25 August 2002
There's always room for J. Lo


"Isn't life as a modern woman hard enough without the dwindling number of realistically dimensioned women in the forefront of popular awareness? I want Jennifer Lopez to play an opera singer in a movie and gain 100 pounds for the part!"

All this "rage" from Mona Magno-Veluz, because she, um, gained five pounds.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
27 August 2002
Maxed out

You probably didn't know that Sony was still building the occasional Betamax, so it likely makes no difference to you that production will end after a 27-year run.

Maybe I ought to go get my SL-HF900 fixed; they bring big bucks on the used market, even today. Fortunately, my SL-HF840D still works, and I have plenty of blank tapes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
2 September 2002
CNN news from Fox

While looking at some local TV-station sites as perfunctory research for the preceding item, I noticed that apparently the Fox TV network doesn't demand that its local affiliates wrap themselves in Rupert Murdoch-approved isolation; quite a few Fox stations have affiliations with CNN, including KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, KABB-TV in San Antonio, and WTIC-TV in Hartford, Connecticut.

There's nothing particularly weird about this CNN swaps video with affiliates of the other major broadcast networks as well but really, if the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" were the ideologically-driven monolith it's alleged to be, shouldn't Murdoch, or Fox News boss Roger Ailes, or somebody, have pulled the plug on these deals by now?

Not likely. Fox, first and foremost, has to make money, and annoying the affiliate stations is not the most efficient way to do it. What's more, Fox, having acquired the old United Stations (Chris-Craft) group, now owns some of the biggest UPN affiliates, including WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey (New York City market) and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. Strange bedfellows are the rule, not the exception, in today's Big Media market.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
4 September 2002
It's a Volokh world, after all

Admittedly, the world is not exactly teeming with Volokhs. Still, I read The Volokh Conspiracy fairly regularly, and I've subscribed to Movieline for over a decade, and it never once occurred to me that Movieline founder and CEO Anne Volokh might be somehow related to Sasha and Eugene. As Homer J. Simpson might say: "D'oh!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 PM)
6 September 2002
Oxymoron: "Property Management"

During the six years this site has been in operation, I have delivered a few righteous denunciations of things which I thought needed denouncing, but I don't think anything in this domain qualifies as a world-class Fisking; I've never really been all that vicious.

Until I got home this afternoon and found, of all things, an eviction notice waiting for me, five days after the rent was due but seven days after it was paid. And I've got the receipt to prove it. What's more, they cashed my check on Tuesday, which is rather easily verifiable by a call to the bank.

So this particular quasi-Fisking will be delivered in person tomorrow morning. I don't really expect anyone to quake in fear when I arrive, but you'd better believe they're going to be shaking when I depart.

And if their response is not satisfactory, well, it will be Google-able for the remainder of eternity, for the edification of all.

Update, 6:40 pm, 7 September: The one staffer on duty happened to be the one who signed the rent receipt, so there was little arguing to do; what bothered me was the bland admission that, well, these things happen. Perhaps they do; however, they should not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 PM)
7 September 2002
It's only a number (plus two)

The next step, perhaps, is to blame those horrid liberals in the Connecticut Department of Public Health; apparently Ann Coulter is a couple years closer to AARP membership than she's been willing to let on. Of course, whether she's 38 (as she claims) or 40 (as Connecticut records indicate) is largely irrelevant, unless you think that 40 is some horrible age for a woman to be, in which case I suggest you've been hanging around too many Britneys for your own good.

And let us not snipe solely at Ann Coulter. Just to show you that this sort of thing transcends mere political stances, Barbara Walters' bio has always said she was born in 1931, two years later than the actual date.

Besides, Walters and Coulter share other attributes besides the ability to write off years with the stroke of a pen: both are well-served by short skirts, and both tend to overestimate their journalistic credibility.

(Muchas gracias: Jeanne d'Arc.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:23 PM)
9 September 2002
Eviction update

As Ron Ziegler used to say, previous statements are inoperative: they issued the Final Demand today. And fortunately, it was a day in which everything at 42nd and Treadmill had gone terribly wrong Christ on a crutch, why do I put up with these nitwits? so I was in the proper mood to deliver world-class invective.

Actually, it fell slightly short of world-class, but what the hell, it's better than they deserved; I should have sued the bastards. In the meantime, there is still the task of providing Googleable information about this place, which is called Courtyard Village, owned by Pacific West Management, and managed (and I use the term loosely) by Lisa Rada (for now, anyway; they go through personnel like Gray Davis goes through campaign contributions), for the benefit of anyone seeking a flat east of Oklahoma City and north of Tinker Air Force Base.

Ms Rada, incidentally, seemed unimpressed when I indicated that I was expecting a written apology, and that I would post it here when it arrived and that I would post references to its absence until it does.

And if I discover anything deleterious has been added to my credit record as a result of this, well, you'll get to hear about that too. I was assured that it would not, but how likely am I to believe that?

Posting, incidentally, may be light around lease-expiration time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:56 PM)
11 September 2002
Gumming attraction

It's called Trident White, and I never would have bought it had it not been fastened to a bottle of Listerine (another Warner-Lambert product, and how come AOL hasn't bought them yet?); I've never been much of a gum-chewer, perhaps due to an inability to snap it with authority. It's low on the calorie scale 2.5 per piece and contains some odd dairy derivative yet is lactose-free. And best of all, it's supposed to whiten, or at the very least maybe de-yellow, one's teeth.

All this is secondary, though, to actual chewing satisfaction, and here the stuff comes up short. This particular flavor (billed as "peppermint", but it tastes like discount-store mouthwash) is something less than enthralling, the pieces are tiny (perhaps to ensure that 2.5 calories per), and I have certain qualms about anything this small that lists a dozen and a half ingredients. And titanium dioxide? Well, that certainly explains the "white" part.

I have no doubt that it will sell, and sell well, but I don't think it's persuasive enough to win over Doctor No. 5.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 PM)
12 September 2002
Stones of solid brass

Look for a definition of the handy Yiddish term "chutzpah", and you'll likely be told of the wiseguy who murdered his parents, and then threw himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he was an orphan. As nuanced explanations go, this is one of the best.

I'm approaching the front door, and for the third time in a week, there's a notice stuck up there. Is this the written apology from the landlord for the shabby treatment I've been getting of late? Of course not. It's the standard sucky "renew your lease now and get a smaller rent increase" pitch. The increase isn't much 2.3 percent but that hardly mitigates the gall.

Actually, given the history of this place, I suspect I may be here longer than the current management (Pacific West, for all you Googlers), in which case I think I shall keep discreetly silent about future plans until the last moment possible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 PM)
13 September 2002
It's all explained in your booklet

The big news at 42nd and Treadmill today was the arrival of new Certificates of Benefits from our newly-appointed Czar of Health Care Bucks. It is apparent to me that said Czar is desperate to save dollars any way possible: the Certificates, seventy-six pages, were printed, per the back page, in 1995, and sixty pages of changes, amendments, exclusions, Special Notices, and other insurance-company effluvia are stapled to the inside covers. Needless to say, this makes the Table of Contents well-nigh worthless; I have to assume that the First Commandment of Insurance "Thou shalt not pay claims if there is any way to avoid them" has a Sub-Commandment somewhere about making the actual obligations of the company as murky and indistinct as possible.

Of course, we'll drop them in a year or so, once they've finished the initial contract and start charging what they really wanted to charge in the first place, and subsequently we'll be suckered in by yet another pack of twerps who'd rather be in Mergers and Acquisitions than in some tedious business like health care.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 PM)
17 September 2002
Bite this

Okay, I give up. What the heck is a Shenandoah Steak Sandwich?

Update: Jump forward one week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
19 September 2002
Ordure of the day

10:15 am: "Slow drain" reported to management.

5:15 pm: First acknowledgment of report. Minion inspects tub, finds a small quantity of damp detritus, flushes bowl, watches quantity of detritus increase twofold.

5:20 pm: Minion returns with quart bottle of Volcano Extract or something, spritzes a quarter of it down drain.

5:25 pm: "Didn't work. I'll call the plumber."

5:50 pm: Entire building is suffused with the gentle aroma of discarded jockstraps. I decide I will not cook tonight, and order pizza.

6:20 pm: Pizza is delivered.

7:00 pm: Tub now half-full of brown, brackish, bubbling brew.

7:50 pm: Level of said brew recedes to half an inch. I pour two gallons of boiling water into the cauldron.

8:00 pm: Nasty phone call to management.

8:04 pm: Management advises that plumbers are "on the way".

8:10 pm: Begin questioning neighbors. Upstairs residents report no problems; downstairs residents aren't home.

10:45 pm: Winds kick up to 60 mph; storm begins.

11:25 pm: Peak of the storm; winds exceeding 65 mph, rain falling at 0.05 inch per minute.

11:27 pm: Plumbers arrive.

12:05 am: Plumbers, having run both ends of line, report no blockage; suspect combination of Volcano Extract and boiling water may have loosened up the clog.

12:10 am: Off to bed at last.

5:15 am: But it doesn't last, does it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
20 September 2002
G whiz

I admit up front that this is not my area of expertise; the only thought I've given to this sort of thing up to now has been wondering what it's like to stop at the top of the Ferris wheel when Freddy Cannon or Chuck Barris or somebody fell in love down at Palisades Park. On the other hand, I can't let this go by without comment, either.

So here's the story: beginning October first, amusement-park rides in New Jersey will be subject to statutory limits on gravitational forces sort of. Under the new rules, amusement-park rides must not exceed a force of 5.6g for more than one second. The law was devised after the death of two women at Ocean City in 1999 who were thrown from a malfunctioning roller-coaster car. Had the coaster been working properly, the riders would not have been subjected to forces exceeding 5.6g no ride in New Jersey is designed for forces over 5.0g but the state evidently felt that outlawing malfunctions themselves was not a viable option.

Do high g-forces cause brain damage? The medical profession is divided. On the other hand, extensive brain damage among New Jersey residents could be just what ethically-challenged Senator Robert Torricelli needs for his reelection effort.

(Muchas gracias: Bo Cowgill.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:55 AM)
22 September 2002
Prescription for hideousness

"Is it just me," I wondered, "or are all these new Walgreens stores real eyesores?"

It's apparently not just me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
24 September 2002

Last week, I asked:

"What the heck is a Shenandoah Steak Sandwich?"

The answer, courtesy of those fine folks at the Greater Southington (CT) Chamber of Commerce:

"It's like a pulled pork sandwich, except it's beef. It's also a great marketing name, so people will be interested in the product and want to check it out."

Gotcha. And thanks. (Of course, out here in Soonerland, if you ask someone about "pulled pork", he'll glare at you and tell you it's none of your damn business, but that's another issue entirely.)

Now to contrive to get one of these sandwiches without having to drive 3200 miles....

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:32 PM)
25 September 2002
License to scam

The always-alert (and almost frighteningly gorgeous) Aimee Deep points to a deal between an advertiser and America Online which was apparently used to generate bogus transactions in an effort to inflate revenue figures for both parties. "I can tell you from personal experience," says Deep, "that these Big Media companies try to coerce you [into scams like this]."

This must be some of what AOL Time Warner used to call "synergy" until the word became a colossal joke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
27 September 2002
When pigs fly

With the exception of Southwest Airlines, which seems almost immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that the competition routinely suffers, American air carriers have pretty much been reduced to panhandling.

So, is Southwest doing something right, or is everyone else doing everything wrong? I'm not quite sure. Kim du Toit, on the other hand, is a bit more certain about things:

"Let new airlines arise from the ashes of these burnt-out, bloated conglomerates, let these new airlines heed the lessons from these failed and extinct dinosaurs, and maybe everyone will be better off."

Indeed, something to hope for. In the meantime, if I have to go somewhere, I drive. (It's not like I'm going to France or Hawaii or Madagascar anytime soon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
28 September 2002
Our new simplified health care

Under our old, complicated, expensive health plan, the cheaper of my two Daily Drugs would cost me a $10 copay.

Under our new, simplified, low-cost health plan, the cheaper of my two Daily Drugs costs me $23.50, which sum is then submitted to the Plan Czar, who applies the pertinent formula and then sends me a check for well, nothing, since I haven't met this year's overall deductible.

Next year, if the rumors are true, in order to receive the maximum network discount, we have to have these prescriptions filled at a drug store in the Sudan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
30 September 2002
To yell the truth

Will the real Saddam Hussein please, um, shut up?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
The long and short of it

Not that it matters anymore, but I wear a size 14 (US) shoe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:48 PM)
1 October 2002
Where credit isn't due

New today: things you can expect with really bad credit, courtesy of The Vent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 AM)
4 October 2002
It's brown and sounds like a bell

Bigwig has nailed 95 feces (more or less) to the wall, a story which will bring sighs of recognition to any parent who cries "Pee, pee!" but there is no pee.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
6 October 2002
Second verse, same as the first

I am in no way heartened by the fact that in almost every corner of the nation, there are workplaces every bit as toxic as 42nd and Treadmill, and for much the same reasons; all this means is that there are going to be people just as annoyed as I am.

However, giving them an airing is probably a Good Thing, so I refer you to Caterwauling.com, and recommend that you scroll down to the Part Deux entry under October second. (No individual links that I could find, sorry.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:54 AM)
7 October 2002
All the leaves are brown

And the sky is grey, and where are the blog updates?

Angie Schultz finds four-part harmony on such a winter's day.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:10 PM)
8 October 2002
Dealing with J. Random Sniper

Kim du Toit wearily points out the obvious:

"[T]his 'sniper' did not shoot people in rural Alabama or Texas (or even, for that matter, western Maryland) he went where people are most likely to be unarmed, not where there'd be a chance that other people would start shooting back at his truck/van."

Then again, if his description of Maryland's politicos is accurate and I'm inclined to believe that he's got them pegged to the nth detail it's not at all obvious to them. Yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:12 PM)
10 October 2002
Paging Lobachevsky

Of course, you've heard about those term-papers-for-sale operations, and certainly you'd never, ever consider buying one of these things and passing it off as your own research.

Jack Schwartz did his own research (which I am blatantly copying) on one of these outfits, and he reports:

[S]eeing the Fastpapers.com website makes me wonder if temptation would get the best of me if I had a term paper to write about Moby Dick. I don't know. But probably not. For one thing I am cheap.

And I am envious. Ten bucks a page? And we're sitting here blogging for...uh, yeah, right, never mind. Remember why the good Lord made your eyes, and don't shade your eyes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 PM)
13 October 2002
Rounds about

The Loyal Peon is annoyed by questionable weapons speculation in the DC-area sniping epidemic:

Numerous on-camera ignorami (plural of ignoramus, for those who missed that class) have opined that the sniper/shooter must be ex-military or an expert hunter, because of the round, a .223, and the "extreme" range. Excuse me? The M-16 does use a .223, but it's one of the few military weapons that do. Most use the 7.62mm NATO, better known in this country as the .308 Winchester. I used to own a .308 deer rifle, myself. I never hunted with it, but it was a good gun. The .223 is primarily a varmint round, being marginal for deer, which are rather small game animals themselves. As for the range, while 300-400 yards is quite good for an unsupported shooter, it's no big deal with either a bench rest or a bi-pod. Shooting from a van, I'd certainly use one or the other. Why is that reporters speak so confidently upon topics about which they obviously know nothing?

Um, they get paid for it?

I yield to the Peon's weapons experience indeed, to most people's, since I've never owned multiple guns and didn't fire off that many rounds when I wore Uncle Sam's duds but I do claim some expertise in shooting off my mouth without backup. And in your average newsroom, you're probably not likely to find a whole lot of firearms enthusiasts, so I wouldn't be surprised to find that these on-air conclusions are being pulled out of thin air, made only slightly thicker by thirty seconds of Googling.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 AM)
Our simplified health plan, revisited

Last time, I was kvetching about the way in which prescription drugs were being handled by our new insurance carrier. A revised version of said kvetch was dispatched by snailmail to the pertinent officials last weekend. They have now responded with a check for the proper 70 percent of the out-of-pocket expense. Apparently the entire group was miscoded, so presumably they've heard from four or five dozen people by now. I am, of course, grateful for the refund, which, all things considered, was pretty damned quick; but I will be even more wary than usual when I actually have to seek outpatient (or, worse, inpatient) services.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 PM)
15 October 2002
A truly hands-on Fisking

Tim Blair reports the following offer, made by a professor of English at Wheaton College:

I would donate $1000 to the relief for the poor charity of his choice for the privilege of punching Fisk in the nose. How much do you think we could raise?

"Millions," says Blair, and I don't doubt it for a moment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
16 October 2002
More precipitate than solution

Governor Parris Glendening has ordered a ban on outdoor shooting (indoor shooting apparently is unaffected) in four Maryland counties, ostensibly to cut down on false sniper alarms by people reporting hearing gunfire. The likelihood that the resident sniper is actually going to observe this ban is, shall we say, on the low side. And the ban plays hell with some previously-authorized hunting seasons, which means that in exchange for not catching the sniper, suburbanites will have their gardens eaten by deer.

(Muchas gracias: Ravenwood.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:05 PM)
21 October 2002
The lone gunman, maybe

If I confined myself to topics clearly within my area of expertise, I'd probably post only one or two paragraphs a month. (Never you mind whether you think that would actually improve the site.) I have, however, steered clear of the speculation regarding the D.C.-area sniper, except to point to an occasional bit of information. What was needed, I felt, was a one-shot, all-inclusive, low-shriek-level overview of the gunman and his possible motivations.

This task was undertaken over the weekend by Susanna Cornett, who is not one to shy away from the Big Jobs. She mentions, in a paragraph on qualifications, that she is not an FBI profiler; it is my opinion that the FBI would be far better off if she were.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
27 October 2002
Last will and terrorist

The Arab magazine Majallah, according to Fox News, has published what purports to be Osama bin Laden's will, dated 14 December 2001 and obtained from a "very reliable" source in Afghanistan.

Much of the document is devoted to whining: about how the hated invaders showed strength of purpose; about how Afghans even the Taliban! put up such meager resistance; about how al-Qaeda would be a lousy career choice for his children. And, of course, it's liberally salted with verses from the Quran.

Bloggers have insisted for months, despite contrary reports of dubious origin, that what's left of bin Laden has been decorating a rock somewhere in an Afghan cave. US officials aren't saying a word yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:09 AM)
28 October 2002
Cleaning one's clock

The major thrill of getting out of Daylight Savings Time isn't the sixty minutes of sleep I didn't really get on Sunday morning; it's the fact that for the next couple of weeks, anyway, I can drive to work when the sky is something besides pitch-dark. (Sunrise Saturday was 7:49 CDT, which means I arrive an hour before dawn; even around the late-December solstice, sunrise will not get any later than 7:40 CST.)

From the standpoint of climate, I won't miss this October much; while it's still a few degrees warmer than the coldest on record, it's only a few, and we're headed for the freezer later this week. The TV Weather Weasels are already hedging their bets.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
31 October 2002

It's my brother Paul's birthday.

It wasn't that many years ago that there was some doubt he'd ever make it this far. What's kept him going is the combination of modern medicine and old-fashioned faith and the conviction that you have to have both to make it work.

At this rate, he should be good for forty-five more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
3 November 2002
Neatness freaking

For a single guy in his forties, I am relatively tidy: while I make no claims that either my kitchen or my bathroom is suitable for computer-chip fabrication, my bed is made daily, my socks are picked up, and my car does not serve as a rolling trash cart. (She Who Is Not To Be Named once commented that "This doesn't look like you just drove two thousand miles in it.")

There is, of course, a downside.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:44 AM)
7 November 2002
This place SUX

Airports have three-letter codes. O'Hare in Chicago is ORD; Los Angeles International is LAX (I often wonder about those guys wearing "LAX Security" patches); Baltimore-Washington is BWI. Sioux City, Iowa is SUX, and you can imagine what they think of that.

Anyway, the FAA was asked back in March to change the code, and now has declined to do so. Airport officials in Sioux City may try again, but for now, they're stuck with what they have.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
8 November 2002
Spehling kountz

First Union is a big bank; its name appears on lots of people's checks throughout the eastern United States. Apparently it's still unfamiliar to some people, though: a Jacksonville, Florida woman was busted for allegedly trying to cash a forged payroll check for a phony company, drawn on, um, "Frist Unoin" Bank.

It could have been worse. Had she waited another month, she would have had to try to spell "Wachovia".

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 PM)
9 November 2002
Listening to Victoria

Last year about this time, I was going on about something truly bizarre in the Victoria's Secret catalog, a publication which apparently is mailed to everyone on the planet except me. As before, I obtained a copy from my old friend Nova, who claims to actually wear some of this stuff. (I will, of course, take her word for it, as the likelihood of getting to inspect her underthings for myself is vanishingly small.) She made it quite clear, though, that the replay of last year's hyperbauble, the ten-million-dollar Fantasy Bra (the sort-of-matching panty is included in the, um, package this year), is not something she would choose to wear even if she could afford it, for reasons having to do with hygiene and/or insurance. I think that's what she said, anyway; looking at the pictures in the catalog, I found it not especially easy to pay attention.

There's also a Star of Victoria diamond pendant for under a grand (well, two dollars under a grand), which goes well with this, but I rather imagine it goes well with most things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
10 November 2002
Born on this date

1483: Martin Luther, primary player in the Protestant Reformation

1610: Ninon de L'Enclos, Frenchwoman of prodigious desires

1759: Friedrich von Schiller, German dramatist and poet

1925: Richard Burton, English actor

19xx: [Details deleted, on the off-chance that the person involved might see this, something not likely to happen with, say, Schiller]

1999: Nicholas Cole Havlik, esteemed grandson and world-class wrecker of furniture

Felicitations to all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
11 November 2002
On the eleventh

"It wasn't me who started that ol' crazy Asian war," the song goes. "But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore."

And yes, I suppose it was a chore, in the strictest sense of the word: first we take care of business, then we can sit back and swap stories.

Some people will look at that word "proud" and grimace. "How can you possibly feel any pride in what you did?" Well, I did it well, and at the time, it seemed like exactly the right thing to do. Thirty years later, it still seems so.

No regrets from this former Army man; I wore the green, like so many others my age, and fortunately, most of us came back from where we'd been.

You don't have to spend any time remembering me today, but please do think of your friends and mine, your relatives and mine, who took on this "patriotic chore" themselves. And say a prayer, if you would, for those who didn't come back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
Icing on the cake

The United States Arctic Research Commission, noting that the polar zones are warming more quickly than the rest of the globe, has projected that in five to ten years, it will be possible to sail through what is now the Arctic ice cap at least a couple of months out of the year, cutting 6800 miles off the shipping distance from Asia to Europe. For supertankers, which have to round Cape Horn because they can't get through the Panama Canal, the difference is over 11,000 miles.

Assuming the Commission has called this one correctly, the fabled Northwest Passage is here at last, too late for Henry Hudson and Martin Frobisher, but on time to be a genuine boon to today's global commerce. And to think we did it all with our modest little SUVs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
14 November 2002
A song by Saddam

Well, it started out as a song by Paul Simon; if nothing else, I've proved that my scansion can be as idiosyncratic as his.

Cue the guitarist, and:

An autumn day,
It's the middle of November.
I say, "Go home,
Take your damned inspectors, nothing here to see!"
'Cause the only thing that matters here is me:
I am Iraq, I am defiant.

I build bombs,
An arsenal of mayhem,
That none will take away.
I put my trust in Allah that I will prevail,
And in turn, my god assures me I won't fail:
I am Iraq, I am defiant.

Don't talk of war.
Well, I've played the game before;
It's quite a recent memory.
I do not fear the Yankees, or their putrid stench;
If I need to, I'll call Russia or the French:
I am Iraq, I am defiant.

I have my guards,
And artillery to defend me.
I am shielded from their bombers.
Hiding in my room, fearing not the tomb -
I stand by - "Holy shit, that one came close!"
I am Iraq, I am defiant.

(And Iraq never learns,
And a tyrant finally dies.)

Obviously "Weird Al" Yankovic has nothing to worry about from the likes of me.

Thanks to Bob Radil, who suggested this (though not to me, actually) on rec.music.rock-pop-r+b.1960s. (Yes, I still read Usenet. Who knew?)

And apologies to Mr Simon. I admit, this one is even worse than "I Am a Schmuck (I'm from Lawn Guyland)", which I shan't repeat here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 PM)
15 November 2002
A Goofy comparison?

Aimee Deep notes that both al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden and Disney chairman Michael Eisner had been keeping a low profile, only to resurface this week, and asks the question no one else dares ask:

Now they both reappear together ...

Plus, they're both tall and egomaniacs.

Has anybody ever seen these two guys in the same room at the same time?

Gee, you think we should ask Koppel?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
16 November 2002
Weapon of mass distraction

Anna at Belligerent Bunny has a grand and glorious tale about a missile we don't have, but ought to, and theoretically still could. Even the name Tacit Rainbow is spiffy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
E pluribus units

"One of the more repugnant features of our modern society," says Kim du Toit, "is how we have become increasingly used to treating individual human beings as mere ciphers." There are situations where this is excusable the military, for one, because it's one environment in which the individual truly must be subordinated to the group, and in prison, for another, because if you've gotten there, it's part of the price you pay. (I point out that otherwise, the military and the correctional system are not all that similar, no matter what I told Major Whatzisname back in 1974.)

Back to du Toit:

But I resent the way that corporate "Personnel" departments have become "Human Resources" departments, as though we individuals are just office supplies or raw materials. I remember once threatening one of these "HR" people with a punch in the face if he ever again used the term "headcount" in my presence, to refer to human beings.

I think it's actually worse than that, and I think we can blame the government for it. Under our preposterous tax code, those of us who work for someone else are not assets of any sort, any kind of investments: we are expenses, pure and simple, and it's unrealistic to expect corporate types, forever mired in their bean-counting milieu, to be able to make any kind of connection between Badge #521 and Fred over in IT.

And it doesn't much matter how big the corporation is, either. Were I to leave 42nd and Treadmill, the place would take a substantial productivity hit and would lose one of its few remaining connections to reality it was explained to me just this past week how burning up a couple thousand bucks or so a year on a publication that no one reads and no one will read, which in fact is viewed by its target audience as an annoyance, is considered a brilliant effing idea but as far as they're concerned, it's just a couple of accounting entries to change and a COBRA form to fill out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 PM)
18 November 2002
Too familiar a view

I really think this guy at Lactose Incompetent has actually worked here; either that, or it's just as bad the world over and we are all screwed. Neither of these is comforting.

The corporate world is naught except high school revisited, a Hellish school system from which there is no summer break and no hope of graduation in a scant four years. Managers act as upper classmen intent on demonstrating their power and authority over the lower caste; co-workers are of the same genus and phylum of bullies, nerds, pets, and Big Men on Campus. The human resources department are cast in this drama as twisted guidance counsellors concerned less with your development than in your obedience to policy and procedure.

I do my best to get a summer break in spite of them. Otherwise, this is spot on; as the bottom-ranking nerd, I have no hope.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:59 AM)
Pitchforks, Aisle 23

Wendy, aka Weetabix, describes the shopping on the far side of the Styx:

I hate going there. I hate it. I hate it so very much. When I die, I won't be surprised to find that hell is one big Wal-Mart, with Satan's mother running check outs and his sloe-eyed demons all standing by the door greeting everyone. I hate going to Wal-Mart, especially on a Saturday afternoon. It always has this feeling of urgency, like the hours before a big storm or the day after Thanksgiving. People are grabbing things, carts are overflowing, merchandise is lying on the floor and people are walking over it. Everything is permeated with the smell of popcorn, dirty diapers and retardation. It's as if the mere presence of cheap plastic crap makes people lose their minds. Things that would not be acceptable in normal society become acceptable in Wal-Mart. Or perhaps they pipe in some kind of gas that makes everyone dull and listless, stupid and slow like cattle. Everyone but me, who runs through there like a maniac, trying to get out before I am infected with the listless sort of wide-eyed expression and have the urge to walk sluggishly down crowded aisles and then stop short with no warning and be enthralled by a display of Wesson Vegetable oil for $1.49. Or maybe the siren call of low, low prices only affects white trash.

I dunno. I'm kinda white and fairly trashy, but I do my best to avoid Le Mart du Wal. I'll occasionally set foot in a Sam's Club, generally to buy incredible quantities of something I wouldn't want to be seen buying at Albertson's, but actually to visit a Wal-Mart? That's just not on the agenda. And it's not your standard left-wing Exploiter of Peoples argument, either; I figure any retailer that isn't exploiting us greedy buyers is only a few pages away from Chapter 11. I just don't deal well with Incredibly Huge Crowds. I don't go anywhere the day after Thanksgiving, for that reason alone.

And where was I four hours ago? The checkout line at Target (which, of course, is pronounced "tahr-ZHAY"). And they had (O frabjous day!) those Verbatim CD-Rs designed to look like 45s, priced way higher than any other recordables on the shelf ($8.49 for a box of ten with full-size jewel cases). Would I have driven the extra 0.4 mile to Wally World to save maybe sixty cents on these? Not likely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
19 November 2002
Embrace the many-colored beast

There will be no more "420 Specials" at Your Pizza Shop in Canton, Ohio; the Repository reports that shop owner Pat Koury, responding to a request from a DARE official and a memo from the head office, has taken down the offending signs. "420", of course, is widely believed to be drug slang, though I have yet to meet a single stoner who responds to the number.

Your Pizza Shop is located at, um, 420 12th Street Northwest.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:21 AM)
14 December 2002
And I checked it twice, too

The Nice-O-Meter at claus.com inexplicably lists me on the kinder, gentler side of the ledger:

Nice, but has room for improvement. Could be better listener. Has a kind heart. Often sets a good example for others. Was very nice last Saturday!! Hopefully, will keep up the good work!

Stuff like this could ruin a guy's reputation, you know?

(Muchas gracias: Miss Christine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 PM)
15 December 2002
Twelve angry men and/or women

Scott Ganz takes a break from serving time on a jury to explain huge punitive-damage awards:

[M]any were outraged that a jury of 12 people could dare to award fifty-two billion dollars in damages against a tobacco company. However, while ambling around the hallway outside the courtroom not discussing the case with my fellow jurors, I learned that the jurors in the tobacco case, due to over a year of service, lost jobs, homes, and investments. I can only assume that this was a result of incessant, needling actions on the part of the defense. Generally, the more expensive the big-shot attorney, the longer the case will run.

So you get twelve people who know by the time they reach deliberation that their lives have been ruined. So what do they do? Punish the tar-smelling shit out of the bastards that wasted all their time. Whether or not it's right for them to do (and technically, it's not), can you imagine anyone behaving otherwise?

And they don't even get a cut of the proceeds, either.

Is there a solution to this?

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:32 PM)
20 December 2002
Be kind - rewind

The Weekly World News (imagine The New York Times after twenty years of Howell Raines) reports that the actual eject button for the human soul has been located in the angular gyrus of the right cortex. Or something like that.

This might almost be plausible, but it leaves a whole lot of questions unanswered: why, for instance, is there no channel selector? And is it possible to fast-forward individuals whose time isn't running out fast enough?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
23 December 2002
Rooting out racism everywhere

With the former Senate Majority Leader martyred and the Republican Party duly purified, attention must now be turned toward the blatant racial policies of non-governmental organizations. Gregory Hlatky suggests we begin with a group which touches millions of households in the nation and somehow is never, ever called to answer for its crimes. He refers, of course, to the American Kennel Club:

One of the AKC-recognized breeds is persistently called the Black and Tan Coonhound. Whatever its use in tracking and treeing varmints, the use of a racially explosive code word is an indication of an insensitive, if not sinister attitude by the AKC and fanciers. Naturally, abject apologies and the payment of massive reparations are required to begin the process of healing. All checks should be made out to "J. Jackson."

Why, there's actually a club bearing this blatantly-racist name! Do these beautiful dogs know they're being used as cannon fodder to preserve the privileges of The Man?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
25 December 2002
The peace process

Most of the time, day or night, you can turn to one of the news channels and see footage of people killing one another, or heads of people talking about people killing one another. And if you do this often enough, you might conclude that peace as a concept is as remote as Neptune, and as unlikely to be reached in your lifetime.

And this conclusion works, sort of, if you are inclined to define "peace" as something contingent upon the absence of war. In which case, erase "Neptune" and replace with "Betelgeuse": man's inhumanity to man is a seemingly-permanent feature of the landscape, at least to the extent that man himself is a seemingly-permanent feature of the landscape.

But it's not every man, on either end of that equation. Like so much else, peace, as a process, must begin with the individual. And peace on an individual level is more complicated. Life itself is fraught with conflict: things just refuse to fall into nice, neat little patterns we can follow by rote. At some point, we are faced with questions as basic as "Should I stay or should I go?" Can you just walk away? Sometimes you can. Sometimes you can't.

When I was younger, so much younger than today, a radio station once had the temerity to follow John Lennon's "Imagine" with his "Working Class Hero", a mordantly bitter tune that demonstrated pretty convincingly, at least to me, that the lightest and brightest of dreams could maybe even had to coexist with fear and loathing and disillusionment. Finding a balance therein is, I think, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I suspect it will take me the rest of my days. But it's a conflict from which I cannot walk away.

A short time later, I was in the Army, and during this time I had some cards made up which identified me as "Specialist, United States Peace Force." Unofficial, of course. Some noted some will note, even today that I wore a uniform and carried a rifle (and sometimes more), and that by so doing, I belied my own self-description. I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now. The argument that you should never, ever strike first is awfully close to the argument that you should never, ever take vitamins. I don't know any homeowner who will say, "Aw, let's give the termites a chance." If conscience demands, as it will, that we think things over before we commit ourselves to some frightful war in the Middle East, it demands also that we consider the consequences should we walk away.

Peace on the individual level: "Can you live with the decisions you have made?" I'm working on it. And thank you for working on it for yourself.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled greeting-card sentiment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 AM)
28 December 2002
None dare call it reasonable

Dean Esmay has come up with a list of half a dozen offenses which, in his view, qualify as Crimes Against America, trangressions so heinous that the only suitable punishment is "immediate loss of citizenship and expulsion from U.S. territory."

Fortunately, Mr Esmay has tongue firmly in cheek. I think. (If not, I see trouble, with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Balzac.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
30 December 2002
And it's all your fault

The Republicans have been calling for tort reform for some time, at least partially because trial lawyers are generally lined up under the Democratic banner, but mostly, I think, because there is increasing irritation with the ongoing whine of self-described victims: "I am hurt," they cry, "and somebody's gonna pay!" Whether the somebody in question is at all culpable is at best a secondary consideration.

I got a reminder of this last night in a chat room, courtesy (so to speak) of a person who, I am given to understand, has suffered some romantic reverses in recent months; while those who presumably hurt her keep a low profile, anyone she considers a friend or associate of the culprits is duly attacked on sight. (Well, except me: it is generally a waste of time to heap invective on me, since my reputation for payback in kind is fairly colossal, if largely undeserved, and besides, trying to hurt my feelings is rather like trying to cool off a glacier.) It was a dispiriting experience all around, comparable to watching fourth-graders taunting each other in the playground and trying out all the new words they learned watching Cinemax.

To paraphrase the bumper sticker: feces transpire. They always have, and they always will. In this Oprahzoid era when being a victim is the next best thing to being a celebrity, everyone wants a cut of the compensation fund whether it's deserved or not.

Personally, I think she should get a blog.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
31 December 2002
A feverish suggestion

If you're in Connecticut and you covet a traditional fever thermometer with a column of mercury enclosed in glass, this is the last day you can buy one.

(Disclosure: I own no holdings in thermometer manufacturers, CVS, or Walgreen's.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
Things to come

This is the time of year when pundits issue predictions, and sometimes they prove to be absolutely stunning in their prescience. Needless to say, such a level of prognosticational perspicacity is the exception rather than the rule; apart from the occasional weather forecast, I've been consistently wrong on all manner of things. I do believe, however and since this is a meteorological prediction, sort of, there's a chance I might be right that Kevin McGehee has nailed it with this one:

There will be absolutely no remarkable weather at all, anywhere, in all of 2003 which will be presented as conclusive proof of global warming.

Somebody give that man a raise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 PM)
3 January 2003
It's not easy being screened

Millions of people at America's airports. How do you determine who's just a passenger and who's a terrorist? The new IMAO Frank Test for Terrorists avoids the hemming and hawing and cuts directly to the ten questions that need to be asked. What's more, the Test prescribes a quick and effective means of removing terrorists once identified:

If the test reveals the person to be a terrorist, proper procedure should be for the ticket taker to pull out a gun and unload it into the person while shouting, "Take that, you dirty terrorist!" I know that if I see a terrorist gunned down in front of me just before boarding the plane, I'll feel much safer.

I think he'd feel even safer seeing two of them thus ventilated, assuming they travel in pairs, but certainly this is a start, and let's face it: you don't get this kind of innovative thinking from the likes of Norm Mineta.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
4 January 2003
Terror firma

The ragtag bunch of losers known as the Earth Liberation Front (no link; I have some standards) is claiming responsibility for setting jugs of gasoline under six sport-utility vehicles at a Girard, Pennsylvania dealership and igniting them. Three SUVs were destroyed; three jugs failed to ignite.

What I want to know is this: Why in the hell are these people wasting fossil fuels? Don't they read their own propaganda?

(Muchas gracias: duckboy online.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 PM)
5 January 2003
Trailers for sale or rent

The American movie-going public has apparently adjusted to five or ten minutes of advertising before the Feature Presentation. We don't like them, mind you: we're just resigned to the inevitable.

This sort of blasé acquiescence hasn't made it to China yet. Zhang Yang, upset because the 9:30 showing of Hero was delayed until 9:34 by advertising, filed suit against the theater and the film distributor, demanding the removal of the ads and a refund of his 40-yuan admission (not quite five bucks), plus an additional 40 yuan as compensation. Zhang Yang, as it happens, is a lawyer. Of course, had this happened in the States, there would be a class-action suit and demands for damages in the millions of dollars, which, after legal fees, would eventually be paid off to members of the class in buy-one-get-one-free coupons for Raisinets.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
6 January 2003
Extra-crispy news

The group known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has announced a boycott of KFC because of alleged animal-rights abuses which, given PETA's predilections, probably includes being served on a plate.

Perhaps miffed at being left out of the proceedings, members of the Earth Liberation Front are reportedly getting ready to fire-bomb a Pizza Hut.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:12 PM)
7 January 2003
Snoozeless alarm

There is almost always something to keep me awake when I really, really need to be sleeping. Lately it's a low (below 50 Hz) rumbling that I can't localize but which definitely isn't originating within my living quarters. Obviously something somewhere besides my nerves is vibrating, but what? The upstairs flat has been vacant for two or three weeks, and if it were their heating unit, which is directly above mine, it would shut off once in a while, and even if it didn't, I should still be able to hear it more clearly from directly below, and I can't.

If it varied at all in pitch, I'd think "subwoofer," but this is pretty constant. I tell you, stuff like this will kill me even faster than work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:42 AM)
8 January 2003
A new face at the Garden

For reasons undisclosed, apparently Joe Garagiola will be replaced in the broadcast booth at the Westminster Kennel Club show this February by CBS weatherman Mark McEwen.

I was sort of hoping for Fred Willard, but I see no reason to be picky.

(Muchas gracias: Gregory Hlatky.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
10 January 2003
It's, it's - well, it's Hans Blix!

Ryan Rhodes has a really Sweet song for the UN inspection team. Laugh out loud. I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
11 January 2003
How long can this go on?

Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said: "Jeebus, I could run this place better than these clowns"? Somehow I doubt it. In my own office, this utterance is heard roughly sixteen times a week, and not just from me.

Besides, what qualifications could possibly be required? Secra can certainly fill the bill at her workplace:

I'm cute. I smell good. I'm reasonably calm in a crisis ... unless it's messing up my hair. I know almost all of the words to "Working In A Coal Mine."

She also proposes policy changes, the most truly innovative of which is "Walking away from a paper jam will be considered a dismissable offense."

Oh, well, we'll never lure her away from the Bay Area.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 AM)
15 January 2003
Oh, beehive!

Most states are suffering budget woes these days, and Utah is no exception. But few observers expected the axe to fall on the highest-profile appointment in the state, porn czar Paula Houston, who will be out of a job on the first of April. The Utah legislature had cut the $150,000 for Houston's office out of the state budget; Attorney General Mark Shurtleff realigned services in an effort to keep the program going, but faced with $750,000 in cuts to his budget this year and possibly more of the same next year, the AG pulled the plug.

I am reasonably certain this does not mean that West Valley City (Houston's home town) is going to start looking more like West Hollywood.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
19 January 2003
How...cold...is it?

There hasn't been a really good answer to this since Johnny Carson retired ten years ago.

Until now, courtesy of Weetabix:

[I]t is 5 degrees outside. And that's straight temperature. Not including wind chill, which brings it down into the range of Colder Than The Uterus of Donatella Versace.

Every time I see that, I have to clean the monitor. Again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
Where the pockets are deepest

First, the families of a pair of DC-area sniper victims announced they would sue Bushmaster Firearms and a gun dealer for ostensibly making it possible for the snipers to pick them off.

Next, Hilary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America announced that local ISPs should be required to pay the RIAA for allowing their customers onto peer-to-peer file-swapping networks.

Finally, the Farmers and Miners Bank of Oronogo, Missouri is expected to announce that it will file a claim for damages against the Ford Motor Company, one of whose vehicles was used by Bonnie and Clyde as a getaway car following the robbery of the bank in 1932.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
20 January 2003
What the deuce?

Once I quit answering the phone, things got pretty quiet around here; the hateful little box hardly even rings anymore. When it does, though, the odds are it's something strange.

For instance, why on earth would anyone from ESPN call me? It's represented on the Caller ID screen as belonging to ESPN, and cross-referencing the number places it firmly in Bristol, Connecticut, which is ESPN's home base. (I actually drove past it during last year's World Tour.) The most likely explanation is that someone misdialed by a digit or so, but I somehow find it hard to believe that there are people in a Major Entertainment Organization who dial as sloppily as I do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
27 January 2003
Seeing through it all

There are those who insist that life's obstacles are essential to the development of one's personality. Virginia Postrel, just recovered from IntraLASIK, sees things slightly differently:

One of the great fears of advancing biomedical technologies is that they will eliminate the conditions that form our personalities, that make us who we are. Being profoundly nearsighted has been a defining aspect of my life since I was a little girl. If my myopia could have been cured at an early age, I would have turned out different in some way (and so would chapter three of The Future and Its Enemies, where contact lenses play a major illustrative role). But now that my near-sightedness is mostly gone, I don't miss it a bit, or feel any less authentically myself. The same is true of migraines and depression, two other personality-shaping ailments I've mostly eliminated with drugs in the past six months. Suffering doesn't build character; it warps it.

I suspect I'd be warped even if I hadn't suffered anything at all, but the idea that we are merely the sum of our experiences has always bugged me, and I'm always delighted to find a reason to reject it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
29 January 2003
Fuzzy logic

Well, okay:

In one hour alone of [a British TV production of] Sons and Lovers, there were nine explicit sex scenes involving full-frontal nudity and all of it filmed without recourse to hair remover. If this sends a shudder down your spine, you're not alone. After all, it has somehow become the accepted wisdom that women should be bald from the forehead down, save for a mild eruption at pubic level and only then if it's kept as trim as a well-groomed box hedge.

Not even I would have had the nerve to use the term "box hedge" in this context. And American television, at least the ad-supported stuff, probably isn't ready for D. H. Lawrence, let alone female hirsuteness. It took Playboy sixteen years (!) to get up enough nerve to display any shrubbery at all.

But back to this Guardian piece by Mimi Spencer:

You might hate the bitter truth, but it has everything to do with the fact that men prefer us that way. And if that's the case, surely this is something we should have overcome by now in the same way that we have ditched eyelash-fluttering, corsetry and bustles.

Eyelash-fluttering is passé? Horrors!

Truth be told, I really don't believe that a guy's level of, um, enlightenment correlates particularly well with his enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for body hair; historically, testosterone has demonstrated itself to be quite indifferent to ostensibly higher brain functions.

I will state for the record that it is most unlike me, upon seeing the drapes, to speculate as to the nature of the carpet. (This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I can imagine no circumstances under which I would be able to make the comparison with any degree of precision.)

Back to Mimi:

In her study on the relationship between a woman's politics and sexual orientation and the shaving of her legs and underarms, Dr Susan Basow, professor of psychology at Pennsylvania's Lafayette College, found that the majority of women who did not shave their legs identified as "very strong feminists and/or as not exclusively heterosexual", and the major reason they did not shave was for political reasons.

Was "Who the hell has time?" one of the options on the questionnaire?

Really, I don't expect anyone to endure the torment of a bikini wax (I assume it's a torment; I'm in no mood to check this empirically), but I wasn't that crazy about Helena Bonham Carter before she played Ari.

Oh, and the Number One sign your next-door neighbor is a Playboy Playmate: Her lawn is completely bare, except for a narrow strip on each side.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:04 AM)
What price spam?

It wasn't that long ago that Condé Nast was practically giving away its magazines; I remember renewing Wired for a year for twelve bucks. It probably costs that much to mail the damn thing.

Comes the renewal notice for Vanity Fair: one year $24, two years $42 "Preferred Rate". Preferred by them, maybe. I balked and went to the Web, where their fulfillment house offered two years for $30 if I coughed up my email address.

So, in exchange for a fistful of highly-filterable emails, I'm up twelve dollars. Should you, dear merchant, wish to bribe me similarly, you know where to find me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 PM)
31 January 2003
There's one in every organization

Poor Edward. He's been on the job barely a week, and already he has to put up with this:

"You're pretentious," she repeats.

I wait a moment for some sort of explanation, clarification, or additional commentary, but none comes. "Why," I ask, "do you say I'm pretentious?"

"Look at you," she says. "Sitting there reading your book."

"Reading on my lunch hour makes me pretentious?" I ask.

"Sitting there where everyone can see you, reading a book no one else would understand, so everyone can see how smart you are, it's pretentious."

This woman has issues, you think? You haven't heard the half of it.

And actually, neither has anyone else, as of this writing; Edward, his storyteller instincts honed to a fine edge, is letting the details accumulate rather than jumping to the punchline. Look for the entries titled "Pretention" and read upward.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
1 February 2003
On Columbia

As always, the Professor has sage advice regarding the destruction of the space shuttle:

This won't traumatize people the way Challenger did because (1) it's not the first time; and (2) we're at war now, and people's calculations of such things especially post-WTC are different. I hope, however, that we'll look at moving beyond the elderly and unreliable Shuttle now.

Rand Simberg should have something to say later today.

Meanwhile, prayers might seem to be in order.

Update, 10:50 am: Rand Simberg has checked in, and he's calling, once again, for some rethinking of the space program:

Until we increase our activity levels by orders of magnitude, we will continue to operate every flight as an experiment, and we will continue to spend hundreds of millions per flight, and we will continue to find it difficult to justify what we're doing. We need to open up our thinking to radically new ways, both technically and institutionally, of approaching this new frontier.

When I was growing up in the Jurassic period, it was taken for granted that space flight by 2000 or so would be routine. Obviously it isn't. Would more extensive experience have prevented this disaster? It's hard to say for sure, but it seems reasonable to me that if we'd done a lot more of these flights, we'd have a better grip on what can go wrong and what can be done about it beforehand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
2 February 2003
The verdict

Leaving a "medical facility" in a Baghdad suburb today, Dr Hans Blix cast his eyes downward for a fleeting moment, and in that split second he saw something of grave importance:

His shadow.

There will be, apparently, six more weeks of weapons inspections.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:17 AM)
3 February 2003
And he'll never, never be any good

Legendary rock producer/recluse/nudnik Phil Spector was arrested today for allegedly killing a woman in eastern Los Angeles county.

[insert "Unchained Melody" joke here]

Update, 10 pm: I left this in a comment at The Last Page, and after reviewing its contents, I figured I may as well inflict it on you guys as well. The melody, I think, you already know.

Met her on a Sunday and my heart stood still
(da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron)
Knew that she was someone that I ought to kill
(da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron)
Yeah, my heart stood still
Yeah, I ought to kill
And when I left her home
(da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron)

I should probably create a "Taste Takes a Holiday" category for this sort of thing. Then again, I'd probably have to pay Laurence Simon a retainer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:51 PM)
11 February 2003
Oh, those four-letter words

From the We Must Protect The Children" files:

"I realize people hunt in this area, but I still don't think that warrants the teaching of this word to my daughter or any other child," said Mrs. Sousa.

What word is that?

The word is "gun".

"Look out! He's got um, wait one of those things, you know?"

(Explanation, for those requiring one:  Mrs. Sousa's Canadian, so it takes four of her letters to equal three of ours.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 PM)
14 February 2003
Two weeks and counting

If Salon's latest sob story is to be believed, they'll run out of (borrowed) money at the end of February and have to shut down.

I suppose it's too late to ask that the balance of my Premium subscription be transferred to FARK.

