Statistics Saturday: Some Song Sequels


  • Two Is The Loneliest Number
  • Love Potion Number 10
  • Theme to 78 Sunset Strip
  • It Ain’t 1919
  • Revolution Ten
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra, Also (Theme to 2002: Also A Space Odyssey)
  • In The Year 2626
  • Three Out Of Four Ain’t Bad
  • 867-5319 (Jenny’s Neighbor)
  • Land of 1,001 Dances
  • 4th of September, Asbury Park
  • 910

Reference: Mythematics: Solving The 12 Labors Of Hercules, Michael Huber.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What makes crickets “land shrimp”? January – May 2021


“Crickets are land shrimp” is the odd catchphrase of the current Mark Trail storyline. Wikipedia claims that spider crickets are sometimes called “land shrimp”, but that’s Wikipedia. I can find some older articles saying that spider crickets resemble shrimp, and … I guess? There’s a stronger way that crickets could be “land shrimp”, though. Note this Slate article from 2008 about a company selling crickets as food that pitches them as “land shrimp”. So it looks like some of the people who think they can sell Westerners on eating crickets instead of beef are calling them “land shrimp”.

In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.

So this should catch you up to the end of April 2021. If you’re reading this after about August 2021, or if any news breaks out about Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, I should have a more up-to-date article for you here. Thanks for reading.

Mark Trail.

31 January – 1 May 2021.

Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.

Mark Trail: 'I didn't come here to fight. I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier.' Happy Trail: 'You started a fight with me over a speedboat! Which you destroyed!' Mark: 'And I should have destroyed it! That's what you raised me to be! What have YOU become?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of February, 2021. The touch of the older-style Mark Trail is one of the things Rivera does to reinforce that, different as it may be, this isn’t intended as a reboot of the Mark Trail universe. The 18th of March included a more explicit one, referencing the Jack Elrod-era rerun used between James Allen’s departure and Rivera’s arrival.

Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.

Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?

Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.

Happy Trail: 'By the way, you sucker-punched me on the pier, boy! You wouldn't get so far in a fair fight.' Mark: 'What?' Niecy Rogers, dragging her father out: 'Okay, now we bounce.' Jolly Rogers: 'Wait, I wanna watch this.' Niecy: 'No, you don't.' Mark: 'You're twice my age, Dad. Stop.' Happy: 'Really? Who taught you the two fists of --- JUSTICE?!' (Smacking Mark Trail in the face.)
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of February, 2021. I understand people bothered to have beloved snarky commentary like “Mark Trail’s two fists of justice” put into the text. But it’s done so playfully. And, after all, Mark Trail did come around with facial hair. What did he expect?

With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.

Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.

Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.


The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.

Mark Trail: 'So you're telling me the throwaway video my kid made got sampled by a hip-hop artist?' Amy Lee: 'Yep! Reptiliannaire's people are ramping up to shoot the 'Crickets are land shrimp' trap remix video and they want you in it! This is a golden opportunity to build your brand with the Teen Girl Sparkle audience. I suggest you take it!' Mark Trail: 'Because I'm such a good rapper?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of March, 2021. Hey, when fame comes, it is never for the thing you want. Or so I am told.

And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.

Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.

Rob Bettancourt: 'Thanks so much for coming, professor. Say, have you met my old friend, Marky Trail?' Mark Trail: 'MARK TRAIL, award-winning nature journalist.' Professor Bee Sharp: 'Ah! I HAVE heard of you! Read your article on bats and human trafficking. Intriguing, if a little confusing.' Mark: 'My son is on the phone. Can you say a few --- ' Sharp, snatching the phone: 'GLADLY! Hiya there, sport!' Mark; 'But my phone!' He lurches toward Sharp and is blocked by a woman declaring ,'If you touch him, I BREAK you.' Narrator: 'Mark knew Hollywood women could be tough, but not *this* tough.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of April, 2021. And here’s another reference to older stories, this one from early in James Allen’s tenure. The bats-and-human-trafficking story was from shortly before I did recaps, sorry to say. But Mark Trail went to do a story about white-nose syndrome in some bats in Texas caves, and got tangled up with human traffickers. Also an extremely long though gorgeous progression through caves with neat rocks and stranger (though realistic) life. The traffickers were eventually caught in Mexico. And the last James Allen story, never completed, was to be Hollywood adapting the story. So this was rather a keystone story in Allen’s tenure for Rivera to reference.

Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.

All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.

Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.

Mark Trail: 'Cherry, I won't leave you hanging. I am gonna give that Sunny Soleil Committee the two fists o' justice ... in an e-mail.' Cherry: 'I appreciate that, sugar.' Mark: 'Oh, and I will get you the biggest agave I can get through airport security!' Cherry: 'Mark, don't do anything silly, now.' Narrator: 'Mark decides now is NOT the time to tell her he's flying to Los Angeles to star in a music video with a lizard-themed eco-rapper.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2021. The narration box has been a much bigger player this story, and has been a wonderful commenter on the story. I do not know what Mark Trail did tell Cherry was his reason for flying to Los Angeles if it wasn’t this music video business.

Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.

Violet Cheshire: 'I cannot speak to whatever agreements you have with your landscaping clients, but the Sunny Soleil Society has its guidelines.' Cherry: 'My husband sent an e-mail explaining the situation.' Cheshire: 'I am well aware of your husband's e-mail. It was ... ' [ Flashback. Cheshire sees a man (her husband?) reading e-mail: 'By jove! This e-mail felt like it punched me in the face with two fists!' ] Cheshire, continuing: '... Confrontational!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 29th of April, 2021. I don’t know whether we are supposed to take the third panel as literally what happened or as Cherry Trail’s fantasy of what happened. Either way, it brings me delight. The only way it falls short of perfection is not having Cheshire and the man with her wearing monocles.

