What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Hugo Lambert faking being French? July – September 2019


No, but it’s fun to joke about.

If you need to catch up with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, I’m happy to help. If you’re reading this after about December 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also there’ll be news, if Mary Worth produces news.

For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.

Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.

Mary Worth.

7 July – 28 September 2019.

The decks were nice and clear last time I checked in. Estelle had her fling with an Internet scammer and now was settling in with Wilbur Weston. Meanwhile the story drifted to Wilbur’s daughter Dawn.

Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.

Hugo: 'Je m'appelle Hugo Lambert! You were in my classic literature class last year!' Dawn: 'Oh, right! You're the foreign exchange student in Professor Cameron's class! Pleased to meet you! I'm Dawn Weston!' Hugo: 'C'est mon plaisir de vous recontrer!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of July, 2019. Surprisingly unmentioned this plot: that summer Dawn spent tromping around Italy with her art teacher. Yes, I’m aware that in many ways France and Italy are different countries, but it does seem like a great thing to bond over. This was, reader time, in early 2018, although I only recapped the event in passing. Dawn’s adventures in Europe were only seen briefly and never amounted to a story that we saw.

Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.

They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.

After Dawn and Foreign Exchange Student Hugo Lambert exchange numbers ... Hugo: 'I like you Dawn, even though you are American, with your American ways!' Dawn: 'Gee, Hugo, thanks a lot! I like you too ... even though you are European, with your French ways! But seriously, I look forward to seeing you again.' Hugo: 'Me also!' Dawn: 'We can learn from each other, and I think we're alike in more ways than we differ.' Hugo: 'I don't know if we are or not. We'll just have to find out, won't we?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So this happened when my love and I vacationed in the Netherlands. One morning the hotel clerk stopped in the middle of taking change out of the cash register for us. She apologized: she realized that she was counting out the money, in her head, in Dutch rather than English. That a Dutch person, in the Netherlands, should be thinking to herself in Dutch, while doing a task that did not at that moment involve her speaking to or looking at us, formed the most wonderfully needless apology I have ever received. There’s like no end of layers of unnecessary-ness to her regret. We still think back on that apology in wonder and delight.

Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!

Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.

Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.

Dawn: 'I guess it's inevitable that foreign exchange students eventually have to leave.' Mary: 'That's usually the case.' Dawn: 'What should I do, Mary? I've really fallen for Hugo!' Mary: 'Maybe you should ask him what he wants to do.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 8th of August, 2019. Normal snark brain: observes Dawn’s loose-beige sandwich. Galaxy snark brain: observes Mary Worth drinking something so heavy that it doesn’t seek its level when Mary Worth tilts her glass, and also ice cubes sink in it.

But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.

Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.

She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.

Man with something unpleasant-looking covering his left face: 'Do you need a tissue?' Dawn: 'Thank you! I appreciate your concern.' Man: 'Just remember, God won't give you more than you can handle.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of September, 2019. I’m glad for the reassurance about God’s givings here. As a reserved, indeed half-stoic person, I am sure that I would not be able to handle tearing up in an airport to such an extent that a stranger came by to comfort me, and if someone were to, I would probably climb into my own cargo pants’ pocket never to be seen again. But, I know, other people have the emotional expressions that work for them, and that’s good for them, who are not me.

Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.

It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.

His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.

And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:

  • “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
  • “We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
  • “People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
  • “Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
  • “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
  • “I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
  • “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
  • “True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
  • “In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
  • “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
  • “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
  • “Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019

I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks went and got himself stabbed in the chest. What happened and how is he still walking around? We’ll see, I expect, in seven days with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity.

If you don’t want to wait, and do want to read more comic strip stuff, please try my mathematics blog, which uses comic strips to talk about mathematical topics. Thank you.

Advertisements

Statistics Saturday: September Birthdays, Per Year


Bar chart showing that for each of the 30 days of September there is one birthday per year.
Not valid in the United Kingdom in the year 1752.

Reference: Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman, Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell, Georgia Rilet de Havenon.

I’m Slightly Tired


So I had a leaky car tire again. Nowhere near as bad as last time. This was just a little hardware screw that got stuck in the tread. Very easy to patch. I mean for someone else to patch. Still, you know how you go through that period in your 20s when all your car troubles are how the alternator’s broken? With this car, it’s always the tires going flat. I swear to you, the next car I buy I’m getting one without any tires.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Four


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.


No, Dan, we are not stopping the car already just because you’re not sure you packed your toothbrush. It can wait. Yes, well, you know where it’s possible to get a toothbrush any time, day or night? Only in every store ever, including freaking Best Buy if you really need.

Sophia explains how you can just ask the front desk at the hotel for a toothbrush. Amanda and Dan insist they just will never have one. Josh says he’s read about how they will, it’s just nobody ever thinks to ask. Sophia insists that they may or may not, it depends on the hotel. All are willing to grant that it doesn’t hurt to ask. Then Josh explains about the time he did ask, and the “toothbrush” they had was just weird. Like, it was this credit-card-size flat thing that unfolded a tiny bit, and it had like eight bristles, and he probably would have been better brushing his teeth with his finger.

The discussion leads naturally to kind of bragging about the biggest glob of toothpaste everyone’s eaten. Also the discovery that Amanda is afraid of swallowing toothpaste because it turns out this is on the boxes? This is fun enough that everyone registers they just passed a funny city-destinations sign but can’t remember what was funny about it.

The party’s definitely travelled a good distance now. It’s not just the third-tier but the second-tier fast-food restaurants that they don’t have back home.

Amanda finds it very significant that this town’s Cheese House specialty cheese shop mascot is very much a ripoff of forgotten Famous Studios cartoon mouse Herman or Katnip, whichever one of them was the mouse. Probably Herman. That would be the less obscure joke to make in naming them. Anyway this is very important to Amanda and she’s not going to let it go until everyone agrees this is an important revelation.

All right, so Dan tosses this out: what if a place like the Outback Steakhouse, only instead of theoretically being Australian, it’s Scottish themed? Nobody actually knows offhand what Scottish food is. “Fried … bladders or something?” offers Josh, who admits he’s maybe thinking of what bagpipes were made of. Not the fried part. But that doesn’t matter. You could serve anything. Just put some fun stuff on the walls.

This feeds into the discovery that Amanda had been to the town where Andy Capp was from. Like, the comic strip Andy Capp. Also that it’s based on a real actual town. There’s a statue of him there and everything, a claim that threatens to be laughed at for miles except that they find pictures of it. With her newfound expertise the party is willing to accept Amanda’s claim that “Andy Capp” is supposed to be a pun on the word “handicap”. She blows it completely when she tries to claim that English newspapers don’t run Fred Basset on Sundays and those strips are made just for the American readers.

OK, but you can agree where it would be correct structuring of a joke if the mouse were named Katnip, right?

Everyone over-plans the next gas station stop. They’re trying to figure how to look casual while timing Dan to see how long he needs to remember to check his toothbrush. Everyone’s disappointed he remembers almost right away, before even going in to the bathroom. He does have his toothbrush, although it’s in the wrong plastic bag. The gas station chains are all weird around here too, although they take the same customer-loyalty card. This is disappointing.

Everyone agrees there is no satisfactory reason why these nachos should be soggy.

Josh finally explains that phone number on the no-longer-sticky note in his glove compartment: he doesn’t know what it is. But it looks a lot like his writing. It must be too important to throw away or else why would he have put it there? Could he call the number and find out who it is? No, absolutely not under any circumstances.

You expect to discover new places when you road trip. You don’t expect to find out how all your friends are freaks.

I’m past wondering if Long Story Short is making fun of me


It’s amazing how many people use the word “delicate” wrong when casual examination shows it’s the negation of the word “licate”, which means “to handle a precious or fragile object using the medium of licking”.

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

(I hope this puts to rest worries that I was fibbing last week, when I wondered if Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short was making fun of me. Please visit next week when I will explain that “grueling” refers to a small monstrous creature made of gruel.)

Popeye has a weird game of Ping-Pong


Sports are a good base for a comedic cartoon. The characters playing something automatically gives them something to try doing. The rules give the plot something to struggle against. And since it really can’t ever matter who wins a sporting event, there’s a built-in absurdity to the proceedings. The smaller the sporting event, the better, for the comic baseline. So, Popeye and Bluto playing ping-pong? That’s a secure base, I’d think. After The Ball Went Over is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon from the 1960s heap.

In some of the King Features cartoons Popeye’s antagonist doesn’t get named. This reflected that time when they weren’t sure whether Bluto was a character created by their cartoonists or by Fleischer Studios/Paramount. Why else have Popeye call Bluto “Fatso”, “Fatty”, “Lover Boy”, “Blubber-head”, everything but his name? And then we finally get Olive Oyl calling him “Brutus”. Mystery partly solved.

Ping-Pong is a good sport for limited animation. You can use the same couple frames for a volley. And if you want the ball to do something weird, well, you draw a white circle and slide it around the frame. Combine that with the estimated 38 billion times that Popeye goes running off, in a Groucho Marx stoop, after the bouncing ball and you get a cartoon that must have come in under budget. This even with a bunch of scenes — a henhouse, the city sewers, the … dynamite shed — used for their own jokes.

