In Which I Must Ponder What Kevin Kubusheskie’s Singing Voice Is Like, Again


The host of 80s/90s Trivia asked, “Which child star of You Can’t Do That On Television would go on to be a major international music star?”

And I said, “How do we know any of them might not yet do it?”

I didn’t get the two points, but they’re hoping to get me in finals for the International Slightly Viral Meme Contest for April, motivational/inspirational-quotes division. It’s a long shot for for such an offhand quip but that’s all right. December 2017’s winner for Mot/Insp was itself a long shot, and it’s all about long shots like that winning the International Slightly Viral Meme Contests.

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What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Will the Green Hornet Remain At Large? January – April 2018.


Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.

Over here should be my latest discussion of mathematically-themed comic strips, if you like those too. I do, and that one’s my blog.

Dick Tracy.

28 January – 21 April 2018.

Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.

In the forest Preserve, during a snowstorm. Honey Moon, thinking: 'My wrist wizard is showing a life sign not far from here!' She shouts, 'CRYSTAL! Dad! I've found her!' Crystal Ugly: 'M-Moon girl?' Honey Moon, cradling her: 'Here, take my jacket. I don't feel the cold.' Crystal: 'C-Can't w-walk. F-freezing.' Honey Moon: 'Don't worry, Crystal. My Dad's coming.' (Thinking) 'Hurry, Dad! She needs to get warm. Fast!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of February, 2018. If Honey Moon doesn’t feel the cold, why does she need a jacket? … Well, I saw commenters snarking about that when the strip was first published. Me, I figured it was Honey Moon saying something assuring so that she could cover up Crystal Ugly without Crystal feeling guilty. And it may be more than that: later in this sequence Honey Moon manages to generate a little circle of heat, enough to melt the snow around them. So this may be presaging Honey Moon developing new Lunarian super-powers. Introducing it in a low-key way that doesn’t seem like anything more than a friend accepting (possibly dangerous) discomfort to help another.

Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.

And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.

Ghost Pepper: 'You had blowfish for lunch, didn't you, Simon?' Simon Stagg: 'H-how did you know?' Pepper: 'One of my chefs prepared it.' Stagg, poisoned: 'H-he didn't!' Pepper: 'You're right, he didn't. Your fugu was safe. *I* prepared your *dinner* myself. There's no antidote for my 'secret ingredient', so relax, Simon, and enjoy the trip.' (Stagg falls forward, dead.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of February, 2018. I confess I don’t understand the appeal of fugu. I grant I’m a low-risk thrills person; my most dangerous pastime is riding roller coasters, which just isn’t dangerous. But exactly how awesomely good would fugu have to taste for that to be worth the risk of death? Especially when, based on the story comics and crime or mystery shows I’d see when my mother has control of the TV, eating fugu gives you a roughly one-in-one chance of dying from it? And again, I grant I don’t have a sophisticated palette. I once managed to eat half a Reuben sandwich before realizing I didn’t order a Reuben. I’m content with a Taco Bell cheesey potato burrito. But still, fugu seems like a needlessly dangerous lunch. I don’t understand it.

Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.

Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?

Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.

[ Ghost Pepper stops for a deer in the road, and Tracy gets loose. ] Pepper: 'I better check on Tracy. ... Uh-oh!' (Looking out of the truck.) Dick Tracy: 'PEPPER! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!' Pepper: 'I'll run him over!' [ Starts the truck in reverse, aiming at Tracy. Tracy takes his snub-nose gun and shoots! ]
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of March, 2018. That’s some really well-composed scenes, and great action. It’s just that I’m still stuck on how that handcuff stayed on that trailer hitch for miles(?) of travel on country roads.

Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.

And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.

In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?

One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.

The 1st of April started another weeklong “Minit Mysteries” segment. This was illustrated by John Lucas. The mystery was the murder of George Reeds, actor and star of the Ultraman TV series. That runs through the 8th of April; please, enjoy working out the puzzle if you like.

The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.

This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.

Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.

There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.

It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.

A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.

What The Heck Is Going On With The Grizzwells?


Uhm … so far as I know nothing of note is going on with Bill Schorr’s comic strip The Grizzwells. It seems to be just fine. Haven’t heard anything about it being cancelled or changing syndicates or anything. Haven’t heard anything about it changing artist or writer. Nor about it changing the premise any. It’s just I’ve learned that I get a lot of readers who want to know what’s going on with some comic strip or other. So, yeah, I’m weak. I like the strips where the rabbit turns up. He’s named Warren, which seems like it ought to be inevitable. The porcupine is named Pierpoint, which is kind of inevitable but not so much so as to stand out.

Gunther, talking to his porcupine friend Pierpoint: 'Lately Flora's been having a big problem with her memory. She never forgets every time I make a stupid offer to help around our treehouse.'
Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 18th of April, 2018. Conan O’Brien’s birthday, a fact which explains everything, doesn’t it?

But yeah, it’s just carrying on like normal like it’s been since … wait, since 1987? Really? This thing’s been going on since like Star Trek: The Next Generation was new and we were telling ourselves no, this Ferengi episode really was as good as we needed it to believe it was? Huh. Oh, and before The Grizzwells, Bill Schorr did a comic strip about a frog who fools the locals into thinking he’s an enchanted prince. I like that premise but I can also see why it didn’t quite last four years in syndication. Ah well. Also wait, so Bill Schorr rates a page on Wikipedia, and the comic strip Conrad that ran from 1982 to 1986 rates a page on Wikipedia, but The Grizzwells, which has been running since the aliens trans-reversed Steve Dallas’s brain, doesn’t? The heck? You know?

Comfort Disasters


I realized I haven’t been watching those sciencey or history-ish channels that I used to. I’m not sure how that came about. It’s not like the sciencey or history-ish channels aren’t still there. I know we’re paying good money for the “Sorta Tier” of satellite TV channels. You know, the Kinda Nature Channel or the Plausibly Food Channel or Home Craftishness TV. These are great shows, stuff you can watch without ever quite paying attention and learn stuff. That stuff will be something like there was a deputy engineering inspector with a weird name who wasn’t listened to, but isn’t that something?

But I realized this today. I know why. My social media feeds, like most of yours, were full of how the 19th of April was the 106th anniversary of the first hearings into the sinking of the Titanic. Fun fact: all your friends passing around pictures of the Waldorf-Astoria, site of the hearings? They’re wrong! It was the old Waldorf-Astoria, the one they tore down to build the Empire State Building. It wasn’t at the same site. The Empire State Builders were having a giggle and can’t believe they got away with it.

Still, this is the time of year the sciencey history-ish channel would be full of shows about the sinking of the Titanic. And they’re great comfortable shows. They open by reminding us how the ship was called unsinkable, right to its face, if ships have faces. After the first commercial break the narrator asks us if the problem was some previously unidentified construction flaw. “Was the great ship doomed when its segmented compartments were, to save time, not riveted together but instead patched with Velcro, invented in 1941 by Swiss electrical engineer George de Velcro?”

