The Stan Freberg Show: the twelfth show, with three major sketches

If you’re fascinated by early space race stuff you’ve probably seen Colonel John Stapp. His face anyway. He’s the guy there’s this black-and-white footage of a man being accelerated so fast that his face becomes this rippling, fluid shape. He was a physician and flight surgeon who became famous-in-the-right-circles for his work in understanding what acceleration (and deceleration) does to human bodies. He tested this, including on himself. In December 1954 he took a deceleration of 46.2 times the force of gravity. And lived through it, and thought human bodies could take even more than that. Much of what we understand about how to protect the human body from crashes traces to work he was part of.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No pre-theme sketch this time again. There’s also no introductory comments; they go right into a sketch.
00:55 Rocket Sled. Herman Busby (which I think is a new name here) interviews Leroy Straddle, hoping to bring reactions to Colonel Stapp’s rocket-sled experiment. Stapp’s admirably uninterested. The premise is that Straddle hopes to run alongside Stapp and the sketch commits to being about that. And then Busby’s spotted in Portland, Oregon. This initially made me think they were doing a follow-up to that UFO bit where Orville came from the Moon. I’m not sure what point Herman Busby serves in framing this sketch, except that it lets Straddle describe what he means to do in the face of Stapp’s indifference. But then why not write the sketch so Stapp is at least a bit interested?
05:10 Introductory Comments. Maybe? Freberg lays out the “agenda” for the show.
05:32 Billy May playing “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, a song I mostly know from Allan Sherman’s parody.
07:20 Faucet Repair. Sketch about the “average American husband” fixing a faucet. June Foray gets to play a nag. The faucet repair turns to actually making a wrench, a nice bit of expansion on the premise of following repair directions. There’s a weirdly big laugh at 09:33; maybe one of the performers had a great expression. It turns into Freberg trying to buy an electron microscope. There’s also a bit about the peculiarity of buying something cash. There were a lot of jokes and science fiction stories about credit cards in the 50s and it seems to reflect a cultural attitude about these exotic means of finance. The diversion from home-repair-going-awry to cash-as-a-threat-to-commerce seems weird and I’m not sure they didn’t stitch two half-written sketches together.
15:15 Peggy Taylor sings “I’ll Buy You The Moon” (I’m guessing).
18:26 Robert Tainter is back. Freberg introduces him by mentioning his research behind Paul Revere’s Ride, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and his grandfather at Custer’s Last Stand. There are several more Tainter sketches not mentioned here; I think his might be the most-done sketch in the show’s run. Tainter feigns not knowing Freberg. Tainter’s gone from exposes to something “even lower”, going into labor racketeering and demanding payment from Freberg for whatever he’s doing. I think this is riffing on Estes Kefauver’s televised investigations into organized crime. This was six years in the past by the time this episode aired, but they did make an impression.
23:09 Sh-boom. Adaptation — after several weeks of putting it off — of the comedy record. It’s also a commercial for Freberg’s album compiling a dozen comedy bits. The premise here is that a successful song has to be much less comprehensible. It does all get pretty raucous and fun to my ear. June Foray’s character is named Stella, I’m going ahead and guessing to make a Streetcar Named Desire joke.
27:50 Closing Remarks.
28:14 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. Let me know if you see one that isn’t.


Gasoline Alley Is 100 Years Old As Of Saturday

Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)

There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.

Barney Google: 'Snuffy's right, Mutt! We're almost a 100! Shouldn't we get a little limelight?' Snuffy Smith: 'You could throw us a bodacious wing-ding with lots o' fiddlin' an' banjer picking'!' Mutt: 'Uh ... ' Google: 'That's what we thought you'd say!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of November, 2018. I, ah, can’t include the actual centennial strip because I won’t see that until at least five hours after this essay posts, so, sorry? Anyway, this is a continuing part of the Gasoline Alley celebration at the Old Comics Home. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have interrupted the action to demand some attention for themselves and yes, it’s gotten to a pie fight.

The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.

But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.

It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.

And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.

It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.

Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.

And when I do recap the developments in Gasoline Alley I’ll put the reports on a page at this link. Thanks as ever for reading.

The Stan Freberg Show: The ninth episode, revisiting the Abominable Snowman

Confidential was a celebrity-expose magazine notorious in the 1950s. It got sued in 1957 in a trial that was enormous and long and filled with twists and turns. The trial was barely under way when this episode aired, the 8th of September, 1957. Drew Pearson wrote the longrunning syndicated Washington Merry-Go-Round column, which wasn’t just about publishing leaked documents, but it might have felt like that. Jack Anderson took over the column after Pearson died.

This is, I think, the first episode not to include an adaptation of some earlier Freberg comedy album. The second, if you count how the debut only used a few quick segments of various albums to set up Freberg’s credentials.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No introductory segment again.
00:53 Introductory Comments. Freberg asks if you know what this sound, the same one used several weeks in a row, is. It’s “a condensed version of the Confidential magazine trial.” Then there’s an introduction of a size-26 orange sneaker. Speaks of it as being like “being given half a garbage scow”. So he’s off to the Himalayas.
01:55 Abominable Snowman Revisited. He was last seen on the second episode. He hopes to be called Francis Abominoyamaya Snowman. He only has the one business card. Talks about the Halloween party, bobbing for mountain climbers, pinning the tail on the timberwolves. Music played on frozen snakes. The Snowman shares news of his engagement to Gladys, from Bangalore. She thinks Stan Freberg is cute and wants to keep him as pet. Freberg uses his putative friendship with Pat Boone to get safe.
09:02 Robert E Tainter. He’s back after two weeks away. He’s happy to talk about his past, except for 1943. He was in Germany, “getting my kicks for the Gestapo”. But he’s found something secret and confidential-not-the-magazine about the Revolutionary War, not even leaked to Drew Pearson. Dated January 1780 in New Jersey. Freberg worries about something alarming regarding Washington’s crossing of the Delaware; Tainter says Washington is “clean as the bomb”.
11:28 Washington Crossing the Delaware. Washington’s worried about his men in their cold and silly three-cornered hats. Lieutenant Wright can’t give his report well. “What’s a spicer?” “What’s a passer?” “What’s a ramser?” It’s not a spy; it’s Daws Butler as “Heinrich Flugelman”, getting ready to paint the historical moment. Flugelman insists he’s Swiss, “that way we won’t offend anyone”. Lieutenant Wright orders the ice cleaned up before the painting can be done. Flugelman paints the scene before Washington gets in the boat. It’s a long way to a silly turn of phrase and I was so busy trying to think why a private was named “Crossington” that I didn’t get to the punch line before the sketch did. This is the first Robert E Tainter-based bit that doesn’t lead up to how a historical figure demands to be paid for doing their heroic actions.
19:02 Peggy Taylor. They sing a duet about going to sleep. I can’t find the title; “I Can’t Sleep” or “The Go-To-Sleep Blues” seem like good plausible names for it.
22:10 The Honeyearthers. Framed as television from the Moon. Blend of jokes about the TV series and alien/science-y jokes. It really sounds like one of those Warner Brothers cartoons where they’re mice, I don’t think just because the actors are the same. Anyway, it’s a scene of Ralph and Alice at home, Ralph feeling Alice is upset, Ralph talking with Norton, and then Ralph and Alice watch an organ-grinder with a human dancing around.
27:54 Closing comments. Tap Dancing Around The World is still being organized. Freberg promises next time will include “Sh’Boom”, one of the records he’d released before. Freberg invites people to write for tickets. Better hurry; there’s only six episodes left.
28:22 Closing Music.

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

Spelling And Why Not

I want to talk about spelling as we know it. I don’t mean the kind of spelling where, like, you end up with a potion of eternal width or with magic shoes that won’t let the person wearing them stop dancing. I mean the kind where you end up with a word, by putting together word components. You know, consonants, eyes of a vowel, gizzard of gerund endings, that stuff. Please adjust your expectations accordingly and report back when they’re settled down.

Spelling as we know it began in 16th century France, where the regular consistent coding of words served as a way for persecuted Hugenots to acknowledge one another without detection by the King’s agents. With the Edict of Nantes temporarily resolving that whole fight about how much everybody loved God more, the need for the secrecy faded. So the idea went looking for more exciting spots. It spread first to Holland. Then to Poland, where it got lost and ended up back in Holland. Next time around it set out for Italy, but misunderstood the directions through the Swiss Alps and ended up right back in Holland. Having had enough of ending up in Holland, spelling jumped into the English Channel and swam furiously west. Fourteen days later it washed up in Holland, where it threw up its arms and said, “Fine, then,” and got all sullen.

Spelling might have remained in the United Provinces forever except for the Great Fire of London of 1666. Samuel Pepys, renowned for his diaries and how fun it is to say his name and probably other stuff I’m guessing, realized the use of regular, consistent spellings during this disaster. His first warning of the fire came from a young boy of laddish age who ran past yelling out, “Taike kare! Taykke kaire! A graette Fyren cowmes here frum Puddenge-Lain!” Pepys had no idea what the kid was talking about. He asked the kid to repeat it, and it didn’t get much better. The child added, “Rayce the allarum! Phire raigges throo the Citty!” This left Pepys feeling awkward. So he let the child go and figured if it was all that important he’d hear about it.

The still-smoldering Pepys figured nobody needed that kind of brush with death. So he figured maybe the city could be built fireproof. Also maybe write things down in consistent ways so it doesn’t take four tries to understand people. His friend John Evelyn considered this series of events, pointing out that if the child had said all this, the spelling shouldn’t matter. But why would the child have written out such a message about the Fire when he was running around and talking to people about it? Pepys eloquently shoved his friend into the Tyburn river. Evelyn conceded the point.

And so consistent spelling caught on in English. It did well, thanks to early breakthroughs like “silent E” and “n-apostrophe-t” charming the population with their elegant whimsy. “Onk” was also a big selling point. We still live in a world where it would be fun to see many people get a bonk on some appropriate bonk-absorbing part of their person. For a while there was a market in switching out “ks” for “x”, or vice-versa, but that’s gotten to be seen as old-fashioned. And don’t get me started on how you can’t just write “connexion” anymore without being accused of cheating. Also everybody follows the “q is followed by a u” rule, but they don’t understand it. It’s a pun. Once you see it, you’ll never un-see it. I hope to see it myself someday.