So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
  • Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
  • Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
  • Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
  • Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
  • Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
  • Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
  • Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
  • Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
  • Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
  • Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
  • Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juveniles, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
  • Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.

Next Week!

Romance! Inspirational quotes! Post-traumatic stress disorder! Working for “exposure”! All this and a lot of thanking Mary worth, in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, if all goes to plan.

60s Popeye: Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon so why is it about Popeye?


We have seen the name W Schmidt before. He was credited or co-credited for the story for Popeye the Popular Mechanic, for Popeye the Piano Mover, and Popeye the White Collar Man. The Internet Movie Database also credits him for the story for Popeye the Fireman, though the title card says otherwise. Given that pedigree it’s odd to see a cartoon suggesting Wimpy gets a job instead. Volus Jones gets the animation direction credit, and Jack Kinney produced. Here’s the 1960 sort Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon.

Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.

But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.

In the kitchen, Brutus laughs at Popeye, who's fallen and is covered by a set of pots and pans and strainers and such. Popeye's oversized spinach hoagie sits on a table.
My friends with kitchen jobs tell me it’s like this all the time.

The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.

Statistics Saturday: The Duration of 15 Things as Measured by the Runtime Of Turbo (2013)


ThingDurations in Runtimes of Turbo (2013)
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address0.05938
Apollo 14135
Bambi0.7292
Construction of the Empire State Building244.375
First non-exhibition/spring-training baseball game of the Houston Colt.45s, 10 April 19621.583
“The Gates of Delirium”, by Yes0.2274
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (including commercials)1.250
The Hundred Years’ War637,711.71
One second0.000 173 6
Robert Altman’s Popeye1.1875
The 1960 Summer Olympics262.5
Thunderhawk roller coaster (one ride cycle only), Dorney Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania0.01354
Turbo (2013)1
Turbo Teen (complete series, including commercials)4.0625
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story0.7396

Reference: Roughing It, Mark Twain.

In which I raise a question about music


I turned on the 80s music station because look, I try to be interested in things that I wasn’t already interested in when I was fourteen but sometimes I just want to not try, all right? It’s been a rough year and the first really great light is that I’m scheduled for my first vaccination tomorrow afternoon. So this afternoon they were playing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. It was exactly 24 hours to go until I get my jab.

On the one hand, I would like to speak with whoever’s in charge of my soundtrack because that is trite. On the other hand, what else could fit the scene? Obviously no music I have. But, like, somebody must have done a concept album about overthrowing the dystopia that banned rock music only to have it revealed at the end it was a story about leukocytes fighting off tetanus, right?

What is it like to be a Beatle?


Sorry to be distracted like this. I just got to wondering, like, how often does Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, like, just freeze up in the kitchen and think, “I was in the Beatles! And now here I am, peeling an orange! How does something like that happen?” I’m assuming that they occasionally peel oranges. The only reason I can imagine they wouldn’t is if they don’t like oranges. I realize that no life can be all transcendant experiences, but, you know,every now and then Buzz Aldrin must think, “I walked on the Moon and here I am peeling a banana. How?”

I guess it’s a good thing that the biggest thing that ever happened to me was sneezing on the President of Singapore or I’d never be able to handle the small stuff.


By the way, over on my other blog I looked at the Pi Day comic strips. How many of them were about serious mathematics and how many were about pie? The answer may surprise you!

Statistics Saturday: Tunes I Remember Learning For Introductory Violin In Elementary School


Part of my recurring series, On Reflection I Don’t Understand My Childhood At All.

  • Mary Had A Little Lamb
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Jingle Bells
  • Memory (from the musical Cats)
  • Tomorrow (from the musical Annie)
  • Theme from Masterpiece Theater (from the not-necessarily-musical Masterpiece Theater)
  • I Love Rock and Roll
  • Daisy, Daisy

I think it was even in that order in the music instruction book too.

Reference: Asimov’s Chronology of the World: The Story of the World From the Big Bang to Modern Times, Isaac Asimov.

My Distracting Thought To Start The Year


An alternate history where the big change is that “Entrance of the Gladiators” never gets arranged to play at circuses as the “Here Come The Clowns” music, because “Pomp and Circumstance” got that treatment first.

Statistics Saturday: Your Wham!ageddon Timeline


  • December 5. You realize you’ve made it this late in the month without hearing about Wham!ageddon this year. Starts a good argument online about whether you can join in late since you think you heard “Last Christmas” a couple days ago but don’t remember if it was in November or not.
  • December 7. Debate about whether it has to be Wham!’s version or if a cover of “Last Christmas” counts. Two friends stop speaking to one another.
  • December 8. Running through the grocery store run to minimize exposure to Your Local Christmas Hits Station and also Covid-19.
  • December 10. You were gone for 35 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about whether the “Sleigh Ride” carol “really” has words?
  • December 12. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
  • December 13. Your bad-movie podcast is about Last Christmas. Debate about whether you can be exempted for the time necessary to listen to the episode. This generates three new factions among your friends, who engage in a Talmudic debate about whether you heard the song if the podcast hosts do a brief, a capella, rendition unburdened by any musical key.
  • December 14. Get 1600 words into a deep-dive essay about what it means that people do these avoid-the-ubiquitous-thing contests for the fifth time before realizing the author hasn’t gotten to a thesis statement yet and give up on the whole thing.
  • December 18. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
  • December 19. You were gone for 25 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about the “Monster Mash”?
  • December 20. Debate about whether it counts if you catch yourself starting to hum it to yourself in the shower but are legitimately not sure whether you were just singing in your head.
  • December 21. Debate about whether this is, as Wikipedia’s article about Wham!ageddon implies, a “strategy” game.
  • December 24. You were gone for 15 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about haikus somehow? Haikus? What are people even arguing about over haikus? Even for 2020? Haikus?!
  • December 26. Debate about whether there even is such a thing as the “We Didn’t Start The Firefest” contest ahead of New Year’s.
  • January 2. Finally have the somehow two hours, 35 minutes needed to listen to that movie podcast.

