How to Shake Hands


I write this for some future reader. I suppose I always have to, but this is more specific. Particularly it’s for readers who, after the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, don’t remember how to shake hands anymore.

You may laugh. I hope you do. But you think that shaking hands is like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. Ah, but have you tried bicycle-riding after a long time away? You start with a sensible helmet, judging the wacky helmet in poor taste for these times. Then you try putting both feet on the pedals, but the kickstand is in the way. You put a foot on the ground and try pushing the kickstand back. But you have to push it in and press backward while letting it slide out and before you know it you topple over. You fall into the bag of leaves the city isn’t collecting yet so it doesn’t hurt. But you’re making no bicycle-riding progress.

It’s like this with handshakes too. Try it now, by yourself. Reach your right hand to your left and shake. Ah! You see, right? You can’t shake a left hand and a right hand! What you have done there, my friend, is applaud. This is why you need my guidance.

I’ll get to specific instructions in a moment. But you need to know a long-range goal. A handshake done well will be both good and firm. It’s obvious why you want a handshake to be good. We all strive for the good through the limitations of our understanding and perceptions. Plato’s students wrote three false Socratic dialogues about the nature of a good handshake. (That was because they needed publication credits, though.)

But why firm? I don’t know. I think it’s to be sure we understand what it’s like being handled by an adjustable crescent wrench. It may not be comfortable but it’s better than an unadjustable crescent wrench. It also could be just that guys set the standards, and the guy standard for everything is that it should be done until someone weeps.

So that’s the long-term goal. Now to practical steps. First, with your handshakes, check that you have at least one hand. No one, however much they want a handshake from you, will fault you if you haven’t got hands. This is an out, by the way. If for some reason you can’t bear handshakes, then “accidentally” leave them back home when you go out. I don’t know how you’ll lock your door, sorry. Maybe you live in a good neighborhood.

Ready for a handshake, though? With the help of at least one other person — remember the lesson about applauding — get ready. First, hold up your handshaking hand. Spread your fingers out and then close them back until you feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you can hold your fingers at that separation for at least 120 seconds without feeling strain. (Practice this before your actual handshaking! You want it to look automatic.) Reach your thumb out perpendicular to your hand, then touch your palm, at least two but not more than three times.

Reach your hand towards your handshake-partner’s, starting with your palm held vertical. Turn it slowly horizontal. Your model here is the Space Pan-Am spaceship space-docking in the Space Hilton from 2001: A Space Odyssey. With your space hand — sorry, hand — accidentally slipped into your partner’s sleeve, apologize. Tap your forehead and say you don’t know where your thoughts are today. You are “spaced out”, as they say. Smile with a glint in your eye. After a hearty chuckle go on about your post-handshake business.

Does it seem like the handshake’s gone wrong? You have good insights, my friend. The handshake has gone wrong, but this is what you want. By sharing in a “blunder” you’ve shared a very mild embarrassment with someone. They now see you as the partner in a special little moment of common humanity. They’ll like you more even though they have no actual reason to. And that is the secret true goal of shaking hands.

[ Me, thinking I’ve closed the essay file. ] Ha-ha! Got them all now, didn’t I? Now I can reveal my intrigue! They have forgotten that I am incompetently germ-phobic! I have always hated handshakes! I am using this as a chance to quash the habit for once and all! They have no choice now but to try hugging or just nodding nervously!

Emotional Drafting


A little bit before we got our stay-at-home orders I bought some pencil leads. You know, for mechanical pencils. I don’t say this to make you all envious. I know there are people out there who don’t use mechanical pencils. I prefer mechanical pencils and I won’t be apologizing for that. Yes, I have tried your fully pneumatic pencils. I don’t like the flow. Electronic pencils would be great, but they’re monitoring everything you do. And they’re sending mean notes to Facebook about your bad handwriting and how it’s ruining your wrists.