This cartoon keeps trying to be bad. Particularly it just doesn’t have any story structure. Popeye and Brutus start a volley, some spot joke happens, and repeat. That shapelessness works fine for, like, Wile E Coyote. But Popeye cartoons are supposed to build in peril and tension until someone, usually Popeye, eats his spinach.

And then the cartoon skips that. It’s one of that small but noticeable set of spinach-less cartoons. And Popeye talks about that. Early on he talks to Olive Oyl about the absurdity of even having this contest, since if he’s in danger of losing he can just eat his spinach. In the end, he complains about needing a new writer who’ll put his spinach in the script. Popeye’s made cracks about being a cartoon character before. Most Fleischer cartoon characters were at least somewhat self-aware cartoon actors. But that had mostly gone fallow during the 50s.

And this attitude, Popeye barely committing to the premise that he’s in a ping-pong cartoon, elevates it. It’s exhausting to always have a character who won’t just be in the story. As an occasional thing, though? This time, at least, it works for me. I’m curious about the writing choices that went into this. I wonder if the writers decided they just didn’t have that many good ping-pong jokes after all, but needed something, and decided that having Popeye trying to no-sell the whole cartoon was the best way to be interesting about it. This would explain the oddness of Popeye, our putative hero, pulling stunts like replacing the ping-pong ball with an egg, or putting explosive into the ping-pong ball. That’s villain stuff; what’s Popeye doing acting like that? Other than, well, giving up on this.

If it was a choice to try saving a weak premise, it was a great one. At least for one cartoon. It makes forgivable much of the cartoon’s sloppiness, like … oh, the bit at about 21:40 where Popeye’s shown laughing without the sound. Or random bits of weirdness, like Brutus serving to the rallying cry of “Viva Zapata!”.

Maybe it is all just shoddily made. I won’t argue that it isn’t. But it is amiable in that shoddiness. I don’t want a lot of cartoons like this. If sometimes Popeye just isn’t going to take the cartoon’s takes seriously, though? I can go for that.

The Most Wonderful Thing I’ve Seen About Equinoxes All Year


So I think I had the question everyone has about equinoxes, which is, how does the fact that the solar year is just about 365 days and six hours affect on which date the equinox happens? So this brought me to the web page about it on Calendarpedia (“Your source for calendars”, which is definitely marketing to me). And of course I’m glad to know that my guess about how leap days affected the equinoxes basically panned out. But more, the page offered this chart:

Table showing the dates of the Fall Equinox from 2014 through 2024, along with the number of days away it is. Disclaimer at the bottom of the chart: Data provided 'as is' without warranty
Table provided by Calendarpedia’s “When Is The Fall Equinox?” page. They also provide a chart of the equinoxes and the days of the week.

And I am sitting and thinking about its disclaimer, data provided `as is’ without warranty. Where would I go if I needed a projected fall equinox date with warranty? If I had the warranty and fall didn’t arrive on that date, who would I send the unused portion of the season to, and what kind of form would I fill out?

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Is Mark Trail gonna punch a Yeti? July – September 2019


Hello, nature lovers. It’s too soon to answer the Yeti question, sorry. But it’s on the table. The most current plot recaps and news I have about James Allen’s Mark Trail should be at this link. If you’re reading this later than about December 2019 you might be better off going there. And as ever, my mathematics blog reviews comic strips too. It’s also looking at concepts from each letter of the alphabet, with new essays on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now back to nature.

Mark Trail.

1 July – 21 September 2019.

Nature finally got around to trying to kill Mark Trail last time I checked in. He, Doc, Leola, and J J Looper were following a map to a gold mine seen decades ago by Doc and his friend. (His friend, Leola’s husband, had recently died, the incident putting the map into the story.) Looper, owner of a supply store, was their guide. At least until Nature sent a flash flood in that swept everyone away and left Looper nowhere to be found. This is an inconvenience, what with Looper maybe being dead and having the only copy of the map.

Leola: 'Ther's a pile of rocks over there in that clearing!' Mark Trail, wide-eyed: 'Doc!? Can that be it!?' Doc: 'There's only one way to find out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of July, 2019. Mark Trail proving he’s not going to let Dick Tracy just waltz in and take the Wide-Eyed Look Of The Year trophy.

But. Doc finds the terrain familiar. He recalls a pile of rocks covering the mine entrance and that’s exactly what Leola sees. It’s a great discovery. And oh, here’s J J Looper! And he’s sharing a gun with them! He has reasons. Envy of Mark Trail’s easy lifestyle of globetrotting while animals are nearby, sure. But also thoughts of his hard life. He can barely make a living teaching tourists to pan for gold. Actual gold, now, that would solve some of his problems.

Mark, Leola, and Doc uncover the mine entrance. It’s definitely where the mysterious stranger led his friends, decades ago, and took great piles of gold out. And now, having finally rediscovered the mine, there’s … nothing. No gold. No mining equipment. Just … a great big shiny thing! It’s Mark’s chance to punch Looper out, and get the gun away from him. Now they can see what the shiny thing in back is.

Mark Trail, looking at the framed item 'It's a local newspaper. Decades old. I think I understand what happened now! Three men were photographed robbing a dealer at a gem show ... they all escaped!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2019. So let me first say, Mark Trail’s prop there does absolutely everything that it needs to. It looks like a newspaper with a headline about a gold dealer being robbed. Its artistic purpose is completely satisfied. Having said that, I’m going to go a bit Newspaper Layout Nerd here. What format, exactly, is the Herald? That’s a painfully narrow broadsheet, especially for the era, or else an incredibly wordy tabloid. And jeez, I know about the Densonized look for the Herald-Tribune but I can not make myself believe in there not being some horizontal rule between the newspaper’s name and the headline. I’m sorry. Anyway, I admire the prankish nature of the gold robber that he decided at some point to get the newspaper reporting on this crime framed, bring it to the mine (when? When he went there with Doc and Doc’s friends? Before? Later?) and leave it behind in the treasure chest just in case anyone ever followed up on this. It shows a serious commitment to a posthumous laugh.

It’s a treasure chest. Its contents: a framed newspaper. Its headline, surprisingly large for the era, is of a gold dealer robbed at a gem show. Two of the robbers were later killed; the third, and the gold nuggets, were never found. The third was the bearded stranger who, five years later, brought him to the mine.

The rationalization: the three buried the gold, figuring to come back when the heat was off. With his partners killed the bearded stranger needed help getting the gold back. So he set up this mystery of a lost gold mine and all. Why couldn’t Doc and his friends couldn’t find the place again? Well, it’s hard to find stuff in the mountains. Especially under different light or from different angles or all. Especially because they were thinking of a mine instead of this, a cave just deep enough for someone to vanish in.

So Doc feels foolish for having believed a cave with gold inside was some kind of gold mine. Looper meanwhile feels like an astounding idiot, what with threatening to shoot people and all that. Looper begs forgiveness. Mark Trail points out, he was pointing a loaded gun at them. But in the awkward days of getting back to town, Mark Trail’s heart softens. After all, they were on a gold-digging expedition in the southwest. If someone desperately afraid of poverty doesn’t pull a gun on the rest of the party, has everyone really had the Gold Prospecting Experience? Of course not. And so Looper gets community service and probation.


We get, from the 12th through 17th of August, a little bit of nature in tooth and claw. It’s a mother cougar fighting a bear until she realizes it’s easier if she moves her cub out of the way instead.

Mark Trail, monologuing: 'Some online comments seem downright mean ... as though the person is questioning my intelligence or something like that!' Cherry: 'Uhh ... Mark ... ?' Mark Trail: 'I mean, why read something you rarely agree with?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of August, 2019. So anyway I’d like to talk a bit more about the overall structure of this gold-mine plot and what about the internal logic doesn’t convince me, but they just delivered this package from an “Al Jamesen” and I can’t wait to find out what’s inside because it sounds like a very excited swarm of hornets and I bet whatever it really is will be a delight!

After this interlude we see Mark Trail and Doc having an epilogue back at home. Telling what happens to Looper, and how Cherry Trail would rather Mark didn’t go get himself almost killed. The mention that Rusty Trail is reading the Jungle Jim comic on Comics Kingdom. And that people are mean in comments sections. It’s hard to not think James Allen is working out his frustration with comics snarkers here. Well, whatever gets the bad energies out.


And with the 2nd of September, the current story starts. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis has an assignment for Mark Trail. University Professor Harvey Camel, anthropologist and explorer, is searching for proof of the Yeti. Ellis is funding the trip, in exchange for first publication rights. Mark Trail is skeptical of any cryptozoology adventures. But this past April, the Indian army tweeted the discovery of a possible Yeti footprint. Mark is finally won over by the journalistic value of such an expedition, and how if legends are right, the Yeti has a lot of facial hair.

Looking over the city streets. Mark Trail: 'Kathmandu is much busier than I expected!' Genie: 'More than 985,000 people live here, Mark! It's not the primitive, out-of-date city the world thinks it is!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 18th of September, 2019. ObMST3K: Mark Trail thinks, “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t comment on the apparent widths of their bodies of water!” (3 point reference.)

