Whimsy Category

About 10 years ago, an intelligently entertaining (and often spiritually edifying) pop culture blog went on permanent hiatus. It's worth revisiting, in this year of the 500th anniversary of its pseudepigraphous author's great historical moment.

The premise of Luther at the Movies: The Great Reformer, famed for his blunt speech, reviewing the latest cultural effluent from Hollywood.

The blog's tagline:

Join me, Martin Luther (Doktor), as I do to contemporary cinema what I did to the Whore of Babylon. Unless I am convinced that a motion picture does not emit a stench to choke a sow, my conscience is captive to my impeccable taste. Here I sit, in a comfy Loews stadium-seating theatre, replete with Nacho bar and adjustable arm rests! I can do no other!

From the Blogspot "About me" section:

Although alive in Christ, as far as this vale of tears is concerned, I am currently as dead as Chevy Chase's movie career, though I have not let that interfere with a robust drinking and blogging career. My favorite color is blood red and I like walking in the rain.

From the inaugural post:

...Well, beware you purveyors of pompous pus foisted on shepherdless sheep--I'm back! The wretched of the earth who seek to escape their miserable lives for two hours only to be tricked into seeing V for Vendetta now have a champion!

Hollywood, New York, London, Rome, Bombay--listen well! The only cheek I will turn is the one on my backside--for you to kiss as I eviscerate your contemptible contributions to the common culture. And yes, I mean derivative crap like Lucky Number Slevin!...

Luther did not limit himself to music:

A bit of silliness in the form of a YouTube playlist:

Josh Hawkins and Rhys Keir explain how to speak Australian and, in a second video, how Australians abbreviate names. The third video features Hawkins with an adorable six-year-old girl who translates his phrases into formal English.

Hawkins is the minister to young adults for St. Paul's Castle Hill Church in Sydney.

Later in the playlist, I've got some videos from the Film Australia Collection -- short subjects produced in the 1950s and 1960s aimed at attracting immigrants -- and a historical documentary on the evolution of Brisbane's main shopping street over 170 years of history.

"Are you the new recruit?" asked a heavy voice.

And in some strange way, though there was not the shadow of a shape in the gloom, Syme knew two things: first, that it came from a man of massive stature; and second, that the man had his back to him.

"Are you the new recruit?" said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. "All right. You are engaged."

Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.

"I really have no experience," he began.

"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the Battle of Armageddon."

"But I am really unfit--"

"You are willing, that is enough," said the unknown.

"Well, really," said Syme, "I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test."

"I do," said the other--"martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day."

Although this book makes few obvious references to Christianity, its message of people struggling to uphold truth in a world consumed by relativism made me see for the first time that Christianity -- far from being boring and conformist -- could be exciting and oppositional.

Earlier this year, BBC Radio 4 Extra rebroadcast G. K. Chesterton's classic 1908 novel, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. I captured the series of 13 half-hour episodes for later listening and just finished it. Radio 4 Extra, which mines the BBC archives for comedy, drama, and sci-fi, often runs dramatizations of classic novels, but this was different. Except for a few seconds of dramatic strings and mournful horns at the beginning and end of each episode, it was just actor Geoffrey Palmer reading the story, unabridged, without sound effects or the assistance of other actors -- nothing but Chesterton's words and Palmer's vocal inflections -- and it was gripping. I hated for it to end.


Two important but behind-the-scenes contributors to popular culture in mid-century America died this week. Jack Davis was 91. Marni Nixon was 86.

Jack Davis was a prolific illustrator and caricaturist. He was a regular contributor to Mad magazine, alternating with Mort Drucker to illustrate TV and movie parodies. He had the gift of producing caricatures that were instantly recognizable and humorously exaggerated. His work appeared regularly on the cover and inside TV Guide and in numerous movie posters. His poster for "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", featuring dozens of caricatures in an artistic whole that captured the spirit and title of the movie, put him on the map.

Mark Evanier, whose blog you should read, remembers Jack Davis:

I loved everything he drew but Jack was not fond of some of them. He was great at horror comics but uncomfortable with the subject matter. He turned up occasionally in Playboy, often assisting on his friend Harvey Kurtzman's "Little Annie Fanny," but didn't much like the magazine or its hedonist philosophy. He eventually stopped drawing for MAD partly because of his advanced age but partly because he didn't like its politics or a subtle trend he perceived towards raunchiness. He also just plain wanted to take it easy, drawing when and what he felt like drawing. (One job he was very glad to do was for the U.S. government in 1989: A postage stamp he drew to honor postal carriers.)

Mr. Davis won every award he could possibly win for cartooning and was widely-loved and respected among his peers. The photo above was taken at a 2006 dinner held in his honor in Los Angeles by the Comic Art Professional Society. That's Jack on the left, me in the middle and the guy at right is Jack's friend and fellow MAD artist, Sergio Aragonés. I always found Jack to be a delightful man -- cheery and gentle with what is generally described as old-school Southern Manners. He loved talking about the Civil War and old monster movies and his fellow cartoonists, all of whom he loved. He was truly as adored as his cartooning was, and that's a lot of adoration.

There was something about his art that just plain made you smile, starting with the fact that there was no meanness whatsoever in his caricatures. He didn't like all the politicians he drew for magazine covers but you wouldn't know it from his renderings. He made every movie he drew look a little funnier and livelier. I have the original to one of his movie posters on a wall in my home and everyone who sees it -- artists, writers, my plumber, my electrician, etc. -- knows that style and grins when they see it. That's a great legacy to leave behind.

Drew Friedman has a collection of Jack Davis's work for TV Guide. If you want to see the difference between a good caricature and a great caricature, compare the draft of his cover of the cast of the Today Show with the final version. (Left to right, that's Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters, Joe Garagiola, and newsman Frank Blair.) Note the early version of a wearable microphone. Here's a bigger and broader assortment from throughout Jack Davis's career.

Davis's work for Mad magazine was a big part of my later childhood, but his first impressions on me were his illustrations for Meet Abraham Lincoln, a Step-Up Book.

Marni Nixon was a behind-the-scenes contributor to some of your favorite movie musicals, providing the singing voice for actresses that couldn't carry a tune. Nixon sang for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. She even sang for June Foray as Grandmother Fa in Mulan. For Marilyn Monroe, Nixon provided some high notes in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." In a sense she was a caricaturist as well. Nixon had the ability to make her singing voice sound like it belonged to the actress for whom she was ghosting.

During her teenage years, Ms. Nixon worked as a messenger at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Knowing of her musical ability -- she had perfect pitch and was an impeccable sight reader -- the studio began recruiting her to furnish the singing voices of young actresses. The work helped pay for Ms. Nixon's voice lessons.

Her first significant dubbing job was singing a Hindu lullaby for Margaret O'Brien in "The Secret Garden," released in 1949.

Ms. Nixon did occasionally take center stage, as when she played Eliza Doolittle in a 1964 revival of "My Fair Lady" at City Center in New York. (Ms. Andrews had played the part in the original Broadway production, which opened in 1956.) In 1965, Ms. Nixon was seen on camera in a small role as a singing nun in "The Sound of Music," starring Ms. Andrews.

On Broadway, Ms. Nixon appeared in the Sigmund Romberg musical "The Girl in Pink Tights" in 1954 and, more recently, in the musical drama "James Joyce's 'The Dead' " (2000), the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" and the 2003 revival of "Nine."

Ol' Blue Eyes came into the world on December 12th, 1915. In honor of his centenary, here are a couple of links for your enjoyment:

This year, columnist and vocalist Mark Steyn has expanded his "Song of the Week" feature to twice a week, so that he could cover 100 of Sinatra's best songs. Each entry discusses the lyricist and composer, how the song came to be, who performed it before Sinatra, how Sinatra came to record it, who helped him (producers, arrangers, musicians), and how it was received. Often Steyn provides a personal anecdote from his conversations over the years with the people involved. It's a tremendous intro to the Great American Songbook and its foremost male expositor. (Ella Fitzgerald would be its foremost expositor, period.) Entry No. 100, "One for My Baby, and One for the Road," includes a list of and links to each song in the series, which began with "It Was a Very Good Year."

Also on Steyn's site, as part of a Sinatra centenary weekend, Mark considers Sinatra's movie career and talks with Vincent Falcone, Sinatra's pianist and conductor, in a two-part interview (Vincent Falcone part 1, Vincent Falcone part 2). As supplementary listening, Steyn offers a two-part collection of his interviews with composers and lyricists of some of the songs Sinatra sang: Part 1 (Mitchell Parish, Phil Springer and Betty Comden and Adolph Green), Part 2 (Irving Caesar, Ann Ronell and Alan Jay Lerner).

(Mark Steyn's latest vocal outing is an album of cat-related songs, Feline Groovy: Songs for Swingin' Cats.)

The Daily Telegraph has a collection of 28 photos covering the course of his career, including this one of Sinatra in 1947, wearing the uniform of his softball team, The Swooners.

In the Weekly Standard, William H. Pritchard reviews a new book about Sinatra and his music, Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World by David Lehman. Pritchard confesses his preference for Sinatra's early oeuvre:

I was pleased to note that some listeners still prefer the timbre of Sinatra's youthful voice, including his granddaughter, Nancy Sinatra's daughter. And with those listeners, I align myself--feeling that, for all the fine tunes he would record and re-record, the early 84 sides on which he sang with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra are unsurpassed. It may be that, growing up in the 1940s myself and playing in a dance band, I detect greater force and life in those songs, partly because I have projected my own satisfactions and disappointments from long ago onto the songs that seemed to embody them.

The recordings with Dorsey begin with a lovely, completely forgotten song of 1940, "The Sky Fell Down," and end in 1942 with "Be Careful, It's My Heart" (Irving Berlin's song in Holiday Inn) and "There Are Such Things" ("So have a little faith, and trust in what tomorrow brings, / You'll reach a star, because there are such things"). Along the way we get a rollicking jitterbuggy "Let's Get Away From It All," and "Snootie Little Cutie," in which the Pied Pipers (Jo Stafford singing) and cute little Connie Haines supplement Frank's performance.

Earlier this year, Michael T. Nelson reviewed a book that discussed Sinatra's role in creating the Great American Songbook:

Early discs could only play one cut per side, so these writers learned to compose to an AABA form (two choruses, the bridge, then another chorus, each eight bars long), benefiting from that discipline of form as surely as sonnet writers have from theirs. Then, in the 1920s, along came radio to provide a mass audience for these records, which were often performed by big bands. Microphones, another innovation, meant that a band's singer didn't have to belt to be heard. Record makers, radio programmers, jukebox owners (they bought half of all records in the late thirties), and the big bands all placed a premium on new songs, the assumption being that no one wanted to hear (much less buy) numbers they'd heard before. Popular songs, even from movie musicals or the stage, generally were dismissed as ephemera: all the rage today, tossed in a drawer tomorrow.

Frank Sinatra was the young band singer in the early 1940s who figured out that modern audiences would appreciate hearing forgotten gems from old Broadway shows by writers like Porter and Kern. Recklessly, or so it was thought at the time, he left the popular Tommy Dorsey Orchestra to strike out on his own. Tenderness, not fervor, was what a wartime nation was looking for, Sinatra calculated. And so the typical songs in his early repertory as a soloist--sung conversationally, even intimately, into a microphone and played on a record or over the radio--were old Broadway compositions originally written for heartsick female characters: "Someone to Watch Over Me" (the Gershwins), for example, or "My Funny Valentine" (Rodgers and Hart) or "All the Things You Are" (Kern).

It's not too much to say that, in resurrecting them, Sinatra was inventing the whole idea of standards and, thereby, creating the Great American Songbook.


In 2014, the British Broadcasting Corporation re-created five missing episodes of the groundbreaking and ever-popular radio sitcom Hancock's Half Hour, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the show. Of the 102 episodes broadcast over six series from 1954 to 1959, 20 episodes are missing from the archives. In response to popular acclaim, five additional episodes of The Missing Hancocks were recorded this past spring and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each week beginning this Monday, November 23, 2015.

The uncanny ability of this cast, led by Kevin McNally as Tony Hancock and Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams, to recreate the voices and personalities of the original actors, is on display in this clip:

The episodes will premiere each Monday at 11:30 am British Standard Time (5:30 am Tulsa time), but will be available for online streaming for about a month after the broadcast. The first episode is already online and is linked below:

1. How Hancock Won the War, 2015/11/23

2. The Red Planet, 2015/11/30

3. The Marriage Bureau, 2015/12/07

4. A Visit to Russia, 2015/12/14

5. The Trial of Father Christmas, 2015/12/21

MORE: Four further episodes were recreated on stage by the same cast at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, and we can hope that these will be the one next to be recorded and broadcast: The Winter Holiday, New Year's Resolutions, Prime Minister Hancock, and The Three Sons.

Just for fun, an episode of the 1950s British sitcom: Tony goes overboard buying new photographic equipment after his ancient camera blows up, and the situation becomes desperate when the first payment is due. Sid is exasperated.

"And your exposures are too long. Five minutes! You had to wait for that snail to fall asleep last week before you could photograph it."

"Well, fair's fair. He was shiftin' a bit."

Here's a fun YouTube find for fans of the Goon Show. On October 31, 1965, Harry Secombe appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show during the two-month Broadway run of the musical Pickwick. Here he is performing the big song from the show, "If I Ruled the World":

Leslie Bricusse was the lyricist for Pickwick, better known for his later work on Doctor Dolittle, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and another Dickens adaptation, Scrooge.

BBC photo. Tony Hancock and Kevin McNally, who plays Hancock in the recreated episodes.

On November 2, 1954, the BBC radio sitcom "Hancock's Half Hour" made its debut. Starring comedian Tony Hancock and written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, the show quickly became appointment radio across the UK. The Galton and Simpson team went on to write "Steptoe and Son," a TV series about a junk man and his restless son, on which the US series "Sanford and Son" was based.

Of the 102 episodes broadcast over six series, only 77 or so survive, with many missing from the first three series. Recently a cache of scripts has been discovered, including a number of the missing episodes. Earlier this year, BBC Radio 4 recorded five of the scripts, selected by Galton and Simpson, with a cast of comic actors recreating the voices of Hancock and company. The recreated "Missing Hancocks" are airing this month, once a week, in honor of the show's 60th anniversary.

Miranda Sawyer of the Grauniad loves the Missing Hancocks":

Anyway, the first of these new episodes - The Matador - aired this week. And my misgivings disappeared. I am very glad that these shows have been redone. I thought that the new actors might be off-putting, but Kevin McNally sounded astonishingly like Tony Hancock, as did Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams. Simon Greenall, who plays Sid James, was a teeny bit out; but only a teeny bit, not enough to stop you listening. Anyhow, the real delight was the script. Written by Galton and Simpson, both now in their 80s, it was a proper winner. Great one-liners, fantastic flights of fancy, a consistency of character that led to joke upon joke (I loved Hancock, shoved into a Spanish bullfight by a series of Sid James's set-ups, only being annoyed with the bull for spoiling his gags: "That animal completely ruined my set.").

Comedy geeks have long had it that the Hancock shows are the first ever sitcoms. Before Hancock, comedy programmes consisted of sketches punctuated by other variety acts. Hancock's Half Hour, with its regular, and regularly frustrated, characters, became the blueprint for every sitcom that followed. From the evidence of this programme, that blueprint hasn't often been bettered.

Gillian Reynolds of the Telegraph calls it a failure:

The Missing Hancocks (Radio 4, Friday) is a valiant effort, remakes of five Hancock's Half Hour shows from the original Galton and Simpson scripts. No recordings of these shows are known to exist although they may one day, as many old programmes do, surface from someone's cellar. Meanwhile, Kevin McNally does his best to sound like Tony Hancock while Kevin Eldon stumbles over Bill Kerr's lines and Simon Greenall can't quite capture the spirit of Sid James. The closest to the original is Robin Sebastian as Kenneth Williams, but then all Williams's voices were character performances in the first place.

The laughs are still there in the lines and the studio audience responds to them, even to allusions to such ancient totems as Wilfred Pickles. I can't laugh. Hancock's Half Hour broke the mould of radio comedy by pretending to be naturalistic (in contrast to the contrived situations of Bandwagon, Up the Pole and ITMA), putting us beside Hancock and James and Kerr wherever they were. This doesn't. It is, as The Goon Show used to say, a cardboard replica.

My own opinion: The scripts are brilliant and worth bringing back from oblivion. Our family has listened to the first two and found them laugh-out-loud funny. McNally, Eldon, and Sebastian all do very well as Hancock, Kerr, and Williams, respectively; they all have the right cadence, timbre, and timing. Suzy Kane, who plays Andrée Melly in the first two "Missing" episodes, sounded more like Series 1 girlfriend Moira Lister at the beginning of the first episode, but by the end of the episode, she had more of Melly's French-tinged accent.

Simon Greenall doesn't get Sid James at all. Yes, Sid is part of the demimonde, but he rarely sounds like a gravelly-voiced hoodlum announcing his intention to mug you. Sid's a charmer. Someone with a musical ear would have noticed the melodic, sing-song quality of his voice, particularly when Sid is at his most oleaginous. "You don't want to worry about that." "Shhherrr-tainly!"

The new recordings are available for listening online for one month after the initial broadcast:

The Missing Hancocks (series)

Episode 1: The Matador (originally Series 2, Episode 12)
Episode 2: The Newspaper (originally Series 3, Episode 17)
Episode 3: The Hancock Festival (originally Series 1, Episode 5)

In addition to these re-recordings on Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra has a couple of special broadcasts available.

Steve Punt's Hancock Cuttings: This three-hour collection of audio and commentary includes the October 19, 1951 episode of "Educating Archie" (with a song by 16-year-old Julie Andrews, when her voice was still operatic); Tony Hancock's infamous "Face-to-Face" interview from 1960; "''Ancock's Anthology," a Christmas Day 1964 broadcast in which Tony introduces favorite music and reads humorous short fiction, a 1965 Pye Records rerecording of the Hancock's Half Hour TV episode "The Missing Page" (about Hancock's frustration that the last page of a murder mystery has been torn out of the book), and the first episode of the radio series, from November 2, 1954.

("Educating Archie," like the "Charlie McCarthy Show" in the US, starred a ventriloquist's dummy as a cheeky schoolboy. Tony Hancock was one of several comedians who did a stint as Archie's tutor and foil. Hancock's love interest was Hattie Jacques, who would play Hancock's harridan secretary Griselda Pugh in the fourth and fifth series of "Hancock's Half Hour.")

The New Elizabethans: Tony Hancock: One in a series of 10-minute profiles of "men and women whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and/or given the age its character, for better or worse."

It's possible to play these streams in an external application like VideoLAN VLC (and even save them locally for offline listening), if you have the direct URL to the stream. The iPlayerConverter site will take an eight-character BBC program ID and generate the direct stream links. Because streams older than a week aren't findable via iPlayerConverter, here are direct links to streams of the programs mentioned above, which you can use in applications like VLC:

Bill Kerr, RIP

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Bill Kerr, veteran of radio, stage, and screen in Britain and Australia, died on August 28, 2014, at his home in Perth, at the ripe old age of 92.

His son Wilton Kerr told ABC (Australia) News: "He said he wasn't feeling too well quite recently and he was just quietly watching television in his room. Mum ... said she could hear him laughing to Seinfeld, and that was one of his favourite shows."

Kerr debuted as a babe-in-arms on a vaudeville stage in South Africa, grew up in Wagga Wagga, Australia, where he enjoyed what he described as a "Huckleberry Finn" childhood. Starting at the age of 7, he appeared in several movies and radio. After serving in World War II, he left for London in 1947. His stand-up act as a bleak Australian pessimist got him into British radio, where he won fame as Tony Hancock's sidekick on all six seasons of Hancock's Half Hour, from 1954 to 1959. At the same time, he branched out to movies and the West End stage.

In the late '70s, he returned to Australia and continued to perform:

When Kerr returned to Australia he built a reputation as one of our finest character actors, most notably appearing in Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982).

When he settled in Western Australia he became a stalwart of the local industry, doing sterling work in TV series such as Ship to Shore (1993-94), Minty (1998), The Shark Net (2003) and the feature film Let's Get Skase (2001).

Associates described his later career to WAtoday.com:

Storyteller Digital managing director Mike Searle said Kerr continued to appear on screen in his later years and described Kerr as "the Frank Sinatra of voice over artists".

"Frank Sinatra could deliver a song like no one else with the right feeling and Bill would do the same when he was voicing a documentary - an amazing talent," he said.

"I was working with him up until last year. We were working on a project recording a series in which he recited from memory classic poems.

"Bill is arguably the only actor that has been in every medium, from music hall or vaudeville through to YouTube."...

Perth film producer Paul Barron worked with Kerr on a number of children's television series, including Clowning Around and Ship to Shore.

"He was a true gentleman, and was very gracious and good to the kids on these shows. He had no pretentions but he was truly an actor of world standard," Mr Barron said.

"He did his homework, arrived on set on time, all of that kind of thing, but equally gracious and forgiving of mistakes others may make and meanwhile would turn in an excellent performance."

Here's a YouTube playlist featuring Kerr. It begins with a series of five classic poems recited by Kerr last year for Storyteller Media, then an early stand-up routine, three Hancock's Half Hour episodes that spotlighted Kerr in a variety of roles, Kerr singing "Modern Major General" in The Pirate Movie, and, finally, Kerr's radio interview with Ed Doolan.

Read more:

Bill Kerr obituary in the Daily Mail (photos of Bill with the Hancock's Half Hour cast)
Bill Kerr obituary in the Telegraph
Bill Kerr obituary in BBC News
Bill Kerr obituary in the Mirror (more photos)
Bill Kerr obituary in the West Australian
Bill Kerr obituary in WAtoday.com

Bill Kerr obituary in the Guardian

In a television interview years after Hancock's death, it was Kerr who pointed out the similarity between the great comedian and Mr Toad: "The bluster, the pomp, the dignity, the frailty."...

The comic chemistry, with Moira Lister, Andrée Melly and then Hattie Jacques added to the mix, was potent and the generosity of the ensemble playing impeccable. Recordings were joyous occasions; Kerr and James can sometimes be detected laughing helplessly along with the audience during Hancock's diatribes. According to Kerr, the producer regularly had to halt the recording because the cast was laughing so much.

Kerr was second-billed for the first couple of series, but in later episodes the role of James as the star's shady sidekick was expanded and he took lower billing. His character also changed, becoming more blatantly dim-witted, the constant butt of Hancock's derision. When the show moved to television, it did so without him. Kerr, a down-to-earth professional not given to temperament, took it all in his stride, and found plenty of other work in stage and television, and in films.

UPDATE 2015/11/04: Larry Latham's recovery was all too brief. He succumbed to cancer on November 2, 2014, at the age of 61. Before his passing, Latham wrote that he had plotted out the remainder of the story and was working with other artists to . Upon announcing his death, his widow wrote, "He was so appreciative of his readers and did not want to leave the story unfinished. I ask for your patience as I attempt to carry out his wishes and resume posting new issues in the near future with the help of many talented friends." So far, nothing has happened to that end. The lovecraftismissing.com domain has expired, so I have updated links to point to the Internet Archive, which seems to have captured the entire site.

Lovecraft is Missing, a page-a-week webcomic by Oklahoma artist and writer Larry Latham, is back in production after a hiatus due to Latham's treatment for cancer. (Latham reports that signs are encouraging, pending further tests.)

Born and raised in Oklahoma City and educated at OU, Latham spent the last quarter of the 20th century in Hollywood, producing, directing, and storyboarding Saturday morning cartoons for Hanna Barbera and Disney. His credits include Talespin, Duck Tales, Smurfs, and Super Friends. He returned to Oklahoma in 2001.

Lovecraft Is Missing tells the story of Win Battler, an aspiring young writer from a small town in 1920s Oklahoma, who goes to Providence to meet his pen pal and fellow writer of strange tales only to find that, yes, H. P. Lovecraft is missing. The search takes Battler and his companions -- tough-as-nails, resourceful Father Munsford Jackey and skeptical, cynical archivist Nan Mercy -- into a demi-monde populated by the noxious characters and eldritch horrors of Lovecraft's stories. The pages are beautifully drawn, and the plot is intriguing, as it takes the protagonists through a world where Lovecraft's writing is closer to journalism than fiction.


The story is in the middle of the fifth book of a planned six. Unanswered questions are starting to head to a resolution. This is an excellent time to start at the beginning of the story and catch up.

The accompanying blog -- Noxious Fragments from the Pnakotic Manuscripts -- features links about Lovecraft's stories, other works of the same vintage and genre, and the cultural milieu from which they arose.

Latham, a longtime Lovecraft fan, was involved in fundraising efforts for a memorial plaque and grave marker for the author. Latham had been kicking the idea for Lovecraft Is Missing around for a long-time, first pursuing it as a CD-ROM game mystery, then optioning it for a development deal, and finally launching it as a webcomic in 2008, after he realized there was no other way to get it made in line with his creative vision.

Earlier this year, Latham wrote a series of articles on How to Create a Webcomic?. His thoughts on plot and character development would be useful to any aspiring author who wants to create a fictional world; other advice is more specific to the challenge of telling a story with pictures as well as words and the work of building an audience for a website and bringing them back on a regular basis.


In 2009, Matthew Price of the Oklahoman interviewed Latham about his career in animation and the origins of Lovecraft Is Missing.

In 2011, Latham was interviewed by All Pulp. Would that more people in entertainment agreed with his definition of "adult":

I originally conceived it as an animated project, and it was in development for a year or so at Film Roman in L.A. My first notion was that I wanted to try and make a truly 'adult' animated series, meaning complex story and characterization rather than T and A and profanity. I wanted to do a horror show, and I am a big Lovecraft fan, but I've never much cared for Lovecraft adaptations, be they film or comic book. I wanted to express what I got out of those stories, but I really didn't want to adapt any of Lovecraft's actual stories, so I came up with my own. There were a few clichés I really wanted to stomp on, like everybody in the universe having a copy of the Necronomicon. In my story, no one, at least of the good guys, have ever even heard of it. Same with Cthulhu. The magic and mystery of these things is that they are very, very obscure.

I haven't felt much like writing this week. On Monday, I came down with the flu (although I didn't know it for sure until Wednesday), and I've been quarantined, spending most of my time hacking, coughing, sweating, and sleeping. To distract my brain from all the things I'm not getting done, I've been re-listening to a marathon of one of my all-time favorite comedy series, "Hancock's Half Hour," originally broadcast by the BBC from 1954 to 1959, and rebroadcast weekly on BBC Radio 4 Extra. And that got me poking around to see what Bill Kerr is up to these days.

Bill Kerr, born in South Africa in 1922 (his first gig was as an infant in his mother's arms), grew up in Wagga Wagga, Australia, working as a child actor, and came to fame in the 1940s and 1950s as a comedian on British radio. He is one of two surviving regular cast members of "Hancock's Half Hour." (Andrée Melly, Hancock's girlfriend in Series 2 and 3, is the other. Writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson are also still with us.) Kerr was in every episode of the show as Hancock's best friend, and he also voiced a number of other characters, including a spot-on send-up of the character West from the movie Blackboard Jungle.

He went on to more dramatic roles in films like Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously. A few years ago, he anchored the series "Animal X: Natural Mystery Unit," which aired on Animal Planet and is available on YouTube.

In this series of videos recorded by Storyteller Media in 2013, Kerr, age 91, gives dramatic recitations from memory of poetry that he learned at his mother's knee. The series includes "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Laska" by Frank Desprez, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" by Robert Service, "Little Orphan Annie," and "The Game of Life," a poem that compares life to a game of cards, likening the suits to love, money, war, and death. This playlist includes the five poems, a 1951 Bill Kerr monologue from Variety Bandbox, a segment from the Hancock's Half Hour episode, "East Cheam Drama Festival," in which Kerr plays an angry young man in "Look Back in Hunger," the test pilot segment from the episode "Hancock's Diary," and the Hancock spoof of "Blackboard Jungle."

MORE: 720 ABC Perth ran a radio profile of Bill Kerr in July 2013.

FUN-FUL ladder casts shadows, Riverside Park, Independence, Kansas

The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Blog has put its spotlight on the efforts of the City of Independence, Kansas, and the Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) to preserve the park's historic playground equipment while meeting modern safety requirements:

When Riverside Park's insurance company told park staff that they needed to remove two playground slides dating from the early 1900s for safety reasons, Barbara Beurskens, director of the Independence, Kan. park, knew that she and her team had to find a solution that would keep the metal playscapes in place.

"These are so important to the community," says park staffer Rachel Lyon of the tall slides manufactured by the now-defunct FUN-FUL company.

The solution involved installing tons of rubber mulch under the slides, improving guardrails, and undergirding ladders to prevent slip-throughs.

So often the difference between demolition and preservation is affection. City officials confronted with an insurance company's warning often respond with a helpless shrug, followed by an order to send the bulldozers. That's easier to do if you have no emotional connection to what's about to be torn down.

But the city officials here understood that generations of former children from Independence and the region have rich memories tied to these slides and see-saws, memories of overcoming their fears, memories of games of imagination.

I note from a websearch that Park Director Beurskens has worked for the City of Independence in one capacity or another for over 30 years -- clearly, she's been around long enough to understand that "This Place Matters" (to borrow an NTHP slogan). Perhaps she had children of her own who grew up playing on the big slides.

NTHP's Katherine Flynn has included (with my permission) some of my photos of Riverside Park's historic playground equipment from 2007. After an earlier visit in 2003, I described the equipment and wrote about my amazement that the playground equipment I remembered from my childhood visits was still there and in use, and I alluded to the liability concerns that have caused classic equipment to vanish from playgrounds and parks across the country.

