1 March 2004
Night of fear
Andrei Codrescu once opined that lorazepam and other cousins of Valium impaired our capacity to dream. I'm here to tell you that, as Ira Gershwin might have said, it ain't necessarily so.
Scene: A present, though not necessarily this present; I know this because I'm at my parents' house, and both of them are still alive. I'm going through my morning routine, and it seems to be taking longer than usual, which of course causes me to worry that I'm going to be late for work especially when it dawns on me that my car isn't here, but at my house on the other side of town.
The family is remarkably unhelpful. They wheel out a bus which has been customized to Monster Truck levels; I can't even climb into the driver's seat. "You're on your own," says a voice. Fine, I mumble, and hop on the cell phone, first to my boss "Get here when you can" is the unexpectedly civil response then to summon a cab. The dispatcher asks where to send the taxi; a little too loudly, I say, not the address I'm at, but the address next door.
A crowd has gathered in the street, and it seems to extend for blocks in every direction. I'm not too worried we've had this sort of eruption occasionally in this version of the universe but I don't see how any of this is going to help me. The cell phone rings with a tone I hadn't heard before, and it's a BBC newsreader who wishes to audition, not me, but a young woman who was reportedly at this address. It turns out that the person the BBC man wants is the nonexistent female doppelgänger I had created for online purposes back in the 80s; I'm trying to explain this to him without, you know, actually explaining this to him, when I spy a yellow Chevrolet out of the corner of my eye.
Not the usual yellow Chevrolet one sees in the taxi fleet, though; this one is a 1957 convertible, its tailfins enameled jet black, its interior some shade of red found only in boudoirs, and its driver, a slight woman in a dress apparently devoid of color, demands, "Well, do you want a ride or not?"
I climb into the back seat, and off we go through what seems to be a full-fledged insurrection.
As we pass an intersection, she says, "Keep your head low."
"How low?" I ask.
WZZZZT! something darts past my ear.
"Lower than that," she says.
I start to notice how utterly uncablike this car is; oh, there's a meter nicely integrated into the metal dash, but there are lots of buttons and gauges I don't remember from any '57 Chevy I've seen before. She pushes a button, gets out of the car, and gestures for me to follow. By now thoroughly baffled, I comply.
Behind the big wooden door is an ultramodern office of some sort, though I haven't any idea what it's for. The driver is known here, though; at least, she's giving hand signals to people as we walk down the hall.
Through another big wooden door, and there's the car, apparently driving itself, about twenty yards ahead of us. "Damn," she says. "Three-tenths of a second slow. Get ready to run."
I'm getting ready to run, as best I can, when a motorcycle, presumably from behind the building, accelerates to blinding speed, with all the noise that speed implies, and heads straight for the Chevy.
The crash is astonishing; the cyclist where is the cyclist? was this an unmanned mission? is conspicuous by his absence; the Chevy is stopped but undamaged.
We climb back in, proceed on a side street, and get out once more, this time at what looks like an auditorium of some sort. The door opens, and what I'm seeing, I think, is an emergency infirmary; there are neat rows of mattresses, though no bed frames to speak of, and about half the mattresses are freshly sheeted and unoccupied.
"Drop 'em and let's go," she orders, and I note to my amazement that she's already shed most of her clothing. She looks even smaller now, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, though no twelve-year-old I've ever seen had this many scars.
She's selected a mattress, and we're going through physical gyrations simultaneously feverish and perfunctory, when someone in the next row imagine Nick Nolte at ninety rolls toward me and croaks:
"You know, you could have a knife in your back, even as we speak."
And it was of course at this point that I woke up, ten minutes later than usual, realizing that if I didn't get moving, I would be late for work.
Getting there from here
Oklahoman columnist Don Gammill covers transportation issues, and this week he passed this reader question to the city traffic engineer:
Why, after 40 years, does not Oklahoma City complete the interchange at Northwest Expressway and May Avenue, the southeast quadrant? This would allow traffic going east to exit and go north without having to travel on another 300 feet.
May runs north and south; Northwest Distressway runs more or less west-by-northwest to east-by-southeast. There is no intersection: the May lanes are elevated, and there is no ramp for the narrowest turn, eastbound NWD to northbound May. (In practice, you follow NWD for one more block, take the turnaround, and catch the northbound ramp from westbound NWD.)
This is of course a pain in the neck, but as a practical matter, all the ramps are inadequate; the city engineer says basically that they'd have to redo the entire interchange, and that's probably true, but for the moment, I'm planning my trips with an eye toward never having to take any of those turns. Since I live less than a mile away, that's a lot of planning.
"If you build it, they will come." In Tulsa, says Bruce, they mostly build churches:
I do wonder about all the time and energy put into churches and how that effects the quality of life in Tulsa. I can't help but wonder what life here would be like if we put just some of that time and effort into schools and education.
Sounds like an argument for letting the churches run the schools, doesn't it? (Well, maybe not.)
It seems terribly inefficient that we have all these churches for different denominations. They get used for a couple of hours each week then sit empty for a majority of the time. That's lost real estate, its terribly inefficient if you ask me. It would be much better to have different congregations work out a church sharing agreement so that one nice church could serve multiple groups.
Yeah, but with few exceptions, they all celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday. I doubt seriously that you can persuade any congregation to hold Sunday services on, say, Tuesday evening. (Wednesday evening, well, that's a whole different issue.)
I've heard it said on more than one occasion that Tulsa has more churches per capita than any other American city. I don't find that so far fetched. This is a city where you can frequently find a church across the street from a church, next door to a church. You think I'm kidding, drive down 11th street between 129th and 145th.
He's not kidding. Between Youngs and Independence along NW 50th Street in OKC, a distance barely more than a mile, there are no fewer than five churches, including two from the same denomination. And 50th is a two-lane residential street through the eastern half of that area; imagine what some of the major arteries look like.
I have little doubt that the Almighty looks upon small, modest churches no less favorably than the ones that look like shopping malls; still, I can't bring myself to get worked up over people spending their own money to build fancy houses of worship even if they do take the occasional parcel off the county tax rolls.
"As a non-believer," writes Michele, "I walk around with the knowledge that I just may be wrong."
For some reason this reminded me of a dream Isaac Asimov once described. It went like this:
I dreamed I had died and gone to Heaven. I looked about and knew where I was green fields, fleecy clouds, perfumed air, and the distant, ravishing sound of the heavenly choir. And there was the recording angel smiling broadly in greeting.
I said, in wonder, "Is this Heaven?"
The recording angel said, "It is."
I said [and on waking and remembering, I was proud of my integrity], "But there must be some mistake. I don't belong here. I'm an atheist."
"No mistake," said the recording angel.
"But as an atheist how can I qualify?"
The recording angel said sternly, "We decide who qualifies. Not you."
Mysterious ways, as they say.
2 March 2004
Never two without three
When Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony announced that he would run for Don Nickles' Senate seat, the good ol' boys of the Grand Old Party shrugged: Anthony built his reputation by taking on, and usually vanquishing, men in suits, and, well, this is not how you rise to the top of the Republican totem pole in Oklahoma. Kirk Humphreys, the former Oklahoma City mayor who had been anointed by the party faithful, had little to worry about from Bob Anthony.
But now former Congressman Tom Coburn has thrown his hat into the ring, and suddenly it's a race. Fiscal conservatives like Coburn because he's incredibly tight with a tax dollar; social conservatives like Coburn because he pays them more than lip service. And I have to give Coburn credit for doing something relatively unprecedented in Oklahoma history: he vowed he would serve only three terms in the House, max, and after six years he duly returned to private life.
Mike at Okiedoke sums up the guy this way:
Coburn has a strong moral base that Oklahomans like. Even when you don?t agree with him, you trust him.
Now is the time for Kirk Humphreys to sweat.
Greg Hlatky wonders how well this would go over:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to enter into marriage shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of the sex of the spouse.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment reads like this:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
Is it possible that both of these could be circulating through the states at the same time? It is.
Is it possible that both of these could be ratified? Theoretically, I suppose, but don't bet on it.
Is it possible that either of these could be ratified? I'm not holding my breath.
We bring good things to light
If you buy lots of General Electric light bulbs, be advised that GE's Home Electric Products division in Cleveland is getting out of the business.
Oh, you'll still be able to buy GE bulbs, but they'll be made in Oklahoma City by Jasco Products Co. under license. Jasco, which has been making electronic accessories for GE for the last four or five years, is adding about 120 jobs and 400,000 square feet of plant space.
What, you were expecting maybe China?
Just down the street, kinda sorta
At least for now, the top-of-page photo at JMBzine.com is a spectacular shot of Oklahoma City's Overholser Mansion, on NW 15th between Hudson and Harvey, a home which dates to before statehood and which qualifies as a tourist attraction all by itself.
And you thought we all lived in little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
3 March 2004
When it all unwinds
Serenity says she's broken, and she may be understating the case.
Please read her story, and help her if you can, and remember: a kind word and a dollar is worth slightly more than a kind word alone.
Perhaps the indictment of WorldCom chairman Bernard Ebbers has made the company more amenable to other legal actions: Attorney General Drew Edmondson has announced that the state is negotiating with WorldCom to settle the state's lawsuit against the company.
According to Edmondson, the company has been cooperative, and the amount he expects to recover will be "more than the cost of litigation."
Two mediums, please
Mickey D's will no longer supersize it.
Walt Riker, speaking for McDonald's, explains:
A component of [our] overall simplification, menu and balanced lifestyle strategy is the ongoing phase-out of the Supersize fry and the Supersize drink options.
Of course, if you really want to be frustrated at McDonald's, try ordering a Quarter Pounder without cheese. (I did find a location in suburban Indianapolis that didn't flinch at the request, but that's a long way to go for a burger.)
Only a pawn in their game
Could there possibly be a game more blatantly racist than chess?
Look at the very beginning. White moves first, thereby taking the offensive; Black must wait for White's first move, and then must defend against it.
Of course, you can always change the rules, but then it wouldn't be chess, would it?
Gee, I hope Pejman doesn't find out about this.
(Via Tongue Tied)
Pounding rhythm to the brain
Lynn is not overly fond of Maurice Ravel's Boléro:
I was fascinated with Boléro for a short time when I was just beginning to explore classical music but it quickly became boring and then seriously annoying. Now it is one of the few pieces of classical music that I truly hate. It's sort of a neat idea but Ravel should have ended it seven or eight minutes sooner. The last few repetitions are nothing but unbearable noise.
Chalk me up as someone who considers them bearable noise; this isn't my favorite Ravel work that would be the Piano Concerto in G major but I've always admired it for its sheer perversity, and whether the composer did this deliberately or as the symptom of an illness, I'm still rather delighted that he did it.
And, if for no other reason, Boléro deserves credit for inspiring Roy Orbison's 1961 hit "Running Scared".
Grey Lady grows spine, film at 11
Ted Rall, dumped by The New York Times, responds:
[W]hat the Times has done here to me and to you represents a dangerous precedent for a free press (or, in this case, an online press). They've sent the message that political pressure works. It's one thing for an editor to decide that a cartoon no longer works for editorial reasons, or that it's not as good as it used to be. It's quite another to cancel it simply because you're tired of being deluged with hate mail. Dealing with feedback is an editor's job. If you don't like the hate mail, delete it.
Anyone want to argue that Rall's cartoon isn't as good as it used to be? Michele? Bueller?
Update, 4 March, 10:40 am: Here's what Michele had to say:
Note to Ted Rall: Maybe they let you go because you SUCK?
4 March 2004
Generally appalling accounting practices
Call it the Feds' Annual Report: it's the Fiscal Year 2003 U.S. Government Financial Statements [requires Adobe Reader], published under the auspices of the General Accounting Office, and of its 33 pages, ten of them (22 through 31 inclusive) are devoted to explaining why these numbers really don't mean anything.
This paragraph, at the beginning of Appendix III ("Material Deficiencies"), is instructive:
The federal government did not maintain adequate systems or have sufficient, reliable evidence to support information reported in the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government, as described below. These material deficiencies contributed to our disclaimer of opinion on the consolidated financial statements and also constitute material weaknesses in internal control.
These days, not even the cynics can keep up.
Juxtapose, there's nothing to it
It is, of course, quite proper for Dickinson's 10-screen theater at Penn Square Mall to show The Passion of the Christ, and quite proper to advertise it on their sign in the mall lot.
I do wish, however, that they hadn't positioned it between Twisted and Club Dread.
Spirit of 76
Seventy-six weeks of Carnival of the Vanities, even.
The ever-resourceful Andrew Ian Dodge is your host this week for the finest blogdom (in its own humble estimation) has to offer, with an assist from someone else with three names: Howard Philips Lovecraft.
The official Oklahoma City weather station (at Will Rogers World Airport) reported 1.45 inches of rain in January and, again, 1.45 inches of rain in February, a total of 2.90 inches over 60 days, within spitting distance of the normal rainfall for the period.
March, evidently, comes in like a sea lion; 1.19 inches fell between 3 and 4 this morning, with 2.60 so far over the two-day storm period. Normal for the entire month of March is 2.90.
Glad am I that I chose the house upon the hill. (If this place floods, start pairing up your animals, post haste.)
5 March 2004
Mike Swickey has been around a while he's run a political links page since before the turn of the century but this week he's shifting focus a bit, adding more local content (he's down the street from me, give or take 28 miles) and more timely stuff.
