Statistics Saturday: Christmasy Stuff To Watch On The DVR While I Finish Wrapping And Decorating And Stuff


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Seasoned Greetings, this 1933 short about the invention of greeting-card records and even including Sammy Davis Jr; Breakin'; Breakin' 2 Electric Boogaloo; Madam Satan (1930); Mon Oncle; Barry Lyndon; You'll Find Out (1940); Like 84 Episodes Of Stephen Colbert; Terror Rides The Rails, episode 9 of the Mandrake the Magician serial Columbia made in 1939.
Oh yeah, also we have The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold even though I’m like 85% sure we’ve already watched it this year and thought we’d deleted it? I don’t know. We live in complicated times. Sammy Davis Jr is appealing even though he’s like seven years old and playing the black kid who eats a record so almost all the time he’s on-screen it feels uncomfortable. Anyway, the important thing is if you haven’t seen Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle you’ve been wrong, but you still have time to fix that. Also other Jacques Tati movies.

Not included: Arthur Christmas, because we have it on DVD but our DVD player just broke. Also not included: Robert Rossellini’s 1971 Blaise Pascal because that’s really not a Christmasy movie, right?

Reference: Wind Tunnels of NASA, Donald D Baals, William R Corliss.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? From November 2017 to February 2018? Did He Scream A Lot?


Greetings, nature fans. I thank you for coming here in search of a quick explanation of the current plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about April 2018 when you read this, the essay might be hopelessly out of date. But if all goes well I’ll have a follow-up essay, maybe several. You should be able to find them at or near the top of this page. And if you’re interested just in what was going on in Mark Trail in the winter of 2017-18, please read on.

My latest review of mathematically-themed comic strips is over on my other blog, the mathematics one.

Also I apologize for the short notice, but I only discovered it myself earlier today. TCM, United States feed, is showing Skippy, the 1931 movie about Percy Crosby’s classic and influential comic strip, at 2:30 am Sunday night/Monday morning (Eastern Time) the 11th/12th. I’d mentioned this last time they ran it, early last year. But I haven’t seen the movie yet as our TV died shortly after recording and we had to get a new DVR and, look, somehow it got all complicated, okay? They’re also showing Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on Tuesday the 13th, at 10 pm Eastern Time. Jacques Tati films will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you can sit and watch it, without distraction, you may just discover one of the most wonderful things the 20th century has to offer.

Mark Trail.

21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018

The Bank Robber was disarmed. His Accomplice surrendered to Johnny Lone Elk. Light-aircraft pilot Alan Parker was in custody. Things were looking good for Mark Trail last time we checked in. They had one problem left. It’s side effects of that time Mark Trail declared at the top of Mount Olympus how he was so much more awesome than the whole Greek pantheon.

The Sheriff advises getting into the bank. It’s only technically speaking on fire. But it’s also got tunnels that he and Johnny Lone Elk had used to get back into the plot. Everyone has to get in, not quite far enough to encounter Samson the grizzly bear. Zeus curses his lack of foresight. He’s still feuding with Hades and can’t get to them from underground, and asking Artemis to send out the bears is right out this year. With the Sheriff mentioning he’s out of the candy bars that pacify Samson the Grizzly the story ends. I call it for the 28th of November, pretty near ten months after the story began (about the 24th of February).

With the 29th, more or less, starts the new story. There’s an epilogue on the Bank Robber story two weeks later. It establishes that Mark wants to go home and not count the prairie dogs of Rapid City, South Dakota. Indeed, he never even sees a prairie dog, a pity because I hear prairie dogs are making a comeback. The Bank Robber and his Accomplice never get named that I saw.

Chris Dirty, thinking as he reads the paper: 'Man! What is with the sad headlines today?' Headline: 'World's Oldest Clown, The Great Wilhelm, set to retire - Hasn't spoken a word in 65 years!' Dirty, thinking: 'I remember his act --- he never said anything, he just screamed a lot!' King Tut: 'Come in, Mister Dyer --- it's good to see you again! Although you look a little worse for wear!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 5th of December, 2018. This is, I confess, not one of the load-bearing strips for this plot. But, oh man, that second panel was Christmas come early for loyal readers of Mark Trail. I don’t know if James Allen was aiming to go viral in the comics-snark community but, you know what? I’ve rarely had a sentence bring me so much joy so automatically since Earl Camembert admitted Floyd Robertson had “really caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story” so good on James Allen for writing it.