This is not to say that spelling in English is perfectly consistent. It couldn’t be, not given the need of aristocracy to show itself as better than real people. Thus would Spelling Book authors compose all sorts of new and exotic letter patterns. This led to many never-before-suspected innovations, like “hiccough” or “untowardsmanship”. Long after the fad for ostentatiousnessocity had passed, we were left with the remains. Most of the worst offenders slid out of the English language, owing to foreign tourists taking oddities home with them. And the rest are a reminder of how far we have come, or have yet to go, or have ended up where we are. Granted this describes many things, but only because they are like that.

The Stan Freberg Show: the seventh episode, with The Lone Analyst and more spoofs

This episode first aired the 25th of August, 1957. Yes, yes, it’s Rogers and Hart’s song.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Array of sound effects for the third week running; this time, it’s the outcome of the Floyd Patterson/Pete Rademacher fight. That fight happened the 22nd of August, in Seattle, and Patterson won.
00:26 Opening Music.
01:13 Introduction. Newspaper clipping. Dr Hugo Gunk claims crime could be eliminated if we put as much money into psychology as we do into police. Just the premise is a laugh line, which is a bit depressing to consider. I don’t know whether this was based on something actually in the news; “Hugo Gunk” is a suspiciously silly-but-not-quite-funny name.
02:07 The Lone Analyst. Spoof built on the analysts-rather-than-police premise. It’s set in the town of New Roces, New Mexico. This is (of course) a very close spoof of The Lone Ranger‘s sound, and its plot beats. There’s side references to other westerns, notably Have Gun, Will Travel. (The Lone Ranger was unmistakably a kid’s show; Have Gun, Will Travel a grown-up’s.) The Lone Analyst has the saddle in these parts that opens out into a couch. There’s a nice Wile E Coyote style gag about “painting a shortcut on those rocks”. It’s got a man who thinks he’s a chicken and, to extend the joke, a chicken who thinks he’s a horse. And the good solid line, “I am not a Great Dane. I am Grandpa Snider.”
11:01 Francois Poulet is back, and playing the nose flute. Comic interview with a Frenchman who speaks Hawaiian. Billy Mays is able to talk with him, converting Hawaiian to groovy-musician. Then an actual song, until his nose is caught in the flute. Very Muppet-ready sketch.
14:25 Peggy Taylor. Follow-up joke about nose flautists sneezing. Then she sings “Dancing On the Ceiling”. Strange, very different Lionel Richie cover.
17:15 There You Are. Reenactment of the Driving of the Golden Spike. Very different from Robert E Tainter’s Great Moments in History bits. Very precise spoof of CBS/CBS News’s You Are There, which presented how network news might have covered historic events. Cute bit where the story behind the pick of who gets chosen to drive the last spike is frightfully mundane. Last-minute hold-up as they’re two feet short. “We could go back to Chicago and push a little.” The trains meet. President Grant says “it appears to me they should’ve laid two tracks”. As a kid I was always bothered there was just the one track too.
23:50 The Banana Boat Song. Adaptation of the comedy record he’d already published. Features that bongo player from a couple weeks ago who found the show to be loud.
27:50 Closing Remarks. Promises next week the content of this week. Next week: St George and the Dragonet.
28:13 Closing Music.

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

Everything There Is To Say In Explaining How Computer Graphics Work

This office has received a number of letters asking it to explain computer graphics. “What about computer graphics,” they’ll say. “Explain yourself, if you are a computer graphics. If you are not a computer graphics, then why or why not?” It’s a bit stressful. I had thought we were to take a multiple choice question. “But,” reads one follow-up letter, “an essay answer is a multiple choice; there are just a Borgesian infinitude of possible answers.” Who among us would dispute this charge?

The first images produced by computers were by our standards low-resolution affairs. The earliest known images used the technologies of old-time radio, or as they knew it in the old times, “time radio”. In this the computer would just describe what the image should be, trusting to the “theatre of the mind” to fill in the details. “It’s a calendar for February 1949, but with Snoopy beside it,” would come the voice from the warm glowing hearth of a Harvard Mk II. The listener could fill in all the perfect little details of which days of the week were in February, and which Februaries were in 1949, and what this Snoopy fellow was all about. It extended naturally to more serious applications. “Here’s a wireframe cube rotating as if it were three-dimensional,” UNIVAC famously reported on Election Night, 1952. It was so plausible that critics came to ask whether the demonstration was rigged. It was not, precisely, but UNIVAC was warned ahead of time that the topic of shapes in dimensions would come up.

The first digital images were formed by taking photographs of the pointer fingers of the lead programmers and aiming them in different directions. This finger was chosen for the ease of indexing. It was a great format for pictures of fingers. It was also decent, if you had a big enough screen, to make for pictures of strange-colored grasses. Maybe the fur of some animal that had a lot of jointed fur with the occasional fingernail. So resolution was a bit of a problem.

Everyone understood this to be a transitional phase, just something to prove out the technology that would let them use numbers instead. Well, everybody but Ray, but you know what he’s like. Which numbers were a great debate. 1 was an obvious choice, since it already looked so much like a finger. It would need almost no new code worth mentioning, especially if you used a font that was easy on the serifs. The other number, though? That took a lot of fighting. 0 seems, today, to be the obvious choice. But a good argument was made for -1, on the grounds that then they could keep using fingers for both the 1 and the – sign. The dispute continued until a standard was finally agreed to, last year, in which everyone uses a 3 and a 4. The argument took some weird turns. Vestiges of the old system remain in how computer systems do not speak exactly of a three, but rather of a “quarter-dozen”, or “quatre-vingt” as they say in French, incorrectly.

A fascinating variation developed in the 1960s when research indicated there were maybe six things we needed a computer to show anyway. So why not set up a computer with a filmstrip containing six or, for deluxe systems, seven images, and simply have it show whatever seemed most relevant? People were indeed happy with this, especially if they got to work the projector, and doubly so if they were allowed to make a “beep” noise whenever it was time to move to the next slide. These slides were: Abraham Lincoln, a brontosaurus, a Mercator projection map of the world, a diagram of the heart, Snoopy, the Pioneer 4 space probe, and in the deluxe system, Times Square.

This is still at heart how computer images work. A modern computer image is a gathering of millions of colors, represented. Admittedly, some of the colors get reused. But to keep all these sorted out and in the right locations we have to simplify some. A classic organization or “compression” scheme is to break the original image up into millions of pieces, then individually wrap each piece in a protective medium, and then forget where they were. This is known as a “lossy” image format. When called on to show the image, the computer panics and puts together what it can using the same original seven base images, plus — since 1989 — that picture of astronaut Bruce McCandless spacewalking using his cool rocket backpack. There are also “lossless” image formats, but these are annoying to use because every time you do beat them in a game they insist that it was best-three-of-five, or best-four-of-seven, or best five-of-nine, and on and on until you give up.

Further questions to this office may be sent in care of this office at this address. Thank you.

The Stan Freberg Show: the sixth show, with comic strips

There’s three musical pieces this week’s show. Many of Freberg’s comedic records before the show began were musical riffs. It’s natural the show would use that tradition. This episode first aired the 18th of August, 1957.

And here’s the rundown.

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Another audio joke; we’re told was the theme song from I Was A Teenage Werewolf. It sounded like last week, when they just played the whole show backwards at high speed.
00:30 Opening theme.
01:20 Introduction. The tap-dancing-around-the-world bit promised last week was postponed. And there’s a guest, a Mr Tweedly from the Citizens Radio Committee. He’s there to buzz anything objectionable that’s et onto the air.
03:30 Elderly Man River. I had thought this adapted a comedy record. It looks like it’s the other way around, and this sketch was released as a single. The premise is put out early: Tweedly is there to stop anything offensive or inappropriate for broadcast. Every comedian worth something has stories about fighting the network or the sponsor’s censors. Wanting to take the edge off “old” or insisting on careful enunciation of words like “nothing” feels like a fight Freberg (or his writers) actually went through. Similarly having to substitute “sweat”.
06:40 Robert E Tainter. He got out of jail (mentioned last week) just this morning. He got the celebrity-scandal-sheets to help him out. It’s interesting to me that the celebrity-scandal-sheets of 1957 are completely different from the ones of thirty years later. But the ones of 1987, like the National Enquirer, are still with us thirty years after that. Not sure what happened there.
08:40 Great Moments In History. As with the last two times, the figure renowned in poem insists on being paid before doing the heroic thing. This time the character is Giocante Casabianca, from a poem celebrating an incident during the Battle of the Nile (1798) that was just leaving the canon of things anybody might have heard of.
09:50 Peggy Taylor. A bit of talk about pets, including Freberg suggesting that while Taylor kept rabbits, “the rabbits raised themselves”. I’ve used the same line about the guinea pigs I had as a kid and I don’t know whether I adopted it from Freberg. Tweedly reappears around all this talk that might imply sex. Taylor sings “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody,” a song from 1918 so that “Old Man River” is not the oldest song in the show. (Judy Garland and Jerry Lewis had published versions of it in 1955 and 1956, so the song was at least in the air.)
13:20 Face The Funnies. Panel discussion about the comics page. The name of the host — “Fullbrook Mason” — puts me in mind of Mason Gross, one of those 1950s intellectuals who could stay respectable despite being a judge for quiz shows and other disreputable bits of pop culture. It’s a laugh line that someone might have studied Tarzan’s influence on 20th-century culture. It’s interesting to me all the strips discussed are adventure-continuity strips; nobody wants to talk about humor strips. The jokes are kind of what you’d get from any good slightly-snarky nerd discussion about the funnies, like whether Orphan Annie owns a second dress. Speculations about whether a given Dick Tracy character was guilty or not was, if not something people actually did, at least something characters in radio comedies did.
22:10 The Rock Island Line. And this one is an adaptation of an already-existing comedy album. That one (and the sketch) reused Freberg’s premise of the singer trying to get through a song and being nagged into distraction by a skeptical eavesdropper.
27:20 Closing remarks. Freberg can’t describe what next week’s show will be.
28:00 Closing theme.