So welcome swickey.com, and let's see what happens.
No electoral votes for bin Laden
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) was quoted in the Yukon Review to the effect that "if George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election." Kevin Drum, tongue perhaps in cheek, wants to know: "Where's the outrage?"
I demand that all bloggers who condemned Corinne Brown's remarks last week also condemn Cole. Anything less than his immediate ouster from the House of Representatives and permanent exile from the Republican party just proves that all Republicans are bigots and hypocrites.
Cole's office offered an explanation and a transcript of the remarks he made, but if that's not enough for Kevin Drum, Cam Edwards has written up an apology for Cole:
The other day, I made a statement that a vote against Bush is a vote for Osama bin Laden. Obviously that's not the case, since John Kerry doesn't have a beard, and bin Laden's not eligible for the presidency (unless Orrin Hatch gets his way). Oh yeah, Kerry's not a terrorist either. I should make that clear: John Kerry is not a terrorist. He's a waffling wussy when it comes to national security. I apologize for my insensitive remarks, and hope that I've cleared the air with this statement.
Got that? John Kerry, who incidentally served in Vietnam, is not a terrorist. And he doesn't have a beard. As for other, um, masculine characteristics, well, let's not go there.
I covered the Rittenhouse/Wonkette dustup a month ago, and I rather thought that was the end of it.
But Keith Berry reports otherwise:
A couple weeks after L'affaire Wonkette, I linked to Wonkette and (Poof!) the Berry's World link on The Rittenhouse Review was gone. I'd like to be able to report that my link was removed because of a lack of space and not because [James] Capozzola is a small, petty and cheap little man. However, as repeated e-mails to The Rittenhouse Review have gone unanswered, I simply can't say.
Glenn Reynolds adds:
To be fair, as far as I know there's no actual evidence that he's cheap.
Tragedy of a ridiculous situation
I hadn't had any particular urge to see Bertolucci's The Dreamers; the reviews had been mixed, and the subject matter basically, the Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly is superimposed upon 1968 Paris while Daniel Cohn-Bendit warms up in the wings didn't seem especially appealing.
Then the Oklahoma Gazette decided to do their sporadic Dueling Reviewers thing, praise from Preston Jones and panning from Doug Bentin; each made his case well enough that I found myself thinking, "Maybe I ought to see this thing after all, just on general principles." Bad idea. Nowhere, in the twin articles, on other Gazette pages, or on their Web site, is there any indication of where the damned film might be playing.
The Oklahoman, which accepts no ads for films rated NC-17 over the years, there have been times when I thought they would turn down ads for R-rated films if they didn't need the bucks would of course be no help. Fox Searchlight, the film's distributor, has a blog, which pointed me to various search tools; eventually I discovered that The Dreamers is not playing here at all, and if I have any desire to see it in an actual moviehouse, I must drive to Tulsa, Kansas City or Dallas.
Which begs the question: Why did the Gazette devote a whole page to arguing the merits of a film that the vast majority of its readers will never get to see until the release of the inevitable DVD? To try to shame one of the theater chains into booking the film for a week? Fat chance.
(Update, 7 March, 6 pm: The Gazette responds.)
Over at Fraters Libertas, Atomizer is happy to tell you what's wrong with this Star Tribune editorial about the Twin Cities transit strike. Says the Strib:
There is no better opportunity than a bus at rush hour for brushing up against the full range of what constitutes the human enterprise in Minnesota. Guys in suits. Women with briefcases. Kids doing homework. Immigrants starting new lives. Hip-hopsters on cell phones. Men with lunch pails. Women with babies. Over time you begin to absorb a fuller dimension to life, to problems, to aspirations, than before, back when you were pinned behind the wheel with talk radio's bleak conspiracies.
Atomizer lists a few folks the Strib forgot (or chose not) to mention:
Obnoxious kids who should have done their homework the night before, people who don't speak English, gang members, men who actually bring their lunch to work in "pails" and crying babies. I'm sold!
Most of us, I suspect, would rather deal with the rest of the world on our own terms at our preferred times. One of the most annoying traits of the present-day American left, I think, is its tacit belief that interaction with other people ("hell," pace Sartre) is not only something to be desired, but something to be enforced where possible. I will never be able to forgive Richard Milhous Nixon for that "Bring Us Together" crap; its sheer simplicity evidently persuaded a lot of simple souls that stuffing people into small spaces could soothe the suffering in the seething city.
A lot of simple souls who wound up working at the Star Tribune, anyway.
6 March 2004
Dawn Eden, on the wisdom of compiling lists of desired (and undesired) characteristics possessed by applicants for the position of Significant Other:
[I]f one has not found one's soulmate by a certain point in one's life (let's say, age 35½), one is not going to come any closer to finding that person by compiling "can't stand"s and "must-have"s a la junior high.
Needless to say, she supplemented this wisdom with exactly that sort of compilation, which is of course the very same thing I would have done had I made such an announcement.
And after reviewing her desiderata, I decided that I probably should not make such an announcement. While I know several individuals who match my own list decently well (say, seven or eight out of ten desired characteristics and no real bêtes noires), I also know that when contemplating matters of the heart, my higher brain functions tend to dissolve into synaptic chaos.
Besides, the criteria I apply tend to be either absurdly vague or embarrassingly superficial, to the extent that I have no faith in the ability of those criteria to produce any reasonable results. But what's the alternative? Take the first person who doesn't immediately reject me out of hand? Been there, done that, and the rejection came on its own schedule.
I have never quite believed that there was exactly one person for everyone: the symmetry is beautiful, but the evidence is lacking. I try to encourage my friends who are still looking, lest they become downhearted and frustrated. (Been there, done that too.) But I think there's a definite limit, and not an especially high one at that, to how much you can affect the outcome; the factors that set a relationship in motion, more often than not, are random. (I'm not ruling out divine intervention, but assuming it exists, it is sufficiently unpredictable to meet my definition of randomness.)
And I'm quite a long way past 35½. Had I any sense, I'd accept that there was no one for me, and go on.
It scrolls for thee
Bruce reports that scrolling this page is a slow process. I have been so far unable to replicate the situation he's experiencing, even on a low-speed dialup. Is anyone else having similar problems with this page?
The rake's progress
Yard work began today.
There isn't that much yet only the faintest green is starting to show in the lawn but I did redistribute some of the accumulated leaves from the last few months, scrape away mud from in front of the gate, and stir up the wood chips in the flower bed. (I have no idea what, if anything, is planted therein; by the time I bought this place, fall was well underway, and any actual blooms would long since have expired.)
The apartments around the corner did some serious tree-trimming last week, and rather a substantial amout of detritus dropped over my side of the fence. I stacked it in the far corner for now. Maybe some of the bare spots near the fence will be somewhat less bare, now that they're getting less shade.
The weather, atypically for March, was cooperative. By summer, of course, these same tasks will seem excruciating.
7 March 2004
Yesterday's price for the lamest grade of unleaded (on which my car returns an honest 24 mpg or so most of the time) was $1.599, up a couple cents from the previous weekend, and allegedly headed still higher.
You'd think this was probably not the best time in the world for the state to contemplate increasing fuel taxes. Still, two measures are in the works: HB 2559 by Rep. Bill Nations (D-Norman), which would increase the gas tax by seven cents and the diesel-fuel tax by nine, and HB 2632 by Rep. Randall Erwin (D-Nashoba) and Sen. Robert Milacek (R-Enid), which calls for five and eight cents respectively, to be phased in over three years. Both bills would require approval by a majority of voters. Nations' measure has already passed the House.
The current tax is 17 cents per gallon on gasoline, 14 cents on diesel, low by regional standards but not exactly chump change. I think, though, that if the state government could persuade the electorate that the tax increase would actually be spent on the state's roads and bridges, which are terrible except when they're absolutely godawful, they could get one of these bills approved in November. Last year, Sen. Mark Snyder (R-Edmond) asserted that there wouldn't be any need for a tax increase if the state would actually allocate all the fuel-tax receipts to roads and bridges, instead of siphoning off some to the General Fund; the Milacek-Erwin bill does earmark the amount of the increase for transportation.
The Oklahoma Trucking Association, of course, objects to this sort of thing, though OTA executive director Dan Case has hinted that he might go along with a smaller diesel increase: "Those highways are our offices," he says, and certainly those offices need a facelift.
Two years ago, I suggested the issuance of wheel stamps to help defray the cost of replacing suspension parts damaged by driving over substandard roads. Obviously this proposal went nowhere. Still, if The Road Information Program has calculated correctly, and each Oklahoma motorist incurs an additional yearly expense of $1053 from "diminished safety, longer delays and increased wear and tear on vehicles," an extra buck at the pump (figuring 12.5 gallons, my usual fillup, at an additional 8 cents per), if it can actually counter most of that expense, strikes me as one hell of a bargain.
On the left side of your dial
The Air America liberal radio network now has affiliates in the top three markets: WLIB New York, KBLA Los Angeles, and WNTD Chicago.
Generally, the stations will be competing with, shall we say, separate but unequal facilities: WLIB, while no 50-kw powerhouse, puts out a decent 10-kw signal in the Apple, but WNTD, which maxes out at 5 kw, is nestled between two 50-kw blowtorches, which may make finding it tricky. KBLA pumps out 50 kw, but it's down in that no-man's-land at the far end of the dial (1580) where supposedly hardly anyone goes.
Were I the local Clear Channel manager, I'd be tempted to work up a sub-Machiavellian scheme to land the Air America programs here in Oklahoma City and then run them, not on KTOK, their local flagship, but on KEBC, their 1-kw daytimer at 1340. (The station does have a nighttime schedule, but it's leased to another operator.) This would make Clear Channel's claim that "We are so not in Bush's pocket" less implausible, and there's always the chance that Air America's talk shows will draw better ratings than the how-to-save-for-your-retirement stuff that airs there now.
Of course, if the FCC finally gets around to approving KGYN's move-in from Guymon to Oklahoma City, all bets are off.
Desperately seeking celluloid
Friday, I wondered just what had gotten into the Oklahoma Gazette: they published not one but two reviews of Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a film which is not playing anywhere within a hundred miles.
Today, the Gazette's Preston Jones explains:
The situation surrounding The Dreamers was indeed interesting. The press screening was held Feb. 27 at AMC Quail Springs, and as of that date, it was slated to open in OKC March 5. As of Tuesday (3/2), Michelle Langston at George Grube Advertising let us know that the film was no longer opening here; it now had a release date of TBD. Since we found out on Tuesday, we'd already gone to press and it was too late to do anything about our full page of reviews. Michelle said that [the Oklahoman's] not taking advertising wasn't the problem, but that no theater in town would book the film...which clearly wasn't a problem in Tulsa, where's it's playing at the AMC theater there.
It's deeply frustrating, to be sure, that a worthwhile film can't find a screen to call home in our fair burg...perhaps there's hope that the Noble Theater will pick up the film for a weekend. We shall see....
I can only conclude that AMC Quail Springs needed the extra space for 50 First Dates, which was shown eleven times today.
The Noble Theater, for you out-of-towners, is the 250-seat theater at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, in downtown's nascent Arts District. The Museum itself is actually an extensive redesign of the old 1600-seat Centre Theater, which opened in 1947 and shut down along with most of downtown circa 1980. The Noble's film program is extensive, and until the Harkins opens in Bricktown, presumably this summer, it's the only downtown venue for film. And happily for me, it's a shorter drive to downtown than it is to Quail freaking Springs.
All hail the mighty king
Stephen "Brute Force" Friedland cut a lovely little single for Apple (!) in 1969 called "King of Fuh" (Apple 8, U.K.), produced by the Tokens. (Force, in fact, had been a Token for the previous couple of years; I don't know if he played on the infamous Intercourse album.)
This guy who sells sofas in Canada has got to be a spiritual descendant of His Majesty.
8 March 2004
West by southwest
Rural Oklahoma changes slowly, when it changes at all; the machinery may be newer, the buildings are generally older, but the pace of life is distinctly different from what you'd experience in the city.
And you don't even need to leave the city to see this. Oklahoma City covers over 600 square miles, but barely a third of that area qualifies as urban; the city limits extend well into the country, and city services follow slowly, if at all.
I was in Canadian County yesterday, in an area the city annexed many years ago. There is a city fire station in the 11600 block of SW 15th Street (at eight blocks per mile, this is way out), and occasional fresh green city street signs can be seen, but for the most part this is an area of small farms and ranches, separated by old and indifferently-maintained roads. (I caught one of Frosty Peak's campaign signs over on Piedmont/Czech Hall Road, which promises "I will fix this road.") The sections that are within the limits of Yukon or Mustang, both of which were established long before Oklahoma City pushed into these areas, look decidedly more suburban, more contemporary.
Still, there are changes. People wanting to get away from the concrete jungle are building houses out here, and not just in Mustang or Yukon. Twenty or thirty years from now, this part of Canadian County may look just like any other suburb but I can't imagine it happening any sooner.
Speeding along at Mock 2
Back in the Jurassic period, when I was working for an Evil Utility which shall not be named here, somebody in a suit came up with a policy to regulate trips to the toilet. Being the paperwork person, I duly designed a sign-out sheet for travelers, to which you were to affix your name, employee number, time in and time out, and circle #1 or #2 as appropriate.
