What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What’s With Edward’s Dog Not Being Seen? February – April 2019


So the thing about Edward’s dog is that he’s ugly.

Like, supernaturally ugly.

Like, “that’s … a … dog???” ugly.

It’s how the strip introduced him. It’s how he’s presented each time he comes back. This is a running joke now. It’s one with respectable comic strip precedent.

[Sarah's friend from school has dropped by with his dog.] June: 'Well, hello, Edward.' Edward: 'Hiya, Mrs Morgan. I was out walking my dog and thought I'd stop by and see Sarah.' June: 'Oh .. that is quite the dog, all right. Wh ... what breed is it?' Edward: 'We don't exactly know. My dad says he's not convinced it's even really a dog. But that's just silly.' [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' and pointing to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 28th of September, 2017. The first appearance of Edward’s Dog. And here’s a side mystery for you: my brain insists on naming this person Edmund, Edgar, Edwin, basically anything except “Edward”, a name way more common and likely than any of these alternatives. What’s going on there, and why?

Al Capp introduced Lena the Hyena to Li’l Abner in summer of 1946 as “the world’s ugliest woman”. She first appeared unseen, with the editorial note that they must hide her face to protect the readers. She would be seen, when the great Basil Wolverton achived the horrible. I had thought there were more examples of too-hideous-to-see characters in the comics. I’d imagined there’d be one in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy for example. I seem to be wrong about that, though. Ugly Christine had hair covering her face, but we did see most of her. (Searching for other unseeable characters lead me to Spots, only seen in profile or three-quarters shots, with spots floating in front of his face. He’s not on point for this, but he does present a heck of an image.)

Al Capp did also have Big Barnsmell, the “inside man” at the Skonk Works, who did unspeakable things with skunks for unknown reasons. I haven’t found reference about whether Barnsmell appeared on-screen, though. The last few appearances of Simple J Malarkey in Walt Kelly’s Pogo had the man’s head covered. (This was not a joke about Joe McCarthy’s deep ugliness, though. Kelly was working out his irritation at editors afraid of offending evil people, who demanded Malarkey’s face not be shown.)

There are more examples of this joke in other media. Most familiarly these days, Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, and Niles’s wife Maris on Frasier, were presented as too hideous to ever be seen. Then there’s old-time-radio. On Fibber McGee and Molly, half of Wallace Wimple’s whole schtick was telling horror stories of his wife. She would never be on-screen to present her case. … I’m a bit unsettled that Edward’s dog is the first example I can come up of too-ugly-to-see that isn’t about an adult woman we’re supposed to laugh at. (The other half of Wallace Wimple’s schtick was saying he would look something up in his “bird book”. They knew how to make a gag run back then.)

Rex, handing Sarah ice some money: 'This should be enough for a treat!' Sarah: 'Thanks, Dad!' (Outside.) Sarah: 'Hey, Edward! You heard the ice cream truck too?' Edward: 'Yeah, I was walking my dog and was gonna see if you were home.' [Narration: Due to editorial policy and space restrictions, we are unable to show you Edward's dog. Our apologies.] [ Narration bubble reading 'Dog' points to the off-screen end of the leash Edward holds. ]
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 23rd of April, 2019. A more recent appearance of Edward’s Dog, with an editorial box so full and explanatory that I feel like it’s got readers more confused. And yes, these two appearances do make it seem like Edward spends a lot of time walking his dog and checking in on Sarah, but that’s just an easy way to get him into the story.

In any event. Terry Beatty is mixing this running joke into Rex Morgan, M.D.. This is why the dog is only ever put off-screen, and explained with narrative bubbles and arrows pointing at ‘Dog’. I have no idea whether Beatty intends to ever depict Edward’s Dog, or to hold a similar contest. He may be satisfied with Dog as-is. He has been writing the comic as a more humorous one. The change in tone is less than what’s happened in Alley Oop, but still. He’s bringing more jokes in.

Edward’s dog, by the way, is named Dog. “We think it suits him,” was how Edward explained it, the 30th of September, 2017.

Anyway, if you’re hoping to have the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, and it’s later than about July 2019, there’s a good chance I have a more up-to-date essay here. If you’re reading in late April or early May 2019, carry on here. This should suit you fine.