A mechanical engineer with the job of being interviewed stands in front of a black backdrop. He explains how sometimes Velcro works great, but not so much before its own invention. Then on comes a Royal Navy officer who says the same thing, but uses different words. He stands in front of nautical junk left over from a Seafood Shanty restaurant. Those were great.

Around 14 minutes in there’s been enough of that. We bring on an entertaining fellow from an obscure university who uses his hands way too much. His point: from the iceberg’s point of view the Titanic rammed it. And we never hear about how many icebergs get sunk by ships each year. However, one of the engineers explains in a cutaway, most modern icebergs aren’t held together by Velcro. They only use it recreationally.

At the 24 minute mark there’s some footage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. The narrator concedes that this hasn’t got any bearing on the Titanic. But they had the footage thanks to a silent movie made to better exploit that tragedy, back then. And it would be a shame to let a solid good crime against human decency go to waste like that.

Then on to some grainy footage of people. They’re walking along the boardwalk and an amusement park we’re going ahead and assuming is Coney Island. The men are wearing 34-piece suits. The women wearing dresses sufficiently poofy that they can best get down steps by rolling. That’s how people went to amusement parks back then. Women never went up stairs. The narrator explains that due to changes in materials science what the people of 1912 considered acceptable metal for building ships would, today, be classified as store-brand diet pudding. All that held the Titanic together was how much embarrassment it would cause the company if it never amounted to more than a heap of components.

At about 48 minutes in they mention that guy. You know, the one who wrote that book about the ship with a name that was kind of like Titanic? And how the book in that ship — I mean the ship in that book, but I bet there were books on the ship in the book that sank — sank. They’ll point out how that guy achieved immortality and fame. They never ask what role he had in the iceberg.

They mention the sister ships Olympic and That Other One. There’s never talk about the father or the mother ship. Sometimes they discuss how being an orphan must have affected the ship growing up. I should pitch that one. If they’re still making those shows anymore. Like I say, I haven’t been watching the Kinda channels lately. I bet there’s a story there.

My Extremely Rare Idea For A Video Game People Might Want To Play


Okay, so how about Oregon Trail, only for finding the Northwest Passage? Like, you pick an era of exploration, and what kind of ship and what sorts of crew, and how much you want to invest in stocks to search overland and over ice? And you make decisions about what currents to follow and when to keep poking into a bay and when to give up a path as probably useless? And trying to figure out which is just an estuary and which is a major river and where portages would be useful? Also so that you don’t go in knowing that there’s no finding one you have to go searching the shore of a procedurally generated Canada?

Yes, a good idea, sure. But mostly I say this because I want to get the concept of the “procedurally generated Canada” out there. Isn’t that a great notion? Sure. Just imagine a world where Montreal isn’t an inevitability but must instead come about by a lucky result on a random number generator. What about a Prince Edward Island tucked right in the middle of Baffin Bay? Ooh, there must be the chance there’d be, like, four Albertas, one right after the other, surrounding Labrador like it was ganging up on Saint Pierre and Miquelon? And wouldn’t it be something if the Saint Lawrence River led directly to — let’s say something hilarious here — Edmonton or maybe Churchill? A Toronto that’s balanced on top of Vancouver? And underneath a second Vancouver? Yes, this is a thing we should have. You’re very welcome.

The 31st Talkartoon: Any Rags? Anybody?


I have to apologize right from the start for this week’s Talkartoon. Not so much about the content. Although I should warn it does use several times the joke that it’s funny if a woman’s clothing should fall off. Men lose their clothes too, but it’s meant to be funny that you can see Betty Boop’s bra. What I have to apologize for is I can’t find a good version of the cartoon online. Archive.org has one with nasty compression artifacts. I don’t see one on YouTube that’s much better. Which figures, since this is a densely packed cartoon with a lot of visual jokes. Sorry; best I can do.

This was originally released the 2nd of January, 1932. It’s the first Talkartoon of that year. And it’s got credited animators: Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio, a team that also gave us Twenty Legs Under The Sea.

Can a cartoon be made up entirely of side gags? Sure, especially in the 1930s, and especially from the Fleischer Studios. There is something holding all the jokes together. It’s Thomas S Allen’s ragtime hit of 1902, Any Rags?. It’s a catchy song; here’s a 1904 recording. You maybe haven’t heard of Thomas S Allen but you know at least one of his other songs: 1905’s Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal. Yes, I’m also shocked to learn that song is newer than, like, the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The song, and cartoon, are built on one of those jobs that today seems to come from another dimension, the rag-and-bone man. The job, of gathering up trash that can be put to a new purpose, is still there, of course. It’s just that it, too, has been industrialized, with metals and paper and plastics being gathered by the city every other week (or whatever), and clothing gathered every couple months. Or you see them in the people rooting around trash bins for soda pop cans that can be turned in for the deposits. Still the job as it was sounds daft: gather stuff people were throwing out, and then sell it to other people? Without Craigslist to mediate?

Betty Boop gets top billing, pretty good considering she doesn’t even appear until the cartoon’s halfway over, and is in it about a quarter as long as Bimbo is. Props to whoever her agent was. Koko gets a mention too, and he’s only in for one quick joke. Bimbo is the center of a lot of stray and amusing and often wild little jokes. He doesn’t seem to me to provoke most of them, to be an active participant. But he’s there while they happen, which is worthwhile.

There’s almost nothing but blink-and-you-miss-it jokes this short. I like the string of nonsense items the housewife hangs on the clothesline, starting about 1:30. But there’s plenty of choice. Bimbo swiping the moustache off a lion demanding to know what’s the deal with stealing his pants? Bimbo’s spurned valenteine-heart dropping out of scene on a parachute, about 3:25? The statue of Atlas eagerly showing off his globe to the auction attendees? Take your pick. I don’t spot any real body horror along the jokes. I would have expected, at minimum, the cat that’s put through the clothesline wheel to end up shaved. Maybe everyone at the studio was feeling kindhearted that week.

There’s a fair, not excessive, number of suspiciously Mickey-like mice in the short. A couple turns up about 1:10 in, in the birdcage that Bimbo fishes out of the trash bin. (This short summarizes so weird.) The housewife and her clothespin-attaching assistant at about 1:30 in are also mice.

I like this cartoon throughout. There’s very little story structure. I suppose the auction has to happen near the end, and the garbage turning into a home at the end, but the rest is arbitrary. That’s all right; the progression of music gives enough structure for the short to stay enjoyable and keep feeling like it’s going somewhere. It’s a good example of building a short without any real plot or big jokes. Just lots of little bits of business.