Cherry worries for his safety. She mentions how when Mark went to Africa, he had that encounter with “Dirty” Dyer, who’s still lurking around subplots ready to kill Mark with fire. Mark promises that he’s going to be fine, a promise that he can not in fact make. But she accepts his confidence, anyway.

So this past week, Mark Trail has flown to Kathmandu, and met Doctor Camel’s assistant Genie. They’re going from there to Tumlingtar and then to Mount Makalu, where the footprints were found. There’ll be more to say, surely, when we get to the next plot recap, which I expect to be in mid-to-late December.

(By the way, to let you know what a deep strain of Copy Editor Nerd there is in me: I would appreciate thoughts about whether to prefer writing “yeti” or “Yeti”. I know enough that the creature has some presence in legends around the Himalayan mountains. I’d rather refer to it in not-obnoxious ways when I do the next plot recap.)

Sunday Animals Watch

Each Sunday Mark Trail features some wonder of animals, plants, or nature itself, that we’re doing our best to eliminate by 2030. Here’s what’s leaving soon, and when it got featured.

  • Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. After six years being thought extinct some were found again.
  • Epomis ground beetles, 7 July 2019. They prey on frogs, which the frogs report is “totally bogus”.
  • Isopods, 14 July 2019. Deep-sea scavengers. They’re weirder than we realized.
  • Razorbacks/Peccaries, 21 July 2019. And this was before that “30-50 feral hogs” meme, so don’t go accusing James Allen of hopping on bandwagons here.
  • Giant Water Bugs, 28 July 2019. Oh, I think I know those guys. Yeah, they’re creepy but leave them alone and they’ll go about whatever their business is exactly.
  • Sumatran Rhinoceroses, 4 August 2019. It’s the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. But their outlook is grim.
  • Ravens, 11 August 2019. Particularly, white ravens. Do not cross them.
  • Golden tortoise beetles, 18 August 2019. So if you were wondering what was feeding on your morning glory, bindweed, or sweet potatoes see if these guys are the problem.
  • Raccoon dogs, 25 August 2019. The only canine species known to hibernate, by the way, so you’re welcome when this comes up during your Jeopardy! audition.
  • Amazon Parrots, 1 September 2019. Yeah, they’re great, but they have longer lifespans than do Fortune 500 Companies, so what to do with them after you die is a discussion you have to have a lot.
  • Grasshopper Mice, 8 September 2019. Not to be all animal hipster with you, but I knew about these guys in the 90s and I’m glad the Internet is discovering these weirdoes. Like, they’ll howl like tiny wolves, and stalk prey species, and they’re even immune to some animals’ venom. I know, right?
  • Sea slugs, 15 September 2019. OK, they’ve got an awful name but these critters do some amazing things with body design and color.
  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They look like hornets, but don’t sting, so if you have one hanging around you, relax!

Next Week!

Oh, how is Dawn Weston’s summer romance going? Is her beau, the For-Real French Foreign Exchange Student Jean-Luke Baguette really so heartless as to leave her, even for his home village of Mal-de-Mere, in the Bibliothèque province of France? Is there hope for true love winning out over all? In Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Will there be muffins? I’m delighted to have the answers to these and more silly questions, next Sunday.

Statistics Saturday: US Acting-Presidents Under The 25th Amendment Name Lengths Over Time


Three data points: Bush, Cheney, and then Cheney. Names are represented as blue dots; the average length (5.333) as green dots.
I know what you’re thinking: wait, didn’t George H W Bush serve as Acting President twice while Ronald Reagan was under anaesthetic for colon surgery? No, it was just the one time. Dick Cheney served as Acting President twice, for two of George W Bushs’s colonoscopies. I don’t know how you and I both got this mixed up. Yeah, Bush should have been Acting President while Reagan was in surgery after getting shot but nobody was on top of things enough to organize that at the time.

Reference: Measuring the Universe: The Historical Quest to Quantify Space, Kitty Ferguson.

After Kind Of Watching The First 45 Minutes Of Moonraker


So, like, after the events of the movie there had to be some investigations about how the Drax Corporation got the contract to build space shuttles, right? Like, there’d be some 70s Congressional Hearing, on TV, with people’s names identified in little white Helvetica chyrons. And you’d have the Deputy Director of Manned Space Flight or Whatever explaining, “Yes, well, the Drax Corporation’s project to eliminate all life on earth we rated as a task separate to and not reflecting on their ability to build or operate space shuttles. Our selection guidelines, as published by law in the Federal Register and I can provide you with the exact page reference, placed more weight on their operational ability. And every selection committee member gave them the highest possible marks for their task-management and organization computer-interface-system. Furthermore, their estimate for the first four years of annual operations management costs was only $17,250 above the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate. For all four years combined, that is. That alone was so dramatically better than Boeing, North American Rockwell, or Grumman’s proposals as to decide the matter. In any case we will in future requests for proposals include `not deliberately trying to provoke global extinction’ as soon as the NASA Office of General Counsel finishes advising us on the wording.”

So I’m not saying that that should have been the sequel, but I’d kind of like to know how the whole scandal played out is all.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Three


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.


It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.

The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.

Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?

Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.

That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.

All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.

All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?

I briefly wonder if Long Story Short is making fun of me


So, ah, you think it’s possible Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short here is making fun of me?

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

(And you see me live up to the promise made last week when I said what a goodra was. Please visit next week as I hope to explain the word “delicate” as the negation of the word “licate”, meaning “to handle a precious or fragile object using the medium of licking”.)

Popeye versus The Phantom. Not *that* The Phantom


Popeye fears only one thing: ghosts. He can’t punch ghosts. I believe this was said explicitly, maybe as far back as Elzie Segar’s run that created the character. There are other inconvenient things, like the Sea Hag, who can’t be hit as she is a woman. But ghosts hold a special terror.

Let’s watch Popeye and the Phantom, from 1960 and Jack Kinney’s directorial eye. Again, not that The Phanom.

The promising opening is of a dark and stormy night. And a newscaster with the news that The Phantom is loose. The warning is what I’d expect for a notorious criminal breaking loose. Maybe a lion escaping from the circus and hiding over at Tom and Jerry’s place. Instead(?) I guess it’s a ghost. I would think that The Phantom’s a ghost being worth a mention in the news flash. Maybe also that ghosts are provably real things that torment the living. I hope when the TV station came up for its license renewal, someone mentioned this failure to serve the public interest.

Maybe not though. When The Phantom does appear he’s really not menacing. He looks vaguely like a Harvey Comics character. I don’t think it’s just that he wears a hat that looks like a quickly-drawn hamburger. But it’s also that his haunting amounts to little, faintly comic stunts. Like, so little that Popeye is certainly not going to turn his head and look at them. Then we get a solid 50 seconds of Popeye ducking almost far enough to avoid the … ghostly boats and giant wooden shoes and cars that The Phantom is driving? And that goes on until Popeye declares this is geting embarrassing, I assume for the Phantom. Popeye’s handling it with such casual disinterest that embarrassment can’t possibly stick to him.

The Phantom swipes Popeye’s spinach, which isn’t bad on his part. We do then get a solid minute and 40 seconds of Popeye trying to grab his spinach back from the ghost, missing when the ghost dematerializes at the last second. There’s some good stuff here. Popeye gets some funny looks of exasperation. The comic timing of the Phantom bapping Popeye on the head with the mallet is good. Popeye waving his flag of surrender and the ghost appearing as a butler is fun too.

Structurally though it’s about the same as those too-many cartoons where Popeye can’t outwit an animal. I think it works better than, like, Popeye not outwitting a gopher. The gopher’s just trying to eat. The Phantom is messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl. And The Phantom can be ridiculous in ways an animal can’t.

And then we get Popeye declaring these are friendly ghosts, an adjective and a plural not supported in the text. Popeye invites The Phantom to a game of bridge. I know three things about bridge and the second of them is that it’s a four-person game. I guess we have to suppose there are more than one ghost bothering Popeye and Olive Oyl. We only see one at a time. I guess that checks out. But it would be clearer if we saw a second ghost, even if it were the same model. The baffling moments keep coming. In the last seconds of the cartoon Olive Oyl, having been bothered by this ghost or ghosts all night, and played bridge with them for hours, declares she doesn’t believe they’re real. Things brings on a new round of ghostly laughter from a bodiless mouth. All right.

I know these cartoons give the impression of being written and animated in less time than it takes to watch. At least they give the impression of being done on a single draft. This one has a lot of things that could be fixed with quick tweaks. A moment of seeing a second ghost, for example, at the end particularly. The news reporter talking about The Phantom Gang and saying that they’re ghosts. … Really, that alone would at least make the storyline make sense. It would take more plot surgery to fix where Popeye doesn’t do anything for the first two and a half minutes. But we could let that slide. They were making about 750 Popeye cartoons a month. It’s refreshing if he doesn’t drive the plot in all of them. And maybe a story is better if it has some rough edges.

Still, it’s a cute Phantom design. I suppose we never see him again, which is a tiny shame.

Is Gary Larson’s The Far Side coming back?


Well, something’s happening. On Friday, TheFarSide.com posted the message “Uncommon, unreal, and (soon-to-be) unfrozen” along with a picture of someone with a flamethrower thawing a cow, a dog, a caveman, that nerdy kid, and that older woman out of an iceberg.

