books about the history of longitude. THere’s lints to how much trouble I can get in. Maybe Popeye ends up adrift at sea because he does so much more, and in such challenging circumstances, than even the normal sailor would.

This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventures is After The Big Storm. I think it’s the first one not to have Olive Oyl appear. Despite that, it’s a long cartoon, going 2:22 before it finishes.

We start in the big storm, making the title a forgivable lie. I’d wondered whether we needed Swee’Pea in the cartoon. But he serves a role. If Swee’Pea weren’t trying to fly a kite in the storm, Popeye wouldn’t have reasons to board up the windows. And then Popeye couldn’t have the clumsy accident that knocks him out. Popeye’s always a bit of a klutz in these Island Adventures stories, but that would be a bit much. Accidentally nailing himself to the wall, and dropping a can of spinach on his head, makes sense if he’s focusing on keeping Swee’Pea from kite-flying in the thunderstorm.

Come morning, Popeye’s house is out at sea. And I guess I’d assumed his house was a functional boat that happened to be on land. It’s not so functional as that. This makes me realize that back in X Marks The Spot he had a separate boat. Popeye’s house, meanwhile, has laundry to dry on the sailing mast. He’s got fishing poles and boards and shovels and all that can be strapped together to make an oar. But not a good oar. Bit of a fix.

48 seconds in Bluto finally emerges into the cartoon. He’s got this week’s contraption to go over and mess with Popeye’s house. I like the conceit that of course Bluto just keeps putting together these gadgets to mess with Popeye. It’s villainous but not mean-spirited somehow. This week’s contraption, which looks to me like a cheap version of the robots from The Incredibles, got wrecked in the storm anyway. Bluto can rebuild the legs of it, and shrugs and accepts he just has to push it into place.

Swee’Pea reenters the plot, and also assures us that nothing untoward happened after he went kite-flying in a thunderstorm. He drifts by, held aloft by his kite. So Popeye takes the hint, and weaves all his dirty clothes that he never wears into a giant kite. Then eats his spinach to tether the kite to his mast. Bit surprising to see Popeye turn into a Plastic Man-like extendable figure, but, that’ll happen. And it works brilliantly, lifting his boat out of the water. He’s able to guide it, too, so his home lands right back on its normal base. Have to say that is astounding navigation. Apparently he really is that good a sailor, and he just ends up in fixes a lot because he dares a lot.

Bluto gets to Popeye’s house’s base first. I like Bluto’s disappointment that the house is gone. It’s a funny reaction. The house lands right in front of him, though, and he can go back to work. The contraption sucks up Popeye’s Unused Clothing Kite, and it explodes, showering him with dirty laundry. Swee’Pea falls in Popeye’s arms, and Swee’Pea’s kite hits Popeye in the face. Decent ending.

Still, I feel disappointed in the short overall. It’s a good premise. Popeye lost at sea and having to improvise some solution is a good setup, and it can be done in pantomime. But there’s not much storyline. There’s a few steps toward Popeye trying to get out of his fix and failing, with the laundry on the mast, the failure of an oar. But there’s not enough ingenuity in this. I like this characterization of Bluto as just this guy trying to mess with Popeye ’cause. But here, it doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s just time spent on something that never makes Popeye’s life any harder, and that gets resolved without Popeye specifically doing anything. I’d rather they have dropped that, and given the time over to Popeye trying to sail his house more.

So the short’s competent enough. It’s just a good idea for a story rather than a well-executed one.


I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Statistics March: My Humor Blog Had A Ridiculously Nice Month


I like starting months with a look at how popular my humor blog is, since I like to think it is. And I like sharing that with my readers, as part of my plan to keep myself from being too popular. I joke, which is a good sign. As best I can tell, these review posts are at least as popular as everything else I write. I’ll have to just make up a “monthly” review like this sometime when I’m out of ideas.

If you do like my writings, I’m glad to have you as a reader. You can get these pieces to appear in your WordPress reader by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. Or you can use the RSS feed to get all the page’s content without being tracked. I’m also on Twitter as @Nebusj, for those of you who like being tracked. Now on to how many of you did get tracked in March.

Bar chart of monthly readership for the past two years, roughly. March was abnormally well-read by a great number of unique visitors, and had an average of 1.65 views per visitor.
So it turns out if I hack the URL for the statistics page, changing the ‘startDate’ parameter, I can get an equivalent chart like this for like four and a half years’ worth of months in one page view. Now I’ll need a new excuse for not remembering how to do this a month from now.

It was a well-read month. I credit this to all of March’s comic strip news. People have found I know more about Gasoline Alley than normal mortals do. But here we go. There were 3,565 page views in March 2019. That’s far more than in February, when only 2,428 pages got attention here. And it’s even better than January, when 3,343 pages got viewed. March had my greatest number of page views since April of 2018.