If you’d like an argument that last Saturday’s Strange Brew comic strip was a really solid joke, I make it here. I also discuss some other mathematically-themed comic strips, as is my habit.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

3 February – 27 April 2019.

Rex Morgan’s plane was landing in the middle of the desert when I last checked in. It’s an extreme emergency, but the only way to keep Rex away from a medical conference in Phoenix. The touchdown takes a week of action, roughly, with Rex yelling reassuring things at his young temporary ward Brayden. And with Mister Cranky, who wanted booze and lots of it on the flight, yelling about how he was going to sue. Cranky was a particularly obnoxious fellow through January. But I can’t fault him yelling angry things about the airline as it lands by some ham radio operator’s shack in the desert.

The passengers, fully evacuated, get off the plane. Mister Cranky tries grabbing his carry-on, and gets scolded by the flight attendant. But again I sympathize; I don’t know how hard it would be for me to abandon my laptop in the circumstance. They’re well outside cell phone service range, but all’s not lost. The ham radio operator called in the emergency before driving his jeep up to the plane. His shack can be at least a gathering point for the passengers while a jet engine finishes exploding.

[ The passengers and crew await the arrival of emergency services ... ] Cranky: 'Why'd we have to leave the plane anyhow? No place to sit out here!' Rex Morgan: 'I'm pretty sure it has to do with that smoking engine that caused the emergency landing in the first place.' Cranky: 'Pffft! That don't seem like a big deal!' Brayden, whispering: 'Suddenly this guy's an expert on plane safety?' Rex, whispering: 'I'd bet this guy's an expert on EVERYTHING'. (Plane engine explodes.) Rex: 'Not a big deal, huh?' Cranky: '!' Brayden: 'It'd be nice if the emergency vehicles would get here.' Flight attendant, to the walking mass of passengers: 'Keep moving down the road and away from the plane!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 17th of February, 2019. The jet engine exploding is fine as a story development. It seems a bit over-the-top that it sent flaming shrapnel only through Mister Cranky’s luggage and carry-on and sent a tongue of flame to singe off his hair and eyebrows and called his boss to tattle on him and hacked into his social media to post a sequence of pictures from the time cutting down that weed ailanthus tree in the backyard went so wrong. But, you know, I’m just the reader here. I don’t get a say in what’s written. Anyway, Rex, in the third row, second panel, there just pulls ahead of Mark Trail knowing a few things about Minke Whales in the open-qualifying Smug Comic Strip White Guy contest there.

Mister Cranky, having had enough of this, decides to leave. He notices the radio ham left the keys in his jeep. So he sits in the driver’s seat and is immediately snarled at by a large dog. Chased out from there, he sits on a large rock, ignoring Rex Morgan’s warning to Brayden about checking for scorpions. And what do you know, but, a scorpion bites him on the rear end! And the cops arrive and arrest him for trying to steal a car! Which has this curious state where it’s true, but I don’t think there’s any evidence except for his thought balloons. Cranky said he was “just sitting down” and I think that’s all they could prove. Anyway, he’s made fun of by the local news. On Morgan’s word the cops take him to the hospital first. But I’m sure as they transferred him from the ambulance to the hospital someone slipped, and his wheelchair rolled out of control, downhill into the county Manuratorium. And then he crawled out of that only for a cartoon elephant to sit on him.

Rex, and everyone, call to their loved ones as soon as they can. Brayden’s father is grateful beyond words for Rex’s help. You might ask what Rex did for Brayden. He was flying, unaccompanied, from his mother to his father. The flight attendant asked Rex to just watch over the weirdly old pre-teen. Brayden handled the emergency better than I would have, but still. Brayden’s father, wanting to do something for Rex, gives him a ride to the airport and a change of clothes from his store. All their stuff was left in the plane, after all. I did see commenters complain that this evokes the old, Woody Wilson-era “What Can We Give The Morgans Today” writing style. I guess that’s so. But the scene feels true to me. His son came through a plane crash unscathed. It’s natural for him to lavish money on the nearest person with the slightest involvement in that.

Morgan attends the conference after all, although since it’s all medical talk we don’t see it. On the flight home, who sits next to him but … Mister Cranky?

Well, no. It’s a sweet, polite, kindly person who just looks like him. He’s J T Needle. Mister Cranky was his twin brother, T J Needle. J T demonstrates how he’s the good identical twin by explaining how he’s always been the nice brother. T J’s always been self-centered and rude, doing stuff like trash-talking his relatives and all. Morgan questions the plausibility of sitting right next to Mister Cranky’s twin on the flight home. But he points out, he and his brother both live in Arizona, while their parents live in Glenwood, so of course they’d fly between those cities. Morgan accepts that this coincidence will now not get listed under Plot Holes.

