As I Read About A Merry Subject


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

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

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

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

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Statistics Saturday: My Acts Of Passive Aggression


Not that any of you demanded it, or showed any particular interest, but that I like anyway.

Um. Sorry.

Omitted for clarity: smiling with just my mouth and not at all my eyes; time spent glaring at the satellite dish for not somehow being more satisfying a means of receiving transmitted bit that would, if decoded properly, be an episode of Paw Patrol; tossing in false results for the fun of it; reorganizing the books on the shelf behind my chair so the first letters on each spine spell out snark.

Subtweets; Castigating The Recycling Bin; Sharply Worded Birthday Cards Mailed The Wrong Month; Songs Chosen For Essay Titles; Favoriting Choice Comic Strips; Changing Someone's Name In My Phone Contacts; Careful Enunciation; Putting Extra [sic]'s In A Quote So It Looks Like I Know Something's Wrong That You Haven't Spotted Yet
If you are careful enough in how you say something you can drive people crazy in ways they can’t protest without looking like they’re the ones being passive-aggressive. Also, is that [sic] one the most academia thing you’ve ever heard or what?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell on rumors the ice cream place was all out of turtles and the discovery that M— didn’t even know what ice cream turtles were, prompting a long voyage of discovery of ways to pile ice cream ingredients together, plus an argument about whether there’s something that drizzles hot peanut butter on the ice cream? Is that a thing? Please report.

121

Possibly The Biggest Problem We Do Have Right Now


Let me preface this by pointing out my mathematics blog, where yesterday I did another of those comic strip reviews. Last week saw more jokes about anthropomorphized numerals than usual, although in fairness, the usual is probably “one, at most”. So it doesn’t take all that many to be more than usual. Two is all you need. I hope you aren’t disappointed by this. It’s just how the numerals worked out.

Anyway. The recent Mark Trail story has finally ended. Mark escaped Explosion Island with his friends intact. All the invasive-species ants that made it to Explosion Island were burned alive by lava, except for the three pregnant queens Mark that snuck into Mark’s pants cuff and that have now set up in the Lost Forest. So it’s a good ending for everybody except for Explosion Island’s now-extinct varieties of hog, brightly-colored birds, and Polynesian Tortoise Or Whatever. Mark’s editor couldn’t believe that he managed to blow up Explosion Island, but that’s all right, because exploding islands make for interesting stories too. And then Saturday we got this:

'Bill said the online remarks about my work were snide, sarcastic comments!' 'Mark, honey, don't take it personally!' 'I suppose you're right, Cherry ... As long as folks read my work, I guess that's what counts!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of January, 2017. Do you want to attract a community of highly self-referential snarky commenters? Because this is how you attract a community of highly self-referential snarky commenters. If any of these things start being said by a giant squirrel then we’ll know Allen has given over entirely to the ironic readership.
Bonus nature tip: saying “don’t take the snide sarcastic online comments personally” has never ever gotten a writer to feel better.

I don’t want to understate the danger here, gang. Mark Trail is being all self-aware. The world is in serious danger of ending right here and now, in an explosion of lava and invasive ants. Please take whatever actions are appropriate to this sort of thing, whatever those are.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Trading in the Another Blog, Meanwhile index reached as high as 108 before this whole Mark Trail Self-Awareness thing came to everyone’s attention. The index dropped briefly below 100 before traders started to rationalize how there’ve been moments in the past when the comic strip seemed self-aware or at least to be a little gently self-mocking. They rallied after that, so the day closed up two points, but everybody still feels a bit uneasy about it all. I don’t blame them.

104

Is There Life After Apartment 3-G?


My love asked if I planned to keep doing comic strip reviews now that I don’t have Apartment 3-G to fill a weekly essay. And if I’m not, then what am I going to do instead? They’re good questions. I don’t know just what I’ll do yet, although I don’t figure on regularly snarking on another comic strip.

There’s plenty to snark about. And there are many fine, quality comic-strip snark blogs, and Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips. RACS is a bit more likely to talk up the good side of comics, and the business and other sides, I should say. It isn’t all the making fun of any one comic strip, not since the glorious fiasco of Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse‘s end, an event known throughout all comic-strip commentary communities as the Foobocalypse. We still look back on it with glee. (“Here’s the strip where Johnston warns Elizabeth that if she doesn’t give up her life and marry Granthony soon then she’s going to start killing supporting characters, starting with Grandpa Jim.”) And a bit of snark is a healthy thing. It deflates self-importance, it melts pomposity, and it binds disappointed audiences in giddy consolation.