See this and other recaps of The Stan Freberg Show at this link.

On This Date

  • 1452. The Byzantium Area Public Library System issues its final notice to the Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos that he has accrued $4.00 in fines on a copy of So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? and if he does not return the book and the fine promptly they will turn matters over to Mehmed II’s collection agency.
  • 1492. Christopher Columbus, sailing three ships whose names were lost to history, arrives on the shores of the Guangdong area of China. The Chinese people, sensing both trouble and gullibility, spin a tale that this is actually the West Indies, thousands of miles east of where anybody wanted to be. They are delighted to find that the idea catches on, and there are no follow-on consequences that anyone has any reason to regret. The ship names were later found by history, in the junk drawer next to four pens that don’t work.
  • 1582. Nothing happens. People in Italy and Spain feel a great sense of unease. Mobs of people resolve to figure out just what’s going on when they wake up the next day, but nothing happens then either.
  • 1664. Saturn enters the house of Aries. Aries is not present. Saturn takes the chances to playfully rearrange the dishes, leaving the coffee mugs on the wrong side of the cabinet. Saturn was all set to sneak out undetected, but gave in to the temptation to go through Aries’s refrigerator and turn all the condiment bottles so the labels face the back. Aries finally arrives home, and they have an argument, and Aries doesn’t forgive Saturn for over two hundred years and a month.
  • 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte announces he intends to build a stone-arch bridge that encircles the world. His subordinates acclaim this as a bold, challenging accomplishment that will prove French greatness to the world for centuries to come. Napoleon then announces he’ll make the problem less challenging by building it as a ring just under a kilometer from the North Pole, a great distance farther north than anyone has ever been, never mind where any stone bridges have been. His subordinates nod slowly but agree this will also capture the imaginations of history, especially when they point out how hard it is to get construction-great stone up to the North Pole. Napoleon then says, you know, the Earth is round, and his subordinates ask where this is going now. He says that since it is, you could say there’s an axis through any points on the Earth. So why not declare there’s an imperial North Pole that pokes its way through the suburbs of Paris, with the actual North Pole offset from that by about 31 degrees of latitude, and build the arch around that. This leaves his subordinates pretty sure he’s messing with them. They’re honestly relieved to hear the British are attacking something, anything, at this point.
  • 1868. Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia, announces his intention to unify the states of North and South Dakota. He is finally convinced by his wife that he is getting way ahead of himself.
  • 1903. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford, racing in a car of his own design, crosses the finish line to win the New York City-to-San Francisco Driving Contest of 1902.
  • 1959. Argentina and Japan, following the discovery in June that they had never signed a peace treaty after the Crimean War, take the chance to sign one now. The purely ceremonial affair in Paris is dignified and pleasant and quite merry. It’s only spoiled near the end when a nosey Art Buchwald asks whether either of the nations had anything to do with the Crimean War in the first place. He is locked into a broom closet.
  • 1978. The first time that otters are seated in the Italian parliament. This follows elections which many say reflect a public desire to check the influence of fish in the lower house. Their first speeches on the floor are acclaimed by the press as “damp”.
  • 1996. I publish to Usenet my thesis that in the well-worn prank, the person who insists on seeing that the dictionary does indeed contain the word “gullible” is not displaying the gullibility implicit in the premise because it is an act of skepticism to insist on proving whether a possible-but-unlikely state is true, and am immediately showered with acclaim and recognition for how I am completely right and everyone arguing this point with me any further is wrong and stupid and foolish and a bad person.
  • 2015. The Byzantium Area Public Library System apologizes, saying it found that So You Think Invading the Balkans Will Make You Happy Now, Do You? had been filed wrong. It was on the shelf right next to Art Buchwald all this time and they were wrong to send the matter to collections. Whoops!

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? July – September 2018.

In the headers of these What’s Going On In posts I like to include a link to my Reading the Comics posts. Those are on my mathematics blog, and use comics to discuss mathematics themes. I always have one on Sunday. But not this Sunday! This month I’m host to the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival, and so I hope you’ll read it too.

Meanwhile, if you just want the latest in news about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks for reading! If it’s later than about December 2018 I should have a more up-to-date recap, all going well. It, and any other relevant Prince Valiant posts, will be at this link.

Prince Valiant.

8 July – 30 September 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant some shocking news had come to light. It turns out Prince Valiant happens around the time of the Emperor Justinian’s reign. We know this because Justinian had dispatched one General Vialius to take over the Misty Isles. He was to do this through the treacherous and impoverished Senator Krios. This comes on the heels of the revelation-to-me that Prince Valiant’s based on the Misty Isles somewhere in the Mediterranean. At least these days.

On a secluded island Krios meets with General Vialius. The trade is easy enough. Krios had arranged the murder of a Norse trader. This was to stir up anti-foreigner sentiment that (Byzantine) Rome could exploit. But Vialius withholds the gold payment promised. Krios was supposed to supply a Norse hostage, but he had killed the only one on hand. Vialius wants to call the deal off. Krios offers his own son Antero as substitute hostage.

Upon learning that Krios cannot deliver a Norse raider as a hostage, an angry Vitalius snaps to his men: 'We no longer have business here! We leave!' 'Wait,' cries Krios, desperate to secure the patronage of the Emperor Justinian. 'Hear me out --- Justinian stands to profit much from your patience! His empire grows deeper in debt with every campaign he throws against the Vandals! If Justinian helps me gain control of the Misty Isles' tremendous trade economy, his share of all that trade will enrich his coffers beyond belief!' Vitalius sneers. 'Fine words, Krios --- you come to us driven to poverty by your gambling habits, and now you gamble that I am a fool. What, in good faith, can you offer us as a guarantee now?' Krios gestures grandly to Antero: 'I offer you the most secure guarantee possible - my own beloved son, Antero, as hostage!' This is the second child that Krios has betrayed in one day. But Antero does not react as expected - he throws his head back and laughs!
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of July, 2018. The other child betrayed that day was described in the previous What’s Going On In Prince Valiant. He tried to insist his daughter Andrina was behind the murder of the Norse trader Ingolf. Antero pleaded to the Queen for the chance to protect his sister and her sick but not guilty mind.

Antero laughs this off. He points to Princess Valeta and the guard who’ve been watching all this treason going down. The Queen’s men declare how now that there’s incontrovertible proof of Krios’s treachery his place in political life is ended. Don’t you love a sweet fantasy like that? Valeta confronts Vitalius in what you’d have to figure is a pretty awkward conversation. But she offers that if they get out of there, everyone can pretend it all never happened. This sounds good to Vitalius, who doesn’t know his boats are going to be lost to the wine-dark sea, in a battle with Norse raiders. He and his whole mission will disappear to ironic history. Knowing how that turns out makes it awkward that I think he made the right choice.

Not making the right choice, yet again: Krios. When Vitalius refuses to take him along, he tries to start a battle and flee in the chaos. Antero grabs and holds his father, at least until brother Drakon spears him in the back. Drakon in turn is shot by Ittu, a woman … uh … I lost track where she’s from. I think she’s one of the attendants of Andrina, Krios’s daughter and the only one of the siblings to survive the night. Krios is able to flee in the chaos, but what good is that going to do him, really?

Krios has fled and Drakon is dead! The surviving soldiers of House Krios despondently throw down their weapons before Valeta's Royal Guards. Valeta and the Senators Charis and Methodios search the dark horizon to see Krios's sail slipping away. 'Bah!' grumbles Charis. 'And our boat lies on the far side of this isle.' 'Don't fret about father,' a soft voice gasps behind them. 'He won't be back.' It is Antero, who lies horribly wounded, barely clinging to life. 'He is finished. He was a bad gambler who lost the family fortunes and has now destroyed everything else in his treasonous bid to claim power. Know that it was he who ordered Drakon to slay the suspicious Ingolf, as well as the two servants used to incriminate the Norseman. It was all to cover and aid his plot. But, you know, he really did hate foreigners ... and now he will meet his doom in some foreign land ... ha ... ' Antero breathes his last.
Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 2nd of September, 2018. … Wait, hang on, so both Valeta’s group had their boats on the far side of the isle, and Vialius’s soldiers left their boats on the far side of the isle? … We either glided right past a pretty awkward scene where the lookouts blew their jobs or this is a boomerang-shaped isle and Krios just got away from the junction at the center.

And so the story moves toward conclusions. Valeta’s feted as a hero. Zulfa and Ittu, who did much to support the investigation and downfall of Krios, get saluted. Drakon gets his corpse dragged through the streets. Antero gets some recognition; through this story, he’s been the one person in Krios’s party to insist on stopping. Now there’s just Andrina to take care of. She’s angry with Zulfa for being part of the whole chain of events that got Antero killed. But Antero bequeathed his property to Zulfa. She proposes to Andrina that her brother wished they would be friends. She’s willing to try.

The “Next” tag for the 30th of September promises “The Return”. There’s an obvious person this could mean. Prince Valiant hasn’t been in this story, or this strip, since about February. He’s been busy coming back from Kazhakstan the long way, by river, building a long series of rafts that immediately capsize. Has he got back home? Has all waterway navigation in central Asia become impossible as a vast logjam of Valiant’s rafts blockades all the rivers? I don’t know. We’ll see.

Next Week!

Nice thing about Prince Valiant is that, as a weekly strip, there’s only so much plot it can have. Next week we go to the opposite end: Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. Come see how close I come to deadline in getting all the story developments written down!

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!

The Stan Freberg Show: The Third Episode, when some running gags start

My experience of last week suggests that I’ve got the hang of linking to files that aren’t the first in an collection. Please say something if my posting here today, or any future ones, go wrong.

Here’s the rundown for the show this week. I haven’t yet decided whether this is better organized as a list, as a table, or some other syntactic scheme. If you have a thought how to organize this information, what the heck, let me know. Maybe I can work it.