The Most Perfect Sentence I Have Ever Seen In Print This Week


So I was reading Seymour I Schwartz’s The Mismapping of America, which as you inferred from the title is all about the challenges in making an integrated-circuit design and surrounding circuit board that would be lightweight and reliable enough to serve as the Apollo Guidance Computer for the moon landings. In the last full chapter Schwartz discusses the history of mapping the Great Lakes and how we got around to having two Lake Superior islands — Isle Phelipeaux and Isle Pontchartain — which define part of the boundary between the United States and Canada despite neither actually in fact existing. Here “neither” refers to Lake Superior and to the United States, which should be a considerable relief to everyone but the mapmakers. And now consider this following sentence, about the late-1680s exploration reports by Louis, Baron de Lahontan et Hesleche, of the Fox River in what we now think of as Wisconsin.

Lahontan’s text includes an extensive, although improbable, description of domesticated beavers in the area.

And now try to tell me that sentence hasn’t caused you to pause in your day’s worries and allow a gentle, delighted smile to cross your face. You can’t do it, and for good reason. I thank whatever twists and turns of fate led Seymour I Schwartz to the point of writing such a delightful sentence. It’s rare for fourteen words to do so much for the human condition.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? And Can Queens Solve Murders? January – April 2018


It’s always a good question what’s going on in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. I’m writing what’s my best explanation for as of mid-April 2018. If it’s later than about July 2018 for you, maybe look at or near the top of this page and there’ll be a more recent recap.

Also, if you like mathematics and comic strips I try to keep up with each week’s thematically appropriate comics, on the other blog. Do enjoy, I hope.

Prince Valiant.

21 January – 15 April 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Prince Valiant, Karen, Vanni, and Bukota were sailing the rivers of what is now Uzbekistan on their way back home. They saw a raven, joking how it was a messenger for Karen’s mother Queen Aleta. So it was, and carried the report that the team was fine. So the next week their rafts came upon some rapids, in a sudden squall. This all smashed the rafts. The four climbed onto a ledge. And there we left them; we haven’t seen them since the 4th of February.

The story has instead moved to Queen Aleta of the Misty Isles. Which led me to realize the place was a Vaguely Roman territory. Here I have to confess: I only resumed reading Prince Valiant a couple years ago. And only started reading it seriously for these What’s Going On In series. I had always supposed that Valiant’s home base was England somewhere around the early Heptarchy. You know, the era when pop culture thinks we don’t know who ruled England or whether anybody did or if there even were people there. And I guess not; the Misty Isles are somewhere in the Mediterranean, says Wikipedia. Valiant himself was from Thule, off the coast of Norway. I think I kind of knew that.

Since the 11th of February the story has been Queen Aleta’s. It opens on murder: two servants of a noble house are dead, as is Ingolf, first mate of one of the Norse shipbuilders. The bodies are barely discovered before Senator Krios is at the market. He denounces the Queen’s refusal to protect the Misty Isles from violent, opportunistic foreigners. And cites the murder of two of the island’s natives by “one of [ her ] drunken Norse bullies”.

A suspicious Aleta turns to the CSIatorium. She observes the “precise, deep stab” under Ingolf’s ribs. And how he holds a strand of black hair tied by a gold ribbon. She sends her daughter Valeta out to ask into the Ingolf’s whereabouts. Aleta also asks Krios to explain his deal. He complains the growing trade partnerships put too much foreign influence into the homeland. He hopes to have trade confined to a single district, with foreigners excluded outside that area. He proposes the islet of Kythra. Aleta runs a check of the records. Krios has been buying up properties there, all right. But it’s a mystery how he’s doing it, as he’s deep in debt. But he’s leading a mob into the Senate to demand protection from foreign threats.

Aleta is suspicious as to the circumstances of the Norseman Ingolf's death; but she needs information, and so calls for her daughter. She gives Valeta instructions to speak with the sea captain Haraldr concerning any knowledge he might have of Ingolf's history of relations here in the isles. Then Aleta calls for Krios. The dangerously ambitious senator cannot deny a royal summons, and arrives with his two burly sons. Their effect is meant to intimidate, but Aleta ignores the display. ``Why, Krios, do you agitate against the outside world --- against our trade partners?'' Krios responds with little respect: ``Unlike your father, you have allowed far too much foreign influence into our homeland. We lose our culture and our economic independence through your negligence! I mean to see that the Senate creates a controlled district in the harbor, in which all trade will be conducted and beyond which all foreigners will not be allowed! This is for our people's welfare; and, as you have see, the people are with me!'' ``Now,'' thinks Aleta, ``I understand your true goal. You care not for the people! A secured harbor would give you control of all trade and distribution!''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 4th of March, 2018. Yes, yes, I know that “trade negotiations” have a bad reputation in science fiction and fantasy readerships. I don’t care. I am also a micromanaging grand-strategy nerd who would, in all honesty, love a game that was all about running an efficient exchequer in a state with primordial, if any, bureaucracy and standing institutions. So if you’re edging around the developments that lead to the Cinque Ports I am there. So never, ever, ever put me in charge of designing games. Also, ask me about the time zone game concept sometime.

Meanwhile Valeta visits Haraldr, Ingolf’s captain and also her crush. Her rival Zulfa is there. That promises to add some needed awkwardness to the proceedings. Haraldr confirms Ingolf had a relationship with some woman of the Misty Isles, but not who. That’s all right. From the gold tie of the hair locks Valeta already suspected Krios’s daughter Andrina.

Valeta needs to confirm Andrina had something going on with Ingolf. Zulfa volunteers to bodyguard, under the pretext of being Valeta’s handmaiden. The confrontation goes well. Valeta pretends that she and Ingolf were very much in love. The jealous Andrina pulls out a dagger and attacks. Zulfa moves to stop her, but Andrina’s brother Antero rushes from the curtains and grabs her. Antero begs forgiveness for her “tortured mind”. Valeta says of course, and promises to speak no more of Ingolf. As Valeta leaves, Zulfa drops a flirty smile and a bracelet to Antero. He sends her a note, setting up a date.

Spurred by jealousy, Andrina lunges at Valeta. Suddenly, Antero, the crazed woman's brother, leaps into the room. ``Control yourself, you stupid little ... '' Unable to escape Antero's iron grip, Andrina eventually collapses, as if emotionally spent ``Forgive my sister,'' growls Antero. ``You know she has a tortured mind.'' Valeta has obtained what she wanted --- confirmation of a certain attachment between Andrina and the dead Ingolf. She backs from the room: ``The fault is mine --- I fear I unwittingly provoked her. Please tell her that I will speak no ore of ... Ingolf.'' Antero eyes Valeta suspiciously; but then Zulfa, still playing the handmaiden, does something unexpected: as she exits, she throws the son of Krios a bold, flirtatious smile and purposely loses her bracelet. Antero's attention is caught. Meanwhile, Aleta receives word on Krios's business dealings: ``You were correct, my Queen --- Krios has begun to acquire a great number of properties on Kythra ... but how he can do that is a mystery. The moneylenders tell me that Krios is hopelessly in debt!''
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 8th of April, 2018. It’s so hard to provoke a suspect into a violent action that proves his or her guilt, especially when there isn’t a troupe of actors in to perform The Murder of Gonzago. But we’ll make do.

