60s Popeye: College of Hard Knocks (please ring doorbell to the left)


Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.

Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.

The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.

It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.

Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.

And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?

A shocked Popeye, wearing an academic cap, looking at the diploma he's unrolled to discover it's a Marriage License, showing Olive Oyl and Popeye readying to marry.
Oh, yeah, and then the punch line. Olive Oyl gives Popeye a certificate of his being an edjamacated ignoramus; it’s a marriage license with their pictures on it. This because if there’s one thing the kids in the audience know is funny, it’s how THE WIFE THEY SO BAD RIGHT.

But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.

As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.

I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.

In Which Reuters Explains Just Enough To Confuse Me


So Reuters offered this Oddball News piece, “New St Andrews students welcomed with shaving foam fight”. The third paragraph:

Several weeks into the first term, the university holds its annual “Raisin Weekend”, during which the academic parents hold parties for the new students. The weekend culminates in “Raisin Monday”, when they dress the new students in costumes and send them into the university main’s lawn for a shaving foam fight.

And so I’m left here pondering whether I’m more curious about why raisins or why they count Monday as part of the weekend. I’m pretty sure it’s not a long holiday weekend, like, October Bank Holiday or one of the estimated 44 days listed as the Queen’s Birthday. (You know although Elizabeth II is recorded as ninety years old she was actually only born 26 years ago; all those Birthday holidays add up.) Well, I guess we all pad out the weekend when we figure we can get away with it. Probably the students do. How would someone find who was skipping class underneath all that foam? Fair enough, I suppose.

Also, my mathematics blog had that comic strip thing again. Please read, won’t you?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading community saw its confidence fully restored today with a whopping six point gain, that’s gain, that’s a bigger number than was here this time yesterday and isn’t that thrilling? Anyway, analysts are sure this reflects the market being over-sold and that we’re poised for a new bull market full of growth and happiness and the return of joy to the world.

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In Which I Explain The Nathan-Nebus Conversation


Singapore’s Former President S R Nathan died this week. So this is a fitting time to record for posterity my understanding of our relationship. It’s also the last time I can share this story without my being inhumanly dull. That’s all right. I’ve been using this story to be a bit dull for twelve years and that’s not bad for a standard-grade anecdote. It doesn’t measure up to the styrofoam peanut computer monitor incident of 1999, but not everything is.

Back in the day (2004) I was working at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Computational Science. This was a department that did physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics from a computer science perspective. “Wait,” you ask, “how is that different from ordinary physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science, what with it being literally the 21st Century and everything being done on computers?” Our department would say that LOOK THERE’S A BIG DISTRACTING THING OVER THERE and run out to the Science Canteen to regroup. We were disbanded the next year.

It was the start of the school year. It was time for the Commencement ceremonies. Last year’s graduates officially received their diplomas and I realized all the time I had spent in United States academia had been a lie. “Commencement”! The word is right there in the name of the thing. WHY DO WE PUT IT AT THE END OF THE YEAR? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? This was enough to send me to the Science Canteen and drown my sorrow in tuna buns. These are a Singaporean food thing where you take a bun and put tuna in it. Well, they put tuna in it. You just eat it. Someday this is going to hit the United States big. Corn buns ought to too, but that’s probably not enough meat for the typical American. Chocolate buns may be just a little too weird. Too bad.

The department needed someone to be on stage for Commencement, one of those professory types in dignified robes watching the proceedings without nodding off. I’d volunteered for one of the school Commencements. The University ran two or three commencements for the various schools over the course of like two weeks because maybe they had too many subdivisions. He thought, from the doomed department. That led to the whole “Dubiously Wanted Pants” Affair but that’s another story. Then I got an invite to attend the main commencement, if I responded before the actual letter was sent to me. I checked and they told me that sure, they’d have a chair for me if I got there for 9:20 am. That’s like my third-best 9:20 of the day, but all right. I wore the pair of dubiously wanted pants and everything.