Reference: The Impossible Dream: The Building of the Panama Canal, Ian Cameron.

In Which I Foolishly Ask About A Peanuts Special


I absolutely should not ask questions about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The cartoon barely has a plot, just a bunch of scenes abutting one another. And that’s great, because usually the more a Peanuts cartoon has a plot the worse it is. But, watching the DVD again this year, something new nagged at me.

Do you think Schroeder was invited to provide music for Violet’s Halloween party? Does he just carry his piano to every social engagement he ever attends, holding it all casually under his arm, waiting for an excuse to say, “Hey, you know, I just happen to play a little” and then whip out a bit of Für Elise? What was the plan?

Some Astounding Things About The Moon


You maybe heard NASA want to announce something astounding discovery about the Moon. I bet it’s something about water. They’re always astounded by discovering water on the Moon. If you put all the water they’ve found on the moon together you’d have, like, six ounces of water. I know that’s not much, but it’s a lot considering the Moon is made out of rock. Anyway, while we wait for them to announce how they’ve spotted four micrograms more water let’s consider some real astounding facts about the Moon:

Because of the way the Romans set up their calendar, and defined the ides at the middle of the month to lunar phases, it’s impossible to have a full moon on the 16th of a month. If it looks like the 16th is going to be a full moon anyway we insert leap seconds as appropriate. There’s a risk of a full moon on the 16th of September, 2800, despite all these corrective measures. Most experts think we’ll solve the problem by doubling up the 15th of September, the way we did with the More-15th of February, 684. Note, as the experts do, that the 15th is not the ides of September and if you make that mistake they’ll know you’re an impostor.

Ham radio operators are allowed to bounce any signal they like off the Moon. However, the operators are held responsible for any damages or for any settling the messages do while in transit.

The Moon has never actually listened to Pink Floyd. It acknowledges that Pink Floyd’s probably played on the radio at some point and they didn’t turn it off, so far as they know. But the Moon is more of a Strawberry Alarm Clock fan. At least the early days, when they got on stage riding magic carpets their roadies carried. The Moon claims to be a big fan of Walk The Moon, but still hasn’t listened to the copy of What If Nothing that it bought in 2018.

The Moon won $27,500 in the Rhode Island lottery in 2014, but never roused itself to collect its winnings. It’s still getting in arguments about this.

The Moon believes itself to have a great sense of humor. This isn’t so astounding since everybody does. But the Moon is in there trying. Unfortunately all it’s discovered, as a premise, is the antijoke and boy does it hit that button a lot. It’s not even good antijokes, either, just something that denies the premise of the gag as fast as possible. If you stick it out, and make the Moon carry on a bit it eventually digs into interesting or weird antijokes and there’s something there. But it insists that the first, instinctive response is the good one and it’s just, you know, you could do so much more.

The concave surface of the Moon is why it always seems to be looking at you.

The Moon insists on tipping 20%, which is fine, but insists on doing it to the penny. This is all right, but the Moon also has absolutely terrible group-check etiquette, insisting that it’s fine if everybody just tosses in money until it reaches a pile that is the bill plus 20% exactly. The protests of everyone that this is making it take longer, with more stress, and come out less fair, than actually figuring out who got and who split what with whom fall on deaf space-ears.

Monday was not named after the Moon. The day was named first, and then someone happened to notice the Moon on a Monday. Yes, this implies an alternate history in which we call the Moon “the Day”. That timeline must be quite confusing.

The Moon has heard about those Quiznos advertisements back in the 2000s that everybody found weird and confusing, but never saw them and thinks it would be a little creepy to go look them up now.

The Moon claims that when it finds those “disruptive” scooter-rental things abandoned on the sidewalk it picks them up and tosses them in the street. We can all agree that, if we must have dumb tech companies wasting investor money on “disruptor” technologies, they should be punished for leaving their litter in the sidewalk. But pressed on when the Moon last actually did this it turns out it never has, but it’s totally going to start next time it sees one.

The word “Moon” did not rhyme with “June” until the Tin Pan Alley Crisis of 1912. It had the vowel sound of “Mon” in “Monday” before then.

While in mythology there are rabbits living on the Moon, in fact the Moon is living on rabbits, who are still really upset about that lottery ticket thing. I can’t say they’re wrong, either.

Maybe it’s five micrograms more water. That would be astounding. We’ll see on Monday.

The Fast New Sound


So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.

But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.

So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.

Here’s where I read that a bunch of people at the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge, and the Institute for High Pressure Physics in Troitsk worked out just how fast you could make sound. It turns out it’s about 36 kilometers per second.

This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.

Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.

What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.

The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.

