Let’s close these tabs!

Once again I have a big pile of tabs open, so here’s some stuff!

::  A Highwater Mark in American Mass Culture

An article about the comic strip Nancy.

Perhaps because of this reputation, Nancy has not been preserved the way other strips across its many eras, such as Peanuts and Krazy Kat, have been. This can partly be explained by the uncomplicated nature of Nancy’s characters; even though Bushmiller drew thousands of strips across decades, you don’t get to know Sluggo over the course of a Nancy bender the way you do Charlie Brown. But beyond that, many comics scholars, notably Bill Blackbeard, arguably the single most effective voice for preserving the often-junked funny pages, famously hated Nancy. The strip is noticeably absent from The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, an otherwise authoritative reference book edited by Blackbeard in 1977.

Apparently there’s a new biography of Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller available, and I’ll have to read it; I’ve always loved the strange minimalism of Nancy, along with its willingness to embrace absurdity and meta-comment, a trait that has been carried on by Olivia Jaimes, the strip’s current pseudonymous creator. Nancy tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it strip, but that’s fine. One thing I’ve noticed over Jaimes’s run is a slow unfolding of a long-term story arc, even as time in the strip doesn’t seem to actually pass. It’s a fascinating effect.

::  The Puzzle That Will Outlast the World

Puzzles are designed to take time, right? And the more complicated a puzzle is, the more time it takes. What if a puzzle was designed to take so much time that you have to pass your unsolved puzzle on to the next generation…and so on…and so on? It turns out that’s actually a thing:

Turns out, the ring puzzle has several cousins in the puzzle family tree. They are called “generation puzzles,” because they take generations to solve. You’re supposed to pass them on to your kids, who pass them on to their kids, who pass them on to their kids, and on and on.

And this writer decided to have a puzzle made that can’t be solved before the heat death of the universe. That’s right:

If you were to twist one peg per second, he explained, the puzzle would take about 40 septillion years. By the time you solved it, the sun would have long ago destroyed the Earth and burned out. In fact, all light in the universe would have been extinguished. Only black holes would remain. Moreover, Oskar said, if only one atom were to rub off due to friction for each move, it would erode before you could solve it.


::  Death by Design: Why pedestrian deaths are so high in America.

There is nothing surprising here, but it’s useful to see it all laid out.

There are a few things going on here. We prize enforcement as a solution to traffic safety compared to other countries, and it is ineffective. We have the biggest cars. We also have the most dangerous streets. And our regulatory agencies are, at best, defanged and defunded by comparison.

So if you go to Europe and Japan, where pedestrian fatalities are in decline the whole time ours have been rising, you see narrow roads, you see low speed limits, you see expansive public transit, so fewer people need to drive. You see vehicles that are tested and rated for pedestrian safety. There are high fuel taxes and high fuel-economy standards, so driving a big car is unaffordable, so they’re simply not made and not sold. And they’re rolling out effective autonomous technology like intelligent speed assist, which automatically governs vehicle speeds to the road limit.

I continue to be appalled at how big just the standard-size pickup truck is; every time I see one I think, “How can you possibly need a vehicle like that?!” This country’s relentless prioritizing of the automobile is just another of its deeply insane policy choices that is driving us to ruin.

::  At Least He Got a Job Before He Died

What does welfare-to-work mean for those who struggle to hold down a job?

I ask the man standing before me to sign his county welfare referral sheet, and to sit down in the chair in front of my desk. I hand James a pen and paper and ask him to fill out a “vocational test.” Once sent away and scored, this will tell me what jobs he’s best suited to, allowing me to direct James toward the career best suited to his skills and interests. Midway through the test, James starts to speak. “I’ve never had much of a job,” he says, “off the farm that is. But I’ve worked. On the farm. Worked hard too. You have to, when you work on the farm …” My studies hadn’t prepared me for this.

