Why I Can Never Buy A Comic Book Ever, Ever Again

It turns out they’re printing a new Casper The Friendly Ghost comic book, or at least a kind-of new one with a bunch of reprints of vintage stories. And that got me into a nice friendly chat with the cashier where he shared the jokey old story about how do we know that Casper isn’t the ghost of Richie Rich? And I will admit I warned by saying that I was a Harvey Comics fan from ages ago. If need be, I could give, I warned, “shockingly many” arguments from the classical Harvey Comics canon that would show that theory was, if I remember my words correctly, “wholly untenable”. And this led him to recalling that when he flew as a kid on American Airlines they would give out Harvey Comics as reading material to kids, something that he had loved back in the day and completely forgot about for decades.

So with that one of the many meaningless impersonal transactions of the day was turned into a moment of real connection, between strangers, over a common appreciated thing and over childhood memories loved and rediscovered. I’m going to be way too embarrassed to ever be anywhere near the store again, ever.


Lost Pet Calls

We got a message about a lost cat on the answering machine. I mean the message was there. I had no idea there was some kind of service in the area spreading the word about lost pets. It was one of those messages created by stitching together prerecorded phrases that I guess they figure can describe a lot of animals. And all delivered in this weird upbeat tone. So what we got were chipper sentences about how this cat “is a friendly talkative type; he’s been neutered, and gets along great with dogs!” I’m still working on whether the logic of that sentence makes sense.

I’m glad to know the service exists. I suppose I don’t expect our pet rabbit to get lost, since he’s quite busy keeping a suspicious eye on me. And our other pets are goldfish. If they make a break for it I’ll be impressed. But I know they’re not likely to, not until they gather a thousand of their kin and manifest a dragon. Which, if they do, I want them to know I’m very supportive of their dragon existence and really want to know whether they have lost-pet messages recorded for that.

Good News on the Immortality Front

So when I was a kid I picked up a little habit, sweeping my tongue across the backs of my front teeth. Just a little swipe, left to right. But that bothered my sense of balance that I swept from left to right, and so I added to that a sweep from right to left.

Thing is, it bothered me that I would sweep my tongue from left to right and then right to left. I wasn’t doing a balancing sweep from right to left and then left to right. So it was easy enough to make this a two-stage sweep: left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right sweep. And that would be balanced at last, right?

At least until I thought seriously about that and reflected how I needed a two-stage sweep that started on the left to be balanced by a two-stage sweep that started on the right. So again, that was easy enough to add. A left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right, followed by a right-to-left-to-right and then a left-to-right-to-left sweep. It’s a four-stage sweep and that’s great except that, of course, it starts on the left and it needs a counterbalancing one from the right.

Where I’m getting with this is I’m hoping this week to finish off a 536,870,912-stage sweep from the right counterbalancing one that started from the left back sometime in 1996, and I’m looking forward to living long enough that I can make it to the end of the forthcoming 1,073,741,824-stage sweep starting, of course, on the left, which I should reach sometime in 2059 or early 2060. So I’ve got that to stick around for.

In Which I Am Disappointed By DuckDuckGo

Oh, first, yeah, did I mention doing some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog? I did some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Thanks for noticing. I changed the theme over there because there’s no such thing as a theme I’m actually all that happy with.

Yes, yes, I’m that guy using DuckDuckGo. I like how it keeps asking me to make it my default search engine, even though it has been for years now. But when you get something like this, I just …

DuckDuckGo search: 'Addams Family theme'. It returns, 'Addams Family Theme Kids Vocals. The Hit Crew. Boy, the way Glenn Miller played/ Songs that made the hit parade/ Guys like me we had it made./ Those were the day./ Didn't need no welfare.' More at MetroLyrics.
Yes, yes, there’s no telling whether the problem is DuckDuckGo or MetroLyrics, since there’s few things worse at song lyrics than song lyrics sites. Song lyrics sites are so bad it’s surprising to think they aren’t a part of iTunes. But still.

Putting aside everything else there’s at least two mistakes in the lyrics for the song they are doing and it’s taking all my willpower not to drive over to MetroLyrics Master Command and berate what I’m guessing is a strip mall’s communal mailbox station. I should probably go lie down a while and twitch.

