Exceptional People


I was reading The Year We Had No President, Richard Hansen’s early-1960s study of the United States’s inadequate constitutional provision for a disabled or incapable President because … uh … I don’t know. I guess I interrupted a fairy circle and they enchanted me to be like this? Well, whatever. The point I got to this choice quote about President Garfield’s administration:

Except for Secretary of State [ James G ] Blaine and the young Secretary of War, Robert T Lincoln … the names of the Cabinet members are forgotten by all save historians.

Now. I will concede that Robert Todd Lincoln is a little bit remembered. He was at his father’s deathbed when President Lincoln died. He witnessed Charles Guiteau’s shooting President Garfield. And he was right outside the building at the Pan-American Exposition when Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley. So everyone who got way too into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as a kid remembers him.

But James G Blaine? Yes, of course I remember Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine, Continental liar from the State of Maine (PS Burn this letter). But that’s because I’m a freak who merged with this college-level US history text I somehow got hold of as an eight-year-old. Even granting that Richard Hansen was writing sixty years closer to the events? I’m going to say he was way overestimating the non-historian recognition of James G Blaine.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe in 1962 James G Blaine leapt to the average person’s tongue the way Cordell Hull’s or Henry Stimson’s do today. I want to see Hansen’s citation is all.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? The Phantom Head isn’t part of Skull Cave? June – September 2020


Yeah, so it turns out the mountain with Skull Cave is a completely different peak from the mountain with the giant carved head of a Phantom. And yet our current Ghost Who Walks was all upset about his face on postage stamps. I don’t know.

This essay should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, for early September 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity, there’s probably a more up-to-date essay at this link.

On my other blog I’m writing an essay for each letter of the alphabet. This week: M, so, I’m halfway there, as soon I write it!

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 June – 6 September 2020

Kit Walker was telling Heloise of their ancestor, the 13th Phantom. Ghost of 1805 and George Bass — a historical figure who did go missing, with his ship, in 1803 — had survived the Battle of Trafalgar, only for their ship to be destroyed immediately after. Bass and Walker 13 washed ashore, somewhere, in bad shape. 13’s lost his eye covering. Bass has lost his sight, so at least he’s safe against seeing The Phantom’s face. Bass also lost his memory. So they faced a legendary trip to return to the Deep Woods.

They make it in two panels, with Bandar medicine able to restore Bass’s physical health. Mostly. He’s still blind, and not really aware of who he was or what his life had been. Bass wants to wait until he’s well to return to his wife Elizabeth. He never would be, and died four years later in the Deep Woods. This is how he got interred in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. After his death Phantom 13 travelled to London, to find Elizabeth Bass and tell what happened.

Phantom 21 narrating: 'The journey south from Europe ... across deserts, grasslands, jungles ... Bandar elders restored George bass to health, but his sight never returned. Nor his full awareness of the man he'd once been.' Bass: 'I was a ship's captain, wasn't I, Walker? Was that a dream?' Phantom 13: 'It was no dream, George.' Bass: 'I think I have a wife. Is she in England?' Phantom 13: 'You've said her name is Elizabeth! And that you two are very much in love. Our Bandar friends have done well by you, George. Done all they can. I'm happy to take you home now ... to England.' Bass: 'Elizabeth mustn't see me so ... diminished, Walker When I'm well we'll go. Yes, that's it! We'll go to England *then*!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 21st of June, 2020. I doubt this is in Tony DePaul’s plans but this does imply about a four-year stretch where the 13th Phantom has a semi-voluntary sidekick in the form of George Bass and that seems like an interesting thread in case that era earns a fresh visit.

And this completes The Current Phantom’s telling of this story to Heloise. They leave the Skull Cave and Heloise rejoins Kadia, who’s been meeting the Bandar people. And this (finally) concludes The Spy Ship, the 189th of the Sunday Continuity stories, on the 12th of July.


The current story, 190th of the Sunday continuities, began the 19th of July, 2020. It starts with a low-lying cave, covered by a grate. A criminal gang’s imprisoned a detective. The cave offers just enough water, just enough seafood, just enough of a gap between high tide and the grate for the Detective to not die too fast.