A spinning circle -- the kind with the raised elongated bumps at right angles for traction, and bars radiating and rising from the center, then forking out and connecting to the edge. [My son] Joe was riding it, having me spin him faster and faster. As he was spinning, and as I was pondering whether, out of appreciation for the City of Independence having the guts to keep this classic play equipment available, I would refrain from filing suit if one of my kids were injured -- as if he could read my mind, Joe launched himself off the circle. His foot was caught by one of the handholds and it seemed he might be dragged around, but the circle stopped quickly. Joe was fine, grinning. He got up, brushed off the sand (that's what they use around all the play equipment -- not hard, splintery wood chips, but nice soft sand). "I intended to do that. I thought it would be cool to jump off!"

We passed through Independence in May, and we spent a couple of hours there walking through part of the zoo, riding the train and the carousel, and playing on the playground. It was a gray and damp day, so the slides didn't move very fast. Here are a few pictures which show some of the safety improvements:

FUN-FUL big slides, with new guardrails and rubber mulch, at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, by Michael Bates
FUN-FUL big slides with new guardrails and rubber mulch, at Riverside Park, in Independence, Kansas
Grates add safety to big FUN-FUL slide ladders at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, SX003886 by Michael Bates, on Flickr
Grates add safety to big FUN-FUL slide ladders at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas
Improved guardrails on the big FUN-FUL slide tower at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas, SX003885 by Michael Bates, on Flickr
Improved guardrails on the big FUN-FUL slide tower at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas
Photos and videos Copyright 2013 by Michael D. Bates. All rights reserved.


Visiting Riverside Park: The park is open 6 a.m. to midnight daily. The train, carousel, and mini-golf are open weekends from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and weekdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and weekends from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. in spring and early fall. (October 20 is the last day in 2013 for the rides and mini-golf.) The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., April through October, then 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., November through March.

City of Independence Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo webpage
Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo on Facebook
Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) website
Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo (FORPAZ) on Facebook

BONUS: Playground swings sound like trumpeting elephants:

It was June of 1994, and we were chilling out in our room at the bed and breakfast in Inveraray, Scotland, watching TV, and this came on. We had seen a Mr. Bean episode on the flight over, and here he was again, on "Blind Date," the British version of "The Dating Game." The spoof episode was filmed for Comic Relief, the comedy fundraising organization for Third World relief projects.

Blog roundup 2013/01/28

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Notes hither and thither:

If you're a fan of beautiful cartoon art, you should make at least a weekly visit to Whirled of Kelly, which features the art work of Walt Kelly, most famous for the comic strip Pogo. Blogger Thomas Haller Buchanan has been running a series of Sunday strips from 1952, scanned in color from the newspaper. The sequence involves Albert telling a fractured fairy tale called Handle and Gristle. The January 2013 archive also includes scans of Story Book Records from 1946: The discs were illustrated by Walt Kelly, and he's the reader on the recordings.

Nice Deb's Sunday tradition is a hymn, and this week it's a metrical setting of Psalm 23: The King of Love My Shepherd Is.

Maggie's Notebook has a bizarre story: The State of Delaware is stripping its county sheriff's departments (all three of them) of the power to make arrests and enforce the law. This despite a constitutional provision that says that "the Sheriffs shall be conservators of the peace within the counties respectively in which they reside." Only one of the three sheriffs, from Sussex County, is objecting to the change.

Route 66 News reports on a new Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide, handy for finding comfortable, historic, and locally owned along Route 66. (I love Jack Rittenhouse's guidebook, but it's old enough to collect Social Security, and Michael Wallis's book is old enough to drink.)

A bit of levity seems in order. From the final gala performance of Beyond the Fringe here are the languid Peter Cook and the energetic Dudley Moore performing their classic sketch, "One Leg Too Few."

Gerry Anderson, RIP

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Here's another "it's my blog, and I don't care if anyone else is interested" posts.

Below is some rare newsreel footage from 1951 of the recording of a British radio comedy called Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. The show began during World War II, and Much Binding was an RAF base in some obscure, presumably damp, locale in England. The show continued after the war with the same cast, but in new situations. In this clip you'll see the two leads, Richard Murdoch on the left and Kenneth Horne on the right, joined by Sam Costa (with the impressive mustache), Maurice Denham (as Mr. Blake with the west country accent and milquetoast Mr. Larkin), and Maureen Riscoe as Mrs. Larkin.

I'm impressed that the audience laughed at the Latin joke.

Kenneth Horne was not only a radio entertainer, he was a business executive, serving as sales director of Triplex Glass, managing director of the British Industries Fair, and managing director of Chad Valley Toys. After a stroke in 1958, doctors told him to choose between industry and comedy. He chose comedy and returned from his convalescence to star in Beyond Our Ken, a weekly sketch comedy show that ran from 1958 to 1964. Beyond Our Ken was followed by Round the Horne, from 1965 to 1968, with the same cast -- Kenneth Horne, Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, announcer Douglas Smith -- but different writers -- Barry Took and Marty Feldman.

Each episode of Much-Binding ended with the theme song with lyrics customized to fit the episode's story and the news of the day. Here's the song that ended the show's 100th episode, from 1949.

Finally, here's Richard Murdoch talking about the origins of Much-Binding and a royal visit to the show's performance.

MORE: BBC Radio 4 Extra features comedy, drama, documentary, and radio productions of classic literature, available worldwide online. An episode of Much-Binding, Beyond Our Ken, or Round the Horne airs almost every week; this week you can hear the second episode of Round the Horne. And this week they've started serializing Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers in eight hour-long episodes. A three-hour special, Horne of Plenty, featuring two episodes each of Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken, plus commentary by Jonathan James-Moore, will air at 3 am Central Time Saturday, December 22, 2012, and will be available on the BBC Radio 4 Extra website for a week.

When Match Game '74 came out, I was sure I could remember the earlier Match Game with a theme song that sounded a bit like "Wim-Oh-Weh." (It was Bert Kaempfert's "Swingin' Safari.") Thanks to the magic of the internet, I've got confirmation of a dim early childhood memory. Here's the pilot episode of the original Match Game, from 1962, with host Gene Rayburn and celebrity team captains Peggy Cass and Peter Lind Hayes.

You're more likely to have seen this version of Match Game. This particular show featured celeb panelists Orson Bean, Brett Sommers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Mary Ann Mobley, Richard Dawson, and Betty White. The game goes to two tie-breaker rounds:

And then there's this clip, featuring a cameo by Orson Bean, standing by to pinch hit for Gary Burghoff.

A more serious post about city government is in the works, but I couldn't get it finished as quickly as I'd like, so you get this instead.

What better way to break a week of blog silence than with a video of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, the Genius of the Carpathians, cheating at volleyball. He's the short guy in the white shirt and shorts pulling down the net almost every time he tries and fails to hit the ball over.

Later in the video, he is serenaded by Imelda Marcos, visits Universal Studios, and is praised by Jimmy Carter.

What got me started on this was a friend mentioning Ceaucescu's moment of truth, giving what was to be his final speech in front of what was supposed to be another staged rally. About 1:20 into this video, everything starts to fall apart.

(A few days later, Ceaucescu and his wife were allegedly tried and executed. But within a week, my wife and I spotted him at the Eastland Mall food court. He was incognito in blue jeans and a plaid shirt, enjoying a snack with a taller lady in a lime-green pantsuit with a beehive hairdo and Virginia Gregg cats-eye glasses. Despite the agricultural attire, his hair and build were unmistakable. Perhaps there is something to the rumor that he lived out his days as an Inola hay farmer.)

Earlier, my friend sent a link to a video of Ceaucescu being greeted with parades and mass demonstrations in North Korea in 1971.

No, that was not a preview of next January's inaugural.

Brak for President!

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"A vote for Brak is a vote for beans everyday!"

The original ad from 1952:

"We don't want John or Dean or Harry.
Let's do the big job right.
Let's get in step with the guy that's hep.
Get in step with Ike."

Many more presidential TV commercials here from 1952 to the present : "The Living Room Candidate."

Weird Al Yankovic lived in the Bob Wills District before it was cool. His character in a movie did, at any rate.

A two-story building at 114 S. Archer provided the interior and exterior shots of the apartment and adjoining karate studio shown near the beginning of the movie. Tonight (Thursday, October 4, 2012), just three blocks away at Guthrie Green, between Brady and Cameron Streets, Boston and Cincinnati Avenues, you'll be able to see Weird Al's 1989 feature film, "UHF," filmed entirely here in Tulsa with a mix of established stars and character actors (Kevin McCarthy, Billy Barty, Victoria Jackson), then-emerging talents (Michael Richards and Fran Drescher), and hundreds of local extras.

It's an outdoor movie night, free admission, part of a series of movies with Tulsa connections sponsored by Circle Cinema. The movie will begin at dusk.

Next week (2012/10/11) they're showing Mad Dogs and Englishmen, a rockumentary about Joe Cocker's 1971 American tour, which featured many of the musicians that made the Tulsa Sound. Week after next (2012/10/18) it's Eye of God, written and directed by Tulsa's Tim Blake Nelson and filmed around Tulsa and Collinsville. There's an online poll to pick the pre-Halloween horror movie for October 25 -- the choices are Return of the Living Dead, Splinter, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I've been meaning to write something about Guthrie Green since attending the Sunday night symphony concert on the park's opening weekend last month. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has turned a truck transfer facility into an inviting public space that seems to work well whether it's used for formal events or casual enjoyment. We brought our lawn chairs, enjoyed the Tulsa Youth Symphony (our oldest's first performance with the group), then during the long break, noshed on kettle corn and hot dogs from vendors parked along the Cincinnati side, wandered around and found friends.

Then as the sun went down and the stars came out, we listened to the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra put on a concert of Americana and pops, under the direction of Ron Spiegelman, starting appropriately with the Star-Spangled Banner, featuring a medley from Oklahoma!, a tribute to the armed services, Copeland's Rodeo ("Beef -- it's what's for dinner."), Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, winding up with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and fireworks. It reminded me of the Boston Pops 4th of July concerts on the Esplanade, but with the Tulsa skyline instead of the MIT campus as a backdrop.

Public spaces are tricky to get right, and Tulsa has plenty of local examples of failed parks and plazas -- nice ideas, well furnished, but they don't draw people in large numbers and often become havens for nefarious activity. There's a national organization devoted to distilling what makes a public space work.

Years ago, I enthused about New York's Bryant Park, a formerly failed space that had been turned around. While I suggested establishing something like it on the river, I see many of Bryant Park's appealing elements in Guthrie Green. I like the way they took an obstacle -- the massive loading dock along Cameron Street -- and turned it into an asset -- a place for restrooms and a small cafe, and steps overlooking the lawn.

The park didn't wind up with the name I wanted -- Bob Wills and his brother Johnnie Lee Wills have a far stronger connection to Tulsa than Okemah expat Woody Guthrie.-- but I'm very happy with what GKFF has created in Guthrie Green, and I encourage you to see it for yourself.

The Gregory Brothers, who brought you the songified soundbites of George Lindell ("Reality hits you hard, bro."), Antoine Dodson ("Hide your kids, hide your wife."), and Debbie the Dater ("Can't hug every cat.") reveal the similarities in Romney and Obama's acceptance speeches:

Comedian Tony Hancock and writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson were pioneers of the situation comedy on British radio and TV in the 1950s and 1960s. At a time when comedy shows usually relied on short sketches with one gag after another, catchphrases and silly voices, Hancock's Half-Hour featured a single plot and recurring characters, with the comedy arising from the situations they found themselves in.

The 1961 season, the final series of Hancock's partnership with Galton and Simpson featured several episodes that became all-time classics, including this one, "The Blood Donor," first aired on June 23, 1961.

Fans of OETA's lineup of Britcoms will recognized a young and unmoustachioed Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served?, Last of the Summer Wine) as one of Hancock's fellow donors.


Galton and Simpson went on to create and write Steptoe and Son, a hit show about a junk-dealer and his son that became the inspiration for an American series you may remember.

MORE: BBC Radio 4 Extra airs a weekly episode from Hancock's Half-Hour, the radio series written by Galton and Simpson and starring Tony Hancock, Sid James, Bill Kerr, Hattie Jacques, and Kenneth Williams. You can always listen to the latest episode online.

The Union Pacific Railroad is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, and as part of the celebration, the UP is asking people to try their hand at remaking the "Great Big Rollin' Railroad" jingle used in early '70s UP TV ads. The grand prize is $15,000, and there's a monthly prize of $1,000 for the video that has the most "likes" at the end of the month. A Tulsa couple is in a close race for the June prize with a sunshiny, pop remake that will keep you smiling for the rest of the week.

The lyrics are by Bill Fries, the music by Bob Jenkins and Dick Proulx. Fries, an ad copywriter, went on a few years later, under the stage name C. W. McCall, to team up with Chip Davis on a hit song called "Convoy."

Here's the original version, from 1970, filmed in North Platte, Nebraska, using UP employees (some with very big hair indeed) singing a line of lyrics each.

Tulsa musicians Jarrod and Jaime Gollihare are either in 1st or a close 2nd for the June contest. Jarrod is the drummer with the power-pop band Admiral Twin; you may also remember him as a writer for Urban Tulsa Weekly. Their version of the song features the two of them in their mid-century modern apartment playing glasses, suitcases, bottles, a squeaky door, blinds, a pie plate, slide guitar, ukulele, and a xylophone. It's a catchy arrangement with clever visuals (including, briefly, the animal masks you see below). I'd love to see and hear more videos like this one from Jarrod and Jaime. (Maybe a remake of "Tulsa Straight Ahead"?)

jarrod and jaime union pacific snapshot.jpg

As I write this, Jarrod and Jamie have 196 likes, just two behind the leader. I hope you'll take a minute to click through, listen, and show your support by registering and liking their video.

A homegrown feature film, The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, already the recipient of multiple awards on the film festival circuit, has been picked up for international release by a division of Warner Brothers. This is a big milestone for Tulsa and a feather in the cap of the Tulsans who made this movie happen. The comedy, rated PG-13, will premiere at 8 p.m., Thursday, May 10, 2012, at Riverwalk Movies in Jenks.

The movie was filmed locally, written, produced, directed, and acted by Tulsa talent.


From the news release:

Oklahoma Film Gets International Release and Debuts in Theaters

TULSA, Okla. -- The award-winning, Oklahoma feature film, The Rock 'n' Roll Dreams of Duncan Christopher, is slated for international release on May 15th, but first, fans will enjoy the film on the big screen with a Tulsa premiere on May 10th.

City Councilor and local restaurateur, Blake Ewing, who also served as an Associate Producer on the film, is excited by what this means for the state and the city.

"I think this is great for the future of Tulsa," said Ewing. "It's one more project that continues to establish our city as a viable artistic community in the United States. I am extremely proud to have been a part of such a successful film and soundtrack that celebrates Oklahoma so passionately."

The film, directed by Tulsa native Justin Monroe, is a quirky and endearing comedy that tells the story of the awkward and mostly untalented Duncan Christopher, who, after an early mid-life crisis, moves to the big city of Tulsa to pursue his rock 'n' roll dreams and face his demons in the brutal underground world of competitive karaoke.

After successfully touring the film festival circuit in 2011, Monroe is thrilled to announce the full, international digital distribution of his movie. Gravitas Ventures, a division of Warner Brothers, eagerly picked up the film and has slated it for a May 15th release.

"It was our dream to shine a light on Oklahoma, to reveal the beauty and heart of this place," said Monroe. "When we left Hollywood to come back home, we hoped to create a unique, heartful, and infectiously fun movie that could communicate across a wide demographic, across social-economic borders, and across oceans. Finally being at this moment, where a company as significant as Gravitas has now picked up the movie and will be taking it to the world - well, it's pretty amazing to say the least. Honestly, it's a dream come true!"

Moviegoers can order the film now on iTunes and can screen the film on other platforms like Netflix, Amazon, AT&T U-verse, Blockbuster on Demand, and Hulu after the release. Fans can also purchase the DVD after the initial release, which will include tons of extras, like bloopers, deleted scenes, "Duncan's inspirations" and more.

The theatrical screening will take place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 10th at Riverwalk Movies in Jenks.

As you can see from the trailer, the movie shows off Tulsa to good effect; Cain's Ballroom, the Gypsy Coffee House, and River Parks are among the landmarks featured.


Duncan Christopher on Facebook
Duncan Christopher on Twitter
Duncan Christopher on YouTube

Last of the Summer Wine

Photo of Sid's Cafe, Holmfirth, Yorkshire, by Flickr user nechbi, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite TV series is the long-running BBC sitcom "Last of the Summer Wine," about the exploits of three old men with plenty of time to get into mischief in a picturesque Yorkshire village and the surrounding hills. The program ran for 37 years and continues in reruns around the world. (Locally, OETA runs two back-to-back episodes nightly Monday through Thursday at 11 pm.)

The people of Holmfirth, the principal filming location for the series, has done an admirable job of turning fan interest into tourist dollars without ruining what made the town an attractive filming location and place to visit.

One frequently seen location, Nora Batty's cottage, is available as a self-catering accommodation sleeping six, with weekly rates ranging from £305 in winter and late fall to £661 in peak summer season. (That's about $500 to $1100 at current exchange rates.)

Down the steps, just where it should be, is Compo's tatty flat, now an exhibition with props from the show, and next door to that, the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room, where you can have a traditional Yorkshire breakfast (bacon, egg, sausage, tomato, beans, mushrooms, and black pudding) or afternoon tea. There's a gift shop, too.

The Automobile Association describes a five-mile walking tour around Holmfirth that will take you up hill and down dale, over stiles and through fields and woods.

You can have lunch at Sid's Cafe, too, and just outside catch a bus tour of Summer Wine filming locations.

View from Cemetery Road, Holmfirth

Photo of Holmfirth, Yorkshire, by Flickr user Tim Green aka atoach, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (CC BY 2.0)

Back-porch bald eagles

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Someone posted the first in this series of videos on Facebook, showing a bald eagle perched on a porch railing, sharing the porch with a couple of cats and a fox, none of whom were bothering the others, like something out of a Peaceable Kingdom painting.

The rest of the videos posted by this resident of Unalaska, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands, are remarkable, too, with more interaction between her cats and the eagles, and a few videos of large numbers of bald eagles feasting on fish. Here's a playlist to let you watch all the videos back to back.

just-a-minute-cd.jpgFans of quick-witted British comedy and verbal virtuosity will enjoy a BBC Radio 4 Extra special about the long-running radio panel show Just a Minute.

Just a Minute involves four players and a chairman. The chairman gives a subject to one of the players, who is to speak on the subject topic for 60 seconds without repetition, hesitation, or deviation. If the speaker falters, any other player can buzz in with a challenge. If the challenge is upheld, the challenger takes over the subject for any time remaining. Whoever is speaking when the whistle blows after 60 seconds wins the round. Points are awarded for successful challenges, overruled challenges, winning a round and sometimes just on the chairman's whim. The rules of the game put a premium on thinking on your feet and a rich vocabulary.

Half the fun is the banter that takes place while the clock is stopped for a challenge. (For example, I'm listening to a show from June 2, 1982, in which the topic of bathing a baby has turned into a debate over proper technique for supporting an infant.) For most of the first two decades, the show featured three regular panelists, author and politician Clement Freud, comedic actors Kenneth Williams and Derek Nimmo, and a guest, usually female, in the fourth chair, with actor Peter Jones (who played the Book in the original radio version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as a frequent substitute. Comedian Paul Merton has been a regular panelist since 1989. Nicholas Parsons has served as chairman since the show's inception in 1967.

There is renewed interest the radio show as Just a Minute returns to BBC television later this month and the CDs of classic episodes have been re-released.

You can listen online to the three-hour BBC Radio 4 Extra special "Just a Minute: Without Hesitation," featuring highlights of the game's four-and-a-half decades, through midday (Tulsa time) March 24, 2012. BBC Radio 4 Extra runs a new episode most weeks, which you can find here.


Just a Minute fan website with episode guides, cast lists, and streaming episodes.

The origins of Just a Minute

I had planned to post this first thing this morning, but computer problems prevented, and then grim news seemed more important. We all could use some music and laughter about now, I think.

The four countries of the United Kingdom are of such great antiquity that they can't mark a founding day or independence day as a national holiday, so instead they celebrate the feast day of their patron saints: St. Patrick's Day for Ireland on March 17, St. Andrew's Day on November 30 for Scotland, St. George's Day on April 23 for England, and St. David's Day on March 1 for Wales.

St. David's Day is traditionally marked by the wearing of a daffodil (now in peak bloom in Tulsa) or a leek on the lapel. The leek was worn by Welsh soldiers to identify each other in the midst of similarly dressed English invaders.


Photo from TheGoonShow.net.

Other uses of leeks are not recommended.


Photo from this BBC article about St. David's Day.

The Principality of Wales has been ruled by England since 1282, was officially annexed to England in the mid-16th century, and regained a degree of self-determination with the creation in 1999 of the Welsh Assembly.

I've spent all of a day in Wales, just enough to get a sense of what a beautiful country it is.

Wales is famed as a center of coal mining, as a place of religious fervor, and as a land of singing. In Wales even the Methodists are Calvinistic, and a religious revival in 1904-5 spread from Wales to the ends of the earth. In comedy, the Welsh are often portrayed with a sing-song accent.

Wales is home to one of the world's longest place names: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Yes, there are four ells in a row in that name.

Wales gave the world Tom Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones and a host of other Joneses, but one of my favorite Welshmen is the late comedian and tenor Harry Secombe. Secombe, the short and stout fellow in the photos above, played Neddie Seagoon in the Goon Show, the long-running BBC radio comedy that set the stage for the anarchic comedy of Monty Python. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, is one of the show's most enthusiastic fans.

No matter how grim things may seem, there's always an episode of the Goon Show available for a listen on the BBC Radio 4 Extra website. Highly recommended for your mental health.

In later life, he played the lead in Pickwick, the musical version of The Pickwick Papers and served as host of TV series with religious themes, including Highway on ITV and Songs of Praise on the BBC.

Here is a 30 minute biography of Secombe, an episode of the series Welsh Greats.

Here, from an episode of Highway, is Harry Secombe and the Treorchy Male Choir singing the hymn Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, known by the name of its hymn tune, Cwm Rhondda (Rhondda Valley).

Vote for Anai Rios

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anai_rios_25.jpgOklahoma just had an election, we'll have another in just a couple of weeks, then more elections in April, June, August, and November. It's a busy year for voting.

But I must call upon my fellow Tulsans and Oklahomans to cast one more vote today in the name of good citizenship. No ID required, you don't have to register, and you don't have to go to your neighborhood polling place. Just click on that photo, then vote for Anai Rios, the first name on the list, on the upper left.

Anai Rios, 25, from Tulsa, is one of 10 finalists in the "virtual casting" for Univision's Nuestra Belleza Latina 2012, a combination reality show and beauty pageant. This season, the two top vote-getters in the virtual casting election will fly to Miami to join 10 contestants selected at auditions around the country. This season's competition premieres on Univision on March 4, 2012. Each episode features competitions, viewer voting, and elimination of one of the contestants.

According to the website, voting is "in effect until February 20, 2012," which is Monday. But vote today, just to be sure, and then vote again tomorrow. I suppose you could even cast a separate ballot for her on every different browser on every PC you own.

Here's the video Anai submitted for the competition. I should probably mention that she is in her bathing suit for part of the video, just in case that would influence your decision to watch or not. Watching the video is not, however, a prerequisite for voting for Anai Rios.

Why is this worth an item at BatesLine, you ask? Anai and her family have been good friends of my parents for many years. (Also, it happens to be Rule 5 Sunday, in the tradition of The Other McCain. See his treatise, "How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog" for further explanation.)

So, my fellow Tulsans and my fellow Oklahomans, I am proud to endorse Anai Rios for Nuestra Belleza Latina contestant. Please vote early and often for Anai Rios.

It was a running gag in Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo. Friday the 13th was a baleful day, particularly when it fell on a Friday:

Here's the Friday the 13th sequence from the summer of 1965, via Whirled of Kelly, a blog devoted to the art of Walt Kelly. Click on the strip to go to the corresponding entry on that blog.


And from March 1970, via Active Rain:


A bit of fun from 1968 -- a short film by Terry Gilliam, who would become, in 1969, the animator for Monty Python's Flying Circus and the only American member of the cast. Here he works his cutout stop-motion magic on an assortment of Christmas cards.

TalyllynRailway.pngAmongst the cache of educational short-subject films available at the Internet Archive, I came across this documentary of a narrow-gauge railway in northwestern Wales, the Talyllyn Railway, being kept alive by preservationists. The documentary was released in 1965, but was filmed in the early 1950s.

The railway opened in 1866 mainly for the purpose of hauling slate seven miles from the mines to the sea, but also carrying passengers. The mines having closed, the railway was shut down in October 1950, but reopened by volunteers the following May 1951 and has been continuously operated by volunteers for the 60 years since.

I had read about the Talyllyn Railway in my then-little boy's single-volume collection of Thomas the Tank Engine books (aka The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry). When work brought me to Shropshire in May 1999, I took the opportunity for a day in north Wales, including a ride on the Talyllyn, from Dolgoch Falls to the top of the line at Nant Gwernol and back, followed by a drive to the seaside at Tywyn and the museum at the end of the line.

The melancholy harmonica of the documentary's theme brings to mind the theme of the long-running Yorkshire sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.

MORE: The filmmaker, Carson "Kit" Davidson, has an interesting biography. He's still around, living near Rutland, Vermont, and editing submissions to medical journals.

An investigative reporter gets to the truth: Can men and women be "just friends"? The answers are curiously uniform by sex. (Hat tip to Verum Serum.)

A Liberty University a capella group performs their version of an Autotune the News classic: " Carol of the Bed Intruder." (Again, hat tip to Verum Serum.)

A year or so ago, the blog "How to Be a Retronaut" posted a movie short from 1959 about London's coffeehouse scene. The film was part of the "Look at Life" series of short documentaries screened in British theaters between 1959 and 1968.

This amusing eight-minute color film depicts the rise of the coffeehouse fad in the 1950s (traced to the arrival of the first Italian espresso machine in London in 1952), the varieties of coffeehouse, and the challenges faced by coffeehouse owners. Many themes will be familiar to modern day coffeehouse owners and patrons -- customers that hang around all day and buy only a single cup of coffee (if that), the need to offer food to make enough money to keep the place open, the use of coffeehouse walls as gallery space for local artists, the coffeehouse as a place for serendipitous meetings.

Lesson 1: Overheads are high. They reckon that if a character sits for half an hour over one cup of coffee, his share of the rent heat light and service amount to the point where the management is paying him.

The most noticeable differences between then and now: The absence of laptops and the presence of vast, billowy clouds of cigarette smoke.


In a separate entry, How to Be a Retronaut posted stills of the London coffeehouses featured in the film.

Here's an idea that's been on my mind for a while, and it's time to begin to flesh it out. As you read, keep in mind that this is a first draft. Your thoughts are welcome.

This insight seems obvious to me, so obvious that I searched to find the place where I must have read it, but I've never found it. I wrote about it at length in a UTW column in the aftermath of the December 2007 ice storm, which I had titled "The Amish Are Laughing at Us."

So I am going to stake my claim to this insight and give it a label:

Bates's Law of Creeping Techno-Slavery:

Any useful technology passes through three phases:
luxury, convenience, necessity.

It begins as a "can't have," but ultimately becomes a "can't live without."

The transition from luxury to convenience happens when the cost of the technology declines and the availability increases to allow it to be in general use.

During the convenience phase, the superseded technology is still available as a fallback. When the fallback disappears, we enter the necessity phase. We are completely dependent on the new technology.

The convenience phase is the sweet spot -- we have the technology, we can use it, but we can live without it (albeit not as well), because we still have the fallback. But we are pushed inexorably to the necessity phase.

In the necessity phase, we have reorganized our lives around the assumption that the technology will continue to exist, at the same cost or cheaper.

A fallback technology disappears when the cost of maintaining it exceeds the benefit.

Eventually, the knowledge to recreate the fallback becomes rare, limited to a handful of old-timers and the occasional retro-tech enthusiast.

By "superseded technology," I don't necessarily mean a device, but a combination of tools or devices and ways of using them.

Think about how you'd live your life if you suddenly had to do it without your own car. Or had to manage without motorized vehicles at all. Tulsa, like most younger cities, grew around the persistent availability of cheap personal transport.

Think about your home's comfort in the event of a lengthy power outage. If it's a newer home, it probably wasn't built to take advantage of passing breezes for ventilation, and the fireplace, if you have one, was designed for looks, not for keeping the place warm.

Another short example: Think about a trip to a large amusement park in the 1970s or earlier, with your family or, say, a church youth group. At some point in the day, the group you're with breaks up to do different things. Miraculously you're all back together at the end of the day for the drive home. We managed that without cell phones, and yet as I remember trips like that, it's hard to remember the methods we used to make it work. Or how we managed to convoy multiple cars over a long road trip without anything more than turn signals and hand signals to communicate.

A longer example: The library card catalog. For years, this was the means for maintaining an index of the library's ever-changing collections. The technology had significant limitations: It was available only in one place, adding, sorting, and deleting was error prone and subject to tampering. But it provided a way to maintain a complete, ordered listing without retyping the whole thing every time you added or removed a book.

When electronic library catalog systems came along, they were expensive and ran on expensive computers. Big libraries with big budgets could afford them, so it was still important for an aspiring librarian to know how to manage a card catalog. Even in libraries with an electronic catalog, a card catalog would have been maintained in parallel for a few years as a backup and to serve customers uncomfortable with the green glowing letters on the black screen of a dumb terminal.

Eventually the cost of hardware and software came down enough so that nearly every library could afford an electronic catalog. Patrons, used to working with computers at home, had no problem using a computer at the library to locate a book. Almost no one used the card catalog, and it wasn't worth the time of a librarian to type and sort cards in order to maintain it. The huge cases of tiny drawers went away, and the cards became scratch paper on which to jot down call numbers from the computer screen.