(Muchas gracias: Jeff Jarvis.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
18 February 2003
Caught in the devil's bargain

Those of us who have seen only the six-hour telecast (which is about 4:08 after you fast-forward through the commercials) from the Westminster Kennel Club show have no idea what goes on for the rest of the time, and if I'm reading Greg Hlatky correctly, we may not want to know:

Westminster is nice if you're an grand high AKC mucky-muck, a wealthy patron of the sport, an eminent judge, a member of the dog press or of the general public. If you're an exhibitor, it's hell. John Mandeville, in a quiz in Dog News, implies that for the exhibitor Westminster is only slightly better than the Bataan Death March. He's wrong: the Bataan Death March had nicer people supervising it.

And there was more room to stretch out, too:

THERE ARE JUST SIX RINGS for breed judging in the show area. Four are quite tiny. The other two are larger, but are rectangular instead of square. This is bad because the momentum of the dog and handler is broken when going around. The floor was covered in slick carpeting and I saw numerous dogs and handlers slipping and almost falling. If the benching area was hot, the ring area was even worse and hopelessly overcrowded to boot. Only for Variety Group competition does the space open up to what you see on TV. Otherwise it's much worse than at most show sites.

I once went to a show in Oklahoma City, with 14 (I think) rings, and it seemed crowded with only 2000 dogs. (And there's something disconcerting about the phrase "only 2000 dogs," if you ask me.) No carpeting, either; concrete and plasticky mats with a grooved pattern. And the only person who slipped was yours truly, but this was because I was being kneecapped by an exuberant Irish Wolfhound puppy the size of and comparable in greenness to the Incredible Hulk. The owner was profusely apologetic, and I wasn't injured, but it was a weird experience just the same.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
19 February 2003
Pennsylvania 6-5 million

If you thought area-code changes were fast and furious, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Three of the Baby Bells are complaining that voice-over-IP calling where you send your voice as bits through the Net will eat up the pool of available phone numbers even faster than cell phones and pagers and fax.

The most likely scenario, ten years down the pike: area codes grow to four digits, and telephone numbers to eight. We'll get used to it eventually, though I worry about how I'll explain "867-5309" to Jenny's children.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:09 PM)
22 February 2003
One hand clutching the top of the drain

The San Francisco Examiner has "repositioned" itself as a free daily newspaper, and will be distributed only through stores and racks; there will be no more home delivery. This move is widely seen as the last attempt to keep the Examiner alive before it's either folded into the thrice-weekly Independent, also owned by the Fang family, or killed off entirely.

I suspect Daily Pundit Bill Quick will shrug this off, figuring the rival Chronicle, whose columnists and letter-writers are regular targets of his wrath, can't possibly get any worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:37 AM)
25 February 2003
Neutron dance

Bleeding Brain proposes some timely adjustments to the periodic table. Francium, a nasty reactive (and radioactive) metal, should be renamed; the proffered suggestion is "Britanium". Double the T (Rule, Brittanium!), and I'll go along with it. (Otherwise people might think you're naming it for Britney Spears, and her area of expertise isn't chemistry, but semiconductor physics.)

Further recommended is the renaming of Europium for "the first astronomer who discovers intelligent life forms in France." This could take a while.

I demur, however, when it comes to the renaming of Berkelium. I have no particular reason to want to commemorate Berkeley, but BB's suggested name "Blogium" duplicates an existing element.

That element, of course, is Boron.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
28 February 2003
No one will be watching us

Still not good enough a reason to do it in the road.


Permalink to this item (posted at 11:24 AM)
I got your omen right here, pal

A couple of weeks ago, it was speculated in some circles (yes, even here) that Salon might not make it past the end of February.

Are they counting the hours themselves? Looks like it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:19 PM)
2 March 2003
Dehumidifying the sweatshop

Does this startle you?

According to a recent report by business futurists Roger and Joyce Herman of Greensboro, N.C, as many as 40 percent of workers already have "checked out" psychologically.

Feeling used and abused, these employees, they say, show up every day, but have lost passion for their work and are ready to jump on new opportunities.

I wonder if an entire company has ever up and quit....

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
8 March 2003
Mind games for fun and prophet

Now if someone asked me this:

Why the hell has a secret faction built a SUPERSHIP on a man-made plateau in a mountain range high above sea level?

I'd respond something like "Because if it weren't secret, the place would be crawling with angry environmentalists."

But the question is not for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
9 March 2003
Aren't you glad you use dial?

I still have an actual rotary phone. You know, the kind that dials with a dial; you stick your finger in and move it around in circles and...uh, never mind.

This sort of thing would never do for the Oval Office, as The Third Kind's Phil illustrates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
11 March 2003
Beyond viral marketing

There was yet another ad on the radio this morning for Botox, and after the usual revulsion ("People are injecting a known toxin into their faces? Ewwww....") passed, I started wondering: Can other Nasty Substances be pressed into useful work? Can salmonella help your lawn? Does smallpox have a future as an industrial lubricant? Will anthrax kill termites?

Okay, it's too early in the morning for such things, and anyway it's been more than thirty years since I set foot in the lab. But who back then would have predicted that botulinum would have a commercial application?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 AM)
17 March 2003
Spiegel, Chicago 9, chapter 11

Catalog retailer Spiegel besides its own huge fashion book twice yearly, it also produces the Newport News and Eddie Bauer books has filed for bankruptcy protection. Spiegel had been ailing for some time and had been delisted from the Nasdaq last year.

Spiegel's glory days, I suspect, coincided with the golden era of TV game shows, to which they often supplied prizes, always identified as coming from "Spiegel, Chicago 9, Illinois." (The arrival of the ZIP code, which rendered it "Spiegel, Chicago, Illinois 60609," seemed to deflate the announcement somewhat.) Their catalogs grew increasingly stylish, even arty, in recent years, and were sold at newsstands.

The effect the company's reorganization will have on director Spike Jonze, heir to the Spiegel empire, is unclear.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:47 PM)
22 March 2003
Dozer to be expected

To no one's surprise, there's now an entry at petitiononline.com collecting signatures asking for an investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, last seen meeting the business end of earth-moving equipment in the Gaza Strip.

But what's to investigate? She was playing Human Shield, and this particular role evidently took more out of her than she had intended. Nothing out of the ordinary. If anyone should be investigating this incident, it's the Darwin Awards committee.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
23 March 2003
Fax off and die

In 1991, the Congress decided in enacting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that unsolicited faxes, since they created not only inconvenience but actual cost to the recipients, could legitimately be legislated out of existence. Subsequently, the state of Missouri filed suit against two junk-fax operations, who claimed that their, um, product was protected by the First Amendment. The US District Court hearing the case sided with the faxers; the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has now reversed that decision.

The pertinent part of the ruling:

We conclude that [the TCPA] satisfies the constitutional test for regulation of commercial speech and thus withstands First Amendment scrutiny. There is a substantial governmental interest in protecting the public from the cost shifting and interference caused by unwanted fax advertisements, and the means chosen by Congress to address these harms directly and materially advances the governmental interest. The statute is also narrowly tailored to create a reasonable fit with its objective.

I tend to be somewhat uneasy about government involvement in matters of this sort, but in this case I'll make an exception, since someone calling my fax machine uses my consumables, and not all junk-fax purveyors honor do-not-call requests. I'm hoping that this finding by the 8th Circuit will serve as precedent for a national antispam law: I get maybe two dozen junk faxes a year, but I get three dozen spams every day, and I doubt the government would permit me to kill the miserable SOBs who send them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
Roiling at Reuters

No news organization, I think, is more reviled in blogdom than Reuters.

As it happens, the Reuters staff isn't too happy either, what with the CEO drawing a bonus of nearly $1 million while leading the company to a staggering $630 million loss. Management, of course, defends this sort of thing.

(Via Romenesko)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 PM)
24 March 2003
Darn it, Arnett

Peter Arnett, we are told, is covering the war for MSNBC and for National Geographic Explorer, a narrower range than it sounds. At Regions of Mind, Geitner Simmons reports that Arnett's reportage so far has been, to be charitable, a bit on the soft side:

The overwrought segment last night [on NBC] showed Arnett's crew filming bombing footage from the balcony of a Baghdad hotel, but it didn't present any actual reporting. It was merely a two-minute puff piece in which viewers were shown Arnett standing in his hotel room as the bombs fell, barking into a satellite phone about how spectacular everything was.

In his voiceover, Arnett talked about how brave his crew was and how smart they had been to chose that particular hotel room, because, he said, it turned out to offer the perfect location for shooting.

He sounded less like a journalist than like Robin Leach at his most insufferable.

It seems they could have saved some money by just hiring Robin Leach. He's got lots of free time these days, and who else can intone "Presidential palace" with such gravitas?

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:51 AM)
Resetting those hoop dreams

It's bad enough that college athletes so often fail to graduate, but what really bugs Ernie Chambers is knowing that the schools and the NCAA tend to look the other way when it happens. The proposed Chambers Rule would address this situation on a game-by-game basis by requiring that the school with the lower graduation rate spot the team with the higher graduation rate one point for each percentage point difference. An example:

Remember that near-upset of top-rated Georgetown by Princeton in the 1989 NCAA tournament? Had they played by my rules, Georgetown would have been required to spot Princeton about 49 points. Any rule that would have resulted in a John Thompson-led team losing is, in my estimation, a good rule.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for the NCAA to enact the Chambers Rule on a national basis, but I'm willing to bet it would result in more diplomas for these kids in a relatively short time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 PM)
31 March 2003
Oh, the caninity!

Formally, he's Yakee A Dangerous Liaison, but everyone knows him as Danny. He's a three-year-old Pekingese, and he beat out twenty-two thousand competitors to win the top prize at Britain's Crufts dog show, the world's largest. (By comparison, the Westminster Kennel Club show in New York is limited to 2500 dogs.)

Now there's a challenge to his title. The Times is reporting that Danny had had surgical alterations: a facelift. Danny's owners deny any such thing ever took place, but the Kennel Club will investigate.

(A facelift? On a Pekingese? The mind boggles.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
While the other guy Blixed

Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser of Israeli intelligence has suggested, in a statement to the Knesset, that Iraq may have stashed weapons in Syria, which would explain at least some of the failure of UN weapons inspectors to find them.

According to the general, these weapons might be made available to Hezbollah for use against Israel, although he said the likelihood of a direct attack on Israel remained low.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:01 PM)
2 April 2003
Pining for the fjords

According to Venomous Kate, Saddam Hussein is very much like the Norwegian Blue, with the possible exception of the plumage.

(Not via InstaPundit)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:04 PM)
3 April 2003
Reynolds' rap

Saddam is dead, says Glenn Reynolds. While debate continues over whether he's merely dead or really, really most sincerely dead, Reynolds is willing to be put to the test:

If I'm wrong, all [Saddam or Osama bin Laden] has to do is to appear on video and repeat this: "No matter what it says on GlennReynolds.com, I'm still alive." Ten simple words.

To quote the Great One himself: Heh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
4 April 2003
Paging the IATA

As far as the US is concerned, the major airport serving Baghdad is now called "Baghdad International Airport". Your travel agent, assuming he's goofy enough to book you a flight there in the next couple of days, will continue to use the three-letter code "SDA", which presumably is derived from the airport's previous designation as Saddam International.

Will there be an effort to change the code as part of the ongoing process of de-Saddamization? I doubt it. Historically, it's damned difficult to get an airport code modified, even if it truly sucks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
7 April 2003
Weapons of mass defoliation

Sarin gas? Nope. That facility near Baghdad was actually a production site for pesticides.

Then again, I was once hosed down with malathion don't ask and I assure you, I didn't like it much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:53 PM)
South Park overrun by Canadians

Despite my relatively high proximity to the place, I've never actually set foot in Colorado. And if The Fat Guy has assessed the place accurately, I may not want to:

I am severely under-impressed with this so-called Western state of Colorado. Where are all the hard-drinking mountain men and women? There's nothing but a bunch of ragamuffin, dreadlocked, stinky white kids in Birkenstocks here. But I know how I'm gonna feed myself in a few years just open up a ski/hike/bike shop here. None of them ever go out of business, and there are about 80 of them in spitting distance. It's an amazing economic study, and I suspect propping up by rich parents and spouses in a few cases. I mean, how many backpacks can one person buy?

I'm sure someone (probably in the People's Republic of Boulder) has calculated the optimum backpack-to-Birks ratio.

Connecticut is starting to look better as a vacation destination, despite the distance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:53 PM)
Debbie Hitler's looking for a husband

This is probably not the best time in the world to be named "Saddam Hussein".

Especially if you live in Norway, fercryingoutloud.

Saddam Hussein, a young Iraqi Kurd refugee who arrived in Norway in 2001, has petitioned the Oslo government to change his name officially to Dastanse Rasol Hussein.

(Muchas gracias: Jesus Gil, who probably has thought about changing his given name once or twice.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 PM)
8 April 2003
Welcome to Planet Delusional

"Iraq," said Ambassador Mohsen Khalil at an Egyptian news conference, "has now already achieved victory apart from some technicalities."

Gee, you think this argument will work for the Kansas Jayhawks?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
9 April 2003
A clean muzzle of health

When last we heard about Danny, the Pekingese who took Best in Show at Crufts, there were rumors that the dog had undergone surgery before the event, and the Kennel Club was going to investigate.

They have, and this is the report: yes, there was an operation, but no, it wasn't intended to compensate for a cosmetic defect. The poor dog had a throat problem which was corrected, nothing more.

Greg Hlatky, who's had to spend a few zillion dollars on veterinarians himself over the years, has further details.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 PM)
14 April 2003
My personal one-strike law

Compared to the stereotypical Average American Consumer, I am way low on the Fickle-O-Meter. I still have my 1974 stereo (and quadraphonic!) receiver and speakers, and one magazine subscription that has run since 1978. I've kept the same bank account for twenty-eight years, despite the fact that the bank has changed hands twice during that period. In short, I am generally a loyal customer, provided you don't try to stick it to me and once you do, you're history.

Relegated to the past tense this afternoon: my long-distance company for the past two decades. (I won't mention any names, but I'm sure they made a mint off me during those months when I was always talking and talking.) Never before have I seen a firm actually lose an electronic payment. My bank was incredulous "How could they do that?" but after checking to see that yes, the payment was sent in a timely manner, and no, the recipient never heard of it, they promptly reversed the charge to my account. I wrote the offending firm a check for the entire balance and promptly switched my LD service to someone else offering the same rate. And if you've switched LD services lately, you know that this is not something to be undertaken lightly; anti-slamming rules, to prevent unauthorized changes, make authorized changes exceedingly cumbersome. Still, as the phrase goes, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

And, just incidentally, the new LD provider was happy enough to offer me a better rate than what I'd had or what I'd asked for, once they heard I was leaving That Other Firm.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 PM)
16 April 2003
Scare quotes, I'm gonna miss you most of all

What the hell? The once-mighty Reuters is now resorting to buying banner ads on BlogSpot?

Reuters ad on BlogSpot

Okay, it's not like PETA was selling ad space to KFC or anything, but it's still weird. (Click here for a larger version, including the URL of the site where, quite by chance, it was found.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 PM)
17 April 2003
The gift that keeps on giving

The lovely Michel no longer has to go through life as a 34A; she has successfully raised $4500 at her Web site to cover the costs of, um, rack renovation.

No word on whether she's going to raise any additional funds for a back brace.

(Via The Register)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
19 April 2003
Looks like a war zone

Electricity and running water are scarce in postwar Iraq. I know this because NPR has managed to mention this situation on every single program this week except maybe Car Talk. The ill-concealed subtext: we have no idea how these poor people are suffering, since nothing like this ever happens over here.

This conforms to a basic leftist recipe: mix compassion and smugness, beat endlessly, bake halfway. The icing on this particular subtextual cake: it's completely wrong.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
20 April 2003
Fizzy logic

I was restocking Coca-Cola this weekend to the dismay of health-care professionals, dentists, indeed everyone except the supermarket, I go through an amazing quantity of the stuff when I had the bright idea of checking out the competition. I don't mean Pepsi or Royal Crown; I'm familiar with them, and I grab a bottle of RC now and then to revisit my younger days, when a carton of RC was the favored promotional giveaway by the local Top 40 station and I was desperate for free stuff. (Besides, She Who Is Not To Be Named...but never mind about that.) What I mean are the new Muslim-oriented knockoffs, conceived (I presume) in response to the opening of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Israel, both of which promise to kick in some of their receipts to, um, causes of interest to their customers. Not being particularly willing to import any of this stuff, I settled for browsing their Web sites.

Qibla-Cola, which pledges on every bottle "10% of profit to 3rd world causes", may seek to position itself as the anti-Coke, but it emulates the Coke model almost entirely: in addition to the flagship brand, there are Qibla 5 (Sprite), Qibla Fantasy (Fanta Orange), and Qibla Water (Dasani), and diet versions of all but the latter. No Qibla al-Pibb yet, but give them time. The Qiblas come in 500ml and two-liter bottles; cans are promised soon. Qibla-Cola's ad flyer (a two-meg PDF file, which strikes me as overkill) proclaims "Time to make a choice!" and presents the slogan: "Liberate your taste." Almost amusing, really.

On the other hand, Mecca-Cola is deadly serious. How serious? Their slogan is in French: "Ne buvez plus idiot, buvez engagé!" And, indeed, the parent company is called Mecca-Cola Beverages France. (They're hiring, incidentally.) Even the English-language pages contain the French slogan, translated as "No more drinking stupid, drink with commitment!" Mecca-Cola kicks in 20 percent of net profit to its causes, half to "Palestinian childhood" (does this include Semtex?) and half to local NGOs in its distribution areas. In a bizarrely Cokelike gesture, their signature product is called Mecca-Cola Classic.

I have, of course, no idea how these concoctions taste, but I suspect they're at least potable, perhaps on par with, say, budget-priced Wal-Mart knockoffs. And it's probably a Good Thing to see Muslim capitalism at work, if only because there are going to be imams here and there who are appalled by the whole concept. Still, pouring money into Palestine is rather like well, drink enough cola, regardless of brand, and the metaphor becomes obvious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:29 PM)
21 April 2003
Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Licensed to Kill, Inc. is a Virginia-based tobacco company. I think. Certainly that's what it says in their corporate charter. Whether they'll actually market any of their product line remains to be seen: certainly I haven't seen any at the local stores yet. Still, considered solely as a vendor of agitprop, they're already way ahead of those schnooks at the American Legacy Foundation.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 AM)
Situation wanted

I don't know why I didn't think of this:

"I want a well-paid job. I have no imagination, I am anti-social, uncreative and untalented," read an advertisement posted by Angelika Wedberg, 30, in the [Swedish] daily Goteborgs-Posten on Sunday.

Actually, I know why I didn't think of that; the slots at 42nd and Treadmill that fit that description are already filled, and have been for some time.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:13 PM)
Zircon in the rough

You know the joke:

"Is that a real Rolex?"

"Well, if it ain't, I'm out twenty bucks."

Adjust for inflation: something called QualityWatchWorld spammed me today with an offer of, and I quote, "Italian-crafted Rolex only $65 - $140!!" This, I presume, would look splendid hanging on my wrist as I drive my Burmese-built BMW over to Philly's Phaux Phurs.

Something called ATWGS is mentioned in the fine print, so I decided to run them through the search engines, and found this, which is a bit more upfront:

If you are looking for the ideal gift but would prefer to spend $50-$200 on Italian or Japanese crafted replica, don't hesitate.

From the looks of things, this spam has been around awhile. Meanwhile, I'll look elsewhere for the "ideal gift," thank you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:16 PM)
22 April 2003
Robert Fisk, cash cow

Vin Crosbie at Poynter Online reports that the British newspaper The Independent, in an effort to make some money off its site, will charge £1 for online articles by Robert Fisk.

Actually, if The Independent really wants to make some serious cash, what they should do is register Robert Fisk's name as a trademark, and then demand royalties every time a blogger Fisks" somebody.

(Via Jeff Jarvis, who asks, "Did they ever think that the readers of Alternet don't have disposable income?")

(Update, 24 April, 11:20 am: ScrappleFace notes that Congress was considering a bill to impose Fisking" royalties six months ago.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 PM)
25 April 2003
Two, and it's a trend

Last week, I mentioned that Reuters was buying ad space on Blogspot.

As of last night, and possibly earlier, so was The New York Times.

"Will being owned by Google do anything for Blogger?" Evidently it will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
26 April 2003
Without pretense

Six-foot-eight LeBron James, 18, about to finish up his years at Akron, Ohio's St Vincent-St Mary High School, has declared himself available for the NBA draft.

Laurence Simon doesn't have a problem with this:

He's especially heroic and magnanimous for not wasting one college's valuable educational resources that would have landed him and then had to pretending to teach him for four or five years while exploiting his ass for the lucrative NCAA motherlode. In addition, he won't waste a whole bunch of legal expenses that university would have inevitably resulted from his accepting gifts from the alumni association.

And were he to spend those four or five years at, say, the University of Oklahoma, he probably wouldn't even end up with a sheepskin. (Automotive upholstery doesn't count.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
28 April 2003
Aw, nuts

News item:

The man from Whitwell, Tennessee who had his scrotum chewed off by his so-called live-in housekeeper has decided to drop domestic assault charges.

No comment. I mean, really.

(Via DiVERSiONZ, may his pain diminish.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:50 PM)
29 April 2003
It takes an airbrush

Rachel Lucas, on the jacket photo of Hillary Rodham Clinton's new book:

Photoshop was never meant to be used for such things.

(Mental note: Do not annoy Rachel Lucas.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
30 April 2003
Eternity in the Garden State

According to Susanna Cornett, this is the beauty of New Jersey:

It chips away at you, all day. You fight traffic to work. You deal with bad attitudes and political pandering and 31 flavors of accents and nothing's ever easy, horns blowing all day outside. You drive home and women lean out their car windows and curse each other while your car is between them. You drive around the block for 20 minutes to find a parking space two blocks from your apartment building only to find the tiny entry is nearly blocked because SOMEONE put a baseball glove in the mailbox of one of your fellow apartment dwellers so the door won't hardly open. And this door, there's only so much room to squeeze through, the one opposite opens into the entry too so you have to get all the way in and close the first door before you can open the second door but the BLASTED BASEBALL GLOVE is making the mailbox take a gouge out of you, and you manage a smile at the thought that this is one more reason you're glad you don't have implants.

Like more reasons were needed?

Actually, I can appreciate some of this. Brock Yates once said that the New Jersey Turnpike was the American equivalent of MiG Alley, and I have no reason to doubt him; usually it's somewhere around Exit 7 when I recall just why it is that racers wear gloves. On the other hand, if anyone in Jersey ever cursed me (and that includes you, Susie Q), I don't remember it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 PM)
5 May 2003
Tri-weekly in months ending in R

The magazine formerly known as Movieline, which is now passing itself off as Movieline's Hollywood Life, has gone to a larger-sized page format and has restarted its internal counter at Volume I, Number 1, but the really weird change is in the publishing schedule, which now reads like this:

published monthly except bi-monthly March/April, May/June, July/August, December/January

By comparison, here is the same sort of passage from Mad, Volume I, Number 334 founder William M. Gaines once said, "We'll never have a Volume 2," and he meant it March/April 1995:

published monthly except bi-monthly for January/February, March/April, July/August and October/November

Before Gaines' death, they made no claim to "bi-monthly" anything; Number 105, September 1966, says this:

published monthly except February, May, August and November

All this neatly obscures the fact that Mad actually came out on a regular schedule: every forty-five days. And the dates were chosen, reported Frank Jacobs in his biography of Gaines, to insure that no issue was ever actually on sale at newsstands during the month printed on its cover.

Of course, Gaines is gone, Mad is now taking ads and is coming out on a regular monthly cycle, but I've gotta wonder: Has Anne Volokh of MHL been influenced by The Usual Gang of Idiots?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 PM)
6 May 2003
No exit

Greg Hlatky relates an only-in-New Jersey sort of event:

When we tried leaving our motel on Friday morning, we discovered we couldn't go out the way we came. Nor could we turn right. Another exit from the parking lot wouldn't let us go the direction we wanted. So we drove to the next traffic light. Where we couldn't make a U-turn. In order to go where we wanted, we had to drive into a shopping center parking lot, turning around and leaving through an intersection with a traffic light.

Migod, I think I've actually stayed at that inn.

I've had fairly kind words for the Garden State during the week or so I've actually been there. Then again, I live in Oklahoma, which sometimes seems to run neck and neck with New Jersey as Official National Laughingstock, and I suppose this could affect my judgment in some way. But even allowing for this factor, I don't think I could come up with something quite like this (Hlatky again):

The typical native of New Jersey (State Motto: "Ya Wanna @#$% Motto? I Got Yer @#$% Motto Right Here!") combines the loudmouthed boorishness of the New Yorker with the mediocrity of the Philadelphian. New Jersey is a state without history and without accomplishment, except perhaps for accumulating the greatest number of toxic waste sites in the country.

I live three miles from a former EPA Superfund site, so this impresses me perhaps less than it could.

Still, New Jersey was where I met Susanna Cornett, and New Jersey was the site of my first face-to-face meeting with the ineffable She Who Is Not To Be Named. ("Eff that," she said.) And no, neither one of them is actually from New Jersey, but what else can I do? Try to say something nice about Frank Lautenberg?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:40 PM)
7 May 2003
Insurmountable lede

The ever-cheeky Page bills this as "Best. Headline. Ever." And, well, it is not advisable to disagree with Page, especially when she's right.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
10 May 2003
Urine for it now

According to Entertainment Weekly (issue #710, 16 May), Rebecca "Mystique" Romijn-Stamos says that if she really could shape-shift, she'd like to become a guy "just to see what it's like to pee standing up."

Yeah, that'll get my ten bucks for X3.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
13 May 2003
The future of copy protection

The major reason for redesigning American paper currency, we are assured, is to make counterfeiting more difficult.

Needless to say, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is not about to identify all the little technological tricks that go into the new bills, but Cam Edwards thinks he's found the secret ingredient.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 PM)
17 May 2003

So I looked at that number, blinked, and figured it must have been a punchline at some point or another:

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY Business organization with strong ethnic ties seeks ambitious, loyal, profit-minded workers for mostly-permanent positions. Now hiring in New York, NY; Las Vegas, NV; almost anywhere in NJ. For information call 1-800-CRIMINAL.

But apparently it's for real, and belongs to this guy; it's not mentioned on his Web site, but it does appear in his ad on the back cover of one of our multitudinous local phone books.

It could be worse, I suppose. God forbid there should be, for instance, an anorexia support group at 1-877-2 GO BARF.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:37 PM)
18 May 2003
Don't touch me there

Canada's National Post reports that as many as three percent of Canadians feel some sexual attraction toward children, a figure obtained from the psychiatrists who treat sex offenders in the Great White North. This seems a bit high to me, and indeed the phrasing in the article "up to 3%" suggests that the bigger number is there just for bigger impact.

The Post story quotes Dr John Bradford, clinical director of forensic psychiatry and the sexual behaviours clinic at the Royal Ottawa Hospital, as saying that statistically, a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a pedophile, a statement which set off Susanna Cornett's BS detector:

There you go. A child isn't "seriously harmed" until the pedophile tries or succeeds in killing him.

I don't know if the article was intended to whitewash pedophilia, but there's a definite air of "Why are we picking on these people? They're not violent or anything." Neither are embezzlers, generally, but we have no problem picking on them.

Pedophiles, in fact, have one thing in common with embezzlers: they've violated a trust, spat on a relationship that is fundamental to society. Whether or not they actually draw blood is irrelevant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
22 May 2003
"Beeyotch" somehow seems inadequate

There's one great thing about working as a steward (ring attendant, more or less) at a dog show, says Greg Hlatky (21 May, 8:20 pm), who's done it:

[Y]ou get to say "bitch" as loudly as you want to and no one human or canine blinks an eye.

Which reminds me: I heard a story that some woman in California, circa 1990, presumably new at this, took serious umbrage when both the steward and the judge referred to her sweet, innocent, inoffensive little pet as a bitch. How dare they? (I'd love to get some corroboration of this, should any exist.)

And I suppose I can see her point. I was once introduced to someone with a Bichon Frisé, and immediately asked, "Is that, like, French for frizzy bitch?" Maybe she'll speak to me again, but I doubt it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
It's up to you, you dork, you dork

If this Daily News item is to be believed, the Mayor of the City of New York has a major thang for Jennifer Lopez.

Of course, there's always room for J-Lo, but isn't Bloomberg already more or less spoken for? And what happens if, God forbid, Jenny lights up a Pall Mall while she's on the block?

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
23 May 2003
Where bin Laden shops

Venomous Kate reports that not only is al-Qaeda's interest in biological and chemical weapons continuing, but the demand is being met by supply, and according to the Pentagon, the major suppliers are the Russians and the Chinese. Meanwhile, despite Code Orange Crush and increased "chatter", Americans seem no more concerned than usual. (Then again, didn't we invent "Out of sight, out of mind"?)

There is, of course, a national holiday coming up, and it's certainly not above your standard garden-variety terrorist to want to screw with it. On the other hand, a Memorial Day attack on a day when we honor our war dead, fercrissake might even piss off our pacifists.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:54 PM)
24 May 2003
Okay, stop, you've got enough

According to a team of former financial advisers, Michael Jackson is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Union Finance and Investment Corporation, a South Korean firm with Los Angeles offices, has filed suit against the erstwhile King of Pop, claiming unpaid bills of over $12 million. According to the suit, Jackson had engaged Union to help him untangle his messy finances; Union subsequently discovered that Jackson was down to about two months' worth of available funds.

(Keep in mind that two months' worth on the Jackson scale would probably get most of us regular folk who might wear tennis shoes or an occasional python boot through a couple of years.)

A Jackson family attorney said he doubted that Michael Jackson's situation was all that dire, though he did add the caveat that "I cannot say it for 100 percent sure because nobody knows his financial statements."

Trial date is set for the 18th of June.

(Update, 11:10 pm: Tiger wants to know why, if MJ were truly bankrupt, this action couldn't be handled in bankruptcy court.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 PM)
4 June 2003
Memos during wartime

Few people avoid the telephone as much as I do, but apparently Boathouse Group is just crammed full of kindred spirits, prompting this corporate nastygram:

If you think this doesn't apply to you, don't make any large cash purchases any time soon. For creative people, wearing headphones doesn't free you from this responsibility. If you think I'm kidding, try me.

We sent out a nice e-mail about this. Apparently it didn't work. This ain't no disco, this ain't no party, this ain't no fooling around.

I think we can safely assume that someone got Byrned.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
5 June 2003

John at Collinization comes up with another reason to, in his words, "get the hell out of New York":

When I was a little kid, there were fireworks all over the neighborhoods on the fourth of July. All day, and all night, mortars going off, roman candles in the neighbor's yard, one year my dad even got one of those pinwheels and set it off; the whole block came down to watch it with the oos and ahhs.

Last year, me and a few friends were shooting off bottle rockets in an open field behind an elementary school, at night, and the school had been closed for a month. 3 separate people called the police on us. On the fourth of July. For lighting fireworks.

It's probably a good thing Mardi Gras isn't held in New York; they'd probably ban the parade because of the hazards of secondhand beads.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
Ecru jumpsuits rather than orange

Okay, maybe not. Not yet, anyway.

In the meantime, if you want Martha Stewart's side of the story, she's posted her official denial on the Web, along with a letter from her legal team.

I need hardly point out that the design is simple, tasteful and elegant, though the color scheme rubs me the wrong way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 PM)
6 June 2003
Void where prohibited

Kim du Toit will not give you a sample:

P[ersonnel] A[sshole]: You'll need to visit the Company Nurse for a drug test.

Me: Why? I don't take drugs.

PA: It's policy. (Starting to sound familiar?)

Me: I don't see why I have to prove to you that I don't take drugs I've already told you I don't. Do you not trust your employees to tell the truth?

PA: It has nothing to do with trust. It's just policy.

Me: But that policy is based upon not believing someone, like me, when they tell you that they don't take drugs.

PA: I'm sorry, but it's just policy.

Me: Want to know my policy?

PA: What's that?

Me: I don't work for companies who don't trust their employees; who don't give them the benefit of the doubt; and who insist on this gross invasion of privacy.

PA: If you want to work for this company, you have to take a drug test.

Me: I think you misunderstood me I just told you I don't want to work for this company.

42nd and Treadmill routinely inflicts these things on all new hires, on the dubious basis that some of us may at some point be asked to drive a truck, but I suspect that anyone who's been here longer than a few weeks is getting a lot of prescriptions filled.

And sometimes without a prescription, even.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 PM)
13 June 2003
Trying Times

Jane Galt puzzles over the question of why Howell Raines left The New York Times in such a big hurry despite perfoming precisely according to Pinch Sulzberger's desires, and reaches a conclusion:

[T]he consumer doesn't care. The market isn't reacting. Yet Raines was fired anyway. As far as I can see, his only real firing offense was embarrassing Pinch in front of other journalists, most of whom don't buy papers. And maybe making affirmative action look bad.

Of course, embarassing the boss has long been a sacking offense. But as any consultant will tell you, when episodes like that happen, the organization would usually do better to sack the boss.

Not that this is likely to happen at the Times or at any place I've ever worked, for that matter.

And whether you believe that blogs killed Howell Raines (a nice thought, but more than a trifle overblown, I think) or that he was brought down by simple hubris, it seems clear to me that the Times, at least for the short haul, is better off without him.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
15 June 2003
A man for all streets

Max Power: the Greg Packer of his generation.

No, really.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
16 June 2003
Europe demands equal time

The Council of Europe, one of those pesky non-governmental organizations that the UN and its friends so cherish, has come up with a notion that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that if someone were to propose something like the First Amendment in the European Union, it would be laughed off the agenda in record time.

Declan McCullagh at CNET's News.com reports that the Council is about to adopt a measure which would demand that should a person or an organization be criticized on the Net, at a news site, on a listserv, even in a blog, the Webmaster or list-owner must make space available for a response to that criticism, what they call the "right of reply."

This is nothing particularly new for Europe. Many European countries have provisions similar to this for Old Media, and the U.S. used to have something like it Section 315, the infamous "fairness doctrine" before it was abolished in 1987. At the time, naysayers (myself included) warned that an end to the regulation would inevitably mean an end to controversial topics on television; a decade and a half later, even the most perfunctory slide through the dial shows it hasn't done any such thing.

And if this abomination is passed by the Council and enacted into law in a number of countries, it will be a sure sign that those countries are more interested in keeping feathers from being ruffled than in any recognizable form of free speech and yet another indication that we are wise to seek our allies elsewhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:43 PM)
17 June 2003
Positive accounting

Most of this Sandy McLendon piece at FlatRateTech deals with perceived weakness in Ford's customer service, but the penultimate paragraph extends way beyond Detroit:

There's a funny thing going on in Corporate America these days companies speak of "profits", instead of what they used to, "earnings". Well, I have to admit there's a certain amount of weird honesty in that. Many companies are profiting from poor product and poor treatment of consumers but they haven't earned anything.

(Via BlueOvalNews)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
19 June 2003
The perils of small business

Your basic Scary Introduction: "Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Or, if you're six-year-old Avigayil Wardein of Naples, Florida, "We're the cops and we've come to close down your lemonade stand."

Something about a permit. And the city says that they don't do this sort of thing "unless someone complains," so I have to assume someone was whining about it. Does Bill O'Reilly sell sodas on the sidewalk?

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
22 June 2003
Remedial renting

The Minneapolis/St Paul area is apparently awash in tenants who haven't the faintest idea about how to live up to the responsibilities detailed in their leases. Are Twin Cities landlords cracking down on the clueless? Fat chance.

However, in lieu of actual cultural changes, there's an operation called the Housing Lifeskills Centre, developed by a property manager, which is a six-week course to teach these characters how to behave in a manner which won't get their sorry keisters evicted. "A lot of the things we teach," says instructor Linda McNew, "are things that you or I take for granted."

Saint Paul (the blogger, not the city) is incredulous:

There are full grown adults that don't have a natural sense of right and wrong when it comes to disorderliness, property damage, and nonpayment of bills? There are people who still don't get it, even after numerous visits by the police and angry confrontations with their neighbors and landlords?

There are. And if you don't rent to them, you'll probably be accused of the worst sort of discriminatory tactics.

What set of circumstances and/or life decisions lead one to this profoundly retarded worldview? How does one develop this sense of egoistic entitlement, where there's no connection made between your actions and, say, your income or housing status? What causes one to assume someone else is going take care of all your problems for you, no matter how much destruction you visit on yourself and your neighbors?

It's the same sort of devalued value system which says that no matter what your problem, it's always somebody else's fault, be it The System, The Government, or simply The Man.

There was a nice young couple (both military) who used to live upstairs from me; he dropped by the other day to visit some friends. "Nostalgic for the old homestead?" I teased. "A bit too much gunfire for us," he said.

Yeah, I'll get out of here one of these days and not in an ambulance, if I can help it. But the problems that exist here, like their counterparts in Minnesota, aren't going away any time soon, no matter how many cute little programs are instituted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
30 June 2003
Digital photography

The last line of the chorus of Deteriorata, the classic de-inspirational recording from the National Lampoon, is this:

Whether you believe it or not, The universe is laughing behind your back.

More than just laughing, it appears.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
1 July 2003
Today's shopping tip

Courtesy of Ravenwood:

Best Buy [has] such an inflexible policy toward their customers, I am astonished that they can make any money, long-term.

It's not such a bad place, actually, so long as (1) you're buying something that never, ever has any defects and (2) you don't need the buying advice they don't actually provide.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
2 July 2003
Cthulhu lives!

Or used to, anyway.

(Via Hit & Run)

(Update, 7:30 pm: Bigwig has identified the creature, and it's not as dorky as he thought.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
The scientific method

Some of us put in a lot of hours of lab time in our day, but Margi grasps this basic truth of research intuitively:

I have always held the belief that if twenty scientists were locked in a room together, eventually, they would say that locking twenty scientists in a room is bad for your kidneys.

Of course, to make it a more representative sample, we should probably get forty scientists. And I won't complain at all if someone wants to extend the study to, say, 535 Congresspersons.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
11 July 2003
No bucks, son, you gotta work late

Both Rust (Conservatives Suck) and Bruce (This Is Class Warfare) have reported on the changes in Federal overtime regulations proposed by the Bush administration. Neither of them is particularly happy about the plan. Said Bruce, apparently admonishing middle-management types:

Once the hounddogs have dug up the working/blue collar stiffs and wrung them out to dry did you honestly think they wouldn't sniff your bloated paychecks a mile away and not think "fresh meat".

And Rust observed:

While I do agree that certain high-paying jobs are high paying for a reason that reason being that you're expected to work long, hard hours, such as executive work I am disappointed that Bush pushed for, and the House backed down on, laws that limit how much overtime compensation a worker receives.

I'm not especially thrilled with the proposal myself, although it's unlikely to affect me personally. Certainly the categories established for overtime exemption by the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act ("executive", "administrative" and "professional") are vague, and vagueness opens the door to abuse. But I do wonder why the ceiling for guaranteed overtime pay was set where it was ($22,100 per year). And some of the new qualifications are a bit perplexing: for instance, admin types, currently required to "exercise discretion and independent judgment" to be exempt, would merely have to occupy "a position of responsibility," doing work of ''substantial importance" or requiring "a high level of skill or training.''

I put in about 49 hours a week on average. My skill level is somewhere between tremendous and immeasurable; on the other hand, I'm even lower on the organizational chart than the Litho in U.S.A. label, and what I do seems to be important only if I don't actually do it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 PM)
13 July 2003
Blairing from the housetops

I've avoided saying anything about the Blair Hornstine caper, mainly because every time I got my rhetorical ducks in a row, some new development moved the pond. Now that Harvard has decided not to accept her at all, not exactly a coda but certainly the last repeat, what the heck got into that girl?

The most rational explanation came at Number 2 Pencil, not from Kimberly Swygert herself, but from a commenter to this post of hers. Said Kate (no, not that Kate):

I think that Blair is bright enough but not a genius and when her true abilities became apparent, Mom and Dad formulated a plan to ensure that Blair would follow in her bro's footsteps. Thus, her "disability" was cooked up, Mom did her social service work, and Dad handled the school district. Blair went along with it, beacause they're the 'rents, but also because she's not going to be Adam's dorky little sister forever. Her dad's teeth fit her shoulder perfectly.

It makes perfect sense. And it probably would have worked, too, until they started complaining about the tie for valedictorian, and suddenly there was a reason to check her papers.

Good judgment, they say, comes from experience, which in turn comes from bad judgment. Score this one under Experience, and see if Miss Hornstine ultimately turns it to her advantage but don't bet more than the spread.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:01 PM)
31 July 2003
It's a Jersey thing

While wandering around New Jersey last week, I spied a couple of signs that didn't make a whole lot of sense. "Keep New Jersey moving," they said, signed by Governor McGreevey. From the wording, this could be anything from a traffic-calming pitch to an ad for Metamucil, so I figured it was just McGreevey's way of reminding you that he's the governor on an otherwise useless sign.

Jeff Jarvis, however, finds them somewhat worse than useless:

What the F does that mean? Go faster? Rear-end the guy in front of you? Get out of town? Eat fiber?

The pinhead who decided to spend tax dollars to buy and install those signs should be strung up from any of the signs he installed. Actually, I'm sure it's a committee of pinheads.

I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
9 August 2003
The half-hour is at hand

As a lede for a story, this is hard to top:

Now we may know why the South lost the Civil War: Confederate time was about a half-hour slower than Yankee time.

I'm sure there was more to it than that, but here's the backstory:

In 1864, the Confederate States of America was not doing as well as it had hoped, and Charleston Harbor had been effectively blockaded by Union forces. In response, the Confederacy had developed a submarine. CSS Hunley looked something like an old boiler converted for marine use, largely because it was. Its armament was equally low-tech: a front-mounted harpoon which would ram enemy vessels, leaving behind enough of an explosive charge to blow them up while the Hunley, they hoped, would back away in time.

It worked well enough in its one and only test: on 17 February 1864 the Hunley took out the Union blockade vessel USS Housatonic. The Hunley resurfaced briefly, but never returned to port, and lay on the bottom of Charleston Harbor for over a century. In 1995, divers found the sub, and in 2000, it was raised from the sea and sent to a laboratory near Charleston for study.

Which brings us to that time difference. The study team is trying to figure out how long the Hunley might have survived after the attack. Survivors from the Housatonic only five sailors were lost to the Union reported that the attack came between 8:45 and 9 pm. One of the artifacts recovered from the Hunley was the pocket watch carried by Lt. George Dixon, the sub's commanding officer. It's frozen at 8:23, presumably by the action of seawater.

The Confederacy, it seems, operated on local sun time; at the time, all US naval vessels were synchronized to sun time at Washington, DC. The difference between the two is about twenty-six minutes. The attack on the Housatonic took at most five minutes; if it began at 8:45 Union time 8:19 local Charleston time it's possible that the Hunley was so heavily damaged itself by the attack that only the one brief surfacing was possible before the sub was dragged off to Davy Jones' locker.

It's probably more than 26 minutes too early to say for sure, but this explanation seems plausible enough, unless perhaps you're a descendant of Lt. Dixon or one of his crewmen.

Oh, and standard time zones were implemented across the States in 1883.

(Suggested by Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
A truly sad tail

If you're a guy, the OkiePundit is not interested in seeing your rump:

I've been seeing too much of this sort of cleavage lately. I wouldn't mind so much if it was attractive female posteriors but it's not. It's invariably on some ugly-ass boy or man. Around the mall and in fast food eateries I've seen a parade of inadequately covered posteriors of teenage boys walking around with their oversized jeans hanging around their thighs with boxer shorts displayed for all to see. I don't mean the boxer waistband I mean the whole undergarment. Usually old, dirty, boxers. Sometimes the booty is exposed as well. What is this?

Don't ask me. I'm still trying to decide if "ugly-ass", in this context, is redundant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 PM)
15 August 2003
Sure is dark out there

When my daughter and I talk, topics fly fast and furiously, and somewhere alongside the consideration of convertibles, real estate and the perfidy of Toyota starters, she wondered: "Would there be this much news coverage if the power went off in the middle of the country?"

I thought for a moment, then answered: "Well, yes, but most of it would be on The Weather Channel, because we'd be in the middle of a farging ice storm."

In the background, I can hear the air conditioner kicking in.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
19 August 2003
"I'm not quite dead yet"

We get another crummy C-60 ostensibly from Osama, and the world goes spastic once more.

Is it real? According to Venomous Kate, it may not matter:

[W]hether OBL is dead or alive isn't really the issue, is it? The crux is whether extremist Muslims believe he's alive, and every al-Qaeda related terror attack certainly indicates they very much believe this.

But what if he isn't does it matter? Bin Laden as a concept, not a person will remain a major player in international politics and events long after his body is worm food. He is but one head on this Hydra: slay him, and two more will take his place.

How do you kill a beast of such mythic proportions?

Heracles, presented with exactly this task, called upon an ally: Iolaus, his charioteer, who stood off to the side with a torch. When Heracles lopped off a head, Iolaus was there to burn the stump to prevent regrowth. The last head, it is said, was immortal, so Heracles buried it beneath a boulder.

And just to prove that this ancient tale has contemporary resonance: Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, for whom Heracles had performed this task and nine others as ordered, refused to release Heracles from his bond: not only did Heracles actually get help with dealing with the Hydra, but he had tried to turn a profit on the cleaning of the Augean stables.

The beast can be will be killed. But don't expect to meet cost projections, or to garner more than perfunctory support, along the way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
Coming soon: Megagrams!

Health-O-Meter, a leading manufacturer of bathroom scales (so to speak), has introduced a new product line which will record weights up to 400 lb.

With two-thirds of us overweight, at least according to the bean counters of the Nanny State and the minions of the insurance industry, who seem to think we all should look like Kate Moss after a long weekend, it was probably inevitable. The real need, I think, is for scales that read in stone, which, at least to non-British ears, might seem less accusative: "Twenty-eight stone? Doesn't sound so bad."

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:19 PM)
20 August 2003
Is that daylight saved?

Speaking of Indiana, it presents some unusual problems for travelers on a schedule: of the state's 92 counties, only fifteen observe Daylight Saving Time, and some of them are in the Central time zone. (Most of Indiana is on Eastern Standard Time year-round.) A business/labor/trade alliance which spent a year and a half trying to persuade the state government to switch to DST has finally thrown in the towel; the General Assembly won't budge.

Not being keen on DST myself you can't cut off one end of a rope and tie it to the other and expect it to be any longer when you're through I doff my hat to those stubborn Hoosiers.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:41 AM)
21 August 2003
The last word on Blackout '03

"Would there be this much news coverage if the power went off in the middle of the country?"

This was my daughter's question while watching the anguished reports from the darkened Big Apple. The answer, from E. Henry Thripshaw:

I've spent time in New York and I can imagine that it must have been a huge pain in the patoot to get from Point A to Point B. But the people of New York were no more or less inconvenienced than the people of Cleveland or Detroit (or Lansing or Oneida). Here's where my grapes get sour: had a major outage happened in Denver, or Austin or Minneapolis there would have been a story on the evening news... probably in the second segment. It might might have warranted a special report had it affected more than 5 million people. And they would have felt obligated to say Denver Colorado, Austin Texas, or Minneapolis Minnesota because cities without a huge body of water next to them need to be further identified as cities within the boundaries of the United States.

But Sustaining Coverage? Doubtful. Can you even imagine Dan and Tom/Brian and Peter/Ted sitting at their news desks looking concerned as we watch aerial shots of 50,000 people schlepping their briefcases and haversacks along Interstate 70 in St. Louis?

"We're entering hour number 2 of Sustaining Coverage of this CBS News Special Report of 'Blackout 2003, the Missouri Misery.' I'm Dan Rather and we have video now of a bus seemingly filled with what we think are people trying to get to the Mississippi River in an effort to abandon the town. You might say they are on a cruise ship to nowheresville and Isaac has run out of mixer. For those of you who are not aware, St. Louis [is] a town located in Missouri approximately half-way between New York and Los Angeles. We also believe believe that St. Louis is the capital of Missouri, but we're waiting for confirmation from CBS' Ed Bradley on that. Meanwhile, in New York, the Dow Industrial Average is down two-and-a-third points on news of the power outage."

The coasts, as Susanna says, just don't get it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
26 August 2003
It's not medicine. It's HMO.

Dawn at Altered Perceptions explains everything you always wanted to know about Health Maintenance Organizations.*

* but asking wasn't approved by the oversight committee. **

** I owe Tiger royalties for this shtick.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
Notes from the Garden State

Julian Sanchez reports in Hit & Run that former Senator Robert Torricelli, a "man with the dubious dual distinction of being sleazy by the standards of both politics and New Jersey," has found happiness after Congress as a Trenton power broker. Said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers, "He's now in a position to make the money without the public scrutiny." The Torch, in fact, has wangled for himself the responsibility for an environmental cleanup site in Jersey City, a position which will enhance both his stature and his bank account.

And speaking of the environment, Anna Quindlen has a suggestion for dealing with wild bears who wander into suburban yards:

New Jersey, the most densely populated state (in case you hadn't noticed), wants very much to allow the hunting of bears. No one seems to have considered the obvious alternative: instead of issuing hunting permits, call a moratorium on building permits. Permanently.

