A Report On The Series Of Disasters


The eruption of the smallcano was a surprise. There were rumblings, yes. But they were tiny ones. Even those nearest the eruption site just thought maybe they were hungry. Or there was a truck on some street nearby. Or the truck was hungry. Anyone would need great foresight to realize what was coming.

But then once it surfaced! People who found themselves in the active caldera-minima zone couldn’t help it. They would shrink to as much as one-tenth their ordinary size, if they found themselves somehow unable to escape the microclastic flow. Which, since the flow never got faster than a quarter-of-an-inch per day, you’d really think they would be able to. Heck, at its maximum the whole effect zone was maybe eight feet across, and that the long way.

You hate to say it. But you have to suspect at least some of the affected wanted to be caught up by the smallcano. You can see some of the appeal. Be small enough and you can have bunnies push you around. Be smaller still and you can see whether it’s possible to ride on a fly, like in a cartoon. Be just the right size and your liverwurst-and-onion sandwich can last you months, even years. The only other way to get an effect like that is to not like liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches very much but feel like you shouldn’t let that go to waste. So apart from people trying to make these sandwiches last, it’s hard to explain the people rushing toward the scene except those hoping for a little more smallness in their lives.

Now, when the tallcano erupted, that was a different story. You can’t blame anyone not being able to outrun its effect zone. Not unless they were already gigantified enough. And if they were, well, there’s only so many ways to explain how they got that way. And sure, the caldera-maxima got pretty crowded but that’s what everybody expected so what’s one more person making the joke about how the average person was now 2.3 persons? (This was a funny joke because the average was actually closer to 2.2 persons, but 2.3 is a funnier number, according to a study that compared it to 2.2, 1.75, and 1.0625, but did not test it against 3.7.)

The ballcano, well, that was different. Just this fount of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, beach balls, medicine balls, pouring out of the mountain’s top? Balls bouncing and rolling for miles? Many even landing in the sea? That was just great for everybody except the sporting-goods manufacturers. Oh, they weren’t all regulation size or stitching, yes. But they were good enough for casual play. Or to fill the need people didn’t realize they had for spherical toys. It wasn’t even thought of as a hazard until it started shooting hockey pucks. This was seen as an unforgivable variation from its brand. But the ballcano insisted that it had to follow its creative energies where they lead and that it didn’t have time for the haters. We all agreed we could learn something from it, except we didn’t want to be anywhere a hockey puck could bonk us on the head. People who came in hoping to be turned into volleyballs were disappointed yes. Worse, when people asked them what they were expecting, and told honestly, got looked at like they were the weird ones. Kind of tragic, really.

The mallcano should have been seen as a greater threat than it was. The hillside just spewing out Foot Locker Juniors and Spencer Gifts and shuttered Radio Shack storefronts and kiosks demonstrating toy drones wasn’t at all economically sustainable. The flow just didn’t have enough anchor stores. And the flow was steady enough to keep a proper food court from congealing. Signs that there might be somewhere to get a pita, or burrito, or something else that’s food wrapped inside dough never panned out. Even so, people flocked to the epicenter, since “Epicenter” sounded so much like the kind of name a mall ought to have.

All things considered, it was kind of a strange week in town. And all that before the open-floor houseplans of a whole subdivision were ruined by the wallcano.

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What The Flipping Heck Is *Wrong* With You, Funky Winkerbean?


If you’ve ever entered “funky winkerbean” into Google for some reason you’ve probably noticed the autocompletes are “misery porn” or “depressing” or “cancer cancer cancer cancer death die cancer death”. I haven’t checked recently but that’s all right. The strip made a staggering reputation for itself in the 90s and 2000s when Tom Batiuk decided to make it a serious issue-addressing strip by making everybody in it miserable and giving lead character Les Moore’s wife Lisa the traits of (a) being Les Moore’s wife and (b) having plot cancer. It’s an especially pernicious kind of cancer, what with how it can reappear years after a heartwarming conclusion just when the author thinks the readers least expect it, even though the readers have been saying in the comments section how they expect it ever since it went into remission.

So. Funky’s Ambiguous Relative (I think he’s a nephew maybe?) Wally had it particularly hard during the Misery Porn years. He went from troubled youth to soldier in Afghanistan, where he was captured by Enemy Forces and held captive for years. He was freed, though, and went home, but it turned out he still had a day of service left and so was called back to duty and shipped to Iraq. And by this point the readers’ relationship with Funky Winkerbean was so bad that even if this were based on something that actually happened to somebody it didn’t matter. None of us were buying it. And then he got captured by More Enemy Forces and held for … a very long time.

It’s hard to say how long. While Wally Winkerbean was off in Enemy Forces hands the strip did its second big “time jump”. This was a half-considered flash-forward after the Death Of Lisa Moore, Who Somehow Keeps Appearing In The Comics A Lot Considering How Dead She Is. The purpose of this was to allow Les Moore to transition from being a widower traumatized by his wife’s recent death from plot cancer into being a widower who’s somehow not even remotely over his wife’s death ten years before. I mean, to an extent I’m sympathetic. Should I outlive my love by a decade-plus I know there will be days I will be miserable, like anniversaries and my love’s birthday and some other special days. “Special days” does not mean, as it does to Moore, “weekdays, plus Sundays, and Saturdays too”. My love understands: a decade on, there will be days I smile even without having a reason.

Anyway, during the time jump, in which Funky Winkerbean got everybody ten years older and more decrepit while sister strip Crankshaft didn’t even though the comics share a universe and sometimes cross over into each other, Wally was held captive. Was he captive for more than ten years? Or was his captivity just retconned into the recent-yet-now-technically-unseen past? Good question and nobody has the faintest idea, Wally included.