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. No riff on an old record; instead, it’s a woman demanding to speak her peace. This instead teases one of the coming sketches.
00:22 Opening Music. They have a mock advertiser this week, “Screen Finders Swim Fins”. Might be a teaser for the seal and the diving jokes later on. I suspect “Screen Finders” is a joke about something contemporary, but I don’t know what.
01:25 Introduction. Stan Freberg gets a smattering of applause and investigates the matter. He has an audience of seals and if the Funday Pawpet Show has never used that joke, then the world makes even less than no sense.
02:40 Interlude. The start of a running sketch for this week, as a man and woman listening to the show comment on it. He’s unimpressed; she thinks the trouble is he keeps missing all the setups.
03:50 Miss Universe Contest. Zuzu, Miss Jupiter, is upset. An alien wanting to enter is probably the first sketch to think of once you’ve decided to do a Miss Universe sketch. It’s set up in a way that could only work on radio, though, as Freberg keeps unspooling more bits of Zuzu’s anatomy. I do like Zuzu’s confident claim, “Some girls got curly antennas, other girls got cute suction cups. I got shapely wheels.”
06:08 Skin Divers Mandolin Club at Laguna Beach. The absurdist-club setup feels like a Bob and Ray premise to me. It’s another of those pieces built by radio’s techniques: declaring a thing exists and tossing in some special effects.
09:55 Music. Peggy Taylor sings “Cheek to Cheek”.
13:10 Leroy Straddle interviews Mrs Prill. I thought this was the woman who’d been carving a 400-foot Mary Margaret McBride statue last week but I … guess not? She represents the Upwards and Onwards Girls and gets into a lot of talk about tree frogs and birds in one of those nightmare arguments where one party doesn’t know what the dispute is.
17:24 The Zazzalov Family. Radio acrobats. Which is another bit about how you can do anything on radio by claiming you did it and having a sound effect. There’s a line about how the Zazzalov Family was Swiss. Freberg explains that “this way we don’t offend anyone”. So an eternal complaint among creative types is how the censor barely lets them do anything. And fair enough. But to get specific complaints. A lot of what network censors warned was to not needlessly insult races or nationalities. It’s hard to call that a bad scripting note. If the joke of making foreigners Swiss was a riff on the arbitrariness of specifying the ethnicities of characters where it’s not needed, then it works. If the joke was, oh gosh you can’t even laugh at the Romani anymore, then I’m not comfortable.
18:24 Interlude. That couple returns to discuss what they think of the show.
19:20 Robert E Tainter, historical researcher. Calls back to the Barbara Fritchie sketch last week and sets up the historical spoof. I’m not comfortable with the premise that he’s out to find the clay in every hero’s feet. I understand thinking it’s funny to suppose these historians who go about deflating historical mythologies are doing it to be spoilsports. But I’m also the sort of person who thinks we’re better off appreciating where even the greatest figures were screwed up, lost, and struggling on as best they could.
21:40 General Custer’s Scout. So one old-time radio drama I heard once had a life insurance company as sponsor. Their advertisement pitched that you should use the sort of foresight as General Custer and buy insurance with them. Have to say, there’s a lot of social attitudes that have changed from the 50s, but Custer-as-a-man-of-foresight? That’s a big swing. (And, yes, his end is more complicated than modern snarking about it suggests.) Anyway, sick jokes about how the Battle of the Little Bighorn developed have probably always been a solid premise. Here, we get a scout figuring to dig out before stuff gets really bad.
26:15 Robert E Tainter again. Connecting the runaway scout to Tainter with a pretty easy punch line.
27:15 Closing Remarks. I had wondered how the Incident at Los Voraces sketch was received at the time. If Freberg’s to be trusted here, pretty well, at least by the sorts of people who write in letters. He announces plans for another Fable of that kind. If my recollection from last time I listened through these shows holds up, they never quite get to one, at least not one as cutting as this.
27:45 Closing Music.
28:20 Interlude. Last words from that couple who’ve been listening to the show.

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

I Want To Clarify What I Meant About 1831

When I wrote yesterday “you know what it was like in 1831” I may have confused people. I mean confused in ways I didn’t mean. I don’t mean you know from personal experience what it was like in 1831. I mean you know because you’ve asked around. Yes, I assume you occasionally ask people of your acquaintance, “Hey, what was it like in 1831?” and keep on the topic until they give you a satisfactory answer. It’s a natural curiosity and basic involvement with the world around us. By 1831 I mean the year, like you’d expect.

Yes, I Am Aware Of The Historical Irony

I am not perfectly sure whether I’ve read The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, a local history published in 1975 and written by Ford Stevens Ceasar, before. I recently got it from a used book store, yes. And it seems like the sort of thing I might have borrowed from the library, since I have tried to learn some of the local history of my new home. I can’t go trading forever on stuff like how much of New Jersey’s 19th-century state government was funded by the Joint Companies, who monopolized railroad and canal travel across the Garden State. I couldn’t even do that when I lived in New Jersey. Still, I’m stuck on a couple of points:

  • Wait, his last name was “Ceasar”? Not “Caesar”? Are you sure, book? I mean, really, really positive? Because you put that on the cover and on the author bio on the jacket’s back flap and I mean … oh, it looks like he signed the front page and he spells it “Ceasar” there and … I mean, he can’t be spelling his own name wrong? Right?
  • Ingham County, which contains most of Lansing, was named for Samuel Ingham, Andrew Jackson’s Treasury Secretary. Lansing also extends into Eaton County, named for John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct. That is the John Eaton of the Petticoat Affair. I know, isn’t that great? Anyway Ingham and Eaton hated each other, Ingham even claiming that Easton tried to have him murdered, a charge which Ingham substantiated by fleeing to Baltimore. Kind of an ambiguous argument, I think, but you know what it was like in 1831. Anyway, wow, I’m living in a place connected very loosely to Peggy Eaton. This excitement. This. This is why I’m not a popular humor blogger.
  • Number of words used to explain how Malcolm X was a drug-dealer and numbers-runner and burglar and totally lied when he said his family home in Lansing was burned down by white men and that a white guy shoved his father into a trolley car’s path, and the official records don’t say white guys did anything particular to his father or his home: 162.
  • The first (Western) doctor known to live in the county was named Valorous Meeker. The town he lived in was called Meekersville, until at the prompting of a Doctor A J Cornell it was renamed for a family named Leslie that lived in eastern New York State. I think there’s a story not covered here.
  • Number of words used to explain the Lansing General Strike of 1937: 146, of which 32 were giving the names and credentials of some academics who wrote about it for the journal Michigan History 28 years later.
  • Oh wait, OK, I guess the township was called Leslie to start with and the village Meekersville until they stopped calling it that and … look, just, what did Cornell have to do with this? Why did he go messing up a decent enough name? And how did they not start out by calling the town Valorous, anyway?
  • Number of words used to explain the fallen streetlamp next door, which isn’t attracting so many sightseers as it used to, but which they have got the traffic cones both set level on the ground again for: none, which is fair enough since the lamppost fell over 43 years after the book was published. Really it’s unfair to expect them to have any words about it at all.
  • Fallen lamp post with two traffic cones, both upright, flanking it.
    I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t the grass look particularly verdant right now? And that’s because the morning of this photograph, we got all the rain we were supposed to get for the whole month before, all at once, in about two hours’ work, and the ground really shows it. I’m assuming “verdant” is the word I want there.
  • So the chapter about the city airport starts with a page about this announcement made the 10th of June, 1921, about how the Michigan Aero service of Lansing would start running sightseeing tours on the 25th, and even have a parachute drop above the Pine Lake amusement park and everything, and then it says “Monday’s paper indicated the airplane failed to show up, and the Michigan Catering Company was embarrassed”. Which is the first that anyone mentioned the Michigan Catering Company in this anecdote at all. It’s not even clear we should have expected them to have anything to do with it. It sounds like the Michigan Catering Company was just standing nearby when they noticed there wasn’t an airplane and started to blush. I understand, I’m a little like that myself. I just wouldn’t expect a county historian to be writing about that embarrassment 55 years later, which just makes it all the worse somehow. You know?

Anyway, sorry, I’m still hung up on Ceasar with an a-e. And yes, I have about a 45% chance of someone hearing my name going on to spell it correctly. And somehow that percentage is declining as fast food workers want a name for my order and they don’t know what to do with “Joseph”. And it’s crazy for me, a person who lives with recognizing my name being called out more for the weird little awkward pause people make before attempting it, than actually hearing it, to think someone else hasn’t got their name right. Still.

Note about methodology: in counting the number of words used to explain stuff I have counted repeated uses of a word, such as “the”, separately, since there are only a certain number of ways to say whatever it is exactly the word “the” means and that’s, like, one, maybe two if you’re doing eye-dialect and can write th’ instead.

Everything There Is To Say About The History Of Tying Shoes

There’s a good chance you don’t think much about the history of tying shoes. I don’t blame you. There are so many other things to think about. There’s that odd smell of burning plastic every time you walk past the bathroom between 9 and 10 pm and no other time of day. There’s what to do about the seam line on Saturn’s totally natural “moon” Iapetus. There’s why all those people are setting up a circus tent in your backyard without even asking. But still, tying shoes is something you could be thinking about, and aren’t.

For over 60 percent of human history there wasn’t any tying of shoes. There were many reasons for this. One was that there weren’t shoes. People in these ancient times might talk about tying shoes. But they were laughed down as impractical dreamers. Such is the fate of everyone who sees an obvious problem and fixes it a little too early. Shoes were invented in 1817, after everyone took a good hard look at how lousy the previous year had been on feet. The French Academy offered prizes to anyone who could invent a practical way to cover the foot. And teams across Europe and Asia did, by the simple process of covering it. The invention was a great success and by 1820 everyone agreed they should have been doing this for hundreds of years.

Still, these early shoes were not easy to put on or take off. To get a secure fit, one had to start with a couple pieces of shoe material. Or, as they called it in the trade, “shoeterial”. Then set your foot in the middle of that, take needle and thread, and stitch the shoeterial closed around your foot. Finishing this could take until near enough bedtime. And then there was nothing to do but un-sew it all. This was quicker, as you could use one of those sewing tools you never quite get the name of, but that you remember grandmom being comfortable with. It could undo the stitching in like no time.