Since then? Nothing, although there’s speculation. Gary Larson retired his comic in early 1995. And then stayed off the Internet. He’d be famous for having disappeared had Bill Watterson not upstaged him at the end of 1995. He didn’t want The Far Side put on the web, and remarkably, the web mostly respected that. Or his attorneys were quite good with their copyright-takedown notices. I don’t remember hearing stories of clumsy cease-and-desist notices messing up online communities.

So what does this mean? The easiest thing — and one I’d be delighted with — would be just a good official online archive for Larson’s comic strip. I have worried some that The Far Side was just going to be forgotten, since it hasn’t been in newspapers in a quarter-century and its online presence is almost nil. It’s great to imagine having something that’s my Gen-X cohort’s secret, other than that the Gen-X cohort exists. But that seemed unfair to the comic strip.

It’s hard to explain the importance of The Far Side. It was weird and surreal and happy to be obscure if Gary Larson thought the joke was good enough. Or if he didn’t realize it was obscure. The influence was amazing. Everybody who drew a comic strip for their college paper in the 90s was imitating either The Far Side or Bloom County. I’m not sure there’s a panel comic launched the past quarter-century that hasn’t followed Gary Larson’s style. One of the first web comics, Doctor Fun, was a Larson imitator. Many web cartoonists give a try to its bizarre-concept panel style, even if they develop a different comic.

So just being able to read the comic strips again, easily, and to share them would be fantastic.

Could there be new comics? Well, sure. I don’t know any reason Gary Larson couldn’t still draw, or write. I assume he did the image that’s on https://www.thefarside.com right now, too. Would I want him to?

I’m curious to see, sure. Larson was a great talent and why wouldn’t we want to see more of that? Well, we can imagine things, which amount to discovering that Gary Larson isn’t the person we imagine him to be, which is this transcendent genius able to combine elements of our culture and our natural world in ways into a harmonious and silly image. If we got, like, the Cow sneering at some non-binary people and “cancelling” their acceptance of human-caused climate change, well, I know I’d feel betrayed. It could go innocently wrong too. Mocking the preposterous entity in the White House is as difficult as he is terrible; a misfired joke and fumbled apology could leave anyone looking bad.

More likely, and more subtly wrong, would be something like the return of Berkeley Breathed to drawing Bloom County. There, the revived comic strip isn’t doing anything wrong, at least not anything that the original didn’t do wrong. It’s just that the revival went out into a culture filled with imitators and extenders of the original comic. And it’s presented to people who are not who we were in 1986. Greatness is part talent, yes, but also part luck, and some of that luck is catching the right audience at the right time.

This is all gloom, but it is 2019, so what is not gloom?

So let’s hope. If Gary Larson has decided that he has some funny drawings of cows, perhaps he knows his business. I’ll share news when I have it.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Also, what’s wrong with Funky Winkerbean? June – September 2019


Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.

It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.

I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.

All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.


Station for an amusement park's antique car ride, labeled 'Gasoline Alley'.
They are really big fans of Gasoline Alley over at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. To the right is the lift hill for the Phoenix roller coaster, and if you like roller coasters at all you should get over and ride that.

Now back to my real business.

Gasoline Alley.

24 June – 14 September 2019

Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.

Rufus, putting a coin into the wishing well's slot and thinking: 'I wish, when I gets home, Willow will be gone!' Joel: 'Y'all done? I see yo' exorcised all yo' change! What'd yo' wish fo'?' Rufus: 'Can't tell! If'n I did, it won't come true!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of July, 2019. The wishing well is as good a way out of an unpleasant scene as any you might try. I like the touch that the well was set up with a coin slot. It’s a fun touch.

And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.


So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.

Rufus, to jewelry store clerk: 'I want to buy something' real nice an' elegant, but not too gaudy or expensive!' Frank Nelson: 'What price range were you wanting to dabble in?' Rufus: 'Hmm! What'll $5 get me?' Frank Nelson: 'Thrown out of here probably!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of July, 2019. Jack Benny: “Now cut that out!”

A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.


The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.

Hoagy: 'My daughter Aubee got very listless and confused! Her skin got real pale ... uh ... sort of like yours is now!' Glabella: 'Did she get into a medicine bottle?' Hoagy: 'Oh, no! She was outside playing! Do you feel OK, Doctor?' Glabella: 'I feel she's dehydrated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of August, 2019. And here we get introduced to Glabella’s superpowers, and start to form questions about, like, what triggers his empathic relation? Like, is he feeling a mix of both Hoagy and Aubee’s physical conditions right now? What’s the range? Is he sensing what the person the next room over feels, too, but faintly? These are all questions it does not make any difference to answer.

Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.

Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.

Glabella, to Walt Wallet: 'Let's take some blood, and see what's causing your difficulty! OK?' Walt: 'Is it painful?' Glabella: 'It'll hurt *me* more than you!' (And thinks, 'ouch'.) Walt: 'I'm ready when you are!' Glabella: 'Too late! It's over!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of September, 2019. So you can see why Glabella would not go in for being a surgeon. Also in this Glabella did the bit of tapping Walt Wallet’s knee with a hammer, only to have his own leg jerk back in response, so that’s some fun business.

Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.

Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.

Sometime around December 2019 I plan to check in again, with an essay about Gasoline Alley at this link. Also if there’s any news about the comic strip I’ll have it at this link.

And, as ever, I look at the mathematical content of comic strips on my other blog. The mathematics blog is also going through all the letters of the alphabet to explain something of each of them, this week and through November, all going well.

Next Week!

Gold mines! Smugglers! Animals! And now … cryptozoology? It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, coming up, barring surprise developments. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: US Vice-Presidential Name Lengths Over Time


Chart showing, in blue, the length of the names of all US Vice-Presidents in order. In blue is the less fluttery chart of five-Vice-President running averages. The average length rose slightly from Colfax through Coolidge and has mostly declined since then.
I know what you’re thinking: wait, there was a vice-president named ‘Johnson’ before Dallas and King? I know, I was shocked too. Turns out the United States has had THREE vice-presidents named Johnson. George Clinton and John C Calhoun are counted only the once because while they each served parts of two terms, for different presidents, their times in office were continuous.

Reference: Keeping Watch: A History of American Time, Michael O’Malley.

To Answer Your Question About The Road Trips


No, I did not notice yesterday how awkward it is to have a string of essays titled “Stages of the Road Trip: Stage [ Number ] ” now that it’s too late to do anything not-awkward about it. I have not spent thirty hours staring at the ceiling working out what to do about a thing everyone has barely noticed and would never bother mentioning. I’m handling it all very well.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Two


Stage One. Before the trip.


The gang is ready to set off. It’s going to be a long trip. Maybe the longest they’ve ever made. Maybe the longest there ever will be. Anyway it’s at least two hours longer than the last one the group’s managed. Dan is not saying that if he were in charge he would set up a definite rotation for driving. He’s just saying that a definite rotation for driving would be good. After the third iteration of this Sophia answers that if they rotate too much they’ll end up right back where they started. Amanda has the bad luck to mention 180 degrees in this. This brings lively but unproductive talk about the differences between 180 degree, 360 degree, and 720 degree turns. Dan attempts to propose a 270 degree turn just to lighten the subject.

Still, better if we set out sooner rather than later. No, sooner than that. Maybe a bit earlier than that. After three different chat rooms have settled on five different start times Dan proposes that everyone set out the night before and meet up at the park-and-ride twenty minutes out of everywhere. He’s being facetious, everyone tells themselves.

The compromise is to move the start time 90 minutes earlier. The morning of the start everyone is running about an hour late, so they agree to just start 30 minutes ahead of the original start time. Then somehow just getting everything in the trunk and one last trip to the bathroom takes 75 minutes. Josh insists that by starting 45 minutes late they’re running ahead of schedule. Dan is not convinced by this. It will be until the state welcome center before the topic has been debated enough that everyone lets it drop.

The seat belts are locking up. Just the ones in back. They do that. There’s a trick to it. You have to sit so you’re facing forward. No, not that forward. Dan, just … no, you need to … there, see? Now it’s pulling out. All right, now it’s locked up. Maybe you should get out and get back in the car the correct way this time. No, the other correct way. Look, both feet on the floor, that’s the first thing you need. Now face forward. Not that much forward. All right, why don’t you try the other side? That’s right. Now sit facing forward. Not that much forward. Don’t pull the seat belt out that fast. All right, let it out and back again. Not that slow. You want to go medium speed. More medium than that. Not that … look, this is before your turn but why don’t you try the front seat? Oh good grief. All right, let’s try where you started again. Right. You know most of us can use a seat belt. Yes, try facing forward. Not that forward.

Fine, we just won’t crash the car this time.

There is a great sense of thrill and delight at finally being off. And then stopping again because Sophia needs to stop at the convenience store ATM for some overpriced money. Dan does too. Also Josh. Amanda doesn’t need any but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to get some Combos. This turns into getting sour cream doughnuts instead. And then there is great thrill at being off again.

There is also great thrill at seeing the trip’s first group of sheep. Who knew there were sheep and they were just standing there, tending sheep tasks, off on the side of the road, just like that was a normal thing? So, sheep. Yeah.