As you might imagine Wally came out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a terrible case. Its primary trigger is being seen on-panel for his one storyline a year, which is about how he’s totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College. And then we got to last week’s iteration of the story, in which Wally’s regularly present female companion of some relationship interrupts Funky’s work on his Tiny Laptop with a plan that can’t in any way possibly go wrong:

'Let me get this straight. You're going to the Monsters Of Metal Show to help Wally get ready for school?' 'Exactly. There's going to be a big crowd with lots of noise and pyrotechnics. It's sort of a final exam for his PTSD.'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 3rd of August, 2016. I know I’ve only taught a few community-college courses. And they’ve been in mathematics, which Wally might not be interested in taking. But we never used pyrotechnics, not for explaining the z-score. We more used the motion-sensor light switch no mortal power could override and that would make the lights cut out when I was sitting down because it was the middle of an exam and I could see everybody was being discreet about their cheating. But the class was at two in the afternoon and there were windows all along the wall so the room would just suddenly go from a little too bright to really quite pleasant instead. The z-score is a mathematics thing in which we subtract one number from another, divide it by a third number, and call the result ‘z’. Not just any numbers; we pick those for special reasons ahead of time and call them x and μ and σ and if they mind they’ve never said so.

OK. Since the second Time Warp (the first one was in the early 90s when original characters finally graduated high school, then came back to work at the high school and suffer for it) Funky Winkerbean has moved away from its Misery Porn incarnation. It’s been much more about aged people sitting around being depressed. Also about praising this imaginary comic-book franchise named Starbuck Jones that’s produced some nice looking Silver Age-style covers and no actual stories. And the occasional halfhearted attempt to bring back the pre-1992 era’s flights of fancy and even whimsy. And yet I keep looking back on this strip and, well, see the subject line here.

If you have any explanation you’re doing better than Tom Batiuk.

SPOILER: Nothing went wrong and Wally is totally over his post-traumatic stress disorder unlike when he thought he was last year and now he’s ready to take some classes at Local Community College!

Escaping to Lansing


Disasters not afflicting Lansing: Hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanos, pop singers, scorpions.

The local newspaper mentioned that at South By Southwest a trade group from the Lansing area advertised to whoever’s interested in this sort of thing the proposition “Escape To Lansing”. The big selling point — and the one that’s on their web site — is that Lansing is free of many disasters which make it annoying to do business, to wit:

Hurricanes. True. Mid-Michigan is admirably hurricane-free, what with most hurricanes refusing to tromp over the Appalachian mountains and deal with trying to follow the highways around Toledo.

Scorpions. I can’t dispute that the Lansing metropolitan area has a pretty low number of scorpions, and most of those who are around are either in their designated pens within the pet shops or are work-study students helping make sure that visitors to the college or university library are briefly examined by eye and grunted at before they finish entering or exiting. I have to question whether scorpions are a major problem in most business districts, however. If they are then maybe startup businesses just need to buy screen doors.

Radioactive Gas. I hadn’t imagined that Lansing ever had a problem with radioactive gas emissions gathering to dangerous levels, but now that they’re going to the bother of telling people there’s no radioactive gas it’s started to make me worry. They maybe shouldn’t have raised the issue.

Earthquakes. Michigan has a very low earthquake risk, with the greatest hazard being earthquakes which other states or Canadian provinces hold and which spill over owing to inadequate soundproofing in the walls between states. The upper peninsula was subject to a series of earthquakes in the mid-19th century as the copper underneath it was dug out and turned into telephone wires in New York City and Boston, and the remaining crust collapsed over and over again, but the ground has mostly settled since then, and any attempt to get an earthquake going will be dampened by abandoned mining equipment. No serious risk there.

Justin Bieber. This seems petty. Pop stars are a fundamentally unpredictable, whimsical force of nature, prone to blowing into our lives and inspiring tiresome conversations about how we don’t like them and then blowing back out again, sometimes leaving us with a song we can’t quite get out of our heads. We have little to fear from them, and they pay for their existence by giving entertainment journalists something to talk about which isn’t lists of TV shows you won’t watch. They should be appreciated for how they enrich life’s tapestry of things we don’t really have to do anything about.

Tsunamis. Actually, the adorable little wave they use here makes me think of the original Bell Atlantic logo. While it’s true Michigan had very little phone service by Bell Atlantic before it changed its name and become a more annoying company, I don’t see why South By Southwest attendees would be particularly impressed by this. If they didn’t want to do business with Bell Atlantic they could as easily do that in Austin.

The 1984-era Bell Atlantic logo, with a little wave for the crossbar of the A.

Volcanos. Michigan hasn’t had an active volcano in about 2.5 billion years, but it seems presumptuous to say that companies would want to relocate to mid-Michigan just to avoid volcanos. Obviously companies that do volcano tours are going to be attracted by having volcanos, but what about places that hope to get in on something igneous? Maybe they’re figuring corporate headquarters can be away from the magma action and this will be somehow worth it in the end. I don’t know.

Sharks. I’m fairly sure there aren’t many shark attacks even in the business districts of coastal towns. I have to imagine a company that’s routinely losing key personnel or equipment to shark attacks, and isn’t in the shark-annoying trade, is screwed up in fundamental ways. If they relocated to Lansing they’d probably just get lost in the woods and see their business plan get eaten by squirrels.

I notice they don’t say a word about the ice storms causing blackouts or that stretch in early February when it got so cold all molecular motion ceased. Well, it was a harsh winter but we do generally have indoor heating. They also don’t mention that in Lansing you’re relatively unlikely to be surrounded by Texans, which I’d think would be a selling point in Austin. But they didn’t ask me to contribute promotional material.

Also, apparently Lansing has a 3-D Printer you can use, if you need it. Sold!