Ink, paper, and drawers aren't obsolete, but the application of these items as a card catalog is. And all is well, as long as the power stays on and nothing happens to the computer. If there's no power, there's no longer a backup. You could have an enormous library full of books to read, undiminished in their ability to entertain and enlighten by the lack of electricity, but you'd have no way to find the book you want. An older librarian might be able to point you to the general vicinity based on the subject and the likely Dewey Decimal number. Or you could just browse.

MORE: An excerpt from Eric Brende's 2004 book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, with an anecdote about the confusion at a fast-food drive-through window when the cash register doesn't work. Brende, with a degree from Yale and a master's from MIT, now lives a low-tech life with his family in St. Louis, working as a rickshaw driver and soapmaker, inspired by his interaction with the Amish.

Spending too many hours staring at ancient assembly language (SEL/Gould Macro Assembler for the 32/87, running under MPX-32) brought to mind an old bit of often-mimeographed humor which may date back to the 1970s, if not earlier: A list of fictitious assembly language instructions, including


And here's another trip down random-access memory lane: The Jargon File version 3.1.0. Born in 1975 at Stanford, this collection of computer geek jargon made its way by FTP across the nascent ARPAnet to the MIT AI Lab, went dormant in the mid- to late-80s, then was reborn in 1990 and gave birth to a book version (The New Hacker's Dictionary). The linked version is from October 1994, but here's a version from 2000.

Fellow geeks: What's your favorite ancient bit of tech humor or insider geek culture? Tell us about it in the comments.

[Regarding assembly language, for you non-programmers: Imagine having to describe a simple act, like turning a door knob, as a series of commands to each individual muscle in your fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder. A simple action on your computer is accomplished by what may be a lengthy and complex series of simple instructions to the machine's brain -- the central processing unit (CPU). Those simple instructions are represented in somewhat human-readable terms by mnemonics. Programmers would have to know these mnemonics to write a computer program. Another program, called an assembler, would turn these arcane mnemonics into even more incomprehensible 1s and 0s understood by the CPU. Nowadays, programmers use somewhat less arcane computer languages to describe what the computer is supposed to do, and a program called a compiler turns a program written by a human into 1s and 0s for the CPU.]

Why not E. L. Wisty? He has just as much experience at the judgin' as Elena Kagan has, even if he doesn't have the Latin for it.

His uncontrollable whoopin' might be a problem during confirmation hearings but shouldn't interfere with the court's proceedings.

"The trouble with bein' a miner: as soon as you're too old and tired and ill and sick and stupid to do your job properly, you have to go, while the very opposite applies with the judges."

If you don't know who Frank Nelson was, you should. If you're a fan of classic radio and TV you've seen and heard him a thousand times or more. If you're older than me, you know him from the Jack Benny Show. People my age will remember his cameos on Sanford and Son, and those younger still may have seen a recurring Simpsons character modeled after his schtick. Frank Nelson's character popped up anytime the situation required sarcastic customer service with a veneer of sycophantic unctuousness. Watch the clips and then read another one of Mark Evanier's great Hollywood stories, reminiscences of working with Frank Nelson.

More videos below (or after the jump, if you're on the home page).

What got me thinking about Frank Nelson, and his years with Jack Benny in particular, was listening to an episode of "Hancock's Half Hour," a 1950s British radio sitcom that, like Jack Benny's show, featured an ensemble cast, made the title character the straight man, the butt of everyone else's jokes, and had a character that, like Frank Nelson's "yyyyyeee-esss" man, seemed to show up every episode, wherever it was set, to the annoyance of the star. In the case of "Hancock's Half Hour," the character actor was Kenneth Williams and his catchphase was, "'Ere, stop messin' about."

(Edited 2014/01/13 to update Mark Evanier link.)

Best-of-2009 lists

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'Tis the season for retrospectives.

You won't want to miss Dave Barry's 2009 month-by-month review.

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has put together a bunch of best-of lists for 2009, covering national politics from a conservative perspective:

The Daily Telegraph offers its list of the top 10 conservative movies of the decade:

This is a list of the ten best films of the last decade that have advanced a conservative message, ranging from strong support for the military and love for country to the defence of capitalism and the free market. These are all brilliant movies that conservatives can be inspired by, and which are guaranteed to offend left-wing sensibilities in one way or another.

This is not intended as a list of films made only by conservative filmmakers, who are, it has to be said, few in number. Ironically, some of the best films of all time that have projected conservative values have been made by directors who are apolitical or even politically liberal. Steven Spielberg's magnificent Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, Cy Enfield's Zulu, and Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields, are cases in point.

Closer to home, Irritated Tulsan offers several countdown posts:

And he wants you to cast your vote for Tulsan of The Year 2009.

And following tradition, Urban Tulsa Weekly has its list of 2009's best and worst.

If you've found an interesting best-of-2009 post, leave a note in the comments below.

Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Ray Stevens, whose work spans a half century and ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, has a topical new song with a straightforward message for our representatives in Washington:

Here's another version, that uses stills backed with the Red Army Chorus singing "Katyusha."

MORE: This clip is from the 2005 mockumentary Pervye na Lune (First to the Moon), about the 1930s Soviet space program. Here it is on Google video.

A Groucho-Marxist, at any rate: Groucho is reputed to have said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

As a young man, considering his matrimonial prospects, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason; I can never be satisfied with any one who would be block-head enough to have me.

That's from a letter Lincoln wrote after his proposal of marriage was rejected by a woman to whom he wasn't attracted. (He proposed out of a sense of obligation from a frivolous promise he made to the friend of his potential fiancee.) His description of his first impressions of the woman in question is vivid:

In a few days we had an interview, and although I had seen her before, she did not look as my immagination had pictured her. I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an "old maid," and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appelation; but now, when I beheld her, I could not for my life avoid thinking of my mother; and this, not from withered features, for her skin was too full of fat to permit of its contracting in to wrinkles; but from her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance in general, and from a kind of notion that ran in my head, that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy, and reached her present bulk in less than thirty-five or forty years; and, in short, I was not all pleased with her.

It seems that if you wait long enough, you can get an answer to any question on the internet.

Each week, James Lileks posts photos of a vintage matchbook advertising a business. He usually is able to provide some information on the subsequent history of the business or what is now at that address. Quite some time ago, Lileks posted a matchbook for Harris Lunch, a cafe that seemed to have left no trace on the World Wide Web and mentioned mysterious menu items. He made a guess (which turned out to be pretty accurate), but concluded, "Who knows? These are the details we lose every day."

Because the place had a Ponca City, Okla., location, I posted a link to see if a BatesLine reader had any information. Last night, Al Harris, the son of founder U. P. Harris, found my entry via a search engine and left a comment with the history of Harris Lunch, $400 waffles, and preacher-style fried chicken. I tweeted it @Lileks, and he was kind enough to link to the find in today's Bleat.

This rediscovery of nearly-lost culinary history was made possible by a matchbook collector willing to share his finds on the Internet (in the most entertaining way possible), a blog with a local emphasis and searchable archives, and someone looking for traces of family history on the World-Wide Web.

Oh, and it turns out Lileks had another Harris matchbook, which he used for an episode of "Joe Ohio," which built the life story of a matchbook salesman, in serial form, out of an anonymous man's matchbook collection. This matchbook is for Harris' Fine Foods, mentions Preacher Style Chicken and $400 waffles, and locations in Logan, Utah, Grand Junction, Colo., as well as Kingman, Kans. (I remember reading it now, but it didn't mention any location in Oklahoma, so it didn't make the impression that the other matchbook did.)

UPDATED 2016/05/30 with new locations of matchbooks on Lileks.com


"Well... look, Eric, it's like this... There are some people in life who are interesting people. You know, they're good company, fun to be with. The kind of people who, when you meet them on the street, your heart lifts and you say to yourself, 'Ah! There's old So-and-So! Isn't it grand to see him!' People who make you happy! People who make you feel that life's worth living! But... you're not one of them."

-- From "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite," by Terry Jones and Michael Palin

(Ripping Yarns was a brilliant series of teleplays spoofing adventure novels and other forms of uplifting early 20th century schoolboy literature, written by Monty Python alumni Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and starring Palin -- usually in multiple roles per episode. "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite," how the dullest young man in the village was transformed into the most popular and celebrated, without actually changing in any way, may be the most brilliant episode of the series.)

(There's an Eric Olthwaite blog, which has nothing to do with this episode, but is about pubs and real ale in Britain, and is therefore much more interesting than Eric.)

I recently came across a funny little novelty song recorded by Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys called "The Thingamajig." It seemed just the song for a rainy day of fix-it projects. It's much in the spirit of "Rag Mop," an novelty number from 1949 that was a hit for Wills and, later, for the Ames Brothers.

Follow this link to hear "The Thingamajig" and "She Took" at a delightful blog called I'm Learning to Share.

"The Thingamajig" was written by prolific songwriter Cindy Walker. ("You Don't Know Me" and "Dream Baby" are perhaps her two best known songs.) It was recorded on Feb. 3, 1952, at the KVOO studios, for RCA. (Was KVOO still in the Philtower in '52?) Lead vocals by Julian "Curley" Lewis. Johnnie Lee Wills is asking the questions and singing on the trio part. Don Tolle on electric guitar, Tommy Elliott on steel guitar, Clarence Cagle on piano, Chuck Adams on bass, Waid Peeler on drums, Curley Lewis, Henry Boatman and James Guy "Cotton" Thompson on fiddle. Don Harlan played clarinet on this session, but I don't hear it on this song. He might be singing with the trio, along with Johnnie Lee Wills and Leon Huff, the band's usual vocalist.

Here, for the record, are the lyrics. (I'm not entirely sure about "bucket big" in the first verse, and "spring" in the chorus could be "sprig." UPDATE 2009/05/17 -- changed "bucket big" to "bug is big" on the advice of a commenter.)

What did I do with that thingamajig?

I gotta to find that thingamajig.
I gotta to have it to fix my rig
Tain't no bigger than a bug is big.
What did I do with that thingamajig?

Is it square?
No, it isn't square.
Does it flare?
No, it doesn't flare.
It ain't square, it don't flare,
It ain't shaped like a pear.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it round?
No, it isn't round.
Is it brown?
No, it isn't brown.
It ain't round, it ain't brown
It don't make any sound
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

It's just a doodad
With a thingamabob,
A doomaflitchet
That you twist like a knob,
A whatchamacallit
Fastened down with a spring.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it flat?
No, it isn't flat.
Like a mat?
No, not like no mat.
It ain't flat like a mat;
It's no bigger than that.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

I gotta to find that thingamajig.
I gotta to have it to fix my rig.
Tain't no bigger than a bug is big.
What did I do with that thingamajig?

Is it brass?
No, it isn't brass.
Is it glass
No, it isn't glass.
It ain't brass, it ain't glass,
But alack and alas,
I've got to find that thingamajig.

Is it stone?
No, it isn't stone.
Like a hone?
No, not like no hone.
It ain't stone like a hone.
It ain't button or bone.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

It's just a doodad
With a thingamabob,
A doomaflitchet
That you twist like a knob,
A whatchamacallit
Fastened down with a spring.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it tin?
No, it isn't tin.
Do it spin?
No, it doesn't spin.
It ain't tin, it don't spin,
But if you are my friend,
Please help me find that thingamajig!

UPDATE 2009/05/18: Dad says he remembers the song from back then, and that Grandma (his mom) loved it.

UPDATE 2012/01/12: Uncle Allen says this was his dad's (my Grandpa Bates's) favorite. It makes sense, since he dealt with many thingamajigs, doomaflitchets, whatchamacallits, and doodads in his line of work (electronics repair and sales -- Johnny's Electronics in Nowata).

MORE: A commenter suggests that the lyric is "Tain't no bigger than a bug is big," which makes far more sense than "bucket big."

A cool web app at xtranormal.com lets you take a script, assign it to a character, voice, and setting, and have the Lego-like character read it.

For a test, I had this Australian fellow with the cowboy hat read the North Carolina guidebook excerpt about the Self-Kick-in-the-Pants machine from the previous entry:

The air quotes are a nice touch.

MORE: In the comments, Mick links to the xtranormal version of Leon Russell's "Home Sweet Oklahoma".

Since I started writing for Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've had a few photos and graphics published in the paper -- Lady Belvedere, the Statehood Centennial parade in Guthrie, PLANiTULSA workshops, along with some I took to illustrate one of my columns.

But today for the first time I got to see one of my photos in a hardbound book. It's a picture of Monkey Island at Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence, Kansas, and it's in a brand new coffee table book called Amazing and Unusual USA by Jeff Bahr. Bahr is co-author of Weird Virginia and a contributor to several other books in the Weird series.

I took the picture in 2007. My youngest son, then about 18 months old, and I stopped in Independence on the way north to Lawrence for my uncle's 50th birthday party. I have happy memories of the park and zoo from my childhood, and I thought my little one would enjoy looking around at the animals and the playground. We might even get to ride the train.

My wife and older two weren't able to come along, and they had the nice camera, so I took a bunch of pictures with a Kodak DX7440 which had an automatic lens cover that needed an occasional nudge with a fingernail to open all the way. Most of the pictures were of my son at various nursery-rhyme-themes spots in Kiddy Land, but I took a few documentary-type shots, too, of the park and vintage playground equipment. Nothing too artistic (although this one was quite nice, I thought) but well-framed with context.

I posted the photos as a set on Flickr, and duly added descriptions, tags, and geocoding.

A little over a year later, last September, I received an e-mail from Publications International asking for permission to use the Monkey Island photo.

Today we got a box in the mail, and it was my contributor's copy of the book! I understand that it will be available to the public next month.

Amazing and Unusual USA is 320 pages, attractively laid out with large images next to informative and often humorous text, organized by region. It features many of the "World's Largest" statues from around the country. Oklahoma is represented with four photos: Ed Galloway's World's Largest Concrete Totem Pole in Foyil, Tulsa's Golden Driller, Hugh Davis's Blue Whale in Catoosa, and a couple of guys wrestling an enormous catfish at the Okie Catfish Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. I have a number of books about weird Americana and roadside attractions on my shelf, but I've only heard of perhaps a third of the odd attractions in the book. The kids enjoyed paging through the book and had to be shooed away when it was time for bed.

The fact that my photo is in this book is not a tribute to my photographic skills but to the power of Web 2.0. Because I had uploaded the photo and tagged it in several meaningful ways, it could be found by someone looking for just the right image of the Birthplace of Miss Able.

Girly man!

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Some silliness for a Friday:

It's Tollywood's (not Bollywood's) answer to "Thriller." What sounds like "Girly Man" is really the song's title: "Goli Mar" from the Telugu movie Donga. Click the song title to read the real lyrics (in Telugu) vs. Buffalax's "translation." The singer/actor is Chiranjeevi, who has received several best actor awards and last year launched a political party.

Finally, here's a Wired story about Mike Sutton of Dayton, Ohio, aka Buffalax, the YouTube user responsible for this and several other laugh-until-you're-sore mis-subtitled videos.

Please don't buy the bald seal.

Steven Roemerman noticed an unusual accent at the Mexican fast food drive-thru:

We decided to eat Taco Bueno for lunch today because it's well...more Bueno. I pulled into the drive through and noticed something interesting. Based on his accent, I determined that the gentleman who was taking my order was Indian. No not Oklahoma Indian...India Indian.

I became suspicious; when I pulled forward to pay, I asked if the gal who took my money if the person that took my order was actually in the building. She said no, that he was in a call center somewhere. "I'm not sure where," she said. I thought to myself, "Yeah, I know where it is." I bet you $10 bucks Taco Bueno's drive through call center is in India. "Thank you, come again."

Steven's e-mailed query to TB HQ about the call center location received a lengthy and polite reply but no direct answer:

Our intention is not to deprive the hard working citizens of the Tulsa community employment, but to find a solution to a lack of applicants willing to work in the quick service environment. The call center is a test to see if it can be a solution by having someone full-time, 100% dedicated, to just taking drive-thru orders. It is a response to guests' needs, but if it fails to help, we will discontinue. We have been listening to feedback for years from our guests about being shorthanded, having long waits, and inaccurate orders.

The note makes reference to other tests Taco Bueno is conducting. It's interesting click through and read the whole thing. In the comments, David Schuttler wonders if Sonic is next. I was at a Sonic the other morning, and the manager was having to take orders and deliver them because someone didn't show up to work that day. Sonic could have done a lot more business if they had someone somewhere concentrating only on order-taking.

Some questions:

What does it say about the economy that businesses are still having trouble finding workers? Are things not that bad or are people still too complacent?

What does it say about American workers if call center agents from a different culture who speak English as a second (or third) language and have probably never seen a Muchaco can do a better job of getting a food order right?

Finally, on the jump page, here's a classic from the Dr. Demento vault -- Stevens & Grdnic's "Fast Food" (1982):


The image above, the August 9, 1965, Pogo is from the Cartoon Art Originals website, which has this strip and original Walt Kelly art for many other Pogo daily strips, Sunday strips, and paperbacks.

I posted this cartoon excerpt, from Walt Kelly's Pogo Peek-A-Book, about a year ago. It's a favorite moment in a favorite tale, "The Man from Suffern on the Steppes or 1984 and All That: A Russian Tale of Madisonav," a simultaneous spoof of Soviet bureaucracy and American advertising. I've been thinking about it a lot lately and with a fair amount of empathy for the ad-man commuter here portrayed by Mr. Howland Owl.


Coffee vs. Beer

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James Lileks, reporting from a Caribou Coffee outlet:

It's just a coffee shop. It's the modern version of the neighborhood bar, except that everyone's wired instead of sloshed, no one's smoking, no sad drunk is playing the same song over and over on the jukebox, and the window does not consist of a 3-foot-by-2-foot slit bricked up with glass blocks.

On the other hand, this is no place to drown your sorrows. You can't drown your sorrows at a coffee shop. All you can do is wake them up and jab them with a sharp stick and make them run around. Drowned sorrows never stay dead, but at least they stop moving.

Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer, on last night's episode of Monk:

Don't you have an off-switch, Monk? Here, have mine. Beer: Nature's off-switch.

In no mood tonight for anything but silliness, so here's a funny bit of subtitling from Earnest Pettie:

As if the pride of Oklahoma weren't sufficiently wounded:

Oklahoma's junior senator in Washington soon will be belting out a rendition of the Elton John hit "Rocket Man" after losing a bet with a colleague from Florida.

Sen. Tom Coburn and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson placed a wager on Thursday's night's BCS National Championship game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Florida Gators.

Since Florida won, Coburn agreed to sing the song during Nelson's next constituent coffee, a traditional weekly meeting between a senator and residents of his home state.

Had Oklahoma won, Nelson would have had to sing "Oklahoma!" during Coburn's next constituent meeting.

"Rocket Man" was selected because Nelson was an astronaut who traveled into space in 1986 aboard the shuttle Columbia.

Although Coburn's daughter, Sarah, is a well-known opera soprano, Coburn himself "doesn't profess to have a tremendous singing gift," his spokesman, John Hart, said Friday.

Hart said no date has been set for Coburn to make good on his bet.

"He's a man of his word," Hart said. "And I'm sure Senator Nelson won't let him forget."

You don't have to be a singer to perform "Rocket Man," as William Shatner proved in this unforgettable performance at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards (introduced by Bernie Taupin, the song's co-writer):

Maybe Dr. No should have just bet some Oklahoma steaks against some Florida oranges.

Irritated Tulsan says that this non-blogging life is interfering with his ability to write quality content, but that's manifestly not the case. Like an oyster, he continues to turn minor irritations into pearls of hilarity (and sometimes wisdom).

The best of all is not original material but scans of the first 16 pages of the program for the 1969 University of Tulsa football homecoming game, with a promise of more to come. The section that was posted includes ads for Page-Glencliff Dairy (and their Golden Hurricane ice cream), DX, Skelly, KVOO, Rainbo, Eddy's Steakhouse, R. A. Young and Son, Williams Brothers, Thornton, Smith, and Thornton, and Brown Dunkin (with sketches of their downtown, Southland, and Northland stores). There are profiles of TU President J. Paschal Twyman (marking his first anniversary with the school), athletic director Glenn Dobbs, and Head Coach Vince Carillot and his assistants. There's a roster of the 1969 team. Dobbs was honored as Mr. Homecoming 1969 -- Steve Turnbo's byline is over the article about that honor.

An article about the history of TU has this intriguing conclusion:

Recent addition to the University's curricula is a new bachelor of arts degree program in urban studies as a part of a $92,000 contract with the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The first of its kind for undergraduates in the nation, the TU-HUD project will lead to the establishment of TU campuses in Washington D.C., and possibly other major cities.

Paul Newman, robocaller

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I didn't care much for his politics, but there was a lot to like about Paul Newman's character and personality. I was tickled by this anecdote, told by Ned Lamont, the left-winger who beat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic Senate primary, about Newman's willingness not only to voice a recorded endorsement call, but to write it and field-test it, too.

Newman was one of Lamont's early supporters and made phone calls and commercials for the upstart candidate.

"At first he just wanted to voice his private support," Lamont said. "He had been public on behalf of a number of candidates . . . and he remembered that a Wall Street Journal columnist had been so outraged they suggested boycotting Newman's salad dressing."

Lamont said a week later Newman changed his mind.

"He called back and said, 'What the hell, let's do it,' " Lamont said, recalling how Newman wrote his own robo-call script.

"It was the funniest thing," Lamont said. "He then called around the state just to test it out and pretended he was a 'robo call.' He called me back up a day or so later and said, 'Ned, two people hung up, I got two answering machines, and the fifth person yelled to his wife - 'It's some quack pretending to be Paul Newman.' "

That anecdote is one of a number of tributes to Newman from his neighbors in Westport, Ct., his adopted hometown of half a century.

Inside the AP Top 25

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If you've ever wondered what goes into a sportswriter's vote in the weekly AP Top 25 college football rankings -- particularly in September when only a few games have been played and the relative strengths of teams aren't as clear as they will be in November -- head over to the blog of Tulsa World sports editor Mike Strain. Each week my sister's husband asks and answers a few questions about his vote that week, such as the easiest and toughest parts of the vote and why he ranked local teams as he did (or why he didn't rank them at all).

This week Mike explains why he moved the Oklahoma Sooners to number 2 and why he ranked Oklahoma State and Tulsa for the first time this season. (OSU barely missed the top 25. TU isn't as close, but Mike wasn't the only voter to think the Hurricane was worthy of a top 25 ranking.)

Back in May, I wrote about a store soon to open on Brookside called Ida Red:

Just across from the Coffee House pushcart, Jim and Alice Rodgers of Cain's Ballroom had a booth to promote their new Brookside venture, Ida Red, named in honor of the famous Bob Wills tune (which in turn inspired the Chuck Berry hit "Maybelline").

Ida Red, at 3346 S. Peoria, will be an outlet for Cain's concert tickets and merchandise, gifts, and CDs by local musicians. At the booth they had on display some of the 28 flavors (at least) of premium brands of soda pop they plan to offer at Ida Red, along with cupcakes and free wi-fi. (Hooray for free wi-fi!)

The Rodgers family has already achieved great things with the House that Bob Built on N. Main St. Cain's Ballroom has been beautifully restored, with its facilities modernized in a way that respects its rich history. It consistently ranks in the top 50 in ticket sales for club-sized venues worldwide.

Ida Red has its grand opening celebration tonight and tomorrow night with live "red" music both nights at 8 p.m. Tonight it's Red Alert. Saturday night it's the Red Dirt Rangers. Kids are welcome. As the song says,

Hurry up boys and don't fool around.
Grab your partner and truck on down.

For something to do after the party, get on your bike and ride to Circle Cinema. The midnight movie this week is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a classic 1985 cult comedy directed by Tim Burton.

MORE: Local artist Amby has custom totes and artwork for sale at Ida Red.

I can't let this entry go by without a performance of the song "Ida Red." Here's Elana James and the Continental Two -- that's Tulsa's own Whit Smith on guitar and Jake Erwin on upright bass.

I very nearly turned my column this week into a sociological study of the denizens of Tulsa's Money Belt and how their behavior is shaped by peer pressure and fear of ostracism. In connection with the Great Plains Airlines bailout, I was thinking about a friend who asked me if my life insurance was paid up and another friend who told me a qui tam taxpayers' demand would never succeed in a Tulsa County courtroom, because no judge would dare cross the powerful entities who were pushing for the City's taxpayers to pay $7.1 million that it did not owe.

I was also thinking of the many times someone would tell me how they opposed this or that initiative or would confirm some speculation of mine about skulduggery in local government. He would be happy to tell me all this privately, but wouldn't dare go on the record: "I have to make a living in this town."

It brought to mind a story by cartoonist Walt Kelly. In 1955, Kelly published the seventh collection of his strip Pogo and the third book which consisted of entirely new material. The Pogo Peek-A-Book included a story called "The Man from Suffern on the Steppes or 1984 and All That: A Russian Tale of Madisonav." In one comic story, Kelly managed to spoof suburban commuters, Madison Avenue, and the Soviet Union.

In the run-up to the Vision 2025 vote, I emailed a series of panels from the story to a fellow TulsaNow board member. I was frustrated by the reluctance of some TulsaNow board members to say publicly what they were saying privately about the flaws in the package that the County Commissioners were putting before the voters. About a draft statement from the board, I wrote, in a July 12, 2003, email:

I have a lengthy comment, in a separate message, about the second draft, but for now, I will let Pogo and Howland Owl speak on my behalf. This is from the Pogo Peek-a-Book (1955), from a story called "The Man from Suffern on the Steppes", about ad men in the USSR. The ad exec (Howland) is having a subversive conversation with the train stationmaster.

Translator's note -- "gummint" == "government"

Lately, a lot of things remind me of one Pogo comic strip or another.

Here is the excerpt:


The next day I sent the following email to the TulsaNow board:

NOTE: I wrote this last night, but network problems prevented sending it until now. Please forgive the length. Indirectly, it addresses some of what Jamie said in his recent message. This morning I had breakfast with someone I was meeting for the first time -- young, energetic, deeply engaged in the community, although a fairly recent arrival -- who, unprompted by me, made very similar observations.

I continue to prefer L___'s original draft, enhanced by specific enumeration of our principles. R___ and W___'s version reads too much like a "vote yes" pamphlet, even if that wasn't intended. Below (far below) is my attempt at a rewrite, which attempts to express the concerns that were voiced without taking sides. I think we ought to explicitly say that we are choosing not to endorse or oppose, rather than allowing people to read in what they like. I also think we should be explicit and honest about the problems we have with the process and its product.

To use the terms of the Pogo cartoon I sent earlier, let's speak our criticisms openly and plainly, not into a bag and disguised as praise. We don't live in the old USSR. We shouldn't be afraid to utter mild criticisms of Tulsa's politburo and nomenklatura. And yet fear is precisely what I detect beneath the surface: Fear of ostracism, fear of exclusion, fear of economic consequences.

This may be a bit impolite to say, but it's there beneath the surface and ought to be dealt with openly. Some of our group work for organizations which are funded by supporters of this package. Others aren't personally dependent, but are involved with organizations that need the funds that the package supporters can offer. Others need the goodwill of city government to conduct business and make a living. Some of us have even been paid to facilitate and promote the vision process and to work for the "vote yes" campaign. Beyond the financial considerations, many members of our group move within a narrow circle of social and organizational connections -- a virtual "small town" within the city, focused on the arts and other non-profit organizations, centered around Utica Square and chronicled by Tulsa People and Danna Sue Walker. As in any small town, some opinions are acceptable and some are not, and speaking your mind risks ostracism.

To those of you who fall in one of these categories (which is very nearly all of us): You have made a valuable contribution to TulsaNow and to the dialog thus far. I don't wish to discount your input regarding this statement, I don't doubt your sincerity, and I appreciate the desire to "make lemonade out of lemons," as J___ put it. But I know how this town works, and you may be feeling the pressure right now to make certain people happy. I ask you to consider that your situation may be leading you to swallow your disappointment and smile for the cameras, rather than speaking openly about both the pros and cons of this package.

The people pushing this package, particularly the sports arena, are bullies. They want what they want, and because they have money and power, they think they have a right to bulldoze anyone who stands in the way. (Why they don't use all that money to build an arena themselves, rather than taxing the food, medicine, and electricity of the working class for it, is an interesting question.) After the 1997 election, an opposition leader was fired from his job with a downtown company, solely because of his opposition. In 2000, the bullies used implicit and explicit threats to silence opposition to "Tulsa Time" and to shut off public debate. Although I am (I thank God) not dependent on local moguls for my income, as an opposition spokesman, I felt the effects as well -- They tried to sway me with a board appointment, there was an attempt to undermine the Midtown Coalition, and they got their revenge on Election Day 2002. (That wasn't just about "Tulsa Time"; it was also because of my support for a meaningful neighborhood role in planning and zoning, something else the bullies don't want. )

The bullying has already begun for 2003. The bullies threatened the Mayor that they would withhold "vote yes" campaign funds if the arena was excluded or made to stand alone on the ballot. They have sent subtly threatening letters to both the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen. Elected officials who opposed the package were afraid to vote their conscience, afraid to speak, afraid to stand alone. Elected officials, holding the power we have granted them, talked of their decision as if they were helpless victims. A university president told me he would have liked to split his project off from the arena, but he wasn't in a position to speak out. Citizens expressing legitimate concerns are labelled "grumps" and "whiners" by the monopoly daily newspaper. The bullies are sending signals that anyone who fails to endorse the package can have no role in deciding how the money will be spent, should it pass (even though it's public money). The image they wish to project is that no respectable person would say a word against this package, much less vote against it. It appears that they will again try to cut off debate -- the Mayor has already backed out of a scheduled joint appearance on OETA with me.

As important as walkable neighborhoods and lively urban centers are -- and I do believe they matter -- I don't believe our city can flourish until we are capable of having a mature public conversation about such an important issue, without threats and arm-twisting. As long as the bullies run the show, we will not have grassroots-based planning; we will not have land use policies that encourage walkable neighborhoods and enlightened development; we will not have a workable historic preservation system; we will not progress in any way, if it means that the bullies must yield control. As long as the bullies are in charge, every vision process will end the same way -- whatever the structure, whatever the process, they control the final decision.