The Mawitaan Police think he’s already dead. His grandmother does not, though. She treks, with her dog Bunny, deep into the woods to find Phantom Head Peak. It’s a mountain carved, hundreds of years ago, into the head of the 7th Phantom. (Or possibly 6th. The comic strip continuity has apparently got anomalies.) It was carved on the orders of her ancestor, the Emperor Joonkar. (This, apparently, was established in a story that ran November 1997 to April 1998. This is two stories before Comics Kingdom’s archives pick up the daily strips, unfortunately.)

[ Jungle ruins rediscovered ] Woman, to her dog :'I remember playing here ... this exact spot! I should be able to see the peak from here! It's this way, I'm sure of it!' [ Meanwhile, in the cave cell ] Detective, thinking: 'I haven't heard the voices of my captors for days now. No more incoming truck traffic. Their stores must be full. They'll be meeting with the buyers soon. Must free myself and do my sworn duty! Bring these men to justice!' [ Back to the woman, looking at a Phantom head carved into the mountain. ] Woman, to dog: 'Bunny! W - we're here! The peak fashioned by my ancestor, mighty Emperor Joonkar! Phantom will come to us here! I know he will!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 2nd of August, 2020. Phantom, later: “Um … you know I have a mailbox for, like, this sort of thing? Right? You can just drop a letter, you don’t have to go to any great dramatic gestures … ” Woman: “Direct action gets the results.”

In this spot she meets The Phantom, as she hoped. Her dog Bunny meets The Phantom’s wolf Devil, who refrains from eating the much smaller animal. The woman tells of her grandson. The Phantom takes the case.

And then he passes the case on to the Jungle Patrol, in his role as the Unknown Commander. They take their orders to find information about the Lost Detective. The Phantom pieces this together. He finds and frees the Detective.

That’s where things stand. The Detective’s free, and with The Phantom. And there’s this criminal organization that’s all set for whatever mischief they were up to. Where will it go and how will it end? We’ll see over the next few months.

Next Week!

Is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. still ignoring the biggest medical story of the past 102 years? We’ll have the answer next week, or you can read the strips yourself. It’ll take longer but you’ll have the result sooner.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What was The Phantom doing at Trafalgar? March – June 2020


Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 March – 14 June 2020

The 21st Phantom was telling Heloise a story of the 13th Phantom. It’s about George Bass. In history, Bass and his brig Venus disappeared after February 1803, on a voyage from Australia to Tahiti. The Phantom explains how Bass teamed up with the 13th Phantom. Bass then turned the Venus to a spy ship dubbed El Sol, sailing the Mediterranean under false flags. This to support the United Kingdom’s War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

Phantom, reading: 'George Bass and the 13th Phantom rowed into the heart of the English fleet.' Heloise: 'Dad, I think I know! George Bass had discovered where the French and Spanish fleets were anchored!' Phantom: 'For two years he'd been presumed lost at sea in the South Pacific. Or perhaps he and his crew had been enslaved in the Spanish silver mines of South America.' Heloise: 'He made himself disappear ... so he could go spying in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean!' Phantom: 'His years of clandestine work came to fruition in October 1805 ... ' Panel showing Bass and The Phantom rowing a longboat up to an enormous ship. Bass: 'There she is, Walker ... HMS Victory!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of April, 2020. Lost at sea, possibly enslaved, are what history records as the likely fate for Bass and his crew. Anyway, uh … so, the 13th Phantom was active in 1805, and the current, 21st, Phantom is the one we’ve been following since the strip started in 1936 so the 19th Century was really bad for Ghosts Who Walk. Like, “13th Century Pope” bad. Yet the 20th Century was surprisingly gentle. (I am happy to suppose the current Phantom isn’t actually old enough to be in Gasoline Alley and his whole career has been “the last couple decades” as of publication.)

Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.

Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.

The Phantom, recounting the attack on Bass's ship: 'The men of the El Sol were slaughtered by English cannon fire ... her masts toppled ... her hull shattered ... timbers were blasted into deadly storms of splintered wood. Dead and dying men went into the sea, entangled in the rigging, their fates certain. Where the El Sol had been moments earlier, a debris field rose and fell on the night sea.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of May, 2020. This by the way is why they didn’t want brigs at the Battle. (There were two brigs attached to the French fleet, but they weren’t part of the action, and both escaped.)

