DTWOF episode #508

May 15th, 2007 | Uncategorized

508 detail

Here’s the latest. This temporary slowdown to one strip every four weeks is working out pretty good for me. I’m starting to make a dent in all the other stuff I have to do. DTWOF 508

194 Responses to “DTWOF episode #508”

  1. Deb says:

    And life marches on………sigh. I love how the cat is looking at Sydney like “WTF another lie”?? Great strip and I’m glad doing the strip once a month is working better for you!

  2. Lee says:

    Apropos of … how life goes on (this is a stretch) it’s interesting how the dynamics of this board ebb and flow. There was a great piece in the NYT this past week about the ways artists and communities interact, with an interesting undertone of menace about how sometimes groups do a lord (lady) o the flies number on an artist when s/he doesn’t meet folks’ “needs” ….


    Also … see this interesting muse on online communities…. http://www.informationweek.com/shared/printableArticle.jhtml?articleID=199600005

  3. tallie says:

    oh man. on the one hand, starting today off with a new strip is really exciting. on the other, i’m beginning to wish the world would slow down a bit. this strip is condensing exactly how i feel right now: life, for better or worse, just keeps going on.

  4. tallie says:

    ps. lois is STILL a hottie.

  5. Doctor E says:

    I have a BS, an MS and a PhD. I’m a sought-after consultant with articles published in Journal of Biological Chemistry and European Journal of Pharmacology. I’m well-versed in wave function analysis, electroneurology and theoretical statistics.

    But I have no idea how to factor a polynomial.

  6. 'Ff'lo says:

    So much transition.

    Love the silhouettes behind the trike, and how the drop from the syringe is like sweat coming of Sidney. What is the cartoon name for a sweat drop flying? “Pwent” or something?

  7. 'Ff'lo says:

    “coming OFF”, that should be… 🙂

  8. Kris says:

    FOIL: “First, inner, outer, last”
    That’s all I can remember.
    Have I triggered PTSD yet?
    Great strip, Alison!

  9. JenK says:

    I used to know how to factor a polynomial. I could probably still figure it out. Of course, I majored in Computer Science, which also meant I go to work through Differential Equations in Math.

    And yeah, huge amounts of transition….

  10. Deborah says:

    I am glad to see that Alexis has downsized her dog since Raffi’s adoption!

  11. Doctor E says:

    Okay, I vaguely recall that (a+b) crap from 8th grade. I never learned to do it, and have never been called upon to do it since.

    It looks like everyone is moving on except Sydney.

    And Samia looks particularly sexy here.

  12. Elaine says:

    Yay! FOIL!

    long time since i did that in 11th yr (16+).. ‘though here its called a ‘quadratic equation’ the one thing i liked about maths:)

    so, when’s Mo gonna give Sydney what for, eh?

  13. Imogen says:

    I believe a quadratic is something different, but equally fun, Elaine.

  14. Doctor E says:

    So what’s the practical application of factoring polynomial? What do the numbers describe?

  15. BobH says:

    “What is the cartoon name for a sweat drop flying? “Pwent” or something?”


  16. Erica says:

    One needs to know how to factor a polynomial in order to score well on the GRE and go to grad school.

    (I know this because I teach GRE prep to 22 year olds who are no happier than Raffi about having to relearn this utterly irrelevant skill!)

  17. Eliyanna says:

    I waited a month for this, checking every day… and now I am so depressed. Great detail — I particularly like the headlines in The Distress in the first panel. Can’t they have happiness though?? Is getting old really that bad???

  18. Feminista says:

    So glad that Sparrow took the NARAL job. Only now it’s called NARAL Pro-Choice America. It’s Lois’ turn next for a career change; she must be burned out at Bunns ‘n’ Noodles by now.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Imogen, factoring a polynomial is a way to solve a quadratic equation without having to remember all that x = -b + sqrt(b^2-4ac) etc. quadratic formula stuff.

    It’s kind of fun, in a nerdy sort of way, but then again, I just took the GRE not long ago and had to reconcile myself to being asked to dig that knowledge out from 7th grade algebra class.

  20. xckb13 says:

    Whoops, that Anonymous was me.

  21. kate says:

    really nice, A, and I love the paperback cover.

  22. JenK says:

    Is it just me, or is Raffi getting hawt?

    Am I the only one wondering if Samia is going to flake out on Ginger?

  23. geogeek says:

    A polynomial is any equation with more than one “power of” x, each having a coefficient (generically:

    f(x) = a + bx + cx^2 + dx^3 ….

    etc. etc.). Factoring is figuring out what the values of the coefficients are (a, b, etc.) A quadratic equation if one that goes up to x^2, but no farther (because the highest power is squared, “quad” in Latin – see, there’s some connection to literature, sort of…). “THE” quadratic equation is the one that allows you to take a quadradtic equation in this form:

    f(x) = ax^2 + bx + c

    and find where the line this equation draws crosses the x-axis (the roots). THE quadratic equation, then, is

    r1 = (-b + (sqrt(b^2 – 4ac)))/2a


    r2 = (-b – (sqrt(b^2 – 4ac)))/2a.

    Then you can write your equation like this:

    f(x) = (x – r1)(x – r2).

    FOIL is going the other way: taking an equation in the form like the one directly above and multiplying it out into polynomial form. You can test this yourself using the coeffecients a = 1, b = 3, c = 2, without running into complications like fractions and irrational numbers. For anyone who’s still reading, I’ve also got a great spice cake recipe. And I’m not even going to get into the “Why learn math if I don’t have to use it later?” argument. I read Henry James. I can’t say it’s been of any use to me, either.

  24. etb says:

    Who knew that DTWOF fans were such unrepentant math-phobes? That posture is ignorant and unbecoming–get a global perspective people.

    Dr E, your comments are really regrettable. Congratulations on being a successful scientist. But no kudos to you for joining in the general math-phobia.

    How would you like if it I cited MY bouquet of advanced degrees, none of which depended on knowing diddlysquat about chemistry. Does it follow that chemistry is irrelevant?

    Erica–your remarks are even worse. Maybe you should teach a subject you have some positive feeling for.

  25. geogeek says:

    I actually have a strong sympathy for mathphobia. I’ve taught intro science classes in community colleges around the area, and I always make sure I tell people that it’s okay if they’re apprehensive about math, as long as they accept (1) they will have to do some math for this class, and (2) I will do everything in my power to make sure they can do that math. I have a couple students in each class who just can’t, but most, even the phobes, can if coached, and know more math than they think they do. My line is that if you can figure out which pack of toilet paper is cheaper, 8 rolls for 2.99 or 6 rolls for 2.29, you can do math. Even if you didn’t calculate it to the nearest penny.

  26. fiona biswaps says:

    Gosh, even just reading your post geogeek makes me feel bilious! Can you post your spice cake recipe to calm me down?

    Alison, any plans to come to London for the book tour? We have lovely shampoo here too….

  27. etb says:

    Geogeek, thanks for being the polite math voice (as opposed to my cranky one). I just wasn’t expecting such narrow opinions on DTWOF, of all places.

    I’d love to know your spice cake recipe.

  28. Mame says:

    oh lighten up. It’s a comic strip. One that is reflective of a segment of society. One of the characters is a junior high boy who is complaining abt his algebra homework to one of his moms. And some of the fans don’t like algebra. I bet some of the fans don’t like kilts or cats. No need to get all up in a bunch.

  29. Paul Curtin says:

    Well said, geogeek, I’ve taught math for a few years at a small urban college in Buffalo and I always point out that you need to know it to figure out stuff like that. That appeals to the practical folks. Then each semester I open with a brief lecture (examples included) of how not knowing apparently esoteric things (math, history, literature, etc.) allows the powers that be to keep the community in the dark. That always gets everyone fired up, mathphobes (of which I was for twenty years) included! I think the administration would not approve…

  30. Doctor E says:

    Whoah, etb! Way to over-react! My point wasn’t just that I’m a successful scientist, but that I’m successful in some math-intensive areas. That being the case, I find it funny that I don’t know how to do something Raffi is learning. I never said or implied that math skills are irrelevant, and I’ll thank you not to put words in my mouth in the future.

    Geogeek, thank you for your explanation, but again, I wasn’t making a “why learn it if I won’t use it” argument. I asked because I was curious. I’m still curious. Is there a practical application? If not, thats cool too. I can appreciate the beauty of the impractical. For a long time, fractal math was a useless abstraction. When it turned out to be extremely useful in generating photorealistic computer graphics, a lot of mathematicians quit the field in disgust. A gloriously useless pursuit ruined!

    Okay, I did use the word “crap.” What of it? There are lots of things I consider crap: NASCAR, interpretive dance, the novels of Henry James… One man’s crap is another’s gold. Those of you who find solving quadratics fun are welcome to them. A comic book nerd like myself is in no position to belittle anyone else’s choice of entertainment.

  31. Ann S. in Madison says:

    I can do spice cake math! Please to post the recipe. (Or “receipt” as a Jane Austen character would say.)

  32. geogeek says:

    Spice cake appreciators: Thanks for reading! I’m so pleased… And I’ll bring in the recipe tomorrow. It goes well with cream cheese-based frosting, IMHO.

    Doc E: I don’t generally do it by hand any more, but factoring turns out to be really useful for a lot of geochemistry. Comparing coefficients of different systems separates out different magma sources, or sources of water bodies, lets you calculate mixing ratios, etc. I’m not sure what exactly they do with polynomials, but I knwo that geneticists, civil engineers, navigators, and materials scientists use them. Of course, the more refined your system, the longer your polynomials get. A lot of the same people use differential equations.

    There are still some parts of polynomial math that are purely for fun. And, if you think about it, all those coefficients and things lead you right into matrices. Does your kind of statistics use that stuff? I vaguely remeber learing about eigenvectors – I think those are related back to factoring, way in the beginning.

  33. Erica says:

    Hey, I actually get a kick out of teaching math to the math-phobic, and I find both the math, and the ah-hah moments, beautiful and fun. My point was, though, that the ability of future humanities grad students to solve quadratic equations has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to do well in their chosen career – and thus, is a deeply silly thing to evaluate them on.

    I also can’t agree that quadratic equations in particular are essential to understanding the world we live in, the powers that be, etc. They’re only used in engineering and physics work, not in non-scientists’ everyday life. I *do*, on the other hand, think that a course on basic statistics and the ways they are distorted should be taught in every high school.

  34. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you JenK. I was just debating whether at 22 I’m too old to say it, but Raffi is definitely getting “hawt”. I think his eyebrows got darker.
    I don’t know if Samia would flake out, but after the last episode and its comments I feel like the only one who doesn’t see anything inherently wrong with the fact that Samia and Ammar still live together. I think it’s possible that Samia and Ginger could transition perfectly well into living together from where they are now. The bigger problem is whatever is behind that face Samia made when Sidney came to talk to Ginger while they were looking at that house. If she’s jealous or something. that could be bad.

    Meanwhile, AB, please stop the divorce! It’s too sad!

  35. Jana C.H. says:

    It’s certainly not as hairy as polynomials, but I got a grip on the Pythagorean Theorem back when I made quilts and had to figure out how to fit triangles together.

    Having a practical use for math (or any other subject) imprints it on your brain like nothing else.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Floss Forbes: If you don’t know the tune, sing tenor.