"Gee, Yogi, aren't we getting awful close to Route 130?"

"Don't worry, Boo-Boo-boy, they don't issue building permits anymore. We can have a pic-a-nic anywhere we want."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
27 August 2003
Where's the Kaboom?

According to Bigwig, there was supposed to be a (not quite) earth-shattering Kaboom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 PM)
29 August 2003
What ails the BBC

The Register has some idea:

The BBC now exists in an entirely different world to the one it was created in, yet it has changed surprisingly little.

The fact that is funded by every household in the UK paying a government-decided TV "tax" of £116 every year puts it in a unique position. On the one hand it is free from all the rigours of advertisers and commercialism, but on the other hand it needs to justify what it spends the money on.

And what it spends the money on, evidently, is mechanisms to defend itself from the Real World:

The problem is that the BBC of today is an incredibly arrogant organisation and that gets people's backs up. As the BBC has grown more and more out of touch with the world around it, it has desperately clung to its culture. And that refusal to change has seen it faced with frustration and anger, which in turn has seen it tighten up in indignation.

The National Union of Journalists recently revealed that the BBC was the worst media organisation in the UK for bullying. Numerous examples of blame culture have emerged in recent years. People from outside the organisation have been appalled by the politics and cliques within the BBC. Tales abound of petulant, unpleasant, even sadistic, producers and middle-managers lashing out to disguise their all-too-real fear of discovery.

Where's Romenesko when you need him?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
31 August 2003
Foiled again

Apparently I am farther behind the times than I had realized.

It's been an article of faith in these parts that lining one's hat with aluminum is the surest way to ward off the sort of mind-control beams that are routinely used against us by enemies both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. But time and technologies wait for no one, and, at least with regard to certain classes of extraterrestrials, a more effective screen is made with 3M's Velostat" electroconductive shielding material.

3M, needless to say, makes no such representations with regard to its product, but of course it can't.

(Via Cruel Site of the Day)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:36 PM)
9 September 2003
O most wretched anniversary

I wasn't there on the morning of the 11th; I was doing the same old workaday stuff that I always do. But the radio was on, I was half-listening, and suddenly the voices got higher and more agitated and eventually it sunk in that the world had changed right then and there.

There are many stories from that day. Some of the best of them are collected at Voices: Stories From 9/11 And Beyond, which surely you've read by now. And as of this afternoon, I'd thought it over, and decided I had nothing to add to the discussion, nothing to say I was willing to call my own.

And then the floodgates opened and the words followed in rapid succession.

It was written on the night of the 9th, but it's dated September 11th, and it's up now as Vent #356. I'm not sure if it's the best thing I've ever written, or the worst. Probably it's somewhere in between. One thing for sure: it's an object lesson in what happens when you try to retain too much composure for too long a time.

(I owe this one to Michele; the strength she's shown in collecting and compiling the stories and in putting the fools in their proper place has been truly inspirational.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 PM)
13 September 2003
What do you do when you're branded?

Why, you try to convince everyone on earth that you've got the Hottest Brand Going.

Even if what you're selling is nothing more than air.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:13 PM)
14 September 2003
Southern-fried icons

Just when I thought the book had been closed on the University of Mississippi's Colonel Reb, up pops a new chapter.

Chris Lawrence was trying to avoid the topic himself, until he found this site, and found it annoying:

[I]t's a rallying point for idiots who care more about symbols than people and long for the past instead of contributing to the future.

On the other side, Patrick Carver, blogging as The Ole Miss Conservative, says his objections to the change aren't rooted in tradition, per se:

[M]y main reason for opposing the whole change is that Athletic Director Pete Boone took it upon himself to change the mascot without asking the students and alumni whether they wanted a change or not. That just rubs me the wrong way.

Lawrence, in an updated post, pointed out that this is basically the way the Ole Miss administration works on almost every issue.

After that CSS Hunley story I posted yesterday, and in view of some comments I've seen around blogdom in the past, I'm beginning to wonder just how much anti-Southern sentiment there is not against the region itself, but against its trappings, its mores, its differences from those parts of the country which by dint of sheer media concentration dominate the culture, and whether some of that sentiment has actually penetrated below the Mason-Dixon line. It's not an organized movement, to be sure, but I have a gut feeling that some of our cultural arbiters have decided that some things are, well, just too Southern, and I suspect some Southerners are thinking that Reconstruction is still going on.

And I have to wonder, as people bail out of Boswash because it's too expensive and out of California because it's totally farging insane, if the newly-empowered South will bear a grudge.

(4:40 pm: Rewritten slightly to discourage conspiracy theorists.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
16 September 2003
And it almost worked

Jesse Youngblood, you've just pulled off a bank heist, and you've gotten away with a cool thousand. What are you going to do now?

You say you're going to deposit some of the loot in your account at the same bank?


Wrong answer.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
19 September 2003
Where the bucks are

For some reason, an inordinate number of clueless Googlers" are coming here looking for the current (2003 edition) Forbes 400.

They should be looking at Forbes.com specifically, here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:10 PM)
20 September 2003
How to tell you're in Hell

The person living directly over you has both a taste for hip-hop and a subwoofer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
24 September 2003
So much for "do not call"

The Feds do not have the authority to set up a so-called "do not call" list to block telemarketing; Judge Lee R. West has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission, which established the list, exceeded its authority in so doing.

A suit filed in Oklahoma City, a town where call centers seemingly outnumber taverns but trail churches, had challenged the FTC. Plaintiffs included a number of telemarketers and the Direct Marketing Association.

(Advantage: Fusilier Pundit, who anticipated legal issues with the list.)

In the meantime, I'm not home.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:11 PM)
25 September 2003
And still there are two

The Joint Operating Agreement between The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is still on.

Under the provisions of the twenty-year-old JOA, the Seattle Times Company handles advertising, production and circulation for both papers, and the profits are split 60-40. (It was originally 68-32, but the agreement was amended in 1999 to compensate for the Times' move to morning publication.) The Times sought to end the JOA this year, citing three consecutive years of losses; Hearst, the owner of the P-I, filed suit to block the Times. Today a King County Superior Court judge sided with Hearst and its claim that the losses suffered by both papers in 2000 were an extraordinary event, brought on by a seven-week strike; the JOA makes specific allowance for such events.

Hearst insists that the P-I cannot go it alone; Times management claims Hearst is trying to bleed them dry and then buy them out. (A separate agreement between the papers gives Hearst first crack at buying the Times.)

JOAs generally are in decline; fewer than half of the agreements set up since the passage of the Newspaper Preservation Act in 1970 are still in force. The Tulsa World used to be in a JOA with the rival Tulsa Tribune, but the Trib closed in 1992. Daniel Gross, writing in Slate, says the concept has overstayed its welcome:

It's easy to get that toasty First Amendment feeling when reading the Newspaper Preservation Act. But that's not what JOAs are about. Instead, JOAs seem to function like another government obstacle to free enterprise: protective tariffs. Like protective tariffs, JOAs insulate politically connected and favored industries from the competition that would cause them to change business models or innovate, and permit them to collect diminishing profits while doing nothing to ensure long-term viability.

And if the P-I subsequently goes under, at least one blogger won't miss it. Says the Timekeeper:

The P-I's circulation is dwindling because they are simply not as good as their competition. They are reflexively liberal on almost every issue, which should go over well in a city such as Seattle, but they don't have the talent the Times can draw upon, and Hearst doesn't seem willing to make the investment in the paper that would be needed to keep it competitive. The idea of having two independent newspapers is a nice one, but if only one can survive, I'd prefer the Times over the P-I any day.

The Seattle JOA provides that should the P-I fold, Hearst can go on collecting 32 percent of the profits from the Times for the next 80 years. Maybe they can use some of that gelt to improve the product at the Chronicle. (Which Chronicle San Francisco's or Houston's doesn't matter at this point.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
Turn your head and coif

What's with all these bad hair days lately?

(Yeah, I know: I'm just jealous because they have hair, and it's probably not a whiter shade of pale either. And no, I will not speculate as to the condition of their legs, either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 PM)
26 September 2003
Return of the barter economy

It's inevitable; within two or three years, the majority of ATMs will be running Windows.

I wonder if Popeye's takes PayPal?

(Muchas gracias: Combustible Boy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:27 AM)
Taken for a ride

The Segway has now truly arrived as an American transportation device: it's being recalled. Apparently when it gives you the Low Battery warning, it's not kidding, and sudden changes in power demand after the warning can cause the machine to buck or stall, a situation which has reportedly caused three falls.

The solution, says Segway, is a free software upgrade. Maybe. You'll still never get me on one of those things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 PM)
The measure of a man

"Of course," she mused, "I can always take matters into my own hands."

(Via Cruel Site of the Day)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 PM)
1 October 2003
Not to mention the New Orleans Sinners

A federal judge has decided that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Washington Redskins disparage Native Americans, and therefore the trademark on their name remains valid, despite a move to revoke it.

I'm waiting for someone to file suit against the New York Giants, claiming that despite the name, they aren't in fact any taller than anyone else in the NFC East.

(Muchas gracias: Phillip Coons.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 PM)
4 October 2003
When mere magic fails

For a while, anyway, it's just going to be Siegfried and, while Roy remains on the critical list after one of their famed white tigers turned on him during a performance.

It's a reminder that no matter how many precautions are taken beforehand, the art of illusion is very nearly as dangerous as it looks, and we probably wouldn't pay any attention to it if it didn't look dangerous. (The same is true of auto racing, only more so.) Still, that's not any kind of argument for abandoning the spectacle; it's just the way it is, and Roy knows this as well as anyone. He'll be back soon enough.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
Build a better mousetrap

The world may not beat a pathway to your door, but you'll earn the gratitude of Dr. Weevil, and surely that's worth something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 PM)
7 October 2003
The empire strikes back

VeriSign has issued a flurry of defenses of its temporarily-sidelined SiteFinder service, criticized in some quarters as being inimical to the proper operation of the Net.

While part of VeriSign's argument is technical SiteFinder, they insist, has minimal impact on the rest of the Net at the heart of the matter is not bits, but bucks:

If operators and businesses are discouraged from exploring the bounds of the Internet, it will mean less research and development and less investment into the network infrastructure.

So saith VeriSign senior VP Mark McLaughlin. And he doesn't stop there, either:

ICANN caved under the pressure from some in the Internet community for whom this is a technology-religion issue about whether the Internet should be used for these purposes. For this vocal minority, resentment lingers at the very fact that the Internet is used for commercial purpose, which ignores the fact that it's a critical part of our economy.

Which leads to the obvious question: Who should be pulling the strings, the techies or the money men? VeriSign obviously has decided on their answer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
10 October 2003
Make that an extra-thick crust

From the Government Is Your Friend files, courtesy of South Africa's News24:

Before you order your next pizza, think twice. It's now illegal to have a pizza delivered in South Africa.

This is just one of the bizarre effects of the new Post Office Amendment Bill, which was presented to parliament by the communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri and passed on September 11.

It gives the post office and its subsidiaries Speed Services and XPS the sole right to transport parcels that weigh under 1kg and leaves no room for any other delivery services to apply for a license to do so.

Disturbing visual: US Postmaster General John E. Potter giving himself a mock dope-slap and saying, "Why the hell didn't we think of that?"

You will, John, you will.

(Inspired by Jerry Scharf)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 PM)
12 October 2003
Come to Busted Flush Estates

The most expensive ZIP code, says Forbes, is not Beverly Hills 90210 or New York 10021; it's Jupiter Island, Florida 33455, where the median house price last year was a staggering $5.6 million, more than twice as high as second-place Aspen, Colorado 81611.

If you read this chart and feel dejected, come to Oklahoma City, where living in our toniest ZIP 73116 will set you back a modest $295,416.

Disclosure: While I once had a 90254 mailing address, I did not actually live in Hermosa Beach ($580,000).


Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 AM)
13 October 2003
I'm too sexy for my desk

Desiree Goodwin is a research assistant in the Harvard University library system; she's been there nine years, and she's still a research assistant because, she says, she's black and she's beautiful.

Neither the EEOC nor the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has found sufficient reason to challenge Harvard with Goodwin's complaint, so she's filed suit against the university herself.

"White women wore sexy clothes, were outgoing, attractive and they were getting mentored and getting promoted, while I was being ignored and asked to work extra hours," Goodwin says. "I think it is racist because they feel threatened by the success of someone they don't feel is like them."

She approached her supervisor, and was allegedly told that "her skimpy clothing and zealous search for promotion" had made her a "joke among her...colleagues" and that she could easily get a job anywhere else.

I'm thinking there's something here we're not being told.

Meanwhile, I refuse to believe there has ever existed such a thing as an excessively-sexy librarian. And if you don't believe me, ask Professor Harold Hill (no relation).

(Via Fark)

(Update, 21 March 2005: More recent developments here.)

(Update, 4 April 2005: She's lost her case.)

(Update, 9 December 2005: This post says nothing new, but it has a picture; her LISNews.org interview is here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
Swinging down the lane

I've driven on Massachusetts rotaries and New Jersey jughandles, and when I have, I've wondered, "Criminy, could they possibly make things any worse?"

Somehow, I managed to miss the Michigan Left.

(Via Altered Perceptions)

(Update, 8:30 pm, 14 October: The Webmaster of michiganhighways.org is grateful for the extra traffic, but he wonders about the hostility level. [You may need a Yahoo! account to read this.])

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
14 October 2003
Up in them thar hills

Former Kentucky state senator John Doug Hays is under indictment for vote fraud; prosecutors wanted to try him in Frankfort, the state capital, rather than in Pikeville, near Hays' home, out of fear that they couldn't raise a proper (read "prone to convict") jury on the senator's home turf. A temporary compromise was reached, and the case was moved to London, Kentucky.

A defense motion to move the trial back to Pikeville was met with objections from the prosecution, citing worries about pre-trial publicity. And then US Attorney Kenneth R. Taylor unleashed this bombshell: after everyone with an opinion on the case had been disqualified, he said, "all that would remain to try the case would be illiterate cave dwellers."

Sheesh. It's National Brotherhood Week, fercryingoutloud.

(Suggested by Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:56 PM)
15 October 2003
Scheer on Rush

The often-bombastic Robert Scheer opens with "Free Rush Limbaugh!" and explains why:

Limbaugh's experience is the best argument against the demonization of all junkies this one throughout his addiction held a big job and presumably paid a lot in taxes. The considerable harm he inflicts daily on the larger society can hardly be blamed on his addiction. The drugs may have even tempered his verbal brutishness. In any case, there is no evidence that the drugs caused him to daily savage others he was equally offensive before and during his drug abuse. To put it another way, his drug use, if it has caused pain to others, is the least of his crimes.

But why be mean about it and wallow in the suffering of another?

Why, indeed?

At least Scheer isn't calling for Limbaugh's head on a pike, unlike some on the left.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
19 October 2003
The WMD who got away

It's Saddam himself, of course; no mere tank car full of chemicals or hut stuffed with warheads could have caused the horrendous damage that routinely accrued to Saddam's discredit.

Robert Prather has passed along an email from a Marine stationed in Baghdad who says that from what he's seen, Saddam made "Hitler look like a schoolboy." Is the continuing occupation worth the cost in American lives? Says this American on the scene:

Yes there has been over a 100 troops and about the same amount of civilians that have passed as well. I will say that if we need to send another 100,000 people here to get the 10% that is causing all the trouble I say we do it.

What you really want to read, though, is the story of his encounter with a young Iraqi woman whose entire family was destroyed by the Baath party because, as Christians, they might be expected to side with the US.

I should think that would be enough "mass destruction" to fit anyone's definition.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 PM)
21 October 2003
Thinking outside the box

The last box the one which will be lowered six feet into the earth amid whispers of "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" may no longer be adequate. As Americans bulk up, the standard 24-inch casket is becoming a tighter fit than a coach seat on a 737. Nor is cremation necessarily the answer: think "grease fire."

Goliath (!) Caskets of Lynn, Indiana manufactures a 52-inch casket, known informally (and perhaps inevitably) as the "B-52". It won't fit in a three-foot cemetery plot, to be sure, and instead of half a dozen pallbearers, you might need twelve or fifteen.

I'm starting to appreciate Lou Grant's comment: "When the time comes, just stand me outside in the trash can with my hat on."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 AM)
24 October 2003
Your source for evil

As Al Franken can tell you, Fox News can dish it out, but they sure can't take it.

On NPR's Fresh Air, Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, revealed that Fox News had threatened a lawsuit (against, presumably, Fox Television, which owns The Simpsons) over a brief parody of an FNC newscast.

Regular viewers, of course, will note that The Simpsons has always mocked all things Fox unmercifully, having even written Rupert Murdoch into a script or two, with no complaints from the front office. Murdoch, it appears, has thicker skin than Roger Ailes. (And your average condom, it appears, has thicker skin than Bill O'Reilly.)

Eventually, FNC backed down, though they warned that the fake news crawl might, um, "confuse the viewers." Yeah, right. Maybe when Sean Hannity is on.

(Via Hit & Run)

(Update, 31 October, 7 pm: Groening now admits that he was pulling our chains. As always, at the base of the most effective satire and given the way so many of us were sucked in, this has to be considered effective there's a core of solid truth: yes, Fox News is that thin-skinned. Ask Al Franken.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
29 October 2003
Suing for Columbine

I always figured someone would eventually sue Michael Moore over Bowling for Columbine, but I didn't figure it would be a relative of an Oklahoma City bombing conspirator.

James Nichols he's Terry Nichols' brother, living in Michigan says Moore interviewed him and deceived him about what he planned to do with the interview. He accuses Moore of libel, defamation of character, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. If you've seen the film, Nichols is the chap who tells Moore he's got a gun under his pillow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
2 November 2003
A nutty diversion

The esteemed Greg Hlatky describes a prosthesis for pets, and in so doing answers that age-old question: "What do you do with a dog with three balls?"

Silly me. I always thought that you walked him and pitched to the muskrat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
4 November 2003
Well, it had to be somewhere

According to Weird NJ, the central point of weirdness in Hudson County is, yes, Jersey City.

No comment so far from Susanna Cornett, who understandably is fleeing to Alabama.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:25 PM)
10 November 2003
Not just a guy on a horse

He was called Don Juan de Oñate, and he was the first of the conquistadors who decided to stay.

In 1993, sculptor John Houser was commissioned to create a statue of Don Juan, three stories tall, for the center of El Paso, Texas. "Without Oñate," says Mary Davis of the El Paso Mission Trail Association, "we would have no missions, no El Paso or Juárez, no beautiful Hispanic culture, no New Mexico."

Just the same, the El Paso City Council has decided that Oñate doesn't deserve a memorial after all; Houser's sculpture, when it's finished, will carry no references to Don Juan, and will be stuck out at the airport.

What happened? In 1599, at Acoma Pueblo near present-day Gallup, New Mexico, seventy Spaniards under Oñate, having picked up a story that the native Acoma planned to wipe out the Spanish colony, stormed the Acoma fortress. They were outnumbered roughly twenty to one, but Oñate's men prevailed, inflicting heavy casualties and, say some historians, visiting cruelty upon the survivors.

John Kessell, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, finds the controversy curious:

There are probably still Confederate sympathizers who would applaud if we renamed the tall man seated in the Lincoln Memorial simply 'The President'. And if we eliminated from the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol (in which each state is allowed two representatives) every one who had offended, killed or maimed someone else's ancestors, there would be hardly anyone left. New Mexico's recent choice, Popé, a Pueblo Indian responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Hispanic men, women and children, would surely have to go.

But "sensitivity" carried the day, and Don Juan de Oñate, now just "The Equestrian", will be exiled to some point out of sight and out of mind.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
13 November 2003
No water landings anticipated

United Air Lines, still slogging through financial turbulence, has christened its new low-fare subsidiary "Ted", which by some strange coincidence is the last half of "United".

This looks like a good excuse to bring back Braniff and chop off all but the first letters; depending on where you set the blade, you can target Metamucil-slurping oldsters or chase after Hooters Air customers.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
21 November 2003
You can't catch me

One of the Major Utilities around here found themselves with a service order and insufficient information to fill it, or so they thought, so they tried to call me on the old land line. I know this because their phone number turned up on Caller ID.

What's interesting here is that you can't call them back; you dial the number given, you get the standard tripartite tone and then the canned voice of the intercept operator telling you that this number has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Then, of course, the same number shows up the next day as having called again.

This sort of screwing around with the general public really ought to be barred or, alternatively, made available to the rest of us.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)

A number of property owners in Park County, Wyoming are asking that the county commissioners do something about the name of the road that runs past their land.

Park County has adopted an alphanumeric system for roads that previously bore no name, and the one that's causing all the stir is County Road 6FU. Residents are embarrassed; vandals steal the road signs as a matter of course.

The commissioners have asked for suggestions for a new name.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:10 AM)
22 November 2003
Bringing up the rear

The Oklahoma Observer ran this in the 25 November issue, credited to the ever-ubiquitous Anon.; I don't know where it originated, but a test Googling brought up two copies from different states. Make of it what you will.

Reacting to Federal Guidelines, the state of Oklahoma, which has been highlighted as a role model for student testing by the Bush Administration's Dept. of Education, has redesigned and just released a new comprehensive test to be given to ALL of our nation's students beginning in the spring of 2004. In response to President Bush's Federal No Child Left Behind Act, students will have to pass this new test in order to be promoted to the next grade level. In the hopes that it will be uniformly adopted by all the states, thus illuminating Oklahoma to a glorious front runner position in education, it will be called: the Federal Arithmetic and Reading Test (FART).

All students who cannot pass a FART in the second grade will be re-tested in grades 3-5 until such a time as they are capable of achieving a FART score of 80%. If a student does not successfully FART by grade 5, that student shall be placed in a separate English program, the Special Mastery Elective for Learning Language, SMELL.

If with this increased SMELL program the student cannot pass the required FART, he or she can graduate to middle school by taking a one-semester course in Comprehensive Reading and Arithmetic Preparation, CRAP.

If by age fourteen the student cannot FART, SMELL or CRAP, he will earn his promotion in an intensive one-week seminar. This is the Preparatory Reading for Unprepared Nationally Exempted Students, PRUNES.

It is the opinion of the Oklahoma Dept. of Public Instruction that an intensive week of PRUNES will enable any student to FART, SMELL or CRAP.

This revised provision of the student-testing component of House Bill 110 should help clear the air.

(May Kimberly Swygert forgive me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:38 PM)
24 November 2003
Bronfman II: The return of the player

Edgar Bronfman Jr., who once transformed Canada's Seagram beverage operation into an entertainment giant by buying MCA/Universal, subsequently selling out to the French conglomerate Vivendi, is back in the business again, outbidding Britain's EMI to acquire Time Warner's Warner Music Group, the fourth largest music company.

Bronfman's group of investors will pay approximately $2.6 billion (US) for the Warner Bros., Atlantic, Elektra, and associated labels, plus Warner's music-publishing operation.

The Big Five will shrink to Four next year, when Sony Music and Bertlesmann Music Group merge to form Sony BMG.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
Lactose implausible

"Two in the non-breast-feeding section, please."

Burger King says that, um, exposing one's whoppers is permissible.

Although you can't, I presume, use two hands to handle them.

(Muchas gracias: hln.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:01 AM)
Beware the truly righteous man

For he hath been dipping his wick in places he ought not.

(I never have had much faith in antiporn activists, personally.)

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:15 PM)
26 November 2003
You can't make me eat that

From the journal Eurotrash:

[T]here seems something puritanically joyless about only eating vegetables. I'm picturing people wearing smocks and maybe bonnets and lots of scourging and self-mutilation after orgasm.

We pause to imagine (if it's not too close to dinnertime) PETA boss Ingrid Newkirk in full tingle.

Now that you've, um, enjoyed that visual, try this Gedanken experiment: Should vegans swallow?

Why, no, I didn't get anything for my birthday. Why do you ask?

(And, while we're on the subject, is it kosher?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
4 December 2003
Now there's a surprise

MSN Search has me #5 for i am a schmuck.

Who knew?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 PM)
9 December 2003
The price of accommodation

Relapsed Catholic reports (8 December) on this most vivid example of the Law of Unintended Consequences in action:

The historic Uptown movie theatre here in Toronto is being torn down. Why? Well, because one guy in a wheelchair (my friend worked for him in the government) complained that it wasn't accessible. Anyone who's ever been inside the Uptown knows that's an understatement. The Uptown couldn't afford to accomodate Mr. Busybody, so they're tearing the building down. One of the last movie theatres on Yonge Street. Thanks for nothing.

But wait, there's more: just now a whole section of the under-demolition building collapsed. One report says four children are trapped in the rubble.

Of course, persons in wheelchairs are de facto saints, and their actions are not subject to criticism by those of us who can (more or less) walk. That said, I think it's a safe bet that Mr. Busybody is utterly indifferent to the plight of the victims of the collapse.

(Muchas gracias: Christopher Johnson.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 AM)
12 December 2003
Old MacDonald had a fram, EOIOE

I understand very little about TMJ dysfunction so far as I can figure, the temporomandibular joints are a bit more complicated than, say, the constant-velocity joints on my car, and I understand them hardly at all but I somehow doubt that treatments related to the TMJ will have any effect on dyslexia, despite this bald assertion:

Dyslexia is curable by a simple procedure that unlocks the cranial skull plates and allows the brain to rehydrate. A therapy which corrects the dehydrated brain is called Neuro Cranial Reconstruction. With this procedure, dyslexia can be [cured] in as little as one week to as long as six months.

Sounds like two parts chiropractic, one part P. T. Barnum to me.

(Muchas gracias: I Speak of Dreams.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
16 December 2003
Saddam shame

The Arab street is not happy these days, which doesn't necessarily explain why the Minneapolis Star Tribune felt compelled to put in an inquiry to Ahmed Samatar, dean of international studies at Macalester College. Dr. Samatar explained that many of the Muslims he knows were disgusted by the Department of Defense video of the captured Saddam Hussein, not so much because they sympathize with Saddam or excuse his behavior, but because, reported the Strib, "Islamic culture places great emphasis on respecting the dignity of all human beings, even a defeated enemy, perhaps especially a defeated enemy."

Were this true, I would have to wonder why it is that the keepers of the Islamic cultural flame haven't taken steps to expel, or at least chastise, the ostensible Palestinians, whose respect for dignity continues to be conspicuous by its absence.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:51 AM)
17 December 2003
It's the pits

Ottumwa, Iowa, a picturesque town on the Des Moines River, does not like pit bull terriers: they are classified as a "dangerous animal" and are banned within the city limits.

This is not, in itself, particularly unusual. What's weird here is that the city seems to be extending the very definition of the breed. The promotional material for the Southeastern Iowa Kennel Club's February shows, to be held in Ottumwa, reprints what is represented as the pertinent city ordinance [requires Adobe Acrobat Reader], and this is what Ottumwa apparently considers to be a "pit bull":

An American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed of dog; a mixed breed of dog which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier as to be identifiable as partially of the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier; or, a dog which has the appearance and characteristics of being an American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed or mixed breed of dog which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier.

As far as the American Kennel Club is concerned, these are three separate breeds of dog. (The AKC does not register American Pit Bull Terriers.) More to the point, "Heinz 57" mutts are banned if they have any ancestors among these breeds, whether or not any breed characteristics can be discerned in an individual dog. The dog shows in Ottumwa will not accept any entries for any of these breeds.

In late summer, a lawsuit was filed against the city challenging the ordinance.

Terriers, by nature, have a certain amount of attitude: they do tend to push their envelope just a bit. This is part of what makes them terriers, and indeed a meek dog is likely to be marked down by a terrier judge at a show. But attitude does not equal viciousness, and ordinances such as Ottumwa's, I think, ignore the fact that any animal can become vicious if it is ill-treated, and this is is the fault, not of the dog, but of the dog's owner. I've known too many sweet-tempered Rottweilers to believe anything else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
23 December 2003
On the waggin'

From the official breed standard for the Brittany, as published by the American Brittany Club:

Tail: Tailless to approximately four inches, natural or docked. The tail not to be so long as to affect the over-all balance of the dog. Set on high, actually an extension of the spine at about the same level. Any tail substantially more than four inches shall be severely penalized.

Jon Hammer, a New York City lawyer who wasn't getting any show points for his Brittany because her tail was ten inches long, sued the breed club and the American Kennel Club, arguing that docking the tail constituted a form of animal cruelty, barred under New York law.

This week, the state Court of Appeals, by a 6-0 vote, told him to get his tail out of the courtroom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
27 December 2003
An industry at steak

Maybe it's just me, but I tend to think that a lot of the whimpering about the discovery of one whole case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka "mad-cow disease") in the entire US comes from one panicked subset of the population: the people who think we shouldn't be eating anything more complicated than walnuts in the first place.

Meanwhile, here in the Land of the Thousand-Dollar Grill, while there's some reasonable amount of uncertainty at the production end of the business, actual sales are steady so far. I don't eat quite as much of the stuff as I used to in truth, I don't eat quite as much of anything as I used to but it's going to take a lot more than one case of BSE to get me to give up on it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 AM)
31 December 2003
Cringing in Connecticut

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) says he wouldn't go to Times Square tonight "for anything".

Says Shays, "I wouldn't go into places when you're packed and where if there was panic, a lot of injuries would take place."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pointing out that former POW Shoshana Johnson would be part of the New Year's celebration, suggested that Shays give her a call and "learn a little bit about courage."

As bombast and bluster goes, this is all very well and good, but what I want to know is this: does Shays smoke? If so, he's probably not going to want to go to New York under any circumstances.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 PM)
4 January 2004
And now, the news from Cockeysville

Sinclair Broadcast Group's News Central concept has been controversial from the beginning; in fact, last summer Sinclair's VP/General Counsel Barry Faber found himself defending the operation [requires Adobe Reader] before the presumably-skeptical Senate Commerce Committee.

Well, I'd like to think I'm at least as skeptical as a Senator, so I figured the least I could do was to check out a News Central broadcast, which I did last night at 9 pm on Sinclair's KOKH-TV, the Fox affiliate in Oklahoma City.

My most immediate reaction, actually, was marveling at the ingenuity of it all: the KOKH-TV news set is essentially identical to Sinclair's News Central set in Baltimore County, Maryland, and although you never see the local anchor and the News Central anchor sitting together trading quips given the amount of this that goes on at other local stations, I'm inclined to think this is an improvement it's never blatantly obvious that the newscast is pasted together from separate segments. (Take away 16 minutes from the hour for commercials, and the balance between national and local segments seems to be split about 3-2.)

I have some concerns, most about weather: for instance, is the guy from AccuWeather, which provides the lion's share of News Central weather reportage, going to know about sudden storms out here in Tornado Alley fast enough to issue the appropriate warnings? Then again, none of the three big radio groups in town have any weather facilities of their own they rely on the local TV stations to provide their forecasts and updates so I have to assume that News Central has given the matter some thought, and next time we have spectacularly crappy weather (right now, it's merely cold), I will check.

Then there's The Point, the commentary by Sinclair's VP/corporate relations Mark Hyman. Hyman leans decidedly right, which doesn't bother me; however, he has that patented Fox News snarkier-than-thou smirk, which does. (Note to television executives: If you're gonna rip off the Fox News Channel, rip off its most appealing feature: news babes in outfits that seem scantier than they really are.) I'm not sure how well this will play in markets less conservative than Oklahoma City, which is, well, almost all of them.

Local news, as the estimable Laurence Simon reminds us, is intended as a profit center; any public-service considerations are secondary. Obviously Sinclair hopes to make its local newscasts profitable, and this is the path they've chosen. People with impeccable journalistic credentials will look at it and recoil in horror: "They've taken away the local angle!" I'm not so sure. If the "local angle" demands that three minutes be spent on interviewing the neighbor of someone who was shot by the cops which happened last night on some other station I'm happy to see it taken away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:41 PM)
5 January 2004
An on-air boner

Somebody at the editing console at WFAA-TV in Dallas well, no, that's wrong, because apparently there wasn't anybody editing that day.

You'll need Windows Media Player to see the actual video clip.

(Via Cruel Site of the Day)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 AM)
7 January 2004
Coveting thy neighbor's stylebook

Last Minute Network Ltd, a British online travel vendor, managed to irritate some Web surfers with some pseudo-King James pitches; said surfers complained to the UK's Advertising Standards Association. A sample:

And on the sixth day Mary didst flee the office for a humbly priced trip to New York. And she shopp'd til she didst hobble in her kitten heels.

Not funny, especially, and, saith the ASA, not offensive, particularly. Which makes sense, I suppose: everyone talked like that in 1611.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:59 AM)
8 January 2004
Number, please

The Federal Communications Commission has called AT&T Wireless on the carpet for falling down on number portability; the Death Star, meanwhile, is telling customers that there may be as much as a five-day delay in moving numbers between cell carriers.

When it doesn't take six weeks, that is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:09 PM)
10 January 2004
The quiz you've all been waiting for

And this time, you get to see the, um, inner workings, because it doesn't do the math for you.


Which Democratic primary candidate are you in bed?

(Not suitable for all ages or workplaces; via Doc Searls.)

What's that? Oh, me? I'm an intriguing (or possibly nauseating) mix of Joe Lieberman and Carol Moseley-Braun.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 PM)
14 January 2004
It's in the paper, it must be true

A filler item in The Oklahoman read like this:

Area Social Security recipients are being advised to log on to the correct Internet site when seeking information about their Social Security benefits or Medicare services.

Larry Jones, public affairs specialist with Social Security in Oklahoma City, said residents may be misled by private firms that advertise on the Internet that they can provide replacement Social Security cards or other services for a fee.

There should be no charge for those services, Jones said. He advised residents to log on to the official site at www.socialsecurity.org for information and free services.

As noted by yours truly back in March 1998, www.socialsecurity.org is the Cato Institute's privatization page.

I would advise area Social Security recipients to log on to the correct Internet site when seeking information about their Social Security benefits or Medicare services.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:42 PM)
15 January 2004
It's just a little prick

A bill to legalize tattooing in South Carolina has passed the state Senate, and a longtime opponent in the House has apparently dropped his opposition, pending the adoption of his recommended amendment.

Should the Palmetto State make body art legal, it will be the 49th state to do so. I need hardly point out who's holding out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
Let the machine get it

What's the worst possible telephone number you can imagine?

If the first thing you come up with is 867-5309, you might want to check with these folks.

(Courtesy of my infamous old pal Dull N. Boring. No credit for knowing what the N is for.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:22 PM)
17 January 2004
PL8S that GR8

From Miscellaneous, Etc., a Friday Five item engages the Rage Reflex:

If I had vanity plates on my car, they would read, "SUCKBAD", because I hate vanity plates so much that I think I might piss myself right now.

It's not that I hate the people who have vanity plates, it's just that I don't understand what they're thinking when they get them. Either they're so compressed that they make highschool yearbook entries seem lucid by comparison, or else they're so self-aggrandizing that you wish you could just ram them right there on the road.

Yes, you people with "RICHGUY" or "HOTCHIK" or "KIKASS" on your sports cars or luxury vehicles, I'm talking to you. From the make and model of your car, I was already able to figure out that you had a lot of money and I didn't even have to put on my detective's eyes! Are you really so concerned that I might miss the fact that you're wealthy that you have to advertise it on your own license plate? Is it such an issue that you need to put it right out there in public? Are you so bereft of communication channels that this is all that's left to you?

Of course, here in Oklahoma, we're more interested in suing over license plates than in agonizing over them, but maybe it's because they cost so much here to begin with that we're disinclined to spend the extra $25 or so.

For the record, I briefly entertained the idea of a vanity plate "DCXXVI", if you're curious but decided I would likely get rear-ended by some fool on the Belle Isle Bridge trying to decipher the damned thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:58 PM)
19 January 2004
Can you get Febreze by the barrel?

It's called the Cabin Fever Cluster, and it's a four-day weekend of dog shows in Muncie, Indiana.

Except this year. The Horizon Convention Center decided that they couldn't risk hosting the shows because of their new carpeted floor, and the clubs involved weren't about to put down plastic sheeting and watch a thousand dogs slip and slide all over the place.

I wonder if Greg Hlatky was planning to bring any Borzoi to Muncie.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 PM)
22 January 2004
The scorch passes

It's a new year, and once again we have a new health-insurance carrier at 42nd and Treadmill; CFI Care (not its real initials) is out and the Mrs Grace L. Ferguson Preferred Provider Network and Storm Door Company (not its real name) is in.

A quick look at the copays: doctor's office visit, up $5; my usual generic drugs, up $4; my usual name-brand drugs, down $2. The details, of course, determine the location of the devil. But I'm pretty sure FergNet won't have a coverage manual where the addendum pages nearly outnumber the original pages.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:21 PM)
23 January 2004
Your wise men don't know how it feels

Former Jethro Tull keyboard player David Palmer would like to inform you that following successful sexual-reassignment surgery, she wishes to be known as Dee.

This presumably kills any chance of a Songs from the Wood reunion tour.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 PM)
24 January 2004
Light, meet bushel

The vision of the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is "to become the top-performing school district in the nation."

Posting the honor roll apparently conflicts with this vision, or at least with the vision of the district's lawyers: Tennessee's privacy laws, they say, forbid releasing any academic information unless prior permission is given for each item disclosed.

At least one Nashville principal seems happy with the restriction: Dr Steven Baum of Julia Green Elementary School, "a school for Thought and Thoughtfulness" which serves comparatively upscale students, says that "if there are some children that always make it and others that always don't make it, there is a very subtle message that was sent."

(Via Joanne Jacobs, who suggests that the motivation is the fear of lawsuits by the parents of mediocre students.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 PM)
26 January 2004
Now this

Catherine Bosley, the Ohio newsanchor who took off her clothes [link highly unsafe for work] during her Key West vacation and gave up her job after the photos were circulated on the Net, is defended by Mike Pechar:

Although high profile media people customarily have morals clauses in their contracts, her behavior in Key West was not necessarily immoral. She took her clothes off at a regularly planned event in a location where the behavior is considered acceptable.

A pornographic film actress just recently was on the ballot for the governorship of California and the morality of her behavior didn't disqualify her. By comparison, Catherine Bosley's behavior seems tame.

I'd agree with Mike that her behavior wasn't immoral there are times when it's darn hard to keep clothes on me [visual not safe for anyone] but I can see how the station management might have panicked: anything that might cost a tenth of a ratings point is to be avoided no matter what.

I had originally written something here about how difficult it might be to take Bosley seriously as a newscaster if all the guys are imagining what she looks like in her birthday suit, but it occurred to me about mid-sentence that guys probably do this routinely anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
Torked off

There's a tendency to expect our heroes to have feet of clay we are a cynical species at times, which I believe to be a survival mechanism but seldom do we envision that said clay might go past the ankles, past the belt-line, all the way to the scalp.

Which may or may not have something to do with how Donna finds her fondness for the Monkees more shaken than stirred.

(Addendum, 2:15 pm: Speaking of Donna, she's pulled her picture off her front page; if you're going through withdrawal symptoms as a result, you might take a peek at the logo at Wonkette.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:06 PM)
29 January 2004
Out of area

This is what shows up on Caller ID when somebody is trying to sell you something.

Or anyway, what used to show up; the new Federal rules governing telemarketing require, as of today, that an actual phone number be sent, and, if their telephone-service provider is so equipped, the name of the firm calling in.

Three calls today to my landline, as follows:

11:59 am: No name given, but an 800 number. (I was subsequently able to identify the number as coming from Fleet's credit-card operation.)

1:20 pm: Local number, identified as The Oklahoma Publishing Company, presumably selling subscriptions to The Oklahoman. (Calls from OPUBCO have been consistently identified as such since I got this number in early December.)

5:23 pm: Listed as "Anonymous Call", presumably using a block.

About once a week, I get a call from a "local" number with a 555 prefix. (Yes, I know, but that's what it says.) I once tried calling it back, and was told by the intercept operator that the call could not be completed. I will shed no tears if this practice has been outlawed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 PM)
30 January 2004
Measured response

If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Jodie Allen of US News and World Report, part of the panel this morning on The Diane Rehm Show, said that the WMD intelligence obtained by the US before the invasion of Iraq was "overexaggerated."

And if I'd been paying closer attention to the show, I might have fired off an email asking how much exaggeration was considered appropriate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
6 February 2004
Gimme that old-time precision

As a person who owns a brace of Betamaxes, I appreciated this DragonAttack dialogue greatly:

Second Shift Jerk: Is that an MP3 player?
DA: No. It's a cassette player. I reject technology.
2SJ: You have technology on you right now.
DA: I reject selective technology. I don't have an MP3 player. Or a CD player.
2SJ: So, do you have an 8-track player?
DA: I have two.

Exeunt omnes.

I suppose I should go look for an 8-track player, just to fill the void well, a void in my life. And yes, this explains much about why I passed up version 5.2 of some horrible godawful spawn-of-Satan piece of "financial" software today in favor of my existing installation of the merely-sucky version 2.24: if you can't prove to me it's actually better, I don't want it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:50 AM)
10 February 2004
So much at steak

Poor old Dr Atkins. Poor old fat, dead Dr Atkins.

This is the crux of the high-carb biscuit:

Dr Atkins weighed more than 18st when he died after a fall on an icy footpath in New York last April.

The post-mortem report was revealed in the Wall Street Journal, which received it from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which opposes the Atkins Diet.

Eighteen stone equals 252 pounds.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, apparently, is a front group for PETA, which certainly explains why they'd oppose the Atkins Diet.

Remind me to grill a rib-eye this evening.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:22 PM)
11 February 2004
Memo to an unnamed official

Had it been so damned important, do you really think they'd have put you in charge of it?

Just asking.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
15 February 2004
Inflated claims

It's not just spammers who pass on those weird tales of herbal concoctions that are alleged to increase one's wangage; the questionable products are also occasionally advertised in national magazines. I found one such in the classifieds in Car and Driver, tucked in among sellers of, um, spare and replacement parts.

The stuff in question costs $60 for a month's supply quantity discounts are available and in answer to the reasonable question "What the hell is this?" the following is stated:

[name of product withheld] is a powerful natural penis enlargement formula that increases penis size, stronger erections and maintains your sexual virility. We also included some of the same type of herbs found in Polynesia where the men of the Mangaian tribe have sex on the average of 3 times a night, every night. While this is not what you may wish, it is nice to know your sexual performance can improve substantially.

"This is not what you may wish"?

I assure you, the decision is not entirely mine.

And about those Mangaians: I was unable to document that sexual-frequency claim and, truth be told, if I were similarly busy I wouldn't have time to fill out the damn questionnaire but I did find this reference:

The Mangaian people...believe that if you don't have sex at least 3 times a day you will go insane.

With that kind of pressure, they're probably enjoying themselves every bit as little as the desperate clod who spends sixty bucks to address the wrong inadequacy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:34 PM)
16 February 2004
The face of The Man

Getting across the Potomac isn't the easiest thing in the world; I've only done it once, and I'm not exactly champing at the bit to do it again.

So I probably won't see the outcome of this little dust-up, which involves the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The Wilson is currently being redesigned, and a Maryland official has decided that, hey, you know, as President, Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist and well, we don't want a bust of him staring at us over here in Prince George's County, which is about 60 percent black.

Admittedly, Wilson's stance on segregation was not what anyone would call enlightened. But the Maryland official isn't objecting to Wilson's name being on the bridge; she objects to having his image displayed. In her estimation, he "deserves less attention." Note that she didn't say he deserves no attention.

There are times I wish I could split hairs with this degree of precision.

(Via Ravenwood's Universe)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
17 February 2004
It's the same size hat, though

Alisha Virginia Oulette has been fighting fires in Danvers, Massachusetts for six and a half years.

When she signed up with the department, she was Albert James Oulette; in compliance with the Benjamin Standards of Care for M2F transsexuals, she has begun to live openly as a female. Surgery is still a year or so away.

Danvers has never had a female firefighter before; city officials don't expect any problems.

(Via California Yankee, who, unlike me, was restrained enough to avoid making any sliding-down-the-pole references.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
19 February 2004
Arse over teakettle

Apparently the British are as obsessed with home-improvement television shows as we are, and thousands of Brits, motivated by the tube, have ripped out their carpeting to reveal the wooden floors beneath. (My daughter, when she bought her house, did exactly the same thing; it's unclear how far the family tree extends into England.)

Unfortunately, just because you can walk on carpeting doesn't mean you can walk the same way on wood, especially highly polished wood: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is reporting that injuries due to falls on indoor floors have quadrupled in the last five years.

Two words: "area rugs."

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
23 February 2004

The myrmidons of The Washington Times are quick to point out that while the paper was indeed founded by members of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, Moon himself does not exert editorial control. And this would seem to be at least partly true: for instance, the Times endorsed the war in Iraq, which Moon has opposed.

Still, I wonder sometimes how closely Moon watches what's going on. Today I pulled up this Mark Steyn piece from the Times' Web site, and the page load halted partway through. A popup box then appeared to advise me that Korean-language support (!) was going to be loaded. I've never seen that before at the Times.

(If you want to read the Steyn article, which nicely skewers John Kerry, I suggest you use this link instead.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
S-Bob be chillin

American Greetings, perhaps in a hurry to get the shipment to Wal-Mart before the Sons of Sam pitched a fit, accidentally misprinted a batch of SpongeBob SquarePants Valentine cards, rendering the young aquatic fellow, not in his usual diaper-interior yellow, but in the deepest ebony.

Or perhaps not. Printing for these is outsourced to China, and presumably they wouldn't know SpongeBob from dim sum.

(Snarfed from Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:50 PM)
24 February 2004
It's a zoning issue

John Leo sneers at it:

Kansas City is establishing a "compassion zone" for homeless people just outside the downtown freeway loop. This is an upbeat way of announcing that the downtown area and most of the rest of the city are now compassion-free zones from which vagrants and homeless people will be expelled.

Well, it's not quite that simple:

There is advantage to the homeless in having them spend their days nearer the emergency shelters where many of them spend their nights. Better than wandering the streets of downtown all day.

And that's the aim here, building a daytime drop-in homeless shelter within easy walking distance of the City Union Mission and reStart Inc. Hence the compassion zone.

Still, whatever the motivations, the result is pretty much what Leo describes. Having spent a brief period many years ago without a roof over my head, I rather think I'd be incensed at being effectively walled off from part of the city. On the other hand, I don't think Kansas City aspires to be the next San Francisco, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
26 February 2004
Birthday suits, sort of

When last we left former news anchor Catherine Bosley, she had resigned her position at an Ohio television station.

Now Mike Pechar reports that Bosley is suing a number of Web sites that have been carrying the photos of her taken at that infamous Key West party, hoping to stop distribution. Says Pechar, it's probably too little, too late; is there anyone who hasn't seen them?

The general thinking around here is mostly "How do we get Amy McRee to take her clothes off?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 PM)
3 March 2004
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
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)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
5 March 2004
Sick transit

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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 PM)
8 March 2004
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
9 March 2004
Can you break a million?

Well, no, I can't.

And I don't recommend trying the Wal-Mart in Covington, Georgia either.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
10 March 2004
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
12 March 2004
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
14 March 2004
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:02 AM)
18 March 2004
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 PM)
19 March 2004
Zero appeal

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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:36 PM)
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
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."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:20 PM)
22 March 2004
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."

Say what?

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".)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 PM)
25 March 2004
Debit, schmebit

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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
26 March 2004
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
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.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
3 April 2004
Gone in 60 minutes

I didn't have to go to work today, which means that I missed out on one last opportunity to do the 11-mile trek from Surlywood to 42nd and Treadmill in actual daylight; of course, that Spring Forward nonsense kicks in tonight and shoves the clock further out of sync with reality, to the benefit of whom, exactly?

Well, for one brief, shining moment, Erica:

Since we Spring Forward tonight, I only have to work 11 hours, but I still get paid for 12.

Okay. That's a tangible gain. Anyone else?

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:53 AM)
6 April 2004
It's an honor just to be nauseated

To anyone who was pleased that the Los Angeles Times picked up five Pulitzer Prizes, the second-largest single haul in the award's history I think we can safely say that the cheering section won't include Xrlq or Patterico I remind you:

You can't spell "Pulitzer" without "putz."

Oh, yes, The Oklahoman got one once. In 1939. For editorial cartoons (by the late Charles G. Werner). Don't hold your breath waiting for the second.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:58 PM)
9 April 2004
Wrong again

As an occasionally-practicing guy, I do have a stash of Hugh Hefner's legendary publication about twenty years' worth in the next room, and once a year, by tradition, I review the young ladies who used to have staples in their midsections (Playboy switched to another binding method in the middle 80s), and select one of the twelve for Playmate of the Year.

And then inevitably I watch in bemusement as the magazine selects someone else. It is always thus; last year I noted that I had been wrong twenty times in a row.

I am not even slightly surprised to announce that for "twenty", you should now read "twenty-one"; my source deep within the Mansion even asked for my World Series picks, with the stated intention of betting on anyone I didn't select. (Red Sox over the Cubs in six, in case you want to do likewise.)

