Sundae Vacuum Sorrow

It is Sundae again and I am informed this morning of the discorporation of Alex Anderson. [Link] Who prithee is Alex Anderson,you may ask. Did he sell insurance in Greater Metropolitan Arab or build some crucial part of some missile in Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill that kept democracy solvent? Rather a bit of both, it would seem.

Alex Anderson is one of, if not THE, brain/mind behind Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose aka Rocky and Bullwinkle aka Moose and Squirrel. Back when I was growing up there were two cartoons series that held first place in my attention span. One of these were coyote cartoons, those of Wiley Coyote who was perpetually chasing The Roadrunner in a perpetually frustrated fashion. The other was Moose and Squirrel.

Both of these cartoon series were multi-layered, having content that included the usually cartoon mayhem that delights the dinosaur part of children’s brain, but also deeper content of appeal as one aged and ossified mentally into adulthood. Of the two, Coyote cartoons, or as they were erroneously called by their manufacturers, Road Runner cartoons, were the more intellectual of the two. The basis of this was a studied, systematic negation of the laws of nature. Coyote cartoon are about physics and by the violation of various laws of physics serve as a learning ground of basic mechanical physics that transcends any other know source. If Renaissance Italy had had cartoons, Galileo would have stolen Newton’s thunder.

Several years ago I was called upon to teach a course of sophomore mechanics, the first part that is almost entirely Newtonian. This was at the time when the Vietnam war was wound down and the student body was again warped by the presence of veterans. The class I had had a few unshaven not-yet-enfranchised members but the bulk were veterans with all the attitude towards authority that the recent conflict implied.

My approach was to make use of Coyote cartoons. Yes the boards of equations and their derivations were still there, but the key concepts were illustrated by Coyote cartoons and the exam was an exercise in identifying ten things unphysical in a cartoon and explaining why.

The experiment, viewed dimly by the regular faculty, was a resounding success. The medium of Coyote cartoons bridged the age precipice in the class and brought the veterans down from their sullen pedestals. The only difficulty I experienced was one fellow who was married with children and whose wife refused to believe that a college course in physics would require him to watch cartoons on Saturday when he should be doing Ward Cleaver stuff.

Moose and Squirrel were not so much about science as about humans and society. If Coyote cartoons taught us about physics by demonstrating violations, Moose and Squirrel taught us about the adult world by demonstrating violations. To this day I attribute – blame – my lack of business sense to watching the parodies of society in Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. And if the intellectuality was greater in Coyote cartoons, the depth of attraction and relevance was greater in Rocky and Bullwinkle. Even today, as a drooling, doddering ORF, I take pleasure in watching Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The only thing I regret is that there is no contemporary equivalent for the current age cohort to be taught by. Surely an indication of the irredentist impending collapse of civilization and the extinction of humans.

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