Me: Self-Image Versus Reality

What I Think I’m Good At What I Am Good At
Pop mathematics writing

Listening to distressed friends without making their anxieties worse

Nursing ill pet animals back to health

Reducto-ad-absurdum chains of humorous reasoning

Providing, when asked, historical context for minor oddities
Telling casual acquaintances on social media how to handle it if they’ve accidentally forgotten they were on call for jury duty this week and are kind of freaking out about this

In Which I Am Once Again Dumbfounded

So I was reading Jonathan Green’s The Vulgar Tongue, about the history of slang so far as that can be worked out. And it got to a section about minstrel shows and blackface jokes and what slang we get from that. Surprisingly little, it turns out. Between a whole bunch of pages that left my jaw hanging open, speechless, was this bit from Charles Townsend’s circa-1891 guide for minstrel performers, along with tips like how to get blackface:

End Men should carefully avoid anything approaching vulgarity and no offensive personalities should be introduced. Avoid slang.

I understand, intellectually, that everything that ever touches race ever is deeply screwed up in all kinds of bizarre and stupid ways. But … “don’t use slang, you want to keep your minstrel show classy and inoffensive” is why I spend more and more of every day curled up in a ball in the corner of the room.

In Which Capitalism Asks Me To Make A Decision

Yes, it’s my fault for trying to read a local newspaper article about something instead of doing what they want, which is buying a subscription to the local USA Today franchise for Clementon, New Jersey, or whatever just so I can see one piece about an amusingly shaped pumpkin or whatever it was. And I realize that many people have no trouble forming or giving opinions about stuff. But then they wanted my opinion on this to let me read on.

Answer a survey question to continue reading this content. If you saw a brand of hummus, dips, or spreads made with vegetables named 'C'est la V', how would you feel about it?
Also how am I supposed to have emotions about hummus, dips, or spreads? I’m very interested in eating them, yes, but jeez. I don’t have the energy to care about the things I care about, where am I supposed to get a feeling about dip brands from? I’m going to give them a pass on suggesting the vegetables are named “C’est la V” because I’m being cranky and unkind to read that as if it were really confusing.

And this is after I had said what the phrase “C’est la vie” suggests to me. Well, as best I could approximate. What the phrase really makes me think is someone who accepts that yeah, this sucks, but it’s the way the game is played and if you get through this you can move on to some other phase of the doom. They wouldn’t let me write that down so I had to select ‘Neutral’ instead.

Anyway I feel like I have the chance to mess up somebody’s hummus marketing campaign here. Wish me luck.

What Does This Compu-Toon Even Mean: 4 October 2017 Edition

I hope I don’t seem like I’m picking this comic. It’s a small comic, and from everything I can work out the cartoonist is someone who’s trying with a thoroughgoing earnest kindness to make the world a little nicer. But, I mean, what am I even looking at?

Drawing of a kid in striped beanie cap looking at his phone. The caption: 'A bully's bullying doesn't mean much when his friends count is well over eight-hundred.'
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 4th of October, 2017. Don’t think I’m not bothered by the superfluous space between “is” and “well” there, either. Also baffling: there’s (as I write this) five people who’ve favorited it on GoComics.com.

I think it’s supposed to say that the pain of being bullied is lessened by having a wide and supportive network of friends online? And I’ll agree that sort of thing makes things a little better. But it’s still bizarrely worded. I don’t think I’m reading the caption uncharitably, but I have to force myself not to read the antecedent to “his” as being “a bully” and that’s all wrong.

Also I have no idea how non-celebrity people get like 800 followers. I’m not sure I’ve had non-casual encounters with 800 people in my whole life, and when I think what fraction of them would figure they haven’t had about as much of me as really improves their lives? No way.

I guess also since I haven’t mentioned this since Monday: I talked about some other comic strips on my mathematics blog. Includes a Mutts, which you might or might not like, but is awfully cute. So there’s that.

In Which I Am Tasked In The Pet Store

I was just getting some rabbit food at the pet store, but I paused to watch the guinea pigs, because they’re always soothing and fun. Someone was there with a little kid, and she was pointing out and naming the animals to him. “There are some rats,” she said, “fancy rats.” And the kid asked, “Why?”