  36. meg says:

    Phoooooeeeeeeee. Life is often too sad, why not the strip?

    my jaded two cents

  37. old fan says:

    since you posted the very first issue of dtwof i red all the old episodes again. and i must say as much as i like the recent ones, there seems to be a major shift over the years. i mean Mo for example used to be a main character, somewhat of an anti-heroine and issues political or private (=political) where viewed through her life. now it is like the current political situation (since the bush wars) are the main drive and all the dtwof characters are ‘set – up’ to reflect that. which is okay, kind of a political cartoon. yet i miss them getting old and through those times together. i read every new episode posted and maybe in the (future) print version it’ll appear to me more connected or maybe in the print version there’ll be episodes which haven’t be posted yet. or maybe current times can only be presented in a detached flux.

  38. Jana C.H. says:

    By George I’ve got it!

    We all know that, in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, George Bailey deprives his wife Mary of an exciting career as a librarian. What I could never figure out is why the non-existence of George would also cause her eyes to go bad.

    Of course! Without a husband, and unable to find a nice lesbian in a dive like Pottersville, Mary has been practicing, um, self-abuse. Better stop that, Mary, or you’ll go blind.

    I can’t believe I never thought of that before. I guess my mind isn’t sufficiently dirty.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith WSG: Isn’t your life extremely flat when you’ve nothing whatever to grumble at!

  39. mysticriver says:

    Re: factoring polynomials and other algebra…Try figuring out questions like, “How much salary will I need at this new job to pay my rent?” or “If I pay X every month for Y years, how long before my student loans are paid off?” or “If this is the amount of raise I get each year and the amount my S.O. gets each year, when can we buy a house?” Put a dollar sign in front of an equation, and math becomes a lot more interesting!

    I wonder what happened to old Bruce. Maybe he ate the wrong thing off the dinner table of another of Alexis’ clients.

    If Syd & Mo split and the communal household dissolves, any chance of Mo & Lois becoming roommates? Last week’s vintage episode was a reminder of how their friendship was always such a fun part of the strip.

  40. LondonBoy says:

    Oh dear… If Clarice and Toni have got to the stage of disentangling their wills, that’s pretty much the definitive end. Sigh.

    As a perpetrator of recipes myself, I’m not sure if I should encourage this, but a good spice cake recipe would be handy to have…

    Factorisation, etc.:
    I’m rather over-qualified in the maths department, so can do it just fine. The reason why it’s useful is because it helps you solve equations: you start by factorising polynomials, but then you find that if you can do that you can go on to solve all kinds of other problems. I can still remember the pleasure I got when I started second-order differential equations ( which come up in all kinds of real-world situations as diverse as ecology and clock-building ): if you can factorise polynomials you can easily learn how to solve second-order differential equations too – they are in a certain way closely related.

    Personally, I enjoy maths just for fun: one of my hobbies is “ring theory” ( a branch of abstract algebra ), and just this morning I was pondering the relationship between the Riemann zeta function and the Bernoulli numbers on the tube ! Maths is, for some people, fun, and ( as G.H. Hardy once noted ) a place where one can sometimes see the purest form of beauty. ( Lots of people can name the “well-known” examples of this, but here’s a less well-known but rather nice example: the proof that the “Liouville constant” is transcendental – in fact, the first number proven to be transcendental. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liouville_number ) I remember being delighted by this as a teenager. )

    Sorry to be a math nerd, but it had to be said !

  41. Rohmie says:

    Hmm. Does the Neo-Con character’s graduation signal her retirement from the strip? If she takes the CIA gig, she’s definitely going out of town. Unless Buffalo State is near Langley, VA or she comes back after getting outed and fired, she’s either gone or she’s going to get her own thread.

    I forget: Did she get laid? I remember her shocking her quarry with a ring, but I don’t recall the aftermath very well.

  42. Rohmie says:

    Also, the boston terrier was awesome. The chewed corners were a nice touch as well. Alison’s anal-retentive eye for detail and texture really make the strip a visual treat. Everything about it is so wonderfully tactile.

  43. Pam I says:

    It seems possible to go right through school here in UK without ever going to a maths class. And it’s not seen as embarrassing, like not reading usually is. So it’s tough to teach photography where a few numbers are unavoidable. It’s when I get to explain the sequence f2- f2.8- f4- f5.6 etc that I see eyes glaze over at a terrifying rate. So I have to say, those of you who don’t know what a square root is, just don’t listen for two minutes. The rest can learn this as a party trick. And I have to wave my arms around a lot. Dogs, going to, we’re all.

  44. Pam I says:

    Geogeek what does that little hat ^ mean? I can’t recall enough from 3/4 of a life ago to follow your sums.

  45. Jana C.H. says:

    Anyone who is aching to post a spice cake recipe can drop by the new Maoist Orange Cake blog (second in a series; AnnaP’ Cakeblog is cool, too) at http://maoistorangecake.blogspot.com/ The current leading topic is the Inquisition, but just call it the Dominican Spice Cake and you’re in.

    Bringing things back on topic: I love the letter carrier with the pith helmet!

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Herodotus: Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

  46. geogeek says:

    Little hat is for “make this superscripted,” so in this case x^2 means x-squared. Sadly, when you get into vector math in a serious way the hat shows up with other meanings…

    Here’s a pecan cake that might hold people over for the spice cake. I never put the coconut in, and I just make it in a 13×9 pan.

    Prep time: 45 minutes
    Cooking time: 35 minutes
    Yield: 1 3-in. layer cakeingredients:

    1/2 cup margarine
    1/2 cup shortening
    2 1/4 cups sugar
    5 eggs, separated
    2 1/2 cups plain flour
    1 tsp. soda
    1 cup buttermilk
    2 tbsp. vanilla
    1/2 cup grated coconut
    1 cups chopped pecans


    1/2 cup margarine
    16 oz. cream cheese
    2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar
    3 tbsp. vanilla
    3/4 cup chopped pecans

    Using an electric mixer, cream together margarine, shortening and sugar for 15 minutes on medium speed. Add the egg yolks and continue to mix on low for 5 minutes. Sift the flour and soda together 3 times and add to the mixing bowl alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Turn off the mixer and fold in the vanilla, coconut, and pecans. Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the cake batter. Divide the mixture into 3 greased and floured 9-in. cake pans. Bake at 350 °F for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center. Cool for 15 minutes on a rack before turning the layers out of the pans and leaving to cool completely. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the icing. Cream together all of the icing ingredients, except for the pecans. When the cakes are completely cool, spread the icing thickly on top of each cake and sprinkle 1/4 cup of chopped pecans on top. Place the cakes on top of each other to make a 3-layered cake.

    Is this too off-topic yet?

  47. geogeek says:

    Oops, sorry, Jana, we cross-posted, or I would have just put my cake recipe over in the cake blog…

  48. xckb13 says:

    It means “to the power of.” For example, 2^3 is two to the power of three, which equals 8, and so on.

    Polynomials are commonly classified according to their highest powers: a quadratic equation has variables (x, for example) to the power of 2 and less, a cubic equation has variables to the power of 3 and less. So a quadratic equation has an x^2 (and no higher powers), a cubic has an x^3 (and no higher powers), etc.

    I do like math, but I also find it unfortunate that a natural science like astronomy (my undergraduate major) has become so riddled with it. Whatever happened to staying out all night with just a good telescope? I clearly aspired to be an astronomer about 200 years too late.

  49. xckb13 says:

    oops, I was a little late, but ah well…

  50. geogeek says:

    xckb13, I dunno, the Arabs invented most of al-gebra in order to keep track of astronomical objects, and it is my opinion that Galileo got awfully close to inventing calculus.

  51. Wendy B says:

    On a totally non-math topic, I love the image of Virginia getting her insulin (or some other kitty shot)… I never thought I’d see that experience represented in comic form! I have had two diabetic kitties over the years, and the injection becomes a part of daily life with an elderly cat companion. Another reason to love DTWOF.

  52. Kat says:

    oy vey….math…..how I loathe it….

    Just to share with the bloggy universe: I met a girl last week who looks just like Cynthia. Even her glasses are identical. It’s almost frightening!

  53. Pam I says:

    Of course, the little hat ^ is needed for typing – all my maths was hand written, so x squared was easy to scribe. I will copy Geogeek’s explanation with a real pen and see if that makes more sense. I doubt it, but any distraction from degree deadlines will do.

  54. Macci says:

    I really like that J.R. is biking around with a helmet but no shirt. I distinctly remember being told the summer after first grade that, from then on, I had to wear a shirt outside. It still ticks me off. Happily, there are still places and times when, as an adult, I can go shirt-free. Sadly, I can barely afford the sunscreen.

  55. Feminista says:

    Geogeek–I thought it was the Mayan people who invented calculus and geometry; the latter wasway before Galileo. At least that’s what Jaime Escalante said in Stand and Deliver,in both the book and the movie.

  56. geogeek says:

    It’s entirely possible – fundamental principles tend to turn up in multiple cultures. I should read that, I’ve had a yen to learn about Mayan calendar systems for a while.

  57. Deborah says:

    Jerry Falwell is dead. I hope he meets his just desserts (no Maoist orange cake for him) when he comes before that wrathful god of his.

  58. LondonBoy says:

    Whilst it is certainly true that various individuals and groups developed and applied techniques that are used in (the) calculus, notably the ancient Greeks and Indians, the various ideas were not pulled together into an identifiable single discipline until the 17th century, when Newton and Leibniz both discovered/developed it, probably independently ( but with access to the same precursor texts ). An important reason for believing that the discipline was not rigorously developed earlier is that before the 17th century many of the important concepts of what Locke later called “primary qualities” had not been well-developed, and virtually all of the early motivation for the calculus was in the area of dynamics, which grew up at the same time as this idea of “primary qualities” was appearing. ( See, inter alia, “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science” by E.A. Burtt ( strongly recommended ). ) Certainly the foundations of calculus are intricately intertwined with the needs of Newtonian physics.

  59. DeLandDeLakes says:


  60. Deb says:

    LOL Yeah, when I heard he died, I thought the same thing…..feeling certain he will learn about all the pain and anger he caused so many people.

    Ahhhhhhhhh geogeek, you did the polynomial explaination quite well! I didn’t go into a coma or anything! I appreciate that! I had to get through college algebra to get the degree, then statistics for the other degree………but factoring just almost killed me!

  61. DeLandDeLakes says:

    You know what’s so crazy? I was reading a story on the BBC this morning about the dear, departed Rev. Falwell’s remarks on global warming, and I mentioned to my S.O. how I wished the guy would just drop dead, already. Wow, I didn’t know Falwell’s angry God gave such prompt service!

    I haven’t felt this good since Strom Thurmond died on the same day that they legalized same-sex sodomy in Texas!

  62. bre says:

    factoring polynomials is one of the only things I know how to do math-wise…I got a 34% on a Geometry quiz today…oh well, life goes on.
    The flags are flying half-staff in the town I live in because Jerry Falwell died, it’s really really stupid.

  63. Ben says:

    I love the chewed up envelope. Vlad looks like her wasn’t quite done with it.

  64. hee hee hee says:

    i was flunking high school matha t one point- but i went to this really wonderful PUBLIC (meaning FREE) alternative high school- so my math teacher said she’d pass me if i coudl demonstrate that i understood the theory of it- so i wrote a little children’s book called “the little polynomial”- and it demonstrated the very thing raffi is struggling through with one equation and i passed. . . .i remembered how it worked for a litle while afterwards- and of course now i dont’ remember how to do it in the slightest!