The unique visitor count was astounding, though. There were 2,165 unique visitors, says WordPress. That’s well above February’s 1,429, or January’s 1,830. Indeed, it’s more than any single month in 2018. That is not quite at my all-time record high — the 2,308 unique visitors from November 2015, the final collapse of Apartment 3-G. Also this month I figured out how to get visual representation of more than the last two years’ worth of readership statistics. I might even remember for the start of next month.

There were 176 likes given to various pages here in March. That’s better than February’s 156, in line with January’s 183, and really back to the 165-to-180 range that I was in most of 2018. So that all seems good. Where things did drop was in comments. There were 24 comments given around here in march, down from February’s 34 and January’s 70. It was the slowest month for chatting around here since October 2017. Hm.

I always say that what people want around here is comic strip news. Here’s the five most popular articles from March. They are so much comic strip news. If I were smart, I’d just do comic strip talk, but I keep going on trying to do at least some original writing too. It’s hard resisting what your audience is making clear are your strengths, but I’ll do it. The top articles in March:

Of stuff that isn’t just me writing about other things? The most popular piece I had was Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Reverse Alphabetical Order. I don’t know. It’s always the weird little trifles that get to be long-lasting. I have the fear someone’s taking this list seriously. I mean, it’s correct, if you figured out the joke, but I don’t say what the joke is so are people understanding that the order is not what any normal person would mean by “reverse alphabetical order”? It was my most popular non-comic-strip piece last month too.

The most popular long-form piece that I wrote and that wasn’t about other people’s work was Everything There Is To Say About Grinding Coffee Beans. I’m glad to offer something of use into the world. We have gotten a replacement for our broken coffee grinder. I hope this settles the rampant speculation about why I had this essay to share.

Also if WordPress has this right, there were 420 separate pages that got at least a single view this month. Huh. I never thought to look at this figure before, so I don’t know whether it’s representative. I’ve had 2,250 posts in total, as of the start of April, for what that’s worth.

There were — all right, a certain number of you are going to think I’m making this up. There were 69 countries sending me page views in March. There, yes. I swear I didn’t make up these numbers and I’ll share the raw data with anyone who wants to look them over. I admit to telling hack jokes sometimes, but not like that.

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States colored in dark red, and most of the Americas, Western Europe, Russia, and Southeast Asia in a more uniform pink.
Again, I don’t find it mysterious that Africa for the most part doesn’t care what I’m writing about Mary Worth. I’m honestly more curious that Nigeria shows any interest in my writing. And, like, Bangladesh? I worry that whatever my Bangladesh readers were looking for, they got to this page by accident. I hope it wasn’t anything important they wanted.

Anyway, here’s the countries roster.

Country Readers
United States 2,646
India 147
Canada 100
United Kingdom 98
Australia 85
Brazil 42
Hong Kong SAR China 41
Spain 38
Philippines 35
Norway 32
Germany 25
Sweden 20
Italy 18
Mexico 15
Belgium 14
Turkey 14
France 12
Denmark 11
Argentina 9
Finland 9
South Africa 8
Japan 7
United Arab Emirates 7
American Samoa 6
Ireland 6
Malaysia 6
New Zealand 6
Peru 6
Taiwan 6
Trinidad & Tobago 6
Netherlands 5
South Korea 5
Indonesia 4
Portugal 4
Singapore 4
Switzerland 4
Thailand 4
Dominican Republic 3
Guatemala 3
Iraq 3
Jamaica 3
Nepal 3
Nigeria 3
Puerto Rico 3
Romania 3
Russia 3
Ukraine 3
Bangladesh 2
Greece 2
Israel 2
Mongolia 2
Pakistan 2
Poland 2
Uruguay 2
Vietnam 2
Bermuda 1
Bolivia 1
Bulgaria 1
Colombia 1
Cyprus 1
Czech Republic 1
European Union 1
Honduras 1
Hungary 1 (*)
Lebanon 1
Lithuania 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Serbia 1 (**)
Slovenia 1 (*)

Anyway there were 65 countries sending readers in February and 68 in January. There were 19 single-reader countries in January, 15 in February, and 14 in March. Hungary and Slovenia were single-reader countries last month, and Serbia has been one for three months running now.

I should share my story strip plot recap schedule. This is subject to change if a comic strip has some big event, and I realize I need to hurry up writing about it while people still want to know anything about, say, Judge Parker. But my planned schedule is:

And all my story strip plot recaps should appear at this link. If one’s missing, it’s because I tagged something wrong.