This is the time when everyone learns their friends have the worst taste in podcasts. Josh is partial to three guys laughing at each other, with occasional guest hosts. Dan prefers one guy trying to remember all the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have. Sophia likes one person interviewing three people about something she never heard of before and will never hear about again. Amanda likes hyperbolic descriptions of movies and TV shows she never really watched, they were just on. Sometimes two or three can find a podcast that satisfies them, but there is no hope of all four enjoying what they’re listening to. The shows keep getting interrupted for explanations of the in-jokes that don’t need explanation.

It’s pointed out that if the trip doesn’t ultimately have a 360 degree turn then they can’t ever get home again.

I’m Easily Amused By Words, Part, Like, 19


You know what a goodra is? Definitions vary but most statisticians accept that it’s any ra which is more than one standard deviation above the mean.

(Thanks for seeing me live up to the promise I made last week, when I said a non-calendar list of days could be a bit calend-ish. Please visit next week when I’ll ask whether this panel of Daniel Beyers’s comic Long Story Short is mocking me.)

Man up to his knees in a pool of quicksand, to a person up to his hat in another pool: 'If I'm in quicksand and you're in quickersand, then it stands to reason there must be quickeststand.'
Daniel Beyers’s Long Story Short for the 10th of September, 2019. I like the writing craft that chooses “it stands to reason” as the connecting phrase there, since it puts this nise assonance in the whole phrase and makes it that bit funnier.

Popeye facing off against a very 1960 Robot


Is there a comic minigenre funnier than early-60s Old People complaining about The Beatles? Arguably, it is early-60s Old People trying to make fun of Elvis. Let’s watch Mueller’s Mad Monster. This is a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon; Paul Fennell directs.

There was a cartoon attitude popular in the 1950s and 60s that I grew up liking. Call it Cartoon Existentialism. This is where characters do some role, not because they have reason to. They just know they have this role and they’re going to play it. You see this in any of the little home-appliance animals in The Flintstones, who shrug that it’s a living. Or fairy tale stories starring, like, Huckleberry Hound, where the characters shrug that this blue dog is messing up their routine.

Mad Mueller is such a creature. He’s introduced as the mad scientist at a nice spooky storm-ridden castle. He’s building a monster because what else does a mad scientist do in such castles? It’s a robot because, what the heck. It’s 1960. That the cartoon is soaked in this attitude of “what else are we going to do” predisposes me to like it.

I still do. It’s barely an animated cartoon. As the monster Irving carries off Olive Oyl, Popeye lets off a fair bit of trash-talking and daring bragging. Almost anything as long as he doesn’t have to walk over there. I have days like that. There’s one real moment of life in the cartoon, around 9:09 as Popeye and Irving get into a good fight cloud. It’s fun and has a nice sound effect to it. We could wish there were more of it. But there is something that amuses me in the fight being such a short sequence so repeated. It’s almost an extraction of what makes a cartoon fight cloud.

There is a fair bit of dialogue. And it’s trying to be funny. Many of the jokes work for me, at least a bit. Mad Mueller telling the camera, “I push the little button. That looks like a good button,” for example. That really captures the Cartoon Existentialism of the piece.

The dialogue wants to be funny. So if you find something amusing in the idea of a Frankensteinian monster named Irving, you’re in good shape. If you like the idea that a spooky castle is in a neighborhood named Horrors Heights? Yeah, that works. Or this doesn’t do anything for you and the cartoon is wholly lost. I grant the premise that “Irving” is a funny name for a monster isn’t a strong joke. Or that Mueller can’t quite name Worcestershire sauce as he tries to whip up artificial spinach. Better, I think, is the casual way that Popeye speaks to Irving “as one monster to another”. Olive Oyl picks this up too, telling Mueller about how “your monster is beating up my monster”.

Popeye doesn’t have his spinach on him. Why? Well, so Olive Oyl and Mad Mueller have something to do in the end of the cartoon. Popeye smashes Irving to pieces and then rebuilds him. Why? Well, because you don’t want a mad scientist going around without a monster. Popeye rebuilds Irving into a figure who looks like Elvis Presley, Olive Oyl tells us. (I only see it about half the time.) Why? What else are you going to do? It’s a cartoon from 1960, you gotta do something.

Because I Have Learned From The 90s


Yes, it’s annoying to have reached the point there’s not enough hard drive space. There’s an obvious hack. Nothing to do but put them on flash drives. I don’t like it, but that’s all right. I don’t have to like my contrivance, it just has to work. There’s the obvious choice what to offload, too: all those photographs from past years. They’re great, but I don’t need all of them all the time. It’s easy to put the pictures onto a flash drive. Two flash drives, since if I only have one copy of a thing I don’t have any copies the thing.

But. I’m not going to repeat the mistakes of the 90s where everything was scattered across Jaz drives and CD-ROMs with useless labels. I’m going to give these a nice clear description of purpose. They shall be My Image Storage Storace Contraption, and My Image Storage Contraption 2. At least as their full names, so I remember them. To fit on a flash drive label I’ll have to use the acronyms.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Seriously, do we not find out whether Daddy Warbucks killed his wife? June – September 2019


No, kind readers. Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy gave us a juicy mystery. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s wife disappeared in circumstances where he’s the only plausible suspect. They do not reveal what happened. But Dick Tracy has adopted the Little Orphan Annie cast. They may reappear and reopen the mystery. If that happens, I’ll share news at this link. That link will also have a more up-to-date plot recap if you’re reading this later than about December 2019, yourselves.

Dick Tracy.

16 June – 8 September 2019

The search was on for Gypsy Gay, the last thread of evidence prosecutors have in trying B-B Eyes for murder. The real evidence, Trixie Tinkle’s sworn statement, has gone missing. So has Tinkle. But it’s thought Tinkle might have described her statement to Gay. Without that, all the State has against B-B Eyes is that his name is B-B Eyes and that the corruption of his body shows the corruption of his morals. B-B Eyes’s lawyer Tim Jackel is racing Dick Tracy to find Gay first.

Oh, did I mention Trixie Tinkle was Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’s second wife? And that she disappeared while the two were on a world cruise? And Warbucks won’t answer questions about what happened, but will admit how Tinkle was a golddigger with whom he couldn’t make things work? Also, that Annie and Oliver Warbucks are in on this story?

Sam: 'The security camera shows Gypsy and Annie leaving.' Tracy: 'Let's check for possible witnesses outside.' Doorman: 'He said he was their driver and they got in the sedan. License number something-1938. Same year as Action Comics #1.' Lizz: 'Action comics?' Tracy: 'I'm accessing the license database now.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of June, 2019. Now, it’s hard to believe, but I have heard that there are people in the world who do not remember when Action Comics #1 was posted. Some of them don’t even know why this would be a something they would care to know.

In it to the point of solving things: Annie, Honeymoon Tracy, and Ugly Crystal happen across Gypsy Gay. She works in the hotel where Annie and Oliver Warbucks are staying. Gay’s location and workplace are a slender lead to go on, but Tracy is able to follow it. Not fast enough to keep Gay and Annie from being kidnapped, but, c’mon. It’s Little Orphan Annie. If she weren’t being kidnapped she’d go off and kidnap herself, just to stay in shape.

B-B Eyes's hideout. B-B: 'Yeah, Gypsy Gay, I remember you.' Gay: 'I know you too. I was partying with my friend Trixie when that policeman O'Malley was brought in!' B-B: 'You got a good memory, Gypsy. So what happened to O'Malley?' Gay: 'YOU know!' B-B: 'AND SO DO YOU, GYPSY. Now, who's this kid?' Annie: 'ANNIE's the name. And I'm so tough, tattoos are scared of me!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 23rd of June, 2019. I grant this is not the most important strip of the plot. But I love Annie’s explanation of herself in that final panel. That’s giving you a character in one panel. It’s so good you almost don’t wonder why she brought up tattoos. Like, did B-B Eyes or one of the henchmen have a tattoo we haven’t been paying attention to? Or has she been workshopping this line so long she took the chance to deploy it regardless of whether it perfectly fit?

Turns out Gay actually did witness B-B Eyes killing Officer O’Malley. O’Malley had been sent undercover to … uh … investigate B-B Eyes’s tire-bootlegging gang back in 1942. So, you know, do not cross the Office of Price Administration if you ever want to know peace. Look, if we aren’t going to accept a weird flow of time then we’re in trouble. I’m still hung up on how Trixie Tinkle disappeared twenty years ago, as we get told, yet was someone whom Annie knew. Also that Annie only met Oliver Warbucks because of Warbucks’s first wife. Anyway, B-B Eyes figures his best bet is to kill Gay, and what the heck, Annie too.

Annie and Gypsy are trapped in B-B Eyes's hideout. Gay: 'Annie! What's that in the hallway?' (It's a space vortex; from inside emerges Punjab.) Punjab: 'Come with me! I cannot hold this pathway open forever! No matter what you see next, do not let go!' Annie grabs Punjab's hand, and Gay grabs Annie's. They journey through a ghost-lined tunnel of spirits that are ... kind of 70s-breakfast-cereal-esque in spookiness. They emerge in reality. Gay: 'W-what was that?' Annie: 'Leapin' Lizards, Punjab!' Punjab: 'I know. It was not the magical journey you expected, little princess. My apologies to you both!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of June, 2019. I remember this journey being a lot less sinister when the Pink Panther took it.