The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.

Next Week!

How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Phantom fighting Napoleon? December 2019 – March 2020


Hi at last, people who want to know what’s happening in the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. The Phantom is sharing a story of one of his ancestors is what’s going on. If you’re looking for the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after (I expect) June 2020, you’re likely to find a more relevant essay here. If you’d like a little mathematics in your comic strip talk, please try out my other blog. Thank you.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020

We left The Phantom teasing his daughter Heloise with tales of past Phantoms. He suggested he could tell Heloise what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, or to the body of Thomas Paine. Or Khe Pandjang, who’d lead an army against Dutch imperialism in Indonesia in the 18th century. (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but it’s a good reference. Linking The Phantom to him helps diffuse the colonialism baked into the comic strip’s premise.) Or the sole (then-)surviving witness to the Mary Celeste.

What The Phantom finally suggests, and Heloise accepts, is hearing the story of George Bass. Bass was a real-world British naval surgeon and explorer. That strait between Australia and Tasmania is named after him. In reality, he was last seen in February 1803. He was expected to sail the brig Venus from Sydney to Tahiti and then, perhaps, Spanish colonies in Chile. No one knows what happened to him and his crew. What The Phantom (Sundays) supposes is … not no one knows?

In The Phantom’s retelling there were a 26th and 27th person on the Venus. The 13th Phantom was one of those people lost to history. The other was called Carter, and we’re promised that his treachery put Bass in the Vault of Missing Men. And instead of sailing for Tahiti, Bass intended the ship to go “missing”. And then to join actively the Napoleonic Wars, attacking French and Spanish ships under a false flag.

[ The Venus, in the south Pacific, in 1803 ] Bass: 'Napoleon's aim is clear, Walker: he means to invade England! To do so, he needs to destroy our navy and so rule the Channel.' 13th Phantom: 'His Spanish allies tried it in 1588. I understand it went rather badly for them.' Bass: 'Walker, I am determined to see the Venus, under false flag, serve in sending both French and Spanish seapower to the bottom!' [ Modern day ] 21st Phantom, to Heloise: 'Bold Captain Bass and his shadowy sponsors in England did as they intended ... and our ancestor was there to bear witness. The 13th Phantom saw George Bass alter the course of history ... at a place called Trafalgar!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of February, 2020. It’s already dubious enough that a Phantom — whose original sworn oath is against piracy — would be literally on board with a rogue ship flying false colors to attack his country’s enemies. But besides that, this particular flashback has to be set sometime in early 1803, during the Peace of Amiens. A reasonable person might gamble that this peace was not going to last, but at the moment Bass was making these plans, they were to attack people his country was not at war with. (This, granted, is supposing that someone in Australia would have heard of the peace, which would have been only about 11 months old at this scene.) But one consistent thing, especially about DePaul’s Phantoms, are that they will screw up, and allowing themselves to be patriotically convinced that it’s not piracy if it’s for the English cause is credible. If the Walkers see themselves as English, which, there’s good reasons to go either way. I acknowledge this is a spin-off of my older question, are the Phantoms Anglican?

This is a quite interesting plan since I don’t see how this isn’t piracy. There’s a reference to Bass having “sponsors” in England, so perhaps this got the legal cover of being a privateer. But then that would be on Bass’s Wikipedia page, unless of course Tony DePaul has an explanation to come for that.

Bass, in fiction, renames his ship the El Sol. He names his lifeboat the Tom Thumb III, in honor of the small boats the historic Bass used to explore Australian rivers. He says that he and Walker will launch the Tom Thumb III to save England from Napoleon. Meanwhile they sail to some Mediterranean port, “a nest of cutthroats, spies”. While walking down Ambush Alley in the port, Bass and Walker notice they’re being followed. It’s Carter, who hasn’t got any reason to be off the ship and less reason to follow them. They suspect Carter of working for someone, they know not who. Bass declares he can’t just leave Carter there. He means, unless he murders the bilge rat. But he’s too honest for that. The first time I read this, I thought Bass was saying he’d have to take Carter along and forgive his leaving the ship. On re-reading, I’m not sure Bass didn’t mean to just leave Carter in port. In either case the reasoning seems designed to force Carter to throw in with anyone working against Bass. But no one has ever accused the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy of having any idea how to create or sustain loyalty.