J T: 'Your boys are twins?' Rex Morgan: 'No, but they may as well be. One's adopted, but exactly the same age. They share a birthday.' J T: 'And you think being on a flight my brother and then me is a coincidence!' Rex: 'Stranger things have happened, I guess.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 29th of March, 2019. Rex picks nervously at the threads which suspend disbelief, pondering how it is their adopted son has the same birthday as their non-adopted one. Or why their life is full of filled with unexplained and improbably strange coincidences. He doesn’t need to worry about that, he tells himself. There’s no reason behind it. It’s just … the world is strange and confusing and sometimes things work out in improbable ways? That’s believable. He can stop questioning that.

The last plot thread — about when Rex Morgan would get his luggage back — was resolved the first of April. The airline delivered his stuff back to his house. So that’s all covered.


Starting the 6th of April came the tease of a new storyline. Jordan Harris is ready to open his restaurant. He’s invited the Morgans to be part of a test-run night. His fiancee Michelle Carter is the acting hostess. Everything’s going great. This includes Delmer Robertson. He’s recovering from his addiction and homelessness and kidney transplant and all that.


That’s not, so far as I can tell, the story. It was an epilogue to the Jordan/Michelle/Delmer storyline from last fall. Instead we’re following young Sarah, and her former-bully-turned-friend Edward. And his improbably ugly dog. They run across a crying young girl. Some older kids made her drop her ice cream. Edward buys her a replacement before his sister makes him come home. And it looks like Sarah has a new friend. That’s all we’ve seen about this storyline so far.

Next Week!

SPORTS!

The Stan Freberg Show: the eleventh show, after a fence has been cut


The big flu of 1957 was an outbreak of Influenza A subtype H2N2, a pandemic less severe than that of 1918 (but what wasn’t?). It wsa popularly referred to as the Asian Flu. I know it mostly from a Peanuts strip in 1958 where Charlie Brown suspects he’s coming down with it, and Lucy mocks him for getting the flu six months late. Smiley Burnette was one of those prolific singer-songwriters who’d get to play the sidekick to your Roy Rogers-class performer. So that’s some things you would be expected to know for this episode, which first aired the 22nd of September, 1957.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Opening Music. Once again no cold opening.
00:50 Opening Comments. Stan Freberg is getting over the “Swiss Flu”, so as not to offend anyone.
01:15 College Football Report. Report from the BearcatPantherTigers. Stan Freberg is doing a pretty sharp impersonation of Colgate Sports Newsreel reporter Bill Stern. The setup is easy, a long buildup to a question to which the athlete gives one- and two-word answers.
04:08 Peggy Taylor gives Stan Freberg the pretext to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Monkey Song”. They can’t all be “Stardust”.
07:22 How an Agent Operates. Foster Pelt, agent to 64 dogs. He gets them character parts a lot: derelicts, good-natured slobs, friend of the leading child. There’s a constrained structure here, where Pelt negates any joke that Freberg might advance. That’s okay as long as it’s building to something, like the dog that plays jazz trombone. But it does also have a tone like Pelt is trying to negate the sketch.
13:35 Question from the Audience. A guy doesn’t believe in the show so far.
13:55 Peggy Taylor singing “Famous Last Words”.
17:00 Composite Preview of TV Westerns for the Fall. “Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields” which (as usual) catches the sounds and tones and pacing of its primary source precisely. The actual radio Gunsmoke wasn’t quite so leisurely, but did run that way. It didn’t spend quite this much time establishing plot points either, but it could feel like that. The in-show sketch for “Puffed Grass” riffs on ads for Quaker Puffed Wheat (“the breakfast cereal shot from guns”) commercials. The relentless establishment of the fact the fence was cut evokes the throwaway joke at the start of St George and the Dragonet, about that 45 automatic being checked by the lab and learning that, yes, it was a gun. The close, a quick exchange with Pedro, riffs on the comic sidekick Pancho of the Cisco Kid. He’d close each episode with a corny gag. Gunsmoke was a grown-up western; Cisco Kid a kids’ one. So it is a tonal non sequitur that he should show up here.
28:12 Closing Remarks. Freberg encourages people to write for tickets and asks for something for cold, even if it’s just Dr Christian. Dr Christian was a long-running doctor’s-office-based light drama, the small-town doctor helping quarreling lovers reconcile and wayward youths straighten out, that sort of thing.
28:38 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link.

