Update On What’s Going On in Mark Trail


That volcano that started exploding back in November? It’s finally destroyed the island and Our Heroes have escaped so I suppose that’s all a happy ending. Apart from like how they’re somewhere in the Pacific ocean right next to an active volcano that just destroyed their island. But there is this good news!

The survivors in a boat: 'Sorry we didn't get an ant specimen, Abbey!' 'That's okay, Mark --- you and I both saw that ant mound!' 'At least the ants on that island can't spread any further!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of December 2016. Part of me admires their task focus. If I had just escaped an exploding island I would not be worrying about whether they had proof of the ants that were invading the island and upsetting its natural ecological balance unless I were trying to justify my decision to destroy the island. I would be worrying about whether I was far enough from the many, many, many lava explosions. Since they are trying to justify destroying the island it implies we must ask which of them is the lava-god with the power to destroy Hawaiian islands and authority to make that decision?

Unless, anyway, some of the invasive ants that were destroying the wildlife on this doomed island got aboard their boat and are going to get going wherever these three are rescued, anyway. Good times.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped nine points, which is getting more like everybody figured what with it being grey and rainy outside and the analysts getting into a fight over whether it should be ‘gray’ instead. And it wasn’t even a good fight. It was the kind of fight where two guys manage to hurt their backs by swinging too hard in the wrong direction and they have to go lie in bed the rest of the week, arguing over whether it should be ‘lay’. On their cell phones because getting up for a live in-person argument would hurt too much.

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The Most Wonderful Sentences In Wikipedia’s Entry About The Red Imported Fire Ant


This is regarding the species Solenopsis invicta:

The specific epithet of the red imported fire ant, invicta, is Latin for “invincible” and “unconquered”. This derives from the phase Roma invicta (“unconquered Rome”), used as an inspirational quote until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. This symbolic statement was printed on minted coins.

Only fair to stop using “Roma invicta” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I mean, yeah, there’s that whole other part of the Empire to consider but who does that? Not us from the west. Still, that’s got me thinking. There must have been someone who was carving “Roma invicta” into something — a brass pin, a building stone, something — just when the news of Rome being conquered came in. What’d the person do? I suppose edit things over to “Roma invicta for the most part” or “Roma invicta-ish” or, if the news came early on, “Roma pretty darned near invicta all things considered”. Anyway I don’t know why the coins come into play given we were talking about ants. And we were talking about ants because I heard the phrase “economically important ants” and wondered what that would be. It sounds like ants that are major supporters of microlending operations or something. There’s somehow still things I don’t understand about ants despite reading several paragraphs and skimming the rest of an article about one kind of them.

My December 2015 Scraps File


I have a longer-than-usual file of scraps for December 2015. I blame the season. Most times of year there’s nothing to do but write stuff, find that it doesn’t work, and then get rid of it. But the Christmas season puts all kinds of extra demands on one’s time. You have to go shopping for loved ones, for example, and the lines to get a loved one at even a discount department store turn something fierce.

Oh, you can order a loved one online, but that almost never turns out well. Many’s the family that thought they were getting a beloved great-aunt shipped by way of Amazon or Etsy. And then they find, when unwrapped, that it turned out to be a great-ant. It would be hundreds of feet tall and would rampage through picnics dozens of times the size of humans. Except, of course, that due to the square-cube law the colossal land animal can’t support its own weight. It flops over helpless, unless it’s right next to a large body of water.

But wait, you cry, immersion in water would not help an ant hundreds of feet tall. The respiratory system of the ant couldn’t draw in enough air through the surface tension of the water. Ah, I say, you’re forgetting this is a giant ant, while the water is normal-sized. Surface tension at this scale is irrelevant to the ant’s needs. But wouldn’t that just as well disrupt the capillary action that’s relevant to ant respiration?

Also, what are we doing talking about ant respiration? When we said the words “ant respiration” and maybe “capillary action” we exhausted our knowledge of the subject. We would be better off talking about something either of us knows. I could offer stuff I’ve learned from reading two popular histories of containerized cargo vessels. You could offer whatever it is you’re doing with yourself these days. And this is exactly the sort of thing that would go in the scrap file, waiting to be put to a productive use, by someone else because I sound completely daft.

I hate to think who it’d be useful for. I suppose someone setting up an online service matching people to their perfect rampaging giant monsters. It’s a great potential service. Most of us go about our lives never knowing what would be the giant rampaging monster best-fitted to our lifestyles. Not everybody needs giant ants. Some folks go for your classic Japanese rubber-suited monsters, sure. But there must be people whose lives would be complete if they were stomped on by an enormous blue-tongued skink. I don’t mean “complete” as in “over”, because you could say that about anyone. I mean how do you know what you would do if rampaged upon by a gigantic skink?