And that’s the current situation. Krios is trying to lead a populist faction to close the Isles to foreigners and get himself out of debt. Ingolf was murdered. It seems by someone within Krios’s family. Also two islanders were killed. This may be to cover up that murder. Zulfa has some secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. Oh, and I bet Prince Valiant and all have managed to have an adventure, build a new raft, and get that one wrecked too. We’ll follow how things go.

Next Week!

Is it ever possible to summarize three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy? That’s such a good question. I’ll give it a try. I’m going to be re-reading and making note for like four days straight. Spoiler: the plan to kill Dick Tracy didn’t work. But there is a Minit Mystery to ponder!

Statistics Saturday: What The Patron Saint Of Various Things Was Killed By


Patron Saint Of Killed By
Archers Cudgels, after recovering from being shot by arrows
Bears Not Bears
Ailments of the Throat Beheading
Stenographers Beheading
Firefighters Drowning, after declaring that he would climb on the flames to heaven if the Roman soldiers did burn him at the stake as they were planning to do
Coffee-house Owners Old age while kept for decades in a cell adjacent to the church to hide his deformities from the public
Civil Defense Volunteers Old age, fatigue after delivering a Solemn rather than Low Mass
Tile Makers Plague, possibly?
Also Tile Makers Natural causes
Intestinal Ailments Intestines ripped out and tied around a windlass
Toothache Old age, looks like. He was 99 apparently?
Holy Roman Emperors Executed on orders of the Roman Emperor
Another One For Tile Makers Natural causes again
Not Procrastinating Beheading

Also, really, the patron saint of overcoming procrastination is “Expeditus”? Exactly the name you’d give if you were bluffing your way through being asked “who’s the patron saint of overcoming procrastination”? Or if you were Mel Brooks writing a scene without trying too hard at it? That’s … well, heck. I mean, you know?

Source: European History 1648 to 1789, R M Rayner.

As I Read About A Merry Subject


I’m reading a book about the medical profession in the United States Civil War, and how all those people needing medicine changed the way doctors did things. It’s in that weird halfway stage. It isn’t quite a pop-science book, since every 25 words there’s a citation and the corresponding endnote might go on for half a page. But it isn’t quite an academic book, since you can read the prose without feeling your life-force drained and left in a puddle that’s then photographed with reticules and analyzed by component square or portion of a square.

Thing is, it’s from the city library. And someone went through and made little notes in the margins. Not a lot of notes. Like, one or two every chapter. I don’t know how this person had the courage. I feel weird enough writing in my own books that are mine and that I have owned since college and figure to go on owning, even if I’m just correcting a typo that confuses me every time I see it.

Thing about this thing that is, is, the comments seem just aimlessly contrary. The note-writer put in the margin “post-hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy ?” and nothing else for thirty pages in either direction. It’s almost sneering at the argument being made, but the ? doesn’t even commit to the sneer. It’s just encouraging the reader to sneer if she or he chooses to. There’ll be twenty pages go by and the only note is underlining “new elite” in the text. There’s usually something in the conclusion section of any chapter, but it’s a comment like “plausible, if not shown”.

It’s almost a work of art laid upon the text. I can picture this little frowny character, maybe looking like a caricature of Red Skelton’s Mean Widdle Kid from 1948, sticking out his tongue any time the author tries to summarize things. So I don’t know what mid-Michigan reader chose to have this terse, slightly passive-aggressive quarrel with a semi-academic book about medical science in the United States’s Civil War. I have to conclude that it’s somebody with a pencil, though, so I’m on the lookout now.

Explaining The Common Cold


What is a cold, and if it is, then what is it not? Furthermore, how many? This last question doesn’t seem to fit at all and maybe it belongs in a different piece, one that’s three words short.

The common cold, as it’s known to everyday experience (outside Wednesdays), is one of daily life’s more reliable chores. It serves a valuable biological purpose. Without it how would we remember that we don’t really like going to work, and aren’t necessarily that fond of a lot of our coworkers, and we come down to it we’re not so fond of leaving home either? Home has so many nice things, like how it’s not work, or how you know which channel it is has the show that’s just about paint. Blocks of clay-ish matter being chopped up into powders. Powders being stirred into transparent or white-ish fluids and stirred. Colored paints being poured into shiny metal buckets. Shiny metal buckets getting lids stamped down on them. Shiny metal closed buckets getting wrapped up in paper labels. Worry that the right labels aren’t getting put on the right cans. Buckets being loaded into trucks, never to be seen again. They must be going somewhere. Maybe a paint store. Maybe an awesome paint-bucket fortress in the woods. But it’s not your concern, and it’s so good when you’re working your way through a cold.

The first sign of a cold is the one on the highway telling you which exit is for the airport. Colds spend a lot of time at airports, since they like to pass time watching the airplanes taking off and landing and pretend that they’re part of crew alert systems instrumentation. Colds were very strange as children, not often being played with by other relatively minor diseases. When they did, they were forced to be the navigators. And they liked it, because they knew all kinds of things about magnetic declination. “Did you know magnetic variation changes over the day, from its most easterly around 8 am to its most westerly around 1 pm?” they’d ask to fellow kids who clearly did not. “The variation is greater in summer than in winter!” That teaches you a lot about what you’re dealing with, when you have a cold.

When a cold encounters someone at the airport they know it’s one of two cases. It could be a person who’s travelling for business. In which case, latching on to that person lets the cold share thoughts of how they’d rather not be travelling for business. Or it could be a person who’s travelling for pleasure. In that case, hey, wouldn’t you hang around someone who’s apparently doing something fun? So that’s why colds pounce on people at airports, wrestling them to the ground and telling them about how besides the diurnal and seasonal variations there’s also a secular variation in the compass. Sometimes you might think about the irony of saying you “catch a cold” when it’s the other way around really, but it won’t help.

Are there good ways to prevent a cold? Oh, now why would you go and spoil a cold’s fun, when it’s going to all that trouble to find you? Well, you go and be you. I’d like to say you know what you’re doing, but I know better. It’s 2018. Anyone who had any idea what they were doing has fled to some better time, like 1998 or the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, there’s many people who swear that large amounts of vitamin C will prevent a cold. Just how it’s supposed to do that is controversial. The leading theory is that you should take a great heaping pile of vitamin C and build a fortress around you for it. The colds will be curious, of course, and poke their way through the door. That’s when you reveal that you were never inside the fortress at all and instead slam the door shut.

The plan might seem odd. But it’s only because it makes you realize you don’t really know what vitamin C looks like. You know what those candy drops with vitamin C look like. But the bulk of those are candy; the vitamin C is just, on average, four molecules per tablet. What would a wall of the stuff look like? What color would it have? You know vitamin C is “ascorbic acid”. Is it acidic like soda, sticky but harmless to touch? Is it acidic like H2SO4 that kills Johnny in that rhyme your chemistry teacher told you? There’s no way to know. Maybe there’ll be something about it on TV after the paint documentary finishes.