Of course, I know far more about baseball than I know about women, but you could replace "baseball" with just about anything from aardvarks to zymurgy and the statement would be no less accurate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 PM)
12 April 2004
Gathered from coincidence?

Dylan doing spots for Victoria's Secret? It was so foretold nearly four decades ago, by Zimmerman himself. Paul Bryant reports to the Spectropop list:

In a December 1965 Dylan press conference, Allen Ginsburg (from the audience) sneaks in one question with a cheesy grin on his face (it's on the video): "If you were going to sell out to a commercial concern, what would it be?" Dylan retorts straightaway and straight-faced, "Ladies' garments." Ginsburg alone cracks up as the assembled journalists just sit there.

But he was so much older then; he's younger than that now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:42 PM)
13 April 2004
Around the mental block

The other day (well, Sunday, actually) I expressed the opinion that an unnamed Oklahoma City neighborhood was capital-S Scary. Over in San Francisco, Bill Quick lives in a neighborhood that some people regard that way, but he's not the least bit fearful:

My neighborhood is about sixty percent black, twenty percent Hispanic, ten percent Asian, and ten white. Some of the worst, most dangerous public housing projects are within five or six blocks of my house. But my neighbors are good people. We are like most other neighbors. We wave at each other, stop and chat, exchange tips on how to encourage the grass on our tiny lawns, bitch about the condo association, worry about our spouses and our kids and our car payments, gripe about the politicians, and in general are indistinguishable from any other group of suburban town-house owning, mortgage carrying, weed-whacker-wielding, backyard-barbecuing denizens you could find anywhere in the U.S.

The "bad part of town," for us, at least, is "over the top of the hill." We don't go there, not if we can help it, none of us black or white, yellow or brown. It's dangerous up there. That's the land of welfare, subsidized housing, entitlement, ghettoization and drug wars and gangs and murder at the drop of a hat. Yet even there, the hard core of the hard core those who do the actual slanging and banging number less than a hundred. The rest are hangers-on and wannabes, but they aren't killers. Not yet. And everybody else pays the price for the reluctance of the government for racist reasons or whatever to pull those hundred off the street, lock them up, and throw away the key.

But we who live here the home-owning, tax-paying citizens who "play by the rules" don't really feel terrorized. We don't live in fear, the way those poor (in so many ways) people do who live at ground zero, in the war zone. But we don't have to. Our soil is not the malign dirt of the welfare state in which so much evil grows so easily. No, that place is over the hill, over that way. Not where I and my neighbors live.

Methinks I doth protest too much, or at the very least too early.

The neighborhood I lived in before the acquisition of Surlywood seemed to be following the same path that leads "over the top of the hill," likely for the very same reasons. Certainly we had no shortage of subsidized tenants, and the crime rate spoke for itself. But I don't have any figures for, um, Scarytown, so it's possible I might be unreasonably maligning the area.

Still, when I mentioned it to some coworkers, most of them visibly shuddered.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
17 April 2004
Here comes another one

I don't get as many Free AOL! discs as I used to, which I attribute to having moved and therefore having left some mailing lists behind. This is clearly not an option open to most people, but I have tended to shrug off the invasion: how hard is it to toss the offending wheel of polycarbonate into the circular file?

Enter, stage left, Lori Hancock, a member of the California Assembly (of course), a Democrat (natch) from Berkeley (where else?), who has introduced a bill to require that discs from AOL and its rivals include self-addressed, stamped envelopes to return the unused discs to the sender or, alternatively, to a recycling facility.

AOL, desperate for subscribers, will undoubtedly be appalled at this measure; California, perhaps anxious to preserve landfill space, might actually approve it in the name of holy environmentalism. I'm inclined to support the bill, if only because it would annoy AOL; there is poetic justice in the idea that the carpet-bombing marketroids from AOL might be sentenced to 1000 free hours of community service. And really, there's no middle ground here, unless you want to use the discs for skeet.

Oh, Kimberly Anne, where are you when we need you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
Helpful tips

Donna may seem apolitical, but she has a cause:

The cause I would take as my platform if I was suddenly crowned Miss America or somehow found myself First Lady is ending the systematic genital mutilation of newborn males. If I ever marry and multiply, there is no way on this green earth I will let any doctor touch my son's Zauberstücke.

Given her level of determination, we can probably say goodbye to fast-talking, slow-walking, good-looking Mohel Sam.

Then again:

Of course, I have no interest in having sons, I would much prefer daughters. Hopefully, in 30 years when I am ready for children, it will be possible to choose their sex.

In thirty years, it might even be possible to reassign their sex on the fly, so to speak.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 PM)
22 April 2004
Bosley of the month (again)

I figured I could go a whole month without any Catherine Bosley references, but inasmuch as 136 people showed up here in the last hour Googling the poor woman, the least I can do is fan the flames, right?

So: The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals last month lifted an injunction against distribution of the infamous Bosley footage; this week, a Web site which had licensed the video from the person who shot it won permission from the Court to exhibit it.

And it's not even the 26th yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
23 April 2004
Grist for the data mill

For the past ten years or so, I have dutifully filled out the Consumer Reports annual survey and voted in their board election. This year I did the survey online, and it went fairly quickly, though one thing puzzles me: desktop computers are considered separately, while notebook computers are listed under "Electronics."

I'm sure my particular survey was fairly boring: I had a reasonable array of products, none of which have ever required extraordinary service. (Except for the car, which gets a reasonable facsimile of the periodic maintenance recommended by the manufacturer, they haven't required any service at all.)

And in the board election, all else being equal, I vote against anyone I've ever heard of, on the basis that if the individual managed to get into the news, it was likely for something I would be inclined to oppose.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:06 PM)
25 April 2004
Not nobody, not nohow

An undergraduate tour guide at Dartmouth was overheard telling a crowd of prospective students and their parental units that one thing the school didn't have was graduate students.

The guide was apparently off message, as they say these days, since in fact, Dartmouth readily admits to having graduate students.

(Via a Dartmouth graduate student)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
26 April 2004
Left on green

Aaron at Free Will notes that for some reason, our industrial-strength environmentalists tend to live in the city:

Why is that? Nobody, in fact, wants to preserve nature more than rural conservatives: We fish, hunt, camp, and hike, and we want our children to be able to do the same. We are, however, reasonable about it, while urban liberals seem hell-bent on controlling something they know nothing about.

For an answer to "Why is that?" he points to this Michael Crichton speech:

[T]he romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.

The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking. Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does. It's all talk and as the years go on, and the world population grows increasingly urban, it's uninformed talk. Farmers know what they're talking about. City people don't. It's all fantasy.

It's one big Yellowstone out there, they think. God forbid they should ever actually see how the rest of the world lives.

(Courtesy of Spoons)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
Headline of the year

Okay, the calendar still says April, but it's gonna be hard to top this one.

A clerk in the Brooklyn Family Court claims he suffered herniated discs in his back after a courthouse toilet shattered under him.

The New York Post reports: Hurt in Line of Doody.

No, there's no chance the person who wrote that headline will be canned.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
27 April 2004
Our single-payer future

Health-insurance operations, I am convinced, rely on the unwillingness of most of their customers to read the thousands of words that constitute the average group policy.

Unfortunately, I read the damned things, and today someone is going to have to come up with an acceptable explanation for refusing to cover to any extent a standard name-brand drug that is listed on the copy of the formulary that was provided, a drug prescribed according to their rules and requested through a participating pharmacy as defined in said rules.

In a more rational world, I'd pay the entire tab for the drug and confine my insurance claims to seeking partial reimbursement for really expensive treatments which, of course, would cut my insurance premiums substantially. But this is the world we have, and this is the policy I have, and if they're not going to honor its provisions, they're damned well going to explain why.

Oh, no, don't worry, we're not about to enact Hillary® brand Hyperexpensive National Health Care. At least, not yet. But it's difficult for me to support the private sector when the private sector is busy looking for ways to stick it to me.

(Update, 1:30 pm: After spending entirely too much time with an annoying automated voice-responder system I have no objections to disembodied voices per se, and actually came this close to developing an insane crush on one many years ago, but "Margaret," as she was identified, seems to be one part Stepford, two parts Windows, and I kept hoping for a BSoD I got to the heart of the matter, which is this: before they can fill this prescription which, incidentally, is a condition either not specified in the contract or mentioned at a point far removed from any conceivable context they wish to speak to the prescribing physician, presumably so they can talk him into a cheaper drug. After six years with the doctor in question, I think it's a safe bet he'll tell them to jump a stump and fill as prescribed, you farging busybodies.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
No anchovies? You've got the wrong man

If you were the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator and you wanted to catch someone who'd skipped out on court costs, where would you look?

ACS, a Dallas-based company hired by OSCA to find the state's scofflaws, has one unexpected and perhaps unexpectedly effective source: the pizza place. "When you call to order a pizza," says OSCA's David Coplen, "you usually give them your correct name, your correct address and your correct phone number."

Neither ACS nor OSCA will say exactly which pizza joints are willing to sell this information to them, though Domino's says it doesn't traffic in customer identities.

The question, of course, is whether people will start giving out bogus names when they order, thinking Papa John or someone will fink on them and how many people named Dick Hertz are there in this town, anyway?

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:54 PM)
30 April 2004
No symmetry here, folks

Renee at Ailanthus finds this just ever-so-slightly inconsistent:

When I sign for a loan the bank hands me 3,000 pages of fine print covering everything they can do to me, with me and regarding me should I fail to fulfill my end of the deal. Meanwhile, they look at me cross-eyed if I ask them to sign 1 piece of paper guaranteeing I will be able to speak to a live human when I call and that they won't sell my loan to another company that I know nothing about.

It's a bank, fercryingoutloud. The chances that there are live humans on the premises at all are something less than fifty-fifty.

(I asked Soothing Mortgage Company about that last bit. They said that no, there weren't any ironclad guarantees, but they'd never actually sold any such loans, and offered to produce evidence some sort of Fannie Mae report, I assume to this effect.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
In the matter of Abu Ghraib

Finally, something both left and right can agree on: this is truly horrendous.

This comment by S. W. Anderson, posted to John Cole's blog, seems to say it all:

The people who did this ceased being U.S. soldiers when they did it. They're punks and sociopaths who somehow managed to get into the military.

Try 'em, fair and square, and then send them up the river for 20 years. The damage they've done is incalculable, especially to the valor and sacrifice of those who've gone by the rules, fought and even died, honorably.

Please, apply no political angle to this never mind about Rather, Bush, Kerry or whoever. This is a matter of right and wrong, and anyone with two functioning brain cells and an ounce of decency will get it right.

So mote it be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 PM)
4 May 2004
Feel the Bern

The national anthem of Switzerland, Alberik Zwyssig's 1841 "Swiss Psalm," text by Leonhard Widmer, is overtly religious, sexist, and generally outdated. Even the Swiss Federal Council says so. But they're not going to change it.

When the Psalm was officially proclaimed to be the national anthem in 1981, after many years of unofficial use and twenty years as the "provisional" anthem, the Council declared that the Psalm was "a purely Swiss song, dignified and ceremonial, the kind of national anthem that the majority of our citizens would like to have." And the Swiss do not undertake change lightly.

There are four verses to the Psalm, though usually only three are translated into English.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
7 May 2004
We apologize for the previous apology

This apology appeared on Outside the Beltway and will not be repeated.

[Cue the Trondheim Hammer Dance]

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:09 AM)
15 May 2004
We can't get no satisfaction

Are we living in the age of Cotton Mather? Some people, reports Andrea Harris, seem to think so:

It is the twisted reasoning of some people that persons such as Lynndie England are "forced" to become skanky sluts because of our sexual repression.

"Twisted" doesn't even begin to approach the sheer anfractuosity of the matter: the assumptions which must be made to characterize our society as sexually repressed require not only the suspension of disbelief but the denial of the obvious and the redefining of the terms. It's perfectly obvious to anyone who's paying attention that people are doing whatever, and screwing whomever, they choose; there is no Department of Copulation Control knock, knock, knocking at your front door demanding that you disengage immediately or face the wrath of John Ashcroft.

The very existence of John Ashcroft, however, enrages these people. Their demand for complete freedom includes a demand for complete freedom from criticism, especially criticism from persons in power: the moment someone says anything that can be construed as unfavorable, why, it's the stomp of a million jackboots in stern synchronization. And it's got to be at least a million, because there's a conspiracy out there to repress us all.

I can't tell you what truly motivated Lynndie England. Maybe it will come out in a court-martial. But I'm not buying the notion that she's simply responding to the pressures of society, or that it's an inevitable consequence of war, especially a war of which the Libertine Elite does not approve.

(Disclosure: Written while unclad.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
17 May 2004
Gonzo with the wind

You've undoubtedly already read this from Lileks, but I simply must mention it here, partly because Lileks is always quotable, but mostly because the gentleman in question was a topic of discussion this weekend while my brother and I were deconstructing some of the mental edifices we had built over our formative years.

The gentleman in question is Dr Hunter S. Thompson, and, says Lileks, his influence remains considerable:

He's the guy who made nihilism hip. He's the guy who taught a generation that the only thing you should believe is this: don't trust anyone who believes anything. He's the patron saint of journalism, whether journalists know it or not.

The generation that followed, of course, will go "Who?" and will eventually get around to rebuilding what the Boomers tore down for the sake of cool.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
Nature abhorred it, too

"I'd like to return this, please."

"Certainly. We'll be happy to refund your money. What was wrong with it?"

"It didn't suck enough."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:48 PM)
18 May 2004
Take this job and picket

Contracts between SBC and the Communications Workers of America run three years, and the last four contracts were reached with relatively little grumbling and/or sabre-rattling.

Not this year. The contract expired six weeks ago, and while negotiations have continued on and off, CWA has now announced a 24-hour strike notice. A strike isn't exactly inevitable at this point, but neither side, I think, really wants to avoid it: the union would like to appear just as hard-nosed and militant as possible, and the company would save a few bucks on payroll while the picket lines are up.

One sticky point was health care for pensioners. (Disclosure: I worked for the company long enough to qualify for the minimum retirement benefit.) Around Christmas, SBC sent a letter to retirees informing them that they would have to start paying the premiums for their health insurance. Benefits for retired employees, though, are not a mandatory bargaining issue, and under labor law not sufficient justification for a strike. Much of the negotiation since the April expiration of the contract has been devoted to getting this issue off the table; eventually, SBC agreed to delay the implementation of their plan for at least five years.

But with the pensioners now presumably taken care of, there are still thorny issues to be dealt with. One of these, unsurprisingly, is job security. SBC is moving into other areas wireless, DSL, satellite and CWA wants a piece of that action.

I'm guessing, at this point, that there will be a strike of about three weeks, about as long as it lasted in 1983. (Been there, carried that sign.) This enables the union to appear strong and forthright, and saves the company a few bucks before it caves in.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
My trash ain't nothin' but

A wastebasket in my office is in serious disrepair, and presumably at some point it will be replaced with a new one.

And then we'll wonder: "What do we do with the old one?"

But not for long.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:37 PM)
19 May 2004
It's here, it's short, get used to it

Communications Workers of America will walk off the job at SBC Friday just after midnight, but the union said its members will return Tuesday morning.

As strikes go, this is both fairly short SBC was struck for three weeks in 1983 and decidedly unusual: how often does a union tell you exactly how long they'll be on strike? A good-faith gesture, perhaps, but in my opinion a fairly strange one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 PM)
20 May 2004
Think reruns

Sony, which already owns two movie studios Columbia and Tri-Star is going for the trifecta. The Japanese electronics giant has revealed that it is negotiating to buy MGM, controlling interest in which is held by investor Kirk Kerkorian through his Tracinda Corporation.

This strikes me as more of the "synergy" delusion that nearly killed the corporation formerly known as AOL Time Warner. Sony obviously wants to sell gear to deliver its branded content, but by and large, consumers don't give a flying fish about branded content: they want content and they don't care who owns it.

Interestingly, most earlier MGM films are owned by Time Warner; Ted Turner bought MGM in 1986, kept the film library, and sold off the studio. The highlight of the current MGM library is the United Artists series, which includes the Pink Panther movies and James Bond. (MGM and UA wound up together because Kerkorian had acquired UA in 1981.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
22 May 2004
Photogenetic engineering

Labrador Retrievers come in three flavors: black, chocolate and yellow. Labs tend toward a gruff sort of handsomeness, and they are the single most popular breed right now, as measured by American Kennel Club registration data, so there are going to be a lot of people taking pictures of Labs.

There is a downside to this, though, and Fred First has been there:

What's a photographer to do? After being the owner-companion and image-maker for two black labrador retrievers, I was well aware of the photographic impossibilities of getting a proper exposure in a scene containing green leaves, blue sky, gray-brown tree trunks AND a pitch-black dog. Most of my pictures of Zachary, our first black buddy, or Buster our pal who died not quite a year ago show a dense blue-black dog-shadow devoid of details or color, save the brown eyes, white teeth and pink tongue. I reached the conclusion that it just was not possible to get an acceptable photograph of our dogs except perhaps on very overcast days when the exposure latitude between the darkest object (always the dog) and brightest object were somewhat less severe.

When Buster died, we couldn't bear another black lab. There were too many memories, we'd call the new one either Zach or Buster, no matter what we named him. So we decided on a "yellow" lab which truly is a misnomer. Tsuga is somewhat tawny, barley-colored in tail and feet, but for the most part, he is a white dog. And here we go again. How does the photographer avoid producing a dog-shaped white blob with features only, perhaps, in the darker aspects of the face and paws?

But Fred doesn't whine about problems; he scratches around for solutions. And sure enough, he has one:

This challenge, then, lies before our clever canine breeders: The quest, of course, is to find a new coat-color gene and breed it into the race. The final product: Joining the ranks of the yellow, the chocolate and the black: The Neutral-Gray Lab! At 18% reflectivity, the dog could be both a gauge of mid-range reflectance and an ideal subject for pet photography. Future generations of image-making dog-owners will create a demand for this new breed, and labradors around the world will finally have their kind look good in pictures.

This seems to be encroaching on Weimaraner territory, but I like the idea. The national breed club for the Lab, however, probably won't; they consider any departure from the canonical colors to be a disqualification, as does the AKC in competitive events. Still, normal people, as a rule, don't schlep their dogs to the show circuit, so I suspect that should there be a demand for neutral-colored Labs, eventually there will be a supply.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
24 May 2004
What if all the public schools were good?

An interesting Gedanken experiment, using the magic wand of Matthew Yglesias:

Wave [the wand], and underperforming rural and inner-city schools magically produce outcomes every bit as good as those produced by the best suburban districts. Does everyone win? No. Here's what happens. Poor families, obviously, benefit. And affluent urban property-owners, the kind of people who, like my parents, raised a family in the city because they could afford to send their kids to good private schools, make out like bandits. If you think real estate is expensive in New York (or Washington, DC) now, just see what would happen when young professional couples face reduced financial pressure to move out to the 'burbs when they want to have kids. Conversely, however, suburban property owners are screwed, since a significant proportion of their home equity is tied up in the proposition that owning property in District X entitles your children to a superior education.

Certainly this would be interesting to test in Oklahoma City, where two-thirds of the city area is actually located in suburban school districts, the result of greatly expanded city limits overwhelming the same old school-district lines from the Pleistocene era. You can be sure that a real-estate agent here will ascertain within the first fifteen seconds whether you have school-age kids, and if you do, you will be directed to Edmond (north) or Putnam City (west) or Moore (south) or Mid-Del (east) unless you absolutely insist on something in the central city. (I am a couple of blocks from a school in the Oklahoma City district; I have no idea of its reputation.)

Brock Sides, quoting The Commercial Appeal, reports an example in Memphis:

It's that mystique that ratchets up home prices in the neighborhoods around White Station High, and causes homes to sell 10 days faster than most Zip Codes in the metro Memphis area. Prudential Realtor Laura Zarecor sold her clients' home at 4792 Cole in two weeks. One open house is all it took.

Of course, my house sold in four days with no open house, but I was looking for something other than a school with a superlative rep.

Meanwhile, should my brother move, they won't bother showing him anything over here; he's living in the Putnam City district now, and he'd prefer to stay there so long until the Resident Kid graduates. This is, I rather think, the majority viewpoint in such areas.

Right now, though, I'm not persuaded that in an area like Quail Creek, through which a school-district line runs Edmond to the north, Oklahoma City to the south there's that great a difference between the halves of the subdivision on otherwise-similar houses.

And acting in one's own self-interest, says Yglesias, has a back-door effect of sorts:

I rather doubt that anyone is consciously motivated to keep bad schools bad simply because doing so is in their economic self-interest. Nevertheless, people certainly are aware that property values and relative school quality are related. And self-interest has a way of creeping into people's behavior, consciously or otherwise.

This seems true enough, though there are a lot of factors contributing to property values, of which perceived school quality is only one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 AM)
Hysterical interest

I live in what the city calls an Urban Conservation District, which means more or less that they'd like for this neck of the woods to continue to look as much as possible as it did when it was carved out of a farm in the late 1940s. To support this notion, there are some restrictions on building and on rebuilding. I knew this when I bought the place, so it's not like I'm hostile to the concept of preservation.

Still, sometimes it's possible to overdo it. The National Trust's new list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places includes the entire state of Vermont, for one reason alone: Wal-Mart is putting seven superstores in Deanland.

Trust president Richard Moe explains:

If they are built as proposed, these seven huge new stores will change the character of their communities and the state of Vermont. We're not saying that communities shouldn't allow big-box stores but if they choose to do so, they should be aware of the consequences, including the possible impact on jobs, traffic, the environment and locally-owned businesses. New stores should complement existing businesses, not devour them but there are communities all over America whose downtowns have been devastated by the arrival of big-box retailers. Vermonters shouldn't let that happen in their state.

Which begs the question: If an operation like Oklahoma City-based Six Flags were going to put seven theme parks in Vermont, which likely would play hell with traffic and the environment, would the National Trust be similarly up in arms? I rather doubt it. Wal-Mart, to preservationists, is the Great Satan, its machinations motivated by pure evil, its stores a repository of all that is banal and consumption-oriented.

Vermont was the last state to get a Wal-Mart store the first one opened in 1995 in Bennington and the existing stores were subject to the provisions of the state's Act 250, which is intended to guard against the very situations the Trust decries. If the proposals for the new stores fail to meet the Act's ten criteria [link requires Adobe Reader], Vermont can forbid construction. In the past, Vermont has had no trouble enforcing Act 250; if all seven of the new Wal-Mart stores are built, it should be safe to assume that the company has met the requirements of the state's Environmental Board.

Target apparently has no stores in Vermont. I wonder if they would get the same response from the National Trust if they'd planned seven Super Targets for the state.

(Suggested by a Fark item)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:05 PM)
27 May 2004
What not to wear

The story so far:

Daughter asks for bondage pants.

Dad says no.

Obvious question: "What kind of world is this when 15-year-old girls are talking about bondage?"

Less-obvious question: "Bondage requires pants?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
28 May 2004
We own you

"University of Georgia" is a trademark owned by well, it's not the University of Georgia, who forgot, or something, to renew the trademark when it expired in 1997.

Which probably wouldn't be that big a deal, except that the University of Georgia Foundation, which has now registered the trademark, was about to be cut loose by Georgia's Board of Regents and reduced to unofficial status; it's entirely possible that the University and the Foundation could wind up in court over this bit of branding.

In terms of theoretical potential mischief, this surpasses the previous record: the reliably left-wing Harper's Magazine licenses the name "Harper's" from HarperCollins, a publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, a group associated with the right wing. There has never been any indication that HarperCollins might pull the magazine's license, or that of Harper's Bazaar, owned by the largely-leftish Hearst group, but today the unexpected is commonplace.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:20 PM)
1 June 2004
Presumably less than Hung

The WB's Superstar USA, says Donna, is "immensely evil":

Those poor deluded people! I am unsure if they are in on the joke or they were deprived of oxygen in their mother's womb. It was wrong to sit and laugh at these quite possibly simple-minded singers but I found that I couldn't take my eyes off the tube! It held me in an evil grip! Thankfully I do not have a tv that gets reception in my house so I will not be tempted to watch this horrible show again. Of course, I may just find myself at my parent's house for the finale, but that would be purely coincidence.

Inasmuch as I've never been impressed by anyone I've seen on American Idol, not even William Hung, I rather doubt I'll be paying much attention to this batch of sub-karaoke warblers, and I thank Donna for doing the dirty work for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
7 June 2004
As the fish drown

AmeriDebt, a credit-counseling operation which ran massive advertising campaigns before running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The firm, which stopped acquiring new customers last fall, is continuing to serve its existing customer base; at least five states have filed suit against them, charging that AmeriDebt misrepresented its services.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
17 June 2004
But now I'm found

American Equine Nutrients is located just off I-35, about a mile from Remington Park. Their product line, perhaps unfortunately in this Internet age, bears the brand name 404.

Despite this, be assured that their Web site is up and reachable.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
26 June 2004
Evil running-dog capitalists

Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your royalties on Communist Party USA merchandise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
27 June 2004
The tiniest of slips

One Myron Tereshchuk (could there possibly be two Myron Tereshchuks?) has entered a guilty plea to a charge of attempted extortion. He had run a service which produces extracts of patent and trademark registrations for the legal profession; the service ran afoul of the Feds for some reason or another, and Tereshchuk decided that it was the fault of MicroPatent LLC, a competitor of his.

Using other people's unsecured wireless networks, Tereshchuk broke into MicroPatent's network and sent threats to its management, culminating with a demand for $17 million in exchange for not broadcasting MicroPatent's proprietary information all over the Internet. And it might have worked, had not the demand ended with the following instruction:

[M]ake the check payable to Myron Tereshchuk.

The FBI, which had suspected the guy earlier, paid a visit to his house and found evidence nearly as incriminating, plus raw materials for grenades and ricin. Boom lowered, perp arrested.

Sentencing is scheduled for late October.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
29 June 2004
At least marginally buzzworthy

Courtesy of Robb Hibbard, a list of things wasps don't like:

  • hedge clippers

  • guys who wear shoes without socks

  • guys who utter expletives at their hedge clippers while performing yard work

  • guys whose canon of expletives contains insect-specific entries

  • guys who scream the insect-specific entries from their respective canons of expletives while running very, very fast

I think I can qualify on at least some of these.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:12 PM)
30 June 2004
And where's the National Lager Association?

Last year, Missouri enacted a number of booze-related laws, and one of them kicks in tomorrow: keg registration.

Retailers will now have to tag each keg containing four gallons of more and keep a record of the purchaser, including name, address, and date of birth, for a minimum of 90 days. (Ripping off the tag means you lose your deposit.)

This is nothing particularly new in the Show-Me state: the city of Springfield has had a similar provision for three years. I doubt seriously, though, that anyone can show that it's had any measurable effect on underage drinking, the ostensible purpose of the law. David Overfelt of the Missouri Retailers Association sees it the same way: he considers it "a feel-good thing for the anti-alcohol groups."

Meanwhile, a couple of states away in Colorado, Republican Senate candidate Peter Coors continues to argue that 21 is unworkable as a minimum drinking age in the first place, a notion which, when floated, immediately brought out the big guns of the Nanny State.

My own policy on drink is similar to that of Mark Twain: when others are drinking I like to help, otherwise I remain dry. And I continue to believe, as I did when I was eighteen and hoisting a few, that any age limit set by the government is arbitrary by definition.

(Muchas gracias: Brock Sides.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 AM)
1 July 2004
They've given you a number

The anonymous Swiss bank account is a thing of the past.

Beginning today, a new law intended to combat money-laundering will require that anyone opening an account in a Swiss bank will have to provide proof of identity. Some accounts may still be officially identified by numbers, but the bank will be required to obtain the name of the accountholder.

The next step? Perhaps gasp! tax withholding on foreign-owned accounts? What would Harry Lime say?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 AM)
2 July 2004
Cherished bomb

Every year around mid-June, they start to appear: sometimes nothing more fancier than your average roadside fruit stand, sometimes giant box stores. And they're always just outside the city limits.

Fireworks are illegal in Oklahoma City and some of the suburbs; I've seen people buy bottle rockets and such at a stand in Crutcho, an unincorporated area, only to be promptly busted by the cops the moment they crossed into Midwest City territory.

Some whole states, like Massachusetts, also ban fireworks, which generally means a quick trip up to New Hampshire. The National Fire Protection Association, as it has every year for the last few decades, is calling for a nationwide ban.

I often wonder what would happen if the sparkler, the least-impressive item in the Fourth of July arsenal, hadn't been invented until just this year. The minions of the Nanny State would go ballistic: "Are you out of your tiny little minds? You're going to set these on fire and then hand them to children? How cruel and heartless you must be." P. J. O'Rourke, now that I think about it, once said something similar about motorcycles, which are Generally Regarded As Scary among product-safety obsessives.

Personally, I'm inclined to throw my lot in with the Darwinists on this one: if you're stupid, you deserve the second-degree burns you're going to get. And make damn sure you don't point that stuff at my roof, wouldja please?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
21 July 2004
Hot air

Is your electric utility a "public nuisance"?

If you live in California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont or Wisconsin, your state's Attorney General evidently thinks so; those states and the City of New York have joined together to file a public-nuisance lawsuit against five major power companies, demanding that they cut carbon-dioxide emissions in the interest of curbing global warming.

The utilities AEP, Southern Company, Xcel, Cinergy, and the Federally-operated TVA are said in the suit to produce about ten percent of the nation's CO2 output.

According to the suit, those emissions can be reduced by increasing efficiency at coal-burning plants, switching from coal to cleaner-burning fuels, investing in energy conservation and using clean energy sources such as wind and solar power. Some of this is even true, though the "cleaner-burning fuels" business is a canard. How much carbon dioxide is produced from a fuel is solely a function of how much carbon it contains in the first place; anything else along for the ride has no effect on CO2.

If the suit should fail, the next step is obvious. Humans exhale carbon dioxide with every single breath, yet have no emission controls whatsoever. So far.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
23 July 2004
Taste considerations

I have no problem, generally, with treating children to a demystification of the more bizarre trappings of adulthood.

I don't think, though, that the process should involve putting them in the kids' mouths, fercryingoutloud.

(Via Michelle Malkin)

(Update, 2:50 pm: Kimberly Swygert asks, "Someone remind me again why it's the schools that refuse to teach sex-ed, or who teach abstinence, who are supposedly the biggest threat to teenagers today?")

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
28 July 2004
Shaddup ya face

From The Braden Files, the USMC version of psychotherapy:

The Marine view of life, which if widely applied, would eradicate American politics in about three seconds, was simple: Solve your problems, live with them, or have the grace to shut up about them. Can you imagine what this would do to the talk-show racket? Fat housewife to Oprah: "My...I just can't...being so...heavy hurts my self-esteem." Oprah: "So stop sniveling and eat less. Next." The Corps believed in personal responsibility. If your life had turned into a landfill, it might be somebody else's fault. Maybe existence had dropped the green weenie on your plate. It happens. But the odds were that you had contributed to your own problems. Anyway, everybody gets a raw deal sometime. Life isn't a honeymoon in the Catskills. Deal with it. I remember a coffee mug in an armored company's day room: "To err is human, to forgive, divine. Neither of which is Marine Corps policy." There's something to be said for it.

Um, cancel my honeymoon in the Catskills.

As the phrase goes, you should Read The Whole Thing.

(Muchas gracias: Hatcher of Hatcher's Hack, who left this as a comment at cut on the bias.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
29 July 2004
Nuts to you

There's something misleading about this photo, and I think it's the fact that the items in question are, um, packaged singly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
A view from the blimp hangar

Chris Rywalt has seen too many scalpels wielded, or something:

The next person on the dissecting table [of Discovery Health's Extreme Fix] was a woman who had sustained a back injury. Her surgery and recovery left her unable to move for months, during which time she gained some weight. After being able to move again, she became depressed, and continued to gain weight. Soon, she had doubled her mass. She started out as a bikini contest winner and blimped up to 250 pounds.

At this point, she said on the show, she became embarrassed to leave the house. She was so mortified by how fat she was, she wanted to die. She simply couldn't live her life any more in such a condition.

I find this somewhat insulting. I am writing this as a six-foot-tall male weighing 314 pounds. I have never been embarrassed to leave the house. Many times I don't want to go out because I can't stand all the fit, air-headed bleach blondes who can't figure out how to work stop lights, stop signs, ATMs, cash registers, walk/don't walk signs, sidewalks, credit cards, automatic doors, shopping carts, and other accouterments of modern life. But simply being fat has never kept me in the house. Is this woman really that pea-brained?

Why, yes. Let's go on.

Speaking as a six-foot male weighing a tad more than 314 pounds at the moment my driver's license says 295, but that's another issue I'd just like to say that I go out of the house rather a lot. Sometimes I don't come back for a couple of weeks.

However, I must insist that I don't have any antipathy toward blondes, bleached or otherwise, conforming to the stereotype or otherwise; airheads can be of any hue, and there's more than sufficient supply to insure great variety thereof.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
3 August 2004
It was right here a minute ago

Ms. Christine has found out, mercifully not the hard way, that if you lose your ticket on Southwest Airlines, you have to buy a new one, and wonders why:

When you reserve your ticket, you give them your name, address, more than likely a credit card or bank card number, they put this into a thingy called a "computer", for security reasons they run various background checks and also store this information in the computer. Right along-side your flight info. It's all there. All the time. When you show up at the airport to check in, whether an e-ticket or regular check-in, they print off your ticket, check your ID, and off you go. I'm assuming, unless their programmers are complete morons, that the information isn't purged when your ticket is printed.

Of course, it may be the case, not that the programmers are total morons, but that they're working to the specifications demanded by total morons. This is a situation that exists far beyond the airline industry.

I want to know why they can't print another ticket if you lose your ticket, or get all the way to the airport and realize that you left it at home, or in the rental car, or whatever.

Why not tack on a $20 fee to re-print the ticket and call it, officially, the "idiot charge"?

Call it a Federally-mandated surcharge under Section ID-10T, and stamp the replacement ticket accordingly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
5 August 2004
Hit me with your best series of shots

On 31 July, a Barbados sheep was euthanized at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near Glen Rose, Texas; it had tested positive for rabies.

Which means that the children who visited Fossil Rim's petting zoo during late July were exposed to the disease. Sheep don't bite very often, but licking the face or an open wound is quite enough to pass on the infection.

The Children's Animal Center at Fossil Rim will be closed for 90 days; you can read the official announcement here [requires Adobe Reader].

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 PM)
10 August 2004
Crushing dissent fashionably

Steve Skubinna poses a question to Andrea Harris, and offers some answers:

What kind of footwear do you use when crushing dissent? Hobnailed jackboots are generally de rigueur for us fascists, but they're so clumsy, as well as noisy. When you did the Goth thing I suppose you wore Doc Martens and they'd crush dissent damn well. A pair of Nancy Sinatra boots made for walkin' would be the obvious choice. Too obvious.

My favorite boots are a pair of Cabela's ultralight kangaroo hiking boots. Best pair I ever had, no break in period, light and flexible. One drawback is they are so light you can't count on their inertia in crushing, you need lots of leg action. I am a swimmer, so no problems there, but it does take it out of you, using the kangaroo boots. After I crush the dissent I like to spray Roundup on the remains just to prevent it sprouting again.

Maybe you ought to consider a pair of those Rosa Krebs stiletto shoes Lotte Lenya used in From Russia With Love? Of course, that's not so much a crushing action as a stabbing one. "Stabbing dissent" doesn't have the same ominous ring, but it would make an excellent name for a rock band.

Being something of a traditionalist, I think there's still a place for the jackboot; tried and true, it still packs a wallop, delivering a full measure of imagery with each and every step. Besides, if the future is indeed, as Orwell says, "a boot stomping on a face forever," you can bet it's not an Ugg boot.

That said, should Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham prefer to crush dissent in strappy sandals, I'm probably the last person in the world to object.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
What's brown and sounds like a bell?

Apparently five American girls, according to the Social Security Administration.

Name by name, but not by nature, one hopes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:14 PM)
16 August 2004
Where the rubber meets the road

Hanah Metchis at Reason discloses that while India gets lots of condoms from the First World, what with AIDS and humongous population growth and all, not all of them are being used in accordance with the label instructions:

Of the 891 million condoms meant to be handed out free, a considerable proportion were acquired by road-building contractors who mixed them with concrete and tar and used the mixture to construct roads, rendering road surfaces smooth and resistant to cracks.

It would never work in Oklahoma; we're used to our roads being ribbed for extra, um, whatever.

(Title swiped from Shannon Love)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:24 PM)
17 August 2004
Take a bite out of crime

A bald declaration by the Los Angeles Times:

A report has found that 83% of suspects bitten by sheriff's dogs in Los Angeles County were minorities, and recommended that Sheriff Lee Baca's crime-fighting strategies be "rigorously rethought."

Of course, since minorities are now the majority in Los Angeles County, it might be reasonable to ask if 83 percent of suspects, bitten or unbitten, are minorities. Not that the Times would ever ask such a thing.

Patterico has even more questions, none of which seem to concern the Times.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
18 August 2004
Inspection under way at Krusty Burger

The logo of the Department of Health of the District of Columbia somehow fails to inspire confidence.

(Via Hit & Run)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:49 AM)
21 August 2004
Where the heck are my drugs?

The envelope said:

Here's $20 to try a pharmacy that's not closing... not changing names... not changing management.

Walgreens, never noted (in this market, anyway) for its reticence, sent me this in the mail with one of those conditional-purpose checks for $20, presuming that it could lure me away from The Drug Chain Formerly Known As Eckerd's, whose stores here will presumably be changing to CVS.

This is very much in keeping with Walgreens' "In your face, Eckerd" marketing plans: it seems that every new Walgreens store in this area is located as close as possible to an Eckerd's. In my neighborhood, you can find Walgreens at 5120 North May; Eckerd is at 4805. Near where I used to live, Eckerd has a store at SE 15th and Air Depot; Walgreens bought a dormant branch-bank location across the street and built a new store.

What's really neat about this sort-of-check, though, is that it doesn't apply to prescription co-pays; you have to fill a prescription and then buy $20 worth of nonprescription stuff to get the credit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:47 AM)
22 August 2004
Endorsed by the Silly Party

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to ban the use of Silly String in the Hollywood district on Halloween, citing environmental and security considerations.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the 4th District, including part of Hollywood, says if the stuff makes it through the sewers at all, it can harm marine life, and what's more, it can endanger mounted police on patrol.

And I rather think that if people are disgorging more than a quarter-mile of the string at a time, it's going to make a hell of a mess.

Still: Silly String? All these years, and suddenly now it's a threat? I have to wonder how an anti-Silly String measure would have fared in pre-Bloomberg New York City.

(Update: In comments, Vickie points out a precedent.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
23 August 2004
Surly is as surly does

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports that if you're in a negative mood, you're a more reliable eyewitness than another observer who might be bright and chirpy. Professor Joseph Forgas of the University of New South Wales says:

Our recollection of past events [is] more likely to be contaminated by irrelevant information when we are in a positive mood. A positive mood is likely to trigger less careful thinking strategies.

A further experiment suggests that people in a bad mood demonstrate more effective critical thinking and communication skills. Again, Professor Forgas:

This supports the idea that mood states are evolutionary signals about how to deal with threatening situations. That is, a negative mood state triggers more systematic, more attentive, more vigilant information processing.

By contrast, good moods signal a benign, non-threatening environment where we don't need to be so vigilant.

Remind me to post a copy of this report at work.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
24 August 2004
This took some Deep Thought

How does one afford the incredible price of dinner at Milliways?

All you have to do is deposit one penny in a savings account in your own era, and when you arrive at the End of Time the operation of compound interest means that the fabulous cost of your meal has been paid for.

This, many claim, is not merely impossible but clearly insane, which is why the advertising executives of the star system of Bastablon came up with this slogan: ''If you've done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe?''

While I have no reason to doubt the existence of the star system of Bastablon, I suspect its advertising executives are purely fictional unlike this.

(Via some Vogon at Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:56 PM)
27 August 2004
Think ethnic

Dawn Eden muses about being on the receiving end of a stereotype:

[They] don't mean to offend when they bring up my heritage. They mean it as a compliment in that "Negroes have rhythm" sort of way. But it is, to say the least, an uncomfortable feeling.

For once, I am grateful for the weird tangles in my family tree, whose roots extend to Mexico, Syria and Lebanon, and the British Isles, with stops God knows where in between.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
30 August 2004
Don't shade your eyes - plagiarize

Reprinting the following paragraph from a term paper written by C.D. Harris in 1995, qualifies, I believe, as "fair use" under US copyright law:

As a young girl, she is essentially trapped in Gateshead. This sprawling house is almost her whole world. Her life as a child is sharply delineated by the walls of the house. She is not made to feel wanted within them and continues throughout the novel to associate Gateshead with the emotional trauma of growing up under its "hostile roof with a desperate and embittered heart."

On the other hand, though I am not a lawyer don't even play one on TV I'm pretty sure this doesn't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
1 September 2004
A page right out of history

The First National Bank of Bedrock?

Well, why not? There is a town called Bedrock, near the western edge of Colorado, and it's not necessarily harder to run Web-based financial services there than it would be in Denver or Salt Lake City.

But the Feds determined that it was a fake, and shut it down; a spokesman for the Comptroller of the Currency speculates that the "bank" site was used to collect personal information from modern Stone Age families potential customers.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 AM)
3 September 2004
A matter of four blocks

I figure something like this might be awaiting me a few years down the road:

Former President Bill Clinton, apparently suffering a heart attack Friday, was rushed to a New York hospital for emergency quadruple bypass heart surgery.

The 58-year-old Clinton complained of chest pains Friday morning and decided to go to the hospital, the New York Times reported. Clinton will undergo heart bypass surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.

No, no jokes. Not this time.

(Via Baldilocks, also resisting the effort to crack wise.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:56 PM)
4 September 2004
The creature from Uranus

Let's see if I have this right:

Some straight couples use anal sex as a way to preserve the woman's virginity.

God forbid her cherry should be popped, but you can fool around with the chocolate all you want.

Who came up with this preposterous confection? Planned Parenthood's Teenwire, of course. And as always, when Teenwire spouts nonsense (or worse), Dawn Eden reports.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
Size matters

A question from J Bowen of No Watermelons Allowed:

Large men wear larger sized clothes than smaller men. Are you with me so far?

Large men on average are taller than smaller men. Was that controversial?

Then why on earth are the large sizes always at the bottom of the stack, with the runt sizes on top? Isn't that exactly bass-ackwards?

Well, yeah, if you're designing for convenience. On the other hand, if you'd like the stack to have some sort of stability, you put the heavier items (larger sizes contain more material and therefore weigh more) toward the bottom.

Okay, it's a minor thing we're not talking differences of forty to fifty percent here but gravity doesn't cut any slack.

Alternative explanation: Smaller chaps are pickier and will go through more items before buying, leaving their discards on the top; larger fellows are just happy to see something their size.

Whatever the reason, it's no less true of specialty shops that cater specifically to Big Guys, either; 1X is seemingly always higher in the stack than 4X.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:40 PM)
7 September 2004
And in other free-market news

Bookseller Edward Hyde suspects Regnery is playing games with a top-selling title:

Regnery is intentionally withholding the books and started the rumor about bookstores "suppressing" it in order to force stores to carry more copies of a wider selection of Conservative books in the future, just so we don't have to listen to the wackadoos.

Most of my day today was spent cleaning up customer orders. Regnery says they have 550,000 copies in print; either that's still not enough, or they're lying. We order 500 copies, they send us 30 and cancel the rest; we order the remaining 470 from the first order, they send us 6 and cancel the rest. We don't get enough in to cover all of the copies customers have reserved; we have never been able to stock any on the shelves.

"In print," I suspect, is a term which has different meanings to different people. To you or me or Mr Hyde, it means that there are that many copies of the book out there somewhere. Not having had a book published, I have to wonder if maybe the publisher considers "in print" to include any press runs actually ordered, whether they're complete or not. (I'd appreciate any information on this from anyone who knows.)

Meanwhile, the immediate result, at least for Hyde, is frustration:

I'm almost hoping Bush wins, so no one will care about the Swift Boat Vets any longer and the damned book becomes a $5.98 remainder by Christmas.

Migod, he is serious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 PM)
13 September 2004
It's a living

Though probably not the easiest to explain to your friends.

Which reminds me: Are the events of this past week paying me back for this?

(Via Erica, who traces this, um, meme back to here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
14 September 2004
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Paul at Wizbang describes what happens if Ivan comes ashore at the worst possible place:

The tidal surge will top the levees and the bowl will fill from river to lake. The studies say that if we took a direct hit from a category 4 or 5 storm, a city of one million people could be under as much as 30 feet of water. According to the experts there could be over 50,000 dead. What's more, since we would have to pump the water out the bowl, they say the city could be underwater for as long as 10 months.

I'm hundreds of miles away and I'm coming down with the chills.


Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
15 September 2004
What we can learn from hurricanes

Via email from a friend on the Redneck Riviera, way too close to Ivan to suit either of us:

  1. An oak tree on the ground looks four times bigger than it did standing up.

  2. Even after all these years it is still nice to spend time with Col. Mustard in the ballroom with the lead pipe.

  3. When house hunting look for closets with lots of leg room.

  4. Water from the shower is much colder than water from the kitchen sink and tastes just as bad.

  5. AA, C and D are the only alphabet we need.

  6. The four-way stop is still an ingenious reflection of civility.

  7. Radio can be the best way to watch television.

  8. Chainsaw-wielding men are nothing to be afraid of.

  9. SUVs are the best makeshift tents on the market.

  10. You can use your washing machine as a cooler.

  11. It's your God-given right to sit on your back porch and eat Chinese takeout by candlelight in your underwear.

  12. We shouldn't complain about "useless" tools in the garage we actually DO need a generator.

  13. You can't spell "priceless" without I-C-E.

  14. Downed power lines make excellent security systems.

  15. Lakes can generate waves.

  16. Gasoline is a value at any price.

  17. Cell phones: Breaking up isn't hard to do.

  18. The life blood of any disaster recovery is COFFEE.

  19. The need for your dog to go out and take care of business is directly proportional to the severity of the storm.

  20. Candlelight is better than Botox it takes years off your appearance.

  21. Air conditioning: BEST. INVENTION. EVER.

  22. Water is a comfort food. But 3-day-old Cheetos are too.

  23. Shadow animals on the wall still fun.

  24. No matter how hard the wind blows, roadside campaign signs will survive.

  25. You should never admit to having power at your house in the presence of coworkers or neighbors who do not.

  26. There's a plus to having NOTHING in the refrigerator.

  27. Getting through the day should be an Olympic event.

  28. The movie theater can be a most pleasant place, even if the feature is Alien vs Predator.

  29. Somebody's got it worse.

  30. Somebody's got it better. Obviously, they're getting preferential treatment.

Thanks, Deb, and you too, Squiddy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:52 PM)
Sealed with a kissoff

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted 3-2 to abandon the county's 47-year-old seal in an effort to avoid a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The revised seal will drop the image of the Hollywood Bowl with the cross over it, remove the oil derricks, and replace the goddess Pomona with a Native American woman carrying a bowl of acorns.

If this isn't silly enough for you, LAist has a recommendation for a new design.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:25 PM)
17 September 2004
We're not as think as you drunk we are

Men's Health magazine, tossing together a salad of disparate data bits, has come up with a list of the Least Sloshed Cities in the US, and at the top are Montgomery, Alabama; Yonkers, New York; and Hialeah, Florida. (I assume this data got mined before Florida became the hurricane capital of the solar system.) All these towns scored A-plus on a combination of DWI arrest rates, alcohol-related traffic deaths, and mortality rates for various ethanol-related liver diseases.

Scoring an F were New Orleans, Spokane, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Anchorage, El Paso, and worst of all, Denver. (Must be those Rocky Mountain Blogger Bashes.) Here in the Okay City, we're tied (with Seattle) for 82nd out of 101, with a solid D.

I think this calls for a drink.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:37 AM)
18 September 2004
Don't get sick in the Great White North

Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, a group which might be characterized by Big Media as a "conservative think tank" if it's just a "think tank" with no qualifier, they mean it leans left has written a book called Miracle Cure: How to Solve America's Health-Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn't the Answer. Some of what she's found out:

In theory, Canadians enjoy an almost ideal system the government pays for all necessary health care, which is delivered by private practice physicians and independent hospitals. The day-to-day reality is starkly different. When Canadians need care, they face a series of waits: one for access to a primary care doctor, another for access to scarce diagnostic equipment, and another for the necessary procedure.

Between 1993 and 2003, the median waiting time from referral by a general practitioner to treatment increased by 90 percent, from 9.3 weeks to 17.7 weeks, according to an annual survey of physicians by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute. For cancer patients, the waiting time for medical oncology more than doubled from 2.5 weeks to 6.1 weeks, and the waiting time for radiation oncology increased from 5.3 weeks to 8.1 weeks.

For comparison, I offer the time-frames from my recent illness, which I consider to have begun on the 4th of September, that being the day I decided to seek medical assistance rather than ride it out. The 4th, I note, is a Saturday.