Have to agree with his plan. But the cops have followed them, and they’re already holding a shootout. Annie leads Gay to making a break for it. In the hallway they find a magical vortex filled with demons, as will happen. Don’t worry. It’s Punjab, using the mystic powers of the inscrutable Orient to save his master’s ward and also that other person. With the hostages safe, Tracy’s able to move in with a heavier action sequence. And he captures B-B Eyes safe and sound and ready for trial.

There’s some time for calm reflection. Talk of how Warbucks has moved to a quieter town. How he’s finally adopted Annie for real and good. And, no, he’s not going to go answering any nosey police questions about the disappearance of his inconvenient wife. That, the 13th of July, concludes the story.


The next day Tracy gets gunned down in the rain. And yes, it was exciting to read this and think Warbucks had put out a hit on Tracy after all. It’s rough on Tracy, but he survives, thanks to his bulletproof vest and his latest would-be murderer’s unwillingness to shoot him in the head. His attempted murderer this time: Archie Comics’s Dilton Doiley cosplaying as the lead singer for the Buggles. Call him “Doc”. His participation got teased the 26th and 27th of June, in the midst of the previous gunfight. He’s the nephew of old-time Tracy villain Flyface. This is why there’s flies hanging around him. Flies respect primogeniture.

Grandmom, on the phone: 'How are your classes going, Little Doc? That college is lucky to have you as a student.' Doc: 'I'm not attending classes right now, Grandma. My job has to take precedence.' Grandmom: 'Yes, Doc. But that law library your uncle Felixweather left you is going to serve you well someday. Never forget that!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 19th of July, 2019. Uncle Felixweather, Flyface, had a big collection of law books and was maybe an attorney. In one past storyline Flyface’s law books were coated with a material that produced a noxious gas when burned, which Flyface used to escape jail. This storyline revealed that the books themselves could be used to murder people by poison or as incendiaries or other stuff. And if that all sounds ridiculous please remember this is the comic strip where flappy-skinned balloon seller The Pouch used a popcorn maker to shoot someone dead.

Like many Gen Z’ers, he can’t just go to college. He needs a side hustle. His is trying to get revenge on Tracy for (I assume) killing his uncle Flyface. That’s failed, which disappoints him. Now he’ll probably only get three stars on Smuglr, the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets. Anyway, he can get back to his main job, being floor manager at the Patterson Playhouse.

The Patterson Playhouse is doing a production of Our Town, with Vitamin Flintheart as the Narrator. During rehearsals Mitchell, a Gluyas Williams portrait of Robert Benchley suffering a cold, drops off a thermos of “snow”. Mitchell made two mistakes dropping off this drug shipment. First, what he thought was an equipment bag was the camera bag of Kandikane Lane, Vitamin’s wife. Second, he used a thermos with the licensed brand image of The Scarlet Sting. This is an in-universe comic strip and comic book superhero.

Vitamin Flintheart's Home. Kandikane, holding a Scarlet Sting thermos: 'I thought this thermos was yours, Vitamin. I wonder where it came from.' Vitamin: 'One of the stagehands, perhaps?' Kandikane: 'It's not empty. Uh-oh! This is a bag of white powder!' Vitamin; 'Close it quickly, my dear! I'll contact the authorities!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of August, 2019. “I mean, this is a heap of Kraft Parmesan with a street value of easily … like … $2.49.”

So the appearance of a licensed bit of fan merch drew so much attention. Characters wandered over from Funky Winkerbean to admire that hey, here’s something nerds like! And yet it’s for sale just as if superheroes were part of pop culture or something. They look inside, find it’s a great pile of white powder, and call in Dick Tracy.

Dick Tracy does some swift super-detecting work. He’s learned that earlier that day was Mitchell asking to see Doc Limpp. Tracy checks the Dick Tracy Wikia and finds that Flyface — Felixweather Limpp — had a nephew named Little Doc. Somehow this isn’t enough to go on, though, so they set a trap. They return the thermos to the Flinthearts to carry on as if the cocaine wasn’t discovered and replaced with a decoy. (The Flinthearts had unknowingly taken the thermos home before noticing it. This is why Doc didn’t know the police were aware of the thermos.)

Meanwhile Doc and his partner Sally try to figure how to get the cocaine back. Sally goes in disguise as “Kassie Richmond”, reporter for the Daily News, to interview Kandikane. Kandikane takes a quick picture of Sally alongside Jack Magnus. Magnus played J Straightedge Trustworthy, spoof of Dick Tracy, in the musical comedy A Chin To Die For, in-universe spoof of Dick Tracy, earlier. The “interview” happens over the course of a full dress rehearsal, so far as that’s possible, of Our Town.

Tracy: 'You've got something in your coat.' Susan: 'It's a lens adaptor Kandi needs.' Tracy: 'I need to see it.' Susan, unbuckling her belt: 'Okay, but I have to warn you ... my nickname in college was Commando!' (She flashes her coat wide.) Tracy, eyes popping out: 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2019. I know what you’re thinking: with that last panel we can declare a winner in the Funniest Story Comic Panel Of 2019 contest. I agree this is a strong contender. But let’s please not forget that the current Mary Worth story is about Dawn Weston trying to get a guy who’s incredibly not interested in a lasting relationship to commit to her, and that’s probably not even going to be the last Mary Worth story of the year. You’ll see that here in a couple weeks’ time.

Sally goes snooping around and finds Tracy’s there, which she warns Doc about. She also finds The Bag, and grabs the thermos. Tracy moves in. Sally has an excellent uncover story: “I wear swimsuits!” Tracy arrests her, as Doc enters the building. He sneaks into the rafters or whatever they have up high above stage from a theater and shoots. Then he chuckles at having killed Dick Tracy, because Doc somehow doesn’t know what comic strip he’s in.

Tracy wasn’t shot. Jack Magnus was. He was borrowing Tracy’s hat and coat to give some fans pictures of him as J Straightedge Trustworthy. Tracy’s going after Doc au naturel, wearing nothing but his three-piece suit. Also, I have to read it like this, setting up Magnus to be the unwitting target of Doc’s attempted murder. Magnus pulls through. “It’s just a nick”, the kind that would just screw you up for years in real life but that genre convention is you just kind of walk off. It is good for Magnus, but still … I mean, maybe Tracy didn’t know Doc was going to shoot him right then and there? But he’s got to have seen this as plausible, too.

Tracy arrests Doc. And we learn Doc’s also a cocaine user and Tracy felt kind of bad breaking this to Doc’s grandmother. So the story’s resolved, and it closes with a week of scenes from Our Town.

Oh, also they arrest Mitchell, who surrenders to the cops after eight minutes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans quoting at him.


And on the 1st of September started a new Minit Mystery. This one is, if I’m reading it right, written by Staton and Curtis. The guest artist is Andrew Pepoy. It starts with a murder at a photo studio. As I write this, on Saturday the 7th, it’s been introducing suspects and motives, so if you want to jump in to solving matters, this is a good chance. It’s a nice story break point for me.

Next Week!

I have seven days to remember exactly what’s going on in
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley.
It’s involved Rufus and Joel a good bit, that I’m pretty sure about.

Meanwhile I continue looking at mathematics in comic strips on my other blog. I also have the Fall 2019 A-to-Z Sequence, explaining one concept for each letter of the alphabet, running. You might enjoy that. Thanks for considering it.

Statistics Saturday: US Presidential Name Lengths Over Time


The rise and fall of US Presidential name lengths, per successive administrations. Also included is a five-president running average. The average name length is rather higher from Garfield-to-Kennedy and has been in a long-term decline since Eisenhower.
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: I’m treating successive presidential administrations as a proxy for time, as though the term of office of, say, Zachary Taylor were equal to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Believe me, I thought about weighting this against term of office and then literally everybody I know wrestled me to the ground and slapped me silly so this is what you’re going to get.

Reference: Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo-Saturn Launch Vehicles, Roger E Bilstein.

I Do Not Mean To Brag About My Prowess With Small Household Goods


But just trying to make the alarm clock stop beeping set it into a mode where it sat silent for 90 minutes and then began blaring a 75% static version of Phil Collins’s “Sussudio” and I bet you couldn’t make that happen even if you tried.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage One


The gang agrees a road trip would be great. It’s been so long since the last one. There’s not going to be many more good chances this year. The weather’s getting to be more of itself. Work is getting busier. There’s the chance the state might discontinue roads for the rest of the year. No telling. If we don’t get to it soon we might never start at all.

Which car to use? There’s the obvious choice. That’s the one that would reach its scheduled service mileage about one-third of the way through the trip. That’s … something we could handle? … Right? … Daniel insists he can handle it. Nobody believes it. The cashier at Pita Pit asks Daniel if he’s all right, or if he’s lying about something powerfully important to him. The guy at the car wash just leans in and hugs him, saying, “I don’t know why but, man, something about you says you need this. Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” Amanda’s the first to admit this won’t work, though, even after finding car dealerships roughly along the planned path.