Statistics Saturday: Top REM Studio Albums Of The Year, 1983 – 2011


Year Top REM Studio Album
1983 Murmur
1984 Reckoning
1985 Fables of the Reconstruction
1986 Lifes Rich Pageant
1987 Document
1988 Green
1989 Not Awarded
1990 Not Awarded
1991 Out of Time
1992 Automatic for the People
1993 Not Awarded
1994 Monster
1995 Not Awarded
1996 New Adventures in Hi-Fi
1997 Not Awarded
1998 Up
1999 Not Awarded
2000 Not Awarded
2001 Reveal
2002 Not Awarded
2003 Not Awarded
2004 Around the Sun
2005 Not Awarded
2006 Not Awarded
2007 Not Awarded
2008 Accelerate
2009 Not Awarded
2010 Not Awarded
2011 Collapse into Now

Reference: Rolling Stone Magazine, but not the music one. The Rolling Stone Magazine for people who put rocks into tumblers to make them more pretty and make their geologist friends mad.

What lyrics have me late today


I’m sorry, I’ve been busy going to lyrics sites again and changing `dance` to `pants`, although I admit I’ve been trying to do better because I know everybody’s making pants jokes these days. But there’s limits to what fits there. It really looks like `hands` ought to fit, but only if you say it `hants` and you just don’t do that unless you think your audience will think they must have heard it wrong.

Statistics Saturday: Some Lists


  • Ten Exhalations
  • Beatles Songs By U2
  • Fifteen Things You Were Going To Get Back To When You Had The Time
  • Twenty Thunderstorms the Forecast for Which Changed Away About Two Hours Before They Could Have Broken This Heat Wave Finally
  • Best Eight Episodes Of The 90s Get Smart Revival
  • Ten Thumbs In Alphabetical Order
  • Top Five Political Stories In Peanuts
  • Sixteen Turtles All The Way Down
  • Twenty Plays Of “Wonderwall” In A Row
  • Twelve Boring Technocratic Micromanagement Video Games Besides the Time Zone One
  • U2 Songs By Taylor Swift
  • Twelve Imaginary Numbers
  • Fifteen Innuendos about Plastic-Man that do not Logically Hold Up Under Scrutiny
  • Ten Things There’s No Telling Whether Are Heated Online Debates Or Just Social Media Dadaist Comedy
  • Unamusement Parks of the Mid-Atlantic States

Reference: Numerical Recipes in C, William Press, William Vetterling, Brian Flannery, and Saul Teukolsky.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Astronauts who are also former members of The Association


  • (To date none, although I’ll bet Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell has hummed “Cherish” at least once in the shower within the last 45 days.)

Reference: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

(Has this got it out of my system yet? Oh, wouldn’t we all like to think it has? )

Or To Be Exact, It’s Just Windy


So you remember The Association’s great kind of ear-wormy 1967 hit, “Everyone Knows It’s Windy”? It’s a nice bit of sunshine pop, one of those songs that’s doing really well until it runs out of lyrics about one minute in, and then goes on for another minute and forty seconds. Anyway, a bit of conversation this weekend confirmed that the younger folk are not familiar with this song. So I must appeal to whatever members of The Association are still out there to please record an update, “Not Everyone Knows Everyone Knows It’s Windy”. Thank you.

Also I am starting to suspect Mary is never coming along.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.

Meanwhile in music


We had just left the satellite-radio music channel running, and then looked up at each other when we heard it playing Entry of the Gladiators, you know, the Clown March. As if one person we demanded to know what prog rock band was pulling these shenanigans. “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, you sit down and think about what you’ve done,” I was starting to say. Anyway it was Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On, but I think our vague and pointless indignation stands.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is Rex Morgan really not doing a pandemic story? March – June 2020


Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.

I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.

While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.

I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

29 March – 21 June 2020

Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.

Nick's Diner, offering 'Zippy Service!' Waitress: 'Hot tea with lemon, as requested. Here's some honey for your tea if you like, might help soothe that sore throat and cough you're fighting.' Truck Tyler: 'Thanks. I sure appreciate it.' Waitress: 'Your eggs and hash browns will be up in just a minute.' Tyler: 'Sounds good. [ Coughs ]' Waitress: 'You don't, though. You really ought to see somebody about that cough.' Tyle: 'You're probably right.' [ He coughs a few more times, and thinks, and looks at 'Buck's card. He said I should call. ] Tyler, on the phone: 'Hey, ol' Buckaroo, yeah --- it's Truck Tyler. Listen, about that Doctor you mentioned?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of April, 2020. The sign promises Zippy Service and Yowaza! Are we having raisin French toast yet?

So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.

This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.

Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.

[ On the phone ] Buck Wise: 'How tight is your budget?' Tyler: 'I could cover one or two hotel nights maybe, but then wouldn't have much left over for gas, food, and phone.' Wise: 'Ordinarily I'd be happy to put you up here, but with the baby now I can't risk getting her sick.' Tyler: 'I'm crossing my fingers nobody's caught this off me already. Last thing I want is to share this! [ Coughing ]' Wise: 'Let me check something and get back to you.' Tyler: 'Sure'. Wise, texting, and thinking: 'Ok, Doug, are you around?' Doug, managing a motel, reads. Wise is asking for a favor for Tyler: 'He's sick and needs to crash for at least a couple weeks. Can you comp hi a room at the hotel?' Doug texts back: 'Anything for Truck. We're never full up these days anyhow ... the only payment I want is to sign a bunch of stuff for my collection.' Wise, thinking: 'Autographs. Always with the autographs.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of May, 2020. I would have let the “Zippy Service” joke pass without mention except then we got the motel guy, who could be either Griffy or that guy in the diner that Zippy’s sometimes talking to and whom the Cast of Characters page tells me is Claude Funston. The fact that seeing some resemblance there delights me so will tell you plenty about my sense of humor or maturity.

Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.

Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.


The 31st of May had the transition page, and Beatty’s explanation about why the comic will not tell a Covid-19 story for now.

Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.

Rex, telling Sarah his story: 'All this will tie in with how I met your mom, just trust me.' Sarah: 'Of course I trust you, I just think you're taking too long to get to the point.' Rex: 'Patience you must have, my young Padawan.' Sarah: 'You're not Yoda, Dad.' Rex: 'Dr Dallis, one of the older physicians at the hospital, became something of a mentor to me.' Sarah: 'Wait, isn't a mentor the half-man half-bull thing in the Hercules stories?' Rex: 'That's a minotaur, and it was Theseus, not Hercules ... and now you're just messing with me.' Sarah: 'Caught me, Dad. I'm listening, though. Keep going.' Rex: 'Anyhow, Dr Dallis --- ' Sarah: 'Whoa! Hold on. Isn't Michael's middle name Dallis?' Rex: 'Yes, named for this doctor I'm *trying* to tell you about.' Sarah: 'OK. Just wanted to be clear on that detail.' Rex: 'Are you sure you want to hear this, or should we just play with the dog for a while?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of June, 2020. Mostly I’m including this panel because I like Terry Beatty’s drawing of a minotaur there. I like Rex and his daughter’s hanging-out banter here, but I understand people who think this is a lot of time spent on nothing.

According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.

And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.

More identity explorations as we move into the plague summer


Here are some more identities you could develop while it’s safe here, now, what with nobody knowing what to do.

You could be the person who floats their head to the side of the screen, letting it drift sideways up and down, in every group video chat. This is what I do. Cut it out. We may be technically correct that Ernie Kovacs would do this, but only David Letterman and I care. Also, as mentioned last week, it’s most often a bad idea to do things like me. It involves a lot of books set across the tops of other books on bookshelves until the whole thing collapses.

You could, though, develop some particular niche hobby to incredible, almost cartoon-like depth. This is a great idea. For instance, I know two people who are amazingly deeply into squirrels. Everyone they know is always sending them squirrel plush dolls and videos of every squirrel being cute or clever on the Internet. Every report of where a squirrel, say, causes a stock market panic because they chewed through an Internet cable. Every time Mark Trail has a giant squirrel talk over a log cabin. They’re so renowned for being into squirrels that their hobby’s self-sustaining now. Their friends do all the work, and all they have to do is sometimes acknowledge that yeah, that squirrel sure got onto that bird feeder all right.

You could become that person with an amazing stock of music knowledge. For example: remember 1981? That year, three-eighths of all sounds were radio plays of the Theme to The Greatest American Hero. (Believe it or not!) I know, I’m surprised too. I remember 1981. I would have sworn it was at least three-and-a-half eighths of all sounds. Anyway, the guy who sang that, Joey Scarbury? He went on, with Desiree Goyette, to record “Flashbeagle”. You know, for the Charlie Brown special It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Yes, Desiree Goyette, the voice of Irving’s other girlfriend Brenda from the 1987 Cathy cartoon. Anyway, drop a fact like that into any conversation and you’ll have changed it forever! I’m afraid that’s about all the music knowledge I have for you. Sorry. It has to be your thing, not mine, anyway.

You could become a know-it-all, but one who tempers every statement by prefacing it with “it’s my understanding that”. This doesn’t work. Also, it’s the kind of nonsense I do, and again, you should avoid doing things like I do.

You could be a person with a deep-dive podcast into some small mystery of life. Like, you could be the person who finally solves why the nutritional information for a noodle packet gives you both the cooked and the uncooked nutrition. Like, are there an appreciable number of people who’ll eat the Hamburger Helper mix — dry shells, powder and all — without any hamburger or water or help or anything? Who are the people tearing open packets of ramen to eat them raw? Where are they? Are they coming after us? Are they getting nearer? At the end of fourteen deeply thoughtful segments you come to the realization that everybody runs at minimum about 25% freak and, you know? If your freak turns out to be “chomps down on raw Noodle-Roni”? That’s fine. It’s not like you’re hurting anyone like you would if your freak had something to do with, I don’t know. Enchanting poodles or anything that’s professionally titled “arbitrage” or something. The good thing is if you do enough of this series, your audience may start doing fan art or sending in tips and then the thing becomes self-sustaining.

You could become a neighborhood legend. You maybe imagine that requires an incredible load of effort, such as by stealing three golf carts from the course on the north side of town, chaining them together, and RV’ing your golf cart train around the neighborhood park. Not at all. You can make do with two golf carts chained together, if the people who are Extremely Upset Online in the neighborhood Facebook group are representative.

What’s important is not so much what you do but that you choose something that feels right to you, a person you are trying to not be like. There are ways that this makes sense.

A mystery of the arts


You know, musical science tells us that there should have been a wave of annoying, acoustic covers of Born in the USA done in minor keys and being completely unavoidable even though nobody liked them that much. And we should have gotten sick of people complaining that the minor-key covers missed the point of the song. The most amazing thing is that this should have happened a decade ago, certainly no later than 2015. There is no explanation for this gap in the field.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why is Gasoline Alley in reruns? March – May 2020


I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley went into reruns this last week. GoComics commenter 436rge asserted that Jim Scancarelli is preparing something for the 100th birthday of Skeezix. This seems plausible. Skeezik’s arrival in the strip made this comic. And others; it’s a landmark in comics history. It was key in giving us comic strips that are about people with life stories. And strips in which characters grew older and changed. It would be odd if Scancarelli did not make a big production of this.