  • Waiting time to see primary physician: 58 minutes

  • Time between referral to specialist and actually being seen by specialist: 18 hours, 45 minutes

  • Time between being seen by specialist and actual surgery: 25 hours, 30 minutes

  • Out-of-pocket expenditure: To be determined, estimated $420

I can see why Canadians might want to spend a few loonies south of the border.

(Via Eternity Road)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
20 September 2004
The name isn't real, either

Former stripper Jessica Conrad has written a book called Dance Naked: A Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Hottie (New York: Harmony Books, 2004). Conrad believes that one way to improve your love life assuming you're a woman whose love life needs improving is to follow some of the tips used by, yes, professional strippers. I'm not part of Conrad's target audience, and I surely have no inner hottie to unleash, but I did read the book, and being the analytical type, I found some interesting, or at least marginally bloggable, data.

For example, the top twenty-five stripper names, in alphabetical order:

  1. Alexis
  2. Amber
  3. Ashley
  4. Bailey
  5. Brittany/Britney
  6. Chantal
  7. Christi
  8. Cindy
  9. Dylan
  10. Heather
  11. Jaime
  12. Jasmine
  13. Jennifer/Jenny
  14. Jessica
  15. Jordan
  16. Kate/Katie
  17. Madison
  18. Melissa
  19. Michelle
  20. Ryan
  21. Sienna/Sierra
  22. Taylor
  23. Tiffany
  24. Tyler
  25. Xena

Each of these has a general connotation: Cindy is "superfriendly but young," while Heather is "the ultimate popular-girl name." Conrad herself opted not to use her name Jessica "Jennifer's friend who also wants to be friends with Heather but isn't" and after some flirtation with "Melody" and "Petra," she became "Kayla." Interestingly, some of these names apparently have waiting lists: presumably a strip club (a place I have never actually been) doesn't want duplicates.

"Xena," by the way, is "funny and strong." Of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:58 AM)
22 September 2004
Your basic dissembling colostomy bag

With the increasing number (and size) of service fees levied by seemingly everyone these days, most of your How To Manage Your Feeble Finances articles suggest the same thing: "Try to talk your way out of them."

And every week, a couple of dozen characters call up 42nd and Treadmill to try exactly that. I think one or two have succeeded this year. One who did not is the guy who defaulted on a $135 payment last week and was assessed $30 by our Department of Meanies, and who argued to our customer-service person today that we ought to let him off the hook because he's "unemployed."

But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, for the following reasons:

  1. A supervisory type on the premises actually knows the sleazeball in question, and he's not unemployed at all;
  2. When we opened the last batch of stuff for today, he had another order in, this time for over $200.

From this day foward, the individual in question will be viewed with the same skepticism as a CBS photocopy, and for much the same reason.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
No longer keeping it reel

Robb Hibbard has had it up to here with his nonpower mower:

I'm a non-Green Green no more. The next time I mow a yard the action will be accompanied with the gasoline fumes and the mangled, long-forgotten toys and other detritus spitting from the discharge chute and the angry looks of neighbors whose quiet summer evening I've spoiled via my motorized grass ripper.

It's time I joined the rest of a saner humanity in wearing shoes while doing yard work; in polluting the Earth for the sake of a yard that meets, at the very least, the aesthetic minimum.

I have two rules that serve me in meeting said aesthetic minimum:

  1. Do not have the best yard on the block.

  2. Do not have the worst yard on the block.

This year, I believe I met these requirements for all but six or seven days of the mowing season, largely because my power mower spent ten days in the shop.

And Robb, two words: "sport sandals." Excellent for this sort of thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
26 September 2004
Mistakes on the lake

I have, perhaps, an inordinate fondness for the city of Cleveland, but it's always been perfectly obvious to me that for all its surface gloss, and its recent investment in high-dollar attractions such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Jacobs Field, something was very wrong underneath it all. (During World Tour '01, I made a point of going through some of the more decrepit parts of town rather than visit the tourist traps.) And Cleveland's status as the nation's poorest large city, beating out even the likes of Detroit and Newark, would seem to confirm that wrongness.

Costa Tsiokos isn't surprised:

The much-publicized and promoted addition of these (nominally) publicly-owned venues had the desired effect: It gave a veneer of robustness to the city, when there really wasn't one. Unfortunately, their construction was more flash than anything else. It shows how much noise big-ticket projects like this make, while the nitty-gritty of hard socio-economic data tends to get ignored.

Or, as pundits of yore would have said, you can't spend yourself rich.

On another level, Cleveland's high poverty rate, despite all that investment into that concrete and glass, seems to debunk the chief arguments for indulging in these types of projects. Every metro area gets pitched a program of boosted revenue streams by virtue of having the newest and shiniest arena/concert hall/whatever. They're supposed to attract or retain major league sports, headlining concerts, tourism events and the like. Along with that, the halo effect would be the creation of grass-roots economic activity: Jobs at the venue, restaurants and other businesses around it, etc. These predictions are key to securing public funds for facilities that are used by private enterprises.

But despite playing the arena game as deftly as any other metro area, Cleveland has an anemic local economy to show for it. So why should any city or region sink public dollars into these things? Status is nice, but if it doesn't pay off for the local economy, the justification disappears.

Which is why when Oklahoma City assembled its wish list of Metropolitan Area Projects, the new shiny arena was only one of nine proposed investments in the central city, which cost upward of $300 million in aggregate but which have generated so far more than $1.6 billion in additional investment.

As more recent pundits might have said, "Go big or go home."

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:11 AM)
27 September 2004
Hey, we're only supposed to catch drunks

The city of Oakland, California, at least for the time being, is no longer setting up roadblocks to catch drivers under the influence; it seems that the license checks are also catching rather a lot of illegal immigrants, and well, that is so discriminatory, you know?

The umbrella group Oakland Community Organizations has been fighting the roadblocks. Says OCO's Jesus Rodriguez:

These checkpoints make people's lives miserable, not make them safer. I've watched while the police have towed away cars [full] of groceries, leaving children crying on the sidewalk.

Cars found to be operated by unlicensed drivers in Oakland are routinely towed; it costs $125 plus storage fees to retrieve a towed vehicle.

As a general rule, I am not a big fan of DUI checkpoints: while yanking drunks off the road is certainly a laudable goal, I doubt the police are getting all that much of a return on their investment of time, money and equipment, and meanwhile you and I are waiting in line, our patience wearing thin, our time deemed officially worthless.

On the other hand, I have to side with Larry Reid of the Oakland City Council, who isn't particularly sympathetic to the plight of the, um, undocumented:

I don't care if they are illegal immigrants. They should not be driving on our streets without a license, without insurance. I expect the Oakland Police Department to do its job and get them off the street.

Meanwhile, the city is revising its guidelines for checkpoints, which may include advance notification of checkpoint locations to Latino community organizations. I wish someone would tell me about these things in advance. Then again, I'm legal and therefore presumably not entitled to such consideration.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
28 September 2004
And when he walked me home

It's official: Phil Spector has been charged with the murder of actress Lana Clarkson, who was found dead in Spector's home in February 2003.

Spector, who posted $1 million bail, said very little when the grand-jury indictment was read, but responded angrily after leaving the courtroom: '"The actions of the Hitler-like DA and his storm-trooper henchmen are reprehensible, unconscionable and despicable."

The trial could be held as early as the 16th of December.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
29 September 2004
A Rather predictable prediction

But I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen just this way. From Paul Bouchereau, who covers the media beat for the Oklahoma Gazette, in today's issue:

CBS will take a ratings hit that will recover in three months, KWTV [the Oklahoma City CBS affiliate] will get a few calls and letters that will become landfill, and some CBS producer will take the fall for Rather. By this time next year, it will be forgotten and George W. will sit restfully in the Oval Office.

It may not take three whole months; I suspect some people will tune in on election night just to see if CBS gets itself into another train wreck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:41 PM)
1 October 2004
If you quote it, you source it

Once and for all: There is no rule at Pottery Barn that says "If you break it, you own it."

The Barista of Bloomfield Ave. serving Montclair, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield offers some alternative rules that might be pressed into service.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
4 October 2004
Better than dead elms

Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the trees in Houston's residential neighborhoods are live oaks, which is fine if you like live oaks, possibly troublesome if you're a tree expert.

"Only 10 percent should be one species," says urban forester Charles Burditt. "Otherwise, a disease or other catastrophic event could wipe out a large percentage of your trees."

Do I get any points for diversity? I have a cottonwood, an evergreen or two, twin redbuds, and a couple of elms that are not at all well.


Permalink to this item (posted at 11:08 AM)
Neither in sorrow nor in anger

It's a fairly safe bet that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be socked with a 25-point penalty and a $10,000 fine for an expletive he uttered in Victory Row at the EA Sports 500 yesterday; there is apparently ample precedent should NASCAR decide to do so.

Did Janet Miss Jackson if you're nasty really cause all this?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
6 October 2004
A bunch of ding-dongs

The image of the Avon Lady neat, upright, unpretentious, pretty but not drop-dead gorgeous is practically indelible, despite Avon's efforts in recent years to jazz up the product line. And I mean some fairly smooth jazz, too: if you've seen any of the recent biweekly campaign catalogs, you know that alongside the usual arrays of powders and moisturizers and lipsticks, they're vending some sort-of-sexy lingerie, not exactly Victoria's Secret, but not flannel and muslin either. It gets worse in March and April as they hawk this stuff for Mother's Day, which always leaves me with a serious case of cognitive dissonance: I can imagine it on Stacy's mom, I guess, but my mom wouldn't ever have gotten near it.

Still, I'm just this side of 51 years old; I can deal with images of scantily-clad (or less) women. I'm quite certain I couldn't when I was ten. And I really don't think it's a good idea to have grade-school kids trying to sell this kind of material for classroom fund-raising; it's probably less fattening than your average World's Finest chocolate bar, but kids are already getting overwhelmed with sexual stuff way before they're ready for it, and besides, what does your average Little League shortstop know about sun-protection factors anyway? Gimme back my Avon Lady.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 AM)
7 October 2004
A gentleman's SEE

Walter Williams, as quoted by La Shawn Barber:

Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., enforces an academic policy that defies belief. Say I'm a freshman taking your class in biology. I learn little from your lectures, assigned readings and homework. I do attend class every day, take notes and manage to average 40 percent on the graded work for the semester. What grade might you give me? I'm betting that all but the academic elite would say, "Sorry, Williams, but no cigar," and I'd earn an F for the course. But if you're a professor at Benedict College and gave me that F, you'd be fired....

SEE [Success Equals Effort] is a policy where 60 percent of a freshman's grade is based on effort and the rest on academic performance. In a student's sophomore year, the formula drops to 50-50, and it isn't used at all for junior and senior years. In defense of his policy, Benedict's president, Dr. David H. Swinton, said that the students "have to get an A in effort [?!] to guarantee that if they fail the subject matter, they can get the minimum passing grade. I don't think that's a bad thing."

I understand the rationale for this sort of thing: should a student not flunk out as a freshman, there's a chance he'll be back as a sophomore. If that were the only objective, though, it would be easier just to pass every freshman routinely and be done with it. But apparently Dr Swinton takes this stuff seriously: Williams quotes a report in The State to the effect that two instructors were sacked for not adjusting their grades by Swinton's fudge factor.

I grew up in South Carolina, a state which is not renowned for its academic brilliance, but a state which, at least when I was there, was willing to hammer on its students to get them to learn this stuff already. It is disheartening to see Benedict, an historically black college with a 130-year track record, shifting its emphasis away from academics and toward the politics of self-esteem; it's hard to see how SEE is going to contribute positively to the task of turning out graduates who are "powers for good in society".

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
12 October 2004
Crazy, man

The Houston Comical Chronicle managed this howler in this morning's dead-tree edition:

Exit polling and international observers predicted that Interim President Hamid Crazy would win election with more than 51 percent of the vote.

The online copy has been fixed, but anybody who reads the Chronicle's editorial page assuming someone actually does read the Chronicle's editorial page will witness this bit of sloppiness.

(Via BlogHOUSTON, which did.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
From the "It could be worse" files

Gwyneth Paltrow, in whom I have entirely too much interest after having seen Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, caught a fair amount of flak for naming her daughter "Apple".

Well, at least it's better than "@".

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:23 PM)
16 October 2004
Chirac Museum makes no Jacques

The Musée Jacques Chirac, located in the village of Sarran in the Limoges region, collects some five thousand objects given to the French president by foreign dignitaries and, um, other persons. What it's not collecting is revenue: attendance has dropped from 67,000 in 2001 to 37,000 in 2003. At £2.70 a head, the museum's accumulated deficit should be paid off sometime around the twelfth of never.

Greg Hlatky offers a suggestion:

Perhaps if they put on display all the bribes Chirac took to influence French foreign policy, they'd pack the house.

Maybe the UN will concoct an Oil-For-Museum-Passes program.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
Two for them, fourteen for her

I have never felt that it was my obligation to contribute (if that's the word) as much money as possible to the government: while I'm not going to file a false tax return, I'm also not going to shy away from every last exemption and deduction and exclusion I can legitimately claim.

Which apparently is also the policy of Teresa Heinz Kerry, who managed in 2003 to reduce her Federal tax liability to 12.47 percent. (Disclosure: My own tax bill, on about 0.78 percent as much income, was 10.69 percent.) In the light of John Kerry's faux-populist sentiments these days, his wife has come under fire for paying so little in Federal tax; I would argue that the flaw, if flaw it be, is in the tax system itself, not in Mrs Kerry's presumably-legal gaming thereof.

As would Fritz Schranck:

What's the problem here?

I thought that's why these IRS Code provisions were put into the Code in the first place.

It's also not her fault that FICA is based on wages, and that her 2003 money didn't come from working.

If the New York Post or [Stephen] Moore [of the Club for Growth, quoted in the Post article linked above] or other people don't like the fact that Mrs. Kerry can use the current tax code to this much advantage, then they have another option available to them seek to amend the tax code.

As I see it, that's where this story may become valuable. Her tax returns may provide an incentive to reduce or eliminate some of the legislative loopholes, special privileges, and other curious devices that fill so many pages of the IRS Code.

And a good argument for the so-called Fair Tax, as well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 AM)
18 October 2004
Limits to the technology

I pay most of my bills through my bank's online facility, though one-shots (medical stuff, subscription renewals, that sort of thing) are better handled by old-fashioned checks, since it's a pain in the neck to set up new payees in the system.

Moira Breen has noticed, down there in the fine print, that there are other bills not suitable for online payments:

Additional payments not allowed by Bill Payer include court-ordered payments such as alimony, child support, and speeding tickets, non-U.S. payees, or terrorists. Payments for Municipal Utilities are permitted.

"Guess you still have to make your payments to terrorists via the old-fashioned check or money order method," says Moira. I wonder if the same limitations apply in France.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:16 AM)
Tomahawk chops, grilled

A descendant of the warrior Crazy Horse (1842?-1877) has discovered that in 1951, a French strip club was given the same name.

Harvey White Woman, an executor of the estate of Crazy Horse, wrote a letter to the operators of the club asking that the name be changed:

I want the young people of my tribe to remember him as a strong leader and warrior and not some nightclub in Paris.

Alfred Red Cloud, another Oglala Sioux, delivered the letter to a club manager. He had his own concerns:

As I went into the place, the way it is set up, it exposes women. Women are sacred to us, they are the keepers of our generations to come.

It is unlikely, I think, that the operators of the Crazy Horse will be able to claim convincingly that the club's name had nothing whatever to do with the revered chief: founder Alain Bernardin had a keen interest in the American West in general and the cowboy saloon in particular. On the other hand, should a lawsuit be filed so far, no litigation has been announced I rather think it will be difficult for the tribe to prove damages; apart from this story, the entirety of what most people on this side of the Atlantic know about the Crazy Horse Saloon is that in the 1965 film What's New, Pussycat? Woody Allen plays a shlub who has gotten a job there. "I help the girls dress and undress," he says to friend Peter O'Toole. "Twenty francs a week."

"Not much," O'Toole says, and Allen shrugs: "It's all I can afford."

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
It's my party and I'll **** if I want to

The Top 10 reasons why Republicans are more satisfied with their sex lives than Democrats:

10. Two words: James Carville

  9. With Bill Clinton sidelined, total Democratic sex is off 62.7 percent

  8. GOP doesn't require Certificate of Gender Equality in advance

  7. Democrats are in a hurry, while Republicans have DeLay

  6. John Kerry said No before he said Yes

  5. Democrats favor targeted cuts, if you know what I mean

  4. "Honey, maybe if you tried a little affirmative action...."

  3. Democrats classify wet spots as EPA Superfund sites

  2. Walter Mondale in leather? Oh, hell, no

  1. You can't spell "Republican" without "pubic"

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
19 October 2004
Sinclair retreats, maybe

I'm not quite sure what to make of Sinclair's announcement that they will not broadcast Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal in its entirety after all.

In its place, some 40 of Sinclair's 62 stations will air a one-hour program titled "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media," which, from the sound of it, will incorporate some footage from Stolen Honor.

While there's no indication that Sinclair advertisers were defecting in substantial numbers, Sinclair common stock has dropped by a sixth over the past seven trading days.

Kevin Aylward asks reasonably:

The blog left assures us that their objection to Sinclair airing the documentary was an alleged abuse of the public airwaves. Since they've made the case that cable and PPV were different than Sinclair's broadcast stations, they should be all in favor of one of the hundreds of cable channels (such as C-SPAN) showing the 45 minute documentary, right?

Sinclair's official announcement, complete with the list of stations airing the "POW Story" broadcast, is here.

(Update, 20 October, 2:45 pm: JimK at RightThoughts has seen Stolen Honor and reports.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 PM)
21 October 2004
Teresa: behind the fa?ade

The right side of blogdom has had great fun at Teresa Heinz Kerry's expense, generally for good reason. But suppose just suppose that she's not really the mean-spirited jackass some say.

Impossible? Baldilocks hears something different:

Mrs. Kerry once said this about her late husband: "I'd rather have my husband alive than that money."

For all her billions, Mrs. Kerry can't bring back the man, who, from her own and all other accounts, was the love of her life. And she knows that.

Is she envious of Mrs. Bush? I don't know, but I do suspect that Mrs. Kerry has a hard time watching the Bushes interact with each other. I suspect that during the third presidential debate she had an even harder time listening to the president talk about falling in love with his wife, while her own husband sang the praises of his mother.

Yeah, you could say, "Well, if I was married to John Kerry, I'd be unhappy too," and you'd probably be right, but as Pascal reminds us, the heart has its reasons, and they don't always fall neatly into place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
Post-season trend-spotting

As everybody except John Kenneth Galbraith, who must have been out of town, noted last night, the Boston Red Sox last won a World Series in 1918. This revelation packed enough of a punch to obscure the fact that the Bosox have appeared in no fewer than four World Series since the end of World War I. How did they do?

    1946 World Series St. Louis 4, Boston 3
    1967 World Series St. Louis 4, Boston 3
    1975 World Series Cincinnati 4, Boston 3
    1986 World Series NY Mets 4, Boston 3

This might not be a bad time to pick the [fill in name of National League club] in seven.

(Via Plum Crazy, "Home of the Vast Yankees Astros Cardinals Conspiracy.")

(Updated as deemed appropriate.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 PM)
22 October 2004
Happy birthday, world

In 1650, James Ussher (1581-1656) was serving as Archbishop of Armagh and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin. A busy man, but not so busy that he couldn't calculate the very moment of creation:

I have observed by the continued succession of these years, as they are delivered in holy writ, that the end of the great Nebuchadnezars and the beginning of Evilmerodachs (his sons) reign, fell out in the 3442 year of the world, but by collation of Chaldean history and the astronomical cannon, it fell out in the 186 year c Nabonasar, and, as by certain connexion, it must follow in the 562 year before the Christian account, and of the Julian Period, the 4152. and from thence I gathered the creation of the world did fall out upon the 710 year of the Julian Period, by placing its beginning in autumn: but for as much as the first day of the world began with the evening of the first day of the week, I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year 710 aforesaid came nearest the Autumnal Æquinox, by astronomical tables (notwithstanding the stay of the sun in the dayes of Joshua, and the going back of it in the dayes c Ezekiah) happened upon the 23 day of the Julian October; from thence concluded that from the evening preceding that first day of the Julian year, both the first day of the creation and the first motion of time are to be deduced.

The evening and the morning were the first day, says Genesis, so Ussher obligingly published his starting moment as 6 pm (sunset, more or less) on 22 October 4004 BC.

The Geological Society of London will celebrate the 6000th birthday of the universe today, out of respect for Ussher's efforts, even though they will tell you that the good churchman was "spectacularly wrong." The fact that 4004 BC was 6007 years ago will be quietly overlooked.

(Suggested by Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
We just don't have enough darn jeopardy

From the Only in New Jersey files:

In Franklin Township on the 26th of April, Robert J. Clark Jr. shot and killed a man in his back yard who was trying to steal his all-terrain vehicle. Gloucester County prosecutors charged Clark with murder, aggravated assault and a weapons violation.

The county grand jury, faced with the details, voted not to indict Clark on any of the charges, and in fact charged another man, alleged to be an accomplice of the thief, with burglary and theft.

Prosecutors are not taking this rebuff lying down, and are considering taking Clark's case to a second grand jury.

Then again, we're talking New Jersey here, where, says the New Jersey Coalition for Self-Defense, "the penalty for using Mace to fend off a rapist has a more severe punishment than the legal sanction for rape."

Obligatory Oklahoma comparison: This weekend Tulsa hosts the world's largest gun show at Expo Square.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:34 PM)
25 October 2004
I'd like to buy a consonant

Just what the world (or at least that part of it which is overrun with barking moonbats) has been waiting for: a font which lacks the letter W.

Versions distributed after the election, I assume, will include an additional L.

(Via Dowingba.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 PM)
27 October 2004
Destroy before reading

Glen Ridge (NJ) Schools are no longer sending notes home: all communications with the parental units will be conducted via email. (Presumably every home in the district has some sort of email access; I haven't heard any outcry from the Poor and Unwired.)

As a test, the district sent out this email. It does attempt to cover all conceivable issues, though this one might have thrown some people:

If you do not receive the test email, please be sure to check your SPAM blocking software. If you use AOL, please check your SPAM folder, highlight our message, and then click on "This is not Spam." If you do not receive the email or have technical problems, please email Winnie Boswell [email address snipped] to ask for assistance.

Hmmm. Can one reply to an email which was not received?

And "if we hadn't received it," wonders the Barista of Bloomfield Avenue, "how would we know?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 PM)
28 October 2004
Trying to appear chalant

So does this mean that George W. Bush is comparatively reckful?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 AM)
29 October 2004
Bouncy, bouncy

Well, we got through the first day of Check 21 with no noticeable effects, although the credit cards processed through 42nd and Treadmill showed an increase in declines, which I am more inclined to attribute to customer perversity than to the new Federal regulations, which after all deal with, well, checks.

Then again, it might get worse: I have to figure that some of the same lunkheads whose MasterCards are maxed out are probably trying to pay their bills with checks which, if not hot, are certainly warmer than their surroundings.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:35 AM)
30 October 2004
The rattling of the last sabre

So what did bin Laden really say? At Belmont Club, Wretchard offers a complete transcript and reads between the lines:

It is important to notice what he has stopped saying in this speech. He has stopped talking about the restoration of the Global Caliphate. There is no more mention of the return of Andalusia. There is no more anticipation that Islam will sweep the world. He is no longer boasting that Americans run at the slightest wounds; that they are more cowardly than the Russians. He is not talking about future operations to swathe the world in fire but dwelling on past glories. He is basically saying if you leave us alone we will leave you alone. Though it is couched in his customary orbicular phraseology he is basically asking for time out.

[Emphasis in the original.]

Left unspoken is one other question: if we buy bin Laden's deal, who gets to pick up the tab?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 AM)
5 November 2004
100% Arafat-free

Of course, this doesn't mean a healthy diet for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority won't necessarily benefit from the eventual passing of Arafat, either, says Meryl Yourish:

They need to have him as a puppet so they can continue his murderous, thieving ways. Or prevent some kind of civil war as the remaining terrorists grab for the power. Here's hoping they do eliminate each other. I'd be perfectly happy to have Hanan Ashrawi be the only remaining senior palestinian leader left. I may disagree with every word she says, but she hasn't ever sent teenagers out with bombs strapped to their chests.

Meanwhile, if you were planning to mourn this fellow, you might take a look at some of these.

Update, 8 am: While Arafat continues as the Muslim equivalent of Schrödinger's Cat, I am reminded of this bit of speculation I did last fall:

The Israelis, for their part, are still talking about sending Arafat into exile, and more than one minister has suggested that they might as well kill him. I'm not sure either of these is such a great idea: exile will merely give Arafat an opportunity to regroup his forces elsewhere, and killing him well, the Arab world loves its martyrs, and loves to avenge their deaths. The solution, I think, is going to have to be a Latin American-style "disappearance", after which which no one will know for sure whether he's alive or dead. It might be worth it to hire some al-Jazeera technicians to fake up some regular TV appearances by Arafat during his, um, absence hey, they do a bang-up job of keeping Osama bin Laden "alive" and preserve the mystique. Under this plan, everybody wins: the Israelis get plausible deniability, the Palestinians get the leadership they deserve (and they say nature hates a vacuum), and Colin Powell gets someone to clean out his garage once a week.

Assuming by now Colin Powell isn't already cleaning out his desk.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
8 November 2004
Overheard in front of the radio

Diane Rehm: "Yasser Arafat lies in a French hospital...."

Person in my office: "Why not? He lies everywhere else."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
12 November 2004
Insert Steelers reference here

Just how big is Fallujah? Matt Deatherage looked it up:

According to Wikipedia, Fallujah had a pre-war population of 350,000.

That's the size of Pittsburgh. The one in Pennsylvania, not the one in Kansas (that one's "Pittsburg" anyway.)

So when you hear the 101st Fighting Keyboarders foaming at the mouth to "raze Fallujah to the ground," or braying that anyone smart would have left the city by now, substitute "Pittsburgh" in your mind and you'll see the scope of the problem.

Oh, I don't know; a lot of smart people have left Pittsburgh.

But underestimating the magnitude of a task is nothing new for the Bush administration either; while they have the long view down cold, counting the number of steps between Point A and Point B is not their strong suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
14 November 2004
Prolonged bounce

People hate Wal-Mart for lots of reasons: they don't like the crowds, they don't like having to park in the next county, they don't like the idea that somebody else (not them, of course) would drive twenty-five miles to save 99 cents on a box of Tide rather than walking into Ma and Pa Kettle's old gen'l store.

This is, however, the first instance I can recall of someone hating Wal-Mart because they expect to collect their unpaid debts:

She asked for my ID, proceeded with the return procedure and then gazed up at me. "I'm sorry, ma'am, we cannot take this back. You have a bad check with Wal-Mart, you have to call this customer service number."

This was a huge embarrassment. In a day of debit cards, I have not written checks in years for in-store purchases. I did not remember having a bounced check at Wal-Mart. At this point, getting the $10.88 back was not important. I felt like they were making me out to be some scumbag looking to get money. It's not like I was doing something illegal, like stealing a DVD player and then trying to get store credit.

On the way home, I called the customer service line to inquire closed for the weekend. I did call this morning, Monday, and found that I had a bounced check in 1997 when I was a sophomore in college, my first year in my own apartment, and with my own checkbook. Ooops. I was eighteen and made a mistake. The amount? About $20.00. I am sure I was charged a fee from my bank at the time, and almost a decade later, I am sure that $20.00 was written off as a loss for the Waltons. The past came back to haunt me one bounced check at a discount chain eight years ago. I am not a teenager anymore, but a young professional with a career, a house, and the means to buy a real leather coat.

Last I looked, bad checks were illegal.

And I must say, if 42nd and Treadmill were as hard-nosed about collecting from deadbeats as Wal-Mart apparently is, there would be suicide on a Guyanese scale. I can assure you, I would not miss these characters (calling them "customers" is an insult to the people with whom we do actual business) with their lame excuses and their inflated senses of entitlement. Fortunately, The Powers That Be are starting to see things my way.

(Via Always Low Prices.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:40 AM)
We said zero tolerance, dammit

Somehow I got it into my head that privately-operated schools might be a little saner, a little less obsessed with process at the expense of results.

It's probably a good thing I didn't put money on that premise, according to this Reuters ("One man's news service is another man's slush pile") report:

Cartwheels and handstands have gotten an 11-year-old girl temporarily bounced out of her Los Angeles-area school. Deirdre Faegre was suspended for a week after repeatedly disobeying school officials who told her not to perform gymnastic stunts during lunchtime.

"Our first concern is the safety of all children," San Jose-Edison Academy Principal Denise Patton told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Patton said Deirdre could accidentally strike another student, or injure herself, and other children could get hurt trying to imitate Deirdre, who has been doing gymnastics for five years.

There's only one possible response to this, and Kimberly Swygert, no slouch herself at doing the 'wheel, has already made it:

California, California can we talk? Someone is not telling you what you need to hear. Apparently, you've spent the last 30 years surrounded by snake-oil salesmen pushing bogus child-rearing theories about self-esteem, creativity, the evils of discipline, and the supposed fragility of children. At some point, you've become convinced that it makes sense for the State to do everything in its over-reaching power to prevent children from ever encountering anything nasty, offensive, challenging, problematic, or painful. You've become convinced that no child should do anything unless all children can do it without fear of any pain being involved.

The kind of place, in other words, where even superheroes could be sued for saving lives.

Rock on, Dr. Swygert. And Deirdre when you make the Olympic team come 2012 (2008?), make sure you forget to mention where you went to school. They don't deserve you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 PM)
15 November 2004
Piston slap

As close as I've ever been to Detroit is Allen Park, which is somewhere east of the airport but not quite in the river. This should tell you right up front that I have no first-hand knowledge of America's answer to Pompeii. Still, so long as there are live reports like this one from Agent Provocateur, I need not feel as though my life were somehow still incomplete.

(Note: The full article should be considered Not Safe for Some Workplaces.)

Detroit is a modern day Roanoke colony, but there isn't a soul around to scrawl "CROATOA" into the dead pieces of wood that stick out of the ground and pass for trees around here.

Once you get downtown, it becomes readily apparent how Detroit now exists as nothing more than a science experiment of post-industrial urban decay. Scattered pockets of settlers have taken up residence in various locations the ironically named "renaissance center", the "Fox theater district", which is as much a cultural district as the home décor section of your local Wal-Mart is a "Modern Art Gallery", and Greektown which is so named because it is the location of a diner specializing in ground lamb that somehow survived the apocalyptic riots of 1967. Venture far away from these unlikely areas of human interaction and you step into a wasteland.

When it comes to urban revitalization, Detroit's city planners seem to have adopted a strict policy of "don't do for ourselves what plate-tectonics and wind erosion may somehow do for us." Honestly, not a single building has been leveled in Detroit since an incident in 1783 involving a drunken French settler and a confused plough ox. When these buildings do finally crumble to the ground, new buildings are put in their place, and white suburbanites poke their heads up like frightened hedgehogs to investigate. Curiosity normally dies down within mere hours, projects are abandoned, and Detroit circle of life is free to start anew.

I'm reasonably certain that it wasn't always like that, but for now, I'm thinking "outtakes from RoboCop."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 PM)
17 November 2004
Up against the Wal

The merger of K mart and Sears, Roebuck, if nothing else, explains the Big K's strategy in the last couple of years: go through Chapter 11, strip away as much as possible, and try to look like you're worth $11 billion.

K mart will continue to operate under its own name in its reduced marketing area. (All the Oklahoma City stores were closed as part of the bankruptcy restructuring.) Whether K mart stores will accept Sears store cards, or vice versa, remains to be seen; Sears also issues a branded MasterCard, which presumably would not be affected, inasmuch as Citigroup acquired Sears' credit-card business last year.

The usual noises about economies of scale and so forth were made, but the real question has yet to be answered: how does the Sears/K mart combination how, indeed, does anyone expect to compete with Wal-Mart?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
20 November 2004
The debacle in Auburn Hills

Last night, while I was unwinding in a chat room, someone said "You gotta turn on ESPN right now!"

What I saw was appalling enough, but apparently I didn't see everything, and after reading about it, I'm rather glad I didn't. I don't know if this is the biggest fight in sports history seems to me that European football riots make this little dustup in Detroit look like a middle-school shoving contest but it's certainly an embarrassment for the NBA.

Payback, to be effective, must be swift and fierce.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
21 November 2004
Paper or plastic?

It may not matter in San Francisco, where the city is contemplating charging grocers 17 cents per plastic bag in an effort to discourage their use, inasmuch as they're not recyclable or anything, and will charge just as much for paper bags which are recyclable, to avoid the accumulation of waste and, I suspect, to avoid being charged with discrimination.

The director of Californians Against Waste uttered the following:

One thing we've learned is that sending a financial signal to the marketplace tends to modify behavior much better than voluntary approaches.

Which is interesting, because it's an indication that the minions of the Nanny State no longer find it necessary to jump through high-minded rhetorical hoops in an effort to justify their latest schemes: they're in this to modify behavior, dammit.

And as always with such things, the marketplace does a far better job on its own.

(Via Fark)

(Update, 3 pm: Fritz Schranck suggests a solution.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
26 November 2004
I won't fly, don't ask me

It's not that I'm suffering from Fear of Flying, which is more precisely described as Fear of Crashing; I've logged tens of thousands of miles over the years. (There was a brief period in my early twenties when I'd flown more miles than I had driven.) But I seldom bother these days. One reason is simple efficiency: except for the World Tours in the summertime, most of my destinations are fairly close by, and while flying is quicker, there's still the annoyance of lining up ground transportation at the destination point. Unless the fare is incredibly cheap there once was a time when Southwest offered an occasional OKC-MCI (Kansas City) one-way fare for $19 plus tax it's less of a hassle to drive.

Nowadays, thanks to what passes for increased airport security, flying isn't even that much quicker anymore, at least in the judgment of James Joyner:

The current [security] measures are not only clearly unconstitutional government agents performing searches without probable cause or warrants but expensive, intrusive, and aggravating. Further, they take away much of the benefit of flying for shorter trips, since one has to allow extra time for all this nonsense. Indeed, I chose to drive eleven hours from Northern Virginia to the folk's place in central Alabama rather than pay $500 to fly partly because the post-Thanksgiving security at Atlanta was so ridiculous the last couple of years as to make the trip barely faster than just driving.

When they're telling you to arrive at the airport two, even two and a half hours early well, I can be almost halfway to Kansas City in two and a half hours. And as I've noted before, my car has never once lost any of my bags.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
When Black Friday comes

Conventional wisdom holds that today is the worst, the most hectic, the scariest shopping day of the year.

Which, of course, is wrong. CardWeb reports on MasterCard's research:

The busiest day of the year most likely will occur on Dec. 23 and the busiest hour most likely will be from 2 to 3 p.m. CDT on Christmas Eve. MasterCard also noted that the two Saturdays before Christmas tend to produce more volume than "Black Friday." MasterCard says it processed nearly 33 million transactions on each of the two Saturdays before Christmas almost a million more than on the day after Thanksgiving.

Maybe I will go to the mall.

(Update, 2:55 pm: If I do, I'd better walk. A spot-check reveals that it's possible to park at Penn Square, if you're willing to wait for someone to leave.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:22 PM)
30 November 2004
What's it worth to you?

Glen Whitman of Agoraphilia proposes incentives for accurate property valuation by taxing authorities:

My parents' property taxes, like those of many homeowners, are constantly rising not because the tax rates go up, but because the city keeps raising the assessed value of the property. The assessed value is almost certainly higher, probably a lot higher, than what the property could actually sell for on the open market. The government-employed assessors naturally have an incentive to overestimate the value of property, because doing so boosts revenues.

So here's my proposal: Any property owner whose property is subject to a tax based on a government-assessed valuation should have the option to force the government to purchase the property at, say, 97% of the assessed value. This would give the state a strong incentive not to overvalue property, since whenever it did so, it could be faced with the losing proposition of buying at above-market value and then selling at actual-market value.

Why 97 percent?

[T]he buy-out percentage would need to be set low enough that if the state's assessment were approximately correct, most property owners would still choose to sell in private markets.

Makes sense to me. I don't think this particular problem is rampant where I live Oklahoma County has most recently valued Surlywood at $70,172, which is a bit less than I paid for it a year ago, and the current US News and World Report claims (in a chart that isn't reproduced in the Web version of the article) that home prices in this market rose 17.4 percent in the past year. More to the point, the 5-percent cap on assessed value goes into effect next year on this property, unless I sell. (Fat chance.)

Still, I keep hearing from family members in places like Austin that their property taxes have risen not only out of sight but out of telescope range, and increased valuation, they say, is the culprit.

(Via Jane Galt.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:23 AM)
A matter of degree

The difference between a mere misfortune and an actual calamity, according to Benjamin Disraeli:

If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone pulled him out again, that would be a calamity.

In a suggested update to this Vent, a reader, in addition to pointing out that the first WTC attack should have been included among the "terrorist attacks," recommended I include also the construction of the United Nations facilities in New York.

I demur at the time, it didn't seem so but if the UN (the organization, not necessarily the buildings) should ever collapse, I plan to list it as a "public service."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:48 PM)
2 December 2004
Paging Hans Blix

Um, did you look for WMD in northwest Arkansas?

(You just know Wal-Mart has to have something to do with this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
I'm getting Hummers for Christmas

Well, actually, no, I'm not. But the annual gift catalog from Kambers, the first one I've received since the death of Eleanor Kamber two years ago, features two pages of Hummer"-branded stuff, including a pewter-and-zinc windshield scraper for a mere thirty-five bucks. There's also a CD organizer that fastens to the visor, in case your discs aren't getting enough sun, for $25. All these things, produced under license from General Motors by a New York-based importer, are certainly justifiable as gifts, though I can't help but wonder if they could sell that CD case for $17.95 with a Hyundai label.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:42 PM)
5 December 2004
The squeeze is on

Ann Althouse's property-tax bill for 2004 was $11,926.89.

<sound of jaw striking parquet floor>

To run up a tax bill of that size in my neighborhood, she'd have to have a house worth $985,816.

She says elsewhere that the tax on the mythical average house in Madison, Wisconsin, worth $205,359, is $4,458.

This suggests a rate of 21.71 per thousand, which implies that her house is valued at about $549,400.

For comparison purposes, a home valued at $549,400 in my particular taxing district would be taxed $6,598. Not that there are any such; City-Data.com reports that as of 2000, there were only 11 homes in this entire ZIP code worth as much as half a million bucks, and Realtor.com says that the average home around here sells for a modest $93,541, which I calculate would run up taxes of $1031.

Fritz Schranck, living in the sacred land of Delaware, is of course paying quite a bit less.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
7 December 2004
Getting a complex

The editors of Discover, a science mag published by a Disney subsidiary, replied to a letter from an intelligent-design advocate (January '05) with this comparison:

Language is an information medium, as is DNA. Language gets transmitted and transformed from generation to generation, just as the information in DNA gets transmitted and transformed. Many languages have appeared, changed, and vanished over the centuries, but nobody has ever seen a new language spontaneously appear. Nevertheless, people accept that languages evolve and that modern languages derive from earlier ones that were, in many cases, considerably different. Why then is it so hard to accept that the same process might happen to the information in our DNA?

Obviously, this doesn't settle anything. My own thinking here is that it would be a fairer comparison were there any languages as complex as DNA strands: there are, admittedly, only four different building blocks, but the structures are astoundingly convoluted.

Then again, my own thinking along these lines has always been something like "Evolution is God's standard upgrade path," a position that appeals neither to hard-core Darwinists nor to young-earth partisans. I'd like to hear some rational (or at least justifiable) arguments either way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:54 PM)
8 December 2004

Donna is facing a dilemma, and this is the way she approaches a solution:

Instead of dropping it from my thoughts, I've been thinking about how people I admire might react if faced with a similar situation. Jesus would turn the other cheek. Howard Roark would do nothing since he wouldn't care but more so, he wouldn't allow himself to be haunted by it. Wayne Newton would take the bastard to court because no one messes with the Wayne-meister. Emma Peel would probably flip the jerk over her shoulder after a well-aimed karate chop to his neck.

I'm inclined to think that with role models like these, she'll come out of this just fine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
10 December 2004
Grievings and salutations

A letter from TXU Energy Australia, addressed to "Paranoid Fool" in Melbourne, Victoria, was delivered to photographer Albert Comper, who took exception to the letter's "Dear Paranoid" salutation.

TXU, of course, has no idea how this happened, although the incident does recall one of our Stateside legends:

Years ago, the story goes, when people still traveled in Pullman sleeping cars, a passenger found a bedbug in his berth. He immediately wrote a letter to George M. Pullman, president of the Pullman's Palace Car Company, informing him of this unhappy fact, and in reply he received a very apologetic letter from Pullman himself.

The company had never heard of such a thing, Pullman wrote, and as a result of the passenger's experience, all of the sleeping cars were being pulled off the line and fumigated. The Pullman's Palace Car Company was committed to providing its customers with the highest level of service, Pullman went on, and it would spare no expense in meeting that goal. Thank you for writing, he said, and if you ever have a similar problem or any problem do not hesitate to write again.

Enclosed with this letter, by accident, was the passenger's original letter to Pullman, across the bottom of which the president had written, "Send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter."

Well, it could have happened. Of course, in the days of Pullman cars, there weren't advocacy groups for persons with mental disorders to point out how "incredibly offensive" the TXU letter was.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
11 December 2004
Get stuffed

Some people actually fall for this:

You pay your "registration fee" usually around $30.00, pure profit for the scam operator. The operator will then send you a copy of the ad you originally responded to, along with the wording to a classified ad, telling people about how much money they can make stuffing envelopes, and to send a self-addressed stamped envelope for information. When you receive someone's SASE, you send them a copy of the ad. There, you have stuffed your first envelope!

A chap from San Antonio named Alan Louis Chavis apparently got enough "pure profit," even at the discount price of $25, to operate two customer-response centers, which he was careful to locate in faraway Oklahoma. It didn't save him; in September, prosecutors in Oklahoma put him on trial for mail fraud, and yesterday Chavis was sentenced to 19 years and three months and ordered to forfeit $250,000.

One down, however many thousands to go.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
13 December 2004
It comes with cheese, too

The French are apparently upset that the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain would mock their nation on the basis of three military defeats.

Then again, it was only a thirty-second spot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
14 December 2004
What's more, he saved 15 percent

Dave Pell of Davenetics notes that insurance giant Geico is suing Google for trademark infringement; the reptilian corporation asserts that Google, by selling Sponsored Links to Geico's competitors, which will come up when you run a Google search for Geico, is violating Geico's trademark rights.

I found this out because Dave bought a Sponsored Link from Google, which will come up when you run a Google search for Geico.

File this under "Geez, I wish I'd thought of that."

(Update, 15 December, 8 pm: Google prevails.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
Well, it's not a trailer

If you'd like to own Bill and Hillary Clinton's house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, you'll have to outbid Mayor Dan Coody; he wants the University of Arkansas, where both B&H were on the law-school faculty in the 70s, to acquire the house and operate it as a tourist site.

Owners James and Janet Greeson are asking around $285,000 for the one-bedroom, one-bath house at 930 South California Boulevard. A recent appraisal suggested a price of $199,000, which does not include $75,000 in recommended improvements; I don't know whether the kitchen, which had been done up in the sort of Seventies orange and yellow that would make James Lileks cringe, has been restored to sanity.

If that price seems high to you, be advised the house is probably bigger than you think: 1790 square feet, which is more than half again as large as my palatial three-bedroom digs.

(Via Rita, who sees the house as a potential fuel source.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:32 AM)
15 December 2004
Betting on a lucky horseshoe

The city of Indianapolis says that a new stadium to replace the aging RCA Dome would add $30 million a year to the local economy, over and above the $75 million in revenue generated by the presence of an NFL team.

Which, out of a mere eight home games, sounds awfully impressive. And taking a leaf from the Oklahoma City playbook, Indy has bundled the stadium plan with an upgrade to the Indiana Convention Center, the total price to be some $700 million.

Still: seven hundred million American dollars? The entire set of MAPS projects here in the Okay City, including a convention-center upgrade, cost maybe half that. This new stadium must be absolutely incredible.

And even if it is, what's to stop the Irsay family from sneaking the Colts out of Indianapolis in the dead of night? It's not like such a thing has never happened before. I wish Indy well, but the numbers here don't seem to add up.

(Via Punch the Bag.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 PM)
18 December 2004
Gross National product

The homeless Montreal Expos might not find shelter in Washington, which bothers Rocket Jones' Ted hardly at all:

The Nationals might never be. Boo freaking Hoo. I'm an Orioles fan and it wouldn't break my heart at all not to have a "local" team (transplanted from Canada and known for its distinct Latin character) move in and take away televised games I actually care to see. Nobody local should be surprised, because it's Washington DC fer pete's sake! What did you expect?!?!?!?! The Nationals were a political hostage from the day they were announced, I'm just surprised their official uniforms weren't announced as orange jumpsuits.

In defense of the District, at least Council Chair Linda Cropp had the radical idea that stadia ought to be built with funds provided, at least in part, by someone other than taxpayers, a notion which was received poorly in some circles but which makes perfect sense to me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
I guess I gotta buy it

File this under "Once in a Lifetime": there's an actual (albeit very small) picture of Michelle Malkin in Playboy.

No, not like that, ya perv. In the annual The Year in Sex roundup (January '05), there is, not entirely unexpectedly, a marginally-raunchy picture of Jessica "Washingtonienne" Cutler, and to give credence to her particular transgressions, there's a clip from the Post (which Post, I couldn't say) with Ms Malkin's column, complete with standard photo of the columnist. The column, incidentally, was given the title "Slut on the Hill" by the Post.

It is, I note in passing, a sign of something that InStyle arrived the same day, and comparing the cover photos, I was much more inspired (if that's the word) by Diane Lane than by Jenny McCarthy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 PM)
22 December 2004
Popping off at Pop's Sodium Shoppe

Well, at least Fayetteville doesn't have to worry about snow on the streets:

[A]ccording to Field Operations Supervisor Bryan Hobbs, the city of Fayetteville has purchased three pickup trucks, with water tanks and sprayers in the back, that will pump a 23 percent saltwater solution onto roads before the snow falls. "It's supposed to rain before it snows, so we have to wait until after it rains to spray the streets, or else the salt will just get washed away," Hobbs said. "When the snow combines with the salt, it creates heat, which melts away ice."

In other news, the city plans to get its police helicopter airborne again some time in the next few weeks, soon as Sam's Club gets in a fresh shipment of Alka-Seltzer.

(Via Rita, who actually remembers her high-school chemistry.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 PM)
23 December 2004
Failure to communicate

A fairly large area of town has no cable access today, owing to the failure, if not utter destruction, of some unspecified component; yours truly is among the irritated customers.

The Mrs Grace L. Ferguson Cable TV and Storm Door Company, of course, doesn't make this sort of information available to just anyone. (God forbid they should put word of a partial system outage up on their Web site, where at least those of us who have some form of alternate Net access might see it; why, someone might think badly of them.) No, you must negotiate the twists and turns of their phone system, cough up four-ninths of your Social Security number is this not illegal or anything? and hope you got to the right place, because none of the proffered options actually describe your problem.

Maybe I'll send them a note about this, after I tear them a new one for their spam-handling, which amounts to "Here you go, happy eating"; these people are loath to block an email even if it contains the words DANGER: WORM in caps in the subject line and has twelve different starving piglets as attachments.

(Update, 5:30 pm: They have no idea when things will be repaired.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
26 December 2004
When the very ground shakes

First, the bad news:

The world's most powerful earthquake in 40 years triggered massive tidal waves that slammed into villages and seaside resorts across Asia on Sunday, killing more than 3,900 people in six countries.

Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water up to 20 feet high that swept across the Bay of Bengal, unleashed by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake centered off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

No statement from James Wolcott yet, so just reuse this one from September:

I root for hurricanes. When, courtesy of the Weather Channel, I see one forming in the ocean off the coast of Africa, I find myself longing for it to become big and strong Mother Nature's fist of fury, Gaia's stern rebuke. Considering the havoc mankind has wreaked upon nature with deforesting, stripmining, and the destruction of animal habitat, it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own.

You've got to figure he's champing at the bit for that killer asteroid to show up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
29 December 2004
You won't see me

The Metropolitan Police in England has adopted the term "visible minority ethnics" as a catchall term for black and Asian persons, rather than referring to them as, well, black or Asian.

Some white officers had apparently adopted the phrase so that they could avoid saying the words "black" or "Asian," lest someone be offended. And a police official, cited in The Telegraph, stated that the term would allow these communities to be distinguished from lighter-skinned "invisible" minority ethnics.

A bandaged fellow identified only as Griffin commented: "Little suffices to make us visible one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living creature are no more opaque than water."

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 AM)
30 December 2004
On the eighth day, He chuckled

Bruce asks:

Why did God put most of the oil under a bunch of Muslims?

It's a manifestation of the divine sense of humor. And the punchline? The wasteland briefly known as Palestine, which the Israelis built into an actual country to the general irritation of Arab Muslims worldwide, is the one place in the Middle East that doesn't have any oil.