I would waste all my time trying to take a photograph of its tongue. I know because I was at the zoo recently and they had a non-giant blue-tongued skink which was not rampaging. And what do you know but its tongue is blue? So I tried to take a picture of it because, hey, blue tongue. Except that my camera’s slow, and I’m slow. And between the time when the skink started sticking out its tongue, and my noticing, and my hitting the button, and the camera focusing, and taking a picture, the skink would finish sticking out its tongue and go off to get a hot cocoa (it was chilly out) or to check its Twitter account or to see if there’s a village of regular ants it could rampage for.

So I feel confident saying what I’d do if confronted by a rampaging giant blue-tongued skink. I would waste the experience remembering that there’s a “burst” mode on my camera. And something that takes several pictures a second would you’d think but be wrong get its tongue in view, if I could figure out how to get it into that mode. There’s even a high-speed burst mode that takes even more pictures per second. But I took my camera out of burst mode when a guy at the Cedar Point amusement park offered to take a picture of my love and I in front of the Midway Carousel. He held his finger down on the button.

The result is an estimated 642 pictures of us standing with increasingly nervous grins on our face in front of the carousel. The sequence ends with my reaching towards the camera lens with my most common facial expression. That’s the look of “my interacting with people has caused things to go wrong but I have no way to fix that without interacting even more with people”. So I took the camera out of burst mode and have it seems forgotten how to use it since. I’d be spending the whole giant rampaging blue-tongued skink attack (remember that?) trying to find where that mode even is. I needed about ten minutes at the zoo and by that time the skink was all tongue-flickered out.

Looking back on this, I guess I was too busy to actually list any of my scraps from December 2015. And what was I busy doing? Tuning in to the satellite TV’s various Christmas music stations at midnight and 3 am (Eastern) to see which ones were going off the air which days. I’m sorry for all the bother. Well, if you can use anything here, do. Enjoy.

Color Classics: Ants In The Plants


For this week’s Fleischer Color Classics cartoon I’d like to present one of the last of the series. If Wikipedia is correct, Ants In The Plants — released the 15th of March, 1940 — was the last of the Color Classics not to star Hunky and Spunky. I don’t want to get into Hunky and Spunky right now, but they are probably among the top 50 most interesting mother-and-son pairs of cartoon donkeys in 1930s and 1940s three-strip Technicolor animation.

For a series whose focus was, nominally, showing off the music owned by Paramount Pictures, there’s not a lot of music in this cartoon. The only song is Al Neiberg and Sammy Timberg’s We’ll Make Him Yell Uncle, and it doesn’t dominate the cartoon the way that, say, Dancing on the Moon does its or that the Hungarian Rhapsodies give A Car-Tune Portrait its shape. On the other hand, now you have a name for that bit of music when you run across it in Fleischer/Famous/Paramount cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s. One suspects a touch of franchise fatigue had set in.

By this time the Fleischers, like nearly everyone else, had access to three-strip Technicolor and so the colors are more diverse and, if you can imagine what this looked like before seventy years of color fade, generally brighter. It’s also a very distinctly Fleischer cartoon: the three-dimensional sets are used for the very first scene, and the gadgets of the ants are created in a way that reminds me of Betty Boop’s Grampy, gimmicks of everyday items put to new applications that seem just about like they might work.

The cartoon was made around the time that the Fleischer’s ill-fated first motion picture, Gulliver’s Travels, was being completed and released to theaters. This seems to me likely to explain why the animation looks lush and enjoys novel camera angles and imaginative staging, such as the scene of the anteater’s snout writhing back and forth through tunnels as it approaches the camera: they’d developed the skill and technical ability to do that sort of motion and they were going to use it. Good.

A Formic Retraction


My father, while professing to be amused by yesterday’s long-form piece, said he was disappointed that I wrote about an infestation of ants in his bathroom without talking to him first. I misunderstood the situation entirely and by writing first I passed along faulty information to you all. Let me set things straight.

While there are ants in my parents’ bathroom they are there as part of a work-study program for the county’s vocational high school. They’re learning the rudiments of insect-based electrical work, working on projects my father has wanted to get done but which he finds too fiddly now that he has only four arms to work with. They come out in the morning each weekday, under the close supervision of a licensed county grasshopper, and return to their homes after tidying up their work. Some of the advanced students hope to combine their electrical expertise with some business classes and open a self-service frozen yoghurt franchise on Bennett Mills Road. That’ll be exciting, especially the chocolate sprinkles.

Obviously, I regret the error, especially since they fixed the alarm clock so the radio picks up a station other than “85 dB static interrupted with off-tune quarter-notes”.