  65. K.B. says:

    I’m a math prof and I have no idea how to factor polynomials. Didn’t Abel and Galois proved it’s impossible, anyway?

    OK, if you happen to have a factor of a polynomial (god knows from where) you can factor it OUT (using long division for polynomials) but why you would want to teach factoring quadratic polynomials as an independent skill is beyond me.

  66. Ginjoint says:

    O.K., when I read about Falwell, my immediate, uncensored response was to pump my fist and say “YES!” Then I felt immediately guilty. (I mean, he could’ve been a great dad or grandpa or something.) That lasted about half a minute, until I thought about all the damage he did. I wish I were a bigger person, but I have to say, I don’t mind that he’s dead. I know how that makes me come across, but…there it is.

  67. calamityJ says:

    all I can say is:


    Hope you all can join in, equations aside (I’m w/Raf. on that one)…

  68. Tanya M says:


    Abel and Galois proved that it is impossible to factor a polynomial with x to the fifth or higher power **into factors only involving roots (square roots, cube roots, fifth roots, etc), addition, subtraction, multiplication and division**. All polynomials are factor-able (in complex numbers).

  69. Ginjoint says:

    Interesting comments thread about Falwell at Feministe:

  70. Tanya M says:

    Another math note: less to explain why factoring polynomials is useful, than to convey a bit of the beauty or interest of doing such.

    First, factoring a *number* is a way to break the number down into its component pieces. Every integer can be broken down uniquely into the components that make it up–its prime factors. For example, 28=2*2*7, or 210=2*3*5*7. Looking at a number’s prime factors, its building blocks, is a bit like looking at the chemical elements that make up matter. We can understand more about a number and how it interacts with other numbers by looking at how it decomposes into prime factors.

    Factoring a polynomial is quite similar: it reveals information about the polynomial and its graph by breaking that polynomial up into its component, ‘elemental’, pieces. For example, just looking at the polynomial y = x^3 – 2x^2 – 5x + 6, one might feel a bit helpless. What does this complicated expression even mean and what are its vital parts? What does its graph look like? How could I solve it if, say, y=0? Yet if we factor it into its components, much more of this polynomial’s character is readily seen. Most notably, from the factors we can immediately glean what the zeros of our function are, that is, where its graph crosses the horizontal x-axis. For example, the above cubic factors as y = (x – 1)(x – 3)(x + 2). Its zeros are therefore 1, 3, and -2 (just reverse the signs in the monomial factors). Now, anyone who sees the factored form can sketch a graph of what it looks like: starting at the lower left, we travel up and right and pass through the x-axis first at -2, we reach a hilly peak that rolls down again to sea level at x=1, we dip into a valley and then begin our rise once again forevermore, hitting the x-axis one more time at 3. And the three zeros here mentioned are also the solutions to the equation when y=0. In factored form, they can be read immediately from the equation, instead of using some complicated formula (like the quadratic one mentioned by geogeek and familiar from secondary school algebra).

    Thus we get to see more of what is truly important about a polynomial function when it is factored than when it is left whole. Hope this has shed some light on why factoring polynomials could be of interest.

  71. wendy says:

    Being a 46 year old math geek from way back when, I have to say it’s fun to read so many posts with the words “quadratic” and “polynomial” in them.

  72. mk says:

    Wow what a cool math discussion! I did some tutoring in life sciences at the local community college and the one place where a deficiency in High School algebra really hurt people were the folks who hoped to go back to school in nursing. A lot of people who could have had a chance at better paying jobs ended up shut out of some great opportunities.

  73. Ruth says:

    I teach high school math in the US, and I tell my students that most people will not use most of the specific skills (like factoring quadratics) they learn in an Algebra class. However, learning algebra teaches them to think more abstractly, which will make them more powerful in all sorts of ways. Manipulating symbols is a skill that can be used in any academic setting — and many other settings as well.

  74. Ydnic says:

    Vlad has the same wild look in his eyes that Bruce did.

  75. Holli says:

    I was a geometry dork. I still write fake ‘proofs’ for things. Like boys are stupid (cpctc).

    I feel bad for the reverend Falwell, actually. He was so certain; enough to stake his entire belief structure on hatred and shame, and now he knows how wrong he was and that his life was a waste. Maybe he’ll do better next time.

  76. Ellen Orleans says:

    Nice expression on Virginia’s face as Sydney so uncooly lies about the sex toy. Mo has a joint account with Sydney? Now that’s (misplaced?) trust.

    If I can only remember the Theodora reference…

  77. Melissa says:

    Those wondering what happened to Bruce: great danes don’t live very long, I’m afraid. They usually die at around 8 or 10 years of age.

    I was sooo amused by Alexis’s new dog because my boyfriend’s cousin’s family (whom I’m quite close to) has both a boston bull terrier and a great dane.

    Does anyone else notice how sad and thin and almost frail Toni looks? I really don’t want this to happen for them.

  78. Rubicon says:

    I wish my cat were that calm about insulin shots. She needs to be wrapped in a towel…and shot in the butt.

  79. D.F. says:

    oh! so many comments!

    yay for spice cake. and polynomials, tho i’ve forgotten them, mostly…but enjoyed ’em at the time (integration, now that was another story)…. thnx Paul for the cool perspective on why to know math, good to remember & pass on, and yes, it makes sense as i try to read the biz pages for the 1st time ever & kinda wish i’d taken an econ class along the way.

    and now, a long-overdue acknowledgement on the sydney question… a while back i posted a bit abt the whole poly thing, then bailed on Butch Fatale and some of the boys, who were putting up a valient effort, as school & fam pressures built up … but i gotta admit, i never did read the novella where sydney actually hooks up with madeliene, i htink it’s the only one i haven’t read / don’t own… was meaning to b4 i posted… but yes, it does seem like she’s out-n-out cheating. . still don’t feel mo’s done much to try to meet her on the poly question, but can’t say sydney’s handling it an ethical way… intentional, on-going, n’ behind-mo’s-back… not a good scene, all ’round. so sad. awful, really!

    theodora… interesting choice for a stand-in … theodora … theo … thea. wonder if mo’ll grill her.

    re: raffi — yeah, the boy’s gonna be a looker.

    vald is great, an improvement i’d say … amazing to see alexis still in the pic …

    my fav part of this strip rho is the totally-on-point headline in the first panel (nice, subtle, hilarious). that, and the whole perspective / feel of it, the strangeness of the stream of a hundred details that engages us as these huge events happen on the macro stage, almost like a backdrop… the strip captures the mindf&@K of it all. and the mood.

    very nicely.

    speaking of which – cynthia’s racism is beginning to wear a nerve. and i’d love to hear more on the immigration stuff (micro and macro)! someone, anyone, PLEASE talk to that girl! (i know, i know, she’s for real. i’m from the midwest, she could be my frickin’ neighbor, prob’ly is…)

    Holli — cpctc? anyway, i’ll pour to your thoughts on Falwell. peace.

  80. D.F. says:

    p.s. forgot to say the very thing that got me started: i enjoyed algebra, but never heard of FOIL, that i remember. kinda glad, as now i don’t have any academic associations with “First, inner; outer, last.” Now does that not have a particularly nice/nasty ring to it, or has it just been a minute since I had the opportunity to, um…ah… FOIL?…

    (then again, academic associations not necessarily a detriment, all the Caps on this blog should know what i’m talkin’ about, yeah?)

  81. Aunt Soozie says:

    Doctor E,
    I loved all the crap you said about math.
    Wow…it was a busy day here, wasn’t it?
    Don’t you love that beautifully drawn close up of Stuart in his do-rag?…and the look on wild shirtless jr’s face as she rides her bike in her crocs?? (the imagination churning in that little head)
    Anyway, no more bickering now, please!
    Auntie’s turning in for the night.
    Sweet dreams.

  82. RachelB says:

    Oh Joy! Woken up on a dreary, rainy day. Delayed going to work by coming on line and there… and there… and there… was a new strip. Alexis’ dog may be smaller, but it looks a lot like the fiersome beasts that are terrorising our estate. Actualy, it’s the owners that are terrifying. Also, when did Mo and Sydney get a joint account? Is Mo mad??

    A propos, I used algebra a lot, working as a money adviser (getting people out of debt). It was handy when working out housing benefit when you don’t know the rent. I never got quadratic equations, though. I dropped maths quite early, thanks to less than inspiring teaching at a UK girls’ school in the ’70s, and always regretted it. Thanks for the explanations.

  83. Jaibe says:

    Vlad the impaler! Too perfect! (& exactly what Boston Terriers look like!) Great drawing of Raf too — and Cynthia with the hood —

    I thought we were just getting less DTWOF, but it looks to me like there’s even more thought per panel going in now (which I guess there needs to be, since life is indeed going on with only half as much reporting!)

    I really hate to say this, but when I saw the “Yahoo” headline about Falwell I actually said out loud “Way!” Terrible response to death… but let’s face it, he died at work, I bet we all hope to go so easily. I’m sure his faithful will all take it as evidence of what a good man he was.

    RachelB, too right about joint accounts with spending freaks. She can’t even think she’s monitoring / helping Sydney if Sydney also has her own account. But maybe Sydney largely has the situation under control now (we haven’t heard about debt lately) & they found it convenient.

  84. Jaibe says:

    PS I do remember making fun of my partner for not being able to factor a polynomial once, but I can’t remember why he needed them but it was during his PhD. There was also some random bit of “new math” I learned in like 5th grade that I once saw someone use in a talk at MIT & somehow recognized, and I thought “oh, good thing we learned that, I’ve used it once in 30 years. I wonder how much my classmates have used it.”

    But I guess the theory is that even if you don’t use the techniques, you use the bit of the brain you are stretching to learn them.

  85. straight european says:

    LondonBoy: thanks for mentioning ring theory and Bernoulli numbers! I wonder how many other scientists are lurking around here?

    Polynomial factorization can be meaningful: a friend of mine, and like me a math professor, used to compare factoring integers and polynomials as a neat way to motivate the definition of Euclidean domain (that’s something you don’t learn unless you’re a math major, usually).

    P.f. is crap if it is just a bunch of routine numerical manipulation techniques applied in a thoughtless way for the unique purpose of getting a passing mark. I spent enough time tutoring highschool students to guess how Raffi feels about it. I think it’s a great metaphor for all the stuff we do everyday without really knowing why.

    On a totally different topic, I just love how Sparrow’s career is evolving. No better way to show how a “classical” hetero family works than by reversing the roles. Stuart has now a complete housewifely look with the bandana (reminds me of Alison’s mum in Fun Home), the crocs, and the skirt/utilikilt.

  86. Judy M. says:

    I’m a B.A., Ph.D. I’ve received grants, promotions and job offers in recognition of my research applying differential equations and probability theory to population genetics. I speak four languages and sing well.

    But I can’t read.

    Ha ha, just kidding! Now seriously, Doctor E: if you’re accomplished and never have to factor polynomials, that’s great– but it doesn’t make the job of us math educators any easier when it’s socially acceptable to (almost) brag that you can’t do elementary math.

  87. Doctor E says:

    Well, Judy, I think the key to teaching basic math is to demonstrate why it’s useful. Kids should know how to make change, calculate their gas mileage and know how many days until Christmas. If the only purpose of learning something is to pass a test, that’s not much of a motivation.

    My favorite motivation for education: The more you know, the more jokes you get!