How can we advance the dialog about our city's future, if we are afraid to speak freely?

How many visionary civic and business leaders, with bold ideas for Tulsa's future, have been beaten down and have given up? How many have been co-opted? How many have decided to take their energy and vision to a city where it will be nurtured and appreciated? Perhaps this is why Tulsa is in the doldrums and doesn't seem to be moving forward. These bullies won't lead, don't have any visionary ideas and don't want any, but they refuse to yield the levers of power. Perhaps the most important thing we can do for our city is to throw off this oppressive pall.

Giving a bully what he wants only encourages him. The only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him. Not violent confrontation, but a refusal to back down, to give in. It can be as simple as saying no: "No, I will not be mean to Susie just so I can be your friend." "No, I will not give you my lunch money." "No, I will not move to the back of the bus." "No, the emperor is not wearing a beautiful new suit of clothes." "No" is a powerful word, and it becomes more powerful as more people speak it together. It can stop a bully in his tracks.

Some of us have observed that Tulsa's power structure is teetering on the edge of collapse. The Chamber is falling apart. Once dominant companies have fallen on hard times. Perhaps a little resistance will be enough to demolish the whole rotten structure. I don't know that I care so much whether this tax wins or loses, but I want to see Tulsans stand up to the bullies and break their stranglehold on progress.

I'm not asking you to come out and oppose this package, unless you want to. I'm simply asking you to say publicly what you think about it, pro and con. If you think the process stunk to high heaven, but you still plan to vote for the package -- fine, but be willing to say both things. Don't spin it to appease the bullies. The city body politic isn't a draft horse, to be fitted with blinders and a bit, and steered to a destination. Tulsans should be treated like free men and women, grown-up enough to weigh pros and cons and come to a decision.

I'm also asking us, collectively, as TulsaNow, to call the bullies' bluff. Say what you think people need to hear. Insist on public, frequent, and fair debates. Expose underhanded pressure tactics. If you're told to shun people who take a different viewpoint, refuse. If you're threatened with ostracism, or worse, go public. Insist on treating everyone involved in the debate with respect. If we stick together and do this, it would represent a real step toward maturity as a region.

Michael Bates

107-year-old C. Yardley Chittick is the oldest living alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Class of 1922) and of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. Earlier this month, the Boston Globe covered Chittick's return to Phillips Andover Academy for his 90-year reunion, the first alumnus in the school's history to reach that milestone.

After Andover, Chittick went to MIT, where he majored in mechanical engineering, was a low-hurdle track champion, and a proud member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. (The oldest living brother in the fraternity, he donated his membership pin to the Beta Theta Pi archives last year.)

After graduating in 1922, Thomas Edison offered him a job, but he turned it down, thinking it would be more fun to work for a company that manufactured golf clubs. When the Depression hit, he went to law school, passing the bar in 1934. He practiced until he was 85.

A great-grandfather of six, Chittick said yesterday that he does not really have any secrets to longevity. He sailed for much of his life, exercised regularly, and played golf well past his 100th birthday, the Concord Monitor noted in 2005.

He never smoked and drank in moderation - a screwdriver every night with dinner was reportedly his libation of choice.

Now residing in an assisted-living facility in Concord, N.H., Chittick makes his breakfast and lunch each day and dresses for formal tea each afternoon. He still plays the mandolin, and is known to break into the song "Take me back to Tech" when speaking in front of large groups, said his son, 80-year-old Charles Y. Chittick Jr., who was among the four generations of family present for the event yesterday.

At ΒΘΠ's 2006 national convention in Toronto, Chittick was called to the podium, where he spoke briefly then sang the MIT Fight Song, aka Take Me Back to Tech." Click here to listen to an MP3 of Chittick speaking and singing the MIT Fight Song. According to an e-mail from Bob Ferrara of MIT's alumni office, Chittick repeated the feat at last July's convention in Boston, and plans to do it again this summer in Dallas.

Here's another version of the MIT Fight Song, all but the first verse, sung by a half-century worth of alumni of MIT's a capella male choral group, the Logarhythms:

Hulu.com, NBC Universal and Fox's webcasting site, now offers 18 classic Three Stooges short subjects from 1933 to 1936 featuring Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Even if you're not a fan of slapstick comedy, "False Alarms" is worth watching if you're fond of 1930s city streetscapes. It appears that some of the scenes were filmed on location (Wikipedia says on the streets of Hollywood), and you'll see some wonderful old commercial buildings (many of them Art Deco), and streetcars play a key role in the plot.

Ocean City, Maryland, seems to mock climate change alarmism in its bid to draw tourists to its famous boardwalk this summer. In a funny ad which uses retro elements like test patterns, animated space graphics like something out of a Harvey cartoon, and the shimmy and chatter of a scratchy 8 mm instructional film threading through a school projector, Mayor Rick Meehan advises tourists to book their Ocean City vacations now, in light of a recent study predicting that our oceans will evaporate in a billion years as the earth moves inexorably toward the sun.

Found via Todd Seavey (suffering in New York through near-hundred-degree heat, evidently in a building that doesn't have air conditioning), who initially identified the beach resort as the Ocean City in New Jersey, America's Greatest Family Resort. I have happy memories of the OC in NJ. I spent the summer of 1982 there on a summer project on a leadership training / beach evangelism project with Campus Crusade for Christ. It's worthy of a retro-journal entry of my own some day.

I was listening to the news on KRMG and was inappropriately amused to learn that the lawyer for District Judge Jesse Harris, who has been charged with indecent exposure, is named Allen Smallwood. Which fact inappropriately reminded me of a certain Latin legal phrase and a rather fitting limerick which ends in that phrase (after the jump to avoid scandalizing the easily offended).

Red alert!

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In a bit of online video oneupsmanship, CBS has posted all 79 episodes of Star Trek (the Original Series) as streaming video on the web -- free. These are the original Original Series episodes, not the remastered versions with new CGI special effects.

The sound and video quality is amazing and the buffering was utterly smooth. There are only a handful of very brief commercial breaks. CBS is also offering the first seasons of MacGyver, Hawaii Five-O, and Melrose Place, and the first and second seasons of The Twilight Zone.

They've still got a ways to catch up in the classic TV department with Hulu, NBC Universal and Fox's joint venture which features plenty of classic and current TV, including the first two seasons each of The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Dragnet (1967), and the first seasons of I Spy and The DIck Van Dyke Show.

Remind me again why I'm paying for cable?

Not really. But there's a parody news story about Randi Miller sending the big guy packing on a new blog called Irritated Tulsan. Here's how it starts:

The Tulsa County Fair Board continued their un-expansion Tuesday with the eviction of the Golden Driller.

"The Golden Driller was unable to provide us with a solid business plan," said Randi Miller, Tulsa County Fair Board Chairman, "He has to be let go."

With Bell's eviction, the upcoming Driller's move and the renaming of the EXPO center to the Quiktrip Center, the TCFB continues to disappoint taxpayers of Tulsa County....

The bill for the eviction will cost taxpayers $5 million.

"I know that seems like a lot of money," [Expo Square CEO Rick] Bjorkland said, " but a least it's not mine. Seriously, $5 million is nothing compared to what I've wasted."

The construction of the parking lot in the former Bell's location cost $25 million. The glowing lights on top the Quiktrip center cost $600,000, and only worked for one year.

$25 million doesn't seem right to me, but the overall cost to the taxpayers of evicting Bell's Amusement Park was quite high.

Irritated Tulsan also has a couple of funny shopping rants (just be warned that Irritated Tulsan drops the occasional foul word -- not for kids): his own about the horror that is the Admiral and Memorial Wal-Mart and one from a reader about the scooter people.

He has some opinions about our streets, too:

If you don't live in Tulsa, you may not be familiar with our roads. There are six potholes for every square foot. A group of dedicated city employees fills the same holes over and over again. Each time it rains, there's a small breeze, the sun shines, a cat meows or an angel farts, the pothole reappears. I think it's because a mixture of pudding and oatmeal is used for road repair.

How to complete our streets? Borrow a tactic from cash-strapped schools:

The whole "Complete Our Streets Task Force" could bake. They claim more than 150 committee members.

If not a bake sale, how about the "World's Finest Chocolate?"

We sold those candy bars to raise money for our elementary school, why can't the city sell them too. The committee could go door-to-door, stand outside Reasor's and sell candy-bars at work.

We've been pimping out our kids with the "World's Finest Chocolate" for decades, and now it's time to pimp out our city leaders.

If for no other reason, Irritated Tulsan deserves a link here for calling attention to the B-52s' new album Funplex -- you can listen to the whole thing at MuchMusic.

There's a total lunar eclipse over North America tonight. The moon enters the earth's shadow at 7:43 p.m. CST. Totality begins at 9:01 CST and ends at 9:52. The moon will be completely free of earth's shadow by 11:09 p.m. CST.

Tulsans seem set to miss the selenian show. As I type this, the sky is completely overcast.

(Via WynnBlog.)

UPDATE: Missed the whole thing. It stayed cloudy here. But I got to read this cool story about how Columbus used a predicted lunar eclipse to awe the natives and save himself and his crew. (Via Crunchy Con.)

The cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus came to America in April 1975 to promote their new movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Here they are, co-hosting on ABC's AM America, the predecessor to Good Morning America. Even if you don't care for Python, this is worth watching just to bask in the sheer seventies-ness of the set and the theme sequence -- strings, muted horns, and oboes over sunrise scenes from coast to coast. There are also a couple of news cut-ins with Peter Jennings, reporting the imminent fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army.

Via Mark Evanier.

A bit of 1970s British comedy to start the day: Marty Feldman brings his unusual pet to the veterinarian; Tim Brooke-Taylor plays the straight man.

"I looked him up in the Cattle Breeders Guide. He wasn't in there. I looked him up in the Standard British Book of Birds. He wasn't in there either. I finally found him in the Book of Revelation."

(Via Mark Evanier.)

How to make an attack ad

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From the recent Australian general election. The Aussies have learned well from us:

(Via Hot Air).

Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been dead since 1995, but according to a forwarded e-mail I received tonight, her mortal remains are still busy petitioning the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting from the American airwaves.

This is the latest go-round of a 30-year-old rumor that Focus on the Family's CitizenLink calls "The Christian Broadcasting Hoax That Just Won't Die."

Experts are still trying to dispel the irrepressible O'Hair-FCC rumor.

Chances are, at some point, you will likely receive an e-mail, typically forwarded from "a friend of a friend of a friend," which discusses supposed efforts by the infamous atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to kick Christian broadcasting off the air. Sometimes the e-mail even lists Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson -- linking him to a supposed effort to fight this "threat."

Be advised: This is a false report! Do not pay attention! Do not forward this hoax!

There's a teeny-tiny grain of truth to the story:

The FCC did receive a petition in 1974, designated RM-2493, asking the agency to look into the operating practices of religious organizations licensed to broadcast on TV.

The FCC rejected the petition in 1975.

"We denied it outright," said David Fiske, deputy communications director for the FCC. "There was never any proceeding; there was not a comment period; there were never any hearings, there was absolutely nothing."

Interestingly, O'Hair had absolutely nothing to do with that short-lived petition -- and she certainly couldn't be involved in any action today, even if there was one, which there isn't.

The FCC does not have before it any proposal to deny licenses to religious broadcasters.

"This rumor is totally false on about three or four different counts," Fiske said. "It has popped up from time to time, in various forms, since 1975."

Here's the official FCC statement on the rumors.

Folks, anytime you get a forward of a forwarded e-mail describing some outrage and a need to take action immediately -- "Contact your congressman!!!! And forward this to everyone you know!!!1!!" -- there's a very good chance it's yet another hoax. Do some research before you forward it to others.

When such a message lands in my inbox, I go to snopes.com -- a site dedicated to researching "urban legends," forwarded e-mails, and other dubious rumors -- and I do a search on some of the key words and phrases in the message. Almost always, snopes.com has the definitive answer, including links to authoritative information.

snopes.com has a special section called "Inboxer Rebellion" devoted to forwarded e-mails. Here's the intro to the section:

Every day we're bombarded with e-mail of dubious origin and even more dubious veracity: messages that plead with us to find a missing kid or help a sick child, sign a petition to right some terrible injustice, take a stand on an important piece of pending legislation, forward a message to claim free merchandise, or take heed of the latest computer virus. The messages that aren't outright hoaxes are often full of misinformation, and even the ones that have some truth to them are usually out-of-date by the time we receive them.

A browse through "Inboxer Rebellion" will immunize you to most of the hoaxes and outdated or distorted stories that land in your own inbox, and you'll be able to educate the friends and loved ones who, from the very best of intentions, forward inaccurate information.

In my latest column for Urban Tulsa Weekly, I make reference to a James Thurber short story which defines the phrase you see above, an apt description for the situation the Tulsa Drillers find themselves in.

You can read Thurber's "The Catbird Seat" by following this link. It has little to do with baseball, but it is a clever turning-the-tables story with a surprise ending that will make you smile. Here's how it starts:

Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight men were buying cigarettes. The clerk didn’t even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket and went out. If any of the staff at F & S had seen him buy the cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had. No one saw him.

It was just a week to the day since Mr. Martin had decided to rub out Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. The term “rub out” pleased him because it suggested nothing more than the correction of an error – in this case an error of Mr. Fitweiler. Mr. Martin had spent each night of the past week working out his plan and examining it. As he walked home now he went over it again....

Master Singers The Highway Code EP album coverMonth after month, the Google searches that consistently bring visitors to this site have nothing to do with Tulsa or Oklahoma or Republican politics. This BatesLine entry is currently the number one result for any combination of two of the following four terms: "Master Singers," "Highway Code," "Weather Forecast," "Anglican chant."

The entry is about two delightful novelty tunes recorded by a group called the Mastersingers in the '60s, setting Britain's rules of the road and a typical BBC weather to the beautiful a capella four-part harmonies of Anglican chant.

What I wrote recently attracted the attention of Helen Keating, the wife of Geoffrey Keating, one of the Mastersingers, and she was kind enough to send me what I think should be considered the definitive history of the Mastersingers, the Highway Code, and the Weather Forecast:

'The Highway Code' set to psalm chants was devised by a schoolmaster at Abingdon School, John Horrex, in the late 1950s. It was sung at numerous church socials etc as entertainment, using whatever singers were available (including me!)

In 1963, to celebrate the school's Quatercentenary a record was made which contained a lot of the Highway Code set in different styles - a pub song, Gilbert and Sullivan style and a jazzy version etc. The singers were John Horrex, George Pratt, Geoff Keating and Barry Montague.

A copy of this record was sent to Fritz Spiegl who gave it to the BBC, who used it on a lunchtime programme introduced by Winston Churchill (jnr) and was played at its last edition as ' our most requested piece.'

George Martin then recorded it, the group calling itself the Mastersingers, on a single, with the pub song on the B side. This actually got to no 22 in the charts (then the top 20) and the group was on standby for 'Top of the Pops'!

Cliff Richard then invited the group (called for the purposes of the disc ''The Carol Singers') to back an EP of Christmas carols, which were arranged by George Pratt and Geoff Keating. One number done by Geoff was 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' but it was never used as it was too short for a whole side but too long to put another carol with it.

The tape of this number was played to the Kings Singers and they immediately asked Geoff to rearrange it for them, which they subsequently recorded and sang everywhere. Geoff also arranged 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen' for them, both of which appear on their LP 'Christmas with the Kings Singers'. (The latter number, in 5/8 like Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five', inspired George Shearing for his his version on a Christmas disc.)

All the four schoolmasters moved on from Abingdon, John Horrex to Glasgow, George Pratt to Keele University, Geoff Keating to Cheadle Hulme School, and Barry Montague to Australia. The latter's place in the group was taken by Mike Warrington from Cheadle Hulme and that began a series of performances of both the original 'Highway Code' and the new 'Weather Forecast', (also recorded by George Martin) together with lots of local television performances of things like 'Rules of Wrestling' and other silly things. George Martin also recorded 'The London Telephone Directory' (started at 'A', speeded up then slowed down as they got to 'Z's) which the group didn't think was funny and thankfully was withdrawn when the directory was deemed copyright.

We understood that Princess Margaret (a fan of the group which she had met at the Abingdon Quatercentenary celebrations) was given a copy of the disc but the group never got one.

The group did the backing for George Martin's record of Peter Sellers' 'A Hard Day's Night' (as a Richard III type soliloquy), music arranged by George Pratt, and 'Help' (as a sermon), music arranged by Geoff Keating.

The Mastersingers were invited to do the Highway Code on the Ken Dodd show (live) on BBC TV and then the enthusiasm (caused by over-exposure and problems of distances apart) rather dried up.

The Kings Singers, by now good friends with the group, were often told that 'The Highway Code was the best thing they ever did' (!) and they are always incredibly generous in their acknowledgment that they weren't responsible (mind you, hearing the four amateur singers on the original it's not surprising they say that!)

Hope that clears up all the misapprehensions!

I wrote Mrs. Keating back to ask what her husband Geoff and the other Mastersingers are doing nowadays. She replied:

Having retired after 17 years with Geoff as Director of Music at Millfield School in Somerset (and me as Director of Music at Millfield Prep School) we had three years at Sherborne School for Girls where I was Housemistress (and Geoff was half time teaching photography and sailing!) then we retired - well, you might call it that but we're as busy as ever! - to SW Scotland. you we have seven concerts between March 25th of this year and this next June 10th, that shows you. Geoff conducts the Solway Sinfonia plays jazz with his group 'Gentle Jazz' (piano and saxophone), sails, fishes and sells landscape photographs. Not bad for a man who's 70 in a fortnight! Not that he looks it, or acts it, as you will see from the photo on the above website.

John Horrex, the 'founder' of the Mastersingers is now retired in Canterbury, where he ended up teaching, Professor George Pratt, retired from Huddersfield University, is down in Exeter when he's not broadcasting or doing talks on cruise ships, while Mike Warrington is a retired headmaster in Oldham.

From Geoff Keating's page on the Solway Sinfonia site, I found this link to a week-long music holiday he'll be leading next February at a hotel in England's Lake District. Looks like great fun.

A happy 70th birthday to Geoff Keating and many thanks to Helen Keating for setting the record straight about these beloved pieces of music.

MORE, MORE (30 October 2008): Brien K. Meehan has produced a transcription of the Mastersingers' Weather Forecast with words and four-part music. (Links have changed -- see below.)

UPDATE: (29 December 2009): Lulu.com has changed some URLs. Here are Brien K. Meehan's transcriptions of the Mastersingers' Weather Report (Anglican Chant) and the Mastersingers' Highway Code (Anglican Chant). Both are available for free download.

UPDATE: 3 November 2012: I've found Brien K. Meehan's transcriptions of the Mastersingers' Highway Code and Mastersingers' Weather Forecast, on the website of St. James Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They are also posted to Google docs: Mastersingers' Weather Forecast, Mastersingers' Highway Code, linked from Brien K. Meehan's YouTube profile.

And for safekeeping, here are local copies of Mastersingers' Highway Code Anglican Chant and Mastersingers' Weather Forecast Anglican Chant

UPDATE: 18 March 2013: Keith Webley writes: "It is with great sadness that I report that John Horrex (my wife's uncle) passed away this evening." Our condolences to Mr. Horrex's family and friends.

Dear Lowe's Customer Service:

The submersible pump for our goldfish pond broke late yesterday, too late to make it to Cornerstone Waterscapes or Hardscape to buy a replacement.

Both of those specialty stores are closed Sunday, and our goldfish seemed to be gasping for air this morning. My wife declared an emergency, previous after-church plans were canceled, and I came to your store at 15th and Yale to buy something with which to aerate the pond.

I purchased your 1300 gallon/hour pump and your pressurized filter with UV light, along with 20 feet of corrugated 3/4" PVC tubing, as was recommended on the box.

When I got it home, it was clear that the outlet for the pump wouldn't fit inside the tubing. So back to the store I went, traipsing back and forth between the plumbing aisle and the pond aisle, trying to find an adapter that would allow me to connect the two.

When I got back home, I discovered that the filter kit contained three nozzles, one of which was for the pump.

When I finally got it all put together and switched it on, I was underwhelmed. The flow was a mere trickle, even though this pump had a higher rating (1300 gph) then my previous pump (1200 gph), an American-made Little Giant submersible pump (5-MSPR-WG). It is not a strong enough stream to aerate the pond. I tried it with the pump only and without the "pressurized" filter, and there was only a slight improvement.

Here's the best way to describe it: The old Little Giant pump was like a 21-year-old after a 6-pack of beer. The new Lowe's pump is like an 80-year-old with prostate problems.

I hope in the future Lowe's will stock high-quality American made pumps instead of shoddy but expensive Chinese products. But I won't hold my breath.

Unfortunately, my fish may have to.

Yours in algae,

Michael Bates

Is it wrong that when I see a picture of a certain stubble-headed celebrity on the supermarket tabloids, I hear "bwoop-woop-woop-woop," "nyuck, nyuck, nyuck," and "soitanly!"


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Another cancellation

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I've suspected this for a long time:


(Received via e-mail from Kirk Jordan's Mighty Works Project. Kirk was staff photographer in Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's administration. You can see a few of his more artistic work here.)

Feel free to submit your own unintentionally funny cancellation notices, real or imaginary, in the comments.


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Another blog meme.

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Grace Lord Michael the Wholesome of Withering Glance
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

(Via His Most Noble Lord Shane the Sonorous of Leper St George. Leper St. George must be a chapel-of-ease somewhere in the Oklahoma panhandle.)

How I scored on the Nerd, Geek, or Dork test:

Pure Nerd

69 % Nerd, 13% Geek, 26% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.

A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.

A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in Nerd, earning you the title of: Pure Nerd.

The times, they are a-changing. It used to be that being exceptionally smart led to being unpopular, which would ultimately lead to picking up all of the traits and tendences associated with the "dork." No-longer. Being smart isn't as socially crippling as it once was, and even more so as you get older: eventually being a Pure Nerd will likely be replaced with the following label: Purely Successful.


Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

(Via Charles' MySpace blog.)

Walt Kelly, A.D., B. P.*

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As a fan of the comic strip Pogo, I've read many biographical sketches of cartoonist Walt Kelly, but I never remember having read that he wrote and illustrated a comic book series based on the Our Gang shorts. (You might know them better as "The Little Rascals" -- Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa, etc.)

Earlier this year, Fantagraphics published a reissue of Walt Kelly's Our Gang comic books from 1942 and 1943, volume 1 of a planned series. The ALA Booklist blurb has this to say:

Although the Our Gang film series was on its last legs in 1942, Dell Comics launched a comic-book version of it that is more than a footnote to the films because it was written and drawn by Walt Kelly, seven years before he brought Pogo to the newspapers. Ironically, while the films were by then slick and mannered, having lost their low-budget modesty after MGM took over producing them, in Kelly's comics they regained much of their earlier, unaffected charm, thanks to his winsome story lines, homey characterizations, and engaging cartooning.

(*After Disney, Before Pogo. Kelly was one of the animators on Fantasia (1940); the Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony segment, featuring centaurs, putti, Zeus, Bacchus, and other characters from Greek mythology, bears his unmistakable touch. As a two- and three-year-old, my now-10-year-old son watched this segment over and over again, and Iris, who brought forth the rainbow after the storm, was his first imaginary friend. He called her "the rainbow princess.")

Paul Harvey: "I Am Amway"

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The 365 Days Project was offline for a time, but it's back, for good, evidently. For every day of 2003, a new piece of rare and usually strange audio was posted, in MP3 format -- covers of famous songs by unknown singers, promotional discs, kiddie records. Some music, some spoken word.

The June 27 entry is from a three-disc set of speeches from the 1968 Amway convention. It's Paul Harvey in his prime. Here's the link with all the entries for the last half of June; you'll have to scroll down to find it. (If you keep going, you'll find some early Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and a song by Thurl Ravenscroft.)

As an aside: Many thanks to MeeCiteeWurkor! Not only did he tip me to problems with the way the main BatesLine page was displaying on certain browsers, he came up with a fix for the problems. If this page is displaying strangely or you have a suggestion for improvement, don't hesitate to e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com.

Here's a funny little film by Matt Leach and Earnest Pettie, filmed right here in Tulsa, about the prejudice suffered by "A Man with a Moustache". (Note: This would probably be rated PG for a couple of mild vulgarities.)

(UPDATE: I moved the video after the jump. That close-up of the mustache was CREEPING ME OUT.)

I think the result would have been different if they'd asked how to pronounce Hahvahd, Cuber, Dwochestah, Wistah, and Cahtawk.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Boston

You definitely have a Boston accent, even if you think you don't. Of course, that doesn't mean you are from the Boston area, you may also be from New Hampshire or Maine.

The Midland
The West
North Central
The Northeast
The South
The Inland North
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Via Don (or is that Dawn?) Danz.

My intro to Bostonian speech was this little article in HoToGAMIT (How to Get Around MIT) -- there have been a few additions in the succeeding quarter-century since I matriculated.

Lark News, a satirical evangelical news website, has posted its December issue. A couple of the articles awaiting you:

  • "Pastor tries inauthenticity": "'I don't see much benefit in everybody knowing everything about me,' says Bradley. 'Jesus' example is to be guarded and realistic about human nature. I feel good about reserving some of myself for me.'"
  • "C&E Christians gear up for holiday season": "But many C&E families who attend church on special days dread the inevitable wooing that follows. Last year Glen and Belinda McMurty of Bakersfield, Calif., 'did everything wrong' during an Easter visit to church. 'Normally we prepare, but this time we got lazy,' Glen says. 'We asked for directions to the nursery, borrowed a Bible and stood around looking confused. We should have just hung a sign around our necks that said "fresh meat."'"

You've heard of a Proverbs 31 woman? Last month Lark News introduced us to the Proverbs 31 man:

MINOT, N.D. — Jack Crocker, a beer-loving machinist and "part-time Christian," finally agreed to read Proverbs with wife Reanna. He's glad he did.

"I'm a Proverbs 31 husband all right," says Jack, then quotes Proverbs 31:6-7: "Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more."

"That's my permission to crack open a cold one," Jack says, having a Coors after dinner.

[Read the rest.]

MEANWHILE across the pond, there's a new movement in the Anglican church: Affirming Laudianism. Named in honor of the 17th century Archbishop of Canterbury who attempted to impose a high-church uniformity on both England and Scotland, the movement is not focused on doctrine "but is solely concerned with the externals of religion and including the ambitious." It is affiliated with the "Old Wine Skins" initiative, which believes "that vitality in Church life can co-exist with decadence and hypocrisy." (Found via Tom Gray, who must have been struck by parallels with the old wine skin from which Kirk of the Hills recently burst forth.)

Classic Peanuts

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Since Charles Schulz's death, United Feature Syndicate has been running Peanuts strips from many years ago. If I recall correctly, some of the first reruns were from the '70s.

Right now, they're running strips from 1959, and if you hurry, you'll find, in the 30-day online archive:

  • The last few strips of Linus' first "Great Pumpkin" disappointment: "I was a victim of false doctrine."
  • Linus' ambition to be a "world-famous humble little country doctor": "I love mankind... it's people I can't stand!"
  • The introduction of Pig-Pen: "He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan."

I first encountered these strips in the Peanuts paperbacks my grandmother gave me. (She also infected me with a love of Pogo.) These strips are from the golden era of Peanuts, and it's nice to know that a new generation of comics-readers are seeing them for the first time.

Sometime last year, Sacha Baron Cohen, as Borat Sagdiyev, his Kazakh news reporter persona, visited the offices of the Oklahoma Republican Party and spoke to then Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Gary Jones about the art of speechmaking:

I think Gary handled himself with a lot of grace, particularly with the awkward situation that Borat put him in at the end of the clip.

Funny, but the music is all wrong. It should start with ominous minor-key strings and change to something bouncy and upbeat when the good guy comes on screen.

Jumpin' at the Woodside

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A little breather while we wait for the results to come in. Ladies and gentlemen, it's Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine:

TV veteran Mark Evanier writes of the effect of a Gene, Gene appearance at another Gong Show taping:

The minute they started playing his music — "Jumpin' at the Woodside," I think the tune's called — the studio positively erupted. Barris started dancing and the panelists jumped up and started dancing...and you could feel how much Gene Gene enjoyed what he was doing. Okay, fine, they're performers. It's part of the act. But the crew also started dancing — people not on screen. The guy operating Camera 1 was operating Camera 1 and dancing at the same time. Grips were dancing, lighting guys were dancing, the members of the band were dancing as much as they could and still play their instruments. And of course, the audience — an odd mix of younger Gong Show fans intermingled with old ladies who couldn't get in to the Hollywood Squares taping down the hall — simply had to leap up and boogie. Some of the show's performers and staffers were a little (shall we say) under the influence of something...but the crew wasn't and the audience wasn't. It was just an honest "high" of excitement.

I've been on many TV stages in my life. I've seen big stars, huge stars — Johnny, Frank, Sammy, Dino, Bob, you name 'em. I've seen great acts and great joy, and if you asked me to name the most thrilling moment I've witnessed in person, I might just opt for the Gong Show electrifying Stage 3 for all of 120 seconds. Maybe it was because it came so totally out of nowhere that it stunned me but everyone, including the stone-cold sober people, was suddenly just so...happy. There was something very, very invigorating and enjoyable about being in the midst of all that sudden happiness, however frivolous it may have been.

C'mon, dance! You know you want to.

Tiny Tim sings his signature tune on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in 1968, as Dick Martin looks on in awe, or something like it:

By the way, that was Judy Carnes taking away Tiny Tim's cape at the beginning of the clip, and Goldie Hawn walking off with him at the end.

Laugh-In was my favorite prime-time show back then. Although much of the humor sailed over my five-year-old head, it was my introduction to both topical satire and zany madcap humor, which developed into an appreciation for Mad magazine, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Saturday Night Live, and the comic strip Pogo.