The policy was abandoned shortly afterwards.
I don't do this sort of thing now, mostly because if there's anything (besides paper and time) wasted around here, it's subtlety. But I'm always happy to see someone following the same inspired path.
Swimming to Long Island Sound
Apparently that was Spalding Gray they pulled out of the East River over the weekend.
Gray, who hadn't been seen since January, had a long history of depression, and presumably committed suicide. In an interview in 1997, he had suggested an epitaph for himself: "An American Original: Troubled, Inner-Directed and Cannot Type." I'd swipe that for myself, except that I can type.
Spalding Gray was sixty-two years old. He leaves behind a wife, three children, and an impressive body of work.
A must to avoid
Truth be told, I have no idea whether Stonebridge Life is any better or any worse than your present insurance company, or than mine.
But I do know this: anyone who calls me nine times in eight days, as has their agent in DeKalb, Illinois, will never get dime one from me, even if the deal includes premium waivers eleven months a year, guaranteed renewal even if I move to Haiti to take up the practice of vodou, and Bernadette Peters' cell-phone number.
9 March 2004
Shadows and light
The official sunrise this morning is 6:49 am, right in the middle of my morning commute, and since said commute is now largely in an easterly direction, I got to see more of it than eye doctors generally recommend.
The evergreens haven't changed in months, of course, but their bare-branched brethren appear by some trick of the light to have turned their limbs skyward, supplicants hoping that today they will be favored. Grey against pink, a few seconds later grey against orange, and then the background is awash in light and the colors dissolve into the brightest white there is and you must look away or never see anything ever again.
The speed with which this happens tends to inspire the right foot; rounding a curve, I took a peek at the instrument cluster, and discovered I was whipping along at 76 mph. This was not really too fast for conditions traffic was light on this stretch but not likely to warrant getting off with a warning should a patrolman take notice; the police tend to be unimpressed with stories about heading for the heart of the sunrise.
Similar scenes await me for much of the next month, after which time the government robs me of sixty minutes and my morning world is plunged into darkness once more.
Themes like old times
Yeah, I know: the first rule is, you do not talk about Culture Club.
But if Bill Clinton can use a Fleetwood Mac tune for a campaign song no, it wasn't "Landslide" we can certainly expect John Kerry to pillage the vaults at VH1.
And conveniently, Boy George has already anticipated this situation:
I'm a man without conviction
I'm a man who doesn't know
How to sell a contradiction
You come and go
You come and go
Instant karma, no?
Can you break a million?
Well, no, I can't.
And I don't recommend trying the Wal-Mart in Covington, Georgia either.
You're young, you'll adjust
After three house payments, I find myself with a brand-new payment book, containing the standard but nonetheless ominous notice:
[name of bank] has completed an analysis of your escrow account, and has adjusted your mortgage payment to reflect changes in your real estate taxes or property insurance.
And they did indeed adjust it by one cent.
I haven't checked with the County Assessor yet, but I'm assuming this means I'm not getting a big jump (which, in this state, is defined as five percent) in property taxes this year.
10 March 2004
Blows against the Empire
We may be a deeply divided nation Red versus Blue, Republican versus Democrat, This versus That but there's one thing on which everyone agrees: Clear Channel sucks.
Allow me to demur ever so slightly. I have no particular fondness for America's largest radio group owner, but I don't consider them to be some sort of indestructible monolith: they can be beaten.
In Oklahoma City, they are being beaten. Routinely. Three stations finished in a virtual dead heat for the number-one spot this last book, and not one of them was an outpost of the Evil Empire; the best showing made by a Clear Channel station was #6, by news/talker KTOK, and we all know this is because of morning man Cam Edwards, who's worth two or three ratings points all by himself.
I might also point out that stations not owned by Clear Channel also tend to be less than scintillatingly brillant and/or incredibly innovative, which tells me that Clear Channel isn't the disease: it's merely a symptom.
The Axis of Talbot
I'm not sure what to think of David Talbot's new expansion of Salon. Sidney Blumenthal will head up the site's new Washington bureau; there will be a working relationship (read: "We will swipe each other's stories") with the Guardian; and finally, there will be some tie-in with Air America, the nascent progressive radio network.
But given this push toward leftish groupthink, I suspect Wonkette has called it about right:
As the left's answer to the Washington Times, Salon is also going to hold a group marriage where subscribers have to pledge fidelity to all of John Kerry's positions on the invasion of Iraq.
Sheesh. That could take weeks all by itself.
I figure, if Robb Hibbard (9 March, 12:25 pm) can get away with a reference to Gregory's Girl, so can I.
In his piece, Hibbard actually describes a scene with Gregory's sister:
Madeline is about to begin sipping a ginger beer float (ugh, who else believes ginger beer one of the vilest concoctions ever brewed outside the realm of underpants?). Anyway, prior to the beverage's imminent consumption, Madeline delivers a miniature soliloquy germane to the nature of longing, and how quelling longing leads only to further longing. "But that can't last forever," she says, and enjoys her float.
Wise beyond her years. And not just wise, as one of the neighborhood boyz who seeks to win Madeline's heart explains to Gregory:
"She's only ten, but she has the body of a woman of thirteen."
Ah, youth. What a pity to waste it on the young.
Eat [blank] and die
The case for Big Arm Woman as dinner date:
Of all the snobs in the world, food snobs are the absolute worst. I'm not interested in your super special imported brie and paté on cracked pepper rounds, and I could give a rat's ass that you refuse to pollute your body with non-soy milk. It's food. Eat what you want, freak out about pesticides and GM crap and whether that rhubarb root is really super fresh all you want you're all still going to end up in the same place: DEAD.
Sure, I'll buy.
We shall not be moved
Occasionally, someone usually someone from Oklahoma grumbles about the annual OU-Texas football clash in Dallas' Cotton Bowl, which is, after all, in Texas.
Well, it's not going anywhere, at least through 2008; Dallas Mayor Laura Miller announced today that the Cotton Bowl will be keeping OU-Texas for five more years under a new contract. The City of Dallas will pay each school $250,000 per year for expenses and waive the $94,000 stadium rental at Fair Park; in addition, four thousand new seats will be installed in the end zones.
I never did worry too much about this. I mean, Dallas is fairly close to the midpoint of a Norman-to-Austin drive, and where are you going to find truly neutral territory? It took years just to establish where the Texas-Oklahoma border actually is.
Redmond dodges a bullet, maybe
Back in 1999, Eolas Technologies, on behalf of the University of California, sued Microsoft, claiming that Internet Explorer's method of embedding executable code in a Web page infringed upon UC's patent; last summer, the jury found for Eolas and awarded damages upward of half a billion dollars.
Of course, Bill Gates didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks, and it appears he may not have to write this one either: the US Patent and Trademarks Office, acting on a report by World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee that the original HTML spec described comparable methods for embedding code long before the patent was issued, is now considering declaring that patent invalid. Examination of the patent continues; Eolas gets 60 days to explain itself.
11 March 2004
Return to Geauga Lake
Six Flags World of Adventure in Aurora, Ohio was created from the fusion of two amusement parks: the classic Geauga Lake park, founded way back in 1888, and Sea World Ohio, which opened in 1970.
The park has been drawing about 1.5 million visitors a year, but Six Flags has had a couple of rough years, and will now sell the park to Cedar Fair LP, operators of the Cedar Point amusement park near Sandusky, for approximately $145 million.
The first order of business for Cedar Fair likely will be to expunge all Six Flags-related indicia, including Warner Bros. characters used by Six Flags under license, before the park opens in seven weeks.
Six Flags, based in Oklahoma City, retains one Ohio park: the Wyandot Lake water park near Columbus. The firm also is selling off seven of its eight European facilities.
Let us now praise combo meals
By a vote of 276 to 139, the House passed the so-called Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, which bars lawsuits against restaurants and food-service companies who vend stuff that might actually make you fat if you wolf down enough of it.
The bill's fate in the Senate remains to be seen, but Serenity (channeling Stevens & Grdnic, it appears) wonders about the opposition:
Maybe I don't get out enough. I appear to have missed all those Burger King employees going through the quiet, unassuming neighborhoods, kicking in doors, taking the residents out by gunpoint and forcing them into a van, hauling them to the closest BK, and shoving a Whopper down their throat.
You'd think that John Kerry would endorse this bill: after all, if the nation cuts down its consumption of French fries, the effect on ketchup manufacturers which is to say, the effect on Heinz, the only ketchup that matters will hit him, or at least his wife, right in the pocketbook.
The last real newspaperman
A nice tribute to the late Jenkin Lloyd Jones in Tulsa Today, brought to my attention by Okiedoke.
It probably doesn't help that dueling big-city newspapers are fast becoming memories. I read the Oklahoma City Times much more than the Tulsa Tribune for logistical reasons, but it's safe to say we were better off with both of them. It may be more profitable for one publisher to provide the news than two, but it's certainly not more effective.
Indeed it doesn't help, although there hasn't been actual competition in Oklahoma City since 1980, when The Oklahoma Journal folded; the Times had been absorbed by the Oklahoman decades before. The Tribune soldiered on until 1992, when the rival World, yoked to the Tribune in one of those pesky Joint Operating Agreements, saw an opportunity to dispose of its rival once and for all.
In the fall of 2002, I did a fairly readable Vent on JOAs in general and the Tribune under Jenk Jones in particular.
Karn Evil 77
You know the drill:
This is the song that never ends
it just goes on and on my friends
some people started singing it not knowing what it was
and they continued singing it forever just because....
Oh, wait. Wrong never-ending presentation.
Anyway, this week's Carnival of the Vanities is brought to you by Aaron, he who Rants and who Slays Liberals, and it's the extended version of the best of blogdom, including (yes!) an actual item from here. See it now, while it's still legal.
Disenchanted in advance
Oklahoma is one of those states whose devotion to the two-party system is apparently deep and lasting; it's darn near impossible to get a third-party candidate (e.g. Nader, 2000) or an independent candidate (e.g. Nader, 2004) on the Presidential ballot here. And that's rather a shame, since I'm not all that enthralled with the incumbent I give him points for foreign policy, I take them back for the way he spends my money and I am really appalled that the Democrats are actually about to nominate a sagging mannequin, a Gorebot minus the charisma. If ever there was a time for a protest vote, November 2004 is it, even if there's no chance of electing, say, some hot Abercrombie chick.
12 March 2004
Kristin sees distinct advantages to Oklahoma guys, especially small-town Oklahoma guys:
dating a guy from small town oklahoma has several perks: the charming accent, the huge extended family, the people skills that come from growing up in a place where everyone knows you, and the extensive knowledge of wildlife from having killed and/or eaten most of the area's animals.
Okay, allow a couple of points for tongue in cheek. But still:
small town oklahoma, i am falling in love with you. add a couple more sonics, a few more places which sell the good magazines, maybe a mall in the near vicinity, and some wireless internet capabilities, and i am SO done with the big cities for good.
We'll never run out of Sonics. And "good magazines" are in the eye of the beholder: most mainstream stuff is as near as Wally World, though you're going to have to hang closer to the big towns if you're jonesing for, say, Mother Jones.
On the other hand, conventional wisdom has it that people of this age (Kristin's an OU undergrad) want nothing so much as to get the hell out of Oklahoma altogether, so examples of young folks who actually like this place are always worth mentioning.
Journey of the saucerer
I have never owned a satellite dish, partly because until recently I didn't live in a place where such things were allowable, and partly because now that I do, I see no reason to screw around with the appearance of my house just for the sake of a handful of TV channels. (I do have cable, but then I also have a cable modem, and there are bundled discounts involved.)
And correspondence addressed to DishNetwork's CEO from Matt Deatherage and Xrlq suggests to me that I might not want a satellite dish, either.
If in the ideal settlement both sides come away with something they wanted, the deal between MCI (previously WorldCom, and before that, um, MCI) and the State of Oklahoma must be pretty spiffy.
According to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, MCI will atone for the misdeeds of its previous management by boosting its employment in Tulsa from the current 1875 to approximately 3400. In addition, the company will assist the state in the prosecution of members of said management.
Tulsans may look askance at this deal two years ago, WorldCom had a Tulsa payroll of 3000 before a series of layoffs but, says Edmondson, it's the best deal that could be struck:
If we took the case to trial and won, the company would likely go out of business and we would be stuck in the bankruptcy line. This economic development agreement is restitution in a different form.
The 15 charges filed against the company by the state have been duly dismissed. MCI has ten years to bring its staffing up to the levels specified in the agreement; average pay for the additional positions is reported to be $35,000 a year.
(Update, 13 March, 5:30 pm: Mike Swickey [13 March, 3:08 pm] thinks this is a really bad idea.)
Proofreading: a lost art
A weekly paper which shall go nameless printed a rant about inattentive drivers, one of the noirest of my personal bêtes, which contained this howler:
Hmm, a red hexagon with large white letters, what could it be? I've got it. It's a stop sign. I wonder what I'm supposed to do when I see one of those?
I sent a note to the writer in question, to the effect that I've never seen one; in 25 years of driving around this town, I have yet to come across a stop sign with 25 percent fewer sides.
I was ready to leave it at that until Entertainment Weekly #756 showed up with a review of the soundtrack from the Starsky & Hutch movie, which baldly stated:
The standout is Dazz's funky, eminently uplifting "Brick."