    Geogeek, I’m mostly doing meta-analysis these days, both Baysean and frequentist. I can’t find good software that will do both, so I’m having to write my own. When I left the nonprofit world a year ago I thought I was done with this stuff (crap!) but I guess good geeks are hard to find.

    Here’s an idea: Let’s talk about the strip! Everyone’s assuming Sydney is lying. Wouldn’t it be funny if she wasn’t? Maybe in the same stack of mail there will be a note from Theodora.

    “Dear Sydney, Thank you SO much for your thoughtful gift. The Vibemaster 9000 MADE our honeymoon!”

  88. Alex the Bold says:

    Is it just me, or is Stewart really becoming a pain in the ass?

    “I thought we…” And he’s done the same sort of crap on multiple occasions. First he quits his job (without consulting Sparrow), then on the way to the Pride rally, when June pulls up in the Extinction SUV, he gives Sparrow almost exactly the same glare when she wants to take June’s offer of a ride.

    And didn’t he also sell the family car because he suddenly had a “revelation” about air-conditioned sarcophagi?

    Is Sparrow, the Director of the Battered Women’s Shelter, in an abusive relationship?

  89. mysticriver says:

    Actually Sparrow gave Stuart her blessing to quit his job on at least one occasion, and she was right there when he said he’d be writing his letter of resignation.

    (However, he did indeed sell the car without consulting her.)

    “Abusive” is a bit over-reactive though. He’s just an overly sensitive and clingy guy, where everything is “we”, and any moment that they aren’t totally in synch is cause for concern that the relationship is doomed. Actually, in that regard he’s a lot like Mo! (Well, when she was with Harriet, anyway)

    I was thrilled when Stuart joined the strip – his archetype has been a Dyke to Watch Out For for a long time!

    My favorite Stuart moment: “Complete bedrest! Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

  90. Paul Curtin says:

    I bet Clarice is a more effective environmental lawyer since she knows her polynomials and can cut through corporate pseudostatistics with panache! I’m sure of it!
    Also, Stewart sure drops the patriarchal pose in a flash when that moola gets mentioned…plus ca change!

  91. Quaint Irene says:

    Yes, let’s please concentrate on the strip, rather than everyone blithering on about how many degrees they have, rosettes from the pony club or what the supine stem of confiteor is (those who spot that latter ref get a gold star). We all know that the readership here seems to be of a decent quality, so please let’s not boast about it ad infinitum. Apart from giving me another opportunity to be Latinate, it’s tedious.

    So, to Sydney. Wouldn’t it be interesting if she was telling the truth, I doubt it though. But as Syd seems to be the most energetic character in DTWOF these days, maybe that’s no bad thing. Maybe she’ll spin off into her own comic: it somehow feels that AB is closing down, one by one, all the old characters. Maybe her creative energy is being re-directed, but I find myself wondering how cartoonist who go in for the long haul (eg Trudeau) keep at it without faling into ruts.

  92. tg says:

    jeez people, a man is dead. he might have believed, thought, said, and taught terrible things about us. he certainly was an extraordinary bigot who was full of unnecessary hate. he might have brought about a lot more ill in the world than good. but he was a human being. and it diminishes your own humanity when you act gleeful about his dying.

  93. Alex K says:

    This has been a wonderful set of comments to read through.

    I feel – no, I am – very ignorant of many of the things that the posters here handle competently every day! That is not bad, just humbling. But I enjoy admiring you all.

    AB, thanks for making this blog / posting opportunity available. I learn from it often.

    And it takes me behind doors that I would otherwise never open – magma mixing! Wow!

  94. Juliet says:

    God man this is so depressing…

    Not only is my local independent bookshop closing down and my beloved local hub-of-the-community not-for-profit wholefood shop on the rocks due to being sued by a now ex-friend and it’s been raining for 5 days straight, but it’s also all going wrong in DTWOF-land too.

    down the crapper indeed…


  95. mlk says:

    dang!! I’ve been hoping Sparrow would take a different direction and, say, become a Reiki master. as life goes on, there are chakras to be cleared! energy to be transmuted! wouldn’t Sparrow — and others — benefit from fountain sounds and woo woo music right about now?

    then again, maybe Stuart will step in . . .

    I just miss the crystal wearing therapy junkie that Sparrow was when we first met her. Is it motherhood that changed her, or the work?

  96. --MC says:

    tg — yes, the man is dead, and it’s sad, but not that sad — don’t forget, this is the guy who tried to pin blame for the events of 9/11/01 on lesbians and gays. If he had only taken his ideologies with him when he went!

  97. tg says:

    i’m not sad, MC. i believe the world is in a slightly better position today. but i do have a problem with taking delight in the death of another human being. that’s all.

  98. Greta says:

    Damn, I miss the early episodes when some of the characters were, you know, losers who couldn’t get laid. Now they’re all CIA agents, scientiests, lawyers, professors and heads of major organizations.

    I love the comic and everything, but please Alison, send in some schlub for me to relate to.

  99. ksbel6 says:

    I also teach math…geometry and alg2…and factoring those pesky polynomials is a difficult task for most students. The discussion about polynomials was really well handled…I was amazed at the depth you all went to in your explanations! And yes, the reason to learn to factor is the same reason to learn to write proofs…thinking through logical arguments is a VERY important life lesson 🙂 I always tell my students to listen to the politcal scene and find all the places where the speaker assumes the converse of a statement is true because the original is true. The politicians also love to apply cause and effect where none exists. Thanks to their statistics wizards they make all sorts of statements about portions of the population that may or may not hold in general. It all makes me crazy!

    Horray to AB for including that type of homework in the strip 🙂

  100. Feminista says:

    Greta–Can you relate to Lois’ wage slavery at the big box bookstore,or Jasmine the struggling single mom and waitress? Or Carlos the chronically un(der)employed?

  101. Jana C.H. says:

    One of the things I like best about this blog is that one can discuss one’s academic credentials, or use big words, or discuss polynomials, without being jumped on for bragging or being an elitist.

    A person with an advanced degree has an advanced degree; it’s a part of her life. If it’s a wonderful thing to be open about one’s childhood sexual traumas (which has happened on this blog), why is it taboo to be open about one’s academic experience? I can bring up my bisexuality with perfect freedom, but if I mention my M.A. I have to be careful how I phrase it to avoid accusations of snobbery. And it’s only a lousy Master’s in geography! It’s not a big deal. I can feel PhD’s the world over sneering at me.

    This is a blog full of intellectuals, degreed and un-degreed. Get used to it.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Dr. Science: I have a Master’s Degree!

  102. LondonBoy says:

    I do agree with the implicit comment above that many of the characters in DTWOF seem to be tired and run down at present, and that it seems like they’re being “closed down” one by one. I’m going to hazard a guess that there’s a reason for this: Alison herself is, I suspect, feeling tired and run down. The stress of publicising one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books of the year would be enough on its own to tire anyone out, but there’s something else going on: the book takes a family’s private life and turns it into public property. However sensitively done, and with whatever generosity of spirit, this is stressful, not just for Alison but for others in her family, and Alison has had to absorb some of this too. So for this and other reasons I suspect Alison has been through a few tough months. I’m not sure how it is for other people, but when I’m feeling tired and stressed-out this is to some extent reflected in my work and inter-personal relationship, and my relative optimism or pessimism about all sorts of things. Perhaps something similar is going on here. This is why I think the reduction in DTWOF frequency is a good thing. To be quite honest, if Alison decided to take a year off from DTWOF, blogging and publicity, and just went hiking in Patagonia or hot-air ballooning in Portugal, I’d entirely understand. I haven’t had a real holiday for a very long time, and I could sure do with one; I suspect I’m not alone. And remember what happened when Trudeau took his break from Doonesbury ? He came back to the strip after a few months with a whole new set of directions for all the characters, and a successful change in style and pacing.

    Other matters:
    Jerry Falwell: I didn’t care for his interpretation of my religion, or the way he expressed himself, but I honestly believe he was just a fallible man trying to say and do what he thought was right in a complex and difficult world. I believe he was wrong in many ways, but I believe he was trying, however imperfectly, to live and guide others to live in the way that would bring them greatest well-being. I honestly do not believe that he or others like him start from a foundation of malice. That malice may have arisen along the way was perhaps a sign that he was wrong, and prone to human failings, but I hope I can forgive him that. ( What I’m trying to say is that I’d like to be able to forgive everyone, if I can, because I know that I’m in need of a heck of a lot of forgiveness myself ! )
    Quaint Irene: I thought deponent verbs didn’t have a supine, they just had a perfect participle corresponding to what would be a perfect passive participle in a non-deponent verb: I await enlightenment !

  103. riotllama says:

    the comparisons to lynda barry ahve been made before, but yo if Vlad doesnt look like he waddles out of ernie pook’s comeek. or perhaps that really is what those dogs look like and both artists are SO great at reproducing life-like images? yah probably. that would explain why he also looks like sparky from Tom Tommorow.

    Londonboy- not asking you to be a representative for a group, but because you’ve displayed the desire to share personal ifo on this subject with us before; Do you think there’s a connection between having asberger’s and having an affinity for maths? It seems to me that it’s common for people who have trouble reading the complex soup of uncertainty that is human emotion and expression to find beauty and harmony int he logic of numbers. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    I apologize for the horror that was the grammer of this post but I don’t care enough to fix it.

    Down with falwel up with NUTTER!

  104. Doctor E says:


    What strikes me is that not only was I supposedly bragging about my degree, I was also accused of bragging about my ignorance! I find that very funny.

    I don’t consider my degrees particularly bragworthy. I went to grad school because my alternative was to get a -gack!- job. The fact that I got a degree just means that I successfully avoided getting a job for a very long time.

    I identify with Sydney and Ginger’s academic frustrations in the strip. Tenure politics of the type Sydney faced were a big reason I didn’t go into academia.

  105. Jana C.H. says:

    Concerning Jerry Falwell and his undoubted good intentions (a.k.a pavings stones), I have pulled a few quotes off my list of tag lines:

    Saith Blaise Pascal: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as they do when they do it from religious conviction.

    Saith Steven Weinberg: With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

    Saith Emile Auguste Chartier: Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.


  106. Doctor E says:

    “The true Negro does not want integration…He realizes his potential is far better among his own race…We see the hand of Moscow in the background…We see the Devil himself behind it…It will destroy our race eventually…If we live in constant fellowship with the Lord, He can enable us to live Christ-like before others.”

    Jerry Falwell, 1958

  107. Jeffster83 says:

    As soon as I read the first few posts here about mathophobia, I remembered one of the earliest times I can remember having a femninist thought: when Mattel put out a version of Barbie that talked, and one of the five things it could say was “Math is hard!” Even I thought that was stupid.

    Angry letters followed, and Mattel pulled the product off the shelves. I rejoiced: something that I thought ought to happen in the world really did happen! And therefore, women everywhere really do like math and are good at it!

    It’s a little bit jarring to find a lot of persons, whom I assume are strongly feminist, who appear to agree with Barbie. There must have been a fallacy in my “therefore”. I think I assumed that the converse must be true if the original is false.

  108. Kelli says:

    We all use math every day: to forecast the weather, to tell time, to handle money.

    For an interesting article on how mathphobia influences popular culture, and the ironic popularity of the few bulwarks against it in entertainment media, see: http://www.msri.org/communications/articles/ShowArticleInfo/81/show_article

  109. Anonymous says:

    Wow, AB, some of your readers are hard core rude to each other. Who would’ve thought. Get a grip, people, and please be nice.