In Which I Ask For A Favor


I’m not sure who I’m asking this favor from. But I know out there at least one of you is in an Internet community that’s talking about movie sequel subtitles. And that’s looking around for what’s the right all-purpose movie sequel subtitle to use now that we’re moving past Electric Boogaloo and even The Squeakquel is starting to wear out. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong in supporting The Secret Of The Ooze or The Legend of Curly’s Gold as all-purpose subtitles either. And I don’t dispute you putting those in as your votes for all-purpose sequel subtitle.

It’s just that I think we’re forgetting about the second Cats and Dogs movie, which is a shame, as its subtitle The Revenge of Kitty Galore is clearly ready to be put underneath all sorts of movie franchise titles. So whoever’s in that discussion for all-purpose movie sequel subtitles? If you could enter The Revenge of Kitty Galore for me, I’d be grateful. Thanks and take care, please.

January 2017’s Scraps File


Some things I couldn’t find any use for writing in January; if you can find a good use for them, please do. I ask only to hear if any of them went on to be happy.

I’m rotten at choosing clothes. You can judge that from the slightly pained but amused look on my love’s face when it becomes obvious that once again I’ve dressed myself. If you can’t see my love’s face, I’m sorry that you’re missing such a fine experience. But instead look at any picture of people from the 70s or 80s and identify the person wearing the most regrettable outfit. I’ve worn that as recently as Tuesday. I don’t care. They’re clothes and I’m happy to wear them. — Cut from some piece or other, I think the one about crafts. Not really relevant to the main point of the article and besides it ended up long enough as is.

The thing is that gives me the idea to start wondering about something. — Cut from like fourteen pieces because it could go into any of my bits and that’s one of those warning signs I shouldn’t be putting it in any of them. Warning: I might use this to see how long a sentence I could make that doesn’t say anything at all. You’re still free to use it, just, there’s no being sure you’ll have it all to yourself.

If you have that job you either grew up wanting to be someone who makes those little paper flags hung on toothpicks or else your life took turns bringing you to making them. — The thing about my clothes (to get back to them) is that I don’t need to talk about it that much because you’ve seen ugly clothes before. Not necessarily on me, but yeah, on me.

I’m not going to stop making boxed macaroni and cheese wrong because I know it’s easier to keep doing it wrong than to remember to look at the directions and do it right for once. — Also cut from that crafts essay which had more cuts than usual. Also I don’t want to make my clothing problems seem too bad. Like, that look my love gets when noticing I dressed myself? It’s not, like, horrified or anything. It’s like, imagine if you were fixing a car engine. And you called to your dog saying, “Monty! Fetch me the 15 mm socket wrench” and figured you were making a good joke. And the dog was confused but understood there was something about fetching going on there. And the dog came back holding an ice scraper in his mouth. Also the dog’s named Monty. You know the look you’d give the dog, delighted that he was doing his best to do the perfectly hopeless? That’s the look I get when I dress myself. It doesn’t hurt any and I can usually find the socket wrench after that.

“The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” — I brought that back from an earlier scraps file because I was sure there was something I could do with that, and there wasn’t. It’s pretty nice as it is, on Wikipedia, but I got nothing.

I remember coloring when I was a kid, and we’d get boxes of crayons from school. There’d be as many as 62 Extremely Dark Colors Equally Likely To be Purple, Black, Navy Blue, Blue, Or Any Other Color You Do Not Want, all with the wrappers peeled off in every box of sixteen crayons. — Cut because my problems with coloring in elementary school weren’t so much about what shade of some extremely dark blue-like-or-black color I had available but more that I was never satisfied with how uniformly a crayon could color things. Also I liked the part where you colored in letters. By you I mean me, or in this context, I. I couldn’t get enough letters to color in like that. So in hindsight, again, I understand why I was treated that way.

And then the person working the Wendy’s counter warned me they were out of potatoes, which means they know me as the guy who comes in like once a month and orders two baked potatoes, so now it’s too emotionally involved going there and I don’t dare visit ever again. — Anyway these days I just wear a solid shirt of one color and pants. Pants of a different color. I learned my lesson the day in grad school when I went out wearing an orange shirt and orange sweatpants and caught a glimpse of myself in the glass door and realized what I was doing. So I have learned to do slightly better, that’s the important thing.