My participation got me marked for VIP treatment. This ran hard against my general level of self-esteem. I won’t brag about my low self-esteem because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do it. But to have actually well-dressed ushers ushing me off past velvet barriers and stuff encourages the feeling of accidentally stumbling into a Nikolai Gogol play I never actually read or saw or anything. Also somehow all us faculty misunderstood something the first time we went out on stage so they had to call us back and send us out again. That’s just reinforcing so many stereotypes.

The ceremony was different from United States university commencements in that they only played like eight bars of Pomp and Circumstance at the start. They had to save time at some point. There were like twelve more school commencement ceremonies later that day. At this one they just blasted through the doctoral and master-degree candidates and presented them all to the University Chancellor, President Nathan. (Remember him?)

At the reception afterwards they still wanted me around and among the VIP section even though honestly. And our department didn’t have any doctoral or masters-degree candidates. So all I had to do was wander around the packed hallway, filling my plate with kueh (any of hundreds of desserts made by compressing sugar into Singaporean Hyper-Sugar) and bee hoon (the tastiest part of the bee) and then emptying it. And then I sneezed. I wasn’t yet skilled at sneezing into my elbow and I just managed to sneeze into my right hand instead. Not too messy but still, sneeze.

I saw a little clearing of people, off in the general direction of the bathroom, and I charged directly into it. It was a little open gap of people in front of President Nathan. He smiled at this fat, tall person who had just sneezed into his hand in front of him. I had always assumed President of Singapore to be a pretty easy gig. The country’s got a Westminster parliament scheme but with only one really organized political party. So there’s not even the occasional bit of choosing to approve a coalition government or proroguing parliament or anything for the Head of State to do. But he proved me wrong about the job’s easiness. He reached out and shook my booger-laden hand. I could never do something like that.

And then we had a conversation that, to the best of my recollection, was exactly this majestic:

“Good day,” he said.

“Good day … I’m honoured to meet you, sir.” (I would do my best to approach the Singaporean accent without sounding like I’m making fun of myself.)

“Where do you come from?”

“New Jersey. Um. The United States.”

“Ah. Are you a graduate?”

“Faculty, actually. I’m a teaching fellow.”

“Ah.” And he nodded and moved on to people not threatening to smear nasal goop over him.

This would prove to be our final conversation, for which I don’t blame him.

Big Changes On Campus


As we approach the start of the academic year, sneaking up from the side which has not got sharp teeth this time, we in the alumni association would like to present our side of campus developments to everyone who glances at this article while looking for the columns where they see how many of their classmates who seemed destined for really interesting lives have settled into horribly boring fates where they aggregate content or tell you how to position your brand or something.

The most important change on campus has been the stepping up of the historicization program. We hope by these renovations and reconstructions to bring a world-class sense of historic appearance to our campus and find some pride in the many incidents to have happened on or around here.

The second most important change on campus has been the adoption of a spell checker that allowed historicization to proceed. That can’t be right, can it? There’s no way the program stumbled onto a word like that on purpose. We have to suppose the spell checker was a block of feral code adopted by the public relations department and so overly kind to it.

The major goal of historicization, which just can’t be a thing, has been to locate points on campus in which noteworthy things have happened and find ways to denote them. For example, it has long been a part of campus legend that Marian Jordan of Fibber McGee and Molly once pronounced the Rathskeller in the fourth floor of the Biology Laboratory “confusing”. This historic site has been noted in excessively detailed histories of old time radio as “a thing that exists” and that it “probably happened, I mean, why not?” We are proud to be bringing it out of this obscurity by completing the demolition of the Biology Laboratory and the installation of a concrete fountain with an interactive touch-screen video monitor able to explain in nearly more than 24 languages that a server error has occurred and this interaction will be shut down.