  110. Andrew B says:

    I wrote a longer comment but for some reason it vanished when I tried to post it. I don’t have time to recreate it so thanks, Alison, for the new episode and it’s good to hear that you are making progress on your other tasks.

  111. geogeek says:

    Re: tired and run-down characters: I certainly have found my ability to regain my fervor for change has declined over the last 5-8 years. Some of this is from the greater outside world (repulsicans ruining things, both abstractly and materially), some entirely personal (spending nealy 10 years off and on with someone who refuses to seek treatment for chronic depression), and some “professional” (bad school, semi-bad jobs, baaaaad money). I don’t seem to bounce back very well any more, and I miss believing in change. I wonder if it is simply experience that most of us will find the world increasingly painfull and complicated as we get older. I actually envy my parents, who found each other at a young age and have remained in love through a number of changes.

    Everyone over 35: is it just me, or have we lost the spark?

    Everyone under 35: do you guy have hope for positve change?

  112. LondonBoy says:


    Though I have slight qualms about adding yet more about maths to this thread, I’ll answer your question about aspies and maths as best I can…

    My understanding is that there is some evidence to support the view that aspies tend to be more at home with mathematics than NT people. My comments below are not particularly scientific, but may give you an idea of what goes on in my mind. Whether you can generalise from me or not I’m not sure…

    For me, mathematics is a “safe place” I can go to when I’m feeling unhappy. For example, if I’m feeling lonely at a party, or about to panic about something, I can start to think about mathematics, and that makes me feel safe. I have been doing this since I was a child: when bad things happened to me I used to think about numbers. Now I tend to think about slightly more complex structures, though of course I still love numbers. My main thoughts now tend to be about algebraic structures, and particularly about how I can construct mappings between seemingly unrelated ideas in different parts of mathematics. In a sense, what is nice for me is the preservation of structure, and when I think about this it makes me feel OK. Integers are good when you’re really nervous, though.

    I suspect that aspies generally like numbers because they have nice rules ( I think we all like rules ). I think aspies generally know numbers on a “personal” basis, and see the relationships between them easily. ( For example, when Tanya M. above mentioned the numbers 28 and 210, I immediately wondered why she’d picked two numbers that are the sums of consecutive integers: 1+2+…+7 and 1+2+…+20. I think it was probably just coincidence, though. Did anyone else wonder this ? )

    More generally, what I suspect is that aspies like “discrete mathematics” – mathematics where everything consists of nice manageable bits that we can play with. In my experience, the most aspie-like of the people I know in the mathematical world are more likely to be doing algebra or number theory than real analysis or differential equations. Discrete mathematics somehow “feels” less stressful than some other areas, unless you really axiomatise the heck out of it ( and that’s pretty stressful in its own right ). For what it’s worth, there seems to be a correlation with homosexuality too: the proportion of gay men in “discrete” mathematics seems to be higher than the average for mathematics as a whole.

    Mathematics is easier for me than people because people don’t obey identifiable rules. As a teenager I spent a lot of time trying to work out what the “rules of people” were, but if there are any I can’t understand them. If someone asks “Does my ass look big in this ?” I know I have to say “No”, but if they say “Be honest, does my ass look big in this ?” I’m not sure. I’ve tried both answers, and neither works consistently. With mathematics ( pace Godel ! ) answers are always consistent and can be deduced from the initial conditions. Numbers are reliable. You can count on them. ( Sorry, couldn’t resist ! )

  113. LondonBoy says:

    P.S. If there’s a job teaching abstract algebra at Ginger’s college I’ll take it !

  114. Jana C.H. says:

    Honest question: When did Math (the discipline, singular) become a plural treated as singular? I had vaguely thought it was a British thing, but everyone seems to be doing it. Is this a new kink in our ever-varying English language? If so, don’t expect me to change, but I am curious.

    Another plural treated as singular, by the way, is “comics”, but that’s been around for decades.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Arthur Pinero: Where there is tea there is hope.

  115. Jana C.H. says:

    Londonboy, what are aspies? I have been trying to figure it out from the context for quite a while, but am floundering.


  116. --MC says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I feel beat myself. I’ll pick up the paper and see that some group is lobbying for the immediate repeal of Roe, for example, or note a campaign to get anti-gay rights measures on this year’s ballot, and I just get tired. We fought those fights already, and we have to keep fighting them again it looks like. But to give up on the fight is to give the haters what they want. So ..

  117. MissieP says:

    geogeek, I’m over 35… some days the spark is really really tiny but it’s still there! Don’t give up, people.
    I’ve really loved reading these comments, cake recipes, complex maths, dead bigots and all.
    LOVE Vlad so much – I have a Brue type dog myself so I an relate.

  118. Elaine says:

    “Londonboy, what are aspies? I have been trying to figure it out from the context for quite a while, but am floundering.

    “Aspies”= self identifying term of endearment among folks with Aspergers Syndrome..


  119. Jeffa says:

    The change in AB’s characters is certainly generating some fascinating conversation and deep feelings! I think it’s how true to life this strip is that we all find frequently disconcerting. The funny thing is, the more I try my hardest to empathize with the characters and keep up positive feelings for the future of the strip, the more I see my peer group mirrored in the personal growth of these characters. They are, quite simply, growing up.

    Sparrow used to be a crystal-totin’ therapy junkie with meditation for all, and she has slowly moved up through the ranks toward positions of actual(don’t say it too loud…)power. Maturity: meditation has its place, but maybe she got tired of not seeing the changes she was visualizing, and found that aggressively DOING was far more satisfying than passively wanting. She’s not the same girl she was because she’s growing into her womanhood.

    Clarice and Toni look beaten-down and tired-out – they are! They’re voluntarily participating in the euthanasia of a 20+ year relationship born of one of this world’s great romances(fictional or not, dammit)! Wouldn’t you be? It’s one of the most emotionally draining experiences anyone could ever have. It’s emotional progress, though, because they’ve stopped fighting the inevitable, and chosen to take responsibility for their own chances at happiness. They’re at their low point right now, they’re just trying to get through it with as little damage as possible. But they will get through it, just like we all have. One day they will wake up, hear the birds singing, and feel glad to be alive. Their spirit and vitality will return, they’ll laugh and play and work and take new lovers, and life will go on, as life always does.

    Geogeek, as an over 35er, I like to think that we haven’t lost our spark, we’ve just banked the embers so they’re ready to blaze right up with a few good pokes when we really need to throw some heat. I think potential for growth ALWAYS leaves hope for positive change.

    Mysticriver, thank you for sticking up so eloquently for poor misunderstood Stuart. He also is growing up – for him, that means becoming set more firmly than ever in the principles born of his youth. He wants to live the dream in more and more of the small day-to-day ways however he can, in addition to all of the chanting and marching and Impeach Nixon/Bush t-shirts. Again, true to life – we know people who grow in this way as well. I hope their divergent paths of growth don’t herald doom for Stuart & Sparrow’s relationship as well, as seems to happen so often. And Stuart IS exactly like Mo in so many ways! Remember when she issued Harriet the ultimatum about not moving in with her when she discovered that Harriet used plastic garbage bags instead of paper? I perceive a very subtle double standard at work here – why is it adorably neurotic when Mo (a woman) does or says these things, but it borders on the abusive when Stuart (a man) does or says the same type of things? Interesting…

    As for Lois, well, don’t we all know at least one member of our peer group who fits the Peter Pan profile? Lois has always cherished her youth. Wouldn’t moving on from Bunns & Noodle symbolize abandoning her carefree, youthful outlook on life? I adore Lois, but it seems like the only way she can cope with having to grow up is to absolutely, positively NOT grow up! I do think she provides a nice foil for the other characters in the strip, though. (Um, that’s not the mathematical kind…)

    I love this strip and the characters in it for their beautiful flawed humanity, and how they mirror the very real life that we all live. If the strip seems depressing right now, well, that just means that they have nowhere to go but up.

  120. Sophie says:

    geogeek, I’m 48 and have never been so full of spark. Today I went and got my third tattoo in as many years. My dreams are full of color and insights. My kid’s becoming a wonderful young adult. Etc…

    This, notwithstanding the global gloom, warmup and whatnot. Am I selfilsh? I think not. I honestly believe we can all choose happiness. It’s hard work, but each genuinely happy person wants others to be happy too. It was a lot better for my daughter when I started to work my way towards happiness than to come home to a depressed Mom every day. And yes, at times it meant letting go of patterns and relationships which weren’t working anymore. “The only thing that is constant in the universe is change.”

    Wow. This is one of the most interesting places on the Internet. Thanks, Alison!

  121. Anonny Mouse says:

    About “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

    She killed his father with that throw-the-rock wish, you know…

    Think about it…

  122. anonymous says:

    I’m kind of surprised that after 100+ posts there hasn’t been any responses to Lee’s reference to the Times article about artists and blog communities: (once again, that’s

    Ok so I’ve only read the first page, but so far it seems fascinatingly relevant to this space and it’s dynamics!

  123. anonymous says:

    Ok now that I’ve finished all 6 pages of the Time article, I’m convinced it got more relevant with each paragraph. There are many interesting points of contact, here’s a couple:

    “In many ways, the Internet’s biggest impact on artists is emotional. When you have thousands of fans interacting with you electronically, it can feel as if you’re on stage 24 hours a day.

    “I vacillate so much on this,” Tad Kubler told me one evening in March. “I’m like, I want to keep some privacy, some sense of mystery. But I also want to have this intimacy with our fans. And I’m not sure you can have both.” …

    Indeed, fan interactions seem to surf along a sine curve, as an artist’s energy for managing the emotional demands waxes and wanes. As I roamed through online discussion boards and blogs, the tone was nearly always pleasant, even exuberant — fans politely chatting with their favorite artists or gushing praise. But inevitably, out of the blue, the artist would be overburdened, or a fan would feel slighted, and some minor grievance would flare up.”

  124. Vivid Lady says:

    Two questions:

    1. Does Sydney, at some subconscious level, want to leave Mo?

    2. Why is Stuart being so controlling?

  125. Patti says:

    I understand that the characters are growing up, feeling their age, and going through stressful situations. But Toni and Ginger look almost skeletal in this strip, especially Toni. That has been bothering me for a while. It brings up deep feelings, as a previous poster said, and I am not entirely sure why.

  126. Lauren Z says:

    All math aside – I’m starting to get annoyed with Sydney’s not so subtle affairs. What is happneing with Mo’s brain? She leave it at the library every day? Sydney’s behavior is so freakin’ obvious, anybody could see what is going on. Or does mo turn a blind eye now?

  127. Techzoid says:

    I’ve loving the polynomials and the math(s) and the general geekiness. One of my favorite theorems was the “ham sandwich theorem”, which can be adapted to spice cake. It proves that if you have a three-layer spice cake, no matter how you might misalign the layers, there is always a way to cut the cake exactly in half with one straight cut.

    Some things you learn so that you can appreciate beauty. Much of mathematics doesn’t and won’t have what most people would call a practical use. It’s just a kind of pretty that you can’t have any other way.

    So thank you, AB, for mentioning polynomials and sparking these thoughts!

  128. mk says:

    The last time we saw Sydney, when she said to Ginger that the thing with Madeline was “out of control” she sure didn’t look happy about the sex she had with Madeline. I’ve known more than one lesbian who has struggled with a sex compulsion and it’s hard not to wonder if that’s what’s happening here. Why does everyone think Mo doesn’t know what’s going on?
    As much as I love the funny, happy DTWOF, I really love the new more serious strips. It would be interesting in the next anthology to have the special “episode” be something in depth about Sydney or maybe Toni. What causes us to do things that hurt the ones we love? How do we stop doing it? Well, I guess it’s AB’s strip, not mine.