And I understand the kid was just at that age where “why” is the response to any question, including “would you like this extra chocolate we happened to have hanging around?” But I also feel like I’ve been given the responsibility of writing a charming, slightly twee children’s book explaining why some animals are rats.

And I gotta say, I’m not the person to ask that. The best I can come up with, and this is after literally dozens of minutes thinking about it, is that there are some animals who just did awesomely well in Mouse College, and they went on to earn their Masters of Rodent Arts. But they got ultimately sound advice to not go on to a doctorate in Possum Studies or something like that, so that’s left them as well-equipped and highly trained rats prowling around the world and adding to it that charming Halloween touch and also those great pictures online where one’s looking right at you with big, sweet, innocent eyes and grabbing a hindpaw with both front paws. Anyway, this is why my nieces refer to me as “Silly Uncle Joseph”. I’m sorry.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful

I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been stuck thinking about something I witnessed when I was getting my car registration renewal and license plate tags at the Secretary of State office nearby. I avoided any embarrassing presumptions about what one might or might not do at a Secretary of State office. What’s interesting is as I was leaving, a woman came storming out, telling her companion, “My license is suspended — indefinitely!” And he then made this into my favorite genre of accidentally overheard conversation, People Telling Other People They Totally Have To Get A Lawyer. “They can’t do that to you. You should get a lawyer.”

“I haven’t even been in trouble,” she went on to explain, “not since I got those three tickets in one day.” And he agreed that this was outrageous and he bet any lawyer would love to take the case, since this could get a million-dollar settlement. “I’m not even dealing anymore!” And that’s when I realized that I was one of the background characters in the establishing scene of a comedy about a couple people who are about 75 percent capable of handling the caper they’re about to undertake.

So I want to know what the plot is, and whether the movie turns out to be any good. I think I’d make a great background character in this sort of story, what with how I have nice expressive eyebrows and always look like I don’t know why I was brought in to this meeting.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful

I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been caught up all day in rage. See, back in the 90s there was this New WKRP In Cincinnati. I understand why they’d make such a thing. It was just the thing to do back then, with stuff like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The New Monkees and another Johnny Quest and stuff like that. I’d have been glad to let that pass. But somehow I watched at least one episode. I know this because it was all about the controversy about whether WKRP would run this syndicated show by Rush Limbaugh expy “Lash Rambo”. After much shuffling back and forth including an appearance by “Lash Rambo”, Mister Carlson decides finally that it’s okay to have a racist hatemonger like that on the air since, hey, those rappers, they say mean stuff about cops who gun down black people.

And I am enraged that my brain has decided to latch onto this, of all the stupid things it possibly could have. Not just this stupid show. Not just this stupid episode. Not just stupid scenes with this stupid character but also the stupid name of this stupid character in this stupid scene of this stupid episode of this stupid show. And I know that it’s not even to any good point. I can’t even say that I was doing something valuable in carrying this little payload of unnecessary pop culture out to drop on you all here to get some comic value out of all that mental load, because it’s not like my brain is going to let this piece of stupidity go now. I’m stuck with this stupid thing for the rest of my life even as I can’t remember how many of my father’s uncles were named “Al” or “Vince”. (All of them were.) And they at least feature in cherished family stories about dubious choices and maybe the bookie at the town’s lead factory.

So anyway, I’m busy hating my brain for doing stuff like this to me and that’s why I couldn’t get anything done today.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful

I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been caught up all day in filling the water tanks we have in the basement. We keep the pond goldfish there all winter, and they seem happy enough. It’s great fun filling the tanks, since I get to do stuff like talk about doing a leak test by filling them partway and seeing if anything leaks, and that gives me all these nice NASA Engineer vibes. But I went and spoiled it by getting some five-way test strips that’ll let me know about the pH and the general hardness and the nitrate and the nitrite content of the water. We only ever measured ammonia before. So now I know all kinds of things.