So as happy as everyone was with shoes, they also figured, there’s some better way. Union armies experimented during the United States’s Civil War with welding shoes onto soldiers. This resulted in a great many burned ankles, and even more slugged welders. Rivets were tried in Scotland. But this got nowhere fast. The striking action of putting the rivets would cause the iron slugs to become magnetized. So people would walk naturally toward magnetic north, and stop at the shoreline, which isn’t all that far away in Scotland. They would have got farther if the rivets had started in southern England, but not all that much farther. Now, if they had started in Guatemala, that could have got really far. But they didn’t, and that’s just the history we have to live with.

The breakthrough came in 1878, in the Ottoman Empire. One shoemaker for the Sultan said, “What if we punched parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then threaded a strong enough string to tie them temporarily together?” Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When the hole-punching turned out to be a great success he nodded as if that was what he intended all along. But he still ordered an investigation into what was going on with shoes, just in case.

The first attempts at tying used separate laces and loops with each pair of holes. This took forever but you know the late Victorian era and how everything had to be way too decorative for its own good. We’re lucky the shoelaces didn’t come with doilies attached. For all I know they did. To save time people tried lacing only the one pair of holes they liked best, but then their toes would pop out the empty space between the laces. And you did not want to be a late Victorian with exposed toes. Not given the street-cleaning standards of the day, which held that if the street were clean it was jolly well time to tip over some coal sludge and even more unmentionable things.

So the compensation was to try putting the lace through enough holes that toes wouldn’t pop out, but not so many holes that it was too bothersome. and so by 1889, on a Tuesday, we finally had shoes and shoelaces tied in ways that we would recognize even today, on a Friday.

Anyway that’s how I hear. I wear loafers myself.

No, I’m still not learning about the history of socks.

Fairy Tales Are Why I Can’t Get Anything Done Today

I’m sorry, but I’m coping with what I learned from looking up the nursery rhyme “The Gingerbread Man” on Wikipedia. Apparently the story was first written down in 1875, in the Saint Nicholas Magazine. And its teller claimed they got it from a “girl from Maine”. What the heck? A bit of obvious silly nonsense like this is supposed to come from, like, some snarky pamphlet published during the English Civil War. And folklorists are supposed to not be perfectly sure what it all means, but they think it’s all about mocking John Pym’s management of the Providence Island Company or something. But this? This!

Hold on. Wait. That John Pym thing I completely made up and yet it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it would kind of fit all the metaphors and see? This is why I have an enthusiastic readership of dozen of people. I know, I can’t help myself. I have the idea that somewhere out there are people who want to hear snide jokes referring to the English Parliament of 1642 and maybe there are. And maybe they’re going to just explode in joy when they hear a joke that isn’t completely far off. Big deal. There’s like twenty of them and they’ve already made all the John Pym jokes they need.

Anyway. Back to what primarily has me a quivering ball of impotent rage (non-US-politics division). “The Gingerbread Man” only being first published in 1875. I mean, for comparison, the first time “The Gingerbread Man” was written down, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was already ten years old. P T Barnum’s American Museum had been built, burned down, been rebuilt, and been re-burned-down. L Frank Baum was barely 24 years away from writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble thinking of another circa-1875 cultural touchstone since I’m informed that 19th century superclown Dan Rice somehow does not qualify as known to anybody? Oh, here we go. Charles Dickens was already dead by then, and only after that does this story about a magic cookie running around teasing people about outrunning them gets written down?

You don’t suppose that could be causal, do you? “I hear Dickens died! Guess I’ll wait five years and then dash out that bit I was thinking of a gingerbread boy who runs off, but still gets eaten.”

Oh also apparently in the earliest versions the Gingerbread Man doesn’t call out “run, run, fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Instead he taunts with saying “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” So besides its other problems an America struggling its way out of the Panic of 1873 was still trying to learn how to make a taunt scan. I’m all kinds of discombobulated about this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be functional again.

All right, that’s not happening and not just because it’s 2018. Do you remember this episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is feeling old, so he figures the thing to do is act all young? And he dresses up ridiculously and tries to dance to this ridiculous song called “The Huckle-Buck”? I do, because I’m of that cohort where reruns of The Honeymooners was the only decent thing on between reruns of M*A*S*H and reruns of Star Trek, and the song’s been running without stop in my head since 1986. Fine.

Yeah so it turns out this was an actual song and actual dance craze that actually happened in actuality. “Actuality” is what we call “reality” when we got the sentence started off using “actual” instead of “real” and have to commit to that for the rhetorical value but it’s easier to keep typing instead of erasing three words. Anyway, I had gone my entire adult life figuring “The Huckle-Buck” was just this catchy plausibly dance-craze-ish song made for The Honeymooners so it wouldn’t get in the way of Ralph Kramden’s discovery that to stay young you most need some stories about ridiculous stuff you did as a youngling. And now I find out he was actually doing something actual — hang on. Not doing that again. But now I find out he was genuinely trying to get in on the dance craze of … eight years earlier? Hang on, that would be like me trying to get in touch with the young by listening to whatever the dance craze of 2010 was. What were people dancing to back then? Lemme go and check.

No, Wikipedia, I do not believe the summer dance sensation of 2010 was Lady Gaga’s “Gingerbread Dance”.

I’m going to bed and hide under it.

If The Dick van Dyke Show‘s “Twizzle” was a real thing I’m never coming out again ever.

Statistics Saturday: Twenty Imaginary Eras In French History

  • The Third Empire
  • Restored Orleanism
  • The Algiers Republic
  • Bloisplosion
  • Le Fin-du-Mer
  • When Brittany Was But A Ballroom
  • The Lesser Infantasy
  • Clovis, Clovis, Clovis, Marc, Henri, and Danielle
  • The Slendering of the Fattened Hats
  • L’année des Ratons Laveur
  • The Glass Languedoc
  • The Seven Reigns of Queen Mercredi
  • Too Many Saints-Marcel
  • The Halving of the Mauve
  • The Bois are Barque En Têt
  • Nineteen Sixty-J
  • Six Pragmatic Bretons and their Goat
  • Nantes Énorme et le Poivre
  • Reynard’s Truce of the Dances
  • The Second Technocracy of Dreux

Source: This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, Loyd S Swenson Jr, James M Grimwood, Charles C Alexander.

Bonus: six of these are also titles of upcoming Doctor Who episodes.

Also bonus: I am way too proud of “The Bois are Barque En Têt” considering it only works to the tiny extent it does if you know that the Têt is the largest river in southwestern France and even then it isn’t actually “funny” so much as it is “adequately researched”.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When Does Prince Valiant Take Place? April – July 2018.

Glad to see you’re interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If it’s much later than about September 2018 when you read this, I’ve probably written a new essay bringing things further up to date. It should be at or near the top of this page.

Prince Valiant.

15 April – 8 July 2018.

Prince Valiant has been absent from Prince Valiant lately. He’s busy working his way back from the mystic East. We’ve instead been following Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. Her problem: a populist aristocrat name of Krios is leading an anti-foreigner movement. He wants to limit all trade to a port that it so happens land he owns would be perfect for the purpose. Aleta’s sent her daughter Valeta to ask questions about the murder of Ingolf, first mate of a Norse trading vessel. It seems someone in Krios’s family killed Ingolf, and possibly two Misty Islanders. Zulfa, rival for Valeta’s interest in Ingolf’s captain Haraldr. She arranges a secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. No, nobody just has a simple relationship to anyone else in this story, thanks for asking.

Zulfa deploys her wiles on Antonio. By ‘her wiles’ I mean ‘alcohol’. He empties out some of his many ominous secrets. His father’s ambitions. His sister Andrinoa’s affair. His brother Drakon’s doing of terrible things. How Ingolf was to be on Krios’s island tomorrow night. He passes out as Drakon enters. Krios ordered Drakon to make his brother’s “indiscretion” disappear. She does, after smashing open the window lattice and leading Drakon on a chase across the tiled roofs of Krios’s estate.

In the house of Krios, Zulfa has pulled secrets from the drunken Antero --- but as she tries stealthily to depart, Drakon leaps from the shadows! Antero's brother is strong and merciless but doesn't know that Zulfa is not merely a court minion, but also a skilled warrior. [ She hits him with a small table stand. ] The blow to his head momentarily stuns the huge man and allows the Amazigh woman to break his grip and dash to the latticed window at the far end of the gallery, which she smashes to flinders ... before responding decisively to the sound of footsteps close behind. [ She throws another stand at him. ] Then she is out the window, where she is confronted with the uncertain footing of the tiled roof below! NEXT: A slippery slope.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of May, 2018. I feel like this is the caption I put in every review of Prince Valiant, but that’s a great set of pictures, especially with Zulfa breaking out of the lattices and the final panel there.

Aleta asks Krios to come over and answer just one more question. Given the lock of hair found with him, and the servants found killed with him: what’s the deal? Krios declares he can’t keep the secret any longer. It’s his daughter. Andrina killed Ingolf in a “fit of passion” and throws her at the Queen’s feet.

But Antero steps up. He declares he can’t abandon his sister, not until he’s sure “she is being treated in the manner she deserves”. Antero promises that Andrina has a sick mind, but bears no guilt. And that he has something to share with Zulfa. It’s about the mysterious meeting on Krios’s island that Ingolf was to attend. He does, and returns to his father’s home, where he’s shut in.

Zulfa passes Antero's words to Aleta, and the Queen calls for council: 'Tomorrow, the Senate votes on Krios's demand for a trade zone --- and it appears enough are cowed by him. But now we have a chance to reveal Krios ... ' 'And I know this place where he goes tonight,' interjects Valeta. 'Karen and I sailed there often as children. Trust me, Mother --- I know what must be done.' Hours later, once night has settled, a fleet departs the harbor --- these are the fishermen who hunt the nocturnal squid. But once in open water one of the ragtag flotilla breaks from the others and turns toward a small island just off the coast. The lone vessel slips quietly alongside a neglected wharf on the island's far side --- and Krios steps onto Kythra, his proposed restricted trade zone! NEXT: The Appointment.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 1st of July, 2018. Squid fishing is an actual thing by the way, and they are mostly nocturnal. So the fleet makes sense, don’t worry about it. Personally, I think this is too many fishers going after squid for my lifetime rate of squid consumption. But that’s just my tastes.