  129. Lynn says:

    You guys are too fancy for me. Whew!

    I just wanted to drop a note saying “Love the Crocs!”

  130. Nina says:

    As a long-time lurker, I had to break silence to say that I _LOVE_ every one of you on this blog. I’m sitting at a math conference right now, not listening to the current talk (shame on me – it’s really a nice talk), and smiling to myself about the kibbitzing, math appreciation, pecan cake recipe, and affection that I know is always waiting here for me in spirit (even when the discussion doesn’t run to Liouville numbers or what Galois proved). Thanks to all you guys and, of course, to Alison for providing us with such an amazing, beautiful excuse to gather here together.

  131. Kim says:

    I don’t think that Stuart is being controlling in this episode or most others (yes, selling the car without discussion with Sparrow definitely should have earned him some time in the doghouse). He really thought they had an agreement and when he found out that she was not going along with it, he was surprised and hurt, as I think most of us would be. But he seems OK with it once he realizes that there’s new information (more moolah) to consider.

  132. Anonymous says:

    Well Allison, looks like the tension is building up: What is going on with the dykes to watch out for??
    Will we soon get answers and solutions to unbearable situations? Will Toni starve to death without Clarice even noticing? Will Stuart sell the house without telling anyone? Will Sydney loose just everything and Mo her interest? And what is Lois doing lately besides mowing the lawn…

  133. Doctor E says:

    At the risk of being called “crocophobic,” I have to ask:

    What are crocs?

  134. Andrew B says:

    Crocs are sandals/mules with a brightly colored, perforated plastic upper. See JR’s foot in the bottom left panel.

  135. Ginjoint says:

    A fast post before work…(sheesh, at first I typed “a fast pork before worst!”)

    Hey Doctor E – I “got” your comment regarding your degrees. I know you meant no elitism or whatever else. Sorry you had some stuff thrown at you.

    Also…I’m not “gleeful” at Falwell’s death. Do I care, though, really? No. I don’t think the mere fact of being human (as opposed to animal?) entitles us to automatic respect – that’s gained in how one lives one’s life. I will not leave nasty comments about Falwell at any web sites devoted to him, or anything else along that line. And that’s a more generous response than Falwell, or many of his followers, seem capable of.

  136. Alex the Bold says:

    Oh God! It just dawned on me!

    Sydney “accidentally” bought the sex toy with the card she and Mo share.

    More likely, Sydney has finally run out of credit! I’ve always wondered if Mo was going to actually have a stroke during a strip!

  137. Doctor E says:

    Ginjoint, the “stuff” that got thrown was gentler than anything I’d encounter anywhere else on the internet. This site may be high-drama, but it’s remarkably low-belligerence.

  138. xckb13 says:

    Regarding crocs, for a view par excellence, see the “oddments” section of the archive from December 6, 2006. Like several other entries in the archive, it features a photo of AB modeling her own (turquoise? aqua? I’m sure someone on this blog has a precise answer for this) contribution to the ongoing crocs fad.

  139. ready2agitate says:

    Hello fabulous all,

    Wow what a tornado of commentary this blog is! (OK, come back here all who wish to comment on my use of “tornado” as metaphor…!) (smile) (I am just finishing up LondonBoy & Louise’s back-and-forth about Sarkozy from last month – next, the two articles on blogs & artists…).

    Anyhow, Is it possible that AB may occasionally write these strips as stand-alones? In other words, strips that a reader can enjoy even if she or he hasn’t been following them all in order, or at all. I think Mo & Sydney’s little interaction (“Mistakes are made”) really works in this vein. It’s just sheer comic humor. To me it says: Mistakes are made, they are forgiven (or not), and isn’t it funny (strange) how life goes on all the while the larger geopolitical situation is in the toilet?

    I don’t know Boston Terriers, but Vlad’s tongue is vaguely unnerving to me, its upward tilt reminding me of Dilbert’s tie (sorry). Ginger’s Commencement regalia, however, is spot-on, and beautifully drawn.

    Thanks to Ellen Orleans for the comment about the double-entendre of Virginia-kitty’s glare at Sydney. Also to Jeffa for the eloquent ode to the exhaustion (and possibility for hope & rejuvenation) that comes with a break-up of a relationship as epic as Toni & Clarice’s. Relationships bloom, they stagnate, some die, some are rejuvenated, some ebb and flow. AB is capturing these women’s lives perfectly.

    Also, I hate to say it, because there have been great rebuttals to counter, but I also find Stuart completely annoying, and I read his “we” similarly to Alex the Bold – as presumptuous and arrogant. However, hee hee at the comparison’s with Mo – Touche!

    Did anyone answer Jana C.H.’s question about pluralizing maths btw?

  140. NLC says:

    Concerning “Vlad’s tongue”:

    That’s what I thought at first, too. But I think it’s actually a piece of the envelope.
    (Look the envelope as Alexis hands it to Toni. It’s pretty chewed up. Also, you can see the end of the scrap inside Vlad’s mouth.)

  141. a different Emma says:

    Hey there.
    I just finished reading Leslie Feinberg’s _Trans Gender Warriors_ and absolutely love the cartoon AB did for it. (pg 114). I highly suggest y’all check it out. This stuff has roots, and AB’s contributions to the LGBTTQ arts community are wonderfully appreciated.
    Here’s wishing her good luck paperbacking her roots around the world.

  142. --MC says:

    And then it struck me: Vlad, a dog? Is that an oblique reference to Albert Payson Terhune?

  143. ready2agitate says:

    Oop. OK. Not his tongue? I feel better already.

    I can’t even remember who I lent my copy of TG Warrior to, but yes it’s great to see DTWOF in impt books like that one. She’s also in the Bi-resource Guide with a great strip featuring Sparrow and repesenting bi-phobia. Agreed that AB’s contributions are a real gift to the world — a treasure, really. Sure has made my journey more enjoyable.

  144. Lynne says:

    I am a Crocs fan (mary janes style for me) & I can tell you that AB’s Crocs are indeed “Turquoise.” Style-wise, I’d guess they’re the “Cayman.”

  145. Judy M. says:

    A reminiscence. When I was taking high school algebra back in 1980/81, the subject of the Women’s Pentagon Action came up. As I recall, the women had encircled the Pentagon with yarn. The natural question was: If you stand “x” feet away from the Pentagon, how much yarn do you need to encircle it?

    See, math is important! Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to show up at the Pentagon and not have enough yarn to go all the way around?!

    (As we learned in one of AB’s books, if one of the DTWOF was a math major, there was nothing to worry about.)

  146. Judy M. says:

    Sorry, I meant high school geometry. With Mrs. Caporello (awesome math teacher)!

  147. Anonymous says:

    So is the implication here that Sydney is cheating on Mo or is overindulging her shopping addiction again? I R confused.

  148. Doctor E says:

    Both. She’s cheating on Mo, abusing their joint account, and indulging her tech fixation. She can’t even have sex without a shiny new gadget!

  149. Dianne says:

    Sydney claims to be buying a wedding gift for her old friend Theodora…as in Theo late of Madwimmin Books? Mo and Theo might meet again…perhaps Mo is finally going to get it put to her in a way that she can’t ignore that Sydney is never going to stop being a lying, cheating abuser and dump her already. I have hard time believing she hasn’t done so already, but my two explanations (in and out of the strip reality) are: 1. (in strip reality) Mo is not the type of person who leaves a relationship. Harriet left her, not the other way around. Mo will try to hang on and reform her partner whether or not it is even remotely possible. In short, she’s being the sort of doormat women throughout history have always been to their partners, it’s just that her abusive spouse is also a woman. 2. (out of strip reality): Bechdel likes Sydney and doesn’t want to get rid of her. If the latter is true, my advice would be to get rid of Mo and let Syndey be the main character of the strip. The dynamic is ridiculous and it’s dragging the whole strip down.

  150. Riotllama says:

    I’ve been trying to send this comment since yesterday, but the website doesn’t seem to want to post it.
    maybe it’ll go through if I write this on it.

    Londonboy- thank you so much for opening the window of your thoughts for us! I like your brain. to answer your question, i didn’t see the connection between 28 and 210 at all and never would have even suspected it. i just don’t think about numbers like that. I enjoy the patterns i see in numbers such as repetition or consecutives or multiples or odds vs evens, (I work in a library and have plenty of time entering long barcodes to find pleasure in small patterns) but it doesn’t go much deeper than that. I am not bad at math, but I’m not a whiz either. I don’t enjoy doing math problems for the sake of them, but i DO enjoy reading about math history and simple theory. I got really excited when i rediscovered Fibonacci theory as an adult, but more for the pattern than the equation if that makes sense.
    And i find that as for the “does my ass look big in this?” I would rather have a friend answer me truthfully, whether i like the answer or not. also, saying, ‘yes, but big asses are hot.” might be worth a try. cause they are.

    Geogeek- It is annoying that Staurt uses the term “we” when referring to a decision that many think should be solely in Sparrows realm to make, but when I look at it in terms of their partnership, it’s a bit different. Although stuart is a stay at home dad, he and sparrow both seem very committed to being equally parents. We’ve seen how stressed Clarice and Toni are, both from their relationship and their jobs and how that carries over into their relationship with Raffi. I’m often ask my partner for her input in those sorts of decisions. “do you think I will have enough time to co-ordinate Y at the same time I’ve got X and Z and Q still needs to happen until friday?” Their life is a partnership and while neither of them are perfect at it, (stuart selling the car, sparrow making this job decision.) It’s obviously important for them to make these kinds of big decisions together.

    Jana C.H. – I think using the term “maths” rather than “math” *is* a Britishism. I live in Philadelphia, but I’m a bit of an Anglophile linguistically, and I knew i was directing my question to someone from the UK, which is why I used it.

  151. Feminista says:

    Dianne–Say it isn’t so! AB CAN’t get rid of Mo: she’s a permanent fixture in the strip. One of the DTWOF books had an introductory explanation of the characters,and it referred to “the Mo-centric Universe.”

    I can’t stand Sydney lyin’,cheatin’,careerist ways,though I believe she was introduced as someone who was not a paragon of virtue in order to balance out our regular righteous gals.

    Also I think Sparrow and Stuart have a good partnership and provide a model for tweaking stereotypical gender roles. They haven’t gotten married,forgoing hetero privilege,despite the Pidgeons’steadfastly refusing to give her any inheritance money unless she is legally wedded to their granddaughter’s father.

  152. mlk says:

    I love how JR is riding the trike with a helmet and no shirt! and Sparrow biting her nail as she tells Stuart about her new job. some may fault her for being coy or insecure about breaking her news . . . I think it’s fitting that a person who’s made a unilateral decision in a relationship (a decision that one knows will be unpopular with one’s partner) who *doesn’t* feel a little apprehensive is, oh, arrogant and insensitive?

  153. mlk says:

    reading everyone’s comments leads me to take 3rd, 4th and 5th looks at the strip.

    notice how Clarice looks as dismayed reading her revised will as she does reading the paper?!!? I love the way AB uses the same expression in different contexts within a strip — in this case, it’s like bookends in the story.