Like, the pH is 7.0. I know that’s great. That’s almost as water-y as water can get. But, I understand that the General Hardness of our water is high. We live in a city with very hard water. Much of the year instead of a fine mist the shower sprays a refreshingly hot stream of grape-nuts. I like it, since that means I can shower and have breakfast at the same time, as long as I don’t mind Dr Bronners soap in my milk. But what does this mean for the fish? And does it mean anything considering we got water from the same tap and them from the same aquifer last year? Huh? I have a huge list of numbers and no context for them. Well, I have six numbers, and no context for four of them. One of the numbers is zero, which seems like it’s probably good, but the rest? So anyway, that’s why I couldn’t get anything done today.

Today’s Reason For Not Doing Anything Useful

I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve realized that the length of time between discovering a new random-generator Twitter bot and realizing that I’ve seen all of its tricks is getting dangerously short. If current trends continue, it’s likely that by the middle of October this year I won’t be amused by any mashing up of stockpiles of sentence structures and a table of nouns with another table of verbs. Maybe even no matter how many verbs there are. And then I’ll have no choice but to stay amused by people who craft sentences with deliberation and thought and even editing. Which is great, but they can’t produce something every hour on the hour.

Well, thank goodness Magic Realism Bot is there to skew my averages.

In Which I Stall For The Reasons

I’m sorry. I saw the lawyer for the Insane Clown Posse, or the “Juggalawyer” as apparently they call him, while watching Samantha Bee’s show last night and I don’t really know what things are anymore.

So uh, here. Something from a park we visited last weekend. The question: Was the sign placed there fortuitously … or did they wait until a tree collapsed and figured that’s where to put the sign … or did someone fell a tree as a warning to the others? And if a warning, has this driven the other trees to greater productivity? Or has it driven the ice to try for more?

Warning sign: 'In high wind or icy conditions watch for falling limbs'. Surrounding it is a tree that's been cut down.
Also not looking to joke about the icy conditions since even though yes, it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get snow as early as 8:42 tonight.

In Which I Am Again Baffled By Modern Capitalism

So I was in Meijer’s, remembering to buy sandwich bags and forgetting to buy trash bags, because we’re in one of those occasional phases of life where we don’t have the right number of bags. I came upon a big pile of boxed consumer goods: a Michigan State University Spartans Crock-Pot.

I’m aware, Crock-Pot is an official licensed kitchen-appliance-themed product. We pretend that the non-trademarked name for them is “slow cookers”. And I’m aware that the Spartans are an official licensed university-themed product.

So there I stood, in front of a pile of Spartan Crock-Pots, pondering the box’s promise that this is “Officially Licensed”. Licensed by who? To who? Did someone at Spartan Master Command want the real Crock-Pot, trusting that nobody would buy a Spartan Slow Cooker? Did someone at Crock-Pot Master Command insist that, hey, this is the Lansing/East Lansing Market. We can’t make do with a University of Michigan/Flint Lansing Campus Crock-Pot?

Did they license to each other? Is this the future of capitalism, companies just looking for other companies they can swap licenses with, all in the cause of creating piles of small yet durable consumer goods between the aisles of discount department stores? I could use some help having a reaction to all this. Please come over. I’m by the Surprisingly Many Women’s Soaps aisle, curled up and weeping.

World Possibly Ending Sometime Wednesday

I know I’ll feel like a fool if we get to Friday and the world as we know it hasn’t ended, but I’ll deal with that if it comes. You know how your neighborhood has that vaguely creepy, inexplicable shop? Ours is this office supply shop. It’s got a faded poster for Fischer Space Pens on it, and a sign advertising their typewriter repair, and about four billion office chairs forming a sea of chair-space in the front half of the shop, and you never see anyone going into or out of it. Been there forever.

I have gone into it. We needed some manilla envelopes and I figured, hey, if I don’t patronize the weird local shops they might go under and we’ll have to rely on multinational-corporate creepy stores. Those are nowhere near as interesting, although they do have better bathrooms you can use. But it still seemed like a good idea so I went in, bumped my shin into fourteen different kinds of office chair, and eventually got to the cashier’s desk, in the middle of the shop, where nobody was.

