On This Date: November 17, If You Like


765. Date of the historical incident believed to have inspired, in distorted form, the fable of Jack the Giant-Killer, when seven flies were indeed killed in one blow by a giant rampaging through a middle-Uressexshire hamlet. Less famously the incident is also credited with creating the village of Flattstone-Under-Stompenhedge. It’s a little baffling how the story ended up like we know it today. Most historians of legend suspect “political satire around the time of the Commonwealth or Restoration”. But we’ll admit that’s their answer to everything.

797. Kanmu, Emperor of Japan, changes his residence from Nara to Kyoto but the student loan people find him anyway.

1602. Birth of Agnes of Jesus, who’d go on to become a nun in what seems like typecasting but there you go. Sometimes you just know what your course is in life.

1777. The Colonial Congress sends the Articles of Confederation to the British Parliament for ratification in a deliberately-arranged “accident” that both sides fail to use as a chance to apologize and try to come to some reasonable settlement of the whole matter. It ends up making everybody feel eight percent more awkward.

1810. Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom in order to start the Anglo-Swedish War, since it seems like a shame to have such a snappy name for a war and nobody declaring it or anything. The war ends two years later when they notice everyone’s been so happy with the stylish name and the idea of Sweden and the United Kingdom being at war that nobody ever bothered to fight the other side, and that isn’t even my joke.

1858. Day zero of the Modified Julian Day scheme so that’s why your friend who does all this database stuff with dates is staring wistfully out the window and wondering why we have to have a February even today. We do not; we have a February in-between January and March.

1869. The Suez Canal successfully links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Backers fail to reach their stretch goal of connecting the Mediterranean with either the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea at Brunsbüttel, or Albany, New York. But they’re happy with what they did achieve and give out some commemorative coasters.

1933. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union.

1935. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union a second time when Guatemala explains how the two of them used to stand at the window outside the League of Nations building in Geneva staring inside and sometimes putting pickles from the burger stand down the way onto the window to see if they’d freeze in place there.

1946. Last use of a Murphy bed except in a black-and-white sitcom.

1952. Soap magnate Dr Emanual Theodore Bronner, serving his jury duty obligation for the civil court, is asked whether he is familiar with the law regarding trees and shrubs which overhang the property line. Both sides’ attorneys excuse him 36 seconds later. He finishes the first of many extremely considered sentences about the matter in December, and his whole thought about fallen branches by 1954 (estimated).

1961. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union again, but pretends to stumble and have to fiddle with its shoelaces a couple minutes while they pass on the sidewalk.

1973. One of the most successful weight-loss plans of the 70s gets started when Eater’s Digest publishes this compelling bit of reasoning. The reasoning: you can burn off more calories simply by going about your business while wearing weights. But what is fat except excess weight? And, better, weight that you can’t take off even if you want? Therefore simply by walking or standing or breathing or sleeping on your chest you’re burning off excess calories, thereby causing yourself to lose weight on the whole deal. And therefore being fatter is the quickest way to being thinner and, therefore, being overweight doesn’t exist and within two years everybody is.

2015. ‘Bob and Bert’ create the only podcast advertisement ever recorded that makes listening to the podcast sound appealing or desirable or even something other than just a bit of sadness. After the successful advertisement their Wheeler-and-Woolseycast releases one more episode, then misses four months for an unannounced hiatus, returns with a 15 minutes apology and explanation that it’ll be two months before they get back to their twice-a-month-schedule, and then never be heard from again.

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What Has This Fictional Tea Cup Seen?


Back in the Like 40s Walt Kelly was drawing comic book versions of fairy tales and that’s great. He needed to do something like Pogo was getting under way. Plus it gave him excuses to draw stuff like this dragon that thought he was a cow and never knew otherwise until the story started. I don’t know if that’s an actual fairy tale or one he just made up, but either way, if you’re starting out with a dragon that doesn’t know it’s no cow you’re in good with me. I have no explanation for this.

Anyway I was looking at the art in “Thumbelisa,” the story that I had always thought was “Thumbelina” but I guess Walt Kelly had the script so who am I to argue? And it’s got a lot of classical comic-book fairy-tale art, with matronly mice and stuffy old moles who wear eyeglasses even though their eyes are always closed. And, not really saying anything, tea pots that have eyes and a mouth and are presumably characters in their own stories that we aren’t seeing. So here’s an example, with the tea pot I was thinking about on the right, in blue.