(Via Dawn Eden, who says she is "determined to make the most of YouTube's vintage treasures before the inevitable copyright crackdown." If you ever want to save a video from YouTube or another video-sharing service for posterity, KeepVid takes the video's URL and turns it into a link for downloading the Flash video (.flv). [There are ways to do this manually if you have the patience to wade through HTML source code.] The very versatile open-source viewer VideoLAN has built-in Flash video playback capability and is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and various flavors of Linux.)

RELATED: tvhistory.tv has scans of the prime-time schedule grids for the 1960s (back when all the networks premiered shows in the fall and mid-season changes were unusual).


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Tonight and Saturday night at 10 p.m., the Circle Cinema in Whittier Square, Admiral & Lewis, will show the classic zombie thriller, "Night of the Living Dead," followed by a mystery zombie film. Zombie Tom would be pleased, I'm sure.

Also coming up on the Circle Cinema calendar, they'll be showing what may be the worst movie of all time, Ed Wood's "Plan 9 from Outer Space" as the midnight movie on Friday, November 17th and Saturday, November 18th. It truly is so bad that it's good.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see films that are more uplifting and positive (but more spooky than usual this month) and which feature little to no brain-eating, check out this Saturday night's monthly screening of the Altarnet Film Society at Agora Coffeehouse, 7:30 p.m. in the Fontana Shopping Center, 51st & Memorial.

Not quite as tough as the previous puzzle, this one, generated at random by the Sudoku program I have on my PDA, can be solved using seven basic strategies.























UPDATE: Here's a link to the Sudoku Solver, with the puzzle above already loaded, which will step you through to the solution.

Tough Sudoku

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This is the toughest Sudoku puzzle I've come across yet. It was generated at random by the excellent Sudoku program I have on my PDA. Solving it -- as opposed to making guesses and backtracking when the guess turns out wrong -- required some advanced techniques I had yet to learn. See how you do with it.














UPDATE: Here's a link to the Sudoku Solver, with the puzzle above already loaded, so you can not only see the solution, but how the puzzle can be solved.

This link will show the puzzle completely solved.

They never last

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One of the "top sellers" at t-shirthumor.com. Found at White Knuckled Wanderer.

(That same blogger, Bill McNeal has an interesting item about how Fairfax County, Virginia, back in the '60s, screwed up their chance to benefit by the extension of the Washington Metro, and they're screwing it up again. By putting an elevated transit line down the middle of the freeway, they made it impossible to create dense development around the transit stops, which means the Metro line does less than it could to alleviate traffic problems.)

Larking about

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There are all sorts of websites devoted to humor, and all sorts devoted to Evangelical Christianity, but there are a number that combine the two, poking gentle fun, from an inside perspective, at the unintentionally funny things about Evangelical subculture.

One of my favorite such sites is Lark News, a fake-news website in the mold of The Onion (but without any of the filthy stuff The Onion sometimes runs). To give you a flavor, here are a few headlines:

Other Evangelical humor sites find that truth is stranger than fiction:

The British website Ship of Fools is broadly Christian, not specifically Evangelical. It's also not solely a humor site. (It reminds me of the way the British satirical mag Private Eye mixes satire and serious investigative articles.) Favorite features include Signs and Blunders and The Mystery Worshipper -- reviews of church services of all denominations from all over the world. The latest "blunder" is a phone message left by a vistor to a church on the pastor's answering machine, gently letting the pastor know that one of the female worship leaders was getting into the music a little more than she should. (After listening to the phone message, you can hear it remixed and set to music!)

All she wants for Christmas

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In honor of my six year old, who lost one front tooth on Sunday and the other today, the Spike Jones classic:

What Veggie Tales character are you?

(Hat tip to Eric at the Fire Ant Gazette.)

Looking for trenchant political analysis or deep thoughts? Then scroll past this entry.

My favorite band in high school and college was Devo -- nerd music par excellence. I was thinking about Devo tonight and went looking for Devo videos on YouTube. I wasn't disappointed.

Weird Al Yankovic's song "Dare to Be Stupid" is the ultimate parody of Devo's music. It isn't a parody of a specific song, but it captures the Devo sound and amps up the trademark weirdness of their lyrics by stringing together in random order twisted versions of proverbs and slogans. The video "Dare to Be Stupid" borrows from a dozen or so Devo music videos from their heyday. If you're a Devo fan, you'll laugh with recognition.

OK, one more favorite Weird Al video -- "I Lost on Jeopardy" -- complete with Art Fleming, Don Pardo, the original Jeopardy set, and a cameo by Dr. Demento.

Evidently, Richard Hedgecock doesn't want me to get anything productive done, because he sent me a link to a page of classic TV food ads on RoadOde.com: Franco-American, LaChoy ("Swing American!"), Alka-Seltzer ("Whatever shape your stomach's in"), and more. The home page of RoadOde.com has clips from Carpenters TV specials (Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald sing "This Masquerade" -- what voices!), soda commercials, movie theater concession ads ("Let's all go to the lobby"), outtakes from '60s and '70s TV shows, theme openers from the Patty Duke Show, My Three Sons, and the Pruitts of Southampton (you remember, Phyllis Diller's show).

Maybe the most poignant clip on the whole site is the feed from the Oval Office just before President Nixon's resignation speech on August 8, 1974. There's not an easy way to link to this -- go to the home page, click the "Outtakes" tab, and it's the first item. The description says, "Surprisingly, he was in a good mood."

Wow! They've got a commercial for Chef Boyardee pizza mix. Other than baking cookies with Mom, this was one of the first things I cooked as a kid. I remember the challenge of getting just amount of water into the dough mix -- it never seemed like enough, but it always was. We always made the pepperoni variety, and my little sister always had macaroni and cheese instead, because she didn't like pizza.

Long before the MasterSingers chanted the Highway Code and the Weather Forecast....

Long before the King's Singers chanted BBC radio frequency changes....

In 1939, Cary Grant chanted the FCC's station identification regulations on the star-studded NBC program The Circle. Cary sings with a kind of psalm tone -- all on one note, with an inflection on the final syllables of each line -- but each line is in a higher key.

(Via WFMU's Beware of the Blog.)

...playing Sudoku on my new Treo, that is. Andrew Gregory has created a very nice, very easy-to-use Sudoku game that runs on Palm OS PDAs. You can play this version without using the stylus -- with just the five-way cursor and the numeric keypad. It's addictive.

So is TROGDOR!, one of the Shockwave Flash games on HomestarRunner.com. The Homestar Runner Wiki has TROGDOR! tips, including a way to get 27 extra lives. But it doesn't matter how many lives I start with, I can't make it past level 26. Anyone know what the trick is?

Michael Cook has discovered the joys of a certain variety of unsolicited commercial e-mail (aka spam):

One feature of the genius of Dickens was the names with which he christened his characters -- Wackford Squeers, Ebenezer Scrooge, Wilkins Micawber and the like. But spammers have out-Dickensed Dickens. In the past week, I have received spam advertising mortgage schemes, drugs and Rolexes from:

Sport P. Fundamentalism
Interrogation C. Samoset
Magnus Tobechi
Besieger O. Permafrost
Snowflake E. Catalpas
Typewriter U. Furze
Elmo Pendleton
Malachi Patterson
Ducat T. Diphtheria
Discountenanced S. Terminable

Theres a sort of lunatic vitality in these names. Only someone with an iron will could avoid opening an email from Mummification K. Sitar.

(Found via the Curt Jester.)

I've written twice before about this type of spam. Back in March 2004, most of the mail I received with such interesting sender names seemed to be promoting Russian businesses.

The names in the From line are wonderful -- Stying K. Purgative, Mustered O. Behemoths, Headwaters I. Evidence, Circularizing T. Integers, Disassemble H. Imps, Rallies Q. Stratification, Accretions G. Recital -- they are obviously not names, but they have the rhythm of names, reminiscent of the sort that Barry Took and Marty Feldman cooked up for sketches on "Round the Horne", like Isambard Mousehabit and J. Peasemould Gruntfuttock. (Or the Li'l' Abner character, Jubilation T. Cornpone.) So we know the spambot writer is evil, but has a sense of humor.

In that same article, I described the technical rationale behind the use of such strange names, and the means by which spammers were hijacking computers around the world to send their messages.

Then again in March 2005, I blogged about the latest batch of funny-name spam, having a bit of fun with some of the stranger combinations.

I've had trouble finding out more about this particular variety of spam, and I think it's because no one has given it a name. Henceforth, I dub this phenomenon "Jubilation T. Cornpone spam," in honor of the military hero of the town of Dogpatch, the comic-strip character whose name resembles the names found in these unsolicited commercial e-mail messages.

Maybe if we all call it by the same name, we can track down the person or persons responsible for all this spam and bring them to account. At the very least, I'd love to have their name-generation algorithm.

A bouquet of Valentines

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Jan, the Happy Homemaker, has been posting more vintage Valentines from a scrapbook she acquired a while back. You can find them in her February and January archives. (You'll find more Valentines and other ephemera from the scrapbook in her January 2005 and February 2005 archives.)

Meanwhile, it appears that our beloved Mayor, Bill LaFortune, has adapted one of those vintage Valentines to send his own heartfelt message.

Motley and crew


I was thinking of all that we need to get done in the next week or so, and the phrase "miles to go before I sleep," from Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. That took me down some mental pathways I haven't traveled in a while.

That phrase reminded me of a comic strip that ran in the early 1980s called Miles to Go, about a dog named Miles who worked in a used pet store. I remember clipping a Christmastime strip where Miles reviews the gifts he received from the other pets -- the payoff panel has him making a face over Mrs. Rabbit's raisin bread.

A Google search turns up the artist's name -- Phil Frank. Frank has another strip called Farley which has been running for 30 years; for the last 20 years exclusively in the San Francisco Chronicle. Somewhere in my Googling I read that Miles has made some appearances in Farley since the end of his own strip.

The Tulsa Tribune carried Miles to Go, and they also carried a strip called Wright Angles, which wasn't an animal strip, but the breakout character was a cat named Motley. Motley really captured the essence of finicky, self-centered cat-ness, and his attitude and appearance reminded me of our family's beloved cat, Flakey. The artist, Larry Wright, retired the strip sometime around 1990, but it's being serialized on United Media's website, retitled in honor of the cat.

Both strips ended before the advent of the World Wide Web, which would explain why neither has much of a presence on the 'net. (Yes, the old Wright Angles strips are on United Media's site under the name Motley, you won't find many references beyond that. And I haven't found anything that says that Motley is a repeat of Wright Angles, as obvious as that is.)

I am pleased to see classic comic strips running alongside new strips -- online at least. There are networks dedicated to classic TV shows, radio stations that play classic rock and classic country, so why not rerun the best cartoons?

My friend Daaaaaave Russ wrote from Florida to tip me off about a nifty electronics project that was done right here in Tulsa by one Josh McCormick -- modifying a $50 singing/dancing Wal-Mart Santa to produce different sounds and movements:

I've had a Parallax BASIC Stamp for some time. The nice BS2P40 model. For those not familiar with the BASIC Stamp, it is a computer chip that you can program in a simple language that can monitor and control things. It is nowhere near as complex as a full-blown computer, but it requires just a minimum of wiring and electronics to run. It just takes some good programming and some very basic electronics....

The problem is that I hadn't been able to find many interesting things to do with it. I created a little display toy (persistence of vision) with some full color (RGB) LEDs. That was about it. But last month, an interesting announcement hit my mailbox. It was a call for entries [Word Document] for a local non-conformist art show in Tulsa!

I've got to do something. But what can I do? LEDs? No, too boring. So I went browsing the isles of Wal*Mart and see if there were any good hackable items to be had there. Sure enough, there were a few candidates. But one item out of the entire store screamed "hack me" more than anything else. The $49.84 animatronic Santa Claus.

Sadly, the non-conformist art show folks didn't appreciate his efforts:

Two days later, the judging came, and I got a phone call from the art gallery. They said they had a lot of entries this year, and they apologize that the judging was "rather ruthless". My entry did not qualify for the exhibit. I was slightly disappointed, but I was a little confused. From what I was told, the judges leaned more towards mainsteam art. You know... sculpture, painting, etc. No big deal, I really didn't put my self worth on the line with this one. But they wanted it out of their gallery by the end of the day.

I arrive at the art gallery and checked out the remaing artworks. Most of them seem sexual in nature. You know. George Bush with an erection, that sort of thing. Were these the winners, or other losers like myself?

Click through for videos of Hacked Santa in action, plus all the gory technical details. If you can handle dark humor, don't miss the list of candidate phrases for Hacked Santa to say: "I can give you free stuff because I skimp on Elf health care! HO HO HO!!"

Fellow Okie blogger Sean Gleeson has developed an online Texas Hold 'Em game for cable superstation TBS. It's called Very Funny Texas Hold 'Em. If you've flipped through the cable channels at 3 a.m. and found nothing on but Celebrity Poker Death Match, or if you've been perplexed by a Dawn Summers blog entry full of terms like flop, check, and river, and wondered what all that is about, click that link. There's a section of the game that explains the rules very clearly. (Sean's game cannot help you if you are perplexed by any other Dawn Summers blog entry.)

The game is For Entertainment Only -- no actual money changes hands, so there's no risk except your time and attention. Check it out.

I'd like to see Sean merge this with his Autorantic Virtual Moonbat.

(UPDATED to remove the parenthetical remark at the beginning of the entry, which was written before I had heard about the tornado in southern Indiana Sunday night.)

Fun timewasters


Sobics School, a Korean educational company (as nearly as I can tell), offers a couple of very addictive Flash games which are similar in some respects to Super Collapse -- clicking on groups of blocks to make them disappear. Both feature very cute 3D characters that make baby noises. I spent more time than I care to admit playing Game 02, which is a bit more fun than Game 01. You'll find links to the two games here, and the menu for the "Fun" section of the website here.

Via Mister Snitch, who says Game 02 "may be the most addictive game ever."

If you prefer your Flash games in English, try Big Idea's collection.

"Shining": happy people


Here's a trailer for a recut, warm, family-friendly version of "The Shining".

Here's the blog of the creators of that one, plus two more. The new "West Side Story" didn't turn out so happy. Unison rhythmic movement: Choreography, or the tragic effect of widely-dispersed neurotoxins?

Via Mr. Snitch!

The Three-Variable Funny Test

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I don't do these too often, much less pass them along, but the approach this test takes seems to work:

the Wit
(61% dark, 30% spontaneous, 15% vulgar)
your humor style:

You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probably an intellectual, but don't take that to mean pretentious. You realize 'dumb' can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudeness for its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer.

Your sense of humor takes the most thought to appreciate, but it's also the best, in my opinion.

You probably loved the Office. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check it out here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/theoffice/.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart - Woody Allen - Ricky Gervais

The 3-Variable Funny Test!
- it rules -

If you're interested, try my latest: The Terrorism Test

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 85% on darkness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 11% on spontaneity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 8% on vulgarity
Link: The 3 Variable Funny Test written by jason_bateman on OkCupid Free Online Dating

As a matter of fact, I love "The Office." (Via Miss GOP.)

In a case somewhat reminiscent of the Tulsa Whirled's threats against this blog,
attorneys representing humorist Garrison Keillor have sent a cease-and-desist letter to MNspeak.com over the sale of T-shirts bearing the phrase "A Prairie Ho Companion". MNspeak.com says the T-shirts are parody and therefore covered under fair use. Keillor's attorneys are claiming a "likelihood of confusion." (Link via Mister Snitch!)

(What is the difference between a humorist and a comedian, you ask? A comedian makes you laugh out loud. A humorist evokes a wry, knowing chuckle.)

I used to be a fan of Mr. Keillor's. No, Garrison Keillor was my idol. When he announced his retirement in 1987, I spent the rest of the spring arranging my schedule around taping each week's episode of "A Prairie Home Companion." When I went to Duluth, Minnesota that summer for a wedding, I drove through Anoka, his hometown, and Milaca, a town that that was one of the inspirations for Lake Wobegon. I loved the weekly radio serial -- Buster, the Show Dog -- the parody commercials, and the news from Lake Wobegon. I have most of his books and several tape collections of Lake Wobegon stories. Just as Keillor was inspired to create PHC by a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, I fantasized about hosting my own PHC-like radio show, live every week from Cain's Ballroom, opening with an appropriate bit of Western Swing. (Note to self: Enough already. You're cringing with embarrasment.)

During the original run of PHC, Keillor's tone reflected an affection for small-town life and simple faith. Politics was far in the background, except for a brief lament following Walter Mondale's 1984 landslide defeat. Back in the day, there were articles written about Keillor as a kind of proto-evangelist -- not directly sharing the gospel, but laying the groundwork.

Keillor deserves credit for bringing some great musicians to a wider audience: Johnny Gimble, Chet Atkins, Butch Thompson, and Riders in the Sky, to name a few. Bob and Ray were guests on the show, and Bob Elliott was a regular on the New York-based follow-on series, "American Radio Company". His CD collection of Pretty Good Jokes is responsible for my son, at age 4, telling complete strangers the joke about how many insurance salesmen it takes to screw in a light bulb.

At some point, Keillor stopped gently tweaking the insufferably pompous and became insufferably pompous himself. Where he had once injected politics into his stories in only the most subtle ways, he now delivered ham-handed harangues. I can't tell you how long it's been since I tuned in to PHC -- ten years?

The mention of ham-handedness brings us back to the topic at hand. The proprietor of MNspeak.com politely pointed out to Keillor's attorneys that pursuing this lawsuit would make Keillor the object of riducule throughout the blogosphere. Nevertheless, Keillor persisted. So far the story has shown up on InstaPundit and plenty of other places. Prof. Reynolds' quick putdown: "I never thought Keillor had much of a sense of humor."

I've recommended that MNspeak.com get in touch with the Media Bloggers Association for advice. Ron Coleman, the MBA's counsel, wrote a letter on my behalf that persuaded the Tulsa Whirled to back off. (Alas, Coleman's blog on intellectual property matters, Likelihood of Confusion, is offline. Looks like he may be in the midst of a conversion from Movable Type to Word Press.) (UPDATE: Ron's back up.)

A stroll down Memory Aisle


The writers of history concentrate on Great Events, Great Movements, and Great Men. Even in recounting our individual stories, we focus on the milestones -- graduated from high school, graduated from college, got married, had kids. The ordinary stuff of everyday life is taken for granted as we live through it and usually forgotten, although it seems to linger in the back of our brains.

One of the wonderful things about the World Wide Web is that it provides a home for commemorating things that would never be enough to warrant an encyclopedia entry, a monument, or even a brief mention in a book.

One such site is called Tick Tock Toys. It is devoted to child-targeted consumer culture from the Baby Boom era -- the late '40s into the early '70s. Powdered drink mixes, fast food, candy, comic books, theme parks, breakfast cereals (and the promotional items placed in the boxes) -- they all find a home here.

Remember Funny Face powdered drink mix? Remember Choo-Choo Cherry, Jolly Olly Orange, Goofy Grape, Loud Mouth Lime? Here's a list of all the flavors, linked to pictures of the packages.

Remember Burger Chef? There was one in Tulsa on 41st Street just west of I-44, where the Whataburger is now. There used to be an old Burger Chef long closed, but still standing along North Peoria. We used to stop at the one in Springdale, Arkansas, about halfway to Grandma's house in Mountain Home. Before they repainted the IPE Building (sorry, Expo Building), it looked like a great big Burger Chef, with its orange and turquoise colors. Tick Tock Toys has a collection of ephemera from Burger Chef and other fast-food restaurants -- pictures of burger boxes and wrappers, employee manuals, cups, and kids meal toys. (Here's another site with great photos of Burger Chef stores.)

Browsing through Tick Tock Toys will inspire exclamations of, "I had one of those!" If I'm ever up for Senate confirmation, this may come up, so I'll just 'fess up now: I was a member of the Banana Splits Fan Club, had the Banana Splits Fan Club kit, including secret decoder, and actually organized a neighborhood chapter.

Hat tip for the Tick Tock Toys link to Mister Snitch!, a blog mainly about Hoboken, New Jersey. The blog's name is a tip of the hat to Hoboken history -- the name of a gossip column that ran in the Hoboken Pictorial once upon a time. It's thanks to this entry by Mister Snitch! back in May that this BatesLine entry is the number one Google result for the phrase "local-blog Instapundit". Mister Snitch! encourages other Hoboken and New Jersey bloggers by posting regular round-ups, much like our own Okiedoke does for Okie bloggers. That's not all he writes about -- here's an interesting recent entry called, "What is the proper role of government in the economy?"

A spot of whimsy

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Caren Lissner has several chuckle-worthy items. (In the last one, the chuckle's at the end, but the rest of the entry is pretty interesting, too.)

Mena Trott, of Six Apart, the company responsible for the software that runs this and many, many other blogs, has a clever slideshow: "If Bloggers Had Been Around through History". (Via Vidiot.)

Remember the screen captures from a Chinese edition of "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith," in which the subtitles were translations back into English of a translation into Chinese? More screen caps have been added -- a total of 62 by my count, and there's a mirror copy of half of the screencaps available here. (Hat tip, again, to Vidiot. My comments linking the original entry, here. Jeremy, the blogger who started this, has an interesting entry about a visit to a seafood market and restaurant in Ningbo.)

Somewhat related: I just came across a quote of my daughter's, dated 12/29/2003, which I jotted down at the time. At age three, she picked up on her older brother's enthusiasm for all things Star Wars. For a while she refused to wear anything described as cute, because Jedis didn't wear cute things. She was also in the midst of being potty-trained (not training the potty, Caren), and said, after being told to try to use the potty, "Jedis do NOT go to the bathroom."

Michael Moore. Fat farm. "Camp Granada" parody. Huffington's Toast. You know you want to read it.

Servo noter


Is there no end to the helpful information on the Internet?

If your enjoyment of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) is hindered by a failure to understand the cultural references in the wisecracks hurled at the screen, take heart! Visit The Annotated MST, which to date has annotations for 32 episodes.

And if you've never seen MST3K, you might want to check out this site.

Homestar Runner wiki


What do you do when you see your kids cackling over a Strongbad email episode featuring Homestar Runner spitting Teddy Grahams at the ceiling for fun, and you want to see it for yourself, but you can't remember the name of the episode?

Visit the Homestar Runner wiki, where you'll find a searchable database of scripts of all the H*R animations.

The web is too cool.

P.S. The episode in question is "Couch Patch" -- wiki entry is here.

Howard Molson's got a new shovel!


Remembered this today, for no particular reason, and got a laugh out of it. It's from "The Testing of Eric Olthwaite," an episode of Ripping Yarns, a mid-70s British series written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python's Flying Circus. When Eric's family runs away from home, his neighbor, Mr. Bag, must tell Eric the awful truth:

Well... look, Eric, it's like this... there are some people in life who are... you know -- interesting people -- good company, fun to be with... the kind of people who, when you meet them on the street, your heart lifts and you say to yourself: "Ah! There's old So and So! Isn't it grand to see him!" People who make you glad... people who make you fell that life's worth living... Well, you're not one of them, Eric.

We saw the IMAX version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with our two kids (9 and 4) and some friends -- a couple and their daughters, aged 7 and 4. Worth seeing in the theater, worth seeing in IMAX -- I wouldn't say that about too many films. Way better than the '70s version with Gene Wilder.

Favorite kid reaction: When Willie Wonka orders the Oompa-Loompas to roll Violet Beauregard to the juicing room after she has turned into a giant blueberry, my four-year-old called out, "Oh, man! I do not want to see this part!"

Don't panic


If Roger Ebert's column is like a bakery, BatesLine is the day-old bread store. You can count on BatesLine to give you the straight scoop on movies you've already seen, maybe several times, in the theater, on DVD, and on the late Friday slot of OETA's Movie Club.

We had a date night tonight and went to see "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" at Movies 8, which is Cinemark's local dollar theater. Mikki and I were impressed by the inch-thick accumulation of dust on the neon sign above the concession stand.

While the place may not be maintained to the standard of the chain's local flagship (the Tulsa, around the corner on 71st Street), there was a good crowd to see the film, and they were well-mannered. It was even quiet during the previews.

And during the previews there was an ad for Coca-Cola featuring their new blog site -- mycoke.com. I won't bother hot-linking that -- you've got to register (for free), and bugmenot.com doesn't have a login yet. Presumably you can start your own blog and read those of others who are blogging for Coke. (I see that the practice of corporate-sponsored blogs is spreading -- the Daily Oklahoman's website has five blogs, including a husband and wife team. I'm guessing that not included among the topics these bloggers will discuss is criticism of the Daily Oklahoman, Opryland, the Grand Old Opry, WSM Radio, the Broadmoor Hotel, Gaylord Sports Management, or any of the other far-flung enterprises of the South Central Ohio Coal, Gas, Electricity, Telephone & Telegraph Communications Group OPUBCO.)

Anyway, the movie: We both loved it. I've read the books (all five books of the trilogy), listened to the entire radio series, and watched the entire BBC TV series. Mikki saw some of the TV series, but I think fell asleep for most of it, as parents tend to do when they're finally allowed to sit still and quiet for a few moments. The movie is not the same as all of the above, but they managed -- meaning Douglas Adams, who wrote the radio series, then transformed it into books, TV, and finally a screenplay -- to capture the most important bits and weave them into a coherent movie-length story using some new plot devices.

The casting was well done. Martin Freeman, sad-sack Tim from "The Office," is perfect as sad-sack Arthur Dent.

I'm not sure how they did it, but they managed to make Marvin, the robot, look dejected and resigned despite the lack of an actual face. You will see an android shrug and hang its head. (It was nice to see a Sirius Cybernetics Corporation product from the TV series make a cameo appearance.)

The Vogons play a bigger role in the film than in the book, and it works well. You get the full sense of the Vogon bureaucratic mentality at work, down to a homeworld filled with what looks like a collection of every American civic building built during the '60s and '70s.

Even if you haven't read the books or heard the radio series or seen the TV series, you'll still enjoy the movie.

It seemed timely to come across this during the Presbyterian Church in America's annual general assembly:


That's a screenshot from a Chinese bootleg DVD of the new Star Wars release, "The Backstroke of the West," with English subtitles translated back from the dubbed Chinese dialogue. winterson.com has this and ten more screenshots and explains why the Presbyterian Church makes an appearance in Star Wars -- it's the back-translation of the Chinese translation of "Jedi Council". (Hat tip to Language Hat.)

Makes sense. The Jedi Council sort of looks like a presbytery meeting -- you have a group of men (must have been PCA or OPC Jedis) conversing in serious tones about serious issues, and an emphasis on doing things "decently and in order." I'll bet more than one teaching elder in some of our far-flung presbyteries has wished he could attend presbytery holographically.

What do you suppose we'd find in the subtitles from the rest of the movie and the rest of the series? Did they translate "Trade Federation" into "Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference"? Does Obi-Wan say at the end, "Only a Sith believes in strict subscription!" Did Luke's sojurn on the ice world of Hoth make him the Frozen Chosen One? Does the "D." in D. James Kennedy stand for "Darth"?

Feel free, especially you fellow Calvinists out there, to make up your own jokes and post them in the comments.

(Oh, the title refers to an 18th century split in the Presbyterian Church between supporters of the Great Awakening revivalist preachers -- the New Side -- and those who believed revivalists were undermining established church order -- the Old Side.)

Father Shane Tharp at Catholic Ragemonkey paints a vivid picture:

Every priest has a couple of bridezilla stories, that is, brides who went on a rampage because they got the notion in their heads that their wedding day was meant to fulfill every pretty, pretty princess dreams and when things don't go their way, Tokyo must pay the price.

I'm proud to say that neither Bridezilla nor Groomzilla were present at our nuptials 16 years ago. And the even-tempered young bride who asked our four-year-old daughter to be a flower girl back in January wasn't the least bit perturbed at her attack of stage fright at the rehearsal (she got over it), nor bothered by her decision not to drop any petals from her basket during the procession.

Brains aren't all that


To balance out my boasting of my score on the online IQ test, I feel compelled to direct you to this entry I wrote in my first month of blogging: "Smarts ain't all they're cracked up to be."

I think I've found the brainiest blog on the Internet. The blogger, named Tom, writes about favorite foods (often!), taxes, family, pets, pop culture, and his longing for a meaningful relationship. Here's a recent entry:

So, I was hanging out with Keith Richards last night, and I asked him something I've wondered as long as I've known him: "Why haven't you ever eaten Mick Jagger's brains?"

And Keith told me -- get this -- he told me he's not a zombie.

I know! What the hell! You could've knocked me over with a feather. I mean, he looks like a zombie, he smells like a zombie... I just figured: zombie.

I was so shocked, I forgot to eat his brains. Maybe next week. We're going to Golf n' Stuff on Tuesday.

I guess he was on TV recently:

I still say, if Dr. Phil didn't want to have his brains eaten, he shouldn't have gotten all up in my grill about being an undeadbeat dad.

That's from Tom the Zombie, and I found his blog, zombie eat brains, in a collection of undead links in a recent entry at Incoming Signals, a daily assortment of amazing links from around the web.

Full disclosure: I am posting this for my own self-preservation. (UPDATE: Maybe not! And Dwayne, if he shows up at my front door, he'll be handed a map to your house. And a PikePass.)


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Your IQ Is 140
Your Logical Intelligence is Genius Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius Your General Knowledge is Genius

(Hat tip: Jack Bennett of Idle Mendacity, a New York City conservative Catholic blogger who has me on his blogroll. In recent entries he mourns the passing of Frank Gorshin and the hi-JACK-ing of the oldies format at WCBS-FM. Thanks for the link, Jack, and I've blogrolled you, too.)

Huffington's Toast

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I still haven't bothered to visit the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington's Left Coast glitterati group blog, so I can't even link to it. But I have discovered its parody site -- Huffington's Toast, and it's on my blogroll.