Even if TVT Records botched the credits, which I doubt, the uplifting funk in question is titled "Dazz," and it was recorded by Brick. It's even defined in the lyrics: "disco jazz." (There was a followup called "Dusic," about which the less said, the better.)
I haven't written to EW about this. Yet.
13 March 2004
Open mouth, insert foot
And no one is more adept at that clumsy maneuver than Rep. Bill Graves (R-Delerium), whose latest eruption came during a House session that was debating whether the state should establish a Latino Affairs Commission.
Said Graves, "We do have a lot of Mexicans and Hispanics that want to come here and live, and frankly, I think we're getting too many."
Ed Romo of the League of United Latin American Citizens was the first to weigh in with a complaint; he wants an apology from Graves. It's not likely he'll get it, though Graves has backpedaled slightly, claiming what he said, or at least what he meant, was that we had a surplus of illegal aliens.
I'm not exactly counting the days until Graves' departure term limits will dispose of him shortly but let it be known that when I went looking for a house, one of the geographical criteria I used was "Not in Bill Graves' district." I didn't say so, of course; I just set the boundaries accordingly.
The Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale upheld the right of the Scouts to exclude gay men from leadership positions. At the time, while I wasn't enthusiastic about the BSA policy I suggested, in fact, that it might even be "pigheaded" I defended the Court's reasoning:
The organization's right to select its members trumps an individual's right to require that organization to accommodate him.
National Review's Rich Lowry says that in the wake of Dale, there has been "a wide-ranging effort to punish the Scouts for exercising their First Amendment right of free association." In Connecticut, the State Employees' Campaign for Charitable Giving tossed the Scouts off their list of approved recipients; in San Diego, the Scouts are being evicted from a city park where they had operated an aquatic center.
Justin Katz points out:
[This action] mainly hurts the people most removed from the controversy and most in need of the benefits that the Boy Scouts can offer. They are the broken eggs in the quest for a religion-free public square.
The Scouts, for their part, aren't budging an inch.
Maybe "pigheaded" is good.
Heritage Hills East is unusual among Oklahoma City Historic Districts: while it was developed at the same time as the ritzier Heritage Hills area to its west, it was platted for smaller lots and a mixture of single-family, multi-family, and commercial buildings, no doubt because it's the first block west of Broadway, a major commercial thoroughfare. And while Heritage Hills itself was given Historic District status way back in 1969, the East was not accorded this designation until 1999.
One other difference comes to mind: it's impossible to imagine Habitat for Humanity building in Heritage Hills, but they're putting up two houses in the East. These structures are so new they haven't yet been listed on the Web site of the local Habitat branch, but I took a peek at the area this morning to get a feel for what's going on.
Last year, Habitat acquired via donation two vacant lots in the 100 block of Northwest 16th Street, and applied for Certificates of Compliance with the city's preservation guidelines. Approval was granted in January, though the standard boxlike Habitat home will have to be modified somewhat to meet the guidelines. Drawings released by Habitat indicate that the new homes will look very much like the traditional Craftsman-style bungalow that dominated the lower end of the housing market in Western states in the early 20th century, a style that appears in many neighborhoods developed in the city through about 1920.
Residents of East Heritage Hills might be forgiven for asking "What will this do to our property values?" I might ask what those vacant lots had done to those values. Meanwhile, the president of the neighborhood association, interviewed by the MidCity Advocate (4 March), seems to be keeping an open mind:
The association is trying to walk a fine line. We want to be supportive as possible of the new residents coming in.
In the past, Habitat for Humanity has built homes in nondescript sometimes badly descript neighborhoods, because that's where they could acquire low-cost sites. While the Heritage Hills East sites will cost about twenty percent more than usual to develop, mostly due to the cost of compliance with the city's preservation guidelines, a positive experience here should open up new areas for Habitat, and it might even reassure uneasy neighbors-to-be.
14 March 2004
Two days burying the cats
Rock and roll, says Dean Esmay, is dead. Not resting, not pining for the fjords: dead.
It is, I think, wholly impolitic for someone of my age to endorse a claim such as this: as one of those hated Baby Boomers, I run the risk that anything I say on the subject will be interpreted as an expression of proprietary interest, yet another example of how, um, my generation still thinks it rules the goddamn world even as it teeters on its walkers on the way to the grave.
Still, almost anyone of any age beyond twenty-five or so believes somewhere in his heart of hearts that everything that's been inflicted on us by the music industry since he got out of college truly and deeply sucks, and neither Dean nor I is immune to this notion. My own thinking is that when we're younger, the music isn't just the soundtrack to our existence: it's woven into the fabric of our selves, and cannot be separated without unraveling everything that we know, everything that we are. As we get older, more settled, maybe less emotional, the music recedes somewhat into the background: we take note of it, we may even be fond of it, but it isn't part of us anymore.
The music industry has aided and abetted this situation by fragmenting itself beyond all understanding. In the Sixties, there were maybe half a dozen music formats on the radio. Today, there are genres, subgenres, even sub-subgenres does anyone other than a radio consultant know the exact point where CHR/Pop ends and CHR/Rhythmic begins? all motivated by desperation in the guise of "research." Inevitably, this rush toward differentiation ultimately repels the audience; except for a few 12-year-olds of varying ages, people's musical tastes span a range far wider than anything you'll hear on any single radio station, commercial or otherwise. And so we push another button, and another consultant is hired to explain why, and the cycle repeats. (Not even classical stations are immune to this, as anyone who has heard me grumble, "Jeez, Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again?" can testify.)
I refuse, however, to get more than a trifle ruffled over this. I have my music (literally thousands of CDs and records) and my memories (which I can't even begin to count). The industry can shovel out whatever crap it wants; while the task of finding good new stuff is made more difficult, the joy of the good old stuff is not diminished in the slightest. My children and their children will eventually figure this out for themselves.
Today's Signs of the Apocalypse
(1) The Orange County, California community of Aliso Viejo, relying on "bad research" by a staffer, worked up an ordinance to ban the mysterious substance dihydrogen monoxide. I must point out that Aliso Viejo isn't the first town to be spooked by the stuff, though; two years ago, a radio report frightened people in Olathe, Kansas.
(2) Playboy prognosticator Allen St. John, in the April issue, predicts a Red Sox/Cubs World Series; the Cubbies, says St. John, will prevail in six.
(Muchas gracias for item 1: McGehee.)
The current build of Mozilla Firefox has a Download Manager, the background of which looks like this.
A lot of people are reading things into it that really aren't there. At least, I think they aren't there.
Another dead tree heard from
Vanity Fair has always seemed just slightly out of sync, its coverage of events inevitably shaped by the need to drop the right names, its coverage of names inscrutable to the max. It should surprise no one that James Wolcott's four pages on blogdom ("The Laptop Brigade", April '04), its subject matter inextricably a combination of both names and events, would wind up a hash of half-truths, occasionally punctuated by quarter-truths.
Consider this pronouncement on the Way of the Blogroll:
No blog can be an island unto itself. Visitors vote with their mouse clicks, and the vitality of a blog site derives from the rising number of hits it receives the return visits. The higher the hit count, the heavier the hit traffic; the heavier the hit traffic, the larger the popularity; the larger the popularity, the greater the love. This is why there is no graver act than to remove a site from one's blog roll, eliminating the link. It can be a haughty kiss-off or a sad rebuke; either way, it's public notice that you no longer wish to be associated with this louse. By thy links shall they know thee, and the fact that neo-liberal blogger Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles at Slate) links to both Lucianne Goldberg, the right-wing Broom-Hilda of Monica Lewinsky infamy, whose comments section teems like a cauldron with racist, homophobic hate speech, and Ann Coulter, the She-Wolf of Sigma Chi, is evidence to his foes not of the Mickster's catholicity but of his scaly lizardry.
Links taken from a current Kausfiles.
Let's assume that Wolcott is correct and Mickey Kaus does, in fact, have foes. (He doesn't bother to list any; he just presumes they exist.) Why would they why would anybody saner than James Capozzola care about who's on whose blogroll? To most of us, the gravitas of a public delinking is right up there with the disappointment we suffer when we pop open a can of Pillsbury's biscuits and are not immediately greeted by the Doughboy.
And Wolcott probably doesn't read either Lucianne or Ann, either, inasmuch as he has a palpable distaste for any suggestion that the Administration's Middle East policy might have some semblance of merit:
Honest, confused souls could disagree over the case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It was the ugly rhetoric, fathead hubris, and might-makes-right triumphalism that repulsed. Warbloggers hunkered into B-grade versions of the ideological buccaneers in the neoconservative camp. Punk-ass laptop Richard Perles, they excoriated dissenters as wimps, appeasers and traitors, peddled every xenophobic stereotype (the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," etc.) and brushed aside the plight of the Palestinians with brusque indifference or outright contempt. And the warbloggers behaved like they owned the legacy and sorrow of September 11, as if only they understood How Everything Changed and those who disagreed had goldfish bowls on their heads.
Put me down for "outright contempt," and if the Palestinians decide to act like a people capable of self-rule instead of like a pack of rejects from a road-company version of Lord of the Flies, I'll consider upgrading to "brusque indifference."
As for the first line quoted well, I don't think Wolcott's confused, anyway.
Still, if you have to have a picture of the man behind Daily Kos, this is your issue of V.F.
15 March 2004
Two doors down
I'd been half-asleep for half an hour when the lights began to play high on the walls. I ignored them and rolled over; it's not like nobody ever got a traffic ticket on this street before.
A few minutes later, I looked up again, and still they were there. World's slowest cop? Maybe, but I didn't think so. And as the pattern started to seem less random, I figured it out: two light bars, minimum.
Something was going on.
I pulled myself up out of bed, fumbled for some semblance of clothing, and ambled outside, trying to look like I did this sort of thing every night about this time. Two ambulances: paramedics from the fire station around the corner in front, the usual emergency-services vehicle behind. No police; no fire engine. I thought I saw some activity behind some living-room windows. Gawkers, I thought, then realized I'd come out to do exactly that.
Four emergency personnel brought the gurney from the house. Its occupant wasn't moving, so far as I could tell, but did seem to be sitting up; I couldn't determine much of anything else. They loaded the gurney into the truck, and I started back inside, satisfied that I'd seen nothing more than some poor soul taken very, very ill.
And as I got to my door, the helicopter passed overhead, a beam of light scanning the ground below it.
Something had been going on.
But with midnight approaching, I decided that maybe I didn't want to know.
We're just saying
So-called "scare quotes" are a useful rhetorical tool, put to use when you'd just as soon distance yourself from what's being said. Reuters, an international "news agency," has a reputation for such things.
Michael Bates suspects the Tulsa World was using this technique to discredit, ever so subtly, a City Council candidate they opposed editorially:
For some unexplained reason, the Whirled insisted on referring to the Republican nominee as Jason "Eric" Gomez. The man's full name is, in fact, Jason Eric Gomez. This is how he is listed in voter registration records. But like a lot of people (including my dad), he is known by his middle name. There is nothing shifty or unusual about this practice, but the scare quotes suggest that an alias is being used, or perhaps he is some sort of eccentric or "colorful character", like Virginia "Blue Jeans" Jenner or Cowboy "Pink" Williams.
And why would this bit of trivia be an issue?
[W]hen a voter doesn't know much about the candidates or their stands on the issues, any minor thing may be enough to tip his decision one way or another. A voter can grasp at anything that would suggest one of the candidates is unreliable or just odd in some way. And in such a close race less than one vote per precinct it may have made the difference.
Especially since Mr Gomez' opponent was given no such "text decoration" in the World.
Anticipating the madness
Cam Edwards predicts the Final Four:
Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, and UConn. Kentucky beats Oklahoma State, Miss. State beats UConn, and Kentucky wins the whole shebang.
I mention this because he mentions this:
[T]his post is subject to revision without notice in order to make my picks look better.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
And besides, if Kentucky wins, Susanna Cornett is happy, which must be considered a desirable outcome.
House of the rising bucks
This year's Oklahoma City Orchestral League Designer Show House is one of the most distinctive homes in the entire area; I've passed it by many times and wondered what it might be like. (It's hard not to, especially now that I'm living within a couple of miles of it.)
Anyway, it looks like I may get my chance to get a peek at the inside when the Show House opens next month. And if someone hands me a winning Powerball ticket between now and the end of May well, I can't see spending $1.4 million on a home, but truth be told, I'm thinking it's a bargain at that price.
16 March 2004
Nematode the wet sprocket
It is widely reported that Martin Luther was beset by or, by some accounts, was obsessed with flatulence and its, um, related phenomena.
If your immediate response to this is "Yeah, it's because of that Diet of Worms," Dawn Eden has a song for you.
Play it at 78
Imagine how fast you'll get through Carnival of the Vanities #78, this week's collection of bloggy goodness hosted by the legendary Patterico, featuring dozens of articles you might have missed. There's even one from me, which doesn't seem to have impaired the overall quality. I hope.
Your time is worth nothing
Oklahoma, like most states, does not provide statutory compensation for wrongful convictions. Rep. Opio Toure (D-Oklahoma City) has periodically introduced legislation to provide some sort of payment to those the state has unjustly imprisoned; the last time his bill made it through the Legislature, then-Governor Frank Keating vetoed it.
On the plus side, we haven't gotten to the point where we're charging them for room and board.