And one could consider it also a manifestation of the divine sense of mercy, since were it not for oil, the entire Arab world would be about as much of an economic power as Kansas City.

Kansas City, Kansas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
4 January 2005
Look away, already

In 1971 Mickey Newbury put together a track he called "An American Trilogy," which, as advertised, incorporated three songs which qualified as quintessentially American: "All My Trials," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie." Issued on Newbury's Frisco Mabel Joy album, it became a Top 30 hit and prompted a cover version by a quintessential American in his own right, Elvis Presley.

At the Wisconsin Senate inaugural yesterday, the Richland Center High School band played "An American Trilogy," which disturbed Senator Spencer Coggs. Coggs wrote to Dale Schultz, the Senate's Majority Leader (who, incidentally, is from Richland Center), expressing his dismay:

In the future a list of songs should be submitted prior to a performance and the list should be reviewed for its appropriateness.

What's disturbing about "An American Trilogy"? That "Dixie" business. Reminds people of slavery, doncha know.

Um, Senator Coggs? That line about "old times there are not forgotten," like the rest of the song, was written by Dan Emmett. A white guy from Ohio. In 1859, fercrissake.

I expect your next legislative action to be a statewide ban on cotton products.

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:30 PM)
The new digital age

I saw this as an ad on Gawker, and while it's certainly eye-catching, I'm not entirely sure it's the best way to pitch voice-over-IP telephone service.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:36 PM)
6 January 2005
No dice, son, you gotta stay here

First off, UNICEF's official policy on intercountry adoption:

Intercountry adoption is about finding parents for orphaned or abandoned children in another country. When this happens, the child's links with his/her biological family are completely severed.

UNICEF recognizes that intercountry adoptions may sometimes be necessary. However, UNICEF believes that appropriate domestic solutions can usually be found for children who might otherwise be considered as needing intercountry adoptions. UNICEF therefore focuses its efforts on facilitating solutions for the child to remain in his/her family, community or country of origin.

Intercountry adoption should take place in the following circumstances: a) Every effort has been made to keep the child in the family and community; b) When necessary, every effort has been made to successfully trace the parents of the child. This is particularly true in situations of emergency; c) When it complies with existing international instruments such as the CRC (particularly article 21), and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption; d) All parties involved have given their informed consent; e) It is in the best interest of the child.

The Hague Convention sets down some fairly strict rules of its own, and there are lots of other hoops a family wishing to adopt an overseas child must jump through.

Still, the demand is there, and I've always looked at adoption as a win-win situation: the parents have a child of their own, and the child doesn't wind up in an institution, or something worse. And there's apparently lots of interest in adopting young tsunami victims; Dawn Eden reports that ten percent of her traffic has been search queries for "tsunami victims adoption." It is the apparent policy of non-governmental organizations, however, to make this as difficult as possible, and recent statements to the effect that "children are best left where they are in environments that are familiar to them," as Australian UNICEF boss Carolyn Hardy has said, might be true under the best conditions, but hardly the best conditions prevail in the wake of the killer wave: it's not an environment familiar to anyone.

You might conclude that UNICEF and other NGOs have an agenda beyond the welfare of children. Dawn Eden spells it out:

Nobody not UNICEF, and, as of yet, not the mainstream media wants to admit that the U.N. is holding back these children from adoption because it fears antagonizing the children's Islamic home countries, which shudder at the thought of Allah's people being raised by infidels.

But of course. Better a thousand children should be warehoused, better a hundred should perish, than a single imam be outraged. Thank you, O Religion of Peace.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
10 January 2005
Parodies regained

BBC News' Have Your Say, in the wake of the tsunami, asked for reader comment on this issue:

Should debt be cancelled? What more should governments do? How will the affected countries rebuild communities, livelihoods and economies?

Which moved Shawn Hampton of Colorado Springs to respond this way:

All debt should be cancelled for developing countries, and it is high time that we do away with the concept to rich and poor and strive for world-wide economic parody.

Meanwhile, tonight on The Money Programme, we're going to look at money.

(Via David Fleck at Progressive Reaction.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:38 PM)
13 January 2005
Watch where you point that thing

A pilot departing Oklahoma City's Wiley Post Airport on New Year's Eve has reported that someone shone a laser beam in his face immediately after takeoff. The pilot contacted the control tower, and police searched the area adjacent to the airport.

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who was in the city yesterday visiting the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, announced that beginning next Wednesday all laser incidents must be reported to air traffic controllers. I expect that in the interest of avoiding the appearance of profiling, all reported incidents will receive the same response, regardless of the color or angle of the laser involved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 PM)
16 January 2005
You are here, almost

Late last summer, I made the following observations about real-estate classifieds:

Traditionally, ads of this sort are believed to require multiple grains of salt to counteract the evasions, misdirections, and outright fibs that are supposed to be inherent in the selling process. I didn't find a lot of those, though I was amused by one little place pitching itself as being in the "Crown Heights area," which is true if your definition of "area" is sufficiently broad. (Douglas Place sits north of Crown Heights; this house is on the opposite side of the street from the northern boundary of Douglas Place.) It's probably just as "absolutely darling" as the ad claims I think that's a reasonably spiffy neighborhood but Crown Heights it ain't.

On the other hand, some ads score for Brutal Truth. On this presumed handyman's special on the southside: "Not scared of repairs?" And one rental ad, for a westside apartment, cuts to what's really important: "No One Upstairs."

These, while worthy of comment, were hardly weird. But Rita tops them all:

The notorious "fixer-upper" is being replaced with "needs a little TLC", which I translate as "needs wrecking ball & demolition crew". "Secluded" in this neck of the woods translates as "need 4-wheel drive & winch to get there". "Wet weather creek" equals "prone to flash flooding". One ad even proudly proclaimed that you could pee off your deck without the neighbors complaining.

I am so not kidding.

But my favorite find of the week was in an ad for some undeveloped acreage, which boasted the property had "one sided fencing". Must be some new-fangled Möbius strip fence. That's no good. It would confuse the hell out of the dogs.... and how would you put a gate in it?

I'd love to put up one of those, just to see if it would persuade the milkman to deliver the ol' 2-percent in Klein bottles.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:03 PM)
17 January 2005
They're here, we're used to them

The search for ways to attract the "creative class," as Dr. Richard Florida would have it, has reached Spokane, and activists have come up with the notion of creating a "gay district," an "actual physical part of town" that will cater to the GLBT (add initials as needed) lifestyle.

What bothers me about this is not so much that there would be a gay district in Spokane we have one in Oklahoma City, fairly diffuse but centered not far from me, that bothers me not at all but that they think it can be imposed from without. It can't. (The last time American cities made an effort to create separate neighborhoods, the symbol was not a rainbow, but a large black bird.) And if you're wise, you don't announce in advance that you're going to create a district: you just do it, a building or two, maybe a block or two, at a time, and then present the world with a fait accompli.

This is not to say that my home town is exactly a hotbed of tolerance. But organized opposition to the GLBT community is conspicuous by its sheer ineffectuality: there is the usual rattling from legislators, and State Question 711, passed last year, certainly didn't help matters, but there's a big difference between political posturing and actual harassment, and for all its bluster, SQ 711 didn't actually change the status quo. Oklahoma County quietly added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy a few weeks ago; the newest county commissioner squawked, but he's just one voice among eight on the county's Budget Board, which on a previous vote before his arrival passed it unanimously. (They will vote again on Thursday.)

Oklahoma City's Asian District is not the Asian District because there are signs posted that say so: it is the Asian District because these are the people who moved in, who rebuilt the structures, who created new businesses, who established a sense of community. It works the same way for districts that aren't based on ethnicity.

(Via Dawn Eden, who has a different set of objections.)

(Update, 20 January, 10 pm: The Oklahoma County non-discrimination policy will not be reversed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
Out of sight, out of reach

Jane Galt asks:

If you could choose the power to fly or the power of invisibility, which would you choose and why?

I remember this very question from an episode of Lois and Clark, to which they responded just about the way you'd think they would. And as of this writing, Ms. Galt's commenters are split fairly evenly on the issue.

As the keeper of this silly thing, I of course throw in my lot with the unseen ones.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
18 January 2005
These go up to 111

I'd like to say that I'm surprised at this:

Fed up with complaints from sweaty men and shivering women, HVAC technicians install dummy thermostats to give workers the illusion of control. In some leased buildings, even the corporate tenants don't know the thermostats are useless. Other times, it's the companies themselves, barraged with calls from workers, who ask the landlord's HVAC technicians to "fix" things.

Richard Dawson, an HVAC specialist from Homer, Ill., estimates that 90 percent of office thermostats are dummies, but that figure is way too high, others say. Dawson is unrepentant about installing fakes.

"I did what my employer told me to do," he said. "You just get tired of dealing with them (the complainers) and you screw in a cheap thermostat. Guess what? They quit calling you."

But after learning last year that most of the pedestrian "Push Button/Wait for Walk Signal" controls in New York City don't work, I'm a lot harder to surprise.

(Via Deb at Accidental Verbosity.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:34 PM)
19 January 2005
Plus $35 for a late charge

Barclays Bank, which acquired the Banco de Valladolid in 1981, was sued by Domingo Lopez Alonso, former majority owner of the Spanish bank. The bank had failed, and Lopez had turned over his shares to the Spanish government under its restructuring rules; Barclays basically picked up what was left after Madrid paid off the depositors, and, said Lopez, Barclays cheated him out of what would have been rightfully his.

The court found for Lopez, and awarded him, according to the order as printed, 1.1 quadrillion euros, roughly $1,400 trillion US, an amount far in excess of the Spanish gross domestic product, possibly almost enough money to bail out the US Medicare system.

Interested parties are operating on the assumption that this is a typo and a subsequent court order will correct the figure.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:06 PM)
20 January 2005
Squeeze play

Someone set us up the population bomb, said Paul Ehrlich, and Jared Diamond is apparently going to ride it like Slim Pickens out of a B-52.

Bigwig points out a possibly-fundamental flaw:

Given population growth, deforestation, soil erosion, oil consumption, and diminishing biodiversity, Diamond declares, ''our world society is presently on an unsustainable course.''

Ehrlich's mistake, the same one that every prophet of doom has fallen into since academic doom saying was popularized by Thomas Malthus, was that he took a single current trend, in this the rate of population growth in the 1960's, and extrapolated it into the future, while at the same time assuming that, not only would nothing else change, but that the rate of population growth itself was a constant. As it turns out, it wasn't.

Here's a prediction, using the same kind of logic. Last Thursday, the temperature was 80 degrees outside. Today, it's 20. Given the current rate of change, the temperature will reach absolute zero sometime on March 8th. Better wrap up!

Climate-change (formerly known as "global-warming") buffs will note that 540 degrees Fahrenheit over seven weeks doesn't count; it's 0.54 degrees over seventy years that matters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
Waisted days and waisted nights

LilRed admits to being miffed:

My control top pantyhose are not controlling my top.

If I understand the concept of "control top," it's technically not her top that's out of control.

(Of course, with my luck, by posting this I'll have totally alienated a woman with legs to die for and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to grow hair so I can tear it out.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
23 January 2005
Alarming developments

From the official press release:

Effective February 18, 2005, the Fremont [California] Police Department will institute a program of "Verified Response" to all alarm calls with the exception of panic, duress and robbery alarms. For this reason, if you have a panic, robbery or duress feature to your alarm system, these will continue to be treated as high priority calls for service by the Police Department, and will need to continue with the Alarm Permit Program and be subject to false alarm fines if your system sends a false duress, robbery or panic alarm. Verified Response will require the alarm or monitoring company to verify there is an unusual occurrence at the location of the alarm. This can be done with video or sound feed, with an eyewitness, or by the alarm/monitoring company hiring private security to check out the location. No police will be dispatched until there is a verified problem.

Fremont police chief Craig Steckler points out that last year the department received about 7000 alarm calls, 98 percent of which proved to be false.

Meanwhile, Costa Tsiokos asks:

[R]eally, are the security companies going to bother with this? It'll increase their operating costs in a big way, which they'll have to pass on to their customers. Insurance incentives will make it hard for people and businesses to drop their alarm systems altogether, but at some point, it'll make more sense to just put in a dummy alarm system that's designed to just make noise without the monitoring.

Should my alarm go off, which has happened three times in fourteen months, each time due to a screw-up on my part, the security company has checked in with me average response time, 55 seconds before taking further steps. Oklahoma City imposes a fine if you've had too many false alarms; as far as they're concerned, I haven't had any, because the accidental alarms have been properly intercepted. And what I think is the most likely means of tripping the alarm accidentally in my absence (no, I'm not going to reveal it here) has yet to happen, despite multiple instances of conditions favorable for it.

It's hard to blame Fremont for wanting to conserve its limited resources for actual burglaries and such. But is this the leading edge of a trend where, in CT's words, "overworked and understaffed police departments would answer calls only made via security firms"? I hope not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
24 January 2005
The last resort

At least, the last one I'll ever be able to afford.

Exclusive Resorts, which offers access to about 150 Überrentals worldwise, has signed a deal with American Express, whose Centurion cardholders (annual fee: $2500) will now be able to sign up for Exclusive's membership package at less than the usual $375,000 fee and will get double the usual rewards bonuses for staying at Exclusive's properties.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, Discover and Wal-Mart are teaming up on a store card.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
Inanity and calm

Phil Dennison reports that Fox News' closed-captioning software can't tell Bill Kristol from Billy Crystal.

It's probably a good thing Meet the Fockers has dropped out of the No. 1 spot at the box office.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 PM)
25 January 2005
Plus a small allowance for bullets

A bank robber in the Netherlands was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to repay the bank the 6600 euros he stole less 2000 euros to cover the cost of buying the gun he used to rob the bank.

Dutch law apparently specifies that a convicted criminal must be in approximately the same financial position at the time of conviction that he was in before the crime was committed. The robber presumably would have been out 2000 euros had he bought this gun and not robbed the bank.

If there's a lesson here, it's simply this: if you're going to rob a bank in the Netherlands, you might as well buy a new, and preferably expensive, firearm.

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:09 AM)
27 January 2005
Malign snobs: nitpicky, but casual

Okay, this is three and a half years old fercryingoutloud, but I'm not always a quick study, and, well, I've been laboring under the delusion that "MSNBC" stood for, um, something else.

(Courtesy of Victory Soap.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:25 PM)
28 January 2005
Insert stopped-clock metaphor here

Just in case you thought CNN was wrong about everything.

(As well you might, if you remember this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:22 PM)
This is not a Java applet

If the bane of your existence is a Starbucks on every farging corner, you should probably come live near me: there are only three of them within five miles, which equals a Starbucks density of 3.

(Via life in the ether, where Christine lives with an SBD [!] of 68.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
29 January 2005
Beyond bingo for Buckeyes

The modern-day Eastern Shawnee tribe is descended from the mixed Seneca-Shawnee group which left Ohio in the 1830s and settled in Indian Territory; tribal headquarters to this day is in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. The tribe has some modest business interests near its present-day home, but there's always been the urge to return to Ohio, and while the tribe has put its land claim on the back burner, gaming is in the offing.

Or maybe it isn't. Residents of Monroe, Ohio turned out in droves to oppose the Eastern Shawnee's plans for a casino complex near Interstate 75. Monroe officials favor the casino, but Governor Bob Taft generally opposes gambling in Ohio (with one exception), and the Monroe project is temporarily on hold while the tribe prepares a presentation for a proposed compact with Ohio that would give the state a piece of the action.

(Update, 31 January, 9:25 pm: Michael Meckler weighs in: he says that the gambling issue shows where the real divide is in American politics, and it's not along liberal/conservative lines.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 PM)
30 January 2005
Silly savages

Could Michael Savage (Savage Nation) be the estranged older brother of Dan Savage (Savage Love)?

Well, no, probably not, especially since Michael's previous last name was, um, Weiner.

Of course, there's always the possibility that I've spoken too soon.

(Inspired, so to speak, by Brian J. Noggle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 PM)
31 January 2005
Child consumes parent; film at 11

SBC, you'll remember, started out as Southwestern Bell, one of the Baby Bells set free when AT&T was more or less forcibly broken up in the 1980s; since then, they've absorbed three of their sisters and become something which in some ways resembles a communications powerhouse. What they want with AT&T is beyond me, though the most likely explanation seems to be a desire to bulk up and go head to head with Verizon, itself an unholy fusion of a Baby Bell with a non-Bell telco.

Of course, AT&T isn't what it used to be either. Still, putting the Death Star in its galaxy will put SBC in almost every American location where it isn't yet, an exceedingly comfortable position to be in while the communications industry as a whole flails about seemingly at random.

(Disclosure: If I don't drop dead in the next 15 years, and if a number of other things don't happen, I will presumably draw an SBC pension.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:48 PM)
2 February 2005
No respect from the rodents

Ain't no sunshine for seven days, and now there's this:

Punxsutawney Phil's handlers said the groundhog has seen his shadow which legend has it signals six more weeks of winter.

What I really want right now is one of Michele's "Kill Phil" greeting cards.

But for now:

You ain't nothin' but a groundhog
Sleepin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a groundhog
Sleepin' all the time
Well, you ain't never seen your shadow
And you ain't no friend of mine

Farging weasel.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
That kinda empty feeling

So is anyone still in Connecticut?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:56 AM)
5 February 2005
A fistful of loonies

Canada's national identity is verging on a crisis, reports Debbye Stratigacos from Toronto:

Two main legs of Canadian identity are health care and hockey, and both are way past life-support systems.

Today the despised American-style health system is the only resort for Canadians suffering and even dying on the waiting lists the treasured health care system offers in place of actual medical care, and some treatments are even being offered to Canadians at a discount by some enterprising American doctors.

As for hockey, attention NHL owners, players, and assorted others: it's February, you morons, and yet you're pretending there might yet be a chance for a hockey season? This season is dead, defunct. It has passed on. Canada survived without NHL hockey and the CBC showed some pretty decent double-billed movies on Saturday nights. End of story.

Is there nothing to assuage the pain of the anguished residents of the Great White North?

So what's left when health care and hockey are out for the count? The U.N., peacekeeping forces, and moral superiority.

Exposure of the debasement of the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program remains sparse and although a story [yesterday] speculates about possible Canadian connections to Hussein's oil, the conflict of interest of former PM Chretien due to his familial ties to Power Corp. and thus TotalFinaElf remains an unpublicized and unexplored factor in Canada's membership in the Axis of Weasels.

Remember when the argument would be made that Canadians had consciously reduced their military in order to nationalize a world-class health system?

Then he who was then Finance Minister and is now the Prime Minister, Paul Martin, decided to reduce the national debt by withholding money from the provinces which should have gone into the health care system. Now there's neither accessible health care nor military strength up here, but cruel history provided events in Liberia, Haiti (including the devastation of last summer's hurricanes) Sudan and a tsunami to accentuate the harsh reality that Canada can no longer respond to international crises nor provide peacekeeping to protect innocent people from genocide crimes against humanity.

Okay, scratch those. How about "moral superiority"?

Above all, Canadians are compassionate. If you don't believe me, just ask them. They will expound at length as to how much more compassionate and caring and enlightened they are than Americans. (They've even got some Americans believing it.) Why, they're close to achieving a plane of compassionate existence that's almost European! Unfortunately, they spend so much time and money proclaiming it that they never get around to actually doing much that is compassionate, caring or enlightened but a cynicism has set in that allows that it's the appearance that matters, not the deeds.

Or, as Dr. Laurence J. Peter once explained, "An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance."

Still, except for that hockey business, all this sounds an awful lot like our bluer states.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 AM)
8 February 2005
Know thine enemy

You know, I thought I was pretty scornful in my own way:

That business with the "action figures" demonstrated for all time just how pathetic your average Islamowhack terrorist truly is: split them down the middle, and half of them are Beavis, the other half are Butt-head. Mocking people like that is the second-most-fun thing you can do with them.

But my lame snark can't hold a three-for-a-dollar votive to the wrath of Andrea Harris:

These are the sort of "men" who are down with the idea of stoning a woman to death in a soccer stadium for showing some ankle. These are the kind of men who want women penned up with less freedom than veal cows. These are the kind of men who would throw a woman off a cliff for being raped. These are the kind of men who use retarded kids as suicide bombers. And you want our soldiers to go after them wearing a hairshirt.

We should have fun killing this kind of "man." I can only imagine the look on the face of a terrorist womanraping babykilling voterattacking strutting rooster whose last sight is the barrel of a gun held by one of our soldiers, and I hope whatever expression it was made the soldier giggle with glee. If only it were possible to do I'd be mowing them down myself with brass band accompaniment. I'd do it in high heels and a designer dress. I'd film it and put it on the internet with sarcastic balloon comments added. I'd throw a party after every kill. I'd pass out cigars. Those corpses I left intact I'd have stuffed, dressed in clown suits complete with nose and big shoes, and displayed in a shop window on Rodeo Drive. I'd sell their teeth on eBay and their ears at a garage sale.

So there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
9 February 2005
Unmitigated Galt

My first encounter with Ayn Rand and friends was when I was a high-school kid in South Carolina. The oddest aspect of it, now that I think about it, was that the Randians would make their semi-extensive outreach facilities open to us kids in parochial schools; it's like Henry Ford stocking Chrysler parts, just in case.

Still, enough of it stuck with me to elicit a few laughs at The 25 Most Inappropriate Things An Objectivist Can Say During Sex.

(Via Hit & Run, and probably not safe for work.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:56 PM)
10 February 2005
Skating over the poverty line

The discussion was about a proposed new notebook computer aimed at the $100 price point, but Ravenwood found this notion lurking in the back somewhere:

Far be it for me to stand in the way of someone trying to build a cheaper computer. But it occurs to me that the standard of "poor" has changed radically over the years. Especially when someone can still own a house, have cable TV, give their kids $200 sneakers, and now purchase a laptop, and still be called "poor".

All in how you define your priorities. I mean, God forbid someone should have to cancel HBO because of dental work or something, right?

Actually, I am disinclined to blame the actual "poor" persons, except in blatant instances of malfeasance; the fault, in general, lies with those individuals who have built their careers on the notion that if everyone doesn't get to spend each and every Sunday in status-symbol land, it's a symptom of deep, dark inequities in the system, which only government action can ameliorate.

(Disclosure: I once paid $105 for a pair of sneakers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
Previous experience discouraged

Found at Gawker:

From the Mediabistro job listings:

FOX News Channel, a fast-paced 24-hour television news operation in New York City, is seeking a Fact Writer for its information center.

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

I'm guessing that what they're looking for is someone to hack together the "FOX Facts" that crawl under the usual panoply of talking heads, in which case the most salient qualification would be the ability to say damned near nothing in very few words.

Which, alas, lets me out. ("Very few words" is not my most effective mode.) Not that I have any compelling reason to go to New York.

Besides that, I mean.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:36 PM)
14 February 2005
The herd thins further

In yet another telecommunications merger, Verizon is buying MCI for $6.7 million, beating out a bid by rival Baby Bell Qwest Communications.

From the Department of Plus ça change:

"Together with the acquisition of AT&T by SBC, the U.S. fixed market has now been completely reshaped," says Julian Hewett, chief analyst of analyst firm Ovum. "With the wonderful perspective of hindsight, the competitive industry structure imposed by the enforced break-up of AT&T in 1984 can be seen as a failure. This break-up split off of the regional telephone companies. . . from the long-distance operator [AT&T]. Everything has changed: in those days, all the profit was in long-distance; today, the profit is in local access. The power has moved back to the Baby Bells, and the separation of local access and long-distance has disappeared."

Dinosaurs don't have wagons. If they did, they'd be arranging them in a circle right about now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:59 AM)
17 February 2005
Stink globally, act locally

So we're about 36 hours into the Kyoto Protocol, it's not all that cold outside, and I'm coughing.

Heck of a deal, huh?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:42 PM)
18 February 2005
Wall Street woodshedding

What we have here is a letter on behalf of aggrieved shareholders to an apparently indifferent CEO. It starts out like this:

Third Point LLC ("Third Point") advises certain entities that hold 1,945,500 common units in Star Gas Partners L.P. ("Star Gas" or the "Company") [SGU]. Our 6% interest in the common units of the Company makes us your largest unitholder. Unlike the poor, hapless retail investors "stuffed" with purchases at the $24 level (many of whom are party to class action lawsuits against you personally and against the Company), we purchased our stake around these levels and took profits on about 500,000 shares near the $7.00 per unit level.

Since your various acquisition and operating blunders have cost unit holders approximately $570 million in value destruction, I cannot understand your craven stance with respect to shareholder communications.

It just gets better after that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:36 AM)
20 February 2005
Vice precedent

I've written before on the general decline of convention business, but some places seem to have it worse than others: while nationally the drop is around 16 percent, it's off 52 percent in Dallas.

What in the world is going on down there? The Fat Guy suspects it's a Laura Miller problem:

Call me a fool, but I suspect it might have to do with a frustrated Mommy in the Mayor's Office, who has banned late-night dancing, public smoking, and lap dances at strip clubs and who, if the grapevine is right (and it usually is), is now coming after "vice", for which you can read whores and poker, for her strong-mayor push in the next city election. Once upon a time, this used to be a really fun, wide-open town where adults (particularly out-of-town adults) could have a rocking good time. Now it's an uptight bunch of pricks who think another Italian purse store or French dress store or Noo Yawk god-knows-what store will keep bringing the dentists and insurance guys to town. Face it, Laura you've made the town safe for your hausfrau friends from Oak Cliff and Uptown and HP at the expense of the wahoo out-of-towners.

I'd say that TFG is no fool. One reason everyone (well, except me) wants to go to Las Vegas is that almost anything can happen in Vegas, and if it does, no big deal. Cities which hope to boost their convention traffic in an era when the whole idea of conventions is being seriously rethought will either have to find some way to emulate the Vegas model or come up with something comparably (and probably uniquely) compelling of their own. This leaves New Orleans, maybe, and who? Not New York, which has nanny issues of its own. And none of your second-tier convention cities are going to rise just because Dallas is in free fall.

Still, nobody's Convention and Visitors Bureau not even the one in Las Vegas is likely to make a "Whores and Poker!" pitch. There are going to be a lot of shiny new convention centers with a lot of empty rooms in the next few years. And semi-squeaky-clean Oklahoma City has had a lot of Laura Millers in its past: local historian Roy Stewart once quipped that "Recurrent pleas of reform and cleanup of vice... in Oklahoma City have been more easy to plot than cycles in the economy."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:15 PM)
22 February 2005
Stone cold sober, as a matter of fact

Not that I'd ever make up such a list myself or maybe it's just that I wouldn't dare make up such a list myself but Chase McInerney has elevated ten contemporary women to the pinnacle of byotchity.

I wish to state for the record that I have had no relationships with any of the individuals named therein.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
24 February 2005
Deleting the archives, sort of

Jack William Pacheco of Chowchilla, California does not want you to know that the Madera Narcotic Enforcement Team paid him a visit and charged him with possession of meth. (He says it belongs to a friend of a relative who was visiting; said friend was also busted.)

How much does he not want you to know this? He bought every issue he could find, in racks or at convenience stores, of that week's issue of The Chowchilla News, which mentioned the bust on Page One. Pacheco bought somewhere upward of 500 copies of the paper at half a buck apiece. Normal single-copy press run of the News is about 700 copies; 550 copies are delivered to subscribers. (No home-delivered copies were reported pilfered.)

The News went back to press and issued 500 more copies of the paper. Editor Patty Mandrell says that Pacheco wasn't being singled out, that front-page coverage of drug busts is the usual practice at the News. She didn't say whether being cleared of drug charges, as Pacheco insists he will be, qualifies for Page One.

(Snatched from Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 PM)
26 February 2005
On putting away childish things

Francis W. Porretto on why the damn Baby Boomers should grow up already:

The older we get, the more easily we tire, and the less change we can withstand without needing a good long nap. But the Universe is inflexible about its rules, and persists in not caring a whit about any man's preferences. The refreshment of body, mind, and spirit requires effort, and the effort must include a willingness to embrace change, at least in moderate degree.

Not all changes are good ones; nothing is more fatuous than a commitment to generic, unspecified "change." One must be able to tell good changes from bad. But that capacity is seldom lacking in the man who's lived well.

How many of us Baby Boomers have lived well well enough to know that the things of youth must eventually be surrendered in favor of other pursuits? How many of us have learned that two is not always better than one, and three not always better than two? And how many will embarrass themselves by pretending to be wrinkled teenagers, forever partying down as if their bodies and brains could still take the punishment and reap the full rewards, rather than admit that the time has come to seek a newer world... a world the young man, lacking the perspectives bestowed by time and chance, could never reach?

What popped into my head when I read this was a lyric by Tom T. Hall:

It's faster horses,
Younger women,
Older whiskey,
And more money.

I haven't played the ponies since the 1970s; it only seems as long since I've dabbled in drinking or pursued the fairer sex. And I have come to grips with the fact that The Donald's Visa limit will forever be higher than mine. But I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to complete the transformation from Average Insufferable Dude to Putative Elder Statesman; the latter position implies a level of wisdom I don't think I can legitimately claim to have gotten.

Maybe I need a nap.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 AM)
27 February 2005
The food is terrible, and such small portions, too

According to Newsweek, a "bipartisan panel of state lawmakers" said that President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act is "unconstitutional, deeply flawed and lacks sufficient funding," the sort of statement which arouses the wrath of Quincy:

Either the law is unconstitutional and therefore must be eliminated, which I believe is the case under the 10th Amendment, or it needs to be fixed and funded better. Sorry, panel, you can't have it both ways.

Which they can't, or at least shouldn't. So I dialed over to the National Conference of State Legislators, the panel in question, and the final draft of their task-force report is now available. And they're not saying "unconstitutional," exactly. From the Executive Summary:

[NCLB] has questionable constitutional underpinnings. It pits the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers to the states, against the spending clause of Article I, which allows the federal government to attach conditions to grants it provides to the states. Although the spending clause often has trumped the 10th Amendment, the Supreme Court, in South Dakota vs. Dole and other decisions, has placed constraints on how Congress may exercise its powers under the spending clause. The Task Force is concerned that NCLB fails to meet two of the South Dakota vs. Dole tests: its grant conditions are not unambiguous and it uses coercion and not financial inducement to attain state participation.

But then they point to two NCLB provisions which theoretically could compensate for the "federalism imbalances" therein:

Section 9401 of Title IX gives the Secretary of Education broad discretion to waive requirements of the law. The Task Force views this as an important tool that could turn state and federal government efforts from their current focus on process and strict adherence to the letter of the law to outcomes and compliance with the spirit and goals of the law. The other tool, Section 9527(a) of Title IX, notes that state and local governments should not have to incur expenses for implementing NCLB that are not funded by the federal government nor should the law force states or schools to change their curriculum or instruction. The Task Force believes this language should give state officials leverage in their efforts to ensure that the law is not an unfunded or underfunded mandate.

That's the gist of Chapter 1. The remaining five chapters deal with "deeply flawed."

Quincy, I'm thinking, gives the "unconstitutional" angle more credence, as suggested in this earlier post:

Note that the above opinions are from the point of view of a libertarian temporarily resigned to the fact that eliminating the Federal DoE wholesale isn't an option. I figure, as long as it's there, it might as well do some good.

To the extent that it actually can do some good, I guess. I'm not entirely persuaded that it can.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:50 PM)
28 February 2005
This morning in Wichita

Dennis Rader, say sources, has admitted to at least six of the BTK murders in southern Kansas. Rader, who is being held on $10 million bond, could appear in court today.

One new wrinkle: The BTK killings generally took place during a period when Kansas had no death penalty, but it's been suggested that one later murder, not previously linked to the BTK series, may also be charged to Rader, in which case, if convicted, he could be executed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
1 March 2005
But not for you

Sometimes they just write themselves:

A Springfield [Illinois] woman who began lobbying against gun violence after her son was shot to death in 2002 was arrested last week when police allegedly found an illegal gun and drugs in her home.

Annette "Flirty" Stevens, however, said Monday she's innocent, and the arrest is an attempt by police to get her to give up information about unsolved crime in the city.

The handgun, which had a scratched-off serial number, and drugs allegedly were discovered Friday morning inside Stevens' home in the [address redacted]. Authorities said they obtained a search warrant for the residence as part of an ongoing investigation of a recent series of drive-by shootings. No one has been hurt in the gunplay.

Stevens has not been formally connected to any crime directly related to the drive-by shootings. But Friday's discoveries could lead to her being charged with defacing the identification marks on a handgun, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance and having no valid firearm owner's ID card, police said.

Further comment from me would obviously be superfluous.

(Discovered at JunkYardBlog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
3 March 2005
Of course, there will be sacrifices

The solution to global warming? Ravenwood figured it out years ago:

Most people think that most of our oxygen comes from trees. But with two-thirds of the Earth's surface covered with water, it actually comes from oceans full of plant plankton, who dutifully convert CO2 to oxygen through photosynthesis. The biggest harm to plant plankton is not global warming, since a spike in CO2 would just mean that plant life thrives. Instead, plant plankton's biggest predator is whales. Whales scoop up plankton by the truckload. It would seem obvious then, that the solution is to protect plant plankton by slaughtering whales. With an absence of predators, plant plankton will overpopulate and drastically cut CO2 levels.

Amend that bumper sticker to read SAVE THE WHALES: COLLECT THE WHOLE SET!

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
8 March 2005
Over to you, Domenico

It goes like this:

Oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh

Me, I prefer to believe that Chris Muir thinks Giuliana Sgrena has no memory for lyrics, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
10 March 2005
Um, because he can?

The old saying goes: "Physician, heal thyself."

The legal equivalent, I suppose, is "Solicitor, sue thyself."

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
11 March 2005
For when "vibrate" isn't enough

Signs of the Apocalypse, Volume MDCLXVI: Wireless content company Brickhouse Mobile has announced that under an agreement with adult-film vendor New Frontier Media, it would begin offering ring tones for mobile phone users featuring actual porn stars making groaning and moaning noises, plus lewd wallpaper and downloadable video.

This, of course, supports Penn Jillette's argument that "Shopping, sex and shopping for sex propel all new technology." And I'm not one to get bent out of shape, so to speak, about sex: see previous item. On the other hand, I'm thinking I can keep my old stripped-down Nokia phone with no "cool" features whatever for a while longer. (Heh-heh. He said "stripped.")

(Via Jacqueline Passey.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
12 March 2005
Soon you're talking about real money

Forbes notes that there are 691 billionaires in the world these days, 131 more than last year.

Almost half of them live in the US, and two actually live in Oklahoma: George Kaiser, oilman and BOk boss, #132 at $4.2 billion, and David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby, #548 at $1.2 billion.

Meanwhile at the World Wide Rant, Andy, inexplicably not finding his name on the list, has come up with a solution: every daily visitor to his site should click on the PayPal link and send him $2,857,142.

I am, I suppose, less ambitious than Andy; I'd be happy if only one person sent me $2,857,142.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
18 March 2005
Callers from hell

Insufferable dillholes have been calling here for weeks now, most recently with a bogus Caller ID signature. (Area code "124," my ass.)

I don't really know whom they're looking for, and I don't really give a damn. I can, however, recommend that if anyone for any reason ever asks you to return their call at 866-877-0026, do so only long enough to tell them to perform an anatomical impossibility of your choice and then hang up with ferocity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:21 PM)
19 March 2005
The Guv goes down

Former Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland was fined $82,000 and sentenced to 366 days in the pen at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. He had entered a guilty plea to a corruption charge in December.

I spent about 550 days at Fort Devens myself, but this was before it became "an administrative facility housing male prisoners ... requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental health care."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 AM)
Instant trash

Somebody must have thought this was a really great idea:

  1. Print up ad pieces for two co-owned but otherwise unrelated businesses.

  2. Wrap them around used plastic cores obtained God knows where.

  3. Cover the resulting cylinders with about three square feet of shrinkwrap, which will require a minimum of five minutes with a pocket knife to remove.

  4. Lob them into people's yards.

Department-store king John Wanamaker used to say that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted, but he couldn't tell which half. I think it's a safe bet that whatever Keller Lawn Care / Heating and Air Conditioning spent on this little exercise was pretty much pissed away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
20 March 2005

R. Alex has a new cell phone. There's just one problem:

I don't know how to turn it on.

There is no "on" button.

What kind of cell phone... scratch that, what kind of anything electronic does not have an "on" button?

Well, there's my Olympus Digital Voice Recorder, which apparently is always on. Per the instructions:

If the recorder is stopped or paused for 60 minutes or longer during recording or playing, it goes into Standby (power-save) mode, and the display shuts off. To exit Standby mode and turn on the display, press any button.

In six months and about two hours of recording, it has yet to run down its first set of AAA batteries, so it must be saving some serious power.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:29 PM)
21 March 2005
The case of the gorgeous librarian

Desiree Goodwin's discrimination suit against Harvard, last mentioned here, has gotten as far as jury selection.

Goodwin, who says that her appearance has kept her from advancing in the Harvard library system in 2001, she claims, her supervisor told her she was considered "merely ... a pretty girl who wore sexy outfits, low cut blouses, and tight pants" asserts that she's lost out on $150,000 in potential earnings and has suffered emotional distress.

Opening statements will be issued tomorrow, assuming no last-minute settlement is reached.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers was not overheard suggesting that beautiful women might be better suited for research work.

Update, 22 March, 10 am: A posting at Sarah's feuilletons, by someone who knows the situation:

I'm not surprised, given my own experiences in the work world. The reality is that she is 40, exceptionally well educated and from my personal experience a fabulous resource at Harvard. That she looks easily 15 years younger, dresses well, not inappropriately, and is of African descent are things that don't mesh well often in the work world's opinions of appropriate behavior for women and minorities. Looking youthful, including being in healthy shape and in good spirits, are often declaimers for promotion of women; until they're then "old" and then they're too old for promotion. I've found the people at Loeb Library to be nothing but kind and helpful to students, so please don't take my sympathy for Desiree as displeasure with the library as a whole. But I recognize that there is a deep antipathy that runs counter to even so-called liberal ideals when a person of color is a good team player.

Also, the Boston Herald managed to come up with an unflattering photo of Ms Goodwin; those of you who seek a better photograph are directed here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 PM)
23 March 2005
Goodwin v. Harvard update

Richard Riley, representing Harvard, testified yesterday that there was "no hint" of discrimination against librarian Desiree Goodwin, whose lawsuit against the university began yesterday.

Goodwin stated that she had written a piece of ad copy for an employee newspaper in which she described, presumably tongue-in-cheek, her "never-ending quest to defy the image of the typical librarian"; she said her boss had heard a complaint about the piece from one of the head librarians. But what rankled her, evidently, was the boss's suggestion that she look for work elsewhere: "You really should apply outside of Harvard because the first thing employers look for is a qualified black person."

(I will probably do more of these, partly because they seem to draw readers, partly because I find this case interesting, and partly to take my mind off that other fortyish woman in the headlines who faces far worse a fate.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
26 March 2005
A hurried change of subject

So here's where things stand in the Desiree Goodwin case:

Under cross-examination, the Harvard assistant librarian said that she'd been turned down for higher positions at four other universities, and admitted that her science background was insufficient for one of the Harvard slots she'd sought.

Meanwhile, the Interested-Participant takes a dim view of Goodwin's case:

My take on her lawsuit is that she seems to have a disagreeable personality and promoting her would probably cause friction. Sexy or not, Goodwin doesn't appear to display the personal skills necessary for a job with more responsibility and authority. With a history of continuously complaining about her job and running to the newspaper to whine, management would seem to have ample reason to decide against promoting her. As for the contention that Goodwin is "too sexy," I've seen several pictures and I think she looks frumpy.

As a person with a verifiably disagreeable personality, I can testify that I can cause friction even on the bottom rung.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
30 March 2005
I guess I just wasn't made for this time

"You can't cut off one end of a rope and tie it to the other and expect it to be any longer when you're through."

Or so I said, way back when, to a scattering of jeers and catcalls. Apparently some people actually like Daylight Savings Time.

Well, not me. And not Steve, either:

[T]his annual ritual is totalitarianism at its most intrusive, and yet so well disguised that we all go along with it with hardly a complaint. I can remember wondering as a boy how we all managed to miss an hour in one part of the year and gain an hour in another part of the year where did they store that missing hour for six months? I soon realised that all that was happening was the equivalent of rotating the dial of the clock backwards or forwards underneath the hands. I now see that something of terrible significance is happening: the Government is decreeing that for the next six months we must all go to bed an hour earlier, get up an hour earlier, start work an hour earlier, eat our meals an hour earlier, walk the dog an hour earlier, in fact do everything an hour earlier than we would otherwise have done it. If the Government had dared to frame its decree in such literal terms, it would have been rightly ignored or at most sniggered at in much the same way as was the Emperor Claudius when, concerned that his subjects might be harming themselves by stifling farts, he decreed that henceforth farting was to be acceptable in polite company.

Link added by me. I will not yield on this matter.

(Via Phil Welch.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
O Death, where is thy sting?

Right here, apparently.

(Via the eternal Dawn.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 PM)
4 April 2005
Perhaps the last Desiree Goodwin update

The Harvard librarian who charged that she'd been a victim of discrimination lost her lawsuit against the university today.

"The odds are stacked against minorities," said Desiree Goodwin, who is a minority and who is definitely stacked. (Sorry, that just slipped out.)

She has no immediate plans to leave Harvard, and she says she's gotten "a few love letters from far-flung places" as a result.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 PM)
8 April 2005
And then there was one

I ran out of Bextra a couple weeks ago, and began looking for a replacement anti-inflammatory, on the reasonable basis that (1) the chemically-similar Vioxx had already been withdrawn from the market and (2) the third of the COX-2 inhibitors in general use, Celebrex, never did much for me.

Now Bextra is being pulled off the shelves as well, leaving Celebrex alone to carry on the product class. And buyers of Celebrex, and lots of other NSAIDs*, will be faced with a bevy of new product warnings.

Meanwhile, after unsuccessful trials with Relafen, I am in the process of switching to Mobic. It, too, will get the industrial-strength warnings. I do hope my prescription plan is amenable to the new stuff; they really hated Bextra, demanding a note from the prescribing physician in addition to the actual prescription itself, and then tacking an extra 50 percent onto the copayment.

*Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
11 April 2005
I wind up owing

This surprises me not a whit:

A study by economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle uses survey data to examine the impact that appearance has on a person's earnings. In each survey, the interviewer who asked the questions also rated the respondents' physical appearance. Respondents were classified into one of the following groups: below average, average and above average.

Hamermesh and Biddle found that the "plainness penalty" is 9 percent and that the "beauty premium" is 5 percent after controlling for other variables, such as education and experience. In other words, a person with below-average looks tended to earn 9 percent less per hour, and an above-average person tended to earn 5 percent more per hour than an average-looking person. For the median male in 1996 working full-time, the respective penalty and premium amounted to approximately $2,600 and $1,400 annually. The corresponding penalty and premium for the median female worker are $2,000 and $1,100.

One might think that for certain professions, appearance is more important. Indeed, occupations that require more interpersonal contact have higher percentages of above-average-looking employees. However, Hamermesh and Biddle showed that the plainness penalty and the beauty premium exist across all occupations.

Some possible rationales:

While appearance might seem unrelated to job performance, some explanations behind these wage differentials are based on unmeasured productivity. Certain characteristics, such as appearance, might affect productivity in ways that are not as easily measured (or as obvious) as are other characteristics, like education or experience. Appearance, for example, can affect confidence and communication, thereby influencing productivity. A study by economists Markus Mobius and Tanya Rosenblat estimates that confidence accounts for approximately 20 percent of the beauty premium. Further, employers might believe that customers or co-workers want to interact with more-attractive people. Biddle and Hamermesh found support for this view based on a higher beauty premium in the private sector since private attorneys need to attract and keep clients. [They ran a separate survey for lawyers.]

On the other hand, I can't imagine a group of seriously unattractive people filing a class-action suit in this matter: for one thing, they'd never get any television coverage.

(Via Steph Mineart.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
Do it again, just a little bit slower

A 21-year-old Taco Bell employee in the Salt Lake City 'burbs has drawn a six-month jail term plus probation for double-swiping credit cards of customers.

Which, of course, invites the question: Taco Bell takes credit cards?

To paraphrase George Carlin, "No one should be paying the bank 18 percent interest on a Burrito Supreme."

(Via Michelle Malkin.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 PM)
12 April 2005
Freeze, Mister

In fact, this would freeze anything this side of Hades.

Or, for that matter, the other side.

(Via Kyriosity.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
Aorta watch it

Now here's something I hadn't thought about:

The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

There is only one logical conclusion.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 AM)
The old Same place

According to legend, everyone has a twin. Somewhere out there, there's someone who looks exactly like me (shudder) or like you.

I have never quite believed this sort of thing, since it relies almost entirely on anecdotal evidence, the sum total of which simply cannot be equated to actual data.

And then I stepped into the dentist's office and there was one of the 42nd and Treadmill Office Babes except, of course, that it wasn't.

Now I've been through this sort of thing before, and I have concluded that it's better to say nothing and look a fool rather than to speak up and look even more of a fool. So I scoped her out as best I could without actually going into Stare Mode.

And, well, it was the same face, the same hair (with the same indifferent 'do), the same general curvature. She even crossed her legs at about the same angle, which, once she switched to the other side, enabled me to determine for certain that it wasn't the O.B. (Tattoo, or in this case the lack thereof.)

After about five minutes, another young woman popped through the door to the inner sanctum and the two of them went out together: friends from high school, I guessed.

The O.B. wasn't here today, so I didn't pass on this story to her, and frankly I don't know whether she'd be creeped out by the thought or amused by the idea that it's possible to see her while looking at a girl of eighteen. I'm vaguely creeped out by the thought that I gave it that much thought in the first place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:14 PM)
14 April 2005
A solid black dot

Matt Deatherage takes Consumer Reports to task:

[I]n the modern era, Consumer Reports has a history of incompetent product ratings by pretending one category of product is really another and rating it on that basis. I know that the group has a First Amendment right to do that, but that doesn't make their analysis correct, or even pass the laugh test. I know that when they nail a popular product, they use that for years to milk money from decent people who, as likely as not, are scared that a product may hurt them or just scared of looking like a fool for having purchased one.

If Consumer Reports had been founded in 1986 instead of 1936, there's no way it would have a reputation for being a "straight shooter" or a "trusted name in product recommendations." They're wrong, they're loud, they're mean about it, and they preach First Amendment rights while using copyright and lawsuits to silence their critics.

The specific wrongness under discussion is their verdict on the Ionic Breeze air gizmo, but plenty of other examples exist.

The magazine likes to brag about how it accepts no advertising, with the implication that it is fiercely independent and evaluates products (and, lately, "services") without even the slightest hint of bias. Mostly, this comes off as an attempt to exploit widespread consumer cynicism; historically, the automotive-enthusiast magazines, whenever they published favorable reviews, have gotten (and often printed) snitty letters from detractors observing that the check from [fill in name of manufacturer] must have cleared.

Consumers Union, by thinking itself above that sort of thing, has left itself wide open for another charge: blatant elitism. And it's not hard to find in any random issue a piece where they've dumbed-down some technical aspect of a product, perhaps because those non-technical types who actually read the magazine couldn't possibly understand all the fine points. Besides, they keep changing their standards: used to be, a car was Recommended if it tested well and had at least average reliability. Now they've factored dubious crash-test results into the equation. (Is there a "standard crash"? In the laboratory, sure. On the highway, not even close.)

The best thing in Consumer Reports is the list of repair records for various classes of products, largely because the results are supplied by actual readers. (Consumers Union does ask the questions, and sometimes the questions are open to interpretation, but by and large they don't muck around with these.) But, as a typical member of Big Media, they're anxious to impress you with their level of expertise whether it's deserved or not.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
27 April 2005
Return to Busted Flush Estates

(First trip is here.)

The Forbes list of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country, to no one's surprise, is heavily loaded with New York and California locations. (94027 Atherton, California is at the very top; the median home price in Atherton in 2004 was a startling $2,496,553.)

I did run down the entire list of 150 in the hopes of finding something starting with a 7, and found one: 72201, in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Rock? I might have believed Bentonville, full of Wal-Lords, maybe, but Little Rock? Yet there it is, with a median home price of $801,500, good for 148th place. [The preceding has been, um, rendered inoperative; see Comments.] (Where are the Texans, fercryingoutloud?)

And if you want to live around my neck of the woods, the price of entry runs a modest $96,226.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
5 May 2005
They're no angels, either

Xrlq (rhymes with "strlq") notes that an Assemblyman from Orange County has introduced a bill to require a disclaimer by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the effect that, well, they're not actually in Los Angeles, which is exactly the sort of consequence that logically follows from the adoption of the second-dumbest team name in recent history.

Which, of course, leads to the obvious question: What happens to "Bears Football presented by Bank One", now that JP Morgan Chase has acquired Bank One?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:38 PM)
9 May 2005
One pill makes you larger

And one pill makes you small.

And sometimes I get the feeling that the pharmaceutical industry is counting on me to take both of them. Constant drug advertising, coupled with the tagline "Ask your doctor if Suchandsuchium is right for you." Instant demand, whether it's "right for you" or not.