In Which My Calendar Wants Me To Do The Unthinkable


I continue to use up my 2018 hard-won Peanuts strip-a-day calendar at a rate of a bit under one strip per day (they don’t have Sunday pages). And it still has activities on the back. Last week it suggested this:

Unscramble the following letters to reveal this April word.
grimepints

I shall do no such thing. “Grimepints” is a magnificent word. It’s as perfect a collection of phonemes as I’ve encountered in a long while. It would make the world a worse place to “unscramble” those letters into some word that is lesser in every way to “grimepints”.

Furthermore, I choose to believe that Grimepints is, besides a perfect word, also the name of a City of London meeting-hall built in 1475. There the Guild of Pandy-Whelkers, established during the reign of King Edward II, still conducts all its business, including the biennial Benefit for the Sick Infants of Needy Croft-Coddlers. They pay a rent of 6/8 plus “four fynne & true kernels of nutt-megg, the niewest to bee hadd” per annum. And I am working up a history of the building and the Guild’s charming yet dotty history as my Patreon exclusive for the month. So nag someone you otherwise like into reviewing a subscription to something! But unscramble “grimepints”? I would sooner cancel springtime itself than commit such an offense to the language.

The 30th Talkartoon: Betty Boop’s Dizzy Red Riding Hood


We’re back, in the Talkartoons, to ones with known animators. And a good hand, too: Grim Natwick, credited with the creation of Betty Boop in the first place. (There’s two more Talkartoons without known animators, which we should get to in late April and early May.) This is also the last Talkartoon of 1931: it was released the 12th of December. And if I’m not missing something, it’s the second (known) cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. And the second Talkartoon in a row that’s a fairy-tale adaptation.

I do have to offer a content warning. There’s a joke at about 4:20 in playing on the meanings of the words “pansies” and “fairies”.

The title card narration suggests the cartoon will be risque, in the way that pre-Code cartoons are often reputed to be. This is borne out, at least some; the short is driven by Bimbo’s lusting after Betty Boop. Also maybe by the wolf’s lusting after Betty Boop, although that could just be the normal, empty-stomach sort of hunger.

And it’s got Bimbo in his non-screwball-character design. The one where he’s a bit dull. He’s less interesting than he was last week in Jack and the Beanstalk, yes. But he’s not the boring passive participant in the story that he would get to be. About halfway through he surprises me by beating up the wolf, chasing the wolf’s skeleton out of his own skin for a moment of honest-to-goodness horror, and taking his place. (The wolf also accidentally cuts his head off for a moment there, about 3:12 in, but that’s done so quickly it might not even register.) This is (apparently) the first sound cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and only the second in American animation (Walt Disney did a Little Red Riding Hood cartoon in 1922). It’s surprising that even that early on in animation history they felt they had to have the story go this weird.

Given how well Jack and the Beanstalk went, and that most fairy tales are public domain, it’s not surprising they’d try the trick again. But I don’t know how far they had developed Jack and the Beanstalk before starting work on Dizzy Red Riding Hood. They might have realized they were on to something good. Or both cartoons might have started development about simultaneously as the Fleischer Studios realized they had a story source just waiting around right there to be used.

It doesn’t come off as well as Jack and the Beanstalk, though. This cartoon isn’t so zany as last week’s. There are many good little bits of business, and so a wealth of choices for blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. I’d vote for right up front as the handle for the icebox keeps escaping Betty’s hand, and turns out to be a sausage link poking through a hole anyway. Also that Bimbo eats the fish Betty puts in her basket, and the sausage links leap into his mouth. And that’s before a friendly little frog turns into an outboard motor to help Betty through a large puddle.

There are a lot of good little bits of business. I like the forest leaping into Betty’s way. Also that when we first see the wolf, he, Betty, and Bimbo all enter the scene from different depths; it’s a rare bit of three-dimensionality. And I’m really amused that the wolf goes to the trouble of getting Betty Boop to plant flowers just so he can have flowers to stomp on.

There’s also some good draftsmanship on display in a challenging scene about 2:25 in, where Betty and the Wolf are walking along a curved trail in the woods, and Bimbo keeps poking his head out between trees. It’s the kind of angle that’s not seen enough in cartoons, for my tastes. It’s hard to animate so it looks right. This does look right, although it goes on a bit long, as if the studio was so impressed they’d got it right they were checking to make sure everyone noticed. Always the problem in doing the hard stuff right.

Still, none of the jokes feel that big, or land that strongly. There’s a lot that’s amusing; no real belly laughs. The closing scene, with Betty and Bimbo sitting on the moon as if it were a hammock, is a great image, but it’s a strange closing moment not coming from or building to anything. I like the Moon’s despairing expression, though.

There aren’t credits for the voice actors. The Internet Movie Database credits Little Ann Little with Betty Boop’s voice, plausibly as she’d been doing that the last several shorts. It also credits Billy Murray with Bimbo’s voice, again, credible. I don’t know who does the introduction. It sounds to me like someone impersonating Ronald Colman, but I’m not sure that in 1931 that would be a name people could be expected to recognize. The wolf’s voice — at least his singing voice — sounds to me like Jackson Beck. You’ll recognize him as the voice of Bluto and every other heavy in every cartoon and old-time radio show. But that is my speculation and I am not skilled in identifying voice actors.

The wolf, while singing his threats, rhymes “granny” with “bologna”. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

What The Heck Happened To Nancy and Why Does It Look Weird?


So, the comic strip Nancy has a new writer and artist. After Guy Gilchrist’s retirement there were a couple weeks of reruns, and a striking lack of news about the comic. Then this weekend I saw, on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, the announcement that Olivia Jaimes would take over the comic, with the first new strip Monday, the 9th of April.

Michael Cavna’s article about this, in The Washington Post, reports that Jaimes is a pseudonym, and that Andrews McMeel Syndication is being secretive about her career. Editorial director John Glynn’s quoted saying he had seen Jaimes’ web comics and been impressed. And that Jaimes is a fan of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy.

I don’t know anything of Jaimes’ web comics (so far as I know). That she’s a fan of Nancy seems clear enough from the first strip, which is all I’ve seen as I write this. Much of what’s celebrated in Bushmiller’s style is a minimalist but well-drafted style, and a narrative flow that gets weird to surreal. The strip for the 9th is straightforward in form, but web-comic-weird or surreal in content.