Skeezix entered the strip the 14th of February, 1921. I have no information about whether Gasoline Alley will be in repeat through February of next year. It’s possible, but it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re reading this essay after about August 2020, we’ve probably left farms far in the distance. There should be a more up-to-date plot recap in a post at this link. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

2 March – 23 May 2020.

So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.

Baleen Beluga, the new and personality-rich waitress at Corky’s diner, was getting closer to T-Bone, the cook. He’d like to get closer to her too, but rejected her Sadie Hawkins Day proposal trick. I don’t know the details of the Sadie Hawkins tradition but I’m pretty sure getting someone to agree that “I do [ know what leap year is ]” doesn’t make a breach-of-promise suit. Her feelings were hurt by T-Bone’s reluctance. Then her body was hurt, by slipping on the floor somehow. And you know what that means: visiting mirror-touch synesthetic physician’s assistant Peter Glabella at the clinic.

Beluga, crying: 'Boo-hoo! You care more for the soup than you do me!' T-Bone: 'Please don't cry, Baleen! Listen! We've got to work here at the diner! Let's talk about all this later!' Beluga: 'Leave me alone!' (Black panel filled with crashing noises: BANG! CRASH! E-YOWCH! Tinkle!) T-Bone: 'Baleen! Are you OK?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2020. I swear I’m not one of those needlessly literal readers who needs every single step explained. But I’d like to know what Baleen was doing, sitting down, that she could fall badly enough to hurt herself. Also I’m not sure that if I were doing the strip I’d have put ‘TINKLE’ there, just because, you know, bad laughs.

After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.


Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)

The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.

The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!

Boog: 'Hey, Pops! Charlotte came up with a cool suggestion! How 'bout us teens helping out some farmers with chores, planting, etc etc? They wouldn't have to pay us and ... ' Boog's father: 'How about you doing chores, etc, around your own home for free?' Boog and Charlotte: 'Gulp!' Comedy Parrot: 'Oh, brother ... er ... father!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of April, 2020. Wait wait wait, have an agricultural labor force made up of unpaid and under-paid persons from a socially disadvantaged group? Is that possible?

She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.

Eric Helmet, speaking to the crowd: 'My memory must be in erase mode! I forgot to tell you something! There's a song by Don Henley called, 'A Month of Sundays!' It's about a farmer's feeling and the changing times! You can Google the lyrics! They sure are poignant!' Comedy Parrot: 'Does that mean *loud*?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of May, 2020. Now, if you google the melody instead of the lyrics, you find out Don Henley forgot to write one, but hey, some folks like that.

I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.


There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.

Next Week!

Why does James Allen’s Mark Trail look weird? I’ll share what I have learned. (I have learned nothing.) But we’ll see what the story has been.

Statistics Saturday: ‘Yes’ Cover Bands, Ranked


  1. Yeah
  2. Yup
  3. Uh-huh
  4. You Bet
  5. OK
  6. Yep
  7. Yea
  8. Aye
  9. Sure
  10. Nuh-uh
  11. Out From The Lens
  12. Maybe

Not listed: Sailors of Topographic Oceans, as they’re focusing more on Rick Wakeman’s solo work these days.

Reference: Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man Who Trusted Atoms, Carlo Cercignani.

One of those odd stray thoughts


You know, Mike Oldfield didn’t write “Tubular Bells” for The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin picked it when the original soundtrack was too scary, and he didn’t yet know about Tangerine Dream. So, like, in an alternate timeline, that tune doesn’t have any association with anything horrifying. It could have ended up being the sound for merry Christmas melodies of the 70s and 80s. You never see that sort of thing in alternate-history novels, though. Alternate history is a fun genre, ranging from stories about “what if the worst people won the major war” all the way to stories about “what if there were lots more moon landings”. But it never wonders about what if prog rock albums were appreciated differently.

How Music May Help Us Through This Crisis


Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.

Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.

But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.

But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.

And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.

So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?

Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.

If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who’s Shaky and why’s he want Dick Tracy dead? December 2019 – February 2020


Shaky is the villain in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy right now, in late February 2020. If you’re reading this summary after about May 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. But this Shaky is the nephew, or nephew at least once removed, of the original Shaky. This first Shaky was a con man with a relentless shaking habit, and amazing dexterity, who died in the comic strip in January 1945. Asphyxiation, nasty stuff. The Dick Tracy Wiki helpfully explains there were a second Shaky, related to the first, who appeared in a 1986 and a sequel sometime in the 1990s. That character’s described on that page for Shaky. The current Shaky they dub Shaky II, because he is the third of that name and gimmick. I’m glad this acts as if it cleared things up.

Dick Tracy.

1 December 2019 – 23 February 2020

Mid-November started a tale that brought Steve Roper and Mike Nomad from their remembered, cancelled action-adventure comic strip. Tulza Tuzon, also known as Haf-and-Haf and also known as Splitface, tried to car-bomb them. Roper and Nomad told us why Splitface wanted them dead. They’d been investigating his carnival midway scams and pickpocketing. This lead to his disfigurement in a tanker of acid. Yeah, but he used crows to lift purses, so it’s fair.

Roper, Nomad, Dick Tracy, and Sam Catchem count it as good luck that Tuzon’s car bomb didn’t kill any of them. Tuzon and his partner, Clybourne, see it as bad luck; they don’t have the cash for another bomb. Tuzon makes some calls, though. He knows of some friends, Measles and Wormy, whom Sam Catchem busted before they could use their crime props. Why not use their gear?