“James,” I reply, “you developed so many valuable and transferable skills on the farm – like dependability and punctuality – skills that would make any employer happy to hire you.” James doesn’t seem excited by the prospect of a career. As I get to know him better over the next few weeks, and as he grows to trust me, I discover it’s because he thinks he has a career already. He’s a farmer. He was born a farmer, and he intends to die a farmer – even though he’s not farming at the moment. As I become more involved in James’ life – meeting his mother, Betty – I piece together why that is.

I’ve been working for over 30 years now, and I’ve had one experience a number of times: someone gets hired at one of my workplaces, and that person goes on to be incredibly ill-suited to the job, or working, or both. Everyone around that person hates them, wants them to go away. Then, finally, the person goes away. A while later I ask whatever happened to them, and I’m told–usually by one of the very coworkers who hated them–“Yeah, they’re off on disability now, living off my tax dollars. Why can’t they get a job?”

And I’m thinking, “They had one.”

One time I remember actually responding along the lines of, “You know, some people in this world aren’t cut out for a clock-punching job, and whenever they get one they make themselves miserable and they make their coworkers miserable. If some of my tax money goes to ensuring that they aren’t starving to death while not being in an actual workplace, I’m fine with that.”

The linked article delves into this: people who aren’t afraid of work but who aren’t good at jobs. Our entire culture is not only built around a worship of work but also equates work with jobs, so not having the latter means you’re bad at the former, and as our entire culture is also based on the idea that life has to be earned, you have to earn your keep, we’re all individuals here who don’t owe nothin’ to nobody, if you’re not working you’re worthless. I have no idea what the solution here is…but we’re going to need a solution soon, because I have not seen anything to dissuade my belief that technology is rapidly pushing us to a spot where there simply won’t be enough work needed done by humans to prop up this job-based shell-game we call “the economy”.

::  A photographer I’ve learned about: Stacy Kranitz, who makes documentary-tradition photographs mostly focused on Appalachia. Her Instagram is full of photos that are raw and open about a region many (including, too often, myself) tend to write off.

::  As a baseball fan in the 1990s, I hated Greg Maddux. Not personally, obviously; in fact, I don’t recall him ever saying much of anything at all publicly. He was just one of those guys who was (a) astonishingly good, (b) so good that he made it look effortless–seriously, Maddux never looked like he was working for it at all, and (c) he did those things playing for a team I detested (the Atlanta Braves, whom I disliked in the 90s more than the Dallas Cowboys, which is saying something). I’m sure Greg Maddux is probably a terrific guy. But oh, how I hated him back then!

Yes, it was pure sports-fan nonsense. If he’d somehow signed with the Pirates, he’d probably be on my shortlist of greatest things ever in the history of anything. That’s just how it works: sometimes you hate that guy because that guy is awesome and he’s doing it not for you but for them, which more often than not means that guy is eating your lunch. But not really, because it’s not your lunch, it’s your favorite team‘s lunch, and hey, you don’t know any of those guys, either.

Sports fandom is riddled with absurdity, innit?

But my God, Greg Maddux was a great pitcher. I just saw this on YouTube and I have to share it: it’s every pitch from a complete game Maddux threw in July of 1997. It doesn’t take that long to watch, because he threw 78 pitches in that game. 78 pitches. In a complete game. That’s not even nine pitches per inning. In this day and age where pitchers are so strictly held to pitch-limits that complete games are becoming a rarity (just 35 complete games across all of MLB in 2022, compared with more than six hundred in 1988), this level of pitching economy, combined with Maddux’s complete lack of body language on the mound, makes this performance look like he’s a Zen master.

Maddux was one of those players who, when they retire, you think, “Do we really need five years to mull over if they’re a Hall-of-Famer?”

Oh, and in looking up some of his stats, I see that since pitch-counts started being tracked in 1988, Maddux holds the record for complete games with fewer than a hundred pitches, with 13 such games. The next most is Zane Smith (who did pitch for the Pirates, so he’s fine in my eyes!), with 7. Wow.


This entry was posted in Random Linkage and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.