The Werthram Class of 1867 Hall, believed to be the largest building on campus imprecisely named for hard candy, has been almost fully demolished to allow street traffic better lines of sight to the rest of the main quadrangle, and the plans to demolish the main quadrangle to allow for better lines of sight to the Werthram Class of 1867 Hall have been put on hold while we look into the controversy about which demolition we were supposed to do. Maybe we were supposed to demolish the traffic. Anyway the location of the former building, believed to be a spot where legendary bad vaudeville act The Cherry Sisters never played, is now marked by a WiFi hotspot.

Several alumni, and we’re sure you know who you are and will stop asking already, will be glad to know the results of the inquiry into the deconstruction of the Old Sig Ep House, the spot where Christopher Columbus first spotted land, where the transcontinental railroad was built, the battle of the Marne was fought, and where John F Kennedy challenged NASA to land a man on the Women’s Campus and return him safely to the Rathskeller. As a result we have added to the historical plaques one explaining that it turns out our source for these events turned out to be a spoof issue of the student newspaper. Probably that it was called the Campy Push Dizzy Snooze should have tipped us off sooner. We tracked down one of the co-authors of the piece and he tweeted back to us a link to his essay on six ways to tell whether you’re managing your career brand.

The news on the campus beautification front has been no less mixed. The restoration of the 1974 Sculpture Garden saw the chance to add part of the artist’s original plans which were too technically challenging to be part of the original Brutalist installation. While the heat rays, the swinging mallet, and the swarm of bees carrying sharpened cocktail swords have proved controversial they are doing wonders at speeding pedestrians along.

Any questions? Please let us know. It’s important that we be able to make ourselves believe we’re doing valuable journalism work.

The Show Didn’t Predict The Existence of Minnesota, That Would Be Silly


If you remember anything about the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Coach it’s probably because you’re too good at remembering things and should maybe take a course in Useful Forgetting from your county college. Never mind. But if you do remember any of that it’s likely that what you remember is most of the show was set at Minnesota State University, which didn’t exist, because setting college shows at imaginary colleges lets the production staff have a giggle when they meet someone claiming they went there as an undergraduate, something they can’t get if they just meet someone who insists he went to Rutgers, like, I want to say, Scott Baio’s character on Who’s The Boss because I only partly completed my Useful Forgetting course.

Anyway, thing is, nowadays there is a Minnesota State University, formed when a couple universities in Minnesota changed their names and teamed up to fight evil. And now that’s got me wondering if fanboys of Coach get all smug about how their show predicted how there’d just have to be a Minnesota State and the universe didn’t make sense without it, the way certain Star Trek fanboys insist there wouldn’t be cell phones if it weren’t for communicators. And if they do, does anyone call them on it, or do their friends figure they should get to enjoy whatever reflected Coach-based glory they can get?

All this is a ridiculous thing to wonder and I apologize for taking so much of your time with it.

The State of the University


Good afternoon and I’d like to thank everyone for attending this State of the University address. I’m sorry it’s going to be a little ragged but I kind of have to patch up the parts where the Public Relations department told me I couldn’t use words like that in public. I think they’re being a little … well, I mean, we all use words like that sometimes, right? Well. Anyway.

As anyone who’s walked through the deserted wings of the main quadrangle or “quad” as I’m told by informed people who’ve met students tell me they call it knows, we have suffered an under-enrollment problem in the past few years, affecting our ability to fill such levée-en-masse courses as Grueling Calculus and the basic Great Works Of Agonizingly Boring Literature Or Maybe Movies. This isn’t just a problem at our school, so please stop writing us about it. We have taken several pro-active steps to improve population. Even as we speak we have an unmarked van driving slowly around Ann Arbor, and when they locate people who seem to be about the right age for college they swoop down with the giant nets and bring the prospective students back here where they’re to remain until completing at least five years or study or accumulating $185,000 in student loan obligations.

The first several attempts for this new plan have been a little disappointing, owing to unusually large holes in the nets, but as this new revenue stream comes up to speed we hope to be able to afford patching some of them and creating what they call a “virtuous circle” of improved student body acquisition. Ah, so that probably answers the question a lot of faculty have been asking me about why some of the students have long ropes tied to their ankles.

Continue reading “The State of the University”