That evening, Krios and some men slip out of town, as part of the nocturnal-squid fishing fleet. Krios makes his way to the island. There he rendevous with General Vialius, who brings startling news: all this is happening during the time of the Emperor Justinian. I never knew the era of Prince Valiant was pinned down to a century, never mind to within a couple decades. Justinian also sends his greetings to Krios.

Next Week!

Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy! With special guest star the Green Hornet! And men from the Moon! What does it all mean? I’m going to need to spend like five days this coming week reviewing and recapping the plot. You’ll get to enjoy the results.

And while you wait, please know that I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. The most recent post on that line should be at the top of that page.

On Looking At The Liberty Bell

Go to the next person you see and ask if she or he knows the shape of the Liberty Bell. Odds are the person will be taken by surprise. Probably, having expected a question like “how’s it going?” or “hot enough for you?” they’ll reply, “just exhausted” or “I got up this morning and the elm tree had melted”. This is why the most important rule in a conversation is to never just start talking about whatever you want to talk about. You have to lead up to it. Start with little cues, as much as four days ahead of time. Some shy people hire flag-bearers to approach. This is why in the introvert district of town you see all those people with bright orange banners that read, oh, “CAR TIRE” or “THAT SEMESTER YOU SPENT IN SPAIN” or “PEAK FREANS COMMERCIALS” or the like.

Anyway, so try again and this time after having given some clues you want to ask about the shape of the Liberty Bell. Then warn that you mean to ask a question about its shape. Try not to be frightened if your partner wants to know why you’re thinking so much about the Liberty Bell! Just explain that it’s for a school assignment. If challenged on the grounds that you’re not in school, plead that you do tend to procrastinate. No one will challenge you on that point. In any case, I’m willing to bet that your partner agrees that the Liberty Bell has a shape, and that they know pretty much what it is. It’s rather distinctive and pretty memorable. It’s kind of bell-shaped.

But there’s all sorts of things to notice about it. There’s, yes, the overall bell-ness of it. There’s the famous crack in it. There’s the know-it-all who would like to remind you how the big crack everyone remembers isn’t the actual crack. It’s instead a much bigger crack. They drilled so as to keep the small actual crack from turning into a much bigger crack. This plan worked with an extreme level of brilliance, except for how they couldn’t do anything about the original crack anyway. And there’s other stuff too. There’s the funky bits at the bottom where people stole metal off of it. There’s the way in the moulded text up top it includes most of the letters you really notice in ‘Pennsylvania’ at least.

Yoke and upper portion of the Liberty Bell, showing the wooden frame and the hoops of metal attached to them. Also, engraved text around the top: '... THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE ... ' and '... OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic]'.
Since you maybe don’t know what I mean, here’s the top part of the Liberty Bell and where the metal pieces get all weird. I guess when you really look at it the shape isn’t all that weird, but it’s still kind of weird. Also this is the part where they swung and missed at spelling ‘Pennsylvania’.

And yet. Consider this. Where would the Liberty Bell be if it weren’t for the wooden yolk on which it hangs?

Well, a bit lower down, probably. Wouldn’t be surprised if they left the thing on its side, to save drawer space. Then it would roll around in these funny little spirals every time the ground shook in one of those notorious Philadelphia earthquakes. People would stumble across it in the midle of the night. Then probably one of the cats would wrestle the clapper until that fell down and the cat fled into the city’s laundry room.

And now at last I have reached mey point say my rough notes here. Without the yoke, we’d have much less of a Liberty Bell. Plus everybody would pay more attention to how weird and ungainly the top of the metal part looks. Seriously, take a picture where you can really see how weird the top looks. Pretty weird, huh? Thank you. You can find all sorts of discussions online about the bell and its metal and whether it ever actually rang. But the yoke? Nothing.

It’s made of American elm. Hm. So, imperfectly-cast British product brought overseas, re-cast and re-cast again by apparently, anyone in eastern Pennsylvania who had a bright idea and no expertise in bell-making between 1752 and 1860. And then, hung on American wood, it was finally a swell icon for bell-ness without actually being useful as a bell. I’m not sure if we can tighten this metaphor up any before the writing group reviews it. Maybe have a carpool of security guards going home for the day accidentally smash through the front porch of some Lenape family’s home.

Liberty Bell icon on what is labelled as a 'Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976'.
This picture hasn’t got anything to do with even what little the rest of the article has to do with itself. But it is a reminder that when they open or expand a museum, anything that any of the docents have that they can’t get rid of just might turn out to be an artefact! So if you can’t bear to get rid of stuff, make it work for you and open a museum. Also I hope to someday write something as amusing to me as is the ‘circa’ in the description ‘Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976’.

Anyway the yoke, for all it does to give the Liberty Bell shape and structural support, is just there. It’s got a nearly perfect record of not growing new cracks and needing to be re-casted. And they guess it’s the original, as far as anyone knows? So here’s to the pieces of wood that are important but don’t get much attention: this is an important lesson about something and darned if I know what.

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Baseball Without Talking About Playing It

Baseball! Say the word (baseball) and right away you’ve conjured thousands of rhapsodic essays about baseball that you won’t read. The sport attracts a lot of writing. To write you only have to be awake and have run out of everything to do except writing. To play it as a sport you need a bat and a ball and maybe like eighteen friends and crowds of tens of thousands of fans. Getting enough people together to supply concessions alone is a chore. Far easier to just write essays about how awesome it would be to play, or maybe watch, or maybe just not worry about.

Still, baseball puts up some good statistics here. Baseball enthusiasts create an average of 49.5 pretentious essays about its inherent greatness for every 12.1 that football enthusiasts create. There’s alo 62.7 essays about baseball for every 25.3 about basketball. There’s 88.5 pro-baseball essays for each 56.2 about cricket. There’s nearly two baseball essays for every one about some silly made-up sport that appears in science fiction shows. That’s a pretty good ratio for the made-up sports. But remember that lots of those essays are snarky. Their major thesis is how the games never look like anything anyone would ever plausibly do for fun, unlike real sports, a category which includes “competitive shin-kicking”.

But just that paragraph gets at some of the joy of baseball. You see even a mystical aura given to its numbers and how easily they can start arguments. Try out 61, for example, or 2632. Toss in a 755, or an 1981 if you’ve got it. If these don’t start an argument, you’re not being persistent enough. Try them again, with greater emphasis. Some numbers get so contentious that there’s nothing sensible to do except retire them. Usually only baseball teams will retire a number. But if you want to do it, go ahead and retire one yourself. If you pick some number that doesn’t get called on much, like 441, they might never catch you. The National League discovered in 1994 how someone had retired 2538 on them over five decades before and they never noticed.

Baseball enthusiasts like to embrace the sport’s mythic origins. According to those, the rules were the creation of Paul Bunyan, who wrestled John Henry’s locomotive. This dug out the finger lakes and uncovering Cooperstown. There Johnny Appleseed emerged from the ground. From this first Home Plate he would walk the Old Northwest, planting Cardiff Giants everywhere. And from these steps small semi-professional teams would grow. Then Mike Fink would come along and punch them. The legend may have grown confused in the retelling.

More serious baseball enthusiasts like to point out the game actually derives from the British game of rounders. This turns out to be fictional too. It all comes from one guy reasoning that he liked baseball now, and when he was a kid he liked rounders. So they must be the same sport at different stages in his life cycle. When he wrote it down this seemed to make sense to everybody, which shows what the standards for making sense were like back then. Please remember that “back then” was generations before baseball was so well-organized that its players could be poisoned by socks. But it inspires questions. Like, what if he had written about this rounders-baseball thing later in life, when his interests had moved on still farther?

What if we saw baseball as merely a transitional sport between baseball and holding a cane while disapproving of the young? How different would the sport be? Would it earn publicly-funded stadiums in all the major cities? Would we have teams of nine scowling old men competing to see who can most be disgusted by some youthful frivolity? Would we be tracking the range and performance of the nation’s greatest complainers? Would the 60s have seen carefully-reasoned critiques about what makes a good crack about how with their long hair you can’t tell boys from girls anymore? Would the American League in 1973 have introduced a Designated Grumbler? I don’t know, but isn’t that an experiment worth running?

My point has gotten away from me, leapt over the back fence, and is running off toward the bridge over the highway. If found please return to this address, or any other needy place which you believe will provide a good home.

What Is Air Conditioning and Why Not Already?

With the days getting a bit warmer than they were two weeks ago it’s worth spending 819 words talking about air conditioning. Air conditioning is — please hold your questions until the essay has come to a full and complete stop — where some air is conditioned so that it’s less like air and more like conditioned air. It’s probably safe to toss in whatever your questions were now.

Why Should We Condition Air? Many reasons. The air that you get all around you is free and as such, that’s great. But it’ll often be too hot, or too cold, or too clammy, or be filled with too many feathers from an exploded pillow, or some other problem, such as that it’s too dry. And it’s never any of these at the right time. For example, it would be great if just before your history midterm the air were filled with sparkly confetti and party favors. At the least it would distract from thinking how you have no opinions about the Reform Act of 1832 except that it’s probably good they got that done before 1833 started or it would have needed a snappier name.

How Can One Condition Air? This depends what you want conditioned. If you want the air hotter, for example, all you need do is gather enough lumber. Trying to get it into the fireplace wil make you as warm as you want, as you determine by the sixth time you check every room that the house hasn’t got a fireplace and you’re now quite mad about that. Fuming mad, as they say.

But cooling down has always been a different problem. In ancient days the Romans noticed that the same room might be perfectly chilly in the winter and too hot in the summer. Their ingenious engineering minds started a system in which each winter they’d seal one room up tight in the middle of winter and leave it that way until the middle of summer. Only then would they open it up to enjoy that stored winter air. This never worked, but after all the trouble they’d gone to sealing the room up and then opening it again, they weren’t going to stop. They kept at it year after year, insisting to themselves that they did feel a lot cooler and saying maybe next year they would try this with three or even eight rooms. Eventually the Roman Empire fell, but I wouldn’t say the air conditioning was the only reason. There was also their calendar.