In all I posted 18,577 words here in March. This brought me, as mentioned, to a total of 2,250 posts. There were 117,868 page views from a total 65,179 unique visitors as of the start of April. There’ve been 141 total comments, for an average of 1.6 comments per post, in 2019. That’s holding at the start of March’s average. There’ve been 491 likes in total, for an average of 5.5 likes per posting. That, too, is the same as the start of March’s average. I’ve posted a total of 90 things in 2019 up to this post, and 53,903 words in total. That’s an average of 599 words per post, which is exactly what my average words-per-post was at the start of March. So it’s lucky I posted that thing meant to bring my average-words-per-post count down. Also but goodness six hundred words is a lot to write on the average day. I should be more careful. 1,423 words.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is Somebody Trying To Steal A Moonshiner’s Land? January – March 2019.


If you’re looking for plot recaps for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, and it’s later than about June 2019, this essay is probably out of date. There should be a more current one here. There’s also my complete back catalogue, so you can see what was going on in months gone by, including during the long Centennial celebration. If you just want to understand the first three months of 2019, in the context of this one serial comedy strip, this is a correct place.

And if you’d like to read a discussion of the mathematical content of three comic strips featuring a bear, please consider this link. Thank you.

Gasoline Alley.

7 January – 31 March 2019.

We were near the start of the story, as the year got started. It was about Rufus, who’s got a job as City Hall janitor. He’s smitten with Mayor Melba Rose, who doesn’t notice this smittening.

Joel gives Rufus advice. None of it involves the 2017 storyline where Rufus courted the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus was set up for heartbreak there, averted when The Widow turned down rival Elam Jackson’s proposal. But the strip went into reruns and I guess we’re dropping that thread now that it’s out again. In the current storyline, Rufus faces heartbreak when Melba Rose won’t acknowledge him. Anyway, Joel’s advice is to stop feebly asking out Rose and tell her he’s taking her out. This is because Joel and Rufus come from a world where it’s still a 1940s radio sitcom. Or a 1920s Harold Lloyd movie. This advice fails, as it always has. The next day Rufus doesn’t even recognize Rose, who’s dressed up and has different hair and also a boyfriend.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 28th of January, 2019. I feel like Bertie needs to listen to a true-financial-crimes podcast. I mean if someone ever starts one. (I don’t know the true-crime podcast genre. I just make jokes about it.)

She’s dating Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie. She’s impressed with him. Bella, one of the cleaning women, isn’t impressed. She explains Bertie’s nickname comes from his land speculations, but that he’s not honest. He’s not even an actual Army major; that’s his middle name. (This reminds me of President James Garfield’s doctor. Garfield’s doctor was named Doctor Bliss. Like, Doctor was his first name. Doctor Bliss had a medical degree too. But, tragically, it was in 19th century medicine. This in turn reminds me of why everybody treated me like that in middle school.) Rufus rushes back to Joel with the news; Joel already knows. Everybody who knows Bertie, except for Rose, knows he’s a fraud.

Joel leads Rufus over to Zeb, a local moonshiner. Joel and Rufus need more of what they term medicine. While there, Bertie drives up to see Zeb. Bertie’s carrying a million-dollar check and a contract to buy Zeb’s land off him. Or so he says; he breaks Zeb’s glasses before he could read anything. Bertie gets Zeb to sign the contract, and then whites out part of it. Zeb doesn’t notice this. Rufus and Joel, standing by the window, do.

Zeb: 'OK, Major! Lemme see the contrack! Befo' I signs anythin', I likes t'know what I'se readin' an' vice-versa!' (Rufus and Joel watch this from outside the window.) 'Now where's my glasses? I can't see nuthin' without 'em!' Bertie, stomping on Zeb's glasses: 'Nothing? Oh, good! Here they are!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of February, 2019. It’s startling that a guy who’d drive out to buy a moonshiner’s farm at 3 am would be underhanded in his dealings, but, what the heck.

After Bertie leaves Rufus and Joel ask Zeb what’s this all about. Like, selling twenty acres to someone for a million dollars is fine, but the contract’s been whited out to make it a sale for a thousand dollars instead. Zeb is offended by this double-dealing. The check still says it’s for a million dollars, though. What if they get to the bank before Zeb can stop payment?

Now at this point you’re either going along with it, appreciating its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. Or you’re tearing your hair out because of its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. It’s a Rufus and Joel story. It’s going to be like this. At this point the story gets really old-time sitcommy. If you’re not liking this, you might want to bail of the rest of this summary.