(Via Myria, who asks, "Under what logical and ethical standard can that be considered anything but outright evil?")
We got your equinox right here
The calendar begs to differ, but inasmuch as the sun is setting right now at 6:39 pm, and inasmuch as the sun rose at 6:39 am, exactly twelve hours ago, and irrespective of how much snow fell on Nebraska and Iowa this morning, spring has sprung, dammit.
Let there be flowers, and grasses, and okay, maybe some weeds, but don't overdo it, wouldja please?
If you sat and glared at a blank page during the 90 minutes or so this site was down this afternoon (roughly 1:55 to 3:25 Central), well, for once it wasn't my fault. The server farm in L.A. went into full meltdown, and they're checking the logs to see if they can pick up a whiff of a Distributed Denial of Service attack.
Not that anyone would attack me, necessarily, but it doesn't take that much to bring down my site and the 50,000 others they host.
17 March 2004
Mark Cuban, blogger
One of the joys of blogging is the opportunity to score points against what we see as bias or inaccuracy or simple cluelessness in Big Media.
And while said joy does trickle down to us insignificant D-list bloggers nobody will ever accuse me of being influential I rather suspect that the bigger boys on the block are enjoying their newfound clout even more.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, thinks big. And he's ready to take on Big Media too, as witness this entry:
Sports reporting has turned into a confused business. You would think that with the net, everyone would recognize that a "scoop" doesn't quite have the value that it did back in the days when the new stuff came with the morning paper. Today, every scoop gets posted to the paper website first, so the paper can prove they broke the story. It's seen and reported on and immediately world-wide within minutes afterwards. That doesn't stop reporters from focusing first and foremost on "breaking scoops". Not stories. Scoops. Anything you think you know that the other guys don't. The joy of getting the props for getting the story on the site before the other guy.
Their grab for glory is my continuous nuisance. It gets really old getting pestered about transactional items. It's amazing how many emails I get: are you going to make a trade, did you make a trade, who are you going to trade? Who are you going to sign? Questions they all know I won't answer because the minute we do something, we are going to release it to the world in a press release. Yet the reporters hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, they can catch a deal or something else just before it happens and luck turns into a scoop. Scoops make the bosses happy.
Mark, ol' pal, here's the one thing you need to know: as a blogger, you can make your own scoops. Eliminate the middleman, so to speak.
(I have a feeling he's gonna like this.)
Back off with the BBQ sauce already
The Oklahoma City Zoo is one of only fifteen zoos in North America with babirusa in residence, and now they have a piglet, which, given the scarcity of the species, must be considered good news; there have been only six births this century in the North American population.
This is the 100th anniversary of the Zoo, which was established in Wheeler Park in 1904 and moved to its present location in 1923 when the North Canadian River, way above flood stage, overrode the dam at Lake Overholser and cut the park literally in two.
From Maine to Mexico, almost
Once again, (some of) you will be able to trust your car to the man who wears the star.
The Chevron/Texaco merger in 2001 had scores of conditions attached, mostly due to antitrust considerations. One of those conditions required that the stations operated by a Texaco-Shell joint venture revert to Shell, and that Shell and its partners would retain the Texaco trademark.
But this was a temporary measure only: the ChevronTexaco combine will regain the rights to use the Texaco brand this summer, and will own it exclusively in two years. What this means is a whole new rollout, mostly in Texas and the Southeast, of the Texaco name, which still carries substantial market clout. (For about ten years, I carried exactly one oil-company card: Texaco. It's now, perforce, a Shell card.)
In Oklahoma, this won't have much impact, since ChevronTexaco owns no stations here and doesn't plan to acquire any, though existing Texaco stations will presumably be asked to sign up with the new regime, and I doubt that any independent operator wishing to switch to Texaco will be turned away.
Not all efforts to recycle old brand names have been successful ask anyone who bought a Packard Bell computer but I suspect there is still a lot of residual fondness for Texaco. Now if they could be persuaded to continue their sponsorship of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, things will be (almost) back to normal.
Bound to be the very next phase
Saffron, of course, is incredibly expensive, and everyone knows it. Part of the reason is that it doesn't grow just any old place; demand is high, which keeps the price stratospheric.
What everyone doesn't know is that lowly, oft-mocked vanilla, the taste that conjures up ultrabland memories of the 1950s (a time "deeply suspicious of flavor," said James Lileks), has been for many years now the second most expensive spice; we've gotten ourselves used to imitations, which are affordable by mere mortals, so we don't realize how much the stuff really costs.
Demand is high for the real McCoy, though, which explains why India is stepping up vanilla production in the hopes of realizing some big bucks er, rupees.
And, says Oklahoma Gazette food writer Carol Smaglinski, saffron has actually dropped to #2; she quotes Leslie Pendleton of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which runs a forum not open to us civilians, to the effect that vanilla prices have increased fifteenfold in the past five years, to about $150 a pound of unprocessed beans at the source, a buck and a quarter per bean. Much of this increase is due to conditions in Madagascar, which produces about two-thirds of the world's vanilla crop: back in 2000, a storm destroyed much of the country's production capacity, and Madagascar, by agreement with the International Monetary Fund, no longer imposes price controls. Once India is up to speed, prices for vanilla should drop somewhat; in the meantime, you can tell your skeptical Significant Other that saffron is actually a bargain these days.
18 March 2004
Spigots of red and blue
I've been resisting Fundrace's Neighbor Search; while I'm a big fan of full disclosure, I admit to being somewhat uneasy about a handy little tool that can reveal political contributions from around the world, across the nation, and up my street.
But what the hell. I fed my ZIP code to the form, and here's what we had, as of the end of last year:
Nothing really surprising here: I expected that there would be close to an even split between the parties, with perhaps a slight edge to the Democrats, who after all had that many more candidates at the time. (Democrats received 59 percent of the dollars from this area.) Then again, my state senator and representative are both Republicans, though neither district line corresponds to the ZIP code boundaries.
No doubt it will be instructive to see the post-election numbers.
Are you better off today?
Ronald Reagan asked this question in 1980, and rather a large number of people at the time decided that they weren't.
Dean Esmay, citing this piece from The Economist, says that the current crop of doomsayers is simply wrong:
Things aren't just "looking up," they're actually better than they've ever been, and getting better all the time for the vast majority of America. And whose lives are improving fastest of all? Minority groups, particularly blacks, and those at the lowest level of the income scale, all improving their lot in life at a record pace.
Personally, I'd amend Dean's statement slightly, to read like this:
And whose lives are improving fastest of all? Apart from corporate CEOs and other people outside the normal marketplace, the greatest improvements are among minority groups, particularly blacks, and those at the lowest level of the income scale, all improving their lot in life at a record pace.
But note: if my income goes up 5 percent which, incidentally, it hasn't and John Q. Pinstripe's compensation, including stock options and bonuses, goes up 8 percent, the much-decried gulf between richest and poorest widens slightly, even though my situation has inarguably improved.
And Dean says, quite reasonably:
1) The news media makes its money by making people think the world's in a constant state of crisis, and 2) No matter how well-off people are, they're usually convinced that things suck and are getting worse.
At this particular point in time, any degree of uncertainty and if there's one thing we have in abundance in 2004, it's uncertainty contributes to that perceived suckage. On the other hand, if you were somehow able to banish most of that uncertainty, you'd also breed a fair amount of cynicism: "Oh, sure, they tell us that everything's fine."
Am I better off today than I was in 2000? I think so. Do I credit the wisdom of my leaders for this? Not even.
We report, you recoil
Q: What's the deal with Wonkette's skirt? I mean, is that starch, or what?
A: It's an aerodynamic effect. Wonkette works in the District of Columbia, surrounded by officials both elected and unelected; it should be no surprise that some of them would try to blow smoke up her ass.
So happy together
Steve Gigl reports that the Minneapolis suburbs of Crystal and New Hope are contemplating merging.
I know very little about Hennepin County my only visit to the place was last summer during World Tour '03 but I'm guessing there must be something in the Minnesota temperament that makes this plausible; something like that would never happen down here in Soonerland. Warr Acres, for instance, would be loath to give up its "Warning: Higher Taxes Ahead" signs on the way out of the city limits.
On the other hand, Hall Park, a tiny Cleveland County enclave, voted last year to dissolve itself and become part of Norman, but I'd be hard-pressed to call that a "merger"; we're talking one square mile added to a city that sprawls over more than 170.
19 March 2004
Mr Edwards goes to Washington
The Top Five reasons Cam Edwards is moving to D.C.:
5. Fond childhood memories of Hasbro's Junior Policy Wonk kit
4. Wanted to see if it was possible to be a leading Oklahoma blogger without, y'know, actually being in Oklahoma
3. Heard that darn near anyone could get elected Mayor of the District
2. Flooded with guilt after taking all that money from Clear Channel
1. Robin Meyers will be a thousand miles away
It won't be the same without you, Cam. Fare thee well.
(Update: Added a Robin Meyers link.)
It always amazes me how fast things happen once winter is banished from the premises. Last week US 62 was lined with bare cottonwood trees; this morning it's like the world's largest Q-Tip display. I have one such tree in the back yard, which isn't blooming quite so quickly, but it should be up to speed presently.
Temperatures have been sneaking into the 80s, which prompted me to open up the shutters pop the doors and twist the crank, and they open for ventilation and the humongous attic fan. Just watching the motorized louvers on the fan opening slowly, deliberately, inspires low-level awe, and opening a mere three sets of shutters (two out of four in the living room, one out of four in the master bedroom) produced enough airflow to keep a small kite aloft. I know this seems awfully low-tech in this age of 24/7 climate control, but it works.
Ah, Spring. Now to wait for the inevitable thunderstorms.
Michael Blowhard has happened upon a product pitch that might actually repel customers.
Quite reasonably, the manufacturer refrains from using that particular slogan on its Web site.
There goes the neighborhood?
Saturday I described a rather unusual development around town: the construction of two houses by Habitat for Humanity in a local Historic District. I suggested at the time that present residents might not be enthusiastic at the prospect, though I did predict that things would work out in the long run.
MidCity Advocate columnist Jennifer Gaines, who lives about two blocks from the new homes, sees things this way:
You just never know, when you get a new neighbor, what kind of person they are going to be. I have no doubt that, given the current state of the outside of our home and yard, plenty of our neighbors are disappointed that we moved here, instead of some more energetic people. Any new neighbor is a mystery, even if you hide behind the blinds while they move in and inspect their furniture. I hope that all of my neighbors and I remember this as the new houses near completion and that two lucky families get to move into their very own homes. I hope that we all greet them with open arms and open minds.
And I hope, for everyone's sake, that they are proud of their new homes, and eager to show it.
Only time will tell, and time has this irritating tendency to give up no secrets until the last possible minute.
20 March 2004
Wheels within wheels
The issue of same-sex marriage, as simple as it may seem on the surface, gets more complicated the more you look at it.
A gay couple in Massachusetts adopted a child from Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Department of Health was asked to issue a birth certificate for the child. Not sure of what to do, Health sent a query to the Attorney General's office.
Yesterday Attorney General Edmondson issued an opinion: while the state does not recognize unions of this sort and will not allow gay couples here to adopt, the state's adoption rules specify that the rules of other states will be recognized by Oklahoma courts, even if the adoptive parents are ineligible under Oklahoma law.
So Health duly issues the certificate, which in this state means that the original is sealed and a supplementary certificate showing the adoptive parents is produced, and everyone is happy except for three legislators, who promised to spend Monday morning introducing measures to close what they view as a loophole.
There is, I suspect, no can big enough to hold all the worms released by the opening of the original can.
It's two, two, two films in one
Michele notes that the two biggest box-office phenomena so far in 2004 are The Passion of the Christ and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and that got her thinking:
These two movies each bring in a different kind of audience. Each movie will make a (relative to the cost of the film) ton of money. Each will have taken a place at number one on the box office charts. And, most importantly, the movies share a common theme: rising from the dead! So I had a blockbuster idea, one that will combine the two disparate, yet large, group of movie goers who are fans of each film. One that will be able to suck the cash out of the pockets of both zombie fans and Jesus followers, bringing them together in a force so large, it will forever change the way blockbuster movies are made.
Here's the poster. I like it, I like it.
And if Mel Gibson likes it, I propose another videosyncrasy: Bring back the Road Warrior and have him plunge off a cliff. Passers-by rush to help, but it's too late. Still, with his dying words, he reveals his most precious secret: the location of a stash of high-tech equipment which, in the right hands, can literally rebuild the world. And the Samaritan wannabes, once united in their goal of saving this man, now turn on each other in an effort to find the equipment first.
They could call it It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Max.
No accounting for some people
Mark Maughan is an accountant in suburban L.A., and he does seem to think well of himself; no other explanation will do for his reaction upon typing his name into the Google search engine and getting this as the first pertinent result.
Mr Maughan is suing Google, Yahoo!, America Online and Time Warner, claiming that Google's PageRank technology produced results that were "alarming, false, misleading and injurious."
AOL (which is a Time Warner operation) uses Google technology under license in its search facility; Yahoo!, at the time of Mr Maughan's alleged injury, was using Google's search engine with a custom interface. Attorneys for Mr Maughan want Google to discontinue PageRank and pay some unspecified sum in damages.