What Scientific Breakthrough Made Air Conditioning Possible, And What Important Spinoff Came From It? The most important breakthrough was the discovery of Charles’s Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyles’s Law by Charles. It was Towneley-Powers’s Law, and was discovered by Mariotte. However it turned out the discovery was simplicity itself: if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold, and the can will be cold, and your hand will be cold. The implications were obvious. By the end of the century scientists all over Europe were trying to invent a spray can of antiperspirant.

The antiperspirant part and the spray part would be challenges, sure. But the practice was an immediate success, a century later. And it had spinoff benefits. The cans proved to be great ways to can food, for example. This allowed people to take the peaches that they weren’t going to be able to eat before the end of summer and turn them into a fine aerosolized powder that they’d spray on their armpits or, if their aim was off, the bathroom door. This solved some problem. And considering that tells you a lot about what life was like back then.

How Does This Affect The Movies? Well, by the 1920s all the major problems of air conditioning had been solved. Soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, like it or not. Cities began building movie theaters around the air conditioning so that at least it would go to some purpose. The air conditioning would stay on full-blast all year, so that wintertime movie patrons had to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail through the snow. Often patrons would be lost in snowbanks and not be discovered for days or weeks until they emerged in the concessions stand. Over one in five ushers didn’t survive the first year of work, which is why we now regard it as tasteless to expect ushers to ush at the movies. We may ask them to ush in other non-movie contexts and then they can show us their ush stuff.

Is Air Conditioning A Form Of Skinnerian Behaviorist Stimulus-Response Training? No. You are thinking of air hypnosis, which has been discredited as a scientific method but can be a lot of fun as a party trick. It’s a common mistake and you need feel no shame for making it. 818, 819.

My Excuse For Today, Which Involves Calzones, But Indirectly

I’m very sorry, but I’ve been staring hard at The Food Timeline and I’m trying to process the information that stromboli can’t be proven to have existed any earlier than the 1990s. I mean, think of all the things that were invented before strombolis: calzones, well, that’s natural enough. But also, like, eight-track cassette tapes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and fajitas. Wait, fajitas were only invented in the early 70s? Well, so you can see why I’ve just been a mess all day.

Comfort Disasters

I realized I haven’t been watching those sciencey or history-ish channels that I used to. I’m not sure how that came about. It’s not like the sciencey or history-ish channels aren’t still there. I know we’re paying good money for the “Sorta Tier” of satellite TV channels. You know, the Kinda Nature Channel or the Plausibly Food Channel or Home Craftishness TV. These are great shows, stuff you can watch without ever quite paying attention and learn stuff. That stuff will be something like there was a deputy engineering inspector with a weird name who wasn’t listened to, but isn’t that something?

But I realized this today. I know why. My social media feeds, like most of yours, were full of how the 19th of April was the 106th anniversary of the first hearings into the sinking of the Titanic. Fun fact: all your friends passing around pictures of the Waldorf-Astoria, site of the hearings? They’re wrong! It was the old Waldorf-Astoria, the one they tore down to build the Empire State Building. It wasn’t at the same site. The Empire State Builders were having a giggle and can’t believe they got away with it.

Still, this is the time of year the sciencey history-ish channel would be full of shows about the sinking of the Titanic. And they’re great comfortable shows. They open by reminding us how the ship was called unsinkable, right to its face, if ships have faces. After the first commercial break the narrator asks us if the problem was some previously unidentified construction flaw. “Was the great ship doomed when its segmented compartments were, to save time, not riveted together but instead patched with Velcro, invented in 1941 by Swiss electrical engineer George de Velcro?”

A mechanical engineer with the job of being interviewed stands in front of a black backdrop. He explains how sometimes Velcro works great, but not so much before its own invention. Then on comes a Royal Navy officer who says the same thing, but uses different words. He stands in front of nautical junk left over from a Seafood Shanty restaurant. Those were great.

Around 14 minutes in there’s been enough of that. We bring on an entertaining fellow from an obscure university who uses his hands way too much. His point: from the iceberg’s point of view the Titanic rammed it. And we never hear about how many icebergs get sunk by ships each year. However, one of the engineers explains in a cutaway, most modern icebergs aren’t held together by Velcro. They only use it recreationally.

At the 24 minute mark there’s some footage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. The narrator concedes that this hasn’t got any bearing on the Titanic. But they had the footage thanks to a silent movie made to better exploit that tragedy, back then. And it would be a shame to let a solid good crime against human decency go to waste like that.

Then on to some grainy footage of people. They’re walking along the boardwalk and an amusement park we’re going ahead and assuming is Coney Island. The men are wearing 34-piece suits. The women wearing dresses sufficiently poofy that they can best get down steps by rolling. That’s how people went to amusement parks back then. Women never went up stairs. The narrator explains that due to changes in materials science what the people of 1912 considered acceptable metal for building ships would, today, be classified as store-brand diet pudding. All that held the Titanic together was how much embarrassment it would cause the company if it never amounted to more than a heap of components.

At about 48 minutes in they mention that guy. You know, the one who wrote that book about the ship with a name that was kind of like Titanic? And how the book in that ship — I mean the ship in that book, but I bet there were books on the ship in the book that sank — sank. They’ll point out how that guy achieved immortality and fame. They never ask what role he had in the iceberg.

They mention the sister ships Olympic and That Other One. There’s never talk about the father or the mother ship. Sometimes they discuss how being an orphan must have affected the ship growing up. I should pitch that one. If they’re still making those shows anymore. Like I say, I haven’t been watching the Kinda channels lately. I bet there’s a story there.

The Most Perfect Sentence I Have Ever Seen In Print This Week

So I was reading Seymour I Schwartz’s The Mismapping of America, which as you inferred from the title is all about the challenges in making an integrated-circuit design and surrounding circuit board that would be lightweight and reliable enough to serve as the Apollo Guidance Computer for the moon landings. In the last full chapter Schwartz discusses the history of mapping the Great Lakes and how we got around to having two Lake Superior islands — Isle Phelipeaux and Isle Pontchartain — which define part of the boundary between the United States and Canada despite neither actually in fact existing. Here “neither” refers to Lake Superior and to the United States, which should be a considerable relief to everyone but the mapmakers. And now consider this following sentence, about the late-1680s exploration reports by Louis, Baron de Lahontan et Hesleche, of the Fox River in what we now think of as Wisconsin.

Lahontan’s text includes an extensive, although improbable, description of domesticated beavers in the area.

And now try to tell me that sentence hasn’t caused you to pause in your day’s worries and allow a gentle, delighted smile to cross your face. You can’t do it, and for good reason. I thank whatever twists and turns of fate led Seymour I Schwartz to the point of writing such a delightful sentence. It’s rare for fourteen words to do so much for the human condition.

As I Read About A Merry Subject

I’m reading a book about the medical profession in the United States Civil War, and how all those people needing medicine changed the way doctors did things. It’s in that weird halfway stage. It isn’t quite a pop-science book, since every 25 words there’s a citation and the corresponding endnote might go on for half a page. But it isn’t quite an academic book, since you can read the prose without feeling your life-force drained and left in a puddle that’s then photographed with reticules and analyzed by component square or portion of a square.

Thing is, it’s from the city library. And someone went through and made little notes in the margins. Not a lot of notes. Like, one or two every chapter. I don’t know how this person had the courage. I feel weird enough writing in my own books that are mine and that I have owned since college and figure to go on owning, even if I’m just correcting a typo that confuses me every time I see it.

Thing about this thing that is, is, the comments seem just aimlessly contrary. The note-writer put in the margin “post-hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy ?” and nothing else for thirty pages in either direction. It’s almost sneering at the argument being made, but the ? doesn’t even commit to the sneer. It’s just encouraging the reader to sneer if she or he chooses to. There’ll be twenty pages go by and the only note is underlining “new elite” in the text. There’s usually something in the conclusion section of any chapter, but it’s a comment like “plausible, if not shown”.

It’s almost a work of art laid upon the text. I can picture this little frowny character, maybe looking like a caricature of Red Skelton’s Mean Widdle Kid from 1948, sticking out his tongue any time the author tries to summarize things. So I don’t know what mid-Michigan reader chose to have this terse, slightly passive-aggressive quarrel with a semi-academic book about medical science in the United States’s Civil War. I have to conclude that it’s somebody with a pencil, though, so I’m on the lookout now.

In Which My Calendar Wants Me To Do The Unthinkable

I continue to use up my 2018 hard-won Peanuts strip-a-day calendar at a rate of a bit under one strip per day (they don’t have Sunday pages). And it still has activities on the back. Last week it suggested this:

Unscramble the following letters to reveal this April word.

I shall do no such thing. “Grimepints” is a magnificent word. It’s as perfect a collection of phonemes as I’ve encountered in a long while. It would make the world a worse place to “unscramble” those letters into some word that is lesser in every way to “grimepints”.

Furthermore, I choose to believe that Grimepints is, besides a perfect word, also the name of a City of London meeting-hall built in 1475. There the Guild of Pandy-Whelkers, established during the reign of King Edward II, still conducts all its business, including the biennial Benefit for the Sick Infants of Needy Croft-Coddlers. They pay a rent of 6/8 plus “four fynne & true kernels of nutt-megg, the niewest to bee hadd” per annum. And I am working up a history of the building and the Guild’s charming yet dotty history as my Patreon exclusive for the month. So nag someone you otherwise like into reviewing a subscription to something! But unscramble “grimepints”? I would sooner cancel springtime itself than commit such an offense to the language.

Why Not To Make A Presentation

The thing about making a presentation is there’s no good reason to do it. Nobody likes making a presentation. The normal person, told to present a something, will throw their hands up and shriek. Yes, as though they were a mouse spotting a housewife in a cartoon from the 1940s. Then they’ll run through the most immediately nearby door, even if it’s the one to the linen closet. “Wait,” you protest, insisting that’s not real. “We’re at work. Why would we have a linen closet at work?” Well, if that’s not a linen closet then why is Holden buried under an avalanche of the successfully-folded towels? Hmm?