Bass: 'CARTER? Why are you following us?' 13th Phantom: 'This bilge rat is a sneak and a liar. I made him for such at our first meeting. Trust nothing he says!' Carter, on his knees, pleading in the alley: 'No excuse, Captain! I-I've done a crime and BEG your mercy! I had NO LEAVE to go ashore! I feared you SAW me in that watering hole, sir! A narrow escape! Then ... then I must keep you in sight at all times! Lest my fear come true!' Phantom: 'He's lying.' Bass: 'He's been with me for years, Walker. Ever since I left England.' Phantom: 'With you, perhaps, but on whose behalf?' Bass: 'He's seen much. Knows a piece of it all. I can't just leave him here, Walker. ... Unless I murder him. Or *you* do! Alas, we're honest men, not killers! And this poor fellow? A mere fool! ... All's well, my good friend! We sail on the tide!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of March, 2020. By the way, Wikipedia says that sunglasses, as in glasses with color-tinted lenses, can be traced back to 1752, so it’s actually historically all right for The Phantom, 1803 edition, to have dark glasses. But I’m willing to grant sunglasses even for earlier-still Phantoms as being a stage convenience, standing in for however they obscured their faces.

So, this week, we saw the VenusEl Sol sailing under United States, French, and even Spanish colors, on various missions. We’re promised that this will turn into Bass having a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. We’re not there yet.

Next Week!

How are things going with Aunt Tildy? And that pro wrestler? I look in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., unless events get in the way. But, come on. This is March 2020. How could an event get in the way of anything? Good luck to you all.

I want you to look at carousel carver Charles Looff a minute


I just wanted to bring to your attention Charles I D Looff, builder of something like forty carousels, a bunch of roller coasters, and other amusement park rides. Particularly I’d like you to look at his photo on Wikipedia, since it shows him in the full flower of 19th Century Moustache Art. What Wikipedia fails to mention is that the photograph was taken from that time in 1895 when he went on a tour-group visit to the White House and was just naturally mistaken for actually being the President. It was fourteen months before anybody even realized! He might have won re-election except he started an unnecessary quarrel with the New York Customs Inspector about public ownership of the bimetallic tariff.

Also by the way he was born in a town called Bad Bramstedt, and I choose to pretend I believe that’s because it was bapped on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper after Holstein’s troubles during the Revolutions of 1848.

In Which I Answer Your Lingering Question From Last Week


All right, all right, don’t worry. Since I know you’re all too shy to ask the question I left waiting for you: something like five-sixths of the New Jersey state government’s revenues came from the Joint Companies, through much of the 19th century. And yes, in the 19th century the state government didn’t have many expenses. A state was mostly expected to pay for a psychiatric hospital, a home for the blind, and continuing to renovate the statehouse without it ever getting better. It’s not a lot, compared to today where the state’s supposed to have, like, roads and police and a university and all that. Still, one railroad and one canal company could cover nearly all the contemporary responsibilities with just the annual tribute for their monopoly privileges. Isn’t that wild? I know!

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer


So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

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.

On Foot


You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the history of tying shoes. This is a wise choice. There are so many other things that need thinking about. You know, like that odd smell that’s maybe of burning plastic that’s sometimes in the hallway when you were gone all day? Or what responsibility we have for that seam line visible on Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Or why all those people are setting up circus tents in your backyard? There’s got to be someone to ask about that. I broke from my habit of non-thinking about tying shoes so that we could have this done once and for all. No, I am not reading about the history of socks. You know why.

For the second-longest time there just wasn’t any tying of shoes. This had four reasons, one of them being that there were no shoes. Shoes were invented for Napoleon Bonaparte’s army after it was noticed that tromping through a thousand miles of Russian snow was really hard on the bare foot. It didn’t help the snow any either, but this is the wrong time of year for me to write about the history of snow-clearing or maybe ice-skating. Napoleon agreed this was a lot of trouble for feet and ordered experts to come up with a way to cover the foot. They did this by the simple process of covering the foot. It was a rousing success and everybody agreed they should have been making shoes for hundreds of years now. This and the overcoming of the other three reasons let shoes become really quite popular.