So mechanical pencils it is for me, and that means sometimes buying new leads. This is because putting in a new lead is two percent less bad than buying a whole new pen and throwing the old away. It should be a bigger gap. There’s mechanical pencils where you put the new lead in by pressing down the little cap thingy on the end and dropping a new lead in. I don’t have that. The pencils I have these days require me to take the end cap off, then remember that’s not how to reload these pencils. Then I have to unscrew the … I’m going to call it nib … from the center of the pencil. Then press down on the cap until I remember that’s not how to open it up to take a new lead either. Then I have to look up on YouTube how to put lead into my pencil, and follow that video. I might be better off throwing the old pencils away and getting a new one, but again, there’s that two percent margin. It’s a tiny bit less bad to buy a new lead.

Except. I bought this at an Office Depot. Or Office Max. I forget what it was before they merged (it was Kinko’s) and moved from one end of the strip mall to the other. The problem is, this got them e-mailing me to give my opinions about the transaction.

This is a heck of a thing to ask for in any case. What is there to rate? I go in to a store that sells pencil leads, pick up a pack of pencil leads, and pay for it, and leave. How can I rate that? Plato himself would volunteer that there is no such thing as an Ideal Form of the pencil-lead-buying experience. There is no way to perceive the difference between a mediocre pencil-lead-buying experience and the greatest pencil-lead-buying experience of your life. I guess this does mean we can treat every chance to buy pencil lead as a new chance to have a best-possible experience, so far as we know.

I concede there can be a terrible pencil-lead-buying experience. But that’s because something interferes with the pencil-lead-buying. Like, while you’re there a ceiling tile drops on you. Or you can’t remember which phone number you gave for their loyalty program and then someone insists you are too John “Ten Eyck” Lansing Jr, the indirect namesake for the capital of Michigan (Ten Eyck), who went missing in 1829. That would ruin the pencil-lead-buying. That’s the result of the other experience getting in the way, though.

Anyway I figured to ignore Max Depot’s e-mails until they gave up asking. The way Best Buy has finally accepted that I have no opinions to share about a four-USB-plug power brick. Except that they would not give up. They e-mailed me daily, asking me to please tell them about the pencil-lead-buying experience.

They sent me more e-mails than Joe Biden’s campaign has, if you can imagine, now that Biden bought whatever cursed mailing list Amy Klobuchar had. And this as the pandemic kept on panning. So I gave in and answered them. No, I would not recommend buying pencil lead at Depot to the Max, because they keep asking me to have an opinion about it, and I keep remembering how if everything starts going well, the pandemic might only kill as many Americans as combat did in the Civil War, and I have to go to the basement and yell at cinder blocks.

They e-mailed back.

And apologized that my experience was so bad and they will work to make it better in the future.

So now management dinks are going to punish people who actually work, because I said the buying was fine but the follow-up sucked. And I have to deal with knowing I’m to blame for that.

So now I can’t ever buy pencil lead at Max Office, Max Depot ever again. It’s going to hurt too much. I have, finally, found what a bad pencil-lead-buying experience is.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who blipped Alley Oop and Ooola out of existence? August – November 2019


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.

Alley Oop.

19 August – 9 November 2019.

I last checked in as Ollie Arp and Eeena, from Universe 3, finished sanctioning the comic for being all wacky and stuff. Universe 3, annoyed with how the new Alley Oop, Oona Ooola, and Doctor Wonmug were messing up time, gave them a ticket, and left. They haven’t played an explicit part in the story since, as of the 9th of November. But, gosh, it sure would be wild if they had something to do with the vanishing of Wonmug’s time lab staff after a really big messing up of time, wouldn’t it?

(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.

Dr Piedra: 'You walked to Dr Wonmug and his partners?' Ollie Arp: 'Yes. I was very clear that they should stop altering the timeline. I was firm, but fair.' Piedra; 'And how do you explain this?' (She holds up a picture of Plato on a scooter, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and short jeans.) Arp: 'Oh ... ha ha ... Plato, uh, always dressed like that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2019. This is funny enough, although if you wanted the Slightly Over-Researched version of this joke? Have Dr Piedra show a photo of Plato as a lucha libre wrestler.

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.