The other thing is nobody wants to see a presentation. Think of the great presentations of history. There was Stephen Jobs, in 1998, telling the world that Apple had decided to try making computers and music players and phones that people liked. And they’d stop whatever the heck they’d been doing the previous fifteen years. (They had been inventing new numbers to put at the end of fake, vaguely Latin names with meaningless letters suffixed. You know, like, Quadra CE 6122 or Performa XXL 230p or Centris vx715 III+: Turtles In Time.) There was Albert Einstein, in 1915, presenting how the non-Euclidean nature of spacetime explained gravity. There was King James II’s presentation of his son in 1688. This inspired the whole of England to rise up, throw the King into the Channel, and grab the nearest Dutchman to be King instead.

And the next other thing is you don’t have anything to say. Goodness, Dwight Eisenhower thought winning the War in Europe didn’t need anything more than a quick telegram. Yes, yes, he did that thing where he put his thumb on his nose and wiggled his fingers in the general direction of Flensburg. But who doesn’t do that from time to time? What do you even call that? You used to see it in cartoons. I think it was called “Flensburg”. If that didn’t rate a 45-minute discussion about process completion and goal reorientation how does your thing rate?

Also there’s no good way to make the presentation. The best sort of presentation is where you have a giant, cartoony implement with a lot of whirring wheels and spinning belts. You can take a big bucket labelled “STUFF” and pour it in the top. Then there’s a lot of chirring and chugging and whirling around of those little brass spheres on steeply-angled legs and all that. Eventually something goes “DING!”. A neatly-wrapped package drops out from the front. You get to at most three of those presentations a year. The waiting list for that machine is years long. Proponents of capitalism as a theory tell us that of course with such high demand manufacturers are going to step up production and make many more. Capitalists will innovate to make device-manufacture cheaper and more accessible to a wider market. They’re so cute when they talk nonsense like that. Mortals like us have to settle for waiting for the overhead projector to warm up. Then shuffle quickly through the only Powerpoint trick we can do. It’s having a line of text rotate on a central vertical axis until it finally snaps into place. We don’t know how to do it. Powerpoint started doing that one day and it seems to be having so much fun it can’t stop. We have to carry on as if we meant it.

One more thing is who’s got time to get to a presentation? I suppose there are people sprawling out on their floor. They’re thinking how they don’t have anything to do. And they’ve got all the time and energy in the world to do it with. These people are eight years old, nine max. The rest of us have upwards of twelve minutes of unscheduled time per day. If we bunch it all up for a week or so we might be able to fit in watching your projector turn off because it’s overheated. But is your talk worth it?

So if you don’t want to make a presentation, and nobody wants to see a presentation, and you don’t have anything that needs a presentation, and nobody expects any presentation to be all that good, and nobody has the time for a presentation anyway, why are you doing it? I don’t know. We live in complicated times, that’s all. Maybe we should have thought things out when we set up society back when we were starting it like eight years ago. There was someone who had some ideas we thought we should consider but we never had any way of hearing her outline them. Too bad.

Interestingly, I Need Help

I was in the university library because I don’t really make sense anywhere else. Not to brag but in my life I’ve been in over twenty places, and really, “university library” is the one I look the least awkward and weird in. I don’t mind. At least it’s somewhere.

But I was there because I’d wanted to read this history of word processors. Not a recent book, mind you. The book was written sometime in the mid-80s. That’s a lot of word-processor history ago, I admit. Back then word processors were primitive affairs, often programs we got by typing them in from magazines that cost $2.95 at the grocery store and there’s nothing about that I’m making up. Many of them were coal-powered and they were able to store up to one macro, which would be “add a line break after each paragraph, except that makes your document more than 4 kilobytes big, so the computer runs out of memory”. Still, I’d want to know more about how we got to that point.

And that’s when I discovered the horror: the library was reorganizing its shelves. Like, all of them, best I can figure. Everything. And I thought: no! That shelf where I ran across that book about pasta technologies holds nothing now! How will I ever find that book again? I haven’t wanted to find it again since I first read it but still, I knew where it was. I was lost.

This made me realize something. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I own a book that’s entirely about nutmeg, a spice I could not positively affirm under oath that I had ever had. Seriously, if I tried it would go something like this, taken from my court appearance for failure-to-yield in this minor traffic accident I had at the awful traffic circle where Route 206 crosses White Horse Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey:

ATTORNEY: And have you, knowingly, ever consumed a thing with nutmeg on or in it?

ME: I … think? Maybe? Don’t they use it for pumpkin pies? I’ve eaten that.

ATTORNEY: Maybe? Didn’t you knowingly and deliberately sprinkle some onto the free coffee you got at the farmer’s market so you could see what it was like?

ME: Oh, yes, I guess. It tasted … like every spice ever?

I don’t know what the attorney hoped to prove. In any case they forgave the failure-to-yield and only gave me a citation for listening to an audiobook about the history of the concept of corporations. And that feeds back to my point. I want to say I’m curious about all aspects of the human experience, and that I’m open to how much thought and history goes in to even the small, insignificant things. And then the attorney asks, “Don’t you own multiple books about the history of calendars each written by someone with the name “Duncan”?” Yes. Yes I do. And I already knew all the good stuff in the various Duncans’ books from having read many books about the calendar when I was a kid.

Clearly, I need help. I need some kind of guide to what things are in fact interesting and what things are not. This might take the form of some kind of specially-trained support dog. Someone who will notice how I’m looking over a history of subway tokens (by Brian J Cudahy, author of one of those containerized-cargo books) and leap onto me, shoving me to the ground and maybe rolling me over to something of more general interest. Like a history of an Apollo mission. No, not that Apollo mission. A famous one, like Apollo 11 or 13. Good grief. Fine, maybe 8. No not 12 why are you looking at 12? Who notices Apollo missions that didn’t have James Lovell involved?

They didn’t have the word-processing book. So, hey, someone else found it interesting or they lost it in 1992 and nobody’s asked about it yet. Left to my own devices, I got to Harvey C Mansfield’s 1947 A Short History of the Office of Price Administration, because apparently I need to know something about the theory and practice of World War II price-control administration that I couldn’t just pick up from listening to Lum and Abner episodes that had a public-service mission. Ah, but consider this: it includes this July 1947 quote from Bernard Baruch, architect of what price controls the United States government attempted in World War I and a leading advocate for strategic planning of economic needs given the national emergency:

Also, as a result of piecemeal price control, we are now faced with inflation which, next to human slaughter, maiming and destruction, is the worst consequence of war.

This serves as a valuable reminder that one does not get to be an extraordinarily wealthy individual and public intellectual advising presidents across many decades without completely losing one’s ability to realize one has just composed the daftest sentence in all of 1947, a year when the administration of Germany was divided into The Soviet Sector, the Brassiere, and Bizonia. Yes, yes, plus the Protectorate of the Saar. Don’t nitpick me. I do my reading.

The Apollo 12 astronauts considered giving their Command Module the name Abner, so that their call signs would be Lem and Abner, but this was stopped when, I trust, a NASA Public Affairs Officer came down and slugged Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean. I can show you the book that’s from.

Things About Violins You Ought To Know

Learning to play the violin is a simple way to bring joy to many people, including violin instructors. It’s not just violin instructors, of course; you also bring joy to violin salesmen, manufacturers, and distributors. That doesn’t even get into the powerful Violin Marketing Board and its renowned publicity arm that each year puts violins under the chins of dozens of schoolchildren who were just yawning. Considering the number of people who’d be made happy by your learning to play the violin refusing to learn makes you sound perfectly antisocial. About the only people you make happier by not learning are the neighbors.

Much folklore says the violin comes from the medieval instrument of the viol, a violin-shaped musical instrument not used anymore. This is a folk entomology, however, a bug-filled derivation which mistakes two things as one on the basis of roughly similar-sounding names and shapes. Do not open the derivation if you’re the least bit squeamish. In the late 1830s, Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born instrument maker, used a violin-shaped metal template to carve a figure out of a piece of maple wood, opened up a hollow box, and given a neck, bridge, toll both, and frontage road in order to assemble the first violin. While filing for his patent he was heartbroken to discover he was beaten to the work by over two hundred years by Italian musicians. Sax went on to invent the harpsichord, the theramin, the Reuben sandwich, and the photoelectric diode before his friends finally wrestled him to his senses. He put his time more productively into creating the Adolphephone, at which point his family and friends said fine and called it that in front of him. And only then.

The violin is tuned in perfect fifths, so if you see any you should take the chance to tune your instrument immediately, even if you are on the subway. There’s no way of guessing when you’ll see your next perfect fifth. Some wild youths rejecting the wisdom of tradition will accept a marginally flawed fifth or even a pretty good sixth. If you do try this route elder musicians will point at you and snicker during quarter rests. To tune the violin, turn the pegs, which can be found in any music store next to the sheet music for popular tunes of the 1910s clockwise until the instrument sounds clearly out of tune, and then reverse the process by turning the violin over and repeating.

There are several ways to make the violin produce sounds. The most sociable is to simply ask it in a calm, respectful tone. Unfortunately many mass-produced violins are made with few social graces and will respond poorly to such requests. The next technique is to hide a small CD or MP3 player underneath the violin’s body, and press play when your performance is to begin. If you are the lead character in a teen-oriented sitcom this will work for most of the scene, and then fail in a way which forces you to confess in front of many people you wished to impress. It would be less embarrassing to play on your own.

A manually-operated violin, then, can make a sound by the pizzicato method, in which one pizzicatoes the strings in quick, clean motions, or by stroking a bow along a string. It is better form to make strokes perpendicular to the string. With four strings a violin can make four distinct tones easily. To produce a different tone you place a finger in the appropriate spot along one of the strings. If you should find out how, please share the secret with me. I always got stuck while trying. I’m pretty sure I was putting my fingers in the designated and officially correct spaces. The instructor could do this and get a nice clear note, say, B-flat above middle C. I would repeat the motion and get a consoling hug and, somehow, first-chair placement at the fifth grade winter concert (“A Collection of Songs You Don’t Have To Hold Down The String For”). If that doesn’t work you can try sticking to songs which have mostly the same notes played over and over, such as Baudot Code, invented in 1874 by Adolphe Sax, who was recovering from overhearing his friends talking about him by overachieving. You know how instrument makers will get.

On This Date: November 24, If You Will

2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.

2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.

2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.

2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.

2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.

2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.

2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.

2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.

2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”

2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.

2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.

4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.

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.