Person looking at Nancy, who's got a slice of pie. 'That Nancy, she's such a sweet girl.' (Nancy sprinkles salt on the pie; also she's got a soda pop.) Person: 'Also a salt girl.' (Nancy holds a stick of butter; a hamburger and a muffin have appeared.) Person: 'And she doesn't shy away from that butter, either.' (Close-up on the person.) 'Wow, she is going IN on that cornbread.'
Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy for the 9th of April, 2018. This should not be pulling my focus but is … is salting pie a thing? I’ve heard about cheese on pie, as a thing New Englanders do to remind us that we’re not New Englanders and they’ll tolerate us being around but would rather we not. But that’s cheese. Salt is a new one on me, or on my pie.

So, I’m curious where this is all going. I don’t know anything about Jaimes that I haven’t said already. I also don’t know whether the strip is going to resume, or respect, the characters and situations that Gilchrist had developed. (The important ones there being Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble, and Sluggo being adopted by that pair of truckers.)

Also yeah, it’s never a good idea to read the comments. But you might want to read the comments. There’s a lot of GoComics.com commenters who hate the new look. I don’t fault them not liking it right away. The change in style is drastic and without transition. But, wow. I don’t know if it’s a bit, and I’ve decided I don’t care. The guy who hopes the new artist will “not [be] afraid to be politically incorrect and offend a few men-hating Feminazis [sic]”? That’s some of the choicest opinion on the goings-on of Nancy and Sluggo that I’ve seen in a long while. So, sure, go ahead and hope that Nancy will continue to be a bulwark against the onslaught of the New Atheists, Guy Who’s Watching The Culture-Clash Play Out In Nancy.

By the way, the reporting on this has made me aware of a new book by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden. It’s How to Read Nancy: the Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, and apparently it’s 274 pages that thoroughly investigate the Nancy comic of the 8th of August, 1959. I’m glad to have found a library near me that has a copy. I accept the thesis that Bushmiller’s work had more skilled craftsmanship behind it than people realize. I’m not sure I can imagine 274 pages about a single strip that isn’t even a Sunday panel. And yes, I say that as a person who owns more than 650 pages worth of book about containerized cargo. But you know your business better than I do. Enjoy, if you like.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? January – April 2018


Hi there, readers curious about the 248th weekday-continuity story of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. Or about the 249th story, which is partially completed as I write this. If you want my most recent Phantom plot updates please look at or near the top of this page. Any later-written essays — Sunday or weekday storyline — should be there.

Also there, but in a different place? My regular write-up of mathematics themes touched on in the comics. That’s on the mathematics blog and I’ve taken to including lots of pictures there, so do please enjoy.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

15 January – 7 April 2018.

The Return of the Locust was the story’s title. The Locust, a magical superhero poking around the American Southwest, warned The Phantom that this weird cult was hanging around Walker’s Table. The Table had been in The Phantom’s family since 1499 and this got Kit Walker out of Africa and into Arizona-ish climes. There, the Ghost Who Walks discovered Savior Z, a messiah-ish figure warning his flock of the alien spaceships hovering by the Moon and ready to invade. (An event of low but not dismissible probability, I have to say. The Phantom shares the universe with Mandrake the Magician, and all sorts of crazypants stuff is always happening there. Or was before Fred Fredericks had to retire. But DePaul and Manley have brought Mandrake into The Phantom in recent stories.) Savior Z had identified The Phantom as one of the aliens, part of the invasion vanguard. And, having knocked him out, the cult was now rolling The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.

But they don’t call him The Ghost Who Rolls Away From The Cliff Edge, Regains His Footing, And Throws Cult Members Around Like Rag Dolls While His Wrists Are Bound Together for nothing, and guess what happens? But it’s still pretty dire, and the cult is ready to charge the still-bound Phantom again, when finally The Locust does something. To wit, he sends a bunch of locusts to swarm around the cult. In the confusion Walker breaks his bonds. The cult members aren’t so fortunate, and follow a wildly charging Savior Z right to the edge of the Table, and past that, and then all the merry little fun of this is over. He’s not able to even save one life of the bunch.

Savior Z, running into the locust swarm, hollering: 'FOLLOW ME!' The Phantom, with wrists tied together: 'NO!! DON'T RUN!! STOP!! STAND WHERE YOU ARE!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 24th of January, 2018. It’s a heck of an action sequence here, and does make visceral the chaos that’s unfolding in the storyline.

The Phantom waits for The Locust to come in and explain what the heck, man? The flipping heck? The Locust explains how the cult members had lost their lives years ago, following Savior Z. Savior Z meanwhile had come to Walker’s Table, desperate and alone and following a mystical coyote (or wolf, perhaps) who knew about the water underneath. Savior Z, saved from certain doom by this mysterious figure who disappeared in a cloud very like the Locust’s own swarm, decided he needed to use his chance save mankind. Anyway, that’s The Locust’s story. The Phantom isn’t impressed with The Locust at this point. Have to say, I agree. It’s hard to read this as much besides The Locust stirring up a weird but basically stable scenario until a lot of people died.

(Yes, the cult did have anti-aircraft guns and was shooting at the Phantom’s airplane. See earlier essay. I missed where the artillery came from. The cult doesn’t seem big enough to be able to afford equipment like that. If it’s The Phantom’s own defense gear that explains where it came from. But then it’s his own fault for leaving it unsecured and in operable condition. I think he was taken by surprise by the gun’s existence, too. Did The Locust have something to do with the artillery getting there? In which case, what the heck was he thinking? And if it was the cult that got it on their own, well. Yes, it’s a bad idea to leave guns in the hands of irrational people. But was this the best way to handle that?)

But as Walker’s readying to return home he sees a weird sight: The Locust, in his more-human guise, leading the members of Savior Z’s cult through the desert, away from the Table. (No Savior Z, though.) And on that strange, palatably mythological note the story ends, the 17th of February. The Phantom Wiki logs it in at 20 weeks for a total of 126 strips. That seems more like 21 weeks to me but it’s their arithmetic.

Helicopter pilot, bringing The Phantom from the Table: 'Indians were right! They knew! From way back! This stretch of desert? You never know what you'll see!' The Phantom gasps, startled, as he sees The Locust on horseback leading the survivors(?)/ghosts(?) of Savior Z's cult.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 15th of February, 2018. It’s a lovely image and it closes the storyline on a poetic touch. But I admit still feeling like I’m not sure what The Locust figured he was accomplishing by kicking off all this trouble, especially given the suggestion that he lead Savior Z to the water supply and the Table in the first place.

With the 19th of February starts the 249th daily-continuity story, A Reckoning With The Nomad. The Nomad, Eric Sahara, is an international terrorist who’s been part of storylines since 2011.

The story starts with Kay Molloy and Hawa Aguda, of “We Quit! We’re Joining The Jungle Patrol!” meme-fame. As Jungle Patrol officers they’re surveilling a person unknown to them, at the behest of the Jungle Patrol’s leader, the Unknown Commander. Meanwhile they speculate about the identity of John X, whom they suspect (correctly) to be the Unknown Commander, and who is also The Phantom. (And whenever I get to looking closely at that I wonder how they can get compartmentalized information to work this well. Really seems like with so many unidentified figures in key positions there’s all sorts of room for trouble, even before deliberate mischief-makers get into things.)