    Clarice just seems to be in a state of disbelief about the separation and what’s going on in her own life. Kinda like I feel about our leadership, although there are signs of hope with the 2006 election outcome and how people seem to be energized by the changes. So far as I can tell, we haven’t become complacent, figuring that everything’s OK now, or just become worn out by the effort that’s been required.

    anyone have ideas about what might serve an equivalent in Clarice and Toni’s relationship? I’d really hate to see them end it and it *is* true to life for folks to wake up at the last minute and decide they’re making a mistake.

    I’m thinking about women have the clarity of vision and courage to scrap a wedding when they know the marriage will be a mistake. I didn’t do that, but my niece has!

    at its best, DTWOF is about living courageously and being true to oneself. as is life.

  154. xckb13 says:

    “Theodora” definitely seems to refer to Thea. And since Mo had a big crush on her at one point, I bet she’ll pick up on it.

    Random question: do the dykes and bi-dykes of DTWOF shave their legs? Or are they just drawn without any hirsute detail for other reasons? (Bear with me – it’s past 2 AM here.) I’m just curious because in the “real estate transactions” panel, I noticed the contrast between Stuart on the one hand and Lois and Sparrow on the other, and I know my girlfriend wouldn’t be caught dead near a leg razor.

  155. mysticriver says:

    Nobody used to shave…if I had to guess I’d say Mo definitely still doesn’t, not sure about anyone else.

    But from the long distance view we’re seeing, I doubt hair on the legs of Lois & Sparrow would show up the way it does on a bear like Stuart!

  156. andrew s says:

    I know that postal carrier from somewhere. Could she be the same postal carrier that appeared in the 1992 DTWOF calendar, August, reprinted in “The Indelible Alison Bechdel”??? Or is she simply the one who has been delivering the mail to chez all-of-them this whole time, and I just now recognized her?

  157. Grisha says:

    I really don’t want Cynthia to retire from the strip. AB can follow her on her summer internship in DC and then she can come back to Buffalo Lake for grad school (Maybe on a CIA scholorship!) Loved Vlad chewing a little piece out of the manilla envelope.

    As for Jerry, I imagene God sid to him something like “Remember how you figured out you were wrong about Black people. Well you were wrong about gay people too.” Maybe he sits next to Barbara Jordan at dinner sometimes.

  158. Tim T. says:

    for Grisha:
    When (and how) did Falwell “figure out he was wrong about black people”? No joke–I’d really like to know!
    Best wishes to all.
    Tim T.

  159. ksbel6 says:

    I don’t know about Falwell, but the Mormon’s declared black people to be acceptable in 1978. Crazy the way religions just suddenly decide who is alright…

  160. One final dig at Stewart... says:

    And another thing!

    Seriously, though, not to pick on Stewart, but the more I think on it (I was just washing the dishes, and I hate washing the dishes) the more I pick over Stewart’s behavior, the more I keep picking over his behavior.

    Remember the strip where Stewart decides to recarpet the hallway? The whole thing is presented as a metaphor for the Iraq war. (Granted, it’s a metaphor, so possibly not character-actual.)

    But Stewart just goes ahead on his own. Screws up everything.

    If Stewart were a woman, I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be a huge outcry about “Why is Stewartina being so bossy to Sparrow? Why is Stewertina such a screw up? Where does Stewartina get off trying to guilt Sparrow into not taking a job? Wait! Stewartina SOLD the car?!”

    Sparrow, lying on a couch, in an off-the-cuff moment tells Stewart to go ahead and quit his job if he thinks the two of them can survive on her measly salary. Then Stewart, oh my God, everyone brace for it, hears a child using a swear word and THAT’S IT! MY PRECIOUS BABY’S DARLING EARS!!!

    When is Stewart going to have his, well, his growing the hell up moment? Because I can’t imagine a dyke acting like this and getting away with it for long before her friends held an intervention.

    I hate dishes!

  161. Alex the Bold says:

    Whoops! “One final dig at Stewart…” is me. See what the dishes do to me?

  162. Grisha says:

    Tim T.

    Here’s one account. I hope God found a nice, gay, Black, Muslim to show him around during the first few days in the afterlife.


    Jerry Falwell’s Long Journey
    by Tom Head, About.com Guide to Civil Liberties

    When Jerry Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1956, he was one of the most prominent young racial segregationists in Virginia. On his radio show, the Old-Time Gospel Hour, he preached the separation of the races–condemning landmark civil rights rulings like Brown v. Board of Education and stating that integration “will destroy our race eventually.”

    Falwell went on to integrate Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1968, and would apologize for his views in later years. He was not by far the first white person of his generation to align himself with segregationists early in life and then back away from them–Justice Hugo Black, who joined the 9-0 majority in Brown, had once been a Klansman.

    But he was, perhaps, the most high-profile American public figure to do so and then get intensively involved on the wrong side of South African politics during the 1980s, supporting the segregationist campaign of D.W. Botha, opposing divestment, opposing the release of future South African president Nelson Mandela from prison, and calling Archbishop Desmond Tutu a “phony” (a remark for which he later apologized). For Falwell’s supporters, it was an indication of his commitment to fighting Soviet expansion–as Falwell felt that the abolition of apartheid, if it happened too abruptly, would lead to political collapse of the existing democratic regime. For Falwell’s critics, the motives appeared far less noble.

    By the time of his death, Falwell faced a difficult challenge: Incorporating socially conservative black evangelicals into the Religious Right. It was a goal he obviously believed in, but was not able to actualize–though some of his students very well might. Liberty University, a private evangelical college founded by Falwell in 1971, boasts a 28% non-white student body. That’s pretty good for a historically white private university in Virginia.

  163. kim says:

    leaved the maths (as we say downunder) My students in high school say very similar and I love seeing their faces light up when they get how to factor a polynomial, will they use it the real world, prob not unless they become maths teachers and the beat goes on!

  164. Knifey Utensil says:

    My first post and it’s about math. I’m currently taking college algebra (and failing!) and I loath factoring. Another lovely strip tho~

  165. malefan says:

    how old is Raffi supposed to be?

    In one strip he’s looking 10-12yrs old. Now he’s learning about polynomials? Isn’t that High School Stuff?

    10th or 11th grade?

    Is this just an indication that AB went to an exclusive private school with an advanced learning curriculum where stuff the working class kids like me learned in HS, she learned in 6th n 7th grade hehehe? (just kidding) 😉

    More than likely it’s AB proving what Einstein could not, and that’s time is mutable.

    With a simple little blurb from one character, she launches her strip and her characters and her fans far into the future, setting up all sorts of convenient story-telling conceits that will allow her to radically alter DTWOF as she sees fit? And it all starts with Raffi in Public HS learning algebra or is it Community College. hehehe

  166. anon-eponymous says:

    I went to first grade in 1977; the year after the bicentennial. I learned to read rather rapidly and had the events of 1776 very much on my mind. About halfway through the school year I decided to check out “We Were There at the Battle of Lexington and Concord” which is a chapter book. The school librarian wouldn’t let me because it was too difficult for my age group. She and my first grade teacher walked me around the library, suggesting non-chapter books about roughly the same time period; but I had already read them all. I was bewildered and scared. I had not anticipated that wanting to read a book would get me in so much trouble.

    The school closed at the end of the year and my parents decided to home school. I made the unfortunate mistake of getting a Magna Cum Laude in the National Latin Exam at the age of seven; thereby convincing them that they were doing everything right and that public schools had nothing of value to offer. (To those who don’t know; Latin is usually reserved for high school in the public schools in my area.)

    My experiences make me think that a lot of the supposed “difficulty” of varous subjects is socially constructed. Had I been more socially integrated in first grade I would have “known” that kids my age don’t read chapter books. I would not have tried to check one out. Had my parents subscribed more to conventional teaching attitudes they would have “known” that seven year olds can’t learn Latin. And so on.

  167. Jana C.H. says:

    Seven-year-olds pick up languages a lot more quickly than high schoolers do. And a librarian who wouldn’t allow a student to at least try to read a book ahead of her grade is a disgrace to her profession.

    1977– I was in college, and instead celebrating the Bicentennial, a friend and I celebrated the 1500th anniversary of the Fall of Rome. Maybe you should have taken a stab at Gibbon, and really thrown them for a loop.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith JcH: Some people drink, some people gamble, some like whips and chains– I buy books.

  168. Riotllama says:

    I took algebra in 8th grade. public school. but i was in advanced class.

  169. Emmy says:

    RE: math and Latin

    I’m of the last high school generation which was told “If you’re going to college, you have to take Latin. It’s useful because you learn word roots and the structure of the language teaches mental discipline.” They didn’t quite dare to still say that Latin was the common language of educated people. Funny thing, about two years after the Catholic mass started using the vernacular, Latin stopped being a requirement for the college-bound.

    I see the same problem with telling people that “math is useful.” It’s a lie. Fewer and fewer people need to know the nuts and bolts of math anymore. Fewer people have hobbies that require calculation. Store clerks don’t even need know numbers–just scan the item (or touch its picture). Engineers and accountants put the numbers into spreadsheets. Even many scientists use symbolic calculation software.

    The irony is, the more technical the culture, the fewer people need to know math–but those people need to know a lot of math, so everyone has to waste time so that math classes stay large enough to be economically viable so the culture gets the mathematically-competent people it needs.

    Mathematical beauty, yes…but then we should have math appreciation classes, not nuts and bolts classes.

  170. markmaker says:

    I’m always a week or two after every one else’s post, so who knows if anyone even reads this far down the scroll…

    But here’s what’s on my mind:
    The loss of the relationship with Toni and Clarice is hard for me because it is so personally scary. I’m in a beautiful, powerful marriage of 3.5 years. The idea that there might come a day when there is no more road over the horizon is really scary. I have so few role models of sustainable love, I’m making up so much of this as I go along, that any time a role model becomes a don’t model is sad. Sometimes I have this sinking feeling that love happens on an assembly conveyor belt so that each long term committed couple who fails means I’m one couple closer to the day we don’t light up to see each other any more. It’s illogical, but it does cross my mind sometimes.

    as for Stuart: he’s okay. I’d hate to water down the word “abuse” with trivial links like this. “Hypocrit” if you must. But really, if she’s allowed to unilaterally say ‘this is the career move for me’, isn’t he at least allowed to say ‘ouch, I and the rest of the family we’ve created will miss you when you’re gone so long each day’. The grass is greener where you water it. Sparrow’s career focus could be a wonderful balance in the relationship (too many of the same talents renders each other useless) but it could also deprive their relationship of the attention it deserves. Stuart’s not out of line to ask that they really think that through. The money thing just makes them think harder about their current priorities instead of falling back on the most recent assessment by default.

    and slower after 35? Okay, I’m 34 and 10 months. but rather than net slower, I’m just more focused. I still do a bit for broader change issues, but a considerably larger chunk of my energy is focused on very particular change. (agriCulture and ecology etc)

    hugs to AB and the forum as a whole. Nice to read, nice to think about.

  171. Nene says:

    Is this the same lawyee who handled the Raffis’ adoption?

    That lawyer had a great dane.

  172. Ellen Orleans says:


    Yup, it’s the same lawyer, Alexis. The Great Dane, Bruce, has presumedly died.

    I like how Alexis embraces extreme dog sizes.

  173. Jaibe says:

    What is E. D. ?

  174. Jaibe says:

    Oh, is it executive director? Is Sparrow going to be a CEO?

  175. mlk says:

    re: the tiredness of DTWOF characters, I agree with Londonboy’s interpretation of the strip in light of Alison’s life. another good reason for her to alternate new strips with “classics,” in my opinion.

