I was reading about the town of Pensford in Somerset, England, because hi there I guess we’ve only just met for the first time. That’s the sort of thing I do, is all. Pensford’s Wikipedia page has this to say about famous residents:
Philosopher and physician John Locke FRS 1632-1704, known as the “Father of Liberalism” lived in John Locke’s Cottage in Belluton within the parish of Publow with Pensford from shortly after his birth until 1647.
And, gosh but that’s a lucky coincidence on John Locke’s part. Just imagine the quarrels he might have got into if he had been living in Thomas Hobbes’s cottage instead. They probably still had the quarrels anyway, but they would have had to argue about who was in whose cottage too.
I may have mentioned that I like to drink tea. If I haven’t mentioned that I like to drink tea, let me mention that I like to drink tea here: I like to drink tea. So I hope we’re all caught up here. This past week I’ve been drinking tea from work, from the office. They got the tea from … somewhere … somehow. I don’t know. The tea bags, though, have these little tabs trying to be entertaining, and I’m fascinated. Oh, there’s some of mere usual ones, like the warning that minds and parachutes function only when open. But then there’s pieces like this:
Among economics, the real world is often a special case.
Dressmakers treated customers ruff in the 16th century.
If that hasn’t got you acknowledging the existence of a joke, please consider this one:
Indolent philosopher: Mr I Can’t.
I would not dare speak for you. But for me, I wish to read all of these aloud, imitating whoever it is Saturday Night Live had in the 1980s to imitate Gene Shalit. And, at the end of each reading, saying loudly, “Wink!” while wincing half of my face in a way that suggests I know the concept of a wink but haven’t figured out how to do it myself. Anyway I don’t know how long these tea bags will hold out, but they certainly inspire in me the thought: huh.
Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.
(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)
And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.
With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.
The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.
They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.
Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.
Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.
I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.
Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.
Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?
Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.
Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.
But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.
So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.
So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.
They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.
The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.
Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.
And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.
Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not keeping up with like anything that I ought to be. But I’m very busy workshopping a joke where the punch line is “and that one sentence completely changed everything I ever thought about Heraclitus!” That I’m having trouble figuring out how to frame it is definitely not because it’s too minor a jest to use as anything but an offhand remark in a professional setting. I know there’s some setup that’ll make it a killer joke when I’m just chatting with, say, the guy at Penn Station subs taking my order for a grilled artichoke and mushroom. It’s out there somewhere. I know I’m in fighting form to get this joke worked out. Just yesterday I was able to deliver “Oh, no, that’s Tiamat of Samos you’re thinking of. This is Tiamat of Ephesus”. That’s a great joke about the pre-Socratic philosophers plus dragons marred only by how I couldn’t think of Ephesus right away and had to say “that other place”. But that’s still the level I’m working at and that’s why I know it’s going to be worth it getting this Heraclitus setup figured out. Oh, Miletus would also have worked there. Thank you. Also Philosophers and Dragons should be a thing so I’ll thank somebody to work on that now. I’m busy with my project.
My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.
So I’ve been reading Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies, about the chapbook and pamphlet reporting of paranormal or supernatural events during the era of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, because why would you not read a book like that? I want to share one of its reports, from 1647’s The Most Strange And Wonderfull Apparition of Blood in a Pool at Garreton.
Apparently, for four days the pond water in the town of Garreton in Leicestershire grew ever-darker, turning, some thought, to blood; cattle would no longer drink from it, though fish from the pond tasted fine. And then, the pamphlet-writer reported, “philosophers” were called in.
I know, I know, I know what the original author meant by philosophers. And yet I can’t help figuring the decision to bring philosophers in went something like this:
John Thwapper: “The water hath turned to blood! Quick, summon a philosopher!”
Jake A-Plummet (whose family got the name for an ancestor renowned for his ability to fall): “Kantian or Neoplatonist?”
Jack O’Wort: (looking up from his meal of blood-water fish) “We … we need the cattle to drink the water, so that’s a utility. Best summon a utilitarian, eh?”