Clybourne calls Roper and Nomad. He claims to be an armored car driver who saw something relevant to the bomb. He sets up a meeting at Ambush Parking Garage, and they agree to fall for this. Clybourne went to so much trouble bringing knockout gas it would be rude if they didn’t. Meanwhile Tuzon calls Dick Tracy, claiming he wants to turn himself in. He’ll meet Tracy and Catchem at the Big Cat House, at the zoo. Tracy and Catchem fall for this, too. Clybourne and Tuzon drag all four of them into the alligator pit. The ex-circus alligator Lorenzo is to get them.

Alligator snaps up a slab of meat, and then turns to face Dick Tracy, Sam Catchem, Mike Roper and Steve Nomad, and hisses. Dick Tracy, snapping awake, cries out, 'Ye gods!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of December, 2019. Dick Tracy knows stronger oaths, of course, but he can’t be that worked up about just another alligator come to eat him. I mean … what do you all guess is the number of times Dick Tracy’s been menaced by an alligator, crocodile, or gharial? I’m going to say this is at minimum his eighth.

Tracy wakes up moments ahead of Lorenzo getting to them, and rallies everyone. They call for help and … well, it’s able to get to them with plenty of time. Tuzon didn’t grab their wrist-radios or stick around to watch the alligator eat them because, you know. He had urgent business: getting to the aviary so he could free the original Clybourne, the crow he’d trained to pick pockets on the midway. Mike Nomad divines this is Tuzon’s plan, chases after him, and catches the guy. And, on the 28th of December, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad fly back for home, wrapping up the story.


The new story — one just recently wrapped up — started the 29th of December, 2019. This with a guy assembling a bunch of guns and a metallic face mask. He leads the robbery of Thermopolis Payroll, introducing himself as Mister Roboto. This isn’t his first robbery, but it’s the first big enough to make it grand larceny and be worthy of Dick Tracy’s attention. Mr Roboto’s gang also wears masks, “not as elaborate” in the words of the police chief, but, you know, you gotta do something.

Mister Roboto, holding a gun on one of his own men: 'Back off, Tracy! We're coming through with a hostage!' Tracy orders the cops: 'Stand down, everybody! Hold your fire!' As Roboto and henchmen make their way past the police barricade Tracy declares, 'You can't hide behind that mask forever, Roboto.' Mister Roboto: 'It helps me escape, just when I need to.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of January, 2020. Honestly? I know fanboys. For Mister Roboto the real payoff to this escapade was dropping that line while being confident Dick Tracy does not appreciate how aptly he’s embodying the lyric.

Which seems to be Mister Roboto’s point. After splitting the payroll heist, Roboto dismisses his henchmen until next week. He resigns himself to his boring warehouse job.

Meanwhile — in a story foreshadowed the 9th and 10th of December — the new Vitamin Flintheart play assembles. They’re doing a stage version of Metropolis. Starring as the Robotrix and False Maria? Mysta Chimera, who — just a second. I need to warm up before describing all this. OK. Mysta Chimera has the appearance and some of the powers of the Lunarians, much like Honeymoon Tracy has. But she’s not from the moon. She’s a surgically modified, amnesiac mobster’s daughter who’d been mentally programmed to think she was the Moon Maiden, Junior Tracy’s murdered wife. Chimera has learned where she really came from, and has given up on her whole past identity to hang around with Dick Tracy’s gang. Bonding with Honeymoon Tracy over having, you know, Moon Powers and those cool antennas and all that. Junior Tracy has taken all this with a sangfroid I’m not sure I could manage in the circumstance.

Mr Roboto pulls another robbery and gets into a shootout with Dick Tracy. It has a couple delightful moments in it. First, the cashier blurting out “domo arigato, Mister Roboto”, which endears her to Roboto. He declares that she can keep the money. Second, though, during the shootout Roboto declares, “Hey, Tracy! It’s a cold war!” Which confuses his underlings. Also, everyone who read the strip because the thing that defines a “cold war” is not shooting directly at the enemy. What’s going on here is that “Cold War” is one of the other songs on the album with “Mister Roboto”. So the implication here is that yes, Mr Roboto is trying to build his villain’sona around a Styx thing, but that he … doesn’t … really … have exactly the material to do it with. Or didn’t have the command of the material to do the patter smoothly. I accept this as a funny, awkward moment in the training of a young supervillain.

Mister Roboto, holding a gun on one of his own men: 'Back off, Tracy! We're coming through with a hostage!' Tracy orders the cops: 'Stand down, everybody! Hold your fire!' As Roboto and henchmen make their way past the police barricade Tracy declares, 'You can't hide behind that mask forever, Roboto.' Mister Roboto: 'It helps me escape, just when I need to.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of January, 2020. Honestly? I know fanboys. For Mister Roboto the real payoff to this escapade was dropping that line while being confident Dick Tracy does not appreciate how aptly he’s embodying the lyric.

They get out of the shootout, though. Mr Roboto has one of his henchmen lose his costume and fake being a hostage, for safe passage. He won’t be able to use that henchman again, but, that’s better than their getting killed or arrested. And they’ll have to lay low a while, but he was thinking to do that anyway. Roboto had noticed the ads for Metropolis, after all.