Good luck with February, everyone!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped nine points after Michigan’s official state groundhog refused to emerge from her lair and make a weather prediction, which is surely all normal and just fine, right? Tell us that’s normal and just fine. We don’t know anymore.

106

Statistics Saturday: Art Prompts


  • Dogs in glasses.
  • Raccoons in glasses.
  • I mean eyeglasses.
  • Wearing eyeglasses.
  • Not “in drinking glasses”.
  • Although that would kind of be cool too.
  • So maybe raccoons in drinking glasses wearing eyeglasses.
  • Or any animals in drinking glasses wearing eyeglasses.
  • 3-D glasses would work too.
  • Oh, uh, I dunno, maybe you as a kid doing that Calvin and Hobbes “Let’s Go Exploring” final-ever panel? That’s art, right? I bet that’s art.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index found itself at 103 today and fell into a quarrel about whether the trading floor was suffering from deja vu, from plagiarism, or was just victim of an astounding coincidence. The matter was not settled by press time, but the arguments have got into who was showing disloyalty to who in a bitter fight eighteen years ago so this is sure to turn out well.

103

Air Bud, Naturally Enough


Adapting Wikipedia’s description of the plot to Air Bud, which needed my attention, naturally enough.


The film opens with an alcoholic abusive clown, Norm Snively, and his Golden Retriever Old Blue, doing a show at a child’s birthday party, naturally enough. Due to Old Blue causing trouble at the birthday party and both being tossed out of the house, Norm angrily takes him in a kennel to a dog pound, until the kennel falls out of his truck, naturally enough. Old Blue is homeless until he meets 12-year-old Josh Framm, naturally enough. After the death of his father, who died in a plane crash during a test flight, Josh relocates with his mom Jackie and 2-year-old sister Andrea from Virginia to Fernfield, Washington, naturally enough. Due to heartbreak over his father’s death, he is too shy to try out for his middle school’s basketball team and to make any friends, naturally enough. He instead becomes the basketball team’s manager, an awkward offer by Coach Barker which he accepts, naturally enough. He practices basketball by himself in a makeshift court that he sets up in an abandoned allotment, where he first meets Old Blue and renames him Buddy, naturally enough. Josh soon discovers that Buddy has the uncanny ability to play basketball, and decides to let Buddy come home with him, naturally enough.

Jackie agrees to let him keep Buddy until Christmas and she plans to send him to the pound if his rightful owner is not located; however, she sees how much Josh loves Buddy and how loyal he is, naturally enough. When Josh wakes up on Christmas and Buddy is not in his room, he goes downstairs and finds Buddy with a bow secured on his head, naturally enough. She gives Buddy to Josh as a present, naturally enough.

Following Christmas, Josh finds a tryout invitation in his locker, although he does not know how it got there, naturally enough. Puzzled on what to do, he further discovers Buddy’s talent when he discovers that he can actually shoot a hoop, naturally enough. These facts together prompt Josh to follow through and try out and he gets a place on the team, naturally enough. At his first game, he befriends teammate Tom Stewart but earns the disdain of star player and team bully Larry Willingham, naturally enough. Meanwhile, Buddy leaves the backyard, goes to the school and shows up while the game is underway, naturally enough. He runs into the court, disrupts the game, and causes mayhem, but the audience loves him after he scores a basket, naturally enough.

After the game and once Buddy is caught by Josh, the former sees Coach Barker abusing Tom by violently pelting him with basketballs in an attempt to make him catch better, naturally enough. He leads Josh, Jackie, and the school principal Ms. Pepper to the scene, naturally enough. As a result, Coach Barker is fired and replaced by the school’s kind-hearted engineer, Arthur Chaney, at Josh’s suggestion, naturally enough. Buddy becomes the mascot of Josh’s school’s basketball team and begins appearing in their halftime shows, naturally enough. After the Timberwolves lose one game, the team has subsequent success and qualifies for the State Final, naturally enough.