The new story starts by following Chris “Dirty” Dyer. He was shown coming back from Africa early in 2017, immediately before the Bank Robber story started. (He’d been part of at least one story before, in 2014. If there’s a Mark Trail wikia with full summaries of earlier stories and character histories and such I don’t know it. But the Comics Curmudgeon reports on this are likely good enough.) Dirty reads about the circus closing on his way to a meeting with Batman ’66 villain King Tut. Dirty’s figuring to fence some African diamonds. King Tut will only offer five thousand and a recommendation to go on vacation. He takes the advice, and his Crocodile Dundee knife, and the chance to stab (off-panel) King Tut. Chris Dirty then passes out of our storyline, apart from some talk about how he’s got to get in shape to take on Mark Trail.

King Tut: 'My, my my ... where did you find those [ diamonds ]? Just lying about Africa, I suppose?' Dirty: 'Don't ask --- don't tell!' King Tut: 'That has always been my policy!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of December, 2017. … Wait, what?

Back to the peaceful idyll of the Lost Forest, where Andy the dog is harassing a peaceful raccoon trying to feed her kids. We see Rusty Trail, taking a well-earned break from taunting players of the FunHouse pinball game. Also we see a truly bizarre scene: Rusty gathering apples because “apple slices will be delicious on pancakes”. I assume this is James Allen slipping a message past the bank robber holding him hostage. Also Rusty sees a giraffe and her child. He rushes back to his parents who can’t believe his story. Apple slices on pancakes? Maybe this is me. I thought bananas on pancakes were IHOP bluffing and it turns out they’re pretty good.

Rusty Trail, watching a giraffe eat his pail of apples: 'My apples!' He reaches out and pets the giraffe's head. The giraffe eats up and drops an apple.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of January, 2018. This actually is a load-bearing scene from the story, since Rusty grabs the apple slice that the giraffe drops and uses it to try convincing Mark that there’s something funny going on here.

Mark and Cherry also don’t believe in the giraffe, and bring up that time Rusty daydreamed about dinosaurs. Still, strange things are happening. Doc, sitting on the porch, sees a monkey dressed for organ-grinding duty and riding an ostrich. Nearby, Shannon and Kathy, who as far as I know are original bit players to this story, are camping. At least until a rhinoceros rampages at them, grabs their tent, and runs into the lake. ([Edited to add because I didn’t notice this in today’s strip at first] The Sunday panel for the 11th of February, about sea turtles, sends “special thanks to Shannon and Kathy Davidson” for unspecified services. Going to go out on a limb here and suppose that part of the thanking is having them get chased down by a rhino. I had the plot summary written up before that strip was published.) There the rhino terrifies a guy out fishing until he decides that actually some days fishing are not better than all days working. (And I’m sorry to murder the joke this way. It’s done over the course of three days and pretty funny done so.) And that’s the current action.

Capuchin(?) monkey in bandleader outfit: 'SCRAAAW!' Ostrich: 'SKREE!' They ride off. Doc thinks: 'Is there something in this coffee!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 20th of January, 2018. This is what it’s like to have something really blow up on Furry Twitter, by the way, so plan your popular statements accordingly.

This also highlights how James Allen has gotten the storytelling in the strip to be more sophisticated. And without shifting its tone much. We, the readers, understand what’s going on well ahead of Mark Trail. And it’s not because Mark’s shown to be dense. He lacks information that he couldn’t be expected to have: Artemis has forgiven Zeus just enough that they can launch the Revenge of Nature plot. By this time next month maybe Doc will have been eaten by rampaging quolls. Let’s watch!

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. They’re probably dying.
  • Pigs! 26 November 2017. There’s some in the Bahamas that have learned to swim out to tourists.
  • Sperm whales, 3 December 2017. They nap in collective groups that don’t look at all like the creepy moment right before a Revenge of Nature movie gets to the good stuff.
  • Vangunu Island vikas, 10 December 2017. White folk finally noticed them and they’re probably all but dead now.
  • Worms, 17 December 2017. We’d be dead without them and there’s this invasive one that’s got a powerful neurotoxin so good luck.
  • Mistletoe, 24 December 2017. It’s in good shape, but is a parasite to trees and shrubs so enjoy?
  • Penguins, 31 December 2017. Adelie penguins are in trouble thanks to global warming so, great.
  • Moths, 7 January 2018. This crazypants Australian one went viral, apparently (I missed it) just on the strength of looking like a crazypants Australian moth.
  • Tapanuli Orangutans, 14 January 2018. We just found them and they’re incredibly endangered.
  • Mosquitoes, 21 January 2018. Not endangered but we’re figuring to try releasing some bacterium-infected males in an attempt to create a new Revenge of Nature movie.
  • Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis, 28 January 2018. Might get named the Official State Amphibian of Pennsylvania!
  • Virginia Opossums, 4 February 2018. Not endangered.
  • Sea turtles, 11 February 2018. Crazy endangered.