Mister Mole exiting the room, speaking to Dame Mouse. 'I see sweet Thumbelisa is speechless with joy. Now I can't stay for tea, but I'd like to show you something in the underground passageway between our two homes, Dame Mouse.' Dame Mouse follows, while Thumbelisa stands, head slumping between her shoulders. In the corner: a tea service set, with faces.
Also: does that fireplace have a face, or it it just a couple of plates sitting on a shelf? Also to the left of the fireplace is that a grandfather clock or one of those old-fashioned lollipop-shaped scales like you see in silent comedies and Pink Panther shorts about people figuring they have to lose ten pounds by next week?

And then I looked at the cups. I mean, really looked.

Cheery teapot sitting on the table, beside one furious-looking cup and one shocked-looking cup that vaguely resembles a Charles Schulz character.
“I don’t know what you’re so unhappy about,” says the saucer. “You’ve got it way better than me.”

That cup on the left. That is one furious tea cup. Even the pot’s cheer is doing nothing to tame it. That tea cup has clearly just finished a fifteen-minute shouting tirade covering every topic from the genocide we’re not talking about in Myanmar through sexism in the video game industry through they’re trying to remake The Munsters only they live in Brooklyn now through to they call everything a “reboot” even when it’s just “remaking” a show or movie through to what the flipping heck is wrong with Funky Winkerbean to whether anyone in power is going to be held responsible for the Republican party poisoning Flint, Michigan’s drinking water and now the other cup is completely unable to respond in any way except to look on with the face that Linus van Pelt has when he’s rendered speechless. What has happened to this cup that it’s so infuriated? What it in its life that it’s come to this point? It’s not lapsang souchong, is it? Because that at least would be an overreaction. But it’s something.

Also Seen While On The Road


Again no photograph because we were on the road, and while I wasn’t driving I wasn’t going to get my camera out in near enough time for this. But the tall highway sign promised the place was the “House Of Cigar”, just like that. Just as if it were a 1960s-style Chinese Restaurant that had somehow got things really quite wrong. Or as if it were yet another Little Pig harassed by the Big Bad Wolf, who huffed and who puffed and reduced his house to an enormous and unpleasant blue stench rolling through the village. There’s no way to know, I guess, except by standing next to that friend who’s always going on about how They’re just ruining fairy tales by taking out the graphic violence and horribly abusive behavior. Get in range of that friend for maybe fifteen minutes and they’d explain all about how there used to be, like, Fifteen Little Pigs before Disney’s cartoon suppressed a long folkloric tradition. Like, there’d be a house of cigars, and a house of ice, and a house of matchsticks, and a house of muffins, and a house of floppy old boots, and a house that’s just a bunch of guys with really long necks huddling in a circle, and on and on and they all got cut because it made the cartoon run too long and we don’t ever hear about them anymore. Anyway, if you find this friend and can get a report about the pig with the house of cigars thing I’d appreciate it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

So much for natural trading ceilings.

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Statistics Saturday: Eight Statistics Saturday Posts


To close out Me Week, how about some of lists of stuff that I liked?

And because the world is confusing and hurt-y, here’s one more. The Ingredients List For Libby’s 29 oz Can of 100% Pure Pumpkin brings a refreshing calm and sense of place to everything. I hope this helps.

Statistics Saturday: My Reactions To Reading The Grimm Fairy Tales


The big ones: the devil has a kindly grandmother? What did you THINK would happen when you wished your child would turn into a raven? And man, don't EVER be a mouse.
Thoughts inspired by reading Jack Zipes’s translation of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Seriously. As best I can tell, in all 259 tales collected there’s one mouse that makes it to the end of the story, and he’s a spiritual manifestation of the King’s dream-state and not a mouse in his own right anyway.

Brotherly … uhm … Something?


My family’s got a Birthdays Calendar shared through Google I Think, which is great because with all the marriages and children added to the family the past decade-plus I’ve realized I really don’t have a grip on the birthday of anyone who joined the family after 1979. The only thing that could make this a more useful service is if I ever remembered to look at it.

So, now, this is why I’ve found it suddenly alarming that I got a mail reporting my father had made an update on the birthday calendar, to wit, “CANCELLED @ Annually” for a couple weeks from now. It’s definitely not the birthdate of any of my siblings, so I have to conclude it’s the birthday of one of my siblings-in-law that’s been cancelled. I haven’t heard of any sources of particular tension in the family lately either, but it’s easy for me to miss that sort of thing either. Part of me feels like I should be warning them not to take any blacksmithing and shaving offers they get the next couple days, but part of me does feel like, well, my father must have pretty good reasons even if I haven’t heard them yet, right?

It’s so hard to know what to do when you get a mail like that.

One-Stop Jabbing


I’ve been reading Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm Fairy Tales, and that’s been compellingly odd because so many of the stories just are. One I just finished was about three brothers who apprenticed themselves to various masters and came back to compete for their father’s affection and his house by showing what they could do.