Just before the championship game, Norm appears after seeing Buddy on television, naturally enough. Hoping to profit off Buddy’s newfound fame, he forces Jackie to hand over Buddy as he has papers proving that he is Buddy’s legal owner, naturally enough. Knowing they do not have a choice, Jackie forces Josh to do the right thing and give Buddy back to Norm, naturally enough. After a period of feeling withdrawn and depressed, Josh then decides to rescue Buddy, naturally enough. He sneaks into Norm’s backyard, which is muddy and where he finds Buddy chained up, naturally enough. Norm, who is on the phone scheduling performances, initially does not notice Josh in the yard due to a stack of empty beer cans on his windowsill until it falls and Josh is caught in the act, naturally enough. Josh gets the chain from Buddy and they escape, naturally enough. Norm gets into his dilapidated clown truck and pursues Josh and Buddy through a park where Norm scatters a small swing set, a couple’s picnic, the sign of Fernfield, and hits a parked car, naturally enough. The pursuit rages on to a parking lot near a lake, during which Norm’s truck falls apart and crashes into the water, with the latter surviving and swearing vengeance, naturally enough. A few minutes after the pursuit, Josh then decides to set Buddy free in the forest to find a new home, naturally enough. Initially, his team is losing at the next championship to the opposing team until Buddy shows up, naturally enough. When it is discovered that there is no rule that a dog cannot play basketball, Buddy joins the roster to lead the team to a come from behind championship victory, naturally enough.

Norm reappears and attempts to sue the Framm family for custody of Buddy despite lack of ownership papers, naturally enough. Upon seeing Buddy, Judge Cranfield is disgusted and initially reluctant on a case over a dog, but only agrees only under a strict condition of the case being executed seriously, naturally enough. After numerous protests, Arthur arrives and suggests that Buddy chooses his owner, naturally enough. As a fan of Arthur himself, Judge Cranfield accepts his proposal, and moves the court outside to the lawn, naturally enough. The rule is for both parties to call Buddy while staying put on their spots, and one single step towards the dog would result in a loss, naturally enough. During the calling, Norm takes out his roll of newspaper, which he often used as a punishment to hit Buddy, and yells at him, naturally enough. Buddy angrily rushes at Norm, bites him, rips up the newspaper, and runs towards Josh, naturally enough. Judge Cranfield grants legal custody of Buddy to Josh’s family while an angry Norm rushes toward Buddy and Josh in a last ditched effort to try to get Buddy to himself, but is leed away by the police and arrested for animal cruelty, while Josh and the rest of the citizens rejoice and gather around Buddy to welcome him home, naturally enough.


Because a movie about a dog that plays basketball needs a subplot about a custody battle on behalf of an alcoholic abusive clown, naturally enough?

Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. It also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except how nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

Things It Is Acceptable To See Trending On Twitter


Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.

  • Change a word so a title means something else.
  • Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
  • Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
  • Assonance Day Of The Week!
  • Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
  • Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
  • A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
  • Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
  • There’s something in space and we know about it!
  • Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!

Dogs Make News By Acting Like Dogs


You might have seen this on Reuters in which case I’m sorry but you probably already thought of my jokes about it. I hope we can still be friends. Anyway at England’s Manchester Airport they’re reviewing their team of drug-sniffer dogs just because in seven months of work they never found any smuggled drugs. To be fair this compares well with my track record of finding illicit drugs.

And it isn’t like they found nothing. According to a review the dogs did manage “multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health”. And they’re reviewing how it is the project spent £1.25 million on dogs who recovered somewhere around 181 kilograms of meats. I’m a bit unsure about it myself. I would think you could train dogs to sniff out smoked meats and cheese without much more advanced training than saying, “Who’s a good doggy?” while waving a slice of pepperoni. You could do this in an empty room and a good doggy would appear, and then follow you around, pleading for more. I suppose they did get six dogs, and that’s got to be more pricey than one. Still, it seems like there’s something missing here.

I guess the surprising thing is that in seven months British holidaymakers only bring something like 181 kilograms of illegal meat back home through Manchester. I mean, that’s not nothing. The Apollo 17 mission only brought 110 kilograms of moon rocks back. But there were just the two astronauts on the moon, and the whole trip took less than two weeks, and there was just the one of it. Also they probably declared their rocks and didn’t land in northern England. And for another comparison, the early “Schreibkugel” model typewriter which Friedrich Nietzche owned weighed only 75 kilograms. But if the British holidaymakers are sneaking a lot of other meats in, then how are the dogs missing them? Definitely a scandal here.

Our Pet Rabbit Meets A Dog


I’ve been known to exaggerate some aspects of interaction with our pet rabbit so I want to be clear this isn’t one of those times. We had brought him in his little pet carrier to the veterinarian. He’ll put up with being in the pet carrier while he’s actually being carried. Set him on the floor with nothing going on and he’ll give you about two minutes before deciding he should be out. He starts punching the bars of the carrier to remind us that he’s inside the carrier and could be outside instead.