It reminds of National Lampoon's Letters section, from that magazine's heyday in the late 1970s -- brief opinions purporting to be from celebrities. (It took me a few issues to figure out that the letters weren't really by the celebrities named, and, no, that wasn't really Jimmy Carter's cousin writing a monthly column about his misadventures with Brother Billy.)

Huffington's Toast features blog entries that are explicitly labeled "not really by" famous folks. It's written by some of the best satirists in the blogosphere. (See their links under "Arianna and Her Stooges" in the site's right sidebar.)

I especially enjoyed the exchange between evil galactic warlord Xenu* and Sc**nt*l*gy devotee Tom Cruise*, and political consultant Bob Shrum*'s prescription for the Democratic Party. Don't overlook the mugshots for each writer. (In Andrew Sullivan's case, that's the mugshot of Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, from his 1991 indecent exposure arrest.)

It's frequently updated and always good for a laugh.

(* Not really.)

I wondered about the same thing:

Re: Coruscant apartment codes. The architecture of the city is one of those giddy treats for city geeks. All those sleek Moderne towers and endless urban canyons. One of the best sequences consisted of Vader and Padme looking into the city, considering their fates; the camera moved slowly between the towers, for no particular reason; what, do the astral project when troubled? But any excuse for a flythrough. Its just a cool place. But. BUT. For Gods sake, why arent there any railings anywhere? You build a docking pad so people can visit your 127th floor apartment, but you dont build a railing? Its windy up there. Id get out of my car and crawl on my belly to the porch, and I wouldnt stand up until I saw something I could grab. Like the hostess.

Read all of James Lileks' "disconnected observations" on "Revenge of the Sith" in today's Bleat.

One man's trash...


Is there anything you can do with games that are missing pieces? Dwayne the Canoe Guy has a brilliant answer to that question: He's bagging them -- 20 to a package -- and selling them at scrapbooking stores. You can see a photo of one of his packages, which includes cards from the '70s Parker Brothers board game The Inventors and tiles from Trippples.

It's fascinating to comb through the raw server logs for my website. awstats does a pretty good job of summarizing who's visiting, where visitors are coming from, and what they're looking at, but the detail in the raw log allows me to put it all together.

For example, it allows me to see that someone behind the Tulsa Whirled's firewall ( got to BatesLine via Google searches for "Bobby Lorton" (on June 2) and "robert e. lorton iii" (on June 3). A bit of vanity Googling, perhaps? BatesLine is the first result for both of those searches, thanks to tulsaworld.com walling itself off from the Internet and sounding retreat in the battle for Googlespace.

Then there was this intriguing search: lorton tulsa klan. On my site, that leads to a couple of category archive pages, where the words are all mentioned, but nowhere near each other.

Just below my result was this: A 1993 issue of a newsletter devoted to the murder of Hollywood silent film star, director, and Casanova William Desmond Taylor, shot to death in 1922. Taylor's death came not long after the trial of Fatty Arbuckle, and Hollywood was regarded around the country as a modern day Babylon.

The newsletter includes a collection of headlines, editorials, and one-liners from newspaper coverage of the Taylor murder. Within days of the killing, newspapers from Boston to Seattle to Wichita to Savannah were responding with pointed, punny comments about Taylor, Hollywood morals, and the investigation:

February 4, 1922, DES MOINES REGISTER: The recent movie tragedy was too realistic for the director's health.

February 6, 1922, RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH: The question now is, who saw Director Taylor last. Until recently, the burning issue among the movie queens was, who saw him first.

February 7, 1922, PITTSBURGH SUN: Nowadays a great many screen luminaries are being tried and found wanton.

February 8, 1922, BOSTON HERALD: A "gruelling" examination, as the police employ the term, is one expected to put its recipient in the soup.

February 9, 1922, INDIANAPOLIS STAR: A movie funeral seems to be one thing that will get the Los Angeles people out to church.

February 16, 1922, BOSTON ADVERTISER: Police in Hollywood have not thought of questioning the movie bathing girls. Experience proves they conceal little.

Apparently there was a flimsy but important piece of evidence in the case:

February 10, 1922, COLUMBIA STATE: In the modern murder case it is not only cherchez la femme, but cherchez la lingerie.

February 11, 1922, DES MOINES TRIBUNE: Incidentally, the Hollywood tragedy has brought home to some women the advisability of omitting initials from nighties.

There's more from the nation's newspapers in that issue, including a short excerpt from a Tulsa World writer named Otis Lorton.

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read. Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few.

(HT: Badger Blogger, a blog devoted to Wisconsin politics and media criticism.)

Alt-comic icon Zippy the Pinhead was in the neighborhood recently, having a chat with the Golden Driller. Tulsa Time has the comic, from May 24, along with Zippy's visit to the Blue Whale in Catoosa, from July 15, 2002.

Star Wars III roundup


Commentary from around the Internet about the final movie in the "Star Wars" series:

Albert Greenland, guest-writing at The Galvin Opinion, says that Star Wars is great art because of the truth it tells about human nature, about sin and redemption:

...the genius of Star Wars is that it somehow manages to explain why we sin and what sin does to us. Graham Greene once wrote that "love makes more mistakes than hate does." In that light, the fall of Anakin related to the fact that he loved too much. And that love, combined with a few of the deadly sins, especially "pride," was the witch's brew which Anakin willingly drunk....

Three years ago, after the release of Episode II, Jonathan V. Last made "The Case for the Empire," arguing that "[t]he deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good."
He updates that perspective for Episode III with a commentary on NPR: "A Flawed Despot is Better than a Smug Jedi." Money quote: "You can bet Lord Vader makes the trains run on time." His review of Episode III for the Weekly Standard is here. (Hat tip for this and the following item to Galley Slaves, to which Last is a contributor.)

More contrarian views of the Jedi and the Sith:

Orson Scott Card: "The Jedi may claim to be in favor of democracy, but in fact they function as a ruling elite, making their decisions among themselves. They occasionally submit to the authority of the legislature, and they seem to respect the rule of law, though whose law its hard to say. By and large, however, they decide among themselves what theyre going to do and when its OK to break the law and defy the civilian authority."

Julian Sanchez on Hit and Run makes the case for allowing the separatists to secede peacefully.

Sanchez links to Tyler Cowen, who says of the Jedi, "Aren't they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends."

Finally, Ace of Spades links to video of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog working the crowd of costumed Star Wars fans waiting to get into the first showing on opening night of Episode II. A bit blue, but Ace says it's "maybe the funniest thing ever shown on Conan O'Brien."

A blog I told you about last week, The Darth Side, has reached its inevitable and tragic conclusion, and the full text is now available in PDF format, in normal chronological order (the beginning is at the top). The PDF version also contains "extras," including an interview with the author, Cheeseburger Brown.

I finally saw "Attack of the Clones" last week -- yes, that's episode II, not III. My son has already seen it with his grandfather and wants to me to take him to see III again. I thought I ought to see II first. I don't remember where I read this, but it's true -- there's something about Yoda leaping about in a light sabre fight that reminds one of Miss Piggy doing karate. ("Hiiiii-YA!")

The quote of the day comes from an unnamed aide to Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, about Cantwell being spotted in an Italian restaurant in D.C., dining with disgraced New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli, where the two were said to be "all over each other":

"Yes, we can confirm that Sen. Cantwell did see both Torricelli and Lautenberg at Galileo, but it was not a date. Cannoli is not the same thing as canoodling."

(From Lloyd Grove's Lowdown in today's New York Daily News.)

Amanda of Wittingshire has an eight-year-old son too, and he is completely unimpressed by the idea of girls in bikinis:

He was still staring at me, utterly flabbergasted. Finally he found his tongue: "It disturbs me," he said formally, "that you are telling me that one day I will think girls look pretty in bikinis. That disturbs me. I know what I think, and I don't think that."

By this point I was laughing out loud. He was so serious, and so affronted.

"It isn't funny," he said. "Why on earth would I suddenly think girls in bikinis look pretty? They look cold. They look naked. Skin is just skin, and tummy skin isn't any prettier than arm skin. That's what I think. Why would I ever think different?"

(HT: The Happy Husband, in a post with a whole bunch of marriage-related links.)

Dan Lovejoy reports that Sen. Tom Coburn's idea of combining pizza with STD is nothing new where he works.

The Darth Side


Came across an intriguing new blogger the other day.

He writes about barbecues and parenthood. He muses about annoying coworkers, incompetent subordinates, and the inscrutable ways of his boss. He thinks about his mom every day. He struggles with badly-built prosthetic devices. According to his Blogger profile, "He enjoys fixing things, listening to music, and crushing people's tracheas with his mind."

Cross over to The Darth Side. You'll be glad you did.

78s online


Basic Hip Digital Oddio, home of the Space Age Pop Music webcast and the Online Guide to Whistling Records, is spending 2005 celebrating records for children from the golden age -- the mid '40s to the early '50s.

Kiddie Records Weekly presents a classic kids' album each week, from the days when albums really were -- albums, that is, books of discs to be played at 78 RPM. Each side of each record is available as an MP3 for download, and you can download images of the cover art and labels, too. Highlights of the series so far:

  • The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, directed and narrated by Orson Welles and featuring Bing Crosby as the prince. The musical score is by Bernard Herrmann.
  • Gerald Mc Boing Boing by Dr. Seuss, read by Harold Peary (the Great Gildersleeve).
  • Pecos Bill, featuring Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.
  • Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks: Baby Snooks learns to tell the truth, to be good, to be clean, table manners, about crossing streets, and to be kind to animals.

There will be a new album each week through the end of the year.

Basic Hip's space age pop album of the week, up through Monday on the home page, is "Shock Music in Hi-Fi" by the Creed Taylor Orchestra. The cover warns, "Don't dare listen to this music alone!" You can download tracks as stereo 128 kbps MP3s or listen to the album as a lower-quality mono stream.

(Hat tip to Joel Blain.)


A robin built a nest right next to our patio door, in a spot where the gutter downspout angles in from the edge of the roof to the side of the house. This photo is from last Monday afternoon.

Romancing the groan


Longmire has added to his collection of altered romance novel covers, and there are more reader submissions as well.


And he's got a link to some award-winningly bad, but genuine, romance novel covers, one of which is below:


Here are the worst of 2002, of 2001, and of 2000.

(Hat tip to honest + popular of It's Rude to Point, who is still on my blogroll even though she inexplicably de-blogrolled me not long after she inexplicably blogrolled me.)

The food pyramid is going away, and Sean Gleeson has uncovered the U. S. Department of Agriculture's new visual guide to what's good for us: "USDA to unveil Nutrition Frowny Face." Visit the Gleeson Bloglomerate to see the poster for the selected concept, as well as posters for a couple of the rejected prototypes -- the "Nutrition Ceiling Fan" and the "Nutrition Martini."

(Hat tip: Dan and Angi.)

Another side of Joe Carter


Joe Carter of the Evangelical Outpost has been recycling bits from a newspaper humor/advice column he used to write, and today he's got some choice excerpts with links to the full column.

For example:

On napping -- For a woman, catching her husband napping is the second worst thing she can catch her man doing in their bed. (The first, of course, is discovering him drinking grape Kool-Aid on the 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Finding him with another woman, however, runs a close third.) Women believe that the only reason a man would want to take a nap is because he is either trying to ignore her or is avoiding spending time with her. The truth is that men take naps because we are tired. Too tired, in fact, to think of more creative ways to ignore our wives and avoid spending time with them.

"As honest as the law allows"


Here's the last strip in the series. Albert's done with his taxes. Hope you are too.

Pogo April 14, 1956

Pogo by Walt Kelly, April 14, 1956. Last in a series of 5. Click here for previous comic, click here to go back to the beginning.

"I knowed they was a catch"


The IRS never makes it easy....


Pogo by Walt Kelly, April 13, 1956. Y'all enjoying these? Let me hear from you. By the way, the distortion and greyness in the last frame is the result of scanning out of a book. I'm learning how to use the GIMP, and I suspect there's a way to correct for that, but I haven't figured it out yet. This is 4 in a series of 5. Click for previous, next comic.

Creative accounting


Another Pogo strip to help ease your tax preparation woes. I'm done, but Albert is still figgerin'. I needed tax advice this good.


Pogo by Walt Kelly, April 12, 1956. Alas, most Pogo books are out of print, but you can find some new and used by searching for "Walt Kelly" at Amazon. This is 3 in a series of 5. Click for previous, next comic.

A tip of the hat to Mee Citee Wurkor for calling attention to Gizoogle, which translates any web page into gangsta-ese.

I wonder, I thought, whether the drollery of Dustbury would survive such a transformation. I was not disappointed. (Warning: The translator generates some foul language.)

(The anti-framing technology of the site means you can't use Gizoogle to translate B-to-tha-izzatesLine. Sorry.)

Taxes two-step


In the spirit of the season, Bobby of Tulsa Topics has posted a Western Swing tune called "Taxes, Taxes," performed by Hank Penny.

A li'l' innocent cheatin'


Pogo April 11, 1956

Pogo by Walt Kelly, April 11, 1956. Note the correct use of apostrophes in the word "LI'L'." This is comic 2 in a series of 5. Click for previous, next comic.

Tax day approaches


I'm going to be a little busy for the next day or two...

Pogo April 10, 1956

Pogo, by Walt Kelly, April 10, 1956. First of five. Click for next comic.

Cum dubites, murmura

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If you learned Latin, you probably learned about Horatio (Horatius Cocles), the brave Roman soldier who single-handedly fended off the Etruscan army as the Romans destroyed the bridge across the Tiber behind him. As a reward for his bravery, Horatio received as much land as he could plow around in a day.

... or so Livy wrote. But ancient Roman Army memoranda, published in the January 1953 issue of the British Army Journal, reveal what happened after Horatio's reward went through proper channels.

(You'll find the title in its original bureaucratese here, and its author here.)

Pogo, by Neddie Jingo


I just came across a terrific tribute to Pogo, Walt Kelly's classic comic strip. The author, one Neddie Jingo, says that it's a shame if the only thing you know about Pogo is, "We have met the enemy and he is us":

As a technician, Kelly's contribution to the cartoonist's craft is probably even greater than George Herriman's; Kelly's influence is just howlingly obvious in the way Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes characters moved, and how his strips were laid out -- hell, even in his use of vegetation as a framing device. Pioneering, too, was his characters' proscenium-breaking; when Albert Alligator, lighting his see-gar, reaches out and strikes his match on the panel border, you're seeing a form so confident in its maturity that it can afford to be playful. ...

It's in the realm of language that Kelly truly shone. His daily strip was a wonderful mangrove of puns and portmanteaux, all delivered in a disarming parody of Southern speech (Kelly was himself from Bridgeport, Connecticut -- not exactly a hotbed of Southern literary tradition), and his poetry and song lyrics were so rich with utterly effortless linguistic play that it's impossible not to nominate him as America's answer to Lewis Carroll.

The tribute features several Pogo strips and other artwork. You'll find the place-name-heavy lyrics to the song "Go, Go, Pogo" -- along with a link to an MP3 of the song, sung by Walt Kelly hisself.

Hat tip to whomever reached this site with a search for this bit of Pogo poetry:

How pierceful grows the hazy yon! How myrtle petaled thou! For spring hath sprung the cyclotron, How high browse thou, brown cow?

You'll find more Pogo poetry at languagehat.com. And if you're looking for the jingle for Wummies ("They're gristle to your mill!"), look no further.

You'll find my own tribute to the Possum here.

In other whimsical news, I am pleased to announce that BatesLine is the number one Google result for "Gruntfuttock."

This week's featured episode of "Round the Horne" on BBC7 is one of my favorites -- "From Russia with Love," from 1965 -- featuring one of their best spy spoofs, in which Kenneth Horne, Master Spy, gets to the bottom of a sudden outbreak of truth, which is threatening the British way of life. Horne listens in horror as the outbreak hits a radio reporter covering a society wedding:

Reporter (Kenneth Williams): I'm standing in the freezing cold outside St. Borrols Westminster with an unctuous grin on my face, preparing to give you snobs at home details of yet another dreary society wedding, between Daphne, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Stokely, and Alistair Twick, the son -- he says -- of that senile old pantaloon, the Earl of McWhirter. And here they come now, the spotty fat bride, her face suffused with acne, clinging desperately to the arm of old Blubberlips, the chinless wonder. What an array of glittering nobodies are here today! Yes, what a waste of everybody's time. Still, if I do it often enough, I might cop for a knighthood.

As befits the genre, Master Spy Horne finds time for a bit of romance:

We clung together passionately. My mouth searched for hers, and found it exactly where I'd suspected it would be -- under her nose.

The episode also features an interview with King Grunt-Futtock of Peasmoldia, an autonomous kingdom within Great Britain, who introduces Buttercup, his "good lady wife" and queen consort: "We'll waive the kissin' of her hand, seein' as how grubby it is."

You've got Monday and Tuesday to catch this one before the next episode is broadcast on Wednesday. You'll find it on the BBC7 Wednesday "listen again" page.

By the way, keep your eye on BBC7's listings for radio adaptations of great books. A week or so ago, they serialized C. S. Lewis's Perelandra, and at the moment they're in the midst of G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

Twisted kid lit

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Some comic relief for a Saturday -- two galleries of Children's literature, Part I and Part II.


Hat tip to Random Mentality.

Horne-a-rama, first and last


I just came across an excellent retrospective of Kenneth Horne's two sketch comedy series, "Beyond Our Ken" and "Round the Horne." It's a three-hour program called "Horne of Plenty" and you'll find it on BBC 7's Saturday "listen again" page through this Friday. The program includes the very first and very last episodes of both programs in their entirety, plus details of the history of the shows.

If you ever want to grab a RealAudio program for later listening, there's an excellent utility program called Streambox VCR Suite 2, which you can find various places on the web.

Today was the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of "Round the Horne," one of the most enduringly popular radio shows of all time. As you might guess, any popular radio show that had its premiere only 40 years ago is obviously not American. In the '60s, the BBC still produced high-quality original radio entertainment, and they still do today.

"Round the Horne" was a sketch comedy half-hour produced for the BBC Light Entertainment Programme (later BBC Radio 2). It starred Kenneth Horne and a crew of veteran West End actors who could do an unbelievable range of voices and accents. The writers for the first three series were Barry Took, who was instrumental in the creation of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and Marty Feldman, whom you may know from "Young Frankenstein" and "Silent Movie."

I was first introduced to the show by several of my British co-workers. When I told one of them today about the 40th anniversary, he said, "I used to listen to those on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid. Suddenly I feel very old."

If you like "Monty Python's Flying Circus," if you enjoy clever word-play and double-entendre, you will love "Round the Horne." Trust me.

Time and distractions do not permit a thorough tribute, so I direct you to the BBC 7 website, where you can find a different episode of "Round the Horne" each week. You can listen live on Wednesdays at 8 am, noon and 7 pm London time, or you can go to the "Listen Again" page for Wednesdays to hear the most recently broadcast episode in RealAudio format.

UPDATE: Having now listened to the tribute show I mentioned in this space, I decided to take down the link. It's deadly to comedy to explain it, but it's even deadlier to explain it in a way that serves modern political correctness. You'll enjoy listening to repeats of the original broadcasts much more. If you want even more from the cast of "Round the Horne," listen to "Beyond our Ken," the series that preceded it. The writing isn't as brilliant, but it's still a very funny show. It's on BBC 7 on Sundays.

Word dissociation

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I have one very spam-ridden e-mail account. I've had the address for over a decade, and it must be in every spam database in the world. About a year ago, I started getting spam that matched a certain pattern.

  • The name in the from line always had a first name, middle initial, and last name.
  • The first and last names appeared to be random words out of the dictionary.
  • The body of the message was usually in Russian, but sometimes in English.
  • The message always seemed to originate from a PC connected to broadband Internet service, no doubt infected with a trojan horse mail relay program.

As evil as it is to write and disseminate a trojan horse, I give these crooks credit for an algorithm that combines random words to generate names that more often than not bring a chuckle.

I wrote about this phenomenon a while back:

The names in the From line are wonderful -- Stying K. Purgative, Mustered O. Behemoths, Headwaters I. Evidence, Circularizing T. Integers, Disassemble H. Imps, Rallies Q. Stratification, Accretions G. Recital -- they are obviously not names, but they have the rhythm of names, reminiscent of the sort that Barry Took and Marty Feldman cooked up for sketches on "Round the Horne", like Isambard Mousehabit and J. Peasemould Gruntfuttock. (Or the Li'l' Abner character, Jubilation T. Cornpone.) So we know the spambot writer is evil, but has a sense of humor.

Below are some genuine examples of these spam names, followed by whatever popped into my head when I read each. Feel free to play along in the comments.

Pauperized A. Classicists

Why I double-majored in computer science.

Vivified E. Washtub

What happened the next time the Sorcerer's Apprentice put on the hat.

Antislavery H. Sarsaparillas

The "Ben and Jerry's Rainforest Crunch" of the 1850s.

Yosemite F. Faun

From the Looney Tunes production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Horseman H. Screaming

"Saddlehorn!! Saddlehorn!!"

Lynching A. Ogles

"What do you mean, 'It is too a crime to look?'"

Odds and ends

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Scooby Doo goes gonzo, maps galore, romance novel covers get retitled, and other assorted links -- after the jump.

Random notes

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I had a nice dinner out tonight with Mikki while her folks watched the kids. We went to Doe's Eat Place, which has only recently opened on Cherry Street. I should have done a bit of research first -- lots more food than we wanted and way more than we wanted to spend. It was a good meal, and we had a very good waitress, but two entrees, a small appetizer, and two sodas set us back about $50 before tip. (Note to non-Tulsans -- that is a lot to pay for dinner for two around here.) Doe's has a very limited menu -- for entrees, just steak and shrimp. The smallest steak you can order at Doe's (not counting the filet mignon) is two pounds of meat. It's expected that you'll be sharing that with someone, and we did, but still.... Doe's is a chain, but started as a place in Greenville, Mississippi, that served steaks and tamales. We had a half-dozen tamales (with chili) as an appetizer -- not bad.

After dinner, we had a leisurely browse at Borders, but left empty-handed. (We have plenty of books already. You have no idea.)

The highlight of Doe's (other than a chance to converse intelligently without kid interruptions) was an aviation map of Wales and southern England in the lobby. When we were told it would be a few minutes before we'd get a table, I said, "That's OK, I could stay here looking at this all evening." On the map I spotted RAF Shawbury near Shrewsbury in Shropshire (say that three times fast), where I spent a week on a job assignment in May 1999. The wait for the table gave me enough time to retrace my routes and remember a trip that featured lots of walking around the lovely Tudor city of Shrewsbury, a hurried evening visit to the international book town of Hay-on-Wye and a more leisurely day's drive through north Wales: A ride on the Talyllyn Railway, a narrow-gauge railway made famous by the Thomas the Tank Engine books, and a stroll to nearby Dolgoch Falls; a walk along Tywyn's beach; a couple of hours in The Village, a drive past the mirror-smooth waters of Llyn Gwynant; and a dinner of fish, chips, and mushy peas in a cafe in Betws-y-Coed. (When I first saw the mushy peas, I marvelled that they served guacamole in those parts.)

You can never tell whose fancy you're going to tickle with a blog entry, especially an entry that is not the usual stuff of the blog. My little homage to Dr. Gene Scott, television fundraiser (and occasional preacher) extraordinaire, went unremarked and unlinked, except by one blogger who hasn't owned a TV for nearly two decades. But then I got a very enthusiastic trackback from Sciolist of the Rough Woodsman, who echoes my sentiments about Doc's teaching on communion, along with his own remembrances.

Charles G. Hill gives a farewell salute to Robert Butkin, who is resigning as State Treasurer to become dean of TU's law school, which will allow him to work in the same town where his family lives. He's a Democrat I might have voted for, if I'd had the chance. (In 1994, I voted for his Republican opponent, whom he narrowly beat.) Butkin was unopposed in 1998, but my friend Rick Koontz and I wore Butkin re-election campaign T-shirts across the state on our weekend trip that summer to visit the remainder of Oklahoma's 77 counties which we hadn't yet visited. (Major County was number 77 for both of us.) When you handle billions in state funds, there are ample opportunities for kickbacks, and many of our State Treasurers took those opportunities. Robert Butkin has been one of Oklahoma's few honorable and honest State Treasurers. I hope we get another one like him.

Baby got Book


Pocket-sized need not apply: Some guys are just into BBWs -- big Bible women. (12 MB Windows Media file, via X-ATI Guy.) Lyric excerpt:

I like big Bibles
And I cannot lie.
You Christian brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with a KJV
And a bookmark in Proverbs
You get stoked.
Got her name engraved
So you know this girl is saved.
It looks like one of those large ones
With plenty of space in the margins.

For your entertainment:

RetroCrush is presenting a list of the top 100 TV theme songs (mainly American TV). Numbers 100 through 20 have been posted already, and most entries in the list have links to websites about the shows. (Hat tip: Garfield Ridge via Ace.)

And that led me to this....

The official "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" website has clips of Carson as Carnac and other great moments from his years as Tonight Show host.

In the silly simile department, Cheat Seeking Missiles has a collection of howlers written by high schoolers. A few samples:

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

If you need a fright rather than a laugh, Ace has the definitive photo of Democrat political consultant Susan Estrich. Don't be sipping anything when you click that link. Commenter Ray Midge notices a resemblance to another TV monster.

I used to love newspapers

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(Per assignment.)

Really. I used to really enjoy sitting down with a newspaper. I'm out of the habit now, and I'm getting to where I hardly read papers online. Some scattered reminiscences:

My great-grandmother, Minnie McGee, could have been a syndicated columnist. She had been writing letters to the Nowata Daily Star under the name Aunt Millie. Her letters usually began with, "I may be wrong -- I usually am...." They were really little op-eds, and the paper liked them well enough that they ran them, despite a policy against publishing anonymous letters. Family lore holds that she was offered a syndication deal, but turned it down.

I grew up with the Tribune and the Sunday World. Dad didn't get around early enough to read the paper over breakfast, and he could always find a copy of the Daily World at work to read, so we didn't subscribe to it. (Was that OK?) The Tribune he had time to read when he got home from work. I learned to read upside down so that I could read the funnies before he was done with them.

In college, our fraternity subscribed to the Boston Globe and later added the tabloid Herald at the urging of some brothers native to the area. Scattered about the fraternity commons you'd also find the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal -- and the Tulsa Tribune. I subscribed by mail so I could keep up with politics back home -- I kept my voter registration in Oklahoma and voted by absentee ballot. During a prolonged stay in the infirmary, a fraternity brother brought by a paper every morning. Sunday afternoons at the fraternity were lazy and quiet, brothers slumped on the chairs and sofas in commons, paging their way through the Sunday editions, while gnawing on fresh bagels from Kupel's Bakery. (Our ZBT chapter had a bagel chairman responsible for making the Sunday morning run to Kupel's.)

I still appreciate it when I'm traveling and the hotel provides copies of the local paper, instead of or in addition to USA Today. Hampton Inns are usually pretty good about that. I enjoy getting a sense of the local politics, and, if I visit often enough or stay long enough, to begin to know who the players are. Even if the presentation is one-sided, you can still get a feel for what the big issues are.

I loved reading the English-language Filipino newspapers during my summer in Manila. Despite 50 years as an American possession, they had developed a completely different set of English phrases for talking about the political process, plus you had the Filipino habit of referring to politicians by their nicknames, even in the classier papers. "Ninoy" -- Benigno Aquino -- was much in the news that summer of 1983, as he prepared to return home from exile in the United States. (A visit to the websites of Manila's papers reveals that a lot of homogenization with the rest of the English-speaking world has taken place.)

My favorite British paper: The Daily Telegraph.

That's all I got. Other Okie bloggers are writing much better stuff on the topic, and I'll post links tomorrow.

Fun "facts" about blogs


For your amusement: If you're wondering what this "blog" thing is, Frank J. has some timely warnings. For example:

* Blogs can simply turn on you at anytime for any reason. They attack without thought or provocation. Thus, make sure to always stay away from them and to disparage them in the media.

* A blog will use a dark art called the "hyperlink" to "link" to what you say in an attempt to slander you. If you see any blog using a hyperlink against you, immediately contact law enforcement to get them to stop.

* If you see a geeky looking male or a slutty looking female in front of a laptop, he or she could be a blogger. Don't make eye contact or say anything in front of them or they will destroy you.

Pox and nits


John Owen Butler has declared this week's Okie Blogger Bash Consortium topic to be childhood diseases. I punted last week's, a topic (voting) about which I have had quite a lot to say, but you can find links to last week's entries here. I especially liked Jan's entry on voting for judges. I do wish judicial candidates would at least declare their philosophical leanings.

On to childhood diseases: I had horrible tracheal bronchitis at age 6 months, so much so that Mom was worried I wouldn't survive and so had way too many studio pictures taken of me.

Kindergarten was the year of chicken pox -- I vaguely remember taking a bath in tepid water with baking soda -- and the tonsillectomy.

The tonsillectomy was kind of fun. It was my first trip to the hospital. It was going to be in St. John, but when Mom found out she couldn't stay with me in the room, they moved me to St. Francis. After the surgery, I got to soothe my sore throat with a popsicle (orange, if I recall correctly) and was given a little stuffed goat. (Mom and Dad, feel free to write in with details I've forgotten.)

I missed all the major childhood diseases. I got mono in 7th grade, but, sadly, not because I'd been kissed. (I won't tell you how long it was until I had been, because it's too pathetic, although not atypical for a nerd boy like me. The young lady responsible reads this blog.)

Most of the interesting childhood diseases we heard about belonged to my mom's kindergarten students. It was always exciting to hear about the year's first case of chicken lice at Catoosa Elementary School and the joy of combing the children's hair, checking for nits.

Our kids have suffered from various upper respiratory ailments, including allergies and mild asthma, but all those immunizations have kept the bad stuff away, thank God. Wander through a hundred-year-old cemetery some time, note the large number of child graves, then praise God for working through scientists and physicians to turn childhood mortality from a sad but common occurrence into a rare tragedy.