Little does Mr Maughan know that the news reports of his lawsuit, and the bloggage linking thereto, will inevitably dominate search results for his name for years to come. It might even come up if someone searches for "clueless L.A. accountant".
(Suggested by Fark)
The pirate and the Colonel
There was a sign posted today at the vacant lot at NW 59th and May, once a Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppe, which explains what's going on, and as Terkish Payne suggested, it's Combination FastJunk it's going to be an LJS/KFC hybrid.
There's a freestanding KFC eight blocks south of that location, which I assume will be closed. I'm not sure what will happen after that; the Target store just to its north could probably use that lot for extra parking, especially after its rumored upgrading to quasi-Super status, but it will take some major landscaping, since the KFC store is slightly elevated and the Target is down in the valley. More likely, some indie restaurant with modest aspirations will take over the property.
21 March 2004
Welcome to Tap City
Those wonderful folks at Coca-Cola have recalled every last bottle of Dasani water sold in Great Britain after the finished product exceeded British standards for bromate.
Coca-Cola's vaunted "purification" process apparently involves bubbling the water through calcium chloride; the company has said that it got a bad batch of CaCl2 which contained excess amounts of bromide salts.
Thames Water, which runs the water supply in Sidcup, Kent from which Dasani is drawn, was quick to point out that it wasn't their fault.
Dasani sales in the US it's the #2 bottled water, trailing Aquafina, a similarly-conceived product sold by (of course) Pepsi-Cola will probably not be affected.
I think I'll go have a Dr Pepper, since it's almost 10.
(Muchas gracias: Mike "Interested-Participant" Pechar.)
East side story
"Why bother with the UN at all?" asks Myria:
What do we want out of the UN? What is it we want it to do? Provide peace on earth? If so, it's a miserable failure. Be a place where diplomats get together and discuss things? We already have those, they?re called 'Embassies'. Provide some 'higher authority'? That certainly seems to be the take of some, what with the "Bush should have gotten UN approval" crap. Why? From whence does this mysterious UN authority derive? The US government, at least in theory, derives its power from the will of the people, from what does the UN derive its authority? I don't know about you, but I don't recall voting for Kofi Annan, nor do I recall any constitutional amendment ceding authority from the US government to a bunch of UN bureaucrats.
If the UN ceased to exist tomorrow, what would change? What would we lose? Other than that there'd be fewer people running around New York thinking they'll be running a one world nanny-state anti-democratic mega-government that taxes the bejesus out of everyone any day now if only they can find the right way to get everyone to agree with them.
The problem with the UN isn?t that there aren't enough democracies the UN itself isn't democratic in any sense of the term the problem is that it's a flawed concept to begin with. Something that sounds great in theory but that theory ignores human nature and political realities. Great idea on paper, in practice an utter disaster area.
What prompted this outburst was the revelation that a caucus of democracies is being assembled, technically under the auspices of the UN, with the unspoken goal of doing an end run around the Third World misfits and miscreants, aided and abetted by Euroschmucks, who currenly dominate the UN by dint of sheer decibel level.
In Oklahoma, we tend to describe this sort of modification as "painting a smiley-face on a turd." At the very least, the notion of populating an ostensible world parliament with representatives of despots is utterly ludicrous; circumventing them may be good, but telling them to go to hell is better. At the moment, I'm thinking the US should inform the UN that its future participation in this charade should be conditioned upon the UN's relocation to a place more appropriate to its present-day mission. I'm sure Robert Mugabe could find them space in Harare.
Free beer at Hooters
Well, okay, don't get carried away. This offer is at one location only 5821 W Interstate 20, near Little Road, Arlington, Texas and it's subject to change at any time. Please note, there's a two-beer limit per customer.
And no, this isn't a promotional gimmick of some sort. After two years, a local community group persuaded a judge to revoke the restaurant's beer license, claiming that an atmosphere in which inebriated men gawk at women dressed like Creamsicles was a recipe for increased sex crimes in the area. No actual evidence was presented to support this claim, nor was any action taken against another Hooters location on the other side of Arlington.
If they can't sell beer, though, Texas law allows them to give it away, and that's exactly what they're doing, presumably until all the legal antics are concluded.
"Free beer at Hooters." Said Rod Dreher in The Dallas Morning News blog (19 March, 10:51 am): "Are there four more beautiful words in the English language? I ask you."
Nader comes to town
Ralph Nader brought his Presidential campaign to town today, speaking at Stage Center before an audience estimated at 150.
Getting on the Oklahoma ballot will be difficult for Nader: under state law, he will have to collect 37,027 signatures from registered voters to get his name listed among the candidates. "The two parties here," he said, "have been quite successful in mounting obstacles to competition from third party and independent candidates," and indeed Nader, then running as a Green, was unable to get on the ballot in 2000.
And the people who do get on the ballot here, said Nader, aren't exactly prizes either: our Congressional delegation comprises "the cruelest, most craven legislators in Washington outside of Texas."
Hmmm. He may understand this place better than I thought.
22 March 2004
Unclear on the concept
We process credit-card transactions for maybe two thousand customers every week, and 1,950 of those create no issues whatsoever. The remaining fifty, however, generate more nonuseful work than the 1,950 in aggregate.
I have come to believe that most of these people basically don't have a freaking clue about how credit cards work, and the remainder are somehow persuaded that they're gaming the system to their own benefit. Either way, their stories are unconvincing: "But I mailed my payment to Seattle first thing Monday morning" doesn't mean squat Wednesday afternoon, unless Seattle has received and processed and posted said payment. Confronted with evidence of their doltishness and/or perfidy, they react defensively, as though we were the IRS performing an audit, or offensively, as though we simply don't understand how important they are.
There is, of course, no fix for this, short of banning a substantial number of deadbeats pour encourager les autres, and The Powers That Be are not keen on this idea, inasmuch as it might discourage some people from taking advantage of our services. I have pointed out that people who produce no revenue really ought to be discouraged, so far to no avail. Once, only half in jest, I proposed posting the offenders' names and card numbers to the Web; public humiliation has its charms, and since these cards aren't any good in the first place, there presumably wouldn't be any unauthorized charges.
Actually, I'd rather have them shot.
Jolly Roger radio
The Federal Communications Commission frowns upon unlicensed radio stations unless they run power levels down in the milliwatt range. The rationale, of course, is to protect existing broadcasters from interference, which is a good thing, but as a side effect, existing broadcasters are also protected from competition, which is not such a good thing.
Somebody in town has been running a hip-hop/R&B station without Federal sanction, parked at 92.1 MHz, halfway between two powerhouse signals (KOSU-FM in Stillwater and KOMA-FM in Oklahoma City) and blocking access, at least in my area, to neither. (The nearest commercial 92.1 signal, if I remember correctly, is in metro Tulsa, licensed to Broken Arrow.)
Who is this guy? No one knows. And until the FCC shows up with tracking equipment and subpoenas, probably no one will. But for now, he's putting on arguably the best show in town; not having to toe the corporate line, and not saddled with the expurgated versions of recordings that are sent to "real" radio stations, he's made a format I don't particularly care for otherwise into something almost interesting. Let's hope it takes the Feds a while to home in on his signal.
Brian J. Noggle has some serious reservations about paying bills online:
It's a security risk multiplied by the number of payees and middlemen. Any one of them could get hacked and suddenly, I am buying computers for Romanians.
Worse, if anyone of these entities has a mere computer glitch, suddenly my bank account is empty and all other checks, debits, and withdrawals are bouncing, and my bank is charging me an extra $20 a day to remind me that my account is still empty. I have seen enough critical defects outside the financial industry to recognize how tenuous the Web is and to put my actual information and my credit rating on the line.
In exchange for assuming these risks, what do my creditors and the online bill-paying industry offer me? Convenience.
I say: Not good enough.
My own experience with paying bills online has been mostly positive, but mostly is the word you want to note here: a couple of creditors actually bobbled their payments, sending them back whence they came because they couldn't figure out what to do with them. This isn't exactly severe, but it isn't helpful in the slightest, and I subsequently quit doing business with one of the offending firms. (The other one, I probably should have, now that it's possible to do so.) My bank, generally regarded as high on the Evil List, has always gone to bat for me when I've sought resolution for these issues, but if this system were as wonderful as they claim, there wouldn't be issues in the first place.
And some things city utilities, insurance payments, mortgage I still send as checks, just because.
Well, I like 72 myself
Many years ago, Tom Lehrer spelled out the facts about New Math:
"In the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you're doing, rather than to get the right answer."
This Christian Science Monitor piece suggests that even understanding what you're doing is now largely irrelevant:
In Plano, Texas, parents whose children were using the "exemplary" Connected Math program questioned sixth-grade assignments like: "Choose a whole number between 10 and 100 that you especially like. In your journal, record your number, explain why you chose that number, list three or four mathematical things about your number, list three or four connections you can make between your number and the world."
Had this been dished up to me in sixth grade, I'd have picked a prime number and pointedly explained that there aren't any more connections, thank you very much. Do sixth-graders these days even know what prime numbers are?
(Via Kimberly Swygert, who thinks this sort of thing is more "execrable" than "exemplary".)
23 March 2004
Cents and sensibility
The original plastic squeeze-to-open coin purse, the Quikoin®, was invented in 1951, but it didn't become truly ubiquitous until the 1960s, when seemingly every girl (and not a few boys) schlepped along one of these ovoid contraptions, branded with some corporate emblem.
Eventually it went the way of all fads, but in the post-ironic 21st century, where "old" is the new "new," the Quikoin® is back. As it was then, so it is now. And if you think this seems a trifle anachronistic in an era when people pay for Tic Tacs with debit cards, you're missing the point.
(Via Dawn Eden, an anachronism in her own right.)
Not so hard to predict
The other shoe has dropped; Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman) has let it be known that the GOP is looking for a bill to which they can attach an amendment that would ban out-of-state adoptions of Oklahoma children by gay couples. Writing their own bill is evidently out of the question. (I suggest Senate Bill 1413, which to me looks like a back-door attempt to reinstate the state's sodomy laws by defining a new class of the "detestable and abominable crime against nature".)
The Department of Health reports that half a dozen children from Oklahoma have been adopted by gay couples outside the state.
Rituals in red and white
Bruce works in retail, so he knows what shopping entails, but shopping at Target is something else entirely:
Target is nesting central. It makes me want to don a shirt that says "no coupling zone" in big letter across the chest. Happy little couples leisurely plod up and down the aisles, looking at towels, picking up decorative lampshades and taking up the whole DAMN aisle! They flaunt [their] happy couple...ness.
Since my usual reaction to happy couples is to (1) puke my guts out and (2) puke my guts out, in that order, I can understand his frustration. But is this inevitable? Do we all act this way?
Hey, I used to be the same way (a little) when I had a mate, but I was considerate of those other people that just wanted to get in and get out. They had a mission. Get a file folder, get some kitty litter, grab a pack of TP and some Doritos. Then get the hell outta there.
I don't think I've ever been the "nesting" type, but I don't think I've ever gone into Target with the express intention of buying X items and nothing but X items, either; I browse, and I take up probably more than my fair share of the aisle. Still, shopping doesn't do a lot for me, and it doesn't do much for Bruce either:
I recognize the cathartic benefits, the sating of our hunter-gatherer instincts, the need to accomplish a task. However I don't have lots of extra money so I can't make shopping a hobby.
I rather suspect that some of the "hobbyists" can't afford it either.
No love in the room
Apparently there's no love for Arista Records, which after nearly thirty years ceases to exist as a record company this week and becomes simply another BMG imprint.
Arista was built from the remains of Bell Records, acquired by Columbia Pictures from Larry Uttal in the late Sixties. Uttal remained with the company for five years, departing in 1974; Clive Davis, just fired from CBS, took over at Bell and instituted the name change. The first single of note on the nascent label was "No Love in the Room" by the Fifth Dimension, which "bubbled under" the Hot 100 briefly before disappearing. It was the group's last record for the company.
The hits started coming soon enough: Melissa Manchester's "Midnight Blue", Arista's sixteenth single, was the label's first Top Ten. (The first Number One was "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers.) The German conglomerate Bertlesmann Music Group acquired Arista in 1979, and despite a revolving door in Arista's boardroom, the label remained successful under the BMG umbrella for twenty-five years. But with Big Music in seemingly irreversible decline, BMG apparently decided it had too many labels, and chose to keep RCA, Jive and J (which is run these days by yes! Clive Davis). There will still be releases on the label, but the shots are being called from somewhere else.
The ranks grow ever thinner.
24 March 2004
Spigots of red and blue (Part 2)
Fundrace's Neigbor Search, discussed earlier here, has now been updated with contributions through 29 February. New figures for my ZIP code follow as appropriate:
This is, as noted before, an area very much divided: Republicans were elected to the legislative positions, but some big-name Democrats, including a former governor and the current AG, live here.
Stories we could tell
To rather a large number of Americans, Oklahoma City is something of an enigma: it's one of the 30 largest cities in the country (29th, says the 2000 Census), but it simply doesn't register on the national radar unless there's something dreadfully terrible happening say, a truck bomb at the Federal Building, or a tornado that measures nearly off the scale. To some extent, we tend not to notice our comparative invisibility; we've got work to do, dammit.