And I stood, faintly anxious, and realizing that the store seemed to have a lot of desks and office chairs and typewriter supplies, but manilla envelopes? Not so clearly there. In back someone was talking on the phone, but I couldn’t make any sense of the conversation. Well, also I didn’t want to eavesdrop, since I was concluding the shop was a front maintained by aliens, possibly robot dinosaurs from another dimension, who were examining mid-Michigan most likely in advance of an invasion. Eventually someone wearing her finest human guise did come out, and was startled by me. I admitted my manilla-envelope needs and she went into the back room for what seems like too long, unless the room is much vaster inside than the laws of ordinary geometry would allow to fit in the building. She came back with four, not all the same color, and apologized that they were not properly manilla envelopes. She wrote out a receipt on one of those pads the waitstaff at a diner uses to scribble down nothing that looks like anything you ordered and a price that isn’t what the register actually rings up.

So yeah, secret portal back there where the alien robot dinosaurs keep enough office supplies to answer the curious venturer. Bear in mind, I didn’t let the manilla envelope thing stop me from ever stepping inside again. I went back a couple months later when we needed some security envelopes. Also this makes me realize our household envelope need is bigger and more diverse than I thought. But once again it was a good five awkward minutes before a “clerk” came out of the “back room” to see how to get me out of the base with as few suspicions raised as possible. And he had to go in back again for a dusty box of security envelopes and wrote out a receipt by hand for it all.

Wednesday, the local alt-weekly says, they’re going to be closing up their office-supply-store cover operation. The paper was vague about why they’re closing up just now, but my love reports that their Facebook page says … in July … some grumbling things about the landlord selling the building. Ah, but, before that: the news that their typewriter repair guy is back. And before that? That their typewriter repair guy is going to be out for “surgery” a while. That takes them to the start of the year.

So, I have to figure, the cover story of being an office furniture and typewriter repair shop has outlived its utility, and they’re going on to the next phase of their operation, and we’re going to have to live with the consequences. I’m figuring to spend the day no closer than Grand Rapids.

On The Problems Of Credit In The 19th Century New England Economy

I don’t expect a letter of gratitude from Josh Lauer, author of Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, for being the first person to take his new book of that identity out from the library, but I wouldn’t turn it down either. Anyway, what’s got me is this mention about early credit reports:

The Merchants’ Protective Union in Norwich, Connecticut employed an even more baroque scheme. In addition to eleven uppercase alphabetical ratings, from A (“considered honest but unable to pay”) to K (“is paying on bills formerly reported”), another eighteen lowercase letters were used to indicate the type of retailer to whom debts were owed, from bakers and butchers to furniture dealers and undertakers.

So, first thought. There were enough people burying folks on credit in 19th century Norwich, Connecticut, that undertakers needed to check on who was behind on their debts to other area undertakers? I suppose that’s fair. This was an era when childhood mortality was something like 1.8 children for every child born, with the average New England wife having something like 12 pregnancies every ten years and the family only propagating by kidnapping Canadians who stood a little too close to the edge of Maine. And that’s before you factor in lives lost to cholera, malaria, more cholera, yellow fever, malnutrition, extra-cholera, train derailments, factory accidents, more yellow fever, and striking factory workers being shot by Federal troops before being run over by a cholera-bearing yellow-fever train. There was a lot of undertaking to, uh, undertake.

Second. There were eighteen kinds of retailers back then? I’ve done some reading on 19th Century American commerce. Not enough to get my Masters or anything, you know, but enough to not panic if I wandered into an academic conference about the thing. But if you asked me to list what retail establishments existed in that era I would have come up with this:

  1. General store selling loose, stale crackers and/or soap or possibly grain scooped out of the same wooden barrels.
  2. Department store where women point out lengths of ribbons they wanted to buy, which were then wrapped up and delivered to their homes, without the customer ever being allowed within ten feet of an actual product.
  3. Dentist who does “painless” extractions by letting the patient suckle a while on a chilled glass pacifier soaked in whiskey and arsenic.
  4. Yes, undertaker.
  5. Shoe cobbler who’s angry at all these shenanigans.
  6. Other, less successful, general store selling tinned items, with the clerk played by Harold Lloyd.