TRACKBACK: Inkling of the Rough Woodsman links to this post and takes on anti-immunization zealots.

From the latest newsletter of the Annals of Improbable Research, a medical journal article deemed worthy of our attention:

"Demonstration of Oesophageal Reflux Using Live Snakes," A.C. Johnson and S. Johnson, Clinical Radiology, vol. 20, no. 1, January 1969, pp. 107-9.

"I bid you now skidoo"


If the Happy Homemaker's collection of vintage valentines isn't enough for you, Michele Catalano has more here. She calls them creepy, but some of them are kind of sweet, in a weird sort of early 20th century way. (Not the one with the electrocuted puppy, though. That's just horrible.) And they had anti-valentines back then, too. More here.

(Hat tip: Ace of Spades.)

In the same sweet Valentine's Day mood, Michele doesn't hold much hope for Cathy and Irving's future. (Not for the faint of heart or tender of ears.)

Happy Homemaker Jan remembers outdoor skating and other winter delights from growing up in the Upper Midwest:

I spent a good part of my childhood in the north: Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. We always had some good snow up there, and snow was never a deterrent for outside play as it seems to be here in Oklahoma. We played outside all day in the snow, coming in only for tomato soup and hot chocolate. ...

As I recall, many friends had small ice skating rinks in their back yards. Before it froze, the rink bottom and sides were laid out (much like a kiddie pool) and it was filled with water. The whole thing was a couple inches deep. When it froze, we would just lace up our skates and go around all afternoon.

That's just a taste -- read it all, and I've posted a comment there, too.

Jan also tells of sharing her love for snowflakes (and snowflake photographs) with her son's kindergarten class.

I'm amazed it's this low

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I am nerdier than 81% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

The summary said:

High-Level Nerd. You are definitely MIT material, apply now!!!

I'll keep that in mind.

(Found via Joseph Hertzlinger, who is much nerdier than I am.)

Next month it falls on a Sunday


PogoPossum.com, the official website of the classic Walt Kelly comic strip, is celebrating its first anniversary of operation by presenting the original 1955 strips in which we learn of Churchy La Femme's inordinate fear of Friday the 13th, which is more or less lucky depending on what day of the week it falls on in a given month. (Yes, you read that right.) The site also tells us how Kelly came up with the idea:

Some time in 1955, Walt and Helen Kelly were dining in a favorite restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut with their children -- Kathy, Carolyn and Peter, as well as Kathy's thirteen year old friend, Janet Safarik.

As usual with Walt around, the conversation engaged everyone and covered many subjects. At one point, Janet -- in reply to something long forgotten -- stated, "Well! At least, Friday the Thirteenth falls on a Saturday this month!"

Walt's ears pricked up and his full attention went to Janet. He was delighted! They discussed her concept deeply for a few moments and Walt thoughtfully made some notes on a napkin.

In February 2005, Friday the 13th falls on a Sunday, and I don't remember whether that's lucky or not.

Red dirt ranger


As a resident of Oklahoma's Green Country, where our dirt is a lovely dark brown and we enjoy an abundance of non-Martian vegetation, I can laugh at this item on Sean Gleeson's blog.

One question for the scientists involved: Weren't the tumbleweeds and prairie dogs a tip-off that something was amiss?

...when the gate agent looks at your eyes and says, "I'm sorry, sir, but you're going to have to check those."

And so to bed


Putting my blogroll in recent-update order has called my attention back to blogs I marked long ago, but haven't read in a while.

You may have noticed a couple of dead bloggers on the blogroll. One of them is Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist of 17th century London. His blog posts the entry from his diary for today's date, 343 years ago.

Here's his entry for January 5, 1661/1662:

(Lords day). Left my wife in bed not well . . . and I to church, and so home to dinner, and dined alone upon some marrow bones, and had a fine piece of rost beef, but being alone I eat none. So after dinner comes in my brother Tom, and he tells me how he hath seen the father and mother of the girl which my cozen Joyces would have him to have for a wife, and they are much for it, but we are in a great quandary what to do therein, 200l. being but a little money; and I hope, if he continues as he begins, he may look out for one with more. To church, and before sermon there was a long psalm, and half another sung out while the Sexton gathered what the church would give him for this last year. I gave him 3s., and have the last week given the Clerk 2s., which I set down that I may know what to do the next year, if it please the Lord that I live so long; but the jest was, the Clerk begins the 25th psalm, which hath a proper tune to it, and then the 116th, which cannot be sung with that tune, which seemed very ridiculous. After church to Sir W. Battens, where on purpose I have not been this fortnight, and I am resolved to keep myself more reserved to avoyd the contempt which otherwise I must fall into, and so home and six and talked and supped with my wife, and so up to prayers and to bed, having wrote a letter this night to Sir J. Mennes in the Downs for his opinion in the business of striking of flags.

Some things I found interesting in this short entry:

  • Samuel thinks his brother ought to hold out for a wife with a bigger dowry -- more than 200 pounds, which seems a pretty substantial sum for the time.
  • Money is collected for the clergy's pay only once a year, and Pepys gave a grand total of 5 shillings (1/4 of a pound) for the clerk and sexton. (I assume that the church received more substantial funds from the state and from wealthy patrons.)
  • The problem of church musicians choosing unsingable melodies or matching words with an ill-fitting tune has been around for a very long time.

The site is updated nearly every day, and each entry is generously annotated with hyperlinks for more information about the places and people Pepys writes about. It's a fascinating look into another time and place, but one that is not entirely foreign or incomprehensible.

Punny, without a grout


Eight-year-old Joseph unveiled a riddle of his own invention:

Q. What kind of roach should you use when you're sealing tile?

A. A caulk-roach.

Setup needs some work -- why should you use a roach to seal tile? -- but chuckleworthy nonetheless.



The whole family went to see "Polar Express" in IMAX 3D last night. It's very impressive technically -- falling snow seeming to whirl around you, soaring with an eagle, zooming with the train down the world's steepest grade. It was way too intense and suspenseful for our four year old, who kept protesting that she was "too tired" to watch the movie -- which is her way of saying she's scared, but she won't say she's scared because she's a big girl and her big brother isn't scared. She spent a lot of the movie in Mommy's lap, facing away from the screen, occasionally looking back over her shoulder.

The movie is like a journey into a Thomas Kinkade painting -- everything's all warm and glowing. I did get drawn into the movie, although on reflection the story's a bit thin, and disbelief unsuspended itself at several points. When I saw thousands of identically-dressed elves massed in North Pole's central plaza, I sort of expected to hear praises to Kim Jong-Il. And when the main character whispers to Santa what he wants for Christmas, I leaned over to my wife and said, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

A bit of accidental humor comes in a scene in Santa's monitoring room, when the elves on duty are alerted to a boy being naughty: He put gum in his sister's hair on Christmas eve. The boy's location: Maplewood, New Jersey, which happens to be the location of the school district that has banned perfomances of religious holiday music this year.

The South Orange and Maplewood school board shouldn't have any qualms about showing this movie at school. It is devoid of any religious references, other than the frequent use of the word "Christmas." No creches, no angels, no wise men, and especially no Jesus. In "Polar Express," Christmas is all about believing in Santa.

Still, if you can overlook that deficiency, it's an impressive film to see in IMAX 3D, and a family-friendly evening's entertainment.

UPDATE: Here's a review of the movie by Adeodatus. This quote will give you a sense of where he's coming from:

Let me say up front that I am not a big fan of the Santa myth as it has come down to us. About this time of year a few years back J. looked out the window on the drive to school and asked if Santa Claus was real. Sure he was real, I told him. I saw his bones in a box.

He goes on to compare "Polar Express" to other secular Christmas programs like "The Grinch That Stole Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life."

OOPS: Forgot to hat-tip Swamphopper of The Rough Woodsman for the link to Adeodatus's review.

Here's a fake news item about Google's plans to index rare books. It has an eerie relevance to events in Tulsa this week.

Google Brings 'Thrill of Public Library' to Your Desktop by Scott Ott

(2004-12-14) -- A cooperative venture between Google, the internet search engine company, and several major universities promises to bring "the thrill of the public library" to home and office, making it easier for millions of ordinary people to access the contents of books that few want to read.

"Studies show that 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year, and 58 percent of adults never read another book after high school," said a Google spokesman. "When this project is complete, we'll place tens of thousands of volumes of classic literature at their fingertips, where they can fail to read them in the privacy of their own homes."

If the project succeeds, the source said, public libraries could dispose of their collections of flammable dust-magnets (trade jargon for 'books') and could finally focus on their primary mission -- reheating homeless people while they surf the net at broadband speeds.

"And for those who enjoy a lazy afternoon reading a book, doing so online will enhance their enjoyment of this leisurely pursuit," said the Google source. "In fact, with a dial-up internet connection it could take as long as three leisurely minutes just to turn the page."

Scott Ott posts several satirical news items every day at ScrappleFace.com. (Unlike some humor sites on the Internet, you won't encounter vulgarity, obscenity, or profanity at ScrappleFace.com.) He has published a book of his best political satire, called Axis of Weasels. It's perfect for Christmas gift giving, and you can order it here.

Oh thank heaven... for BBC7


BBC7, the digital radio service featuring comedy, drama, and kids programs, runs repeats of classic British radio comedy like "Round the Horne," "Hancock's Half Hour," "The Burkiss Way," "I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again," and "The Goon Show," audio versions of TV shows like "Dad's Army" and "Steptoe and Son," and comedy quizzes like "The News Quiz," "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue," and "Just a Minute" -- the latter involves speaking about an arbitrary subject for one full minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation.

But until recently BBC7 went off the air from about midnight UK time until 7 in the morning -- in other words from 6 pm until 1 am Tulsa time -- the only time I could listen. And even if I was up late (not uncommon), the first programs of the day were the kids' shows.

Now BBC7 is not only 24 hours a day, but you can "listen again" to shows that aired in the course of the last week. So now you can hear a pre-Python John Cleese, along with all three of the Goodies before they were Goodies, on "I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again" at any convenient hour, day or night. Or listen to Rambling Syd Rumpo nadger his cordwangle in brilliant digital audio on this week's edition of "Round the Horne."

Follow the bouncing ball


Over on Ephemeral Isle, we learn that Monday is Rover Appreciation Day. Not Rover, the dog, or Rover, the British car marque, but a big, white spherical thing that fans of a certain '60s cult TV show will remember, and that gave this son of a fan of that certain '60s cult TV show the nightmares for a time.

After Monday, look for the item in the December archive here, along with a charming account of a tea party held by the 2 1/2 year old daughter of the curator of Ephemeral Isle.



Over on The Corner, someone wanted to know if there were any Christmas carols that mention dogs. As a fan of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo, I of course remembered that each year Pogo and friends sang the Christmas classic "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie," while resident canine Beauregard always insisted that the correct lyrics began with "Bark Us All Bow-Wows of Folly." You can find all variations on the theme here, on the official Pogo website.

Also on the website was a link to this eBay auction, which closed Wednesday, for an extensive collection of Pogo paperbacks, Christmas cards, phonograph records, comic books, figurines, buttons, and other paraphernalia. The winning bid was $24,211.42, a bargain by the looks of it. It's worth clicking that link, just to look at the thumbnails of what was for sale. Good thing I didn't see it until after the auction had closed....

You'll shoot your eye out, kid!


Back Friday evening from a short trip to Rogers, Arkansas, where we spent Thanksgiving Day with my wife's family. After the threat of snow on Wednesday, the weather was nice, with blue skies and beautiful sunsets.

Friday afternoon, my wife and I took a walk around downtown Rogers. Although Rogers must be one of the worst-planned cities in America, turning two decades of phenomenal growth and prosperity into ugly strip development that would make notably foul-mouthed urban critic Jim Kunstler invent new swear words and that will create traffic nightmares for years to come, Rogers has managed to preserve its old downtown. Not only are most of the 1890s buildings intact, they are filled with shops, offices, restaurants, and one interesting museum.

Downtown Rogers is home to the Daisy Museum, which displays the history of the famous air gun manufacturer, founded in Plymouth, Michigan, but since the late '50s based in Rogers. It's a well-organized and nicely displayed collection. As you'd expect the museum displays just about every product Daisy ever made, as well as air guns from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Even if you don't care about the guns, it's worth the visit to see the ads on display -- ads that put Daisy's products in the context of the hopes and dreams of American boys. There were ads for the Red Ryder carbine. For a 3-cent stamp, the ad explained, a boy could send off for a "Christmas reminder kit" -- cards with preprinted messages to Dad explaining the benefits of buying a Red Ryder carbine for you for Christmas. Leave one under the milk bottle or in Dad's easy chair.

Daisy didn't just target kids with their pitches: There was a cartoon ad showing a party of grownups happily firing a Daisy Targeteer, a low-powered air pistol, at a "targette", right there in the living room. Wifey sends hubby out for sandwiches -- the guests are having too much fun to leave.

(I wonder if Lileks has any Daisy ads in his collection. Maybe he can combine a visit to the museum with a tour of the bunny-sundering plant a few blocks away.)

In anticipation of Christmas, a leg lamp (the sort made famous in the movie "A Christmas Story") is on display in the front window of the museum, next to a special collector's edition set of Red Ryder and Little Beaver guns.

Also on display was Daisy's "American Boys' Bill of Rights":

WE, THE BOYS OF AMERICA - believe in these our rights: The right to Liberty, hard won by our forefathers + the right to happiness that comes with the growth of a healthy body & mind + the right to training, thoughtfully planned by parents, school & church + the right to opportunity, to live, learn, play and grown up in the time-honored traditions of a free people + and the right to learn to shoot safely. We recognize and accept the responsibility imposed by those Rights. But until we are old enough to vote we expect YOU, our fathers and mothers and other citizens who elect America's city, county, state & federal officers + to be eternally vigilant that our Rights be not abridged!

Daisy had marketing tie-ins not only with Red Ryder (comic strip and western movie series), but with Buck Rogers and Disney, too. There's a cute picture of Bobby and Annette in cowboy duds with Daisy guns in their holsters.

Daisy is still making guns, although they moved production from Rogers to Neosho, Missouri, some years ago.

A few doors down from the Daisy Museum is the old Victory Theatre. Not that many years ago it was a flea market -- used books, antiques, old records. Now it has been splendidly restored and is home to the Rogers Little Theatre.

Over on 1st Street, there's the Iron Horse Coffee Company, which has WiFi as well as coffee.

We walked into a western store and saw signs of the changing demographics of the area. The local Spanish language radio station was playing, and many of the displays for the cowboy duds were in Spanish rather than English. A mile or so west on Walnut, the Harp's Supermarket -- a typically sized supermarket from the '60s, part of a long-established area chain -- is now Harp's Supermercado. Panaderias are sprouting up around town, too.

We saw more than we wanted of the hideous strip development that now links Bentonville and Rogers along old US 71 as we looked for a place to eat lunch. The Thai restaurant we wanted to try was closed for the weekend, the AQ Chicken House in Bentonville appears to have burned to the ground, Doe's Eat Place was closed -- perhaps not open for lunch -- and we ended up in Abuelo's Mexican Embassy.

Liquor-by-the-wink is alive and well in Benton County. As we entered Abuelo's, we were asked for our membership card. I said we had no intention of ordering alcohol, but in a "dry" county, only private clubs can sell alcohol, and you can't enter a private club without being a member. So we had to fill out a slip of paper (the membership application) at the hostess' station before we were admitted. Many restaurants in the area have message boards with the legend, in very small type, "Attention Members and Guests" -- since a private club would not be advertising to non-members, right?

That's all for now. Light blogging over the next couple of days, as job demands take over. Thanks for your patience.

Pancakes in love


Ever wonder what it would look like if a cartoon character who wears a Mexican wrestling mask and boxing gloves fell in love with a wagon full of pancakes?

Wonder no more! (Macromedia Flash required.)

StrongBad hearts Wagon Fulla Pancakes

...Billy Sims Barbecue Sauce and Selmon Brothers Barbecue Sauce.

But these Sooner greats aren't just to be found in the stores. Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims has a barbecue place at the Farm Shopping Center now, where the dishes are named after the opponents of the Sooners -- e.g., the beef brisket plate is the Bevo Plate. And Outland Award winner Lee Roy Selmon (youngest brother of Lucious and Dewey) has a couple of theme restaurants in the Tampa area, where he played pro football.

In the course of "researching" this story, I came across this funny Oklahoma retelling of Hansel and Gretel -- "Harold Dean and Grettie Mae." You'll find four more Okie fairy tales linked from this page. They made me laugh so hard my wife figured out I wasn't working and told me to do some chores. Darn it.

The bees' knees


Catching up with Insect Blog, based in Stephens County, Oklahoma, which reported back in September that Africanized honeybees ("killer bees") have been confirmed in five counties in Oklahoma: Tillman, Garvin, Pottawatomie, and two others he doesn't name, in southern and western Oklahoma.

He also has photos of extracting honey from one of his hives, and an item about larvae that wear camouflage made of sawdust or other debris. I saw something like this around our house -- looked like a walking clump of lint, about the size of a sunflower seed kernel. From my perspective, it was about a subtle as the cartoon-standard tiptoeing shrubbery, but I'm sure it fooled the little fellow's predators.

How Berkeley Can You Be


Saint Kansas links to photos from last month's "How Berkeley Can You Be? Parade". Berkeley, aka Bezerkely, is home to the main campus of the University of California and is the proud capital of the Left Coast, a place so far out that it makes Cambridge, Mass., look like Altus, Oklahoma.

There are a lot of laughs here for those of us who don't have to live there, but it's obvious that the kids who are involved -- passing out anti-circumcision literature for example -- are pretty weirded out by what their polyamorist parents (two mommies, three daddies) dragged them into.

I really liked the photo of the wild-eyed Commie ranting into her megaphone.

Before I give you the link, be warned that you will find a small amount of nudity, as you might expect in a Berkeley parade. Be assured that you will find it not the least bit arousing.

Here it is.

Does Tulsa have to have parades like this in order to attract The Creative Class?

Halliburton: The awful "truth"


After the fair Jessica reads what Frank J. has written, will she still heart Halliburton? Frank J. wants to relate some things you may not have known about Halliburton (mainly because they aren't true):

* Halliburton gets its name from the last name of Lucifer Halliburton, prince of darkness.

* The cross Christ was crucified on - all Halliburton. They had sole-source on that for the Romans.

* In Iraq, Halliburton has a couple people instructed to bang a hammer against pieces of wood to pretend they're constructing something while the rest of the employees work on stealing all that sweet, sweet oil.

* Halliburton saves money on labor by using slave labor. They save money on slave drivers by just giving whips to angry gorillas.

Go read it all.

From an episode of "Round the Horne", the classic British comedy radio sketch show from the late '60s

As I got up to leave, he offered me a limp hand.

"Have a limp hand."

"No thanks, I've already got two."

The music of "The Doomsday Machine"


Of today's Bleat, James Lileks says, "I think this will be the stupidest, most geeked-out thing Ive ever written."

Lileks reminisces about the record bin at Woolworth's, about the soundtrack album for "When Eagles Dare", about Star Trek (the original series):

When that last episode of Star Trek aired you could almost imagine the Enterprise towing the prospect of additional cool sci-fi off into the inky star-flecked void with it. From here on it was Hee Haw and the Jeffersons. But by 1973 Trek was running in syndication, and I watched them all with slavish devotion. I had to leave halfway through every episode, though; had a paper route.

Naturally, I quit the paper route.

Long time Bleat readers are probably thinking Oh fer chrissakes hes not going to bring up the fargin Doomsday Machine, again? Hello! Rigel to Lileks! Enough! Its just a TV show! Of course. But now I know why it made such an impression then, and why I enjoy it now. A few months ago a reader emailed me re: a bleat concerning music cues in TV; he said the Trek music cues were actually scored to the individual episodes. I thought that was odd they seemed to recycle the same cues over and over again. They didnt write scores for individual episodes, did they?

Well, imagine my surprise. There were a few scores written for specific episodes, and their highlights were recycled over and over. On Amazon I found the soundtrack for The Doomsday Machine, and of course I snapped it up. It arrived last Wednesday. To my surprise this score, written for the Doomsday episode, is the source of half the series' cues. But they're intended to belong together, and thats one of the reasons the episode works like few others: it has a unique symphonic score. Played start to finish, it holds together.

Lileks favors us with images from the episode and brief excerpts from the episode's soundtrack and commentary like this:

Sol worked hard on this one, and it burrowed its way into the brains of untold Trek lovers. Put it this way: hes the reason that several dozen million people subconsciously associate a rising melody on a bassoon with Spocks arched eyebrow.

Although I left Trekkiehood behind years ago (just after freshman year in high school, if I remember correctly), these orchestral cues clear away for a moment all the things we love to ridicule about the original series -- Bill Shatner's scenery-chewing, the cheesy special effects, those expendable redshirts, and all the other cliches -- to let me recall the magical hold Star Trek had on my young imagination.

Great googly moogly


Lynn of Reflections in d minor links to the results of a worldwide survey of 1000 linguists, which asked what words (English or otherwise) are the most untranslatable into other languages. Googly, a tricky pitch (sorry, bowl) in cricket, was number five on the list of untranslatable English words.

A word translates easily when the same concept exists in two different cultures. Sometimes a concept described by a word is unusual but not unheard of in the second, and you might be able to translate the word with a short phrase. When you need a whole paragraph (and possibly photographs and diagrams) to explain a word, you've got something truly untranslatable.

An untranslatable word often becomes a borrowed word, when it corresponds to an idea that has yet to receive a name in the second language. The Arabic word altahmam (a kind of deep sadness) and the Portugese word saudade (a type of longing) might come in handy when trying to express shades of emotion, just as that box of 64 crayons lets you draw with more subtlety than the box of 8.

I tried to find out more about selathirupavar, a Tamil word for a sort of truancy, but a Google search instead turned up versions of the article about untranslatable words in dozens of languages.

I wasn't familiar with one word in the top 10 English untranslatables: bumf, which this site says is short for bum-fodder, a term that goes back to the 17th century to refer to printed matter useful only to be hung in the privy for sanitary purposes. Outdated issues of the Sears Roebuck catalog, for example. Fishwrap comes to mind as a near-synonym. Bumf is ripe for borrowing. I see possibilities in the Latin equivalent anitergium for forming derivative words -- e.g., anitergic literature, which should be filling your mailbox as election day draws near, or which appears on your doorstep daily, if you're a Whirled subscriber.

Pre-radio adventure


One of the few advantages of doing a weekly guest shot at 6:40 am instead of early evening -- everyone else in the house is asleep and less prone to be the cause of a pre-show crisis, like the one James Lileks had Monday, before his weekly chat with Hugh Hewitt.

Frank J. has more fun facts on offer today:

* It's a myth that Michael Moore never bathes... he just does it nacho cheese sauce.

* John Candy died soon after appearing in Canadian Bacon. It is unknown how many other people Michael Moore's films have killed.

* Though a millionaire, Michael Moore is often stopped on the streets by hobos who offer him hygiene advice.

Cheap shots, yes, but well-deserved.

Lynn at Reflections in d minor calls our attention to a delightful website called Tales of Future Past. If you've been wondering why 21st Century Man isn't whizzing about cloud cities with atomic-powered jetpacks, you need to pay this site a visit.

The site's creator, David Szondy, also has a blog, called The Ephemeral Isle, which some days has a Bleat-like recounting of the days events, sometimes a photo or illustration with a new caption.

Here's a bit from his May 1st entry:

I read an article a while back with the headline Are Men Obsolete? I didnt give it more than a seconds glance. It was the sort of piece that editors run every couple of years in the misguided belief that its sensational instead of fatuous. Ive been reading that sort of thing about men, pubs, PCs, Western civilisation, white men, white Europeans in particular, and the human race in general over the past thirty years and they all have the same tone. Some tidbit of information about parthenogenesis, we-based applications, wine bars, immigration, or even the weather was the turning point that would herald the extinction of the item in question with the writer, in a fit of revealing wishful thinking, implying that no great loss would be involved. Normally, I dont give any thought to this sort of boilerplate journalism, except that I couldnt help thinking that the answer to are men obsolete? is: Not as long as women keep moving house.

Start there and scroll down. Don't miss "Famous Last Moments" or "Religion Moves with the Times".

Toad surfing


We are working on the seven-year-old's spring project. At his school, 1st through 4th graders do an individual project each semester, giving them a chance to explore an area of interest in depth and then put together some sort of display to explain it to classmates and parents. Last semester Joseph did the aerodynamics of paper airplanes. This semester, it's toads.

While looking up some info on the web about toads, I found a few interesting items:

Here is an exposé of a three-headed frog story that made the British tabloids this March. The author of the page says it looks like three frogs in amplexus -- a mating ball -- and quotes someone saying that during amplexus frogs and toads secrete mucus to make them stick together better. The same page has a link near the bottom to an amazing little film. Do not follow that link if work somewhere with amphibian employees, as it may tend to create a hostile work environment for them.

Another link on that page leads to this fascinating diary of life in a garden in Aldershot, Hampshire, England. One section of the diary tracks the lifecycle of frogs and newts in the garden pond. There are some astounding photos of frog embryos. And the proprietor of the site is kind enough to tell us how he managed to take those amazing pictures. Elsewhere on the site is a webcam installed in a birdhouse, which has been watching a nest of Great Tits -- the babies are about two weeks old.

or ever had one, you will appreciate this account of the aftermath of a Durham Bulls game from Silflay Hraka:

We then departed, this time to the wails of Ngnat, who felt she had been promised a balloon animal at some point in the evening, and was not shy about letting the world know that she had been damnably cheated.

For two solid blocks she alternately sobbed, then wailed "I-hi wa-hant a-ha ba-loo-hoon an-i-mal-hal!" to the world.

It was her first public tantrum. It was great. I took pictures, though she took to hiding behind her mother in order to prevent me from doing so.

The louder she wailed, the harder it became for SW and I.

Not that we were upset. Far from it. It was all we could do to hide our giggles from her.

Read the whole thing. There's a sweet picture of Ngnat in mid-wail. And the story has a happy ending.

Another story about the lamentable spread of American litigiousness, from the Telegraph:

The arrival of the American-style compensation culture is turning open spaces and public parks into dreary, fun-free, soulless places, the Government's architecture and building advisers said yesterday.

Bouncy castles, ancient trees, boating lakes, adventure playgrounds, public art and even firework displays on windy days, such as the celebrations in Edinburgh last New Year, are all victims of the trend to stop or take down anything that might have the slightest risk attached....

Ruth Holmes, of Groundwork, said: "We can't go for as exciting a playground as we'd like - swings and roundabouts and things like that - because they need to be checked and, if there was a danger, they would have to be closed down.

"We are hoping now to have some static stuff, such as a mound-like fort with a slide and some fixed parallel bars."

A council officer said: "We were worried that children could vandalise the equipment and take bolts out. We are trying to get equipment as tamper-proof as possible. We can't risk somebody being hurt."

The trouble with static equipment is that it is extremely boring to play on, said Cabe, and play areas are now being built where children have no wish to play.

I blogged a while ago about the Toronto School District's removal of all playground equipment for safety reasons, and about the joy of finding "dangerous" old-fashioned equipment still in place and in use in Independence, Kansas.

This move away from fun playground equipment must be a boon to the backyard swingset industry.

Spring hath sprung


We knew spring had arrived, a bit ahead of schedule, back on March 8. The Bradford pear tree in the back yard was about to blossom. It was just a day or so past the full moon, we'd had some big rains, and that night we heard the trilling of a toad next to our backyard pond. The chorus grew and by Saturday we spotted a pair of toads in the pond, um, riding piggyback. This last Monday there were 9 toads in the pond at night, mostly lonely boy toads, pitching noisy woo. On the 17th, we had 17 in the pond, matching last year's peak attendance.

Apparently, our pond received some good word-of-vocal-sac referrals during the off-season. Thursday afternoon there were 22 and by 10 o'clock that night there were 32. It was like a little Woodstock: music, mud, and free love. As it was for the grownups back in '69, it was hard for us outsiders to tell which were the boys and which were the girls, and we had the impression that the toads weren't so sure themselves.

The townies -- the goldfish who are the permanent residents of the pond -- seemed bemused by the noisy, busy tourists in their midst and did their best not to get in the way, but the bigger fish in particular seemed agitated by all the frantic activity.

Thursday night was also when the first strand of little black pearls appeared -- tadpoles-to-be -- and by Friday evening, toad eggs were laced all through the water hyacinths in the middle of the pond.

Friday evening the numbers were down -- back to about 17, mostly singles, having a sing-song round the pool. When they got quiet, my son got them going again with his uncanny and amazing toad call. (Somehow he can trill his tongue and whistle at the same time.) We came across a very tired looking female (we think) resting in the grass nearby. We should start to see the tadpoles hatch in a week or so, and then watch them grow legs, lose their tails, and leave the pond.

(Here's a link about toads in fish ponds and the toad lifecycle.)

Tonight the weather turned cold and the pond is toad-free. And spring is definitely here.

Arcade games from Big Idea


Big Idea, the makers of two hit video kids series -- Veggie Tales and 3-2-1 Penguins -- has a great selection of free arcade games online.

No fees, no registration required, no popups. The games use Java and Shockwave, so you may need to install plugins for your browser.

Although we have a big collection of Veggie Tales videos, I hadn't known about this site until I saw a link on National Review Online's "The Corner" to this game, which involves using a slingshot to launch someone into a spaceship. Planets form obstacles and also exert gravitational influence on the flight path. You can set up some interesting orbits, which make pretty Spirograph-like designs and gain you extra points. There's a new version of the same concept, called "Doom Funnel Chasers", with some more challenging layouts. In this one, you have to fling a ball of duck tape into a sort of black home.