    I believe part of what we’re seeing, though, is the reality of life. Alison’s characters are now in midlife, when most of us have less energy than those coming after us. maybe what we’ve been noticing all this time is a tribute to Alison’s skill in making the characters “real.”

    if that’s the case, perhaps some younger characters are in order. I remember back in the old days when Mo and Lois were still at Mad Wimmin, AB considered having new interns in the store, a new one every year or so, just to keep young and fresh faces in the strip. developing the characters of Sydney and Ginger’s students serves a similar purpose . . .

    I posted awhile back about Clarice’s emotions in the first and last panels and, in the intensity of my identification with her, I forgot one of the cardinal rules in relationships — one can *end* them unilaterally, but one can’t force them to continue without doing immense damage to the relationship itself. seems to me that this is why so many individuals get along *much* better after separating than they were together and unhappy. separation offers better circumstances for healing.

    unfortunatly, it seems that folks who change their mind about staying in a relationship do so because of outside circumstances. if Raffi lapsed into a coma, or Toni was diagnosed with cancer, that might actually bring Toni and Clarice back together. on a lighter note, maybe attending a commitment ceremony and remembering how in love they were at their ceremony, and how committed they were when they got married, would also do the trick. then we could sigh and smile at the strips relating their reconciliation and the glimpses of their 2nd (3rd?) honeymoon. great opportunity for sex scenes!! I really believe Clarice will suffer greatly once the separation is final.

    thank you, Londonboy, for coming out as a Christian (I think that happened somewhere earlier on this thread). the (Christian) religious right has made it more difficult for me to share that part of myself in politicized settings.

    Jana C.H., I’ve noticed that when bisexual folk mention their orientation it doesn’t receive a cutting response, but it isn’t acknowledged, either. I feel like that part of me is invisible here.

    and finally, I’m glad that someone brought the blog back to the strip. the chatter is nice — I love it! — but I’d think we could also find more to say that’s directly related to Alison’s post.

    — end of thoughts (for today)

  176. Flo says:

    Oh, I do love Cynthia. Part of me thinks that it would so much easier to deal with if only she were being ironic, but the best part of me knows that that the fact she is being so utterly sincere is what’s so wonderful about her. Rather disturbing too, granted (it’s always strange to meet someone who has a ocmpletely different mindset from you).

    I also think it’s a testament to the script that a single sentence can generate so much mathporn. My Math classes can hardly compare…

  177. mlk says:

    oops!! one more . . .

    re: Jerry Falwell, he had a longstanding professional relationship Mel White, who was a ghost writer for him (I think). Mel White’s book _Stranger at the Gate:to be Gay and Christian in America_ is about how he tried to become straight for 20 some years while he was married to a wonderfully compassionate and patient woman — just so he could remain in the church. he failed miserably, he and his wife separated but stayed close, and he began living as a gay man.

    I’ve also read that Mr. Falwell softened his stance about gay relationships somewhere along the line. maybe he stopped bashing us so badly (sometime after 9/11)?

    yes, Jerry Falwell has done a lot of damage to many people. He’s made this world much more difficult to live in . . . AND transforming bigotry takes lots of time. Jerry Falwell wasn’t born a bigot, he was trained to think that way. he clung to his beliefs with arrogance and tenacity.

    my idea about “judgement” is that we see how our actions affected others (kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life) AND what we might have done, what we were invited to do differently. that can be pretty painful, even horrifying! seems to me that’s private, between God and the individual.

  178. anon-eponymous says:

    Let x be the cost of my groceries, in cents.

    If x mod 100 = 50 give the cashier (x div 100) * 100 + 100 + (x mod 100 – 50). So, for example, if the groceries are $8.53 I give the cashier
    8 * 100 + 100 + (53 – 50) cents = $9.03. Then I hope to receive from the cashier exactly two quarters.

    This is how I accumulate quarters for the coin-op laundry machine in the basement of my building where I do my laundry.

    How do people who use coin-op laundry, buy groceries, and never have any use for math accumulate their quarters? This is more of a culture question than anything else; I’m certain that there are lots of people who fit all three criteria.

  179. jay in chicago says:

    in rolls of 40 from the currency exchange?

  180. anon-eponymous says:

    Oh, wow, you have room in your apartment for that many quarters at once? Where do you keep them?

  181. Jana C.H. says:

    How do I accumulate quarters? I put them in a jar on my dresser.

    I also do what anon-epon does, but it’s such a simple piece of math that I never think of it in terms of calculation. We all do a lot more math in our daily lives than we imagine. Just because it’s not hard doesn’t mean it’s not math.

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Arthur Pinero: Where there is tea there is hope.

  182. sweeter_the_juice says:

    “One needs to know how to factor a polynomial in order to score well on the GRE and go to grad school.

    (I know this because I teach GRE prep to 22 year olds who are no happier than Raffi about having to relearn this utterly irrelevant skill!)”

    Actually, I am in a master’s program, and I took the MAT instead because I was so intimidated by GRE.

  183. anon says:

    Why?…. ’cause the factoring will get you the foreign job you need to emigrate to, oh, Canada or New Zealand or Costa Rica or whereever you go when you need to escape….

  184. Alex the Bold says:

    The reason for learning polynomials is much the same as the answer to the question: “Why are most nouns in English pluralized with an ‘s’ but some, like sheep, are the same in plural and single, and some, like goose and geese, have a change in the middle?”

    Because that’s how it is. No one is going to revamp English to make all the rules perfectly uniform. Similarly, no one is going to reconfigure the universe to make polynomials non-essential.

    What’s their essentialness? Two things:

    1. You need them for higher math. Why go to the gym every day? Oh, because the exercise EVERY day has a cumulative effect, even though it seems pointless to go for just the one day.

    2. Polynomials are one of the many seemingly stupid and pointless things that much of education is composed of. 2A. Some of that is a sad artifact of the “Old Days.” Sure, the whole education system needs an enema and improvement, but taking away the hard, boring stuff just because it’s hard and boring isn’t the way to do it.
    2B. The rest of it is that, well, when you need a rocket scientist, you can’t just train someone for that in two days. You need years/decades of study to be a rocket scientist.

    Back at UMass, in the late 1980s, there was a particularly sadistic thing they’d do to those who were majoring in sciences. Your first semester would be Calc I, Bio I, Chem I and something for fun, maybe Freshman writing or eating rusty razor blades. The first three courses were designed to be as hard as possible. Why? Because a lot of people start off wanting to be chemists, biologists, etc., but very few of them genuinely have the intelligence and passion to succeed AND enjoy themselves.

    It’s irresponsible to let 1,000 students go two years through a chemistry curriculum (or bio or calculus) only so that when they get to junior year they discover that they can’t stand the idea of doing this for the next 50 years.

  185. AJ says:

    I’m a little bummed out. So many of the lesbian relationships are screwed up — Toni and Clarice, Mo and Sydney, Ginger and Samia. It’s not so much fun to read anymore. I mean, I like Stuart and Sparrow, but I sure wish the lesbian couples were having a better time of it.

  186. Alex the Bold says:

    Well, Sydney and Madeleine seem to be hitting off…

  187. mlk says:

    every once in a while comments on this blog tend towards “Stuart bashing.” I’m feeling a need to come to his defense, especially since I suggested earlier that he was arrogant and insensitive in his decision to sell the car.

    where to begin?

    from a relationship standpoint, selling the car without consulting Sparrow was reprehensible. my little green heart cheers him on, though, because giving up a car in American society is such a radical thing to do. getting Sparrow to agree to it and making this a family decision would have taken much longer — in fact, it might never have happened if Stuart didn’t take matters into his own hands. I can’t blame Sparrow at all for being upset and at the same time I applaud the gutsiness of his decision.

    someone referred to the strip where Stuart decides to replace the carpet in their shared household instead of checking on the state of the roof/walls. I took this strip to be Alison’s use of the characters to illustrate a political point — and very cleverly, too! I don’t believe this was at all part of the storyline, because I can’t imagine Sparrow, Lois and Ginger allowing Stuart to move ahead with his plan. 3:1, I’m sure they could have prevailed . . . particularly since Stuart wasn’t employed at the time.

    one may quibble with Alison’s using her characters just to illustrate a point. so far as I’m concerned, though, she has every right to do this. after all, she’s a cartoonist.

    finally, we’ve got to remember that Stuart is still working through the socialization that he’s received as a white, middle class American male. and, despite his lesbian leanings, at heart he’s straight, too.

    I say, give the guy a break! men haven’t worked as assiduously in the past 40+ years to overcome their conditioning as women have, for obvious reasons. enlightened men out there shouldn’t criticize Stuart, they should support him. and maybe take a look at their own progress with letting go of male priviledge.

  188. mlk says:

    I’m gonna apologize right now for, perhaps, getting self rightous. it’s not PMS, I’m not menopausal . . . I don’t think my feelings about male/female relations have any hormonal roots.

    it’s more that I believe we might actually be ready for the form of femnism I’ve been waiting for all my life. it’s been said that in the 60’s and 70’s women were fighting for the right to be more like men. I’ve been looking for the day when the mainstream values and cultivates “feminine qualities,” like cooperation, caretaking, thought processes that aren’t so linear and goal directed.

    there’s more to it than that, though. how much of a double standard remains around what men and women are expected to do to support their families? last I heard, working wives still pick up a lot of the slack when it comes to keeping a household going. are men and women considered equally self indulgent when setting boundaries and pursuing outside interests that protect the integrity of “this is me?” how often are women recognized for being in positions of leadership where they have the vision and delegate to others how it gets done? when men and women are given a responsibility and told to “just do it,” who is more likely (and better equipped) to enlist help in a constructive way?

    this is not to say that “male” qualities aren’t important, or that *all* men are more competitive and less communicative while *all* women are more nurturing and helpful. individual differences can be found all over the place! I’m asking about our practices for socializing males and females, about what we as human beings value and invest in. these are rather pressing questions for me because I face daily how my socialization and rather “feminine” temperament play out in work and relationships.

  189. aerAK says:

    I am coming back to the strip after almost 9 years – I lost track of DTWOF for a while. It’s good to get back into the groove, but I am terribly sad and, I admit, a bit shocked, to see the state of things with the fine women of DTWOF. It’s funny how attached I still am, as long as it has been, and I am depressed like when I hear from an old friend that they are divorcing with their sweetheart. I can only hope C & T will come to their senses.

    I think part of the reason I drifted away from the strip was I was heartbroken to see Clarice and Toni slowly going down the ‘crapper,’ as Raffi says. I see things have not gotten better, and Toni looks horribly thin to me. All the women look exhausted – though I guess they have just ‘aged’ in 9 years or so of drawing.

    Alison, thanks for sticking with DTWOF, though not all of your fans have been as faithful as you. I promise to update my books (I have every one up to ‘Hot Throbbing’ and ‘The Indelible’) and see how things have been going to lead to this. Congrats on everything you have and will accomplish. I’m glad you are taking steps to slow down at least a little bit – good for you.

    If you get the chance, you may want post your website on the Simon’s Rock alumni webpage (Rock net). You have a profile there, with no real information and no link. Hey, maybe Raffi could go there for school. 🙂

  190. grandma minnie says:

    Delighted to come across this intriguing comic strip, and to see the push-mower (apparently human-powered). I look forward to reading the 506 episodes between 1 and 508. Thank you.

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  194. Carmen says:

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