I came by my Apartment 3-G coverage honestly, when I was entertained by how baffled the comic strip left me. There hadn’t been anything so engagingly dadaist since the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy, when very few plot points were endlessly repeated and abstractly illustrated. There isn’t anything like it now. Even the stodgiest story strip (Mary Worth, by my lights) or the slowest-moving strip (Rex Morgan, in which June Morgan’s 27 months of pregnancy have just ended with her delivering a way overdue baby elephant) are relentlessly understandable. Apartment 3-G I was trying, honestly, to work out what was happening and why it was happening. And I meant to try understanding what was going on both on-panel and behind-the-senes. The jokes were flavoring used to make that more palatable.

So while I’m certainly going to toss jokes off in the direction of misfired comic strips (mostly in RACS, I figure), I don’t expect to make that a regular feature here. There’s nothing going on in Judge Parker that needs earnest explanation. Compu-Toon maybe. But I fear there’s something uncharitable in searching out a target for evisceration. If I’m going to put too many column-inches into ridiculing something, it should be with the hope that something useful will come of it. It should be for a better understanding of the bad, or to share with an audience that wondrous sense of strange outsider-art that true ineptness has. Sneering is an individual right, as quirky and as personal as the set of things we delete from our search histories. Nobody needs to be told to sneer at things. We need it to be at least a bit celebratory.

That said, yes, Mary Worth is getting a little creepy lately, and the dialogue reads ever-more like spies passing messages. (Mary Worth: “We can be more aware of how we affect each other and the environment.” Eight-year-old Olivia: “I like to think that change for the better … and not just the worse … can happen very quickly, too!”)

Nothing Is Happening In: Is Something A Thing?


So this past week in Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth, Mary and her darling little imprinted foundling Olivia talked with each other about how wonderful they are with each other and how other people can’t understand them. Um. Well, I guess that’s exactly the impression you get reading the comics. It looked like they did a lot of eating, although I guess that was just the same meal shown over a couple days. Hm.

Well. Ah. In Tony DePaul and Paul Ryan’s The Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks did that thing where a superhero walks around in his civilian guise while the real authorities try to figure out who tied up all the criminals. Then there was yet another weirdly over-specific Jungle Saying (“There are times when The Phantom leaves the jungle and walks the streets of the town like an ordinary man”? That’s nice and catchy, right up there with “On occasion The Phantom searches all over for his car keys and finds he left them in the refrigerator, in the vegetable bin, which is weird because they’re supposed to be either in the tea kettle or embedded in a stick of butter”.) Then he edged as far away from contact with his kids as he could … oh, that’s all what anyone would get from the strip anyway.

Well, Mark Trail didn’t literally punch the radiation poachers this week but … Bah. I give up. You can’t just pick out anything and snark on it. You have to have some attitude and some hope of building it into something better, even if it’s just writing your own story to make sense of it. I can’t turn Fridays into a review of this week’s baffling Compu-Toon panels. There’s not enough meat to them and the guy who draws them seems way too earnest. I’m doomed, I know it.

A Clarification of Intention


It’s not at all my intention to be up all night arguing on the Internet. I’m simply that I need to offer a useful corrective guide to people who haven’t got the faintest idea what they’re talking about, reading about, thinking about, and who are probably bad people anyway, and should go find a breakfast nook or something where they can stand, facing the little cubby-hole where a telephone was supposed to go back in the 1920s when people had these things and stop posting these silly things where people can see them. Thank you.

Science Fiction versus Fantasy Explained


When A Hard Science Fiction Fan Calls Something What He Means Is
Hard Science Fiction “I liked it. It had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Science Fiction “I didn’t like it, but it had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Hard Fantasy “I liked it, but it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”
Soft Fantasy “I didn’t like it, and it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”

History In The Making


I bet you didn’t realize this is an historic year, what with most of it still being in the future. But it doesn’t do to say this is “an futuric year”, as the particle just doesn’t fit there at all. It should be a long-lived neutral kaon instead. That’s the sort of kaon which lives for as much as fifty nanoseconds before it expires, at the hands of natural kaon predators such as the lesser Malagasy snarking W+ boson or to creeping deforestation. This reminds of us why it’s important for pop historians to keep informed on group theory and the value of gauge invariance.