The person under surveillance is indeed Eric “The Nomad” Sahara. And getting all this intelligence is Kit “The Phantom” Walker. He’s figuring to do something about The Nomad just after he gets back home. He and his wife are flying to New York City, to see their daughter Heloise at the Briarson School. There, she’s attending classes with Kadia Sahara. Who is, The Phantom realizes, the daughter of that Eric Sahara. They’re roommates. The Headmistress of the school put them together several storylines ago. She’d figured, basically, they’re both from Africa, they’ll have so much to talk about.

Kit Walker, thinking at an upscale restaurant as his wife and daughter enjoy his daughter's roommate's company: 'Poor kid ... her father's crimes will destroy her family name forever when I unmask him. Kadia will have to change her name and make a new life for herself. My guess is, Heloise will stick by Kadia and be that TRUE FRIEND she's going to need!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 13th of March, 2018. I’m like 45% sure I’ve been at that restaurant with my parents and my aunt and uncle from Rhode Island. Manley’s illustration of the Metropolitan Museum was spot-on so maybe this even happened. Or it might just be that once you’ve got a certain grade of heavy cloth on the tables restaurants start to resemble one another.

Kit, Diana, and Heloise Walker, and Kadia Sahara, spend some time doing some appropriate Manhattan tourism. It’s a pleasant time except for how The Phantom is busy thinking all the time about how revealing Eric Sahara’s identity as an international terrorist is going to wreck Kadia’s life. Diana’s aware of something on Kit’s mind. On the flight home, he reveals to his wife this bunch of secrets. She’s not amused by how thoroughly her husband concealed this from her. She’s only slightly mollified by his explaining that with the collapse of The Nomad’s terrorist networks it’s becoming safe to reveal his identity to the world.

[ Regarding their daughter's roommate's terrorist father. ] Diana: 'And then you kept it from me? How did you let this happen?' Kit: 'I ... didn't want to alarm you?' Diana: 'And yet here I am, Kit! ALARMED!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 26th of March, 2018. Sometimes, goes the old Jungle Saying, the Phantom emerges from the jungle and hangs out with a Francesco Marciuliano character and he talks like that for a couple days.

Then on TV, Africa Today has a piece on the True Identity of The Nomad. A failed airport bomber is offering to reveal his identity. The Phantom figures his best chance to take The Nomad is to catch him before the bomber can reveal what, if anything, he actually knows. And The Phantom refuses Diana’s suggestion to have the Jungle Patrol catch The Nomad. He figures to get in and take The Nomad by surprise, so that “half his men won’t even know I was there!”

And that’s where the Ghost has Walked to by the first week of April, 2018.

Next Week!

How well is Mark Shultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant doing in his quest to get back home from Uzbekistan? I’ll check in and see what I can tell you. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: What Textbooks You Need To Major In Mathematics


The courses you take and the textbooks you need for a standard major in mathematics (electives excluded):

Course Textbook
Calculus Introduction to Calculus
Advanced Calculus Vector Calculus
Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations
Introduction to Linear Algebra Introduction to Linear Algebra
Partial Differential Equations Partial Differential Equations: An Introduction
Abstract Algebra Principles of Abstract Algebra
Real Analysis Introductory Real Analysis
Algebra* Algebra
Complex Analysis A Mathematical Introduction To Complex Analysis
Numerical Methods Exploring Numerical Methods For Mathematics
Logic Principles of Mathematical Logic: An Introduction
Seminar Course (Instructor’s Choice)

* We mean Abstract Algebra, not that stuff you do in high school with the x’s and the y’s. In Abstract Algebra we never touch an x or a y, but instead see an awful lot of g and h and a ridiculous number of e’s. And by “Algebra” we mean “Advanced Algebra”, not that stuff from “Abstract Algebra”, which is the introductory course.

Source: Topics in Algebra, I N Herstein.

Not To Gloat About What A Skillful Adult I Am


But in the past week I have bought four, that’s right, four new shirts that are all nice and clean and have distinct colors and only the number of holes appropriate to fit over my current number of arms (two), heads (one), and waists (one). I am not entering an opinion into how many holes that is in the shirt because I’ve seen people burned on the whole “how many holes does a straw have” question and I don’t want that kind of trouble for myself. And yes, technically, they are all from the same store from which I also get peanut butter and wet-wipes for cleaning the car’s dashboard. It doesn’t matter. These are still legitimate and correctly formed shirts. And I can retire some of the shirts that have weird things like pairs of puncture holes along the neckline, as if the shirt had been attacked by vampire cargo pants. Also yes, I am looking for some newer, less-worn-out cargo pants. I have a great number of goods that need transport to and from remote climes and I don’t know a better place to put my camera when I’m on a roller coaster than in a cargo pant side pocket.

If It Is Not The End Of The World


It’s hard to avoid thinking about the end of the world sometimes. I suppose most of us figure the world’s got to end sooner or later. Most of us are banking on later. If it’s any sooner than that we don’t want to know about it. Except there are people who want to know about it. And who figure they know about it coming sometime soon. Where this gets me is I remember hearing years ago about how Russia had scads of groups of people figuring the end of the world was near. There were enough groups bunkered down in … bunkers … somewhere that it was causing a crisis in bunker space. Apparently the Russian government had an office of people trained to deal with groups bunkered down for the end of the world.

That’s the sort of thought sure to last long in my mind. First there’s how some people work in the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s either a job that you spend years aiming yourself at, or else it’s one you stumble into without meaning it. Either way is a heck of a story. More of a story than how people end up at whatever factories make those tiny little cocktail-drink flags on toothpicks. But that’s because of what the job is about. There’s still something weird that anybody has either of these jobs at all. Oh, and then there’s the regular old administration and support staff. They must need good transcriptionists at the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s got to be the table at the farthest, strangest corner at Transcriptionist School.

But it’s the mainline officers I wonder about. The people who go out to a group that’s all gathered in some secure spot waiting for the end of the world. The job is to talk them out of the bunker, but, how? What is there to even talk about? I know what a mess I’d make of the job. I’d go up to the door and wave at the security camera. We get some communication going somehow. They call me on my cell phone and then someone reminds me I left my cell phone in my messenger bag, on the chair we don’t otherwise need, at the dining table, back home. I’m always doing this and it never makes my life easier. But let’s pretend that I’ve got my phone, which is the least plausible part of this scenario.

“Come on out,” I bet you I’d say. “The world isn’t ending anytime soon.”

And then they say, “Shan’t. The world is coming to an end really very soon, and we’re going to hide.”

“Well, if it is going to end soon, what good is it staying in a bunker like that? The bunker” — and here you see the reasoning skills that earned me a PhD in mathematics but not work in mathematics — “is located inside the world.” (I’m assuming they’re not bunkered down in a space station, for the fourth most obvious reason.)