Other favorites include an enhanced version of Breakout, and Jerry's Cheeseburger Madness, which will look familiar to 1980s arcade fans.

It is all kid-friendly and kid-safe, but lots of fun for grownups too. Check it out.

Found this via Lileks: A collection of 365 audio clips, one for every day of 2003. These bits and pieces form no coherent pattern, except that they are all amusing. Here are some examples:

The links above will remain active, but the MP3 files they link to will vanish on January 5, so visit soon. There are ways to get to the MP3s after the 5th, explained on the main page linked above. Because you don't want to miss hearing, one more time after all these years, that '70s public service ad about VD (as we called it the olden days), a tune that will burrow its way into your brain like a T. pallidum bacterium. "Veee Deee... is for ev'reeebuddee!"

A very Lileks Christmas


James Lileks' Bleat returned from a brief hiatus earlier this week with notes on his family's Christmas observances. From Monday, about his three-year-old's dance recital:

Theres a vast difference between remembering Dad coming to your recital and being Dad at the recital. The first is a memory that dead-ends with you; the latter connects you to him and to all the kids and dads to come.

From Tuesday, the Christmas lights bus tour from hell:

We went up Portland, which had no lights, turned to Chicago, which had fewer. Our host told us that wed do Minnehaha parkway, which was no doubt blazing with lights, then tour lovely Summit Avenue in St. Paul, where the plutocrats mansions would no doubt dazzle the eye; then the Lakes in Minneapolis, then home. ...

Summit had some lights, but by then peoples expectations had been raised too high. We wanted to see floodlit spectaculars complete with a dozen elves with perpetually-firing Roman Candles implanted in their buttocks. ...

Nothing so improves a dreary experience like the realization that it will yield a story we can embellish. Give us five years, and the bus will be pulled by donkeys, the temperature in the minus 20s, the liquor nothing more than paint thinner and windshield-wiper fluid.

From Wednesday, a shopping trip to the oddly-quiet Mall of America, and thoughts on '30s, '50s, and '70s nostalgia:

It is every generations duty to ridicule the music and fashion of the generations that follow, but I am happy to live in an age when I know my judgments are not colored by creeping codgerism but empirical truth. Today, for example, I saw a kid I went to junior high school with and by that I mean I saw a note-for-note version of the nightmare styles of 1973. Leather choker. Big mop of curly untamed hair. Burnt-umber T-shirt hanging over baggy jeans. Unkempt and goofy. ...

Weve had 30 years to study these fashions, and the results are conclusive: they suck. They dont make anyone look good. They are particularly injurious to someone whose face is dotted with the Vesuvian boils of adolescence. I know its a played out meme, but please: we need "80s Eye for the 70s guy. Someone shave these mutts and put em in Ray-bans and Izod just so they realize there are alternatives to looking like a roadie for the Foghat Fool For the City tour.

And today's entry, with a nice early '60s view of Southdale, the First Shopping Mall, decked out for Christmas, links to a couple of worthy charities, and outtakes from the Christmas card photo shoot. The final page has the final version of the card -- very cute -- and an intriguing link about which more in the next entry.

Yes, I believe you are...


I was in western New York on business for a couple of days last week, and drove past a sign for this establishment. It's interesting how your brain parses words:


Hats off!


Puzzled by pork-pies? Baffled by berets? Wondering how to measure your head? All is answered at hats-online.com. If you can't remember the difference between a homburg and a derby, or are looking to buy a top hat or a newsboy's cap, this site looks like a good resource. No idea if this is a good place to buy from, but it's an interesting browse anyway.

A bit of Internet serendipity:

The news reached me that longtime BBC weatherman Michael Fish was being put out to pasture for the sin of being almost 60 and not at all telegenic. I remember watching his nightly forecasts during business trips to the UK.

The article was an op-ed piece by Conservative MP Boris Johnson, who referred to Fish's "sex maniac's moustache".

It may have been his permanently bashful air. It may have been his sex maniac's moustache. Perhaps it was something to do with the way he goggled at the camera in the manner of a rattled maths master asked at the last minute to give out the prizes. It may have been the colossal Britishness of Fish, not just evinced by his constant talk of weather, but his faint air of apology for the frost and the drizzle and the general damp. It may have been the unremitting politeness with which he broke the bad news about tomorrow's downpour, like a man in the Tube, reluctantly tugging your sleeve to announce that you are treading on his toe.

The piece goes on to present some interesting stats on weather forecasting -- you would attain a 76% accuracy rating if you always predicted that tomorrow will be just like today. (That may be true in England. I doubt it's true in Oklahoma.)

I only vaguely remembered what Michael Fish looked like, and couldn't imagine what kind of mustache fit that description (Daliesque? Fu Manchu? Toothbrush?), so I googled his name and found a photo here, along with a bio. (That link no longer works, but here is a gallery on Michael Fish's own website, showing the evolution of his facial hair over the decades.) Further googling led me to the lyrics to a song by Rowan Atkinson in praise of Mr. Fish.

[Rowan] Atkinson: Michael Fish, quite simply the most charismatic figure in the history... of entertainment.

[Angus] Deayton and Singers: He tells it straight... to the nation... every night... he's an inspiration... He tells the truth...

Atkinson: He does, he tells it to you, he tells it to you.

Deayton and Singers: Monday to Friday...

Atkinson: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and sometimes Saturday and Sunday.

Deayton and Singers: His moustache... is always tidy...

The site with the lyrics looked interesting -- a tribute to something called "Chart of the Flops", which appears to have been a radio program similar to Dr. Demento. Here is the list of songs that made the chart in its 10 year history, with lyrics for many of them. Included are Dr. Demento standards and classic American novelty tunes like "Fish Heads", "Monster Mash", "Hello Mudduh", "Der Fuehrer's Face", several selections each from Weird Al, They Might Be Giants, and Tom Lehrer, along with their counterparts from across the pond -- Monty Python, Peter Sellers, the Goons, the Goodies.

One of the songs on the list was "The Highway Code" by the Master Singers, which is apparently the British rules of the road set to music. I have not hear that, but years ago I heard another one of their songs on Dr. Demento -- "Weather Report", which was a weather forecast set in Anglican chant and sung to perfection. (It may not sound much to you, but it had me laughing.) I googled the Master Singers and found this <"https://web.archive.org/web/20040426083634/http://textstyle.ca/blog/archives/000452.html">blog entry, which contained a link to an MP3 file of "Weather Report".

Both "Highway Code" and "Weather Report" hit the British charts in 1966. The songs were produced by George Martin, who also was producer for the Beatles. One website (which has a good description of Anglican chant) says that the Master Singers later became the King's Singers (who have a new Christmas album), but I see nothing on the King's Singers website mentioning that, although the group unofficially began at Cambridge a year before the two singles reached the charts. But this page says the group consisted of four teachers from Abingdon School, and that they backed Peter Sellers on a cover of the Beatles' "Help!"

I had googled this before, but had always come up empty in the past. Which brings us back to the weather and Michael Fish, which is what started me down this path.

Go and have a listen to the weather report.

UPDATE: You can hear the current shipping forecast -- one is included in the Master Singers' version -- at the BBC weather website, which has a map explaining what Forties Cromarty Dogger Fisher German Bight means. Link courtesy Two Chaps Talking, who say: "Listening to the Shipping News on a short wave radio, or indeed via their website, is a rare delight and should be enjoyed regularly for its calming effect."

UPDATE again: Fixed a link above, which was to a blog category rather than the permanent link to the blog entry. Also, someone reported to me he clicked on the link for the MP3 file and was greeted with a very rude ad about body part enlargement. I double-checked and nothing like that happened to me -- I suspect the computer he's using has some spyware on it, or else the previous site he visited "respawned" and popped up a window as he left it. Anyway, please know that I will not deliberately link you to something rude, so if something like this happens to you, please e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com and let me know.

Yet another UPDATE: A thoughtful reader from the UK has sent a link to an MP3 of "The Highway Code" by the Master Singers. Be aware that these files may disappear at any time, and be considerate of the bandwidth of those who are hosting them. Another reader, with an e-mail address from the Royal College of Music, writes:

Actually, two of the Master Singers (including Geoffrey Keating) were teachers at Cheadle Hulme School, Cheshire. They were there by 1965. Geoffrey Keating moved on to Millfield in 1970. They may all have been at Abingdon before 1965, I suppose. Members of the Master Singers and the King Singers were friends (a Cambridge connection probably), and the Kings Singers came to sing at Cheadle Hulme, but I don't think that there was any overlap in membership. The Master Singers were a few years older than the first Kings Singers, as I recall.

One more UPDATE (1 October 2004): A reader points out, correctly, that this isn't plainsong at all, it's Anglican chant, which is harmonized, while plainsong is unison.

Another UPDATE (26 September 2006): On the anglican-music mailing list earlier this year, John Botari believes he has identified the three chants used for "Weather Forecast":

I once took the trouble to figure out which chants were used for The Weather Forecast; there are three of them (sung A-B-C-B-A).

Here's what I came up with:

A - George Mursell Garrett (1834-97)
The only place that I could find this one was
at #268 in the ECUSA Anglican Chant Psalter,
in Ab. (Certainly *not* where the Mastersingers
found it!)

B - W. Taylor
Found (in Db) at #232 in The Parish Psalter
with Chants
(ed. Sydney Hugo Nicholson), or
(in D) at #129 and #335 in the Oxford Chant
Book No. 1

c - Stephen Elvey (1805-60)
Found (in G) at #116 in The Parish Psalter,
or (in F) at #9 and #342 in the ECUSA Anglican
Chant Psalter

Yet another UPDATE (7 May 2007): Helen Keating, wife of Geoff Keating, one of the Mastersingers (using her spelling), has written me with the definitive account of the Mastersingers, the Highway Code, and the Weather Report.

MORE, MORE (30 October 2008): Brien K. Meehan has produced a printable transcription of the Mastersingers' Weather Forecast with words and four-part music.

UPDATED broken Michael Fish-related links on 17 August 2015, thanks to the Internet Archive (to which you should donate).

The best paper airplane


Every semester, grade school students at Regent Preparatory School do a semester project. Students pick a subject that interests them, do some sort of activity related to that interest, and then put together a visual presentation about what they did.

Joseph is doing his first project this year, and he chose paper airplanes for his topic. When I was in Savannah, I found a great book called Amazing Paper Planes, by Edward Hui, and brought it home as a gift for Joe. A couple of weekends ago we built and tested most of the patterns in the book, all of which can be made from a single sheet of paper, and most of which require no cutting or taping. The book includes explanations of the aerodynamics of paper planes, and, crucially, how to diagnose problems with a plane's flight and make appropriate adjustments.

The star performer was the paperang, a craft that looks more like a hang glider than a traditional paper dart. Released (not thrown) from about 6 feet, the plane swoops down then glides along inches above the floor before coming to a landing. It can do some fancy flying when launched like a boomerang.

The author now has a website devoted to the paperang design, where you can view instructions and construction photos. For a fee you can download a printable version. All you need is a sheet of paper, a pair of scissors, and a stapler -- one staple in the middle to hold it together.

UPDATE 1/3/2006: Corrected author's name.

Elephant on the run


A reader writes:

I have heard more than one person comment that it is not surprising that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have not been found, considering the difficulty Oklahoma law enforcement has had in finding suspected killer Scott Eizember in Bristow. It occurred to me that the difficulty capturing Eizember not surprising when one recalls that it once took an entire summer to capture an escaped elephant in Oklahoma.

Does anyone else remember this? To the best of my recollection, it was the summer of 1977, or thereabouts. I don't remember if the elephant escaped from a traveling circus, or from the one that used to winter near Hugo. I do remember a summer of scattered elephant sightings. At one point the elephant was actually surrounded, then managed to escape and disappear again.

Anyone else recall this?

Thoughtful, humorous, nostalgic, ironic -- lileks.com is one of my favorite places on the web.

Some Lileks highlights I meant to link to last week:

On Monday, a tribute to Chernobog, the demonic figure in the "Night on Bare Mountain" sequence of "Fantasia". The links at the end about Chernobog's animator are interesting to follow, as is Lileks' explanation why "Night on Bare Mountain" is a more appealing piece of music than "Rite of Spring", another piece featured in the original "Fantasia":

Caffé Bona


Had lunch at Kim Long's today and as we were driving away I noticed a newly opened Internet cafe on the north side of 81st, east of Memorial, advertising free wireless Internet access. It's called Caffe Bona. I didn't stop in today, but will be interested to check it out at some point. It's hard to imagine an Internet coffee shop working as a place you reach by car -- perhaps they'll draw clientele from the apartment complex within walking distance.

With a name like Caffe Bona, I'm guessing the place is run by Julian and his friend Sandy, filling in between acting engagements.

(I'd be interested in knowing how many Tulsa readers have any idea what that last paragraph is all about.)

UPDATE: Since no one e-mailed to say, "I get it! Ha, ha!", I'll explain myself in the extended entry below.

Despite the wonder about a wireless internet cafe in a suburban context, I am thrilled that someone is opening such an establishment in Tulsa, and I wish them all the best. I really enjoyed the Internet cafe I frequented in Savannah, and I hope the idea spreads quickly to Midtown and Downtown.

Let's not give the Tulsa County Commission any ideas. ...

(Hat tip to Moxie.)

Paul Greenberg is one of my favorite columnists. He writes beautifully, picturesquely, about politics, culture, international affairs, and faith. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for editorial writing. A native of Shreveport, he spent 27 years as editorial writer for the Pine Bluff Commercial, and has been editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 1992. His columns on Southern culture are worth reading and rereading.

Nearly every year, he recycles a couple of favorite summertime columns. One is on the joys of fresh Bradley County Pink tomatoes:

No words can capture the experience itself. The annual ritual in June becomes habit by July. To recapture the thrill, take one Bradley County Pink. Note the vivid color, the simple heft, the way it was made for the human hand. Do not delay, but do not hurry, either. Pause to appreciate the ripeness slowly achieved over the past few days. Don't forget to enjoy the scent -- with eyes closed. Breathe deeply. Then slice evenly, noting the fine texture. Be careful of the juice. No, don't taste yet. Barely sprinkle with just a little coarse salt, then make a tomato sandwich using two slices of brown bread and very little, just the lightest little hint, of unsalted butter, nothing more. Now. And you know what time itself tastes like.

The second classic is his annual list of 50 ways to cool off in the dog days of summer:

9. Take siestas; arrange to live in the early morning and after twilight.

10. Don't hurry back, or anywhere else. If you must hurry, do it slowly.

20. Have a tall cold one. With a hot dog. At a minor league ballpark. Luxuriate in the nostalgia. My recommendation: Ray Winder Field in Little Rock, Ark.

31. Walk on the shady side of the street, of course. (Visitors from Up No'th have to be reminded.) Also park there. Whoever designed the treeless parking lots around shopping malls should have to park in one every day in August. Let the punishment fit the crime.

Go and savor it all. And while you're at it, sample the rest of his insights.

Life in Belize North


Came across a fascinating website. An American computer professional and his wife retired to the town of Corozal in northern Belize. The website provides a wonderfully rich description of life there. It covers the practical and financial details of their life.

There is also a full page of diner food recipes, and a technique for taking cold showers.

Bob and Ray on urban renewal


Someone sent me this -- a Bob and Ray bit with Ray as Hubert C. Waxford, chairman of the "Far Sighted Planners for Urban Renewal":

Bob: I understand you put forth a number of new theories on urban renewal from your office in Washington.

Waxford: I did have an office in Washington, but it was torn down on the recommendation of another urban renewal planner.

Bob: Well, in any event....

Waxford: I'll get him for that, too, if it's the last thing I ever do. Yeah, he turned my office into a parking lot for his office....

Later, Waxford demonstrates more far-sighted urban renewal ideas:

Waxford: Now for instance, I recently calculated that Tucson, Arizona, could become a city of one million if it had a good harbor on the Pacific Ocean. But we'd have to tear down San Diego and replace it with Tucson to do that. However, I'm hoping that some of the people who had to move away when we tore all the buildings down may eventually come back. If they do, they'll find that it's much better planned than it used to be.

Bob: Well, I'm sure that's true, and you've given us all a better understanding of how you improve communities by destroying them, Mr. Waxford....

They really nail the urban renewal ethos. You can hear it on Bob and Ray: The Lost Episodes, Volume Three.

I first saw this silly animation last fall, when Jonah Goldberg linked to it in NRO's The Corner. It's no longer (for some reason) on its original site, rathergood.com, but this brilliant piece, wherein Luciano Pavarotti declares his appreciation for pachyderms, is still there and worth a look. (You will need Macromedia Flash installed to view the files.) Likewise you might want to see the Gerbiloons dancing to "Shiny, Happy People", and some fun with misheard Beatle lyrics.

A cautionary note: While everything on rathergood.com is strange, some of it is also rather crude, so you may not want to browse the site randomly. The selections I've linked, however, are offensive only to those who object to marauding Danish felines singing Led Zep and breeding giant rodents for use as airships. And the Pavarotti thing really is a must-see for you opera buffs. (And yes, that's really him singing and those are really the words he's singing. Or at least what they sound like in English.)

Scientia omnia vincit


From the MIT Class of 1987 class news. (Thanks again to Dave Russ.)

Carrie and Ryan Fong* thought that many like-minded MIT classmates might
get a kick out of the following story pertaining to a number of contests
they entered late last year. I know I did:

76 (gas stations) had a promotion for customers to try to guess the number
of 76 antenna balls that would fit into a Chevy Trailblazer. The contest ran
for 8 weeks with the person with the closest guess (without going over) in
each of the 8 weeks winning a new Trailblazer. I didn't find out about the
contest until it was well into the 3rd week. The primary rules of the
contest were that you could enter as many times as you would like, but that
only one winner per household would be allowed. Each entry had to be on an
official form obtainable only from 76 stations, and filled out by hand. The
winner each week was not announced until all 8 weeks had passed (that would
be too easy if they didn't have that rule).

I rented out a Chevy Trailblazer and filled it with packing peanuts to help
determine the interior volume. Using a little math & science related to
sphere packing densities, I estimated the number of antenna balls that might
fit into the space. While there is math for sphere packing in an ordered
manner, and even experimental results for random packing of spheres, there
are factors unique to this contest that had to be considered, including how
the spheres contact the irregularly-shaped container (vehicle walls), as
well as the effects of surface friction and mass of the antenna balls. After
making some educated guesses about the ranges of variation that were
probable, I came up with a distribution of guesses.

Meanwhile, I gathered up in excess of 6,000 entry blanks from 76 stations
throughout the area (picture a stack of entry blanks almost 3 feet tall),
and with the assistance of friends and family (none living in the same
household), proceeded to complete and submit the entries We submitted
approximately 1200 entries a week for the final 5 weeks of the contest, with
slight shifts in the guess distribution to more thoroughly cover the guess

Because of the relatively tight range of my required guess distribution, we
actually hit most numbers very close to the central guess twice. In deciding
how to distribute the guesses, I had to decide how confident I was of my
calculations (tighten the distribution), and whether I wanted to maximize my
chances of winning at least one vehicle (spread out the distribution), or of
winning multiple vehicle (tighten the distribution). Well, I'm happy to say
that we won 4 out of the last 5 Trailblazers - we had the correct number
one week and were low by 1, 2 & 4 on the other weeks that we won. The week
we lost, we were actually low by 5 antenna balls. I was bummed to have
missed my clean sweep, but I spoke with a couple of other MIT classmates and
discovered that the same contest was going on in another state. I was able
to provide one classmate with my guess distributions in time for him to win
the last Trailblazer in his region!

The "Tick Tock Toys" section of "The Imaginary World" has images from a 1970s catalog of playground equipment. The cover image is of the "Space Cruiser", which bears a slight resemblance to the original USS Enterprise. They had one of these in the park near my cousins' house in Midwest City; as a trekkie of 9 or 10, I thought it was very cool. Last time I was by there, a couple of years ago, it was still in use.

The "Tick Tock Toys" page is full of commercial baby boomer nostalgia. There are images of food you begged your parents to buy (like Space Food Sticks), very un-PCdrink mixes, and much more. Go have a rummage through the images of our collective past.

Hans Kistner sends along links to a 2-minute Honda ad, which uses the parts of a Honda Accord in a sort of Rube Goldberg / "Mouse Trap" arrangement, a chain of reactions that begins with movement of a single part. It took over 600 takes to get this to work perfectly -- no trick photography or special effects.. The Daily Telegraph tells how the commercial was made.

The bigshots at Honda's world headquarters in Japan, when shown Cog for the first time, replied that yes, it was very clever, and how impressive trick photography was these days. When told that it was all real, they were astonished.

One of the more striking moments in the film is when a lone windscreen wiper blade helicopters through the air, suspended from a line of metal twine. "That was the first and last time it worked properly," recalls Tony Davidson, of the London-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. "I wanted it to look like ballet."

After that, a few yards and several ingenious connections down the assembly line, another pair of windscreen wiper blades is squirted by an activated washer jet. Because Honda wipers have automatic sensors that can detect water, they start a crablike crawl across the floor. It is as though they have come to life.

Go see it. It is very cool.

A web search for photos of old-time playground equipment (of the sort they have at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas) turned up this little essay by Bill Van Dyk about a decision to tear down every playground in the Toronto school district despite the fact that the old equipment was safe:

What happened was this. An inspector from Ottawa had created a report that laid out some guidelines for new playground equipment, with the laudable goal of ensuring that they would be as safe as possible. The new guidelines were better than the old guidelines, of course. Some clever people have found ways to build playground equipment that is safer than ever before.

The Toronto School Board, having received their new guidelines, hired an inspector from a private service to check all of their playground equipment to see if they conformed with the new guidelines. They did not, of course. The old playground equipment is, well, old.

As it turns out, the old playground equipment was not very bad at all. Out of the hundreds of thousands of children who had played on them, no one had ever been killed, nor, apparently, were there many serious injuries. In fact, more children are injured on the paved areas of the playground and the yard than on the playground equipment.

Still, no cost is too high when it comes to children's safety. Except for the cost of common sense and rationality. The Toronto School Board ordered 172 sets of old playground equipment removed, on the off chance that someone, some day, might get hurt really bad.

Just back from a weekend trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to see my cousin graduate from high school. We made some stops on the way there and back to give Dad a break and let the kids run around.

On the way home tonight, we stopped for nearly two hours at Riverside Park in Independence, Kansas. Independence is a little city of about 10,000, county seat of Montgomery County. Like most Kansas county seats, it is a beautiful town, with tree-lined streets of tidy Late Victorian and Craftsman homes, a stately courthouse, and a downtown of beautifully restored commercial buildings which appear to be fully occupied.

Riverside Park sits on the north side of town, 124 acres above the banks of the Caney River, and features a small zoo, two playgrounds, an antique carousel, a lighted fountain, miniature golf, a miniature train ride, and tennis courts.

Our first stop on entering the park was the big playground near the Carousel. This is where Joe (nearly 7) wanted to spend his time. Visiting the playground is like traveling through time, starting with big metal behemoths probably built in the '50s, through '60s fiberglass bouncy horses, earth-toned climbing equipment from the '70s, up through a plastic play complex from the late '90s.

The behemoths to which I refer are old but very well maintained pieces of equipment which were designed with the assumption of a level of acceptable risk in child play which exceeds that of our safety-conscious age:

  • A 12 foot high platform, providing access to five slides -- two straight and flat, two straight but wavy, and a curly slide -- reached by two steep metal ladders. The platform has a "guard rail" about 18 inches high, just high enough to catch a grownup's feet as he falls off and ensure that he hits the ground head first. The steps of these ladders are wrought iron manifestations of the the words "FUN FUL", which I take to be the manufacturer's name. I only found one reference to such a company on the web, a photo of a merry-go-round ride called an "Ocean Wave", circa 1920. I remember something very much like that in the playground in front of Catoosa Elementary School, and I think I saw one in Seiling Park in Broken Arrow within the last 10 years (no longer there).
  • A twelve-foot high "fire tower" featuring a big hole in the floor (for a fire pole) as well as a straight slide.
  • A six-foot slide platform with metal sheets extending down either side -- the kind that will fry you like bacon on a hot summer day.
  • An antique ladder truck. A real one. Not something wooden and small with rubber bumpers over the sharp edges, not a relic fenced in and out of reach, but a real old fire truck that kids can climb all over. The steering wheel actually turns the wheels, which have real (mostly flat) tires. You can climb all the way back on the ladder. Sadly, the controls to raise, extend, and swivel the ladder have been disabled, probably by order of some safety-obsessed killjoys.
  • A spinning circle -- the kind with the raised elongated bumps at right angles for traction, and bars radiating and rising from the center, then forking out and connecting to the edge. Joe was riding it, having me spin him faster and faster. As he was spinning, and as I was pondering whether, out of appreciation for the City of Independence having the guts to keep this classic play equipment available, I would refrain from filing suit if one of my kids were injured -- as if he could read my mind, Joe launched himself off the circle. His foot was caught by one of the handholds and it seemed he might be dragged around, but the circle stopped quickly. Joe was fine, grinning. He got up, brushed off the sand (that's what they use around all the play equipment -- not hard, splintery wood chips, but nice soft sand). "I intended to do that. I thought it would be cool to jump off!"
  • Big heavy seesaws, the kind that will perform reverse traction on your spine if your partner suddenly scrams.

Katherine (nearly 3) was not all that interested in the playground. She wanted to ride the carousel with Mommy. And she did, probably about 15 times. When it's only a nickel a ride, you can ride 15 times. The carousel is beautifully restored, protected from the elements by a recently constructed canopy.

The train wasn't running -- it's only 25 cents -- and we didn't take time for the mini-golf course which illustrates the history of Independence (only $1 a game). We did stock up on sodas from the vending machines for the ride home -- only 50 cents a can.

The extra carousel rides and time on the playground was in lieu of a stroll through the park's Ralph Mitchell Zoo. The zoo mainly features small animals, and the centerpiece is a WPA-built monkey island, which was once home to astro-monkey Miss Abel. As recently as our last visit, three years ago, the zoo was just part of the park, accessible whenever the park was open. Now there was a tall wire fence surrounding the zoo, and they close the zoo at 8 p.m. My wife asked the lady at the carousel ticket booth what had changed. She said federal zoo regulators required the fence and the 24-hour presence of a zookeeper.

As we loaded up the car for the trip home we could hear the wild cries of the peafowl which roam the zoo grounds.

Cute baby pictures!


First baby toad of the season! The toads return to our backyard goldfish pond every year near the vernal equinox with a raucous party by the light of the full moon. Within a few days, strings of toad eggs decorate the water, and shortly thereafter, thousands of tadpoles.

It's two months later, almost a full moon, and tonight we caught this little fella. I would tell you whether it's a boy or a girl, but such activity was prohibited by my alma mater.


Meanwhile, the grown-up toads (at least 11 by Mikki's count) are having another noisy full moon party, uninhibited by MIT regulations. More cute babies will be on their way soon, it seems....


Joe reminded me of another cute baby picture I intended to post. We saw this armored little bundle of joy near his T-ball field, scuttling off the road into the tallgrass. Couldn't be more than five or six inches long, excluding the tail.


Bookmaker of Virtues


Happy Fun Pundit also weighs on on Bill Bennett's gambling habit, with some thoughtful entries in the comments section. Some other time, I'll tell you about my views on gambling. For now, I just want to say how appalled I am at Bennett's choice of games -- video poker and slots. I had higher expectations of the man; thought he'd at least play a table game like blackjack where there is some skill involved and a way of narrowing the odds. And if he did just want to turn his mind off and push buttons, wouldn't the nickel slots work as well for that purpose as the $500-a-pull variety?

Some of the comments on Happy Fun Pundit's post suggest he did it for the complementary perqs given to high rollers -- free rooms, food, booze, limos, show tickets. My last year in college, in 1985, I went with several fraternity brothers to visit the parents of one of them, who were playing blackjack in Atlantic City. They had complimentary rooms at several casinos, had complimentary meals. They put us up in one of their complimentary rooms in the Trump Tower, and one of the guys ordered Dom Perignon via room service -- all included in the complimentary service. My fraternity brother's parents gambled enough at blackjack to qualify for all these goodies, but because they knew basic strategy, how to pace your bets, and possibly a little card counting, they never lost much, and usually came out slightly ahead, enough to pay for the airfare, and they got to live like kings for a couple of days.

Speaking of "High Rollers" -- remember that craps-based quiz show? It's what Alex Trebek did before Jeopardy, with Ruta Lee as his dice girl. Also in the '70s you had game shows based on blackjack (Gambit, with Wink Martindale), slot machines (Joker's Wild, with Jack Barry), and roulette-like games (Press Your Luck, Wheel of Fortune).

Sorry. I was going to say something about the "Book of Virtues", but I drifted a bit. Anyway, here's a page with memories of the 1974 game show line-up, including a photo of a very mod Alex Trebek. The author of the page recounts happy memories watching game shows with his grandmother during summer vacation -- me, too. My summer schedule was built around the game shows, and you could pretty much spend all day watching them -- every network had them, and they ran all day long. At Grandma's house, game shows were supplanted only by Cubs baseball or Star Trek.

I hereby change this entry's category from "Culture" to "Whimsy".

Star Trek Annoyances


Happy Fun Pundit says the Enterprise needs some fuses, WD-40, and seatbelts. And fabric more flattering than spandex.

Father of the Laugh Track


The Wall Street Journal's Michael Judge offers an appreciation of the life-work of Charlie Douglass, inventor of the "Laff-Box":

"Sometimes called the Laugh Organ, the first Laff Box stood just over two feet tall and was operated something like an organ. Different buttons could be pressed to combine different types of laughter--belly laughs or chuckles, hoots or guffaws--and the operator could even choose the sex and age (man, women or child) of the laughter. Foot pedals were used to control the timing and duration of the laughter."

Judge says the Laff Box serves a useful social purpose and won't be going away anytime soon.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Whimsy category.

Tulsa is the previous category.

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