And the play is just his thing. The 19th of January — the first time we see Mr Roboto’s face unmasked — he’s gazing at Mysta Chimera, and even better, Mysty Chimera as a robot. It’s an explosive mix. He’s barely left the theater when he’s worked out how he’s going to kidnap her and be with her forever until she loves him. It’s the pretext of a magazine interview, in costume as the robot, of course, handcuffed to a chair, the usual.

Mysta Chimera, tied to a chair in Mister Roboto's home: 'Why did you bring me here, Roboto?' Roboto: 'Because! You're Futura, the Robotrix! Mister Roboto and Futura! The perfect couple!' Chimera: 'You're crazy.' Roboto 'Wait and see. Time is all that we really need!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of January, 2020. Hang on, Roboto has to have broken into the zoo to steal some Moon Snail to make a “special dinner” for her before he’d kidnapped her. But then he also didn’t plan on kidnapping her sometime he wouldn’t have to run right back out for another robbery? I grant that Roboto has thrown this whole plan together at the last minute but he maybe would have done better if he’d taken a second day to work on it. Also if he’d hooked up with the local cosplay scene to see if there’s someone who does robots and is willing to talk to him when not held hostage?

He has to run to a bank job. So he leaves her some Moon Snail, fresh-poached from the city zoo, which is having a heck of a winter with the baddies breaking in. Once he leaves, she moon-zaps her handcuffs off and calls Dick Tracy. Mr Roboto and his gang get back to the lair — well, a two-level house in the suburbs — only for Mysta to moon-zap them, and then Dick Tracy arrives. Roboto and crew surrender, asking only to not be repeatedly shot. And that, the 8th of February, wraps up the Mister Roboto storyline.

I’m assuming we’ll see Mister Roboto again, since he’s got this fun goofball air while still doing actual crimes. I have no idea what anyone from Styx thinks of inspiring a Dick Tracy villain. But I am absolutely on board for this summer’s villain of “hardcore Atari 2600 Swordquest adventure games fanboy”. Also, nobody has yet added this storyline to the “Uses in Media” section of Wikipedia’s page about the song. Just observing.


The new and current story started the 9th of February, with someone baking a birthday cake for Shaky, whose gimmick is that he’s always trembling. Then, some flashbacks to explain his deal. He was shaking constantly from infancy, rather like his uncle Shaky. He parleyed this in his youth to being the schoolyard bully. Then to selling exam papers and book reports. Then to blackmail, forgery, that sort of thing. And today? Today, he’s looking for revenge on Dick Tracy.

Shaky: 'Suppressing evidence is no small matter, Ms Tracy. How do you think your husband would react?' Tess Tracy: 'What's your proposition, Shaky?' Shaky: 'Simple. PAY ME and I'll make sure Tracy never finds out.' Tracy: 'And if I don't?' Shaky: 'That divorce proceeding you two almost had might come true this time.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of February, 2020. The threatened divorce was in a storyline from the first half of 1994. It made some news back then. I don’t know why this strip — and several others this week — have been in black-and-white when most of them are in color. But there is literally nothing about the colorization of daily comic strips that anyone understands.

Shaky’s plan get Tracy is to go through Tess Tracy. Her detective agency provided most of the evidence used to convict James McQueen of aggravated backstory. Shaky claims he can prove McQueen’s innocence, and that he’s willing to sit on that evidence, for a fee. And if she doesn’t pay, he explains, he’ll tell the press how Dick Tracy’s wife is suppressing evidence. Think of the scandal, since in the Tracy universe there are still scandals with consequences. Think how her husband will react.

Me, I would think “obscure relative of a killed antagonist is blackmailing me to get revenge on you” would be easy to explain to Dick Tracy. Heck, it’s happened so much they have to discuss it when something doesn’t have to do with a relative of someone Tracy’s killed looking for revenge. There’ve been like over two hundred relatives of Flattop alone trying to get revenge on Dick Tracy. Tossing in another Shaky shouldn’t strain the super-scientific detective’s belief in her. But we’ll see. For now, this is where the story’s gotten.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? Aw, what ever is going on in Gasoline Alley, anyway? I expect a healthy bunch of jokes about the leap year, if nothing else. That’s in seven days, unless events demand special attention first. And in the meantime, my other blog looks at comic strips with mathematical content. You might enjoy reading that. Thanks for trying.

Statistics Saturday: Fifteen Questions ‘Cleveland’ Is A Incorrect Answer To


  • What is the capital of Ohio?
  • What was, historically, the capital of the Ohio Territory?
  • What is the largest city to border a Great Lake?
  • Where’s the Cedar Point amusement park?
  • How are you today?
  • Did you know psoriasis can get into your ear? How does that make sense?
  • Are the Kinks getting back together?
  • What makes our new Terms of Service so all-fired different from the old Terms of Service that it was worth sending you a new Terms of Service to pretend to read?
  • Is there going to be weather tomorrow?
  • What’s the seat of Hamilton County, Ohio?
  • Back in the early 20th century when there were “traction companies” running trolley cars all along city and even suburban streets it’s … like … they were transmitting electric power for cars along overhead lines, right? It’s not like they were running gigantic ropes and pulleys dragging things through town? Because that couldn’t possibly work, but “traction” seems like a weird name for “streetcar electric power”, right?
  • Where was Case Western Reserve University originally located?
  • Which United States Vice-President swore his oath of office in Cuba?
  • What’s the name of your Chicago cover band?
  • Yes, but did you like the movie?

Reference: Science From Your Airplane Window, Elizabeth A Wood. “Cleveland” was the name of your friend from college that you never really lost touch with but never talk to either’s Chicago cover band.