It’ll be Josh’s car instead. It’s less comfortable. But Josh insists he’s glad to host the trip. “It’ll be great! I can finally get updates to all my state maps!” Nobody’s sure whether this is serious. But in that little cubbyhole in his car doors are a lot of maps. So many maps. Gas station maps. Maps from Esso gas stations. A map of the Washington, D.C. area that still shows “Lee Family Estate” where Arlington National Cemetery should be. A map showing the Colonie of Nieuw-Nederland. It’s pristine. His car is three years old. There have always been things about Josh nobody understood. Now, knowing a little more, everyone knows him less.

Road snack purchases are a hot debate. There’s the faction that wants things bought ahead of time, so the gang can set off without false starts. There’s the faction that sees the false start as tradition. There’s the faction that insists there’s rest areas on the highway for a reason. Amanda tries to be the sensible one and insists road snacks aren’t necessary if everyone just eats good meals. There seem to be more factions than people going.

Fourteen hours of heated debate spread over three chat groups, none of which have all the participants in it, agrees at least to go to the same convenience store and stock up. This after ninety minutes of argument about the supermarket being cheaper. Or the neighborhood grocery store being better for the long term economic health of small business all right THANK YOU we get it. It’s twenty-five bucks’ worth of Fritos, economic justice doesn’t enter into it.

The cooler issue will not settle. There’s good economic reasons to get bottles of soda, even small bottles, and keep them in cooler. This crashes into the faction that fresh-poured fountain drinks taste better. A hard-shell cooler works better but bangs the knees of everyone in back. A soft-shell cooler fits between people but Sophia’s read things about breeding bacteria? Somehow? It’s all very tiring.

The day before the trip the low-tire-pressure light comes on. Josh has a pressure gauge for just this problem. It’s not the front driver’s side tire. It’s not the rear driver’s side tire. It’s not the front passenger’s side tire. It’s not the rear passenger’s side tire. Two hours of increasingly cross words follow in three of the now-five group chats. Fourteen separate web searches for symptoms follow. Eight of them end up on Yahoo Answers. Despair sets in. Sophia has the breakthrough insight: could it be the spare tire? Yes, it could, but it is not. Thirty minutes later the low-tire-pressure light stops lighting. Daniel offers it was his suggestion to put electrical tape over the dashboard that did it. The real explanation remains unknown. Perhaps the tires just wanted some attention.

“Fritos are not a matter of economic justice” becomes the newest in-joke for the group. Three and a half years later it switches to being Cheetos not being a matter of economic justice. No one is able to explain this phenomenon. It becomes a matter of great angry debate when anyone tries to insist that it was originally Fritos.

I’m Easily Amused By Words, Part, Like, 18


Granted. But wouldn’t you agree that even if a list of days is not a calendar, that it is still a bit calend-ish? Of course you would.

(And now you are a witness to me living up to the promise of last week, when I argued “consumer electronics” mean “computers you eat”. Please visit next week when I’ll answer the question of what’s a “goodra” by explaining it’s “any ra that’s more than one standard deviation above the mean”.)

Popeye’s Pet Store: wait, does he sell Magilla Gorilla here? Plus other riddles of the ages


I find a couple of things as I look through the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. There’s forgettable cartoons. There’s cartoons that aren’t good, but are at least bizarre. There’s cartoons that I like because they get weird in fun ways. And then there’s simple baffling cartoons. Popeye’s Pet Store, another Jack Kinney piece, is one of those.

New cartoon, new profession for Popeye. He’s not actually sailing, for some reason. But he’s not just puttering around the Boring Suburbs, which is usually a good sign. He’s running a pet store. I thought it looked like the one Magilla Gorilla lived in. No; it’s nothing like that. I’m just the fool for thinking every 60s cartoon city pet shop looks the same.

I call this a baffling cartoon. I think that when I was a kid I wouldn’t even notice. But, like: yes, it’s funny that Popeye should dust a goldfish. We don’t see him put the goldfish back in the water, though. It’s logical to suppose he puts it back, but, he started out doing something illogical. How do we know he hasn’t kept that up? We never see an aquarium, after all.

It makes sense, for the cartoon, that Popeye’s regular friends want pets. And it’s fine that Popeye shouldn’t have just what they want. That Olive Oyl should insist a chihuahua is the poodle she wants is funny. If you don’t agree, would you at least grant that’s the shape of a correctly formed joke? That a better cartoon would make it work? But then we get to Wimpy wanting a “hamburger hound”, whatever that is. And Popeye giving him an anteater? That’s just what Wimpy was thinking of? That Swee’Pea wants a cat, and Popeye, the pet store owner, hasn’t got any? But uses a bird in place? That’s baffling.

More than anything this reads like the setup for a Monty Python sketch. Several, really. Popeye giving a parrot(?) as a pussycat makes me think of the “Pet Conversons” sketch. Popeye not having any of the various animals people want makes me think of the Cheese Shop. Those are better sketches, yes, but it’s striking that good premises were just sitting there ready for at least a decade before more talented hands picked them up.

Finally we get Bluto in. He’s introduced growling that “I hate satisfied customers,” which is a nice weird line. He goes about to un-satisfy everyone and picks up a net. I guess he’s the city dogcatcher, although the cartoon isn’t explicit about that. I guess we’re supposed to read the net as shorthand for that. It’d help if he had, like, a badge or something. Even a line saying “as the city dogcatcher I can un-satisfy them”. The cartoon can’t be trying to save screen time. After the dogcatcher’s truck pulls up next to a spinach truck, Popeye — Popeye — says “Spinach, that’s what I need!” And then “Good ol’ spinach,” in case we don’t understand what can of leafy green stuff Popeye has just eaten while Popeye’s fanfare plays.

More baffling stuff. Bluto the dogcatcher-I-guess grabs everyone’s new pets. They’re upset. OK. Why are they upset with Popeye? Why call him a cheat? Why does the angry-mob noise not sound like any of King Features’ three voice actors are in it? (I’m curious if anyone knows what cartoon or sound effect library the sound at about 14:18 is from.)

Sitting in a jail car is Popeye in a dog costume, with a parrot on his shoulder, a blue anteater to the left, and a chihuahua sprawled out on its side next to them.
I do like Popeye’s pose in his hound dog costume. It’s carrying his personality. Make of the chihuahua’s pose and flirty eyes what you like.

Popeye has an Augie Doggie’s Daddy costume. All right. I don’t know what fursuit I would assume Popeye to have, so, Doggy Daddy will do. Why does Bluto grab him? Bluto was out to un-satisfy customers; who’s the customer here? It’s not that Bluto’s acting as regular dogcatcher; he gloats at 15:26 that “I’ll un-satisfy them”. And then in the dogcatcher’s van, Popeye reaches out to a spinach truck luckily nearby. I guess he’s one of those fursuiters who won’t remove his head while on stage no matter what? Also, Popeye can smell canned spinach? … Well, I’ll give him that. We’re talking Popeye.

Popeye fights Bluto while in costume. This has the odd thread that Bluto doesn’t actually know who he’s fighting. There’s also a quick funny moment at about 16:28, where Popeye runs across the screen, Bluto chomping down on his rear end. That’s a nice silly little extra bit. Anyway, a quick bit of fighting and everybody’s happy again, apart from Bluto who doesn’t count. All right.

This is definitely a cartoon to watch while you’re doing something else. The better I pay attention the more I notice things that don’t quite make sense. The storyline’s simple enough: Popeye gets his friends pets, Bluto steals the pets, Popeye gets the pets back. Why does it end up being harder to follow the more I watch?

Statistics August: People Like It When I Have A Dead YouTube Link here


I was able to examine my readership earlier this month than I did last time around. Thank the month starting conveniently on the weekend and while I didn’t have anything else major going on. I’ve kept up my spreadsheets, too, so now I have lots of numbers with decimal points and all that to think about. Also I learn something unsettling about my most popular posts. Let’s look things over.

In August there were 3,692 recorded page views. This came from 2,201 unique visitors as far as WordPress will tell me. Both of these are increases for the last several months. More, they’re both above the twelve-month running average. The running average for page views had been 3,158.8 views from 1,804.4 unique visitors. This implies a growing popularity, which is gratifying and reassuring and all kinds of happy.

Slightly over four years' worth of monthly readership figures as seen in a bar chart. The last several months see the number of monthly views rising.
So it looks like I have eight months before the glory days of the final collapse of Apartment 3-G fade completely from memory. I mean the memory of everyone except me.

There were 127 things liked around here over month of August. The twelve-month running average was for 163.9 things to be liked each month. This implies that while more people are looking at more things, they’re not so crazy about any of it. It was another dire month for comments, also: nine posted over the month of August, below the twelve-month running average of 40.8. Well. All right, then.

I can break this down into more decimal points too. There were 31 posts published in August. It’s not the case that only stuff posted in August was viewed in August. But I can calculate the statistics-per-posting, which seems relevant since how often I post is the thing I’m most in control of. I mean apart from writing anything actually interesting.