The trouble is the vet’s was crowded, and they weren’t quite ready for us, so we had to wait. He wasn’t into the waiting. I told him, “You don’t really want to go out now.” He wasn’t buying it. He punched again. I told him, “You won’t be happy with what you see out there.” He was unconvinced. I rotated the carrier so its door faced away from the wall.

Our pet rabbit has met dogs before, mostly those of my love’s parents. Those were very senior, very shy, amazingly timid dogs terrified by such things as our pet rabbit, or me, or the existence of sounds. He’s not bothered by them. What he hasn’t seen before is dogs that’re still very good about being dogs, such as a German Shepherd snuffling around and working out what might be interesting in the area.

He stopped punching. And while I turned the carrier back around so he didn’t have to acknowledge the existence of dogs any more, he also didn’t start punching again. Back home, he spent the whole day inside the innermost reaches of his hutch, sulking. He’s only come out to eat and glare at me since.

(The German Shepherd left moments later, but I didn’t turn the carrier back around. The only other dog in the area was some small dog, maybe a Pomeranian, I forget which and called it a ‘chinchilla’ when describing the situation to my father. But it was smaller than our pet rabbit and I didn’t figure anything good could come of introducing that to the situation.)

After Our Rabbit’s Holiday


“So you’ve been a bit of a terror, by reports,” I said to our pet rabbit. He was looking at the open pet carrier, and considering whether to punch it.

“They were desperate times,” he finally pronounced.

“They were times at your vacation cottage.” This would be my love’s parents’ house. They watch our pet rabbit when we have to be away more than a day. Our pet rabbit can’t be left unattended that long, because he’ll run up long-distance telephone calls. The funny thing is they’re not even calls that would make sense, like ordering stacks of particularly tasty hay. It’s like he just gets carried away with the fun of dialing. In many ways our pet rabbit is a little kid, except that he doesn’t give us colds or tell us complicated and rambling stories about what happened in school.

“There were dogs chasing me!”

“I know those dogs. They’re four years older than the letter `W’.”

“So they’ve had time to practice their fiendish ways!”

“They don’t have fiendish ways. They’re barely up to falling down anymore.” He sneezed, because somehow our pet rabbit sneezes, and then turned that into a snort. “They haven’t even been growling at me because they can’t work up the energy for that anymore.” And this is true. When I first started visiting my love’s parents, the dogs would take turns barking furiously at me, because they were afraid that if they didn’t, I might go on existing. Eventually they would settle down, only for one or the other to suddenly realize that I was still a thing that existed, so they had to go through it all over again. Since then, sadly, the dogs have gotten more frail. They’ll wander up to me and mutter a half-articulated hwurmf. I tell them that’s very good barking and then they collapse on the floor where they are. I’d pat their heads if that didn’t seem like taunting.

Our rabbit put his paws together and shoved on the front of his carrier, a traditional rabbit way of expressing the concept “I want this shoved over there a little”. It works better on hay and towels and light vegetables. I picked him up by his hind legs and shoved him in the carrier, a traditional rabbit-keeper way of expressing the concept “if you won’t go in I’ll just put you in”. He turned around and punched the carrier’s bars.

Finally he said, “I can scare dogs away.”

“You can scare those dogs away. They’re very timid dogs.”

“I didn’t even have to bite and the bigger one ran away!” The dogs are the same size, but perhaps there are rabbit ways of classifying dogs I don’t understand.

“That dog’s been scared away by clouds. You’re not saying you’re just as ferocious as a cloud, are you?”

“Bring me a cloud and I’ll see who scares who!”

“You’re figuring to make a cloud quiver its knees? What has got into you?”

“I had to spend forever fending off dogs!”

It struck me: the “larger” dog came up to the edge of our rabbit’s pen before running away, while the “smaller” one was too afraid of the interloper to get that close. By “running” I mean “kind of shambling about in a way that isn’t technically falling over most of the time”.

“Luckily,” he said, “I know what to do with dogs.”

“You know what to do with those dogs. You’re an expert at existing.”

“I spent my whole life getting ready to exist!”

Our pet rabbit, partly standing --- paw resting on his exercise pen's frame --- while he nibbles at a tree branch.
Our pet rabbit, existing, with panache.