Still, the earliest shoes weren’t easy to put on or take off. They were slabs of leather that one would fit around the foot and, using needle and thread and Grandmom who knows how to use those sewing tools that look faintly like surgical instruments, stitch closed. This could take until well near bedtime. The British Army spent most of the 1830s with its soldiers never leaving their bunks, just sewing and unsewing their boots all day. This lead to peaceful times and the First Reform Act.

The countries of Western Europe competed to find ways to easily tightening and loosening shoes. Through much of the Civil War the Union armies experimented with welding shoes into place, an action that resulted in many burned ankles and slugged welders. In Scotland rivets were tried. These were of limited use as the striking action of putting rivets in place could magnetize the iron slugs, causing people to walk to the north and find they ran out of Scotland, to their chagrin.

So naturally the breakthrough came in the Ottoman Empire. In 1878 a shoemaker for the Sultan Abdul Hamid II asked, “Why don’t we just punch parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then thread a strong string or small rope through the holes to fit them together?” The Sultan, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When this turned out to be a pretty darned good idea after all he nodded as if that had been his intention all along, and quickly ordered an investigation to just what was going on with shoes. I hope this doesn’t end up in his report. He’s got to be expecting something really great if it’s taken all this while to get something on his desk. I’m not arrogant enough to think my essay here that great, but I am earmarking it for this year’s Robert Benchley Society essay contest. Just saying.

Still the early forms were not precisely what we see today. When are they ever? The first attempts used separate laces and loops for each pair of holes, which took forever to deal with. Folks trying to save time as telegraphs and railroads got all snappy and romantic started just tying the top loop together. This made their toes pop out the middle. So they retaliated by poking laces through the other, non-top holes. And so by 1889, on a Tuesday, shoes were finally tied in ways that we would recognize today, on a Friday.

Is there room for improvement? Surely. The glue-covered shoelace solved the problem of unraveled knots, but at the cost of being a right mess. And nobody has anything but embarrassed coughs to say about the frictionless superfluid lace that would slither out of its holes and into the pantry. We may yet scrap the whole project and go back to being barefoot.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another five points to another record high and at this point it’s getting kind of dull and the fun is draining out of it all. I’m not looking forward to how this implies we’re going to get a really big and fun and exciting crash down to, like, 14 points within the next week.

373

Statistics Saturday: Vice-Presidents of the United States Serving Two Full Terms, By Century


A note about methodology: Thomas Jefferson is counted as an 18th-century Vice-President and wouldn’t affect the count either way. Garret Hobart is counted as a 19th-century Vice-President but that hardly matters since he was dead at the time of the 20th century. Al Gore is counted as a 20th-century Vice-President and he would’ve affected the count one way or the other. Future Disgraced Former Vice-President Mike Pence is not counted as it’s too soon to tell when he’ll leave office. David Rice Atchison is not counted as Vice-President for good reason. John Adams is counted as having a full term despite the 1789-1793 Presidential administration being that far short of four full years. Ditto John Nance Garner although for the 1933-1937 term. Also hey, Daniel D Tompkins, good job pulling that off. I completely forgot about you so I’m glad I looked it up. Shut up, you’re the person who knows an unsettling amount about 19th-century United States Vice-Presidents for someone who isn’t a 19th-century United States Vice-Presidential historian.

18th Century: 1. 19th Century: 1. 20th Century: 5. 21st Century: 2.
Further note on methodology: While presented as a spot of whimsy the whole of it is factual and the only apparent comic value is in staring hard at Vice-Presidents of the United States. While there is some whimsy involved in that, it all amounts to things like Henry (1873-1875) Wilson’s servant not knowing he was Vice-President, or Thomas (1913-1921) Marshall’s working a side job roasting the uselessness of his office. None of this is on display here. Although it’s a little freaky the 19th century had such a lousy time keeping a Vice-President around, isn’t it? They had 23 of them, compared to 21 for the 20th century and hey, you know, if he were still alive Gerald Ford would be 103 years old. That’s something to make you go “huh”, isn’t it? Well, maybe it should be. Wait, so everyone agrees Dallas County, Texas, was named for George (1845-1849) Dallas, but there’s dispute about whether the city of Dallas, Texas, was? The heck, even for Texas?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose by nine points today after a good look at the weather forecase and how nice it was looking and we really need it after the week we just had, don’t you all agree?