Mike Swickey (23 March) thinks it's time to take another look:
I want my weblog to look at my city Oklahoma City in a new and (again, I think) unique way. I want to find the people in this city that know its history, its pros, its cons. Find people who do thankless work that goes unnoticed. Look at jobs in our city that are only thought of in passing and maybe with some derision. It takes all kinds to make a city like Oklahoma City tick 24-7. I want to mix a little history of OKC with history of our popular culture and a look at the people who have been here, are here now, and chances are, will be here years from now. Profiles of our city. Sometimes an individual, sometimes an interesting job that quietly gets done, maybe the profile will look at a building an old movie palace or a long lost 15-story brick art-deco building that fell victim to evil personified: The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority of the sixties and seventies.
Emphasis in the original, and I don't think he's kidding; OCURA in those days was primarily concerned with removing old buildings, and not a whole lot of thought went into whether the replacements would be an improvement.
There are, they say, eight million stories in the Naked City. We're a bit more modest here, but I'm sure we've got tales to tell. And if anyone can find them, it's Mike Swickey.
You must be this old to read this book
Harper's Bazaar has a recurring feature called "Fabulous at Every Age," which presents fashion and beauty tips for women from twentysomething to sixty and beyond who can afford the sort of stuff that's featured in Harper's Bazaar.
This time around, though, they're undercutting their own message. The April cover duly announces the "Fabulous..." content in large print, but behind that announcement is a gloriously lovely photo (by Patrick Demarchelier) of... Drew Barrymore?
Not to put the knock on Drew, who is fabulous in her own right a woman with a past is almost always more appealing when you sense she has a future but she's only twenty-nine. I assume they had the cover story in the can and needed to get it out there while it was still fresh, but I suspect that someone 39 or 49 with a sense of foreboding about that next birthday is not at all likely to be reassured by the presence of someone she thinks of as a kid.
By the way, in "Accessories for Every Age," women my age (which is just beyond 50) are encouraged to go for highly-decorated bags, the simplest and least-substantial shoes, and "major" diamonds.
This week at the Carnival
And it's week #79, which means Bigwig's baby is now over 18 months.
Pete's Encyclopeteia (doncha just love it?) is hosting this edition, which, as always, is jam-packed full of bloggy goodness, and might even have had something from me had I remembered to send something in, which I didn't.
Take it away, Pete.
25 March 2004
Lileks goes to Sam's Club:
The clerk explained the difference between the $35 membership and the Platinum Advantage Total $100 membership; the latter apparently gets you dental coverage, free prescription drugs, photo processing that makes everyone in the pictures look younger and thinner, colorectal exams with lubricants only Trumps can usually afford PLUS the ghost of Sam Walton himself makes an annual appearance to tell your kids a bedtime story. I went for the $35 subscription and put out my Wells Fargo / Visa check card.
"We don't take Visa," said the clerk.
"But it's everywhere I want to be. And I want to be here."
"We don't take Visa, MasterCard or American Express, just Discover, Cash, or check."
Discover? DISCOVER? The Gummo Marx of charge cards? I figured out the deal right away: they want you to get the Sam's Club card, which I'm sure has an interest rate that would make Ayn Rand scream for a usury law, and they make their money off the interest, not the store. The entire Sam's Club concept exists to support their in-house charge card.
I mention this because (1) it's Lileks, after all and (2) the State of Oklahoma has been emotionally wedded to this card: if you renew your auto registration by mail, you must send a check or money order, or charge to Discover.
Curiously, the state will accept Visa and MasterCard American Express, even in payment of income tax.
And the rates for the Wal-Mart/Sam's card are here.
The House seeks to hook Fisher
Republicans in the Oklahoma House have moved to impeach Carroll Fisher, calling the controversial Insurance Commissioner "an embarrassment to the people of Oklahoma."
House Resolution 1040, by Fred Morgan (R-Oklahoma City) and John Trebilcock (R-Broken Arrow), calls for the Speaker to convene a committee to investigate Fisher's activities and decide whether impeachment and removal from office is warranted.
At the time the resolution was introduced, Fisher was turning over his financial records to a grand jury, which had charged him with embezzlement.
Fisher pointed out that at least one House Republican Mike O'Neil, from Enid was under a cloud after a sexual-battery charge was filed last month, and suggested that the resolution was partially motivated by a desire to take the heat off O'Neil.
Should the committee approve articles of impeachment, they would go to the full House for a vote; if a majority of the House agrees, the Senate would try the impeachment, with a two-thirds vote required to remove Fisher from office.
In the quiet suburbs of R'lyeh
And not approved by Sanrio, either: it's Hello Cthulhu!
(Muchas gracias: Syaffolee.)
A name for a place
When I was acquiring this little piece of subheaven, I dubbed it "Shangri-Chaz," a name that had little to recommend it other than its singular lack of euphony. But with spring in the air, the foliage coming in lovelier than I deserve, and my moods blacker than usual, I stumbled across a name which fits so well it's no wonder I didn't think of it then.
Hereinafter, my quarter-acre of God's green earth, not all of it equally green, will be known as:
At some point, I will commission a sign for the house.
(The "In City Dreams" category has been renamed accordingly.)
26 March 2004
Have mercy on the criminal
Today, former Senator Gene Stipe will appear before the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System with the hope of persuading the trustees thereof that they should not cut his pension from $7042 per month to $1572.
Stipe, who resigned from the Senate after pleading guilty to Federal charges connected to the dubious Congressional campaign of Walt Roberts in 1998, was informed by OPERS that due to his criminal record, he would be required to forfeit much of the retirement pay he accumulated over 53 years of service.
Votes by the OPERS board are not generally made public, but I'd love to see what embattled Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, a member of the board who is having problems of his own, has to say on the subject.
The grain of assault
Dr John Lott, writing at NRO, sees an end to one particularly egregious gun-control measure:
The so-called "assault-weapons ban," a hallmark of the gun-control movement, is dead. After a decade of claiming that the ban is crucial to reducing crime and protecting police, gun-control organizations have suddenly morphed into Gilda Radner's old Saturday Night Live character, Roseanne Rosanna-Dana, saying "never mind."
The ban expires on 13 September; while some of the usual suspects have weighed in, and the Senate did once vote to extend the ban before deciding to let it fade into the sunset, there's little support for the idea in the House, and there seems to be some dim realization among at least some of the anti-Second Amendment crowd that the ban as written was purely arbitrary and had no discernible impact on the nation's crime rate.
I'll be happy to see it die, not because I particularly aspire to fill up a gun cabinet with such weapons, but simply because it was a dumb idea, conceived in desperation and enacted in haste. Good riddance.
But dammit, John, it was Emily Litella who said "Never mind." Sheesh. It's always something.
(Update, 10:15 am: Revised the Senate reference and added a link.)
Bosley of the month
On 26 January, I posted my first article on Catherine Bosley, the Ohio ex-anchor who partied hearty in Key West and paid dearly for it when the pictures showed up.
On 26 February, I noted that Bosley was suing to halt Internet distribution of said pictures.
Today being 26 March, I figured there had to be something Bosley-related in the news, and sure enough, the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the photos can circulate once more.
Surely there will be further developments, say, around the last week of April.
(Once again, via Interested-Participant.)
Yours truly has a guest spot today at The Dawn Patrol, which I used to wax nostalgic about old two-letter telephone exchanges.
(If you're reading this in London, make that old three-letter telephone exchanges. And if you're not reading this in London, and you're wondering, as do some readers, "Why do you know this?" I have a small collection of vintage Radio London jingles, one of which solicits advertising for the station at MAYfair 5361.)
Yeah, I know: nobody would call Jenny at UNiversity 7-5309. Or would they?
We had joy, we had fun, we had 92.1
For a while, anyway.
Our newest pirate station has bitten (or, more precisely, was force-fed) the dust. According to one report, the perp was wanted in Florida for some possibly unrelated offense, and was promptly FedExed to the Sunshine State.
On balance, the funniest aspect of all this was that our short-lived broadcast buccaneer often came in with better quality than Citadel's KSYY, a station licensed to Kingfisher and (uncharacteristically for rimshooters) actually transmitting therefrom with the power of approximately 10 butterfly sneezes.
27 March 2004
The privates sector
It is an article of faith among conservatives and libertarians that anything private enterprise can do efficiently, government will do less so, and they'll point at the US Postal Service or Britain's National Health to hammer home the point.
But what's a rule without an exception? In Blue Summit, Missouri, a little unincorporated area between Kansas City and Independence, there's a strip mall, so to speak, called Erotic City, created by one Elvin L. Boone. Mr Boone, however, departed this world in the 1990s, and he did so before executing a will, so the Probate Court of Jackson County is operating the smut shops until such time as the property can be divided among his heirs. Inasmuch as Boone's eight children seem to be an uncooperative lot, working up a settlement has been difficult, and it perhaps hasn't helped that the Court, charged with being fair to everyone involved, has reportedly done a better job of running Erotic City than Boone himself did.
If all goes well, probate will be wound down some time this fall, and the county will be out of the sex business though my daughter, who owns a home in Independence, looks at her property-tax bill and is convinced that she is being screwed by Jackson County.
Somewhere off Shattuck Avenue
I'm reasonably certain I don't need to fill in the name of the California city in which this took place:
The Police Review Commission has rejected a proposal to buy two German shepherd police dogs after opponents said the animals could intimidate poor people and racial minorities.
The 6-3 vote Wednesday night effectively kills the Police Department's plans for a canine unit.
A good police dog, GSD or otherwise, should be able to intimidate anybody up to and including Governor Schwarzenegger, fercryingoutloud.
(Via Overtaken by Events, where Matt suggests that an initiative to "teach the homeless the full glory of homosexual midget performance art" would be more favorably considered by this unnamed burg.)
Hottie spirit before a fall
Fraters Libertas are asking "Who's hotter?" One person mentioned in their poll is author/pundit Peggy Noonan, and while Saint Paul is justly fond of her, he can't bring himself to consider her hot:
[T]here's nothing terribly wrong with her face. In fact there's a lot right about her beautiful, fashionably cut blond hair, her bottomless pale blue eyes which reveal a piercing intellect and just a hint of a tragedy. Her forehead, ears, cheekbones fine, fine, fine. Draw a horizontal line across her face, centered about mid nose and concentrate on the top half only and she's a knockout.
It's the lower half of the picture where the heretofore divine genetic code got a little scrambled. To be specific, it's her big, flaring nostrils and long, thin lips. Upon intensive study, I believe they can only be described in one way: porcine.
I need hardly point out that Saint Paul is not at all hinting that anyone is going to lop off Peggy Noonan's ear in the hopes of making a purse from it, but True Perfection is not bestowed upon mere mortals, and the distribution of fragments thereof seems random at best. An appearance by sitcom creator Diane English in the new Entertainment Weekly struck me similarly; while Hanes thought enough of her to feature her in a hosiery ad some years ago, the EW head shot reveals the facial expression of a basset hound in pain.
Then again, as a person whose appearance is untidy at best, I am hardly in a position even to pretend to be judgmental.
(Update, 10:25 pm: Accepted twenty lashes and a copy of the Northern Alliance pamphlet "How To Tell Fraters Apart, Dammit".)
He passed me at Doheny
West of Crescent Heights, onto that off-camber section of Sunset Boulevard that was known as "Dead Man's Curve." It wasn't on that fearful turn that Jan Berry crashed his Corvette in 1966, two years after he and Dean Torrence had had a Top Ten hit with a song about it, but Jan was cracked up pretty badly, and while technically he never recovered, it took almost thirty-eight years for the brain damage to finish him off, testimony perhaps to the man's sheer strength of will.
Ironically, by 1964 Dead Man's Curve itself was no longer much of a threat, the city of Los Angeles having redone that section of Sunset in 1961 after Mel Blanc crashed there and anyway, the curve itself wasn't quite where Jan placed it in the song: if you started to swerve after Doheny, you'd have to go a good four miles to get to the actual location. (I drove the remains of the Curve myself in 1988, slightly above the speed limit, and it was like drag city, man.)
It seems so unfair, though, that both Dead Man's Curve and Jan Berry should be gone: to some of us non-Californians, these were trademarks of the Golden State, as surely as oranges and palm trees (neither of which were actually indigenous to the area, but what the hell) and San Andreas and his fault.
In the meantime, feel free to send donations in Jan's name to the Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association, and remember a man who not only wrote surf hits, but did much to advance the art of record production. As Dawn Eden once said:
When Jan Berry lost part of his brain, the music world lost some major-league endorphins.
In heaven, of course, there are two girls for every boy. Maybe.
28 March 2004
The clown with the South African IP address (I suppose he himself could be just about anywhere) who bogused up a login screen for my online banking service did a pretty good job, designwise.
However, where he fell down was in his insistence that "In order to view this message your e-mail client must support HTML format." Wrong-O, Buffalo Bob. I don't read email in HTML format from anyone under any conditions, and actual email from the bank has always been sent in a plain-text version.
Once in a while someone who pulls a stunt like this gets caught, but basically, we're dealing with cockroaches here: if you see one, there are probably five hundred you don't see. It's probably impractical to stomp every last one of them. But there's no need to feed the little bastards.
Is that all there is?
My daughter (twenty-six this year) complains occasionally of boredom: if you're a certain age, which is to say around her age, there's not as much to do as you might expect in a city the size of Kansas City.