“You could be in trouble if you had to face other dogs, you know.”

He almost stopped wriggling his nose a moment. “What other dogs?”

“You know there’s more than two dogs in the world.”

“No, I heard them both.”

“Did you ever notice the dogs going over to the window and barking like crazy, then stopping and hiding from the window?”

He nodded, which is the sort of thing that involves a lot of ear-flapping. “When they forgot where I was!”

“No, that’s when they saw there was another dog walking past, outside. They stopped when the other dog noticed them.”

He pushed the carrier door with one paw, letting his fingers melt through the bars. “So there are … 98 dogs in the world?”

“More than that, even. Some dogs they didn’t notice.” I figured it not worth mentioning some of the dogs were walked past the house several times, mostly on different days.

He sniffed. “More than 98 dogs seems like too many. Let’s get home.”

I don’t agree with him on the dog count, but getting home was what I hoped for too.

Robert Benchley: Hedgehogs Wanted


Reading the newspaper has always been a great source of inspiration for humorists. For example, in this piece from My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew Robert Benchley sees brilliance in an ordinary-looking advertisement. It’s a short but perfectly-crafted piece.

Hedgehogs Wanted

An advertisement in a London paper reads: “5,000 Hedgehogs Wanted.” Of course, it’s none of my business, especially as it is an Englishman that wants them, but I trust that I may speculate to myself without giving offense.

One hedgehog I could understand, or possibly two, to keep each other company. There is no accounting for taste in pets, and I suppose you could get as attached to a hedgehog as you could to a dog, if you went about it in the right way. I, personally, would prefer a dog, but then, I’m dog-crazy.

But 5,000 hedgehogs seem to be overdoing it a bit. When you get up into the thousands with hedgehogs you are just being silly, it seems to me. And, aside from the looks of the thing, there is the very practical angle that you might very well find yourself hedgehog-poor.


There must be something that hedgehogs do that I don’t know about that makes them desirable to have around in large numbers. They may keep away flies, or eat moths, or even just spread out in a phalanx and prevent workmen from lying down on the ground, or picnic parties from camping out on private property. Whatever their special function, it must be preventive.

Of course, there may be something in the back of the man’s mind about quills. He may be forming a gigantic toothpick combine or starting a movement back to the old quill pen. In this case, he has his work cut out for him. Shearing, or plucking, or shaving 5,000 hedgehogs is going to be no sinecure. And he is going to run out of swear-words the first day. Just the plain, ordinary “ouch” is going to get him nowhere.

On the whole, my advice would be to give the whole project up, whatever it is. Unless, of course, the advertisement has been answered already and he has his 5,000 hedgehogs on his hands. In that case, I don’t know what to advise.

Statistics Saturday: A List Of Some Things Which Look Considerably More Dignified If Depicted Wearing Glasses


  1. Dogs
  2. Statues
  3. Rabbits
  4. Eggs
  5. Dragons
  6. Instructors
  7. Robots (the good kind)
  8. Trees
  9. Small rocks
  10. Squirrels
  11. Teeth
  12. Robots (the morally ambiguous kind)
  13. Ducks
  14. Dodecahedrons

Note: I mean eyeglasses. Drinking glasses is a completely different thing.

Mandrake Gets More So; Also, Math Comics


Last time I had a bunch of mathematics comics to show off I mentioned how Mandrake’s father was being depicted as seeing by his supernatural powers strange worlds where caterpillar-creatures listen to the radio over earphones headsets. I’ve got a fresh batch of mathematics comics to talk about over on that appropriate blog and so I want to point again at Mandrake, as run on the 24th of December this year, and just ask you the question:

Mandrake the Magician's father seems to see alien robots with a six-legged dog.
Fred Fredricks’ Mandrake the Magician rerun the 24th of December 2014: Mandrake’s father describes alien life.

Does that alien robot have dreadlocks?

It’s easy to ask why the alien robot has dreadlocks, although asking it answers the question. We’re almost forced to ask why any alien robots wouldn’t have dreadlocks. I think the bigger question is how does the alien robot have dreadlocks, but that’s only longer if you use certain variable-width typefaces which kern the ‘h’ and ‘y’ together a bit tightly. The real question is why the alien robot dog has six legs when the alien robots seem to have only four limbs, although I bet it’s one of those “why does Goofy walk on two legs while Pluto walks on four if they’re both dogs” kinds of questions.