Next Week!

I had expectations about where Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth was going, last time I checked in on them. How close were my expectations to reality? You should find out next week when it’s the chance for a certain food-making advice-giver to be recapped here. And I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. But if there’s one word that’s been on every Mary-watcher’s lips the past week it has been: muffins.

I am so excited.

In Which I Apologize To The Michigan DMV


I went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles branch to renew my licence plate tags. Only they don’t call them that in Michigan. They’re called Secretary of State offices, for reasons that Michiganians explain to me by pointing in the opposite direction and running. I don’t mind. I like a little quirkiness in my state bureaucracy. Back in New Jersey the Department of Motor Vehicles went through a phase back in the 90s, like most of us. But its 90s phase was one of renaming themselves every couple years. I know they went through being the Motor Vehicle Services for a while, and the Motor Vehicle Commission. I liked the latter, because it sounded like you had hired them to compose a song about your 1982 Mercury Grand Marquis. “It’s built like a tank // The window nearly cranks // All the way up! // Ooh-ah-ooh! // Bad alternator! // Ooh-ah-ooh! // Needs replacement! // Ooh-ah-ooh // Yes, again!”

Anyway, the Secretary of State has an office in the annex of a local strip mall. Also we have a strip mall with an annex because, I don’t know, I guess 1982 was a happening year. The office had this system where you enter your phone number, they give you an estimated wait time, and text you when you’re done waiting. I even had my phone with me. So I got in the queue. Then I noticed they had an automated booth where you could renew license plate tags without having to wait or even talk to anyone. I did that instead. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just I feel like I’m bothering them when I do talk to them, and why should I bother the people whose jobs are about handling my minor legal obligations?

But after that I didn’t see any way to take my number out of the queue. At least no way without talking to someone, for which I’d have to be in the queue. Also I’d have to talk to someone. Again, I don’t dislike people. It’s just I know my conversations can’t live up to the ideal of human interactions, which is Mister Rogers chatting with the people in the restaurant who’re making his cheese-and-lettuce sandwich. (Look it up!) So I left, feeling a little dirty.

Today I looked at my phone and realized I had a bunch of texts. I get maybe one text a month on average, which is fine, since I remember to look at them about every two months. There was one welcoming me to the queue system and thanking me because the without people in it the queue system would just be a performance-art piece on the absurdity of modern life. Also there were messages telling me I was in the queue, and that I was still in the queue in case I worried about that. Also that I was five minutes from being up. And then some messages that I was up. And texts that they were still waiting for me. And texts that they were going to have to stop waiting for me if I didn’t get there soon. And then a text that they had to go on to the next person and they’re sorry to have missed me, but the art critics thought our project charming. They liked its Jacques-Tati-esque setup of a system so automated and convenient that the only role actual humans can have is to slow things up.

I don’t know when I last felt so guilty about ghosting a minor civic responsibility. This is a lie. I last felt so guilty about ghosting a minor civic responsibility earlier this month when I kind of forgot to check in for jury duty. But that was an innocent accident. I moved the slip of paper with the phone number I was supposed to call the night before and forgot it existed. The license plate thing was a choice. I chose to do my business in the most time-efficient way possible and then leave. Anyway, I’m very very sorry, Michigan Secretary of State, and maybe I’ll just renew online next year. Also, uh, sorry, Ingham County Court System.

I haven’t yet actually put the new license plate tag on. So I don’t know if this will need the help of the auto care place down the street again. More on this as it comes to pass.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose sharply today after analysts looked carefully at my Twitter feed and determined I’m not one of those people who somehow tweets like eighty times an hour every hour of the day, and instead just posts a reasonable couple times a day except when I’m delightedly watching some awful movie and I have to share how this awful movie is awful.

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