The one who’d gone with a barber showed how he could lather up and shave the beard of a hare while it kept running, which I have to admit is pretty good. The blacksmith showed how he could re-shoe a galloping horse without breaking its stride, which is awfully impressive although it seems needlessly hard. The one who went with the fencing master showed how he could strike drops of rain so swiftly and so alertly that he could stay perfectly dry in the middle of a downpour, which I didn’t even know was something fencing masters trained for.

Anyway, the brothers stayed together, sharing their father’s house and prospering together their whole lives, and now I’m stuck on what was that? I understand the logic of a one-stop place for barbering and blacksmithing. That just makes good sense. But fencing? I would imagine most of the work for fencing masters involves jabbing people with swords and you can’t just arrange for most people who need jabbing to come by the old barber-blacksmithing shop, not most of the time.

Although maybe I’m just not understanding the partnership. Maybe the fencing brother gets a contract to jab someone, and his brothers send out offers of free haircuts or metalworking until the contracted victim accepts, and comes over, and that’s how it works.

No, wait, that won’t work, because advertising wasn’t invented until 1918, when John R Brinkley needed to sell the idea of implanting goat testicles into human bodies. (You can see why that idea needed some promotional push to get going, especially among the goats.) There must be something that I’m not understanding. That would be foreign exchange markets: when a bank says it’s buying, say, euros with dollars, doesn’t that just mean it’s switching its own database entry that says “dollars” on their account to “euros”? How is this even doing anything, much less affecting the world economy?

Felix the Cat: Felix in Fairyland


For this Saturday morning I’d like to offer Pat Sullivan’s Felix in Fairyland. Felix the Cat is one of those cartoon stars who managed to become so famous in his prime that he’s been kind of remembered ever since even though there hasn’t really been a lot to remember him for in a lifetime. There’ve been revitals in the 1950s and 1990s, and a direct-to-video movie in 1991 that featured some staggeringly ugly computer animation, but I can’t say any of it since the 1930s has been all that interesting. Nevertheless, he’s still somewhat recognizable, and gets rated as among the top cartoon characters of all time, so, why not look to one of the originals?

This nine-minute short, as promised, sends Felix to a fairy-tale land after an act of kindness, and once there he stands up for Little Miss Muffet and then comes to the aid of the Little Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe. Cartoons would do a lot of fairy-tale fracturing and recombining in decades to come, and I’d be surprised if this were the first cartoon to do that, but it must be among the earlier ones since cartoons were only something like two decades old at this point.

The cartoon shows its age, in ways besides being silent. The worst of these ways is the pacing, as it takes its time establishing stuff and making sure everyone knows the setup. Felix doesn’t even get to Fairyland until two and a half minutes in. But the best of these ways is in the loose way that anything can be anything else, given a moment to change. Reality could be a very fluid thing before animation got very good at telling stories, and before sound and color added a kind of heavy reality to objects. When it was all black ink and white background, a spider could be a witch and Felix could climb a ladder of his own question marks with dreamy ease.

Thinking About Rifftrax’s Queen of Snow Bees


Like over twelve but under eighty million people nationwide I was at the Rifftrax Live movie theater thingy to see people who own cars and houses make fun of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which included this short feature Santa and the Snow Fairy Queen. The Rifftrax guys explained that the Snow Fairy Queen was from some Germanic folklore and she was the Queen of Snowflakes that Look Like Bees. I don’t dispute that there are snowflakes that look like bees, for sufficient definitions of look like and bees and snowflakes. It’s just the specificity of the queendom here that captures my imagination.

I admit I grew up with pretty pedestrian fairy tale habits, mostly getting what I could out of the Fractured Fairy Tale segments on Bullwinkle, which was mostly different ways they did Rumpelstiltskin, who in the proper original fairy tale just gets cheated, and lots and lots and lots of versions of Sleeping Beauty. But while I’d imagined that sure, you needed a fairy queen of snowflakes, the idea of partitioning them into (at minimum!) Snowflakes That Look Like Bees as well as Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees was something I just didn’t see coming. I don’t doubt that it comes from an actual fairy tale because who could possibly make that up? I mean, other than the person who made up the fairy tale?

Unless they got it from someone with a vested interest in the borders of the Fairy Queendom Of Snowflakes That Look Like Bees. If it was that, then, was it someone who was happy with the snowflake situation, or was it some anti-Looking-Like-Bee irredentist who was promulgating the propaganda campaign to establish a casus belli for an invasion from the Fairy Queendom of Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees? Or vice-versa? We’d need specialists to say.