Alley Oop: 'Wow! Your society is SO advanced!' Sharp: 'Yes, it must be very shocking to you. Apologies that I cannot offer you a banana or a vine to swing on. I know how you primates are.' Ooola: 'Sharp, come on, just because we're primates ... [ Notices Oop doing something with her hair ] Oop, what are you doing?!' Oop: 'I wasn't grooming you. There was just a bug in your fur ... I mean hair.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of September, 2019. One joke used repeatedly, and never failing me, this storyline was this kind of “oh, you know primates” setup. I don’t say it’s a deep joke. I do say I had fun hearing humans described as “a bunch of greasy, hairy bipeds who don’t even have the sense to evolve a shell over their backs … stinky, violent, high-center-of-gravity, fragile creatures … the most annoying and destructive beings”.
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.

Uldo: 'We must tell the President what we've learned! We must save the Cutie-Pies!' Alley Oop: 'Who are the Cutie-Pies?' Uldo: 'We are! That's what we call ourselves.' Oop: 'That's ... weird.' Uldo: 'Wy? Aren't we cute?' Oop: 'I mean ... not really.' Uldo: 'First we learn about the end of our species, and now I'm called ugly? Can this day get any worse?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of October, 2019. I don’t know; I think they’re cute. Also in the next couple days Alley Oop comes to see the Cutie-Pies as fairly cute, really, and deserving saving.

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.

Ooola: 'I don't understand. Humans are horrible to the environment in our timeline, but the world doesn't end there.' Dr Wonmug: 'Yes, that puzzled me at first, too, but I've been running the numbers. The increased biomass of the tortoises in this timeline has put an extra strain on Earth's limited resources. [ Looking over at a Cute-Pie. ] See, I told you it was the tortoises's fault, Silverstein! You owe me a dollar!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of October, 2019. Moving swiftly onward from yet another science fiction “oh, we can’t have an environment and avoid genocide, choose one” line of bull: Hey, Wonmug, they want to be called Cutie-Pies. Why you being a jerk about this? Unless we hypothesize that a group’s sense of their own identity might change over two million years which is, of course, absurd and impossible. Anyway there’s a cute moment the 24th, when Wonmug tries to tell Silverstein they were talking about “bananas and body hair”, as primates will.
Anyway, in the new timeline, the world is doomed. Environmental collapse. A combination human/tortoise civilization is too much for the planet. Yes, we have to pretend this makes sense. Doc charges Alley Oop and Ooola with stopping the world from ending. Doc stays with Dr Silverstein. He pledges he’ll “breed a species of hyperintelligent giant tortoises that will rebuild my forgotten society”. Yeah; take a number after the Time Raccoons.

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.

Alley Oop, to his parents: 'I know it's complicated, but I'm your son. I'm from the future. I'm kind of responsible for the world ending. For the sake of the whole world, have you ever thought about not having any kids? You could travel the world, chisel the great Moo-ian novel, collect cool-looking rocks, learn how to ... ' As he keeps talking Oop's father says, 'When he leaves, do you still want to ... ?' Oop's mother: 'Oh, yeah.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 31st of October, 2019. Granting that Alley Oop isn’t offering much evidence for his claims about being from the future and being a threat to the world. But, jeez, if you were Alley Oop’s parents wouldn’t this at least spoil your mood? There’s more than a bit of 90s-webcomic-mean in the writing and I think it gives moments like this the wrong tone.

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?

Ava: 'Alley! Ooola! I'm so glad to see you! Dr Wonmug is GONE! He just VANISHED!' (As Ooola vanishes behind them.) Alley Oop: 'Don't be silly, Ava. (He looks to where Ooola was, as Ava vanishes.) People don't just ... (As he vanishes.) ... disappear ... '
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of November, 2019. Yes, people disappearing is completely inexplicable in a comic strip about people who disappear through time and occasionally alternate universes.

Next Week!

I trusted that The Ghost Who Walks was about to take Imara Sahara back to the fabulous Skull Cave. How’d that turn out? We’ll see as I look at Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity) next Sunday, I hope.

Also this week, on my other blog, I talk about mathematics through the filter of comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver


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.

Continue reading “Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver”

The Platonic Stooge


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?