I have tended to dismiss this as an adolescent rant on a delay cycle, but then I started to see complaints in blogdom, some of them similar, some of them hitting quite a bit harder. Here's Bruce:
Tulsa really needs to try harder to find ways to convince younger people to stay here. Without young people with disposable time and income it will be extremely difficult to build a thriving downtown. This will not only mean keeping good jobs here but making it worthwhile to stay with a fun and growing nightlife.
Right now, Tulsa is [a] single person's hell.
And in Kansas City specifically, from Christine:
If I've been down on KC lately, it's only because I came to the realization that there has to be something in the water here. Something that breeds an apathy so thick it borders on suicidal. There's a sick sense of codependancy as well. As if the collective conscious is saying "stay down here with us". Of course I'm not talking about everyone. Some people are perfectly happy here and do well. Unfortunately, there's a demographic that just doesn't belong here. Progressive, creative, free-thinking individuals just don't do well here as a whole. It's not for lack of trying, I know people who bust their asses daily to live here. But it so very rarely pays off. Not in cash, creative, or spiritual rewards. I so envy the few people I know who are happy and thriving here.
We're starting to hear about a "creative class," a group of people, largely single, probably around Christine's or Bruce's age, who demand both reasonable employment and reasonable enjoyment. And indeed there are cities where they tend to accumulate, none of which looks particularly like Tulsa or Kansas City. Dr. Richard Florida, guru presumptive to this demographic cohort, says that this sort of thing is inevitable:
[B]eing able to afford food and decent health care is merely a baseline requirement. Most people, including those on the lowest rungs, have a bigger vision, and it isn't "the chance to get rich," the line Reagan once borrowed from Lincoln. It's Jefferson's idea: the pursuit of happiness. The dream is to reap intrinsic rewards from our work rather than merely be "compensated" for the time and effort we put in.
As observers from the sociologist Ronald Inglehart to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel have pointed out, this is an effect of living in a post-scarcity, post-materialist society. Once a society moves above subsistence level, its members start seeking more than material rewards from their work.
I don't think I'm too old to recognize the validity of this observation, but I do think I'm probably too old to just pack up and move, the way Bruce might like to, the way Christine is going to. Part of this is the sensation that I've probably gotten all the career nurture I'm ever going to get, and I'm disinclined to start at the bottom somewhere else. But some of it is the fact that if I'm bored, I tend to assume that it's because of me, not because of where I live or what I think I'd like to do. Then again, I'm writing this while doing a load of laundry.
Have a tablet
Okay, why were the Ten Commandments pulled out of that Alabama courtroom?
If you automatically responded "Separation of church and state," well, Becky has other ideas.
Signs of spring
Two of the nondescript trees in my front yard at least it seemed so when I bought the place turn out to be hale and hearty redbuds, and right now the one to the east is breaking out into a glorious purple, while its western cousin is a lovely bridal white. They're both a long way from full bloom, though.
And my mower of choice was sold out.
29 March 2004
Spanners in the works
There's been no announcement yet, but something wrenchingly terrible apparently happened down on the server farm early this morning; pretty much everything has been nonfunctional at this end.
As the bumper sticker says, "Feces transpire."
Update, 1:30 pm: The announcement is out:
This morning we experienced a router failure that took down our network from approximately 2am - 10am PST. The cause of the failure is unknown at this time, but it appears to be hardware related. The backup router failed to take over the responsibilities of the failed primary router, resulting in a network brownout. We are further investigating both of these issues at the moment.
A fragile thing, this Web.
Update, 30 March, 4:00 pm: They've identified the culprit(s), and their hardware failure was precipitated by a distributed denial-of-service attack which apparently knew how to kill two routers. Dowingba publishes the final message sent to users no need to repeat it here and offers commentary of his own.
Sometimes all you can do is stand back and admire something from a distance.
I mean, is this an embarrassment of riches or what? Lileks takes on Monty Python's Life of Brian, and Susanna Cornett discusses The Passion of the Christ. It's better than double dessert.
The monk bought lunch
When I was back there in secondary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that no, wait, no one ever propositioned me in those days.
The arithmetic doesn't lie, but still it seems impossible that I should pop open an envelope this afternoon and out comes this:
Can you believe that 2004 marks the 35th year since we graduated from [name goes here] High School?
In a word, no. And I really ought to see if there's some way I can go to one of these reunions, if only to deal with the spectacle of a classmate celebrating Mass; somehow there's a disconnect between "Hey, Larry!" and "Good afternoon, Monsignor."
If the list is to be believed, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be, they've tracked at least 150 of us, out of a smidgen over 200. Not bad after three and a half decades. And at least I recognized three names (out of five) on the planning committee.
How to post like me
[Name of blogger] thinks such-and-such about this:
I tend to (dis)agree, as follows:
[Second point, if any]
(Via [site I found linking to site linked])
30 March 2004
The drones of academe
The ever-Curmudgeonly Francis W. Porretto is not overly fond of some 20th-century repertoire:
There's a great deal of "classical" music that most of us can only endure, and then only under duress.
Why? Because it has no integrating themes. It's complex for the sake of being complex. Its elements don't resolve to unifying statements that make overall sense. It's not dissonant or dysphonious; it's simply bad.
Actually, I've always suspected that there is one underlying theme in all of this dry, academic, uncompelling stuff: the urge to produce the sort of music which induces foundations and other benefactors to write checks.
And this, of course, becomes a self-replicating phenomenon in no time at all. If somebody comes up with a piece for three violas and a cello that sounds like Webern on Quaaludes and manages to get a sizable grant, you can expect half a dozen more such works to be premiered to yawning audiences in the next few years. Although sometimes, admittedly, it takes more than that:
He who scores symphonies that require a hundred performers playing twenty different instruments can often pass complex obscurity off as genuine artistic insight. He can tell the dissenter from his genius that the fault lies not in the work, but in the listener's underdeveloped tastes and capacity for appreciation.
In time, this gambit gave us Arnold Schönberg and John Cage. If you don't know who they are, consider yourself blessed.
I discovered both these composers when I was in my early twenties. No, they're not especially accessible, and yes, there are times when I think they come across as willfully obtuse. But I've acquired recordings of some of their works for my collection, and haven't regretted it. Besides, even exponents of sheerest tonality can get on my nerves: Olivier Messiaen and his damnable bird calls tempt me to bring out the artillery.
Even among the pieces we think of as Basic Repertoire, there's plenty of room for argument. Thirty-odd years ago, there was a panel discussion during halftime um, between the acts of the Saturday Met radio broadcasts in which Tony Randall, a frequent participant in such panels, was hit with the question: "Is there a masterpiece you really can't stand?" A two-edged sword, this, since you have to admit to the work's exalted status even as you rip it to shreds. Randall thought about it, then 'fessed up: he really didn't like The Magic Flute.
I've thought about this on and off, and there are a few pieces that are legitimately regarded as great that nevertheless set my teeth on edge, perhaps due to extreme overexposure: I can probably go the rest of my life without hearing Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again, and I can certainly make it to 2012 without another hearing of Tchaikovsky's 1812. Still, there's a reason these works made it into the Basic Repertoire in the first place, and if a young person approached me and expressed a desire to become more familiar with classical music, it's probably not too likely I'd start the process with Pierrot lunaire even though I do have it on hand.
None of their business
Oklahoma County's Metropolitan Library System has announced some new privacy measures.
Beginning immediately, applications for library cards will not ask for the patron's Social Security Number. (This is in keeping with state policy, which has barred the SSN from driver's licenses.) The eight-digit card number will no longer be printed on the checkout receipt, and transaction records will be deleted once the transaction is completed (material returned and any fines paid). And the library's customer list is not available for sale or rent.
I'm wondering if the deletion of transaction records isn't intended as a foil for the USA Patriot Act, Section 215 of which is supposed to override state confidentiality rules for libraries. The pertinent Oklahoma statute reads as follows:
A. Any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds including but not limited to public, academic, school or special libraries, and having records indicating which of its documents or other materials, regardless of format, have been loaned to or used by an identifiable individual or group shall not disclose such records to any person except to:
1. Persons acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library;
2. Persons authorized to inspect such records, in writing, by the individual or group; or
3. By order of a court of law.
B. The requirements of this section shall not prohibit middle and elementary school libraries from maintaining a system of records that identifies the individual or group to whom library materials have been loaned even if such system permits a determination, independent of any disclosure of such information by the library, that documents or materials have been loaned to an individual or group.
Assuming the Department of Homeland Security isn't going after sixth-graders pre-teen terrorists seem to be purely a Palestinian phenomenon it looks like they're going to be requesting records that will not exist.
Unless, of course, they're tracking some indolent suspects who can't return books on time.
Birds suddenly appear
After a series of legal challenges to the law, Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule on the Constitutionality of the state's 2002 ban on cockfighting, and today the Court upheld that ban by a 7-0 vote. (Two Justices abstained.)
Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) will continue his fight to get the penalties reduced; he says that this is another attack on American traditions, and "next it will be hunting, fishing and rodeos."
Not so loud, Frank. PETA has ears.
12 months/12,000 smiles
Around the blogs in 80 weeks
Once again, it's time for the Carnival of the Vanities, week #80, special April Fools's Edition, hosted by Eric Berlin. In keeping with the spirit of the first of April, fully twenty percent of the entries are completely and utterly bogus, and what's worse, one of the remainders is by me.
There's yet another innovation from Eric: all the links are processed through SnipURL, which shortens those endless URLs and, not incidentally, makes it a lot harder to spot the fakes. Devilishly ingenious, this Berlin fellow.
31 March 2004
On the way to post-industrial
It is no secret that the US economy is shifting toward services and away from manufacturing, to the general despair of (mostly) Rust Belt states where industry seems to be in free fall. The most immediate result of this transition is an expansion of political rhetoric, a lot of yammering about saving jobs. But other things seem to be happening in the background, and one of them might be a general improvement in the national morale.
How is this possible? A study by psychologists Leaf van Boven and Thomas Gilovich [link requires Adobe Reader] suggests that spending our money on services travel, performing arts, even something as seemingly mundane as dining out enhances our lives, or at least our perception of our lives, more than buying furniture for the house or toys for the den.
This is not some anti-consumption screed, either; it's an acknowledgement of the fact that we are the sum of our experiences. New goods are nice, but then it's time for newer goods; as later possessions displace earlier ones, their relative position in our hierarchy of needs remains more or less constant. Experiences, on the other hand, are cumulative; we'll always have Paris, even after we've gotten back from Iceland. And experiences can be shared in a way products can't: we'd love to hear about your hike up the Appalachian Trail, especially if the alternative is hearing about your new plasma TV.
These findings, of course, seem more relevant the higher you climb on the socioeconomic ladder; down on the lower rungs, there isn't a whole lot of discretionary income to devote to either goods or services. But overall, it's a fairly safe bet that the demand for services will increase faster than the demand for consumer goods, which means that the American economy is doing exactly what you'd expect under the circumstances. The politicians, of course, will be the last ones to figure this out.
(Via Andrew David Chamberlain's The Idea Shop.)
What about Bob?
National Public Radio still hasn't explained to Susanna's satisfaction why Bob Edwards is being replaced:
The NPR management whines about the lack of flexibility in the Morning Edition format, and the fact that it repeats after its initial broadcast. How is that Edwards' fault? Sounds like a programming management issue to me. They especially natter about being caught flat-footed on 9/11 with their initial coverage, because Morning Edition was repeating. Again, how is that Edwards' fault? Is there some god-like edict he brought down from a mountain that prevented them from immediately switching to live coverage?
The fact is, Morning Edition is a two-hour show, though many stations (including the one here) do carry a four-hour feed, and I'm pretty sure there have been instances where something that was reported at, say, 6:19 had an update punched in at 8:19 and, of course, there are five-minute news summaries on the hour and half-hour. (This being pledge week, read "five-minute" as "three-point-five-minute.")
Whatever the imagined problems with the format, they hardly seem like reason enough to blame Bob Edwards.
And a word to the wise, if any, at NPR: you don't want to cheese off Susanna:
It'll be interesting to see what happens. Perhaps their new show will be quite well done, and I'll like it. I'm not set against it on general principle. But NPR has lost a lot of my already truncated goodwill toward them with this stupidity, for no good reason that I can discern. And a little bit of me wants to see Bob Edwards vindicated (liberal as he is) by having this New Coke go as flat as the last one did.
Remind me to buy her a drink. And not a carbonated drink, either.
1040 or fight (part 2)
Forget the Ides of March; the Eternal Revenue Service hath decreed that we shall fear the Ides of April instead, and I, normally as proficient a procrastinator as you can find, assuming you find time to get around to look, finally decided to take care of this taxing situation.
I've been experimenting with alternative filing methods for years, but this year I think I've found my system of choice. I searched the government's FreeFile vendors, most of whom offer low or no-cost 1040s and cheap state returns to persons of moderate means, and I settled on eSmartTax.com, which has an interface which might almost qualify as intuitive and a reasonable (for the last day of March) amount of speed. Of course, I'd worked all the calculations on my own beforehand, so there were no surprises to be had, but I was pleased with this vendor, and the price ten bucks for 1040EZ and Oklahoma 511 was right.
Next year, to be sure, I'll have a more complicated return 2004 will be the first year since 1981 (!) for which I'll actually itemize deductions but I'm not likely to rise above their income threshold for reduced-price e-filing (Adjusted Gross Income of $54,000), so I expect I'll go back to them next spring.
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