Mary Chortle: “We need the water to change. Obviously there’ll be no help for us save from a Pre-Socratic.” And when everyone around her just looks confused, she scowls at what a lot of idiots are in her town and cries out, “Thales of Miletus, ye fools!”
And I realize you’re probably not laughing at that, but somewhere I’ve made a philosophy major giggle, so this is all worth it.
Anyway, the book doesn’t say what the philosopher was able to do about it, but the pamphlet-writer concluded — with some grumbling that philosophers distracted from the wonderfullness of the event, so apparently only after they got involved did the water turning to blood kind of suck? — that the real thing to be learned from this apparition was that the English Civil War caused a lot of people to die, and more of his countrymen needed to understand this, which suggests he figured a lot of the English people had somehow missed the War. Maybe they thought it was some unusually fertile year for frogs or something.
“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.
I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”
He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.
“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”
He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”
So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.
“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”
He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”
“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”
“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”
“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”
“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”
“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”
He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”
“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”
“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”
Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”
“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”
“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”
And he did that little shaking hop.
“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”
He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”
“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”
“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.
“She asked whether you liked it.”
“And you said?”
“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.
“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”
“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”
“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”
“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.
So, now, some numbers for November. I hadn’t been watching them so obsessively in the middle of the month and obviously that shows, since my total views dropped to 357 (down from 370), when if I’d known this back around the 20th I might have got out back and pushed. On the other hand the number of unique visitors went from 179 up to 188, my third-highest on record, so that’s something. Mostly it’s a decrease in views per visitor, 2.07 down to 1.90.
The countries sending me the most readers the past month were, again, the United States and United Kindgom, but Australia popped in out of nowhere. A single reader each came from Austria, Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey. This is a pretty impressive increase in single-visitor countries from last time, when France was the sole lone reader.
My most popular bits from the past month were:
Comic Strips: Math and Michigan, including my discussion of why I thought a Pearls Before Swine didn’t work (and some folks have been following up with their own thoughts).
Another bit of the aftermath of that whole Battle of Arginusae thing: like I learned, the generals who were responsible for the victory over Sparta there were tried for failing to rescue so many Athenian boatmen. Fair enough. Wikipedia’s article reports how “all six generals [ there had been eight, but two of them ran away ] were found guilty and executed including Pericles the Younger. The Athenians soon came to regret their decision in the case of the generals, and charges were brought against the principal instigators of the executions. These men escaped before they could be brought to trial”.
The thing is, this happened all the time in ancient Athens. You could barely get the citizens together to express regret for the last time they had someone executed without their figuring they had to have somebody executed. Every gathering went like this:
Antisthenes: Boy, we were stupid to have Socrates killed.
Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?
Antisthenes: It was Meletus, wasn’t it? Let’s kill Meletus!
[ Two weeks later: ]
Next Guy: Man, we were idiots to kill Meletus.
Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?
Antisthenes: Me. Sorry, it was mine.
Next Guy: Let’s kill him!
Founders of Western Civilization and yet nobody pointed out they’re always sorry two weeks later. None of them ever gets the idea, “hey, if he really needs killing, he’ll still need it a month from now, so no rush”. I’m guessing this is what happens when your government consists of getting a couple hundred guys together where they have to shout to be heard at all while making sure they have all the wine they can drink.
I don’t mean to brag, but, I did research for that little thing about Socrates the other day. In particular I cast about for names that maybe plausibly could have been of people Socrates might have known, because it’s fun and research avoids actually having to write, and getting that sort of irrelevant detail right is the sure way to win the lifetime adoration of someone who specializes in whatever it is I’m writing about. So that’s why I picked, particularly, “Euryptolemus” as a name. My spouse wondered how I had, and I had to dig through my notes.