Bruce expands:

There's no denying that some really good, useful drugs have been developed to deal with some really horrible illnesses. But we are playing with fire when we allow pharmaceutical companies to do direct marketing of their products. A few years ago when we (who?) decided that it might be ok for drug companies to start advertising on TV you just had to know it would come down to what we have now, with wall to wall ads for erectile dysfunction drugs and smiley happy little clouds bouncing along in a cheery haze from a chemical concoction.

Got some sniffles? Ask your doctor for this pill.

Feeling kinda sore? Ask your doctor for this pill.

Feeling a little blue and sad? Ask your doctor for this pill.

And of course, the cost of all this puffery is rolled into the cost of the drug.

Perhaps I was better off with the ones Mother gave me. They didn't do anything at all, but they didn't cost me (or her) a thousand dollars a year either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
Welcome to the last level

It's called the Unified Theory of Career Nervousness, and Sgt. Mom explains it thusly:

Given that complete and total dickheads ought to be pretty evenly distributed throughout the ranks, I tried to account for the disproportionate accumulation of them at the rank of Technical Sergeant [E-6] or Major with eighteen to nineteen years of service. I believe that Sgt. Mom's Unified Theory of Career Nervousness accounts for this phenomenon.

My theory is predicated upon the fact that a career military member can retire with a somewhat adequate pension at twenty years, but that most enlisted members want very much to retire as an E-7, and that officers want very much to retire as a Colonel. At those ranks, you can stay on past the twenty year mark, but if you have not ? oh well. As they say in Moscow, "Tuff shitski, comrade." An E-6, or a major with just a year to two to go before that twenty-year cut off, and facing the prospect that making it to the next rank is problematical to impossible ? well, that person is very often either sour and embittered or afraid that the least little mark against will screw up the chance they do have of making it to that next magical promotion. The sour and embittered, or the terribly ambitious are not nice people to work for. Three guesses as to whom they will take it out on, and the first two guesses do not count.

I've never been terribly ambitious, though I'll admit to "sour and embittered." As it happens, though, I never made E-6. (Then again, I was only on the rolls for six years, not eighteen or nineteen, and one doesn't pile up stripes as an inactive reservist, which I was at the end.)

And a commenter to the original post said that insufferability, in his experience, peaked at the E-7 level: "Having received that coveted promotion, they concluded that they were perfect and proceeded to act accordingly."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
16 May 2005
A word to the sufficient is wise

Frighteningly, this makes perfect sense:

I talk to a lot of consultants, freelancers, and small businesses who do web work, and I used to be a freelancer myself, so sometimes I get asked for advice on how to price one's goods and services.

I think I came up with my best suggestion today, and it involves only two simple steps:

   1. Slap the client in [the] face.

   2. Tell the client your hourly rate.

If the person looked more shocked, horrified, offended, hurt, saddened, or wounded by the slap in the face, then you are still pricing yourself too low.

Geez, I'm even cheaper than I imagined.

(Via Lifehacker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:54 PM)
20 May 2005
Wally World shrinks a bit

Just in case you were starting to think that Wal-Mart was some sort of invincible juggernaut:

Wal-Mart has departed the online DVD rental business after less than two years, doing a deal with Netflix in which Wal-Mart will sent online movie renters to Netflix and Netflix will promote Wal-Mart for disc purchases.

Back when Wal-Mart launched its service, there were plenty of predictions that it would spell serious trouble for Netflix. But the retailing giant's online service never took off back in February, Business 2.0 reported that Netflix had 2.6 million customers while Wal-Mart's service had a piddling 50,000. In retrospect, this isn't surprising: When a Web-only company has invented a business that makes sense, it's proven practically impossible to unseat it as the market leader.

(From PC World's Techlog.)

You can say, "Yeah, they couldn't be number one, so they took their ball and went home," but they weren't even close to being number two; Blockbuster has about half a million customers for its DVD rentals online.

At least Wal-Mart didn't abandon their customers, something we've seen a lot of from failed retail ventures in recent years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
21 May 2005
The wonderful world of financial minutiae

Requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act are viewed as onerous by some corporate officers, and, says CT, that's just too bad:

I find it amusing to hear all the grousing over a law that requires nothing more than simple accountability. That the extra work drives CFOs to distraction (and in the case of Outback Steakhouse's Bob Merritt, resignation from his job) elicits no sympathy from me at all. These companies are more than happy to reap the rewards of being a public company huge cash reserves, leveraged borrowing, etc. but ask them to pay for those advantages by lifting the veil from their financial books, and they have a fit.

I have my own issues with Sarbanes-Oxley, mostly philosophical: as Mindles H. Dreck points out, the regulatory trend is toward "giving up on the idea of strict prescriptive guidelines of behavior in favor of both subjective guidelines and creating a paper trail for litigators," and while paper trails have their value, subjective guidelines are worrisome.

Still, this doesn't mean that there should be no regulations at all. Corporations are synthetic constructs chartered by the states, and the states, at least, seldom make any unreasonable demands on them. Wall Street complains that a few bad apples brought this upon them, which merely shows how out of touch they are with apple-pickers, who know that the bad ones can show up in any section of the bushel at any time.

And if it's so bloody necessary to keep pesky investors and such out of your books, then take the company private and shut the hell up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:21 AM)
24 May 2005
And every tent shall have a camel's nose

You may as well read the whole thing:

Whereas believers of all religions, including the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, should be treated with respect and dignity;

Whereas the word Islam comes from the Arabic root word meaning ?peace? and ?submission?;

Whereas there are an estimated 7,000,000 Muslims in America, from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, forming an integral part of the social fabric of America;

Whereas the Quran is the holy book for Muslims who recite passages from it in prayer and learn valuable lessons about peace, humanity and spirituality;

Whereas it should never be official policy of the United States Government to disparage the Quran, Islam, or any religion in any way, shape, or form;

Whereas mistreatment of prisoners and disrespect toward the holy book of any religion is unacceptable and against civilized humanity;

Whereas the infringement of an individual's right to freedom of religion violates the Constitution and laws of the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives?

(1) condemns bigotry, acts of violence, and intolerance against any religious group, including our friends, neighbors, and citizens of the Islamic faith;

(2) declares that the civil rights and civil liberties of all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith, should be protected;

(3) recognizes that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, as any other holy book of any religion, should be treated with dignity and respect; and

(4) calls upon local, State, and Federal authorities to work to prevent bias-motivated crimes and acts against all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith.

And we're doing this why, exactly? It surely isn't reciprocity.

(Found at LGF.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 PM)
5 June 2005
The thousand natural shocks

As the phrase goes, I've been poor, and I've been, um, less poor. Perhaps on the global scale I might be considered "rich" these days, in the sense that I don't have to rearrange the budget should I fancy a cherry turnover some morning, but where I see myself is somewhere below the middle of the middle class. (Then again, in years gone by I've tended to see myself as somewhere near the top of the lower class, although we're not supposed to use terms like "lower class" in these hypersensitive times.)

Economic class, however, has a little more volatility than we're generally willing to admit, as a few hundred folks in Bluebird Canyon found out recently; a million-dollar asset can become almost worthless in a matter of moments. "Nature," we are reminded, "bats last."

Although I don't think I'd put it quite as baldly as this:

[T]here is a discernible amount of scorn, envy and contempt I have for people who, for no real reason of intellect or moral capability, have amassed wealth simply by sitting still. I like earthquakes in California, they are the only economic justice in the face of half-million dollar homes with 1100 square feet. I don't really hate the players, I hate the game, and I hate not having mastered it. I hate not having that thing easily as is expected of persons of my station. I wonder if I'll ever get over it.

Probably not: the politics of envy is now firmly established in the American system. ("Economic justice," indeed.) Still, no matter how rich you are, you can't afford to be smug about it; there are always forces beyond your control.

(By way of Xrlq in the O.C.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
6 June 2005
Gimme an F (again)

Washington State actually issued this plate, then cancelled it after four months.

It's up for auction on eBay as we speak (minimum bid $5000).

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
7 June 2005
Moroccan role

Norway, thanks to North Sea oil the third-largest exporter of petroleum, has been socking away spare kronor in a Petroleum Fund, a hedge against the time when the pumps will presumably start sucking air. To avoid undue influence on the Norwegian domestic economy, the Fund buys overseas equities only.

And for a while, the Fund held about $52 million of Kerr-McGee stock, but Norway has announced that the Fund has sold all its KMG shares and will do no further business with the company.

The reason? KMG is engaged in offshore oil exploration off the Western Sahara, a region annexed by Morocco in 1975, and the Fund's ethics advisors said that this was "a particularly serious violation of fundamental ethical norms ... because it may strengthen Morocco's sovereignty claims and thus contribute to undermining the UN peace process."

Kerr-McGee points out that the UN itself reviewed, and approved in 2002, their permit from the Moroccan government. The company did not, so far as I know, burst into guffaws at the mention of the phrase "UN peace process."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
10 June 2005
Compassionate Canadians

These days, says Matt Rosenberg, downtown Vancouver is full of crap:

The ripe stench of human excrement is getting stronger in downtown lanes, curling the stomachs of workers who no longer want to relax by the back door for smoke breaks.... The 10-block city slum is swollen with up to 5,000 injection drug users who have less control of their bowels. Many are homeless and have nowhere to go to the toilet. Often the drug users roam out of the neighbourhood into alleys linking downtown businesses.

(Original here. )

Vancouver, you'll remember, has a "supervised-injection site," a location where heroin addicts will be supplied with clean needles and high-grade H, in the interests of, um, well, it certainly can't be keeping them off the street, can it?

Much is made of Oklahoma's high incarceration rate, and while it's possible to argue that we lock up way too many people for drug-related offenses, it's also pretty clear that someone behind bars has a lower probability of taking a dump on the sidewalk.

I can't help but wonder if maybe the most rational policy here might be good old Moynihanian benign neglect: let them be, let them pursue their highs without fear of arrest, and let them quietly expire when the drug, as it will, exacts its price.

Still, "rational" has little to recommend it in the feel-good department, so I'd be happy to entertain other ideas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
12 June 2005
Preservation act II

Back in January, I linked to a Michael Bates complaint about the weakness of Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance.

It appears that things aren't much better in Big D, per this Dallas Observer story:

[T]here are myriad structures and neighborhoods on the National Register, many in South Dallas, that stand despite the fact that City Hall has done nothing to guarantee their futures. The Dallas Landmark Commission, charged with protecting these properties, is short-staffed, under-budgeted and must ultimately answer to the city council, which has to approve the commission's recommendations before a property or neighborhood is deemed historic.

And what happens if you go to the Landmark Commission?

Usually it's up to the property owner to seek the designation from the Landmark Commission, which meets once a month. The city provides considerable incentives for those who want to have their site designated, including an abatement program that freezes taxes on the property for 10 years, meaning if you buy a dilapidated structure for $50,000, then put $100,000 of work into it, you're going to pay taxes on only the initial investment for a decade. But some property owners don't want the designation because with it also come pages of regulations telling you what you can and cannot do to the house. Before you can even touch a local landmark, you have to get a certificate of appropriateness from the city, which most owners would rather not deal with.

The experience of one property owner:

Dennis Topletz says he only found out about the [Ellis House's] historical value when he went to City Hall to get a permit to do a little work on the place. He was informed not only that the building was on the city's teardown list, and had been for several years, but that before he could do any work on it, he had to get a certificate of appropriateness from the Landmark Commission, which then had to go to Austin for approval. (Technically, [Dallas city official Leif] Sandberg says, the certificate wasn't required since the Ellis House isn't a landmark, but the Landmark Commission still demanded one.) Around the same time, he was also served with a code-compliance violation for failing to mow the overgrown yard. Topletz says it was taken care of within two days, but he was ticketed anyway. He went ahead and paid the ticket, at the insistence of his attorney, who said it would cost more to fight the fine than just pay the $200.

This isn't the sort of thing which encourages taking care of historic structures. Oklahoma City guidelines specify: "A [Certificate of Appropriateness] is not necessary for routine maintenance work, which includes repair or replacement when there is no change in design, materials, color in certain instances, or general appearance. A CA must be obtained for all other projects that affect the exterior surfaces or spaces of properties in the historic districts." This is not to say that it's particularly easy to do things in Oklahoma City, only that there are fewer potential legal hoops through which a property owner may have to jump.

Dallas' rep as a place where you tear everything down and start over again is somewhat undeserved. But it's pretty clear that when tearing something down is the path of least resistance, the bulldozers will be busy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:24 PM)
14 June 2005
Pure coincidence

After all, it was published in 1980:

If you look up "Islam" in the 15th Edition of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia Volume 9, copyright 1980, you will find it on page 911.

Just one of those things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:01 PM)
17 June 2005
D'oh! a deer

A female deer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
19 June 2005
Just like pop

With a title like Global Web-Marketing & E-Business Information Magazine, you know that it's one of those startups where getting from "Brilliant Idea" to "Profit" somehow doesn't have a solid step 2.

And you'd be wrong, although they don't tell you this up front. Down one directory level, there's Google Will Eat Itself, which reveals that the reason Global Web-Whatever carries Google text ads is to obtain funds to purchase shares in Google.

If I remember correctly, this scheme was last attemped by the late William M. Gaines, founder of Mad, who announced it after the takeover of National Periodical Publications/DC Comics (then his corporate parent) by Kinney National Services, later to become Warner Communications. It went something like this:

The Mad companies are now wholly owned by Kinney, and are slowly acquiring Kinney stock. Our goal is to acquire all of the Kinney stock, so that while Kinney will own Mad, Mad will also own Kinney.

Which, Gaines noted, would cut down the staff meetings considerably.

(Based on this AdLand post.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:02 AM)
Post-teenage wasteland

I wasn't around much before that, so I couldn't tell you if the trend had already started by then, but about the time the 1960s counterculture was taking hold, marketroids had figured out that it was possible, and theoretically profitable, to drive a wedge between young people who were cool, and not-so-young people who were not so cool, by developing products aimed specifically at post-adolescents.

Except, of course, that it doesn't actually work. If there's anything a self-respecting twentysomething hates, it's having something pitched to him because he's a twentysomething. ("It's like we're, like, being used.") It's not that they necessarily want to hang with the elders or anything; it's just that they'd like to find their Special Things on their own, thank you very much.

So kiss Coca-Cola Zero goodbye; it is geared specifically to the Young and Hip, the very model of your modern major marketing, and it will fall flat on its artificially-sweetened face. Lynn gives it the royal send-off:

I love that "a new brand they can call their own." Well what are they gonna do if us old farts decide we like it and start drinking it? Will they call the age police on us or will they just give it up in despair. "Damn those old people. We can't have any brand to call our own."

Damn us, indeed.

Think Honda Element, a funky panel truck built on the CR-V platform, which everyone was sure would appeal to surfer dudes and such and which was far too outré for everyone else. After the first year, the numbers were in, and the average Element buyer was, um, 43 years old.

Hitting a moving target is hard enough; hitting a target that doesn't take kindly to being considered a target is damned near impossible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
21 June 2005
Personally, I blame Paris

Have we come to this? A Hilton hotel with an outhouse?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:07 PM)
A bouquet of forget-me-nots

North Dakota Governor John Hoeven just can't keep his mind on Julie R. Neidlinger:

I have to say that Hoeven is very personable. Except, of course, he greeted all the other media people at the airport as if they were old buddies "So your dad is ______, over at Game and Fish, huh? I guess you know the outdoors. And Ronna! It's always good to see you" blah blah blah. Me?


It's not like he's never ever ever seen me before. He came up to Langdon just a few months back because of all the Main Street fires (Langdon seems to be a kind of Bermuda Triangle for crappy luck here in North Dakota), and I met him then. And I met him when I was at the capitol with my friend whose father is a representative. He even made the same silly joke then as he did this time, about how the paper I work for, the Cavalier County Republican, was a great name for a paper. Which, I suppose, should have been a sign he didn't remember me. The same joke. Twice. To the same person. In one year.

You know, "Cavalier" is a great name for a county.

I don't want to be too hard on Governor Hoeven I've been known to repeat myself for no discernible reason but telling someone a good joke twice is bad enough; telling someone a bad joke twice is almost unforgivable.

Then again, I've been known to repeat myself for no discernible reason.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 PM)
22 June 2005

Bistro, n. 1. A small restaurant, featuring simple fare, sometimes with entertainment. [Fr. bistro] 2. A vehicle for transferring credit risk to a Special Purpose [financial] Vehicle. [Acronym for Broad Index Secured Trust Offering]

Either way, I don't want it creamy and/or garlic-ridden.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:13 PM)
24 June 2005
There are always weasels

Our esteemed health plan (surely someone esteems it, since we've had it for over a year, which is approaching the corporate record) apparently has a degree of paranoia which exceeds the usual insurance-industry standard; they had a third party send me a seemingly-innocuous letter asking me to call in with information about my knee surgery last December. Apparently they got the notion, God knows where, that I had claimed this to be work-related and had filed a claim with someone else's insurance, and they expected to be reimbursed for what they paid in.

Well, yes, I know the rules of the game. And I didn't file with anyone else: if I have a work-related ailment, it's called Bad Temper, and no one is compensating me for that in the slightest.

What irked me most, though, was that they would go to this much trouble for the seventeen bucks they paid for the lab work. There was no mention of the operation itself, or of the amount paid for the surgical facility, or any of the other bazillion ways health-care professionals have to run up the tab only this feeble $83 laboratory charge, eighty percent of which they blithely ignored in the first place.

If I ever say anything kindly about the prospect of single-payer health care, it will be because of stuff like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 PM)
27 June 2005
Going with the flow

Everybody knows that it happens, but sometimes it takes a little help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
Putting up a front

It's not like my cup runneth over or anything, but somehow this just seems wrong.

(Via Peppermint Patty.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
28 June 2005
10, 2 and forlorn

A "Useless Fact" stuffed into a corner of Stuff (August '05):

The Dr Pepper company says it doesn't use prunes, black peppers, chili peppers, bell peppers, peppermint, prune juice or cherry flavoring to make its drink. Which leaves only eggs and ketchup.

I remember making an Emergency Bloody Mary (proper ingredients being unavailable at that particular instant) out of that combination once upon a time, and I don't recall it being the slightest bit Dr Pepperesque.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
30 June 2005
Lady Justice takes a powder

We begin with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Lance Salyer, former prosecutor in Dayton, Ohio, tried his best to live up to that quote:

Sadly, the work of doing Justice sometimes falls into the laps of "timid souls," who not only shrink from the hard and uncertain work of Duty, but have the audacity to wrap themselves up in an air of self-congratulatory smugness at their exercise of "responsible caution." And while the halls of the ivory tower bear witness to the solemn nods of other, like-minded souls with their reinforcing pronouncements of "Yes, it had to be done. Nothing you could do," the Small, the Weak, and the Victimized are left to fight Evil alone. Some fight, too: unfair to start, now Evil has the added upper-hand of having had the Powers That Be tell its Victim in no uncertain terms "You're not worth fighting for." Simply calling it shameful is like describing the Titanic as having had "a problem." I've never been good at understatement.

Here's hoping that Lady Justice hasn't yet left the building in total disgust.

The operative phrase here, unfortunately, is "former prosecutor":

Today I was fired from my job as an assistant prosecutor with the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office. The reason? my opinion as expressed in my blog post immediately preceding this one.

Evidently the souls really resent being referred to as "timid."

And Dawn Eden gets to the heart of the matter:

Simply put, some people don't like working with people who believe there is a real difference between good and evil. Those people don't like the feeling of having their behavior judged and they feel judged by the mere presence of someone who believes there's right and wrong. To that end, like the vinedressers in Jesus' parable, they believe that by disposing of the person who represents judgment to them, they can dispose of judgment itself.

I'm beginning to think that "responsible caution" may be an oxymoron.

Best of luck, Lance; and if your former employers were chafing before, they're going to be shrieking in pain as the word gets out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
Do it yourself, we need the money

The People's Republic of Berkeley scores again:

Starting Aug. 1, when the 2004 California Electrical Codes automatically take effect, residents will have to apply for city building permits to replace or add wall, porch and ceiling lamps, light switches, electric receptacles, and other common do-it-yourself chores.

So changing that noisy electrical switch with a quieter mercury switch will cost a lot more. Besides the costs of the new switch, there'll be the $81 basic permit fee plus an additional surcharge of $2.15 for each receptacle, outlet or switch and?if you want to add more $21.50 for altering or changing wiring.

Under the current city code, such small changes can be made without permits and inspections; starting Aug. 1, not so.

I am disinclined to spend $117 for a copy of the California codes, so I can't tell you whether this sort of mopery is mandated statewide or is merely an effort by Berkeley to extort more coin of the realm from its subjects, but eighty-three bucks and change to swap out a light switch? I expect this will be followed just as religiously as "No Signs" laws pertaining to garage sales.

(From Knowledge Problem by way of No Watermelons Allowed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 PM)
1 July 2005
We won't even mention that stretch business

Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Reed "Mr Fantastic" Richards in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, apparently had to undergo more digital effects than had been planned:

I started out wearing a codpiece under the suit. Then memos started arriving from the studio that we needed to make it smaller and smaller until I was like Action Man.

Sue Storm was unavailable for comment.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
3 July 2005
Press 9 to hear 852 and 1477 Hz

A few years back I disconnected the voice-mail system I had on my landline phone. I've never had it at work. And few things in life annoy me more than having to negotiate someone else's voice mail.

But my annoyance is the chirping delight of Pollyanna next to Matt's reaction:

I despise voice mail. I hate it with a passion usually reserved for terrorists and cauliflower. The beep that denotes a new voice mail creates a fire of loathing so hot, hell would seem like no more than a nice day in Hawaii. When I used to slave away for Giant Evil Corporation and would have to travel, I'd change the greeting on my voice mail to say that I would not be checking it and request that people send me an email. I'd return after two or three days, see the message light blinking and hear those hated words, "You have seventy-three new messages".

I'm no economist, but I'm pretty sure that voice mail is the number one productivity killer in business, period. In the time it takes me to listen to ten VM's, I could have gone through fifty emails, both reading and responding.

I might try that on my cell phone during the World Tour: "Please send me an email. If you don't know my email address, you don't know me and I don't want to talk to you anyway."

So long as they don't figure out that it's possible to send email to the phone, I'm okay.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:40 AM)
16 July 2005
Guess you better slow your Mustang down

Orwell's Animal Farm was nothing at all like this.

Thank heaven.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
22 July 2005
Coming soon: Final Fanta Z®

"Good name for it," says Lynn about Coca-Cola Zero:

This one is sweetened with aspartame just like old Diet Coke so it has the same diet taste but, like Diet Coke with Splenda, it has no kick absolutely none, not even a tiny, sleepy baby kick, like the name says: Zero. This is Diet Coke for people who can't handle Diet Coke.

Yes, yes, I know: this is about getting more shelf space in stores, and the actual product is incidental. But the more Coca-Cola keeps screwing around, the more likely I am to say the hell with them and go pick up a case of Dr Pepper or RC.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 AM)
26 July 2005
Fuzzbox, and we're gonna use it

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has signed Senate Bill 280, which shuffles the Show-Me State's rules for cosmetologists and mandates that parental consent be obtained before minors can get a bikini wax.

This latter provision puzzles me to some extent why make it difficult for an underage girl to look like, well, an underage girl? but I admit, I had no idea there was so much demand that the government would feel compelled to interdict the supply.

Not to worry. As Aldahlia says, "Just get a Bic. Duh."

(This is kind of scary: two posts on this topic in less than 72 hours. Where is my mind?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 PM)
29 July 2005
Trippingly on the dung

Ordinance #22778 in the city of Oklahoma City (which passed 5-4, in case you were curious) requires "the removal of animal solid waste on public or private property" and "possession of waste removal equipment" for said materials.

So it's just a matter of time before we get something like this.

(With grateful appreciation to Debbie Galant and Dawn Eden.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
It figures

The United States Postal Service has an online store, which sells more than just stamps 'n stuff.

And Bruce asked, logically enough, "If you buy a CD from the US Postal Service, do you still have to pay shipping?"

He did some checking, and yes, you do.

On the other hand, it's a safe bet they're not going to send anything UPS Ground.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
31 July 2005
Spaced out

It's a perfectly legitimate question of economics: how to allocate your consumption of a finite non-durable good over an infinite period of time.

And Glen Whitman means "infinite," too:

If you were a Muslim, and you died and went to the Muslim heaven, how would you space out your enjoyment of the 72 virgins? Suppose that you actually find virginity desirable, and suppose that the virgins' maidenheads are not magically restored periodically. If the afterlife has infinite duration, then no matter how long you wait to deflower your 72nd virgin, you'll still be looking at an infinitely long virgin-less future thereafter.

And this could be troublesome, especially if your primary motivation is the anticipation of the six dozen:

If the joy of looking forward to taking a virgin were the primary source of your satisfaction from doing so, then your optimal plan would require always having one virgin ahead of you. Every period, you would have the choice of taking the virgin now or taking her tomorrow, and taking her tomorrow would always generate a greater sum of instantaneous utility and anticipatory utility (if we maintain the assumption of no time-discounting). But in that case, you would never actually take the last virgin in which case your anticipation would be unjustified.

Read the whole thing for the complete analysis.

As for me, my experience with defloration is decidedly limited, and I believe it is in the best interests of everyone if I keep it that way.

(Uncovered by Lemuel Kolkava.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
One hand slaps the other

I didn't see it when I was up there last year, but there is now a fancy lighted "Welcome to Great Falls" sign on US 87, which cost around $100,000 to build and landscape.

And which the Montana Department of Transportation hit with a green sticker warning that the sign was unauthorized and would have to be removed unless the proper permits were obtained.

Feathers were ruffled, phone calls made, and anxieties eventually quelled, but geez, it's hard to avoid the impression that someone in Helena needed something to do.

I can't wait to hear Dave's take on this.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:23 PM)
1 August 2005
Before the heat beats you

You're probably not planning a visit to Desert Hot Springs, California in August if you're anything like me, avoiding the heat is a higher priority than frolicking in the, um, whatever it is they have in the desert [that would be "sand"-ed.] but the Hacienda Hot Springs Inn will meet you halfway, at least five days a week.

The weekend rate at the end, per night, is whatever the temperature is, in degrees Fahrenheit, at 2 pm that day; if it's 110 degrees, your room is $110, plus the usual taxes and such. But to entice people to come in on weekdays, the inn takes that same temperature and slices it in half: fifty-five bucks on that 110-degree day.

On the downside, grumbles Gridskipper, "you'll need every extra penny to buy enough fluids to stay hydrated."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
3 August 2005
From the Department of Incisive Comparisons

Michelle Malkin sizes up Muslim commentator Fatina Abdrabboh:

Next assignment: An op-ed in the Washington Post about the rise of anti-Muslim discrimination when she doesn't get the right change back at Krispy Kreme.

The record-holder in this realm, though, remains Cam Edwards, who once described a leading Democrat this way:

I look at Howard Dean and see a guy who's going to invade Mexico because Taco Bell got his order wrong.

Snark and product placement. What's not to love?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
6 August 2005
Your basic lose/lose scenario

I'm not even sure I can excerpt this, but let's see:

Because of various health issues, April Thompson said she had reason to believe she might never have a child.

When she got pregnant, the joy she wanted to share with her employer quickly turned sour when, she said, her boss demanded that she get an abortion or risk losing her job.

Thompson's attorney, Ed Buckley, said the woman eventually was fired by Piedmont Management Associates, a homeowners association management firm, for refusing to get the abortion.

Thompson recently filed a lawsuit in Fulton County [Georgia] Superior Court against the company and its president, Celia Ebert, on grounds of discrimination and emotional duress. "We believe that the conduct of forcing a woman to get an abortion falls into intentional infliction of emotional distress," Buckley said.

And that's just what it does to the woman.

It gets better, or worse:

Thompson was suffering from endometriosis, and a doctor recommended a hysterectomy to handle the condition, which can lead to severe pain and infertility.

Thompson, 30, sought a second opinion from a fertility doctor and decided on laparoscopy surgery. According to the lawsuit, when Ebert found out Thompson was seeing a fertility doctor, she told her she was "worried that she was trying to get pregnant."

"If you get pregnant, you will have to move because I am not putting up with any babies around here and you also won't have a job," the lawsuit says Ebert told Thompson. "The guys and I do not even hire single mothers because of the problems. I know you have some great delusion that you will be a great mother, but you won't you can't even take care of your dog."

In December 2004, Thompson's doctor told her laparoscopy surgery did not address her medical condition and recommended the hysterectomy. Thompson said Ebert agreed to give her medical and vacation time for the procedure. On Jan. 24, Thompson went in to schedule her hysterectomy and was told she was pregnant. According to the lawsuit, when Ebert found out, she demanded that Thompson get an abortion.

Let's focus on that line about "The guys and I do not even hire single mothers because of the problems." What was the official response by Ebert's attorney to the lawsuit? You guessed it:

"Piedmont Management is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate in its employment practices."

Except, of course, when there might be "problems."

Aldahlia cites this case as "The Crossroads of Conservatism," and asks:

Do you say what the Free Market Fundies say in situations like this? That an employer has a right to demand whatever they want from employees in an "at will" contract?

Or, do you say that business is the end-all, be-all of existence, the Guiding Hand of God, but that fetuses are more important than Adam Smith?

This balancing act would baffle Cirque de Soleil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
Seminoles v. dillholes

T. K. Wetherell, president of Florida State University, says he will sue the National Collegiate Athletic Association for its decision to ban Native American-related team indicia and mascots and whatnot at schools hosting NCAA postseason events.

Says Wetherell:

This university will forever be associated with the "unconquered" spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

What's more, he says, he's contemplating painting the Seminole logo "three times as big" on the Doak Campbell Stadium field.

The actual Seminole tribe was not consulted by the NCAA, says Tribal Council member Max B. Osceola Jr.:

It's like history they left the natives out. They have non-natives telling natives what's good for them or how they should use their name. You have a committee made up of non-natives telling people that they can not use a native name when you have a native tribe a tribal government, duly elected and constituted that said they agree with Florida State.

(Emphasis added.)

The NCAA ruling apparently does not affect football, since there is no actual NCAA championship series. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for someone to complain about Michael Savage's last name.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:45 PM)
9 August 2005
Fishing off the company pier

Andrea Harris has seen plenty of it:

[H]aving worked in an office environment of one sort or another for over twenty years, I can say that though men do like and are even thrilled when pretty women at the office flirt with them, most men also think women like that are bimbos and won't have much respect for them, ergo, they won't have much respect for their work.

I have seen places where it happens, so I know that the situation exists. But I don't have this particular issue myself, except perhaps in vestigial form: how I view someone's work is separate, to the greatest extent possible, from how I view someone's personal behavior. (I can't claim to be, say, one of Heinlein's Fair Witnesses, but I try to keep personal feelings out of it.)

Then again, the number of "pretty women at the office" who flirt with me has been stuck right around zero for many years now, which may affect my judgment in these matters in one way or another.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Latteral movement

The story goes at least, Lewis Black tells it that way that the world will end when there's a Starbucks built across the street from another Starbucks.

It didn't happen, but for some it's close enough; for Deanna Zandt, the world ends when Starbucks comes to the Lower East Side of Manhattan:

I've been working with a number of local organizations to address the serious problem of hyperdevelopment here; not only are the people being removed, but the physical character of the neighborhood is being destroyed. Just Saturday night, I wandered over to my former place of employment for a show to discover that one of the last holdouts against a new development had finally been demolished. Erased. Cease to exist. We've been working on campaigns and joining forces with other struggles against hyperdevelopment to address zoning, the City Council selling out the residents, etc. So far, load of energy has poured in I never thought I'd see the day where radicals from the Tompkins Square riots would be hosting zoning forums, but it's important and it's actually happening. L.O.C.O. has been battling the violations on Orchard and Ludlow. P.S. 64 is being saved, and folks are fighting for St. Brigid's Church. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is stepping into the fray. It's mind-blowing!

Starbucks is the urban Wal-Mart, and is a powerfully nasty symbol and metaphor for the homogenization of America. To have it arrive at the home of counterculture is just plain unacceptable. I can't stand the thought of losing Guss' Pickles, or the Santo Domingo Bakery, or having to pay for wifi access because the Lotus Lounge closed up shop.

I still think, though, that the ultimate in Starbucks density and perhaps the end of the world will come when they open a Starbucks inside another Starbucks.

(Via Gridskipper.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
10 August 2005
Pill payola

If you're an institutional buyer of prescription drugs and you'd like some serious discounts, be prepared to keep your trap shut:

The Wall Street Journal reports that drug companies have started putting language in their contracts with medical institutions to shape what doctors can and cannot tell patients about specific drugs.

Case in point: Eli Lilly offers a discount to major purchasers of antidepressant Cymbalta as long as those purchasers refrain from "negative D.U.R. [drug utilization review] correspondence to physicians" or "negative educational counter-detailing".

"Is this hospital prescribing too much of this drug?" or "Could we find a lower-priced substitute?" is apparently enough to constitute negative D.U.R.

I'll keep this in mind the next time I see some drug-industry ad on Lifetime explaining how health is the only thing that matters to them.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
Somehow this just seems wrong

Putting clothes on a dog is bad enough, but this is a bit much.

(By way of Aldahlia.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
13 August 2005
Rinse, then spin

Why are so many young adult men still living with the parental units? Forget economic pressures, overpriced rentals, and all the other obvious factors. What keeps the boys at home is laundry:

I think it's safe to say that most men have next to no idea how the pile of filthy, sweaty, stinking, and otherwise noisome clothing they leave on the bathroom floor in the morning, or in a hamper if they've had enough training, finds itself cleaned, dried, folded, and deposited in one's dresser drawers. It is an inspiring tale, filled with drama and human interest, and most men know as little about it as they do about photosynthesis, or possibly even less, since a lot of guys think that photosynthesis involves using their personal computer to digitally paste a female celebrity's face onto the nude body of a centerfold. There are honorable exceptions to this general ignorance; the men of the United States armed forces know how to do their own laundry and how to do it well, and I think that rates a big salute from the rest of us; and the many single men who've bucked the stay at home syndrome and moved away from hearth and home, kith and kin, and all the other alliterative aliases for their mothers. This skill, unfortunately, deteriorates at an exponential rate after marriage, which may explain why laundry is one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States and why court battles over who gets custody of the fabric softener tend to get vicious.

Actually, I did a fair amount of the wash when I was wed, although I suspect I was motivated at least in part by the desire to avoid doing some other unpleasant task.

And it is indeed true that, single again, I have taken some steps to reduce the amount of wash that needs to be done around here, but that's another story.

[T]heories abound as to why this aversion to detergent exists, the most popular (and the oldest) coming from the psychoanalytic school founded by Sigmund Freud, which holds that men subconsciously regard washing clothes as a sign of latent homosexuality, something on the order of putting ketchup on a hot dog, and therefore an unendurable threat to their masculinity. This school of thought has many critics, who say that the half-cooked food in the Freudian school's cafeteria is having an obvious deleterious effect on the practice of psychology. The leading critic of this school of psychological thought was my late grandmother, who held that the reason why men did not do their own laundry was that the vast majority of men are just bone-lazy.

Count this as a vote for explanation B.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
15 August 2005
Spearheading the resistance

Not long ago I wrote about Florida State University's response to the NCAA's current obsession with "offensive" team names and mascots.

Charles E. Kupchella, president of the University of North Dakota, has now weighed in with an open letter to the NCAA:

Is it the use of Indian names, images, and/or mascots to which you are opposed? If it is all of the above, which logos, images, and mascots do you indict by your announcement? Is it only certain ones? [A] very respected Indian artist designed and created a logo for the University. The logo is not unlike those found on United States coins and North Dakota highway patrol cars and highway signs. So we can't imagine that the use of this image is "abusive" or "hostile" in any sense of these words.

Is it the use of the names of tribes that you find hostile and abusive? Not long ago I took a trip to make a proposal to establish an epidemiological program to support American Indian health throughout the Upper Great Plains. On this trip I left a state called North Dakota. (Dakota is one of the names the indigenous people of this region actually call themselves.) I flew over South Dakota, crossing the Sioux River several times, and finally landed in Sioux City, Iowa, just south of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The airplane in which I traveled that day was called a Cheyenne.

I think you should find my confusion here understandable, since obviously if we were to call our teams "The Dakotans," we would actually be in more direct violation of what apparently you are trying to establish as a rule, even though this is the name of our state. This situation, of course, is not unlike that faced by our sister institution in Illinois.

And there's one other issue, by the way:

Is it only about applying names to sports teams? If so, would this be extended to the use of the names of all people, or is it just American Indians? Why would you exempt the "Fighting Irish" from your consideration, for example? Or "Vikings," which are really fighting Scandinavians, or "Warriors," which I suppose could be described as fighting anybodies? Wouldn't it be "discrimination on account of race" to have a policy that applies to Indians but not to Scandinavians or the Irish, or anybody else for that matter? This seems especially profound in light of a letter to me from [NCAA] President [Myles] Brand (8/9/05) in which he, in very broad-brush fashion and inconsistent with the NCAA's recent much narrower pronouncement, said, "we believe that mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin should not be visible at our events."

(Emphasis in Dr Kupchella's original.)

I went to a high school where the teams were known as the Battling Bishops. Somehow I don't think anyone came away with the notion that Catholic clergy were unusually belligerent. Then again, as a high school, we obviously weren't members of the NCAA.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 AM)
Gravel for Sisyphus

According to the old schoolyard (remember the days of the old schoolyard?) joke, the only thing harder than Wheeling, West Virginia was Flushing, New York.

But back then, we'd never tried canceling EarthLink.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:11 PM)
16 August 2005
Sinking Bismarck

I know Lileks is kidding, but this still sounds sort of scary:

At some point North Dakota will empty out entirely; the fields will go fallow, the towns dissolve, the railroad ties rot into wormy mush, and there will be nothing but Fargo, some military bases and large herds of angry bison looking for PAYBACK. That's when we will hire a company to scoop out the entire state to a depth of 39 feet and start filling it with trash. It will be a landfill we can see from the Moon. Sixteen percent of the trash will be coffee grounds.

Suddenly I feel better about reusing that tea bag.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 AM)
18 August 2005
No child left to breathe

Jay Mathews, writing in The Washington Post, thinks it would be a really cool idea to stretch the school day out to nine hours or so.

At least one parent isn't buying:

My objection to a nine-hour school day is not just about money, resources or raising teacher's salaries so they can provide babysitting for three hours a day; it's about what we are doing to our children. We are forcing them to grow out of childhood too fast. It's all about work, work, work and how much learning and regiment you can squeeze into one child's brain in the course of a few hours a day. Kids need some freedom. They need to gather in front of their houses and play kickball with their friends. They need to ride their bikes and play hopscotch or just sit around with a few buddies playing video games or watching movies. Why force the rituals and time constraints of the adult world onto a ten year old? Do you think this will prepare them for "real" life or toughen them up? No, it will only make them weary and humorless. Nine-hour school days, plus time to do homework, projects and study leaves them no time to be children. They'll just be mini-adults. That's not fair.

But Mathews thinks the teachers will go for this:

One topic that comes up repeatedly in education articles and debates is the need for higher salaries and more job satisfaction to lure and keep the best teachers. Creating a longer school day can solve both of those problems. More hours can mean more money for the teacher, and more achievement for that teacher's students, which is just about all a good teacher needs to be happy.

Quiz time, boys and girls. Jay Mathews has just been hired as a substitute teacher in Yourtown, USA. How long before he runs screaming from the room, never to return?

  1. Nine weeks.
  2. Nine days.
  3. Nine hours.
  4. Nine minutes.
  5. Nine seconds.

Hand in your papers to the front of the room and exit normally.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
Never mind what's in the sack

"Honey? Who's this little fart at the door?"

(Via Angi Lovejoy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
19 August 2005
Bottom of the bag

According to the usual Reliable Sources, Orville Redenbacher died in 1995, having suffered a heart attack in his hot tub.

That's just what they want you to believe.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
23 August 2005
Shuffled into the Snopes in-box

This is one of those things that ought to be true, even if (if?) it's not:

Panera Bread, parent company of the St. Louis Bread Company and the name by which it conducts business elsewhere, was formed by an Egyptian cult, the Pane of Ra movement. This group believes that the consumption of bread prepares one for the afterlife, and that if one has bagels with hummus or some other concoction of cibatta and cream cheese, one can survive the journey.

This would certainly explain the ongoing effort to roll out more Wi-Fi hotspots at Panera. (Do the dead have RSS Really Stiff Syndication feeds?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
26 August 2005
Where's the nozzle?

It is generally accepted that today women drive the consumer-products marketplace, though obviously this wasn't always the case.

And you will never, ever hear in a men's locker room, "Cruex? Bah! Where's the Pine-Sol?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
Hungary for formality

I can't imagine this catching on anywhere I'm likely to be:

The mayor of one Budapest district wants female City Hall staff to wear miniskirts only if they have "completely perfect legs" and the skirts are no shorter than 2-3 centimeters (about 1 inch) above the knee.

Gabor Mitynan, a conservative who runs the wealthy 12th district, also wants male employees to wear blazers in summer, and told the Website www.index.hu the dress code was needed because he had seen staff dressed like beggars or vacationers.

Mitynan also dislikes crop tops popular in Budapest saying "few women have well-trained bellies worth showing to people" and wants the city to legislate on stocking thickness, proposing 5-10 denier for summer, 15 for spring and autumn and 20 for winter.

Mitynan is a rarity in Budapest's 23 mostly liberal and socialist districts, so his proposals stand almost no chance of being passed by the city assembly. Liberal Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky described the proposals as "crass," according to the state news agency MTI.

The women I know with "completely perfect legs" (not an enormous sample, but I'm thankful there are any at all) would definitely not appreciate any rule which even hints at making stockings mandatory, regardless of fabric weight.

And which is worse, aesthetically speaking: beggars or vacationers?

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
27 August 2005
Careful with that hatchet, Griffin

Thursday night KWTV in Oklahoma City ran a piece about homeschooled children in Oklahoma, which Sean Gleeson compares unfavorably to Orwell's "Two-Minute Hate".

After looking at the transcript, I suspect Mr Gleeson may be too kind. It's a self-contradictory tissue of organic fertilizer, predicated on the dubious notion that if you assemble enough half-truths you'll eventually construct the Full Truth. Unfortunately, nothing in the report comes close to being even a half-truth. A second-week blogger still wrestling with template issues would never allow something this sloppy to go out with his name over it, which makes you wonder why KWTV would, especially since their video turns up on NewsOK.com, the state's largest news site.

Personal note: KWTV did a very good job of turning 90 minutes of my incessant ranting into a watchable, if decidedly unexciting, three-minute story. Then again, bloggers don't have a bunch of lobbyists at the Capitol, nor were any Ogles involved.

(Submitted to Outside the Beltway's Sunday Drive.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 AM)
Tropic of calculus

In the middle 1960s, Tom Lehrer put New Math in its place. Unfortunately, it didn't stay there. Jeff Quinton traces the evolution of a standard math problem, starting in 1965; after thirty years it was almost unrecognizable.

1965  A logger sells a load of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?

1970  A logger sells a load of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?

1975  A logger sells a load of wood for 100 units (make a set of 100 dots to represent this income.) His production is 80 units. The units of sell and cost interchangeable. Draw a subset with 80 dots respresenting cost. The difference between the set and subset is the profit.

1985  A logger sells a load of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80. His profit is $20. Underline $20.

1995  A logger makes his living cutting down beautiful trees. Discuss how the little birdies, animals and trees feel. Points given for discussion participation.

As Jeff notes, it's time for a 2005 version. This one came to me after a minute or so:

2005  A logger under contract to the Department of Defense sells a load of wood for $100,000. His cost of production is $600 for labor and equipment, $800 for taxes, and $7100 for environmental permits and certificates. How much profit will he have after Halliburton takes its cut?

Feel free to improve on this in Comments.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:38 PM)
29 August 2005
Man smart, woman dismissed

A British study purports to show that men have a higher IQ than women on average.

Well, actually it doesn't. What it does show is that there are more men than women near the top of the, um, curve:

Genetic differences in intelligence between the sexes helped to explain why many more men than women won Nobel Prizes or became chess grandmasters, the study by Paul Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn concluded.

They showed that men outnumbered women in increasing numbers as intelligence levels rise. There were twice as many with IQ scores of 125, a level typical for people with first-class degrees.

When scores rose to 155, a level associated with genius, there were 5.5 men for every woman.

My immediate reaction, of course, is "So?" The roster of Nobel winners or chess grandmasters is sufficiently small to insure that the sexual demographics of those groups would be of interest only to those people who are sniffing around for sexual discrimination in every corner.

And a personal note: My own way-up-the-scale (or so I'm told) IQ is at least somewhat offset by an uncanny ability to piss away my presumed assets. I suspect this trait is biological, if not necessarily heritable.

Addendum: An observation from Kim du Toit:

That ... doesn't mean that the IQ divide between men and women is permanent, either: what will be really fascinating is if this study is repeated in a hundred years' time, and the divide has shrunk or disappeared completely.

I mean, a five-point differential is nothing, really: the difference between someone with a 140 IQ and another with a 145 IQ is barely measurable. Is it possible that two hundred years ago, the IQ difference between the sexes was 25 points?

This latter seems unlikely, but how would we be able to tell? You can extrapolate only so much from existing writings.

And IQ tests generally have a standard deviation of 15 points, suggesting that five or ten points isn't such a big difference after all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 AM)
31 August 2005
Hard luck, your lordship

This poor fellow left the following comment at Stephen Green's place:

When the Northridge earthquake hit, my house was directly over the fault. As the damage was being repaired I figured, hell with this, I'm leaving, and moved to New Orleans. I have now fled both Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina, though Ivan turned away from New Orleans and Katrina didn't. Not only that, it has followed me up here to Jackson, Mississippi, still a category 1 hurricane as it passes through the area.

Wherever you are, you'd better pray that I don't move to your town next.

Not to worry; we'd be glad to have you. (Did I mention that we're right in the midst of Tornado Alley? Stephen did.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
1 September 2005
What's next?

Put me down on the side of saving as much of New Orleans as possible.

But if it's not possible, here's a suggestion from Hatless in Hattiesburg, who is not actually in Hattiesburg and for all I know might actually have a hat:

Allow petroleum refineries to be built on the sites of the military bases closed by the BRAC commission;

Relocate all hurricane refugees to the abandoned housing around these bases, and give them jobs at the new refineries (or in other support businesses).

Which, says H/H, solves three problems at once.

And, well, we haven't had a new refinery in almost 30 years, and gas prices are starting to look like this.

Addendum: A proposal from Engine of the Future to simplify the task of the refineries:

We can temporarily lift the EPA regulations on all of these different fuel blends. We can do it for gasoline and diesel. Others if need be. We do this nationwide, and do it for a known, extended period of time. Fear and uncertainty is causing the "market" (that's "traders in Chicago", not us average consumers) to drive these extreme price jumps. Putting a plan into action that the "market" can count on will ease those fears and relieve the uncertainty. We lift these EPA regs for two or three years.

That gives the refining industry a known time to work with. "The market" too. All operational refineries would now be able to run larger batches and be able to ship that fuel wherever it's needed. Think that's a bad idea? Well, the EPA thinks it's a good idea, sort of.

"B-b-but what about the environment?" I hear you cry. Yeah, you'll really miss that MTBE, won't you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
Preventative measures

Sir George, a New Orleans refugee now holed up in Memphis, says all this could have been avoided:

None of the flooding would've happened if the city hadn't kept sweeping beads off the streets. They'd have beads packed thirty feet deep by now.

Yeah, but wouldn't that have made it difficult to step down into a restaurant?

(I'm just saying.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
2 September 2005
Gaia and eternal PMS

Bless you, Matt Welch:

[A]s a resident of Los Angeles, I'm particularly sensitive to the Hastertian vibe you always get from the rest of the country at times like these ... why do you crazy people live there? Instead of answering that, I'd like [to] turn the question around what parts of the country are actually sensible to live, in terms of avoiding natural catastrophes and constant reliance on guvmint to bail citizens out? Much of the Mississippi basin would be uninhabitable wetlands if we let the Big Muddy go where it actually wants to (for an account of this, and of the insanity of Southern California development, I highly recommend John McPhee's The Control of Nature). The Midwest is a tornado-generating sinkhole of federal farm subsidies; everything west of the Rockies is a nightmare of water mismanagement, Florida and California are famously doomed, the Pacific Northwest is filled with active volcanoes, whole chunks of the Canada-adjacent strip are uninhabitable for several months a year (in my judgment, at least), and the entire eastern seaboard could be swallowed by a tsunami if that volcano on Montserrat blows the wrong direction. Not to make light of a heartbreaking tragedy, but is there a sane, self-reliant place to live in this country? Or is wrestling with a hostile Mother Nature a feature, not a bug?

I'd say "San Diego," but someone is sure to bring up wildfires.

Meanwhile, I'm here in Tornado Alley, watching the sky. Anyone taking bets on the next asteroid strike?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 PM)
9 September 2005
How about "quasi-clumsy clod"?