August saw 119.1 views per posting; the twelve-month running average was 103.7. There were 65.2 visitors per posting; the running average was 59.3. There were 4.1 likes per posting; the twelve-month running average was 5.4, which makes it sound like the likability shortfall wasn’t that bad, really. There were 0.3 comments per posting, compared to a twelve-month average of 1.3, which makes it sound like I barely need a comments section at all. Hm.


The unsettling thing is in what the most-visited pages were. There were 473 pages, besides the home page, to get any views in August 2019. 186 pages got only a single view. The five most popular were dominated by What’s Going On In reports, as ever:

The most popular wholly-original-to-me content was that microfiction With The Rise Of Digital-Life Persons, which I’m quite happy about. It was a different kind of writing and I had fun doing that. My most popular long-form essay was Why I Figure You Should Write Your Own Web Browser, which is amazing because it got all its likes in the two days between its publication and the end of the month.

The unsettling thing is the second-most-popular piece of the month. That was a 2014 review of an ancient Paul Terry cartoon. It’s one of historic value, since it’s a full-sound cartoon that predates Disney’s Steamboat Willie. But it has a dead YouTube link for the cartoon itself. I can believe some weird event causing a bunch of people to look up an obscure cartoon from a forgotten animation studio and hitting my site. But one that doesn’t even have the video? I suspect some kind of shenanigan.


74 countries or things like countries sent me at least one reader in August. 14 sent me just the single reader. There’d been 70 countries sending me any reader in July and 69 in June. There’d been 20 single-view countries in July and 18 in June. Here’s the full roster:

Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in the darkest red. Most of the Americas and Eurasia are in a fairly uniform pink, as are Australia and New Zealand. India's a slightly darker pink. There are only a couple African countries to have sent any readers my way.
Well, you know me: as popular in Nigeria as I am in Argentina and Jamaica. Or as in Moldova and Honduras combined.
Country Readers
United States 2,631
India 235
Canada 111
United Kingdom 72
Australia 67
Sweden 67
Brazil 59
Philippines 45
Kenya 42
South Africa 25
Italy 23
Belgium 19
Finland 17
Germany 17
Denmark 16
Mexico 16
Norway 14
Japan 13
El Salvador 12
Romania 12
Spain 12
Puerto Rico 11
France 9
European Union 8
Indonesia 7
Thailand 7
Ireland 6
Turkey 6
Colombia 5
Greece 5
Malaysia 5
Argentina 4
Jamaica 4
Nigeria 4
Russia 4
Singapore 4
Slovakia 4
South Korea 4
Israel 3
Nepal 3
Netherlands 3
New Zealand 3
Pakistan 3
Poland 3
Portugal 3
Saudi Arabia 3
Serbia 3
Switzerland 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Vietnam 3
China 2
Guam 2
Honduras 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Latvia 2
Lithuania 2
Moldova 2
Taiwan 2
Ukraine 2
Uruguay 2
Antigua & Barbuda 1
Bangladesh 1
Bermuda 1
Bolivia 1
Brunei 1 (*)
Croatia 1 (*)
Curaçao 1
Czech Republic 1 (*)
Georgia 1
Iraq 1
Oman 1
Papua New Guinea 1
Peru 1 (*)
Sri Lanka 1

Brunei, Croatia, Czech Republic, and Peru were single-view countries in July also. No country’s been a single-view place for more than two months in a row just now.


What do I plan to post over the coming month? A long-form essay, Thursday evenings, Eastern Time. Then, also Statistics Saturday posts for as long as I think of silly things to categorize. And all my What’s Going On In posts, published Sunday nights Eastern Time. In particular my schedule is, barring breaking news or important surprises:


From the start of 2019 through the start of September I’d published 241 posts in all. These had a total of 140,753 words so far this year. This was 15,654 words in total in August. That is 505.0 words in the average post for August. That’s comfortably down from July’s average of 610.3, and even the year-to-date average of 582 words per post. I can sometimes be brief.

Through the start of September were 314 total comments this year, for 1.3 comments per posting. This average has held for three months now. There had been 1,221 total likes for the year, an average of 5.0 likes per posting. The average had been 5.2 at the start of August and 5.3 at the start of July.


If you’d like to read these posts regularly, you can add the https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ RSS feed to whatever reader you use. If you don’t have a reader, you can get a free Livejournal or Dreamdwidth account and put it in your Friends page there. You can also keep track of this blog in WordPress, by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page.

I am on Twitter as @Nebusj, although I haven’t been there lately. Twitter’s server has refused all connections from my web browser (Safari) and I’ve been just this close to doing anything about that. The automated tweet-about-new-WordPress-postings hasn’t broken yet, at least, but who knows how long that will last?

Watch this space for developments, future or past. Thank you.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Did Valiant save Bukota’s Queen yet? June – September 2019


This is my late-August summary of the plot in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about late November 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date essay here.

Meanwhile my other blog has exciting stuff to read. I look at mathematically-themed comic strips every week. And starting this week, for a 13-week run, I’ll look at some mathematical concept for each letter of the alphabet. This will be fun or terrifying and I won’t know which until the end of November.

Prince Valiant.

9 June – 1 September 2019.

Bukota, assisted by Prince Valiant, was pursuing Fewesi the Healer. Fewesi had kidnapped Madeka, the Queen of Ab’sabam and lover of Bukota. They land in Paraetonium, in North Africa. Everybody gets camels and Fewesi heads into the desert.

Fewesi drives his camel hard, reaching an oasis. This made me realize my cartoon-influenced idea of an oasis always has it be, like, the size of a swimming pool. No. This is a land, one to which his (nomadic) people have returned, luckily. Fewesi declares this their great chance. They have only to give him asylum, and they can use Madeka to gain power in Africa.

By luck or distant witchcraft, Val has found the vast oasis far south of Paraetonium. He and his mount quench their thirsts in a marshy pool unaware that sharp yellow eyes regard them hungrily. While, in the Idar Uhag encampment, an angry Fwesi faces rejection from his mother's tribe. In desperation, he seeks to use the hidden way to control the Chieftain's decision but the old man merely smiles contemptuously. 'Do not try to turn an adept with your misused powers, puppy! Now take your hostage and go, so that we may tell all that follow you that we have turned you away! We want none of the suffering that your schemes would bring!' So Fewesi's plans for revenge and conquest within his mother's tribe are lost. He leads the spellbound Makeda from the encampment, and for the first time is afraid, with good reason. Several miles down the pathway, a dark figure rises before him, sword unsheathed. Next: Mind Over Matter.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 21st of July, 2019. So while it was doomed to fail, points to Fewesi for at least trying to mind-control the Chieftain. Also, good on Bukota for being ready to hit Fewesi, but if he is “several miles down the pathway” he’s drawn the sword too early. He’s going to wear himself out holding that thing for like 95 minutes before he needs it.

The leaders of the Idar Uhag shut that down hard. Kidnapping Madeka isn’t going to solve any of their problems. Also it was a mistake to teach Fewesi any mind-control and distant-vision powers, which by the way the Idar Uhag have. Fewesi then remembers, hey, he has mind-control powers. He can just … oh. Yeah, the rest of the tribe has more and better mind-control powers, so they’re not changing their minds. They kick him and his hostage out, in time for Bukota to catch them.

Meanwhile, Prince Valiant — whom “sympathetic, if amused nomads chanced upon” and taught how to ride a camel — has made it to the oasis. While he swims, a lioness preys upon his camel. Valiant gets out fast, of course, and protects his ride, but it’s a tough job. The lioness leads him into the grasses, where her pride joins the fight. That’s taking Valiant some time to sort out.

Val thrusts the Singing Sword aggressively at the huge lioness that has ambushed his camel. The angry cat shows little fear of man and his weapons, but a stinging slash is enough to send her retreating reluctantly, cautiously ... and with purpose. Too late he recognizes her cunning --- she has led him into the tall grasses, where her pride suddenly glides forward and encircles him! While, on the oasis path not far away, Makeda wills herself free of Fewesi's enchantment. She rushes to Bukota's aid, throwing her kemis over the murderous healer. He struggles to free himself, knocking her back ... but Makeda's distraction has broken Fewesi's control over Bukota. The warrior staggers to his feet, cold vengeance gleaming in his eyes. It is all too much for the healer. He cannot control both of these powerful wills. He has played his last card, and has no further option but to flee. Next: The High Ground.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 18th of August, 2019. Not that Mandrake the Magician would stoop to simple mind-control. I say this days before I bet it turns up in both the 90s “current” comics and the two separate 1940s vintage stories on Comics Kingdom. But I’m sure Mandrake would have a chuckle at Fewesi’s mind-control powers being thrown by getting covered with cloth. “Just gesture hypnotically some,” I’m sure he’d chuckle, “and make them think you’re eighty feet tall! That’s the way to do it. I have no idea how I really got into that building.”

Meanwhile Fewesi, Bukota, and Madeka are having a very parallel fight. Fewesi is able to mind-control Bukota, but it weakens his control of Makeda. Fewesi tries to slit Bukota’s throat — as the lioness hits the camel’s throat — only to lose control of Makeda. She covers him with her dress, giving Bukota the chance to shake off Fewesi’s control. Fewesi flees. Bukota and Makeda team up to pursue.

Next Week!

So did Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks kill his second wife? This and other plot developments in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy should get their answers in a week.