Yes, I know Harold Lloyd is too young to have clerked at a 19th Century general store. I am talking about how the store was portrayed in the movie about how he went from humble general store clerk to becoming the love of Mildred Davis’s life. Anyway that still leaves me short of twelve different kinds of establishment that could be owed money by creditors. I know what you’re thinking: what about the drayage industry? Won’t do. Why would the Merchants’ Protective Union have anything of interest to say to them? They’re not merchants, they’re people who have the ability to haul things from one location to another. Something is clearly missing. Oh, I guess there’s “sweets vendor who sells a lick on a ring of `ice cream’ that’s a wad of cotton glued to a metal post kept in ice water so people think they tasted something for their three cents”, but that’s still eleven more kinds of merchant to go.

Anyway the book’s interesting and I hope to read it sometime.

In Which I Just Have To Suppose Someone’s Being Naughty

So I was looking up the Dennis the Menace comic strip on Wikipedia for some reason and got to this at the top of its Wikipedia page:

This article is about the US newspaper strip Dennis the Menace. For other uses, see Dennis the Menace.
Not to be confused with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher.

Dennis the Menace and Gnasher is the British comic strip that started the same day in March 1951 but five hours earlier owing to time zones. This is very slightly famous in circles where you might talk about the Dennis the Menace comic strip.

Anyway, down in the US comic strip’s page is mentioned:

TV shows and specials

  1. Dennis the Menace (1959, live-action)
  2. Dennis the Menace in Mayday for Mother (1981, animated, TV special)
  3. Dennis the Menace (1986, animated)
  4. All-New Dennis the Menace (1993, animated)
  5. Dennis & Gnasher (1996, animated)
  6. Dennis & Gnasher (2009, animated)
  7. Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! (2017-present, animated)

This all brings me to the question: wait, Dennis’s father is an aerospace engineer? Really? I must have known that at some point, there’s no way Young Me could have let something like that go without memorizing. But what the heck?

Oh also, I did talk about some comic strips on my mathematics blog and none of them were Dennis the Menace so don’t worry about that.

Mind You, I Still Haven’t Seen The Original Face/Off So Who Am I To Talk?

I realize we have bigger problems right now. But I’m stuck on this one: how is it that we, as a society, never made the movie Face/Off 2? The original was a popular yet dumb thing featuring people we weren’t really tired of on screen while stuff blowed up. And we were sated by this? Huh? In fact, up to this paragraph didn’t you just assume someone had made a Face/Off 2 that you never paid attention to?

I’m not sure what exactly the bigger, dopier, somewhat less likable sequel would be, but I imagine Face/Off 2: Facier/Offier would need to take any of the many chances to be more preposterous. Since it would have to come out in the late 90s I bet there’d be some hilarious Internet component to it. Like, there’s some info-highway site where criminals of all kinds can upload their faces for downloading onto other bodies to commit face-crimes, and John Travolta has to go on a cyber-hunt through a 3-D rendering of a Sears portrait studio to find the master computer allowing all this, before the super-villain — I’m guessing Jon Voight — can merge with the Y2K bug, and there’s a climactic scene where his face blends with a polygon rendering of Jon Voight’s face in the end? And a lot of other stuff blows up. Somehow we did not make this movie, and how did we not? Someone has to explain something to somebody else, is what I’m saying.

Do I Know Too Much About The XFL?

My love argues that I know a startling amount about the XFL, the short-lived attempt by pro wrestling to create something that was like football but would be cheaper for NBC to air back in 2001. Do I? Let me share with you what I do know about the XFL:

  1. They tried some weird kind of scramble for the ball instead of doing a kickoff to start the halves.
  2. They made the sports reporters sit in the open weather instead of in a press booth so that … I don’t know, the fans wouldn’t think the reporters were more comfortable than they were? Some kind of Stupid Populist thing anyway.
  3. The game tried taking away a bunch of rules about player safety that they had to reinstate after it turned out players got hurt a lot.
  4. Not really sure about this, but I’m guessing some pro wrestling participant said something really racist while doing cheerleader-type commentary during a broadcast.
  5. There was something Movie Mafia about the New York/New Jersey team name?
  6. There was that guy with “He Hate Me” as his uniform’s “name”.

My question to you: do I, in fact, know too many things about the XFL?

(Yes. Yes, I do. I know at least four things too many about the XFL.)