It’s all kind of long, complicated, and confusing, in that way ancient history just is, but he was one of the figures in the controversy over the Battle of Arginusae. This was a battle during the Peloponnesian War where the Athenian navy beat the Spartan one, and then most of the navy was sent to try relieving Sparta’s siege of the city of Conon rather than stick around picking up Athenian survivors. A storm came up, and both the attempt to relieve Conon and the attempt to pick up survivors failed, and the Athenian population naturally put the generals responsible for beating not Sparta enough on trial. This gets back to Socrates because some of the trial was done under his authority as an epistates, possibly the only time in his life that Socrates actually held a political office.
In fact, my spouse, the professional philosopher, didn’t know that Socrates ever held office. Socrates’s role in trying the Eight Generals from the Battle of Arginusae was one of moderation, because he apparently didn’t think there were constitutional grounds for the motion to just have the generals killed right then and there. This reason, if it’s true (and it’s hard to be perfectly sure as ancient historians felt more free than we do to alter facts so to make a better and more instructional story), neatly foreshadows his refusal to take the chance to escape his judicially-sponsored murder two years later, and shows his belief in the social compact binding people in a society to each other, for good or ill. It’s a fascinating peek at the historical Socrates that makes him a more real and more compelling character, and by the time we had read enough ineptly-written Wikipedia pages to we think straighten all this out in our heads, we were captivated. My arbitrary plucking of a name had given us the chance to see how a person who studied so diligently the problem of how we could come by knowledge and how we could be confident we had it dealt with the inherent uncertainties in judging human affairs, particularly in the boiling-over world of ancient Athenian politics.
Two hours later we both realized that while we hadn’t the faintest recollection what the name of the battle was, who any of the generals involved were, or what city the navy was sent to relieve, or what precisely was the name of Euryptolemus, we nevertheless were describing, in precise enough detail for scholars to completely reconstruct it, that Big Red chewing gum commercial with the marching band.
My spouse, the professional philosopher, startled me the other day while we were driving to Meijer’s by mentioning that Socrates had been a master stonecutter. That’s really the sort of thing you expect to hear on the way to Kroger’s. Up to that point I had never imagined that Socrates even had a profession. I’d assumed he had always made his living by committing acts of philosophy against the Athenian population. My mental model was that he probably had started out seeking wisdom and truth and maybe beauty around the holiday seasons. I had thought I was supported in this by Plato’s recording of Socrates’s discussion with Isocrates, which I had to read for an undergraduate history class about the Cold War, 1945 – 1963, because the professor was bored:
Isocrates: Good fellow Socrates! It has been an agora’s age. No, no, say nothing, I’ll not be engaging you in any conversations anymore. Everyone knows perfectly well how talking with you ends up.
Socrates: Everyone does? How does everyone come by such perfect knowledge?
Isocrates: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA [ continues for 26 scrolls of papyrus ] AAAAAAUGH!
Euryptolemus: Sorry to interrupt but the Spartans are invading Mytilene again.
So with a background like that you can see why I’m stunned to know Socrates ever had to do anything to pay the bills other than collect ransom for going off and talking to other people instead.
A little while ago the Three Stooges’ short Hello Pop, from 1933, was discovered. It had been lost, thought to be destroyed in a 1967 archive fire, but it turned out it was just hiding out in Australia after running up some debts with a mob of wallaroos. Happens to the best of us. Here’s the thing that captures my imagination: this was the only Three Stooges short thought to be lost. So as far as the human intellect is able to understand, there are no missing or absent works from the whole Three Stooges catalogue of films. The complete record is there.
Now what this makes me think of is the remarkable fact that, again as best we can determine, there aren’t any lost works of Plato. There aren’t any references we can find to a book he’d written that’s now lost, which is staggering considering that your typical ancient Greek writer — your Hipparchos or Aporia or Hypochondria or the like — ran about eighteen lost works to one that anyone ever actually saw. Aristophanes is thought to have pitched two or three plays into the wine-dark sea for every one he had performed just because that was the thing to do in that time. So it’s stunning we have any complete sets of any of the ancients, especially when it’s one of your name-brand greats like Plato.
So of all the things that the Three Stooges and that Plato might have in common, who would have guessed that there were any?