127

On Tour with P T Barnum


I picked up a biography of P T Barnum because, I don’t know, I had some strange desire to read about a renowned showman and humbug artist who chose to go into public service and did his best, despite hardships, to stand for the working class without compromising his Universalist faith. I don’t know. Anyway, in chapter seven of A H Saxon’s P T Barnum: The Legend And The Man came this, from his first tour of Europe, which just delights me so:

While they were in Brussels, Barnum decided to visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo, to which he and a friend set out one morning at the early hour of 4 am. He could not help being impressed by the brisk traffic he saw there in reputed “relics” of the battle and by the whopping lies told by the guides who swarmed about them. After one of these had pointed out with great authority the place where Wellington had his station, the spot where Sir William Ponsonby fell, etc, Barnum asked if he could show them where Captain Tippitimichet of the Connecticut Fusileers was killed. This the guide promptly did. The precise spots where some twenty other fictitious officers from such exotic locales as Coney Island, Hoboken, and Saratoga Springs had fallen were also obligingly pointed out, following which the showman could not resist asking where “Brigadier General James Gordon Bennett [ editor of the New York Herald and an unshakeable Barnum-hater ] had given up the ghost”. This time the guide, who claimed to have been present when Bennett died, excelled himself and recalled the famous general’s last words: “Portez-moi de l’eau!”

… Or so Barnum told the newspapers back home.

Also, hey, mathematics comics, there were some more of them. Maybe the last Jumble I’ll be able to run. Don’t know yet.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index reached the psychologically baloney level of 100 today as the traders compromised on buying the new, larger, George Foreman grill and tabling the panini press issue. Supporting the decision is it turns out the sale on panini presses ended last Sunday so spending all this time on it was kind of dumb.

100

In Which Every Word Up To “Index” Is Completely True And Accurate


I had some fresh mathematics comics yesterday. Including some art! Not mine. Meanwhile I’d include a comic picture or something like that here to fill out the post, but I don’t have anything. I’m still shaken from an actual bus ride I actually took in actual fact yesterday, in which a pair of women behind me went from “oh, is this seat taken” strangers to discussing an awful modern-day adaptation of Richard III to becoming Facebook friends so that the one who’s writing an opera can invite the one who’s a singer to the premiere. That’s more socializing than I do with my love when we’re on an international flight. I was exhausted just overhearing it. Also I broke the strap on my messenger bag so that was my Tuesday and it was a hard day, all right? The only real bright spot is I found a library book about the timekeeping-sales industry of 19th century America. I mean the third appearance of “index” if you count the title as the first appearance.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index gained six points today when traders turned over the Community Chest card and were instructed to advance to Saint Charles Place. They’d have owed something for landing there except that when they traded the card to Dog they arranged for two free landings so they’re all feeling quite clever.

101

Statistics Saturday: Big Surprises You’re In For If You Own A Home In Michigan


It's a really big home that I'll bet isn't even in Michigan.
Also, no, that’s not the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, but you probably knew that already or are just nodding and moving on without thinking about it.
  1. You forgot to put the recycling out!
  2. If you’re on the landing exactly at midnight New Year’s Eve you can get into the secret extra floor there.
  3. There’s somebody, anybody, back east who knows you’re in the Eastern Time Zone.
  4. That shield bug in the bathroom that’s been motionless and on its back for two weeks? It’s not dead yet somehow.
  5. There’s still a Radio Shack in town.
  6. You will never be perfectly confident that the faucets are turning off correctly.
  7. Tucked inside the wall you can never get a picture nail to stick in? That’s the canvases of 19th century moving-panorama showman John Banvard’s famous half-mile long painting of the Mississippi River, once the toast of American and European theatrical performances, and thought to be completely lost.
  8. Oh, the basement, let’s not even.
  9. The button you never use on the dishwasher is for its twelve-minute Licking Cycle.
  10. That’s no home, that’s some 60s black-and-white French science fiction movie in which people grunt about how the essence of mankind is love and faith, courage and tenderness, and then getting shot until they fall into swimming pools at the direction of the all-powerful computer god, which is played by a heat lamp behind a box fan.