Bertie: 'Nice doin' business with you, Mr Zeb! There is one more thing. I expect you to vacate the premises by next week!' Zeb: 'But how can I move all my equipment in such a short time?' Bertie: 'That's your problem!' Meanwhile a dog growls and bits at Bertie's leg.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of February, 2019. It didn’t fit the main recap, but the dog leaves with Bertie. Joel and Rufus think, on top of everything else, that Bertie has stolen Zeb’s dog. No; it’s Bertie’s dog. I can’t say I laughed at the joke, but I admired its construction. Anyway, bigger plotting problems: granted Bertie is trying to buy Zeb’s land with a bad check. Why is he being nasty now, before it’s clear the check is bad? Wouldn’t Bertie be wiser to play friendly? Pass off a line about how yes, Zeb has to get his equipment off the land, but we’ll work out something practical? Build up enough goodwill that when the check bounces, Zeb will give Bertie the time whatever scam he’s pulling needs to become irreversible? Bertie wants to delay Zeb from going to the cops, the courts, or his shotgun, after all, and too fast a heel turn lets you know what you’re in for.

So they get to the bank. It’s not open, but there is an ATM. Rufus and Joel and Zeb are characters from a 1968 sitcom at the latest. How can any of them deposit a check in an ATM? They give it their best try, and the machine eats up the check. Zeb takes this as well as you or I might. He goes to apply reason to the machine and also a sledgehammer. Also a crowbar. And some moonshine. They rode their horse cart into town, which is why they have the tools to break into an ATM.

At the ATM. Rufus: 'The ATM won't give you' check back, Zeb!' Joel curses it. Zeb gets a sledgehammer: 'My granny uster say --- what it needs is some encouragin' words!' (Zeb swings the sledgehammer back.) 'Give th'check back if yo' knows what's good fo' you!' Rufus: 'That's encouragin'?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of March, 2019. Fun fact: Zeb is an experienced software engineer and showing off the Best Coding Practices for debugging Javascript. He just does moonshining as a craft hobby, something to feel like he’s doing something of value to the community after a hard day spent trying to get people to click on advertising.

Or to try breaking in. They’ve made no progress getting in when the Gasoline Alley City cops intrude. The cops — one of them named Barney, by the way — are starting to arrest them when bank manager J Thaddeus Pelf stops them. He claims the ATM’s been eating checks and these are the guys hired to fix it. It’s a convenient coincidence, but, you know? I accept it. If the machine’s eating checks, it makes sense it would eat Zeb’s check. It also makes sense that someone would be coming to fix the machine. I understand if you’re not sympathetic to this style of plotting. But it defuses the characters’ crisis in a way that’s believable enough. If you’re a sympathetic reader. I understand if this makes you grumble. (If you do, meet me around back and we’ll say snarky things about Luann some.)

Rufus and Joel and Zeb got the machine open and unclogged. The grateful manager offers to cash Zeb’s check right away, and trusts Rufus and Joel to put the machine back together. There’s the bad news for Zeb you might expect: of course Bertie doesn’t have a million dollars. Or any dollars, as his account’s overdrawn and closed. I’m not sure those are actually logically compatible states. Pelf may be speaking for dramatic emphasis. Sad news. Rufus, Joel, and Zeb head out, in time for the actual ATM repairers to arrive.

Melba Rose, sobbing: 'Rufus! It hurts the most when the person who made you feel so special yesterday makes you feel so unwanted today!' Rufus: 'Gulp! Yesm'! I knows th'feelin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of March, 2019. Bet you didn’t know Rufus had such an A-level game in subtweeting.

Back to work. Rufus sees Mayor Rose in City Hall. She’s miserable. Major Bertie’s been arrested, for “falsifying contracts, an’ passing bad checks, an … falsifying his affections to me!” Rufus explains what he knows of Bertie’s attempt to buy Zeb’s land, although I’m not clear that this is part of the rap against Bertie. Or at least isn’t yet. I had thought this came the same day as the ATM shenanigans. But that isn’t explicit, or necessary. Anyway she says the million-dollar check is one of the reasons Bertie’s arrested. This does make the breakup of Bertie and Rose something related to the story. Rufus tries to console Rose. He’s not very good at it, but she does take him up on the offer of a consoling ice-cream sundae.

It’s too soon to make it official. But I suspect we’re at the end of this storyline. Among other things, Bertie’s already been sentenced to “never mention his name again” status. Also ten years in prison, which seems like a pretty speedy trial, considering. But they used to wrap up loose ends fast in old-time sitcoms. I expect a transition over to some other characters in the next week. I mean besides the transition to another comic strip I’ll be making next week.

In short, I have no idea why Bertie wanted to buy Zeb’s land, although I guess if it worked then getting twenty acres for a thousand dollars would be worth the effort.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! … Wait, hold on, we’re not there. We’re in the Sonoran Desert! It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, featuring a gold mine, a new biome, and maybe obscure raccoon-like mammals that live in the desert! We’ll just see.