“That’s as may be,” comes back the voice, “But we’re fairly sure this is the part of the world that’s going to end last.”

And at that point I’m stumped. I can’t think of evidence that would prove my proposition that the world isn’t ending soon, or that if it does end it’s going to end there last. I’m assuming they want to be part of the last group that’s ended, to see if there’s anything good in the world’s closing credits. Start with the end of the world and there’s not a lot of places to go. Yes, yes, I know this is a fallacy. Of course you end with the end of the world. But you know what I’m getting at and I thought we were friends here. But what could I offer an incentive to come out and stop all this hiding away in caves or bunkers or whatever in Russia somewhere? (Also they’ve hit one of my weaknesses. I love when people say “shan’t”. If they only started bunkering so that they could say “shan’t” to a person who urged them to come out, then I’m on their side.)

Of course, I lack training. They must prepare new hires on simpler assignments. Perhaps new hires talk with groups that are holed up and waiting for the end of smaller things, such as Thursdays, or ironic detachment, or baked goods. I don’t know how I’d deal with those either. But the consequences of my failure would be less. Or consequences of my success. Wouldn’t it be my luck to talk a group out of their end-of-the-world bunker, and then the world comes up and ends right then and there? Think of the humiliation! I want to hole up and hide from that today and it hasn’t even happened. Oh, gosh, what if there’s some misunderstanding and that’s what all those scad groups were really hiding from? That could change everything.

Statistics March: As Apocalypse 3-G Disappears From My Monthly Stats Report


November 2015 was a great time for that part of me that’s interested in being read. Thanks to the passingly insulting intervention of Joe Blevins at The Onion’s AV Club I got 4,528 page views in one month as people wanted to know my thoughts about the end of Apartment 3-G. That readership peak has now disappeared from the normal monthly page view report. It’s still on the slightly secret one you can get at by using the old statistics page, but that’ll be gone next month. I have to put away past glories and content myself with present ones, as if we had glories in 2018.

But if I haven’t hit the peaks of 4,500 readers, I have hit a remarkable consistency: for the third month running there’ve been over 3000 page views here. March 2018 had 3,773 pages viewed, a bit up from February’s 3,695 and close to January’s 3,902. These came from 1,197 unique visitors, down somehow from February’s 1,982 but up from January’s 1,671.

A bar chart showing the 3,773 page views and 1,917 visitors from March 2018, with similar numbers for January and February, and lower numbers for other months going back to May 2016.
What I don’t understand is why my mathematics blog shows figures going back to November 2015 while this only goes to May 2016. There’s something ridiculous going on.

What are people interested in? Apartment 3-G showed me the way. What folks want to know about is comic strips ending. Or, if they’re not ending, at least a recap of what’s going on. The five most popular things around here:

I’m glad to be of use to people. And by the way, it sure looks like Nancy is just being left to rerun strips indefinitely since Guy Gilchrist stepped down. But who knows the future? Maybe Hy Eisman will come on to do new Sundays.

Eventually, yes, stuff that I wrote that was me trying to be funny turns up, although I admit way down the list. My most-read anything from March was My Excuse For Not Being Able To Get Anything Done Today, an exercise in realizing there’s something about my childhood memories that doesn’t quite add up. My most popular long-form piece was February’s Is Ray Davies A Normal Person?. I expected that one to have long legs. Most popular long-form piece from March was How To Know It All which again gratifies me, since that’s one I really loved writing. I mean, I like nearly all my writing, but some pieces just feel closer to my heart. Any time I can nerd-snipe over rules of succession I am a creature of boundless joy.

So past that, what’s reader engagement been like? I feel pretty well engaged with reader Ray Kassinger, of the Housepets! web comic, so that’s something. More quantitatively, there were 241 pages liked in March, up from February’s 207 and January’s 226. So not all the trend is just that there’s more days in March than in February. The number of comments drooped, down to 84 from February’s 121 and January’s 148. But that’s still going fairly well and I’m hoping to answer everything that needed answers soon. It’s been a busy weekend.

75 countries sent me readers in March, again allowing WordPress to decide what is and isn’t a country. That’s up from February’s 70. 25 of them were single-reader countries, up from 18. And here they are:

Country Readers
United States 3,111
Canada 107
United Kingdom 80
India 51
Italy 41
Australia 31
Sweden 24
Brazil 19
Germany 19
France 15
Denmark 13
Philippines 13
Spain 12
Jamaica 11
Norway 11
Romania 11
Indonesia 10
Austria 9
Israel 9
Japan 9
Hong Kong SAR China 8
Poland 8
Portugal 8
South Africa 8
Netherlands 7
New Zealand 7
Turkey 7
Belgium 6
Nigeria 6
Serbia 6
Singapore 6
Ukraine 6
Bangladesh 5
European Union 5
Hungary 5
Ireland 5
Russia 4
Switzerland 4
Colombia 3
Ecuador 3
Finland 3
Pakistan 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 2
Dominican Republic 2
Malta 2
Mexico 2
Puerto Rico 2
Uruguay 2
Albania 1
Angola 1
Armenia 1
Azerbaijan 1
Chile 1
Croatia 1 (*)
Estonia 1
Iceland 1
Iraq 1 (*)
Jordan 1
Kenya 1
Kuwait 1 (**)
Kyrgyzstan 1
Latvia 1
Lithuania 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
Moldova 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1 (**)
Nicaragua 1
Paraguay 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Slovakia 1
Slovenia 1
Taiwan 1 (*)

Colombia’s single-reader streak ends after seven months! There were three whole pages viewed from there. (I just know two of those people were skimming without paying attention though.) Croatia, Iraq, and Taiwan are on two-month streaks. Kuwait and Myanmar/Burma are on three-month streaks.

April starts with a logged 80,772 visits, from an admitted 44,439 unique visitors. I’m sorry to have missed number 44,444, who was there sometime April Fool’s Day. The WordPress Insights panel tells me that so far I’ve published 63,923 words (which includes stuff through to the 3rd of April, when I checked this), with 650 likes and 206 total comments since the first of the year. This comes to an average of 2.2 comments per post. At the start of March that was 2.3. At the start of March I got an average 6.9 likes per post. At the start of April that’s smoothed out to 7. The average post around here was, last time I checked my numbers, 711 words. As I check them this time, it’s 687.3 words. Yes, I’m skimping. I’ve been busy.

I can’t offer you the chance to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile by e-mail right now. I got a sudden rush of people with obviously fake names and four-digit suffixes from outlook.com e-mail addresses signing up. I don’t know what this means, but I know it’s something I shouldn’t be encouraging. In the meanwhile you can keep reading this through WordPress Reader, if you have one: use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. If you feel more comfortable adding this to your RSS reader, here’s a link to do it. I understand. RSS does a lot of good for the world. I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, and announce everything I post over there unless WordPress’s auto-publicize thing has broken and I’ve been too busy to deal with that. Thanks for being around.