There's a character on Ricky Gervais's brilliant British sitcom The Office who constantly refers to himself as "Assistant Regional Manager," and is quickly corrected by his boss, who says he is actually "assistant to the regional manager." This is eerily like Michael Brown's résumé problem. He said he was "assistant city manager" in Edmond, Okla. when he was in fact "assistant to the city manager." The character on The Office is a semi-malevolent clown. I leave it to you to decide what Brown is.

(From John Podhoretz on "The Corner" at NRO.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:40 PM)
12 September 2005
The Big Greasy

Steel Turman throws cold water on the very idea of making New Orleans livable again; what's left behind after the flood water recedes "makes Chernobyl look like a small grease fire in your neighbor's kitchen." To wit:

Katrina flooded hundreds and hundreds of businesses and warehouses. These contained such nasties as solvents used in cleaning, degreasing, the manufacture of plastics, the computer industry, the making of paints and creation of other solvents. They also contained chemicals like sodium hydroxide (lye), potassium hydroxide (potash), dioxins found in older electrical transformers in the form of PCBs, chromic acid used for a myriad of applications llike rechroming, sulphuric, hydrochloric, nitric and ascorbic acids. So too, will be tons and tons of chemicals like carbon tetrachloride, tri-chlorethane, tri-chlorethylene, hexachlorophene and several others whose general use was banned in the early 1970s. Trust me, when they were banned, many enterprising folks stockpiled them. New Orleans is home to one of only a couple of plants where ethelylene glycol is made. That would be anti-freeze to you. The flooded hospitals will cough up radiological agents like strontium 90, plutonium and cesium all used for xrays. They will also yield many many biohazard critters like HIV AIDS, tuberculosis, streptococcus, staphlococcus, an assortment of exotic tropical disease samples and formeldahyde. It is impossible to imagine how many fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals were innudated. There will be entire vats of tannic acid used in tanning, zinc used in galvanizing, 'liquor' from pulp facilities, alcohol, paint, a wide gamut of petroleum products, ether, MBE, mercury, chlorine, fluorine, a veritable pharmacopia of drugs and hormones from the health industry and assorted rare earths, salts and obscure heavy metals.

And that's just the inorganics:

There will be thousands of tons of human and animal waste, same for decaying flesh and plant matter. And then there's the bacteria. Just stop a second and consider the huge variety of bacteria to be found in sub-tropical New Orleans. And all of this organic material will LOVE all the vitamins and growth stimulants and nutrients in this slop. It will BLOOM.

Clean it up? Forget about it:

In any other place with even one 100th of this level of contamination, the topsoil would be scraped to a depth of 18 inches minimum and that soil would be incinerated. But the sheer size and scope of the affected area almost precludes that.

I think this would probably discourage me from Mardi Gras for a while.

(Via Daily Pundit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:53 PM)
13 September 2005
Eating for two and a half

Britney Spears has reportedly gained 51 lb during her pregnancy, partially because of a weakness for fried chicken and milkshakes.

I knew we had something in common. Besides, in defense of Brit, she probably needs all the nutrients she can muster to ward off the ill effects of K-Fed genes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
18 September 2005
A lot of flapping

For some reason, elements of the right wing have seized upon the notion that March of the Penguins somehow is an endorsement of contemporary conservatism.

As ideas go, this one is for the birds:

Consider: During its box-office run, Penguins started drawing comparisons with Fahrenheit 9/11, solely in terms of both movies being high-grossing documentaries.

But I guess this basis for comparison was too subtle for some people. Following the "if you're not with us, you're against us" philosophy, suddenly everything about the two films went head-to-head. Basically, conservatives have grafted an anti-Fahrenheit mask onto a nature documentary.

And of course, the penguins' black-and-white symbolism probably helped forge this outlook.

If you really want a penguin story with some potential political connotations, I commend to you Chuck Jones' 1950 classic short 8 Ball Bunny, in which Bugs, having made a promise to a lost penguin to take him home, escorts the poor little bird all the way back to the South Pole, where there is, of course, an actual pole. The bird starts crying this being the Antarctic, the tears fall as ice cubes and when Bugs asks what's wrong, the penguin reaches into his top hat (well, they are formally dressed) and produces a theatrical handbill, in which it is revealed that he was born, not at the South Pole, but, uniquely as penguins go, in Hoboken, New Jersey. "I'm dyin'!" screams Bugs, and we know that he knows that he's provided too much of the wrong kind of help at too much expense to himself: you can almost see Daniel Patrick Moynihan calling for benign neglect in the background. Or, alternatively, 8 Ball Bunny shows the folly of tailoring one's actions to preconceived notions about individuals. Take your choice.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 AM)
22 September 2005
Is our lanes open?

Tbilisi, the capital of the republic of Georgia, has named a city street after George W. Bush.

The President was last in Tbilisi in May; his trip was briefly interrupted by some nitwit with a grenade who missed by thirty yards.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
Been there, refused to endure that

It's déjà vu all over again, says Julie Neidlinger:

I'll be curious to see the post-Rita handling of news and press by journalists, since they've already squeezed every tear and used up all the journalistic sympathy tricks they had on Hurricane Katrina. Does Geraldo have it in him to stage more rescues? Do the Germans have more insults to sling our way or are they too busy trying to figure out their own version of Election 2000 to bother looking down their noses this time?

Don't underestimate the Germans. They invented the Mercedes-Benz, which proves they know something about scorn.

The problem with running the public through the emotional wringer is that, on the other side, they're all dried out. Luckily, the Red Cross has gazillions of dollars to work with, and this new disaster should give Kanye West and Jesse Jackson a chance to pee into the wind. Unless, of course, it's mainly white people affected. Then they'll have to get out their stop watches and make sure that the post-hurricane emergency response isn't any faster than after Katrina.

And you can be absolutely certain that they're timing it to the microsecond: West doesn't have much of a track record yet, but Jackson is as predictable as mud after a rainstorm, if substantially less useful.

On the other hand, maybe Sean Penn will bring a boat and a smaller entourage.

I declined to watch any of the Katrina farce on television; I will do the same for Rita, and for any storms which follow her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:13 PM)
23 September 2005
Sorry but costly

I was reasonably certain I wasn't the only one who ever went through something like this on a new-service installation:

The scheduled date was 26 November [2003], same as the closing on the house. All the phone jacks were dead, so assuming this was a technical problem, I called the repair-service people, who informed me that (1) the business office had failed to complete the transfer and (2) said business office would be closed until Saturday because of the holidays.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I was on the cell phone to the business office, which after ten minutes or so, not counting six or seven minutes on hold, informed me that the previous occupants had called in last week asking that their disconnect order be canceled because well, just because. I pointed out that this was exceedingly implausible, inasmuch as the previous occupants were using last week to move out, and the closing date had been set more than a month earlier. "Well..." Ernestine Jr. began. "Well, nothing," I said. "They're gone. I live here now."

Back on hold for a few more minutes, and then the Tomlinette told me that she'd consulted with her manager, and that they would process the disconnect order that morning, followed by my connect order, and that each action would take two or three hours, after which time everything would be hunky-dory.

By closing time, of course, nothing had been done, and the next day was Sunday, so they were closed again. I eventually wound up with an automated voice telling me that the service order would be completed Monday "between 8 am and 5 pm", a mere five days late.

Apparently I got off easy:

"We're sorry, but we have determined that DSL service is not available at your new location."

Excuse me?

They have been yanking us around for over a week and now they've suddenly discovered it's not available? After telling us that they had to disconnect our present service so that the new service could be installed? And then telling us that the new service couldn't be installed because the electricity wasn't on at the new house, even though it was?

"This is the way we do things," they explain. "It worked for us in 1915, and there's no reason it shouldn't work for us today."

Can you say "death throes"? Sure. I knew you could.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
26 September 2005
One of those SCSI units

This is one of those cases where the item practically writes itself:

A defense attorney has asked a judge to bar any references to his client's nickname "Scuz" in his upcoming murder trial, saying the moniker could negatively influence jurors.

Demetrius "Scuz" Fiorentino, 31, of Coatesville [PA], is charged with the April 2004 robbery and shooting death of Joel "Wellz" Taylor, 19, of Queens, N.Y., during a botched drug deal in a Coatesville crack house.

Defense attorney Laurence Harmelin cited the dictionary definition of scuzzball as "an unpleasant, dirty or dangerous person; creep" and scuzzy as "dirty, shabby or foul in condition or nature."

Harmelin told Common Pleas Judge Phyllis Streitel on Friday that connotations of Fiorentino's nickname would prejudice jurors against the defendant.

Gee, ya think?

What'll you bet Fiorentino didn't get his nickname from his days as an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Motion?

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
28 September 2005
We don't need no stinkin' bubble

Gawker fishes this out of the AP net:

Everything about Frank Fazio's new two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side is decidedly average, including its price: a hair under $1 million.

With five rooms and about 1,050 square feet of space, the place is a nice size, by New York standards, but it is no mansion. There are no chandeliers, no soaring cathedral ceilings and no doorman downstairs to help with groceries.

I must point out here that Surlywood, my humble abode, can be described this way:

"With five rooms and about 1,050 square feet of space, the place is a nice size, by New York standards, but it is no mansion. There are no chandeliers, no soaring cathedral ceilings and no doorman downstairs to help with groceries."

For that matter, there's no downstairs. (And if you count the bathroom, there are six rooms, though anyone who's ever seen my bathroom will argue that it shouldn't be counted.)

The price, were it for sale, would be a hair under $100,000. Maybe a few hairs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:45 PM)
2 October 2005
Time to fake the donuts

Krispy Kreme's largest single franchise operator is suing Krispy Kreme, charging that executives at the home office misappropriated funds designated for marketing and billed their franchise for bogus charges.

The partners of Los Angeles-based Great Circle Family Foods LLC contend that Krispy Kreme is seeking to drive them into bankruptcy.

Krispy Kreme has been under considerable fire recently: a New York State inquiry and an SEC probe have questioned the company's finances, and a previous lawsuit claims that KK management manipulated the balance sheets to conceal deficiencies in the company's pension program.

The company spokesperson would not comment, but given the shellacking Krispy Kreme has been getting in the press of late, I surmise that her eyes glazed over when she was questioned.

(Via McGehee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
3 October 2005
Render unto Sears the things that are Sears'

If you work for Sears, says Sears Holdings chairman Aylwin Lewis, you do not carry a competing store's shopping bag onto a flight for which Sears is paying.

Sears has been running a shuttle between Detroit and Chicago for employees at the old K mart headquarters at Troy, Michigan, which is being phased out as a cost-savings measure in the wake of the K mart/Sears merger.

Lewis also asked employees to get Sears credit cards if they don't have them, to visit Sears-owned stores "three to four times a month," and to make friends and relatives and neighbors more Sears-conscious.

In the wake of the Sears announcements, and any rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Sonic chairman Cliff Hudson has not actually ordered that any Sonic employee seen in a Braum's parking lot is to be shot on sight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:06 PM)
6 October 2005
Personally, I blame the Penguin

The stately 16,000-square-foot Tudor house on South San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena, California which was used for exterior shots of Bruce Wayne's place in the Sixties Batman series has fallen victim, not to a supervillain, but to something much more mundane: a fire, which essentially gutted the place.

The owners were in the process of remodeling, but this is surely more than they had in mind.

(Via Fark)

(Update, 7 October, 7:20 pm: Would you believe it was the wrong house after all?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
9 October 2005
Squirrels on crack

That's right, squirrels on crack.

I have been accused from time to time of coming up with an article just because it fits a title that's been kicking around in the back of my head. Occasionally this is even true. But never before have I even contemplated the idea of squirrels on crack.

Although Rita has.

(Via Jacqueline Passey.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 AM)
10 October 2005
Actually, one's a crowd

"Well, if some doofus in Oklahoma can make a bomb, so can I."

"Me, too!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:25 PM)
12 October 2005
Unnecessary mobility

Were this on Fark, the description would end with "Still no cure for cancer."

For now, we have this:

The position in which you sleep at night whether it's all curled up in a fetal position or sprawled out across the bed reveals your personality, Reuters reports of new research from Britain's Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service.

Led by Chris Idzikowski, the team has identified six common sleep positions and the personalities of the people who sleep that way. "We are all aware of our body language when we are awake, but this is the first time we have been able to see what our subconscious says about us," he told Reuters.

I don't sleep particularly well, and during a typical night I will assume two, maybe three, of the six positions. (Curiously, my afternoon nap, on those rare days when I get one, is in yet another.)

I do admittedly take up a lot of space; the fetal position is not for me. The most likely explanation for this, though, is the extremely low probability that I'd be sharing that space.

(Via Acidman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Inner-city blues

Miriam is deceived by Mapquest and winds up lost on the far side of Wilmington, something I've managed to do myself without computer assistance.

This aside in her last paragraph, though, will pin some people's How Dare You meters:

BTW, just asking, why isn't MLK Blvd ever in a really nifty part of town? I, personally, would not like Miriam St to be a place with boarded up businesses and decrepit houses, but that's just me.

I will say only that it's difficult to zone a parcel, or a neighborhood full of them, for maximum nift, and that the only road I know of named after me (which almost certainly isn't named after me) is actually in a really nifty part of some other town.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
Mired in the spellcheck jungle

An observation from Jonah Goldberg:

I find it mildly interesting that Miers' last name seems to be the most routinely mispelled [sic] name in all my years on the web. I would say somewhere close to half of all my email pro and con misspells her name. I searched Google News for "Meirs" and a shocking number of news outlets have her name wrong in headlines. I have no idea why this would be so, but it's odd nonetheless. It's not like Bush nominated General Shalikashvili.

Microsloth Word 97, confronted with "Miers," suggests "Mires," "MIA's," "Mie's," "Miens" and "Myers." I trust you can write your own jokes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:58 PM)
17 October 2005
Here come the copays

General Motors is expected to spend $5.6 billion on health care for employees and retirees this year, which is plainly more than the General can afford. So it might be good news that GM and the United Auto Workers have reached an agreement to trim that expenditure by half.

The deal must be ratified by hourly workers before it becomes official; so far, no one is telling just how much it's going to cost any individual GM employee. And it may not be enough to save Rick Wagoner's bacon, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:47 AM)
19 October 2005
I should hope so

The instructions for the prescription sleep medicine Lunesta" (eszopiclone) contain the following Dire Warnings:

All medicines have side effects. The most common side effects of sleep medicines are:
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty with coordination

Drowsiness? I thought that's what I was paying my forty-five bucks for in the first place.

Oh, you mean during the day. Already got that, thanks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
And where does this leave the 'Stros?

What makes this year's White Sox different from, oh, the 46 editions that preceded them?

Could it be, um, the socks?

I mean, really. Look at them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 AM)
21 October 2005
These go to 11, or maybe 12

Is there some reason why one of the most gorgeous creatures on God's green earth shouldn't have six toes if she wants?

(Via Defamer, who probably doesn't think so either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
23 October 2005
Saints to be converted?

Chris Mortensen of ESPN is predicting that 2005 will be the last season for the New Orleans Saints, that the team, temporarily berthed in San Antonio in the wake of Katrina, will either remain there permanently or eventually find its way to Los Angeles.

James Joyner is inclined to agree:

While [Saints owner Tom] Benson will be vilified, especially given the public sympathy New Orleans has after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city is a poor home for an NFL franchise. The Super Dome, while a marvel when new, was a dilapidated, obsolescent stadium even before the storm damage and it is a very small market, indeed especially considering that it is so close to the much more popular Dallas Cowboys.

San Antonio isn't all that much larger Nielsen Media Research ranks it 37th, while New Orleans is 43rd so the team may well end up in L.A. instead of La.

And this adds yet another potential twist to the eventual fate of New Orleans' NBA team, the Hornets, currently settling in Oklahoma City (market #45): if the Saints are definitely gone, there will likely be more pressure on Hornets owner George Shinn to bring his team back to the Big Easy. Then again, the NBA may have another round of expansion in a few years, in which New Orleans might get another franchise to replace the Hornets; the NFL, however, has no plans to expand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:58 PM)
25 October 2005
What's more, Sugar Land rots your teeth

Voters in White Settlement, Texas, on the western edge of Fort Worth, have rejected a measure to change the town's name to "West Settlement".

Mayor James Outzts, reports The Dallas Morning News, said the name has a negative perception to some potential residents and developers.

Where did the name come from?

In a time when many predominantly white pioneers were moving to the area, several surrounding settlements were still occupied by Native Americans. In 1849, in an effort to help protect the pioneers, the War Department constructed a small fort at the confluence of the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River. It was given the name Fort Worth.

This historical chain of events led to the development of two settlements, one occupied by white settlers and another encompassing a grouping of seven villages occupied by Native Americans. Thus, the name White Settlement was coined.

As of the 2000 Census, White Settlement was about 78 percent white.

There is apparently no sentiment in Nueces County for renaming its largest city "Corpus Someguy."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:57 PM)
31 October 2005
The herpsichorean muse

The state of New York is trying to select an official state reptile:

New York has a slew of state things that show our legislature in action. New York, for example, has a state muffin (the apple muffin) and a state beverage (milk) and even a state bird (the bluebird), all of which is very wholesome for the tourists but does not fool those of us who live here one damn bit. Everyone here knows that there is no state muffin, only the state bagel, that the state beverage is the manhattan, and that the state bird is the bird (Flippus birdus), a species native to the state highway system and most often seen at intersections throughout the state displaying itself for the edification of people who haven't figured out for themselves that the No Turn On Red sign means that they shouldn't come roaring around the corner at seventy miles an hour in a thirty mile an hour zone. But New York has no state reptile, and since New York will not remain behind other states like denial, anxiety, and depression, the state legislature has sprung into action and is now considering the issue.

I assume they've already decided that Chuck Schumer is ineligible.

For the curious, the Oklahoma state reptile is the Collared Lizard or Mountain Boomer, Crotaphytus collaris.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:17 PM)
1 November 2005
Just a few notes in the margin

Somehow I don't think she received them and if she did, she surely didn't act on them but nonetheless, here's a list of notes from Ann Coulter's editor.

My favorite:

Contrary to your impassioned statements, James G. Watt's environmental policies did not, in fact, bring back the unicorn.

(Via Mister Snitch!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
2 November 2005
What? No peas?

Two perfectly reasonably questions from Syaffolee:

[W]hy call it a podcast when not everyone has an iPod? And why do most amateur podcasts sound like the equivalent of a deer caught in the headlights?

If I ever do one of these and if I do, Andrea Harris will disown me I promise not to call it a "podcast." (The horrible-sound problem has been discussed here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
3 November 2005
Kind of a drag

All I can say is, Catholic schools certainly have changed since I was a student.

Although the really weird aspect of this, from my point of view, is not so much that the boys dressed up as girls heck, even I've done that, and I'm not even marginally passable but that they went through the whole blush-and-lip-gloss thing in fifth grade? Ten- and eleven-year-old girls are already blowing their allowances on Cover Girl?

(Via Andrea Harris, no big fan of that blush-and-lip-gloss thing herself.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
4 November 2005
Some call it "navel-gazing"

But they're off by a few inches.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
One Cingular sensation

Well, maybe not one, technically. Anyway, this is why Wendy keeps her cell phone tucked away neatly in the balcony:

It is a handy place: one that you can easily reach (well, not you you, because that would be creepy) and just a tidier place for personal storage than jeans pockets or a purse. When folded, my phone has a fantastically streamlined, slippery outer shell that allows it to hurtle through space into other dimensions; there are portals to other worlds located in my purse and under the drivers seat in my car, and my phone is always in danger of slipping through them and winding up in the hands of the White Witch of Narnia, but as long as my phone is safely hidden away in the hills, I worry much less.

Which makes perfect sense, if you think about it. (And it wouldn't apply to my rather lumpy Nokia phone, even if I had a place like this to put it, which I don't.)

Also? I never miss a call this way. Even when I'm somewhere noisy or crowded I know when I'm getting a call. I'd tell you how but some of you might feel this is too much information.

I guess some people are horrified by this, but it's just a bra. It's just a bosom. Ever since I've owned one I've been heartily encouraged to show it off and yet I'm not allowed to keep stuff in it? Not fair, I say. So enough with your silly double standards about female support garments, and don't give me that look when I take a call. Let us be, me and my phone and its cozy mountain home. Thank you.

No, I don't have her number. Why would you even ask such a thing?

Addendum, 12 November, 11 am: Jan the Happy Homemaker says that this works pretty well, sort of:

I keep mine right where the strap meets the cup and it is easy to find at all times. Discreet even. But as proud as I have been about not having to "fish" around for my phone, it never occurred to me that the phone could, well, fall into the toilet.

I was pretty good at geometry, but evidently not this good.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:37 PM)
8 November 2005
Follicular follies

"Cold wax," to me, sounds like cold fusion: it might work in the lab, maybe, but God forbid you should try to replicate the experiment.

Just one excerpt:

[T]he only thing worse [than] having your nether businesses glued together is having them glued together and then glued to the bottom of the tub. In scalding hot water. Which, by the way, doesn't melt cold wax.

I will, of course, take her word for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:34 PM)
9 November 2005
Don't get mad, get Glad

And while you're at it, get Roy Orbison.

Only the lonely would come up with something like this, you say? Actually, they prefer pretty paper.

(Suggested by Dawn Eden.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
12 November 2005
Everybody out of the Dead Pool

A group of city employees in Leawood, Kansas, across the state line from Kansas City, Missouri, has been suspended for betting on Kansas City's homicide statistics.

Al Brooks, pro tem mayor of KC, was incensed:

How insensitive and inhumane can someone be?

You might want to ask the growing number of killers on your side of State Line Road, Mr. Mayor.

Remind me to send this to Laurence Simon.

(Suggested by Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
13 November 2005
Insert Microsoft joke here

In the old days of DOS, there was expanded memory, and there was extended memory, and you had to keep the two of them from snarling at one another by use of some arcane syntax in a startup file. Neither one of them, though, was really the ultimate solution to the problem, and when Windows finally cut itself loose from DOS oh, never mind, I'm just asking for Mac partisans to come in and snicker.

Half-assed solutions, of course, are hardly limited to operating systems, as Michael Blowhard explains:

[T]he medical engineers behind Viagra might justifiably point to my slightly-more-tumescent-than-usual groin and say, See, our miracle pill works! They could high-five each other. But between you and me my experiments with Viagra have me shaking my head over what literal-minded knuckleheads scientists can be. What a stupid, unimaginative, and one-dimensional conception of eroticism Viagra represents: increased susceptibility to congestion. For what kind of spiritually-stunted person is congestion what sex is all about? So I look at the scientists, the technologists, and their publicists and say, "Typical of science and medicine, no? As far as they're concerned, the operation was a success. Too bad the patient namely whatever interest I might have had in participating in erotic pleasure died."

Think of it as the path of least resistance: J. Random Shortarm will presumably be so happy with the imagined longitudinal enhancements that he will overlook all that other stuff.

It's worth remembering, though, that Pfizer's first plans for sildenafil citrate were much more mundane: a treatment for chest pains in men, at which it wasn't worth a darn. Improvements in the libido were duly noted as a side effect, and eventually the suits decided that maybe they could sell it as the quicker pricker-upper; the rest is pharmaceutical (and marketing) history.

So let us not fault Pfizer for their simplistic view of male sexuality these days, thanks to the combined actions of angry feminists and feckless men, that view is now Accepted Wisdom but let us praise them for finding a use for a drug that otherwise they'd have written off their books and ultimately charged off to the taxpayers.

(Disclosure: Despite being in the, um, target market, I have never touched the stuff, and have never felt compelled to try it out. Of course, this is due, not to the superiority of the equipment at hand, but to the lack of suitable opportunities; "at hand," alas, is more than merely a cliché. Should I be concerned about the matter, there are Level I diagnostics available. And "feckless"? Trust me, I have scads of feck.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
14 November 2005
When pundits breed

Keith Rogan writes to Mark Steyn:

Conservative columnists with a sense of humor (like you) are a rare breed. With that thought uppermost in mind, I can't help but wonder what sort of "Uber-Columnist" might be created if Ann Coulter and yourself could be induced to breed?

With nothing more than a candlelit dinner and massive amounts of fertility drugs I can envision a future harvest of leggy, bearded, journalism students that could change the world as we know it, possibly.

Perhaps you could send Ann some roses and a dinner invitation to get the ball rolling, so to speak?

If this seems horrifying, wait until you hear Steyn's reply:

Well, if I glimpse Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd necking on a park bench, I'd certainly be willing to even up the score. Lie back and think of Canada, as Queen Victoria almost said.

This exchange serves two purposes. It enables me to get in my Obligatory Gratuitous Maureen Dowd Reference for the day, and it suggests a question: "Is there any demand for hot pundit-on-pundit action?" Somehow I doubt it; I've turned up only two examples [not safe for work] of Ann Coulter fan fiction, neither of which involves another pundit. Still, that's two more than I've found for Dowd, or for Krugman or Steyn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
16 November 2005
Coal in your stocking would be better

The lowest form of holiday gift imaginable.

(Found at Fashion-Incubator.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
No, you can't keep them

Singer/composer Carolyne Mas also runs a shelter for abandoned and neglected animals, much to the dismay of the local government:

Last year a Realtor in Florida sold us this lovely 5 acre property which had in the past been a boarding and training facility for Whippets. After moving in and believing that we were realizing our dream to help those who cannot help themselves, we sadly found out that the property was not zoned for a kennel. We have a very sick neighbor who has gone around soliciting support against us, and he was eventually able to find people to join him in his cause against us people who are one-quarter of a mile away. They are the only persons in the area who do not have animals.

On my birthday this year, I had to go to court in response to the zoning violation, and was given until January 1st to comply. My lawyer told me today that he has been talking to the zoning commision, and any request for rezoning will most certainly be turned down. I am suing the Realtor and all other participating parties who lied to us, but if I cannot comply with the strict zoning standards by January 1st, I could go to jail.

I'm not up on the zoning rules of Hudson, Florida, but I have to wonder how that previous facility got a pass from the powers that be.

Suggestions? Give her a call her number's on the linked page or write her at samlorac-at-aol.com.

(Addendum, 20 November: This story was picked up by Dawn Eden for her New York Daily News column.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:42 PM)
20 November 2005
Well, this sucks

Comment enough. From the Guardian:

Mouth cancer can be caused by a virus contracted during oral sex, a new Swedish study has shown. People who catch a high-risk variety of the human papilloma virus, HPV, at that time are more susceptible to falling ill with mouth cancer, according to new research.

"You should avoid having oral sex," said the dentist and researcher Kerstin Rosenquist, who headed the study at the Malmo University's Faculty of Odontology in southern Sweden. HPV is a wart virus that causes many cervical cancers, including endometrial cancer in the uterus. The main factors that contribute to mouth cancer, most commonly contracted by middle-aged and older men, remain smoking and drinking alcohol.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
23 November 2005
Five feet high and rising

Italian experts from the University of Padua are proposing to keep Venice from sinking further by pumping sea water underneath the city, thereby making the sandy base on which it rests expand. After ten years of this, Venice is supposed to rise by 30 cm (not quite a foot), about as far as it has sunk in the past few centuries.

This operation will cost 100 million euros (about $120 million), a drop in the bucket compared to the ongoing 4.5-billion-euro floodgate-construction program.

In other news, New Orleans officials are reported to be exploring the possibility of towing the city on a very large barge across the Gulf of Mexico to somewhere south of Corpus Christi, Texas.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
24 November 2005
News from the Norma Triangle

A resident of Dicks Street in West Hollywood is trying to get the name of the street changed to something less risible.

Especially, you know, since it's such a short street (two blocks, Hilldale to Doheny).

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
26 November 2005
One benzene ring to bind them

Regarding that massive petrochemical spill in China's Songhua River, the Interested-Participant asks:

[W]here's the international media on this story? How come no reporters are asking questions about a Chinese cover up of a major environmental disaster? And, while I'm at it, where are the environmental protesters? How come Greenpeace isn't marching in front of the Chinese Embassy? Where are the UN monitoring teams? And, above all, why wasn't there some attempt to isolate and clean up the spill?

Well, it did make The New York Times, though it was banished to the "International" section. As to the lack of outcry from the Usual Suspects, maybe it's just this:

[I] guess ecological disasters don't count if those suffering are not politically correct minorities ... or if you can't blame the disaster on Bush....

And since when do the Chinese ever admit to screwing up anything?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 PM)
27 November 2005
Despite the name

Found in comments to this Black Friday post:

I wonder if Jesse Jackson or the esteemed Rev. Al shop on this day. It's so racist.

Let's see. You've got people with enormously-inflated senses of entitlement, demanding concessions at every turn, and complaining loudly if those concessions are not immediately forthcoming.

And on the day after Thanksgiving, you have shoppers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:41 PM)
All the hypotenuse that's fit to print

This New York story explains why you should have paid attention in geometry class:

The question before the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, was whether a man named James Robbins was guilty of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school which carries a longer sentence when he was arrested in March 2002 on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 40th Street in Manhattan and charged with selling drugs to an undercover police officer.

The nearest school, Holy Cross, is on 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. How to measure? On foot, Mr. Robbins's lawyers argued, the school is more than 1,000 feet away from the site of the arrest, because the shortest route is blocked by buildings. But as the crow flies, the authorities said, it is less than 1,000 feet away.

Law enforcement officials calculated the straight-line distance using the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) measuring the distance up Eighth Avenue (764 feet) as one side of a right triangle, and the distance to the church along 43rd Street (490 feet) as another, to find that the length of the hypotenuse was 907.63 feet.

Lawyers for Mr. Robbins argued that the distance should be measured as a person would walk it because "crows do not sell drugs." But in a unanimous ruling, the seven-member Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and held that the distance in such cases should be measured as the crow flies.

"Plainly, guilt under the statute cannot depend on whether a particular building in a person's path to a school happens to be open to the public or locked at the time of a drug sale," Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye wrote in the opinion.

Mr. Robbins is currently serving a 6-to-12-year sentence.

Here in Oklahoma, we have no shortage of laws that are predicated upon keeping one's distance from this building or that institution; it will be interesting to see if this New York interpretation catches on here.

(Via Orin Kerr.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:12 PM)
28 November 2005
The peacemaker of Palos Verdes

So why should Patterico (yes, really, Patterico) be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize?

Certainly he has advantages over previous winners and nominees:

  • Unlike Kofi Annan (winner 2001), he has never had a child involved in money-laundering.

  • Unlike Mohamed ElBaradei (winner 2005), he can actually recognize a nuclear facility from a very long way away.

  • Unlike Stanley "Tookie" Williams (nominee 2001), he has never actually killed anyone.

  • Unlike Henry Kissinger (winner 1973), he has never dated Jill St. John.

I do not occupy a position high enough in the hierarchy to be able to nominate this most excellent individual for the prize myself; if you serve in such a position, I urge you to consider Patterico for the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 PM)
3 December 2005
More reliable than wrinkles

David Gillies explains:

You know you're getting old when it's 9.30 and instead of chatting to the amazingly cute girl next to you you're thinking, "if I finish up this beer I can be in bed by ten."

And worse, the idea of being in bed with the aforementioned amazingly cute girl doesn't even occur to you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 AM)
4 December 2005
I swear (ka-ching!)

McGehee is one of those people who throws a quarter in the cuss jar whenever he utters something that lands on the far side of acceptable vernacular.

McGehee, of course, is a private citizen. When the government establishes a cuss jar, it costs a lot more than twenty-five cents:

Bad words are costing Hartford (CT) Public and Bulkeley high schoolers $103 each.

Police officers assigned to the schools have fined about two dozen students for cursing in a new program to curtail unruly behavior. The joint effort by school and police officials targets students who swear while defying teachers and administrators.

Eric Berlin notes:

When the police are involved in the day-to-day workings of your school, that's probably not a good sign.

I'm curious as to how they determined the amount of the, um, contribution, which is 412 times as much as is assessed chez McGehee, an amount I have no reason to believe is unusually low. Proportionately, the Hartford action is actually more costly than war procurement: not even Halliburton in all its splendor could get away with charging $3,708 for a nine-dollar hammer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:05 AM)
SMS to me

My cell phone qualifies as ancient on the contemporary scale, and that's fine with me; it's all I need. It even does text messages, which is probably more than I need:

Personally, I think the Blackberry is the second-silliest handheld communication idea ever, behind only cell-phone text messaging. ("If only there was some way I could use this cell phone to get a message to my friend, who also has a cell phone." The very first text message I ever saw someone send? "Call Me." I am not kidding.)

And besides:

Remember, folks: Email is only one third of the Computing Triad. Until a gizmo can also handle games and porn, it won't catch on.

The next step, I suppose, is to be able to place calls via the iPod Video. (I don't have one of those either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:36 PM)
5 December 2005
Perhaps more than the turf is artificial

In NFL Week 12, the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-7, and Steelers sources are claiming that the Colts amplified the crowd noise in the RCA Dome and fed it back through the Dome's PA system during Steeler possessions, making it difficult for Pittsburgh players to hear the count and contributing to a number of false-start penalties.

Ed Bouchette, who writes the "Steelers Insider" column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, elaborates:

The Colts were pumping in noise, I can tell you that. They had extra microphones spread around the stadium and they took that noise from the fans, put it back in through the PA and that's why it was so loud.

The NFL says it has not received an official complaint; such actions would be a violation of NFL rules.

I wonder what they'd think of Loud City, in the upper reaches of the Ford Center.

(Via Ravenwood's Universe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 AM)
6 December 2005
You're gorgeous, we hate you

For no reason I can fathom, I got about 150 visitors yesterday looking for stuff about Harvard librarian Desiree Goodwin, whose claim to fame was filing a discrimination suit against the university. (I wrote about her a few times, first here, last here.)

While trying to figure out how she'd managed to score a few seconds of fame beyond the canonical 15 minutes, I turned up this report on a Wisconsin study which asserts that "sexy-looking females face intense office contempt and hostility if they're in management positions," and which referenced Goodwin's unsuccessful suit against Harvard.

I tend to steer clear of office politics when I can, but it seems at least possible to me that the aforementioned SLFs might face hostility even if they're not in management positions. Then again, half the human race, myself included, is below average in appearance, so maybe I'm the wrong person to take up this topic.

Addendum, 9 December: The demand increases; I respond with a photograph.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
How I miss Poulan Weedeater

College bowl games used to have names. Now they have sponsors and naming rights and horrid mashups like this:

  • San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - The picture of beauty, isn't it?
  • Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - The 2-food-groups-in-one bowl
  • AutoZone Liberty Bowl - My car is my sovereign right bowl
  • Fedex Orange Bowl - Fedex orange, UPS brown bowl

God forbid bloggers should become sponsors:

How long until we see a Cotton Pajamas Media Bowl?

Only if they let Goldstein live-blog it. From his den.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 AM)
No acrostics in Islamabad

The government of Pakistan is removing a poem from English-language textbooks used in state schools because the first letter of each line, in sequence, spells out PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH.

An official for the Ministry of Education explains:

We have decided to delete the poem from the book, published by the National Book Foundation (NBF) and prescribed for the federal board students of intermediate [English]. It will be stretching the matter too far to assert that the poem was inserted in the book deliberately to enumerate the qualities of the American president.

In other words: "We don't know if it was intentional, but we're taking no chances."

Pakistan deregulated textbook publishing in 2004, opening the market to new publishers; the anonymous poem, titled "The Leader," appeared in a text that was approved earlier this year. It goes like this:

Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to accept every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real,
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mold,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight won't do,
Never back down when he sees what is true,
Tells it all straight, and means it all too,
Going forward and knowing he's right,
Even when doubted for why he would fight,
Over and over he makes his case clear,
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear,
Growing in strength, he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word,
Wanting the world to join his firm stand,
Bracing for war, but praying for peace,
Using his power so evil will cease:
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he must.

Certainly the scansion could use a little help.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:43 PM)
8 December 2005
Fauteuil d'amour

Which means, more or less, "armchair of love," and this is it, even if, as Sean Thomas writes, it looks like "a commode for an incontinent Chinese warlord."

Edward VII apparently had a contraption like this designed for use with threesomes and moresomes, which I suppose is further evidence that it's good to be the king. Me, I can't imagine either the logistics or the trigonometry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
9 December 2005
Blatant Googlebait

Desiree GoodwinPictured here is Desiree Goodwin, fortysomething Harvard librarian, who sued the university charging discrimination: I titled my first post about her "I'm too sexy for my desk". Inasmuch as this is a hot story on job-finding Web sites this week I've had over 900 hits so far from people looking for, if not her story, certainly her picture the least I can do is oblige. (Oh, what we won't go through for more traffic.)

My three previous posts about the Goodwin incident are here, here and here.

Addendum: Pertinent quote from her LISNews interview:

I think that the perception that librarians are conservative, homogeneous, and out of touch will be ultimately harmful to us, and if [we] don't change that image we will be left behind as society evolves.

I'm guessing that she means "conservative" as in "mossback," not in its contemporary political context; the American Library Association tends to veer somewhat leftward.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:54 AM)
12 December 2005
Warm up the fryer

Finally, the last word on Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

And if it's not the last word, it should be. Pertinent quote:

I submit that "Tookie" is very proud of his legacy. He just doesn't want to die for it and for the next few hours is doing everything he can think of to keep from dying for it, with the help of those who are prone to believing the lies of psychopaths: the gullible, the ignorant and the stupid.

I am not what you'd call a big fan of capital punishment. However, I am also not keen on the notion that people with X amount of celebrity, where X > [more than you or me], should somehow be exempt from it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
A little bit softer now

Yes, you can dance to the Isley Brothers' "Shout."

Doesn't mean you should.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
13 December 2005
What happens when there's no more rhyme?

If you weren't feeling just a trifle ancient already, consider this: late-Eighties teen-dream Debbie Gibson is now thirty-five years old.

Not that her, um, advanced age gives her any excuse to dress like this. Even a black silk ninja uniform would be an improvement.

Update, 14 December: This isn't an improvement.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
New Jersey volt fraud

"Hello, this is PSE&G. We've just noticed that we haven't read your electric meter since 1998 and we will be sending you an updated bill just as soon as we possibly can."

And just in time for Christmas, too.

(Via Mister Snitch!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
The taxman won't go away

Even when he's been told to:

Phone customers are due $9 billion in tax refunds and a 3% cut in wireless phone and long-distance bills, according to a series of federal court decisions. But the federal government continues to collect the tax and requires so much paperwork for refunds that only big corporations are likely to benefit.

On Friday, a court in Washington, D.C., became the third federal appeals court since May to void the tax. Two other federal appeals courts, covering seven states, have ruled the tax unlawful, and cases are pending elsewhere in the nation's 13 appeals courts. In all, nine federal courts have ruled that a 3% federal tax doesn't apply to phone calls that are priced only by how long a person talks not by how far the call travels.

That means cellular phones, Internet phone service and about one-third of long distance calls would be exempt from the tax. The wireless industry estimates that consumers would save about $4.5 billion a year. Taxpayers also would be due three years of refunds about $9 billion.

So what's the problem?

An appeals court decision in May voided the law in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The government did not appeal but continues to require phone companies to collect the tax in those states and pass it on to the federal government.

"It sounds absurd, but the law is written so that the government can keep collecting a tax even though it's been ruled unlawful," says Hank Levine, a lawyer representing businesses that challenged the tax. Federal law makes it nearly impossible to get an injunction to stop the government from collecting a tax, he says.

And is it worth your trouble?

The average consumer would be entitled to a refund about the size of the average $49.52 monthly bill paid by the USA's 195 million wireless subscribers. However, consumers would be required to seek refunds individually, documenting how much they paid each quarter in separate claims.

The time limit for refunds is three years. A person entitled to a $50 refund would have to fill out forms a dozen times to get the three years' worth of refunds permitted under tax law. Collecting records and preparing the form would take about seven hours.

It is, of course, purely coincidental that I am mentioning this on a day when an election is being held in 28 counties in Oklahoma to authorize a 50-cent-per-month tax to pay for Enhanced 911 Phase II.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
Thwarting the three-year-old shopper

Now this is scary: Food Marketing Aimed at Kids Influences Poor Nutritional Choices, says the Institute of Medicine. What can be done about it?

Food, beverage, and restaurant companies, as well as the entertainment and marketing industries, should expand, strengthen, and enforce their standards for marketing practices. For example, licensed characters, such as popular cartoon characters, should be used only to promote products that support healthful diets, the committee said. The industries should work with health officials and consumer groups to develop an industrywide rating system and labeling that convey the nutritional quality of foods and beverages in a consistent and effective fashion. The Children's Advertising Review Unit a group created and financed by the industry to monitor advertising directed toward children should expand and apply its voluntary guidelines to newer forms of marketing, such as Internet and wireless phone advertising and product placement. The media and entertainment industries should incorporate storylines that promote healthful eating into programs, films, and games. The government should consider the use of awards and tax incentives that encourage companies to develop and promote healthier products for young people.

What's missing in the above prescription?

If you have children, you are.

(Via David Fleck.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 PM)
16 December 2005
Everything returns again

Remind me to send a Christmas gift to Desiree Goodwin: the woman, quite unintentionally, spins my SiteMeter faster than anyone else on earth, including both Olsen twins, separately or in tandem.

CNN.com reprints this CareerBuilder piece titled "Are you too sexy for your job?" and jumps right into the stuff of urban legend:

Harvard librarian Desiree Goodwin, who holds two advanced degrees from Cornell University, charged that she was passed over for promotion 16 times because of her attire and physical attractiveness. Goodwin claimed the jobs she sought were given to women with less experience and education and that a supervisor told her she was perceived as a "pretty girl" who wore "sexy outfits."

There's one factor CNN isn't telling you, but she will:

"Did you feel that it was your looks, or [your] race that were more of an impediment to your being promoted?"

I think it was my race that was more of an impediment, and that closely ties in to my appearance. It is because there are very strong cultural biases against black people, and the higher we rise in the socio-economic ranks the more visible we become, and the more we will be judged for our appearance and expression of gender. Race is a concept that is based on appearance, and tied to how rewards will be distributed in our society. Black people feel more pressure to appear conformist, which we can interpret as conservative, in order to rise in the corporate world, and white people, especially in academia are not subject to the same restrictions to the same degree that we are.

It's impossible to determine whether Goodwin's case would have come out differently had she been a beautiful white woman instead of a beautiful black woman, but it's clear that she considered race and appearance separate but interconnected issues: for CNN (and CareerBuilder) to characterize her case as a simple matter of "too sexy" strikes me as a bit disingenuous.

(If you must have a picture, go here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
17 December 2005
Insufficient separation

Would this be considered a "stereorail"?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 PM)
18 December 2005
All we are saying is give dreck a chance

Coming in Spring '06: the first officially-licensed John Lennon Action Figure. (It would have been here for Happy Xmas '05, but they had to find time to get Yoko into the studio and record an unearthly shriek for the Low Battery signal.)

For an extra $49.95 you can get a special Collector's Base, made of good Norwegian wood.

(In the position of honor among Diane's Stuff.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:57 AM)
Touching is extra

Should local merchants charge a "browsing fee"?

No, really:

[S]ome malls are so full of really awful stores that it's just not fun to shop there. For example, the best of our three local malls (I use the word "best" very advisedly) has eighteen sneaker stores, thirty-six visor-hat stores, twelve "rave" type of clothing stores, a Sears, a Target, bunches of Limiteds and Gaps, a Filenes, a Best Buy, and an Old Navy. I'm exaggerating the numbers but the proportions are right and the downscaleness is notable.

For a place like that, they should pay you.

Then again, there's this scenario:

The only way many of us can do fabulous shopping is to shop online. Which removes the immediacy, the touching and seeing, and the fun adrenaline rush of really good search-and-find shopping. And it's unfair to the local merchants who make huge efforts but can't lower their prices. Only a small proportion of our shopping dollars are spent locally any more. We check out things like books and digital cameras in local stores feel them, see them, weigh them, etc. then get wider choices and better prices plus get them delivered into our hands by buying online. It's logical and understandable but seems economically and ethically icky.

My rule of thumb: if someone from the store has actually assisted with the examination of the product, that someone gets the sale if I buy. (It doesn't hurt that if it's something I really want, I know I'll really hate waiting for it.) Time should be considered part of the price: having something in two minutes can justify a premium over having it in two days.

Then again, I place a fairly high value on convenience: it is wholly unlike me to drive four miles up the road to save three cents a gallon on unleaded. Your mileage may vary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
19 December 2005
The fauxtility of it all

Ed Batista introduces the poster child for "fauxtilitarian design":

Hummer is taking out full-page ads for the Alpha, which features the "Duramax 6600 Turbo Diesel" engine and the "Allison 1000" transmission, making it "the new benchmark in off-road exotic vehicles." It's a new benchmark, alright the very latest in phony utility. It's fauxtilitarian!

The Alpha, I should point out, is the latest version of the original H1, the Hummer spun off from the military HMMWV, which in its civilian guise serves mostly to stick a thumb in the Sierra Club's eye; it is too big and too unwieldy (yet, amazingly, too cramped) to serve as a good suburban-assault vehicle). Worse, it costs around $130,000. You can be certain that no one is buying this for its rock-pounding prowess:

[W]hen Hummer's touting the "Duramax 6600" on the back of the Wine Spectator (see the Dec. 15 issue), well, fauxtility has officially exhausted itself as an aesthetic. I'm expecting a return to flashy superficiality any day now.

We'll know the cycle is complete when we see Robert Parker ratings for diesel fuel.

(Via Doc Searls.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 AM)
I want an old drug

Carrie McLaren from Stay Free! on something I've seen before:

After two weeks of suffering through my annual bout of sinusitis/tonsilitis, I recently buckled and talked to my doctor about getting some antibiotics. I asked for Augmentin it's worked well for me in the past... and that's what he prescribed: a 14-day supply of Augmentin XR 1000 MG.

When I go to pick up my meds, the pharmacist informs me that my insurer HIP will only authorize a 10-day supply at one time. In order to get the remaining pills, I'll have to wait until I finish the first batch and come back again. Why on earth does HIP have such a policy? Is the drug not approved for the formulary? Nope, it's there. Is 10 days the standard dosage? No, the standard dosage is either 14 or 28 days.

No, the reason HIP covers less than a full supply is because it wants two co-payments out of me. At $30 each, that makes the drug $60. This not only makes the drug unduly expensive, but it encourages patients not to take their full course of antibiotics.... which, if you know anything about antibiotics, is dangerous from a public health perspective, because it can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.

Drug plans are full of neat little tricks like that. I have to contrive every year to have the stuff I take every day come close to running out right before the World Tour, because CFI Care [not its real initials] won't cover a refill if they think you have as much as a third of your last bottle remaining. Can I just buy two refills the month before, at twice the price? No, sorry, it doesn't work that way.

During last fall's illness, I was prescribed a rather massive dose of Augmentin: I think it was 750 875 mg twice a day. I don't remember whether I got a whole 14 days' worth (which would be 28 tabs), but I am quite sure I didn't have it refilled.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Update, 28 December: Apparently Augmentin in this variety is only prescribed for ten days. The original post has been updated accordingly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
20 December 2005
Dr Mutharika, your PCs are here

Computers for Africa? Great idea, Mr Gates, says Time.

Or maybe there are more pressing needs:

I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly. I would not send more teachers. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence in the form of a bond, or a solemn promise, for Africans trained in medicine and education at the state's expense to work in their own countries.

Malawi was in my time a lush wooded country of three million people. It is now an eroded and deforested land of 12 million; its rivers are clogged with sediment and every year it is subjected to destructive floods. The trees that had kept it whole were cut for fuel and to clear land for subsistence crops. Malawi had two presidents in its first 40 years, the first a megalomaniac who called himself the messiah, the second a swindler whose first official act was to put his face on the money. Last year the new man, Bingu wa Mutharika, inaugurated his regime by announcing that he was going to buy a fleet of Maybachs, one of the most expensive cars in the world.

If past experience is at all a guide, you've got to figure that this Bingu fellow is going to intercept anything coming into Lilongwe that looks like it might be worth something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
Paging Randy Terrill

Mr Terrill, in case you've forgotten, is the state legislator whose BVDs were so horribly knotted by the infamous Lotto Tree.

I wonder what he'd think of the Lawrence, Kansas Fetus Tree.

(Via aldahlia.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:41 AM)
28 December 2005
Please let me off this grid

Alameda County, California assigns addresses based on how far a building is from downtown Oakland, which is the county seat. You might not think, even if you lived in semi-remote Hayward and had a number like 22071 on your front door, that this would be a big deal.

You would, of course, be wrong. Developers have complained to Hayward municipal government that these ginormous numbers could be costing them sales because all these digits increase the likelihood that some of them would be considered unlucky under the rules of feng shui.

Kidding? Of course not:

Real estate agent Lisa Coen, of nearby Pleasanton, who also runs a feng shui consulting firm, said she has advised developers on how to make homes attractive to buyers who would not want to live at the end of a cul-de-sac or where a door opens onto a staircase.

"It does matter to some people. It really does matter," Coen said. "They won't buy a house ... if the number's not right."

And apparently she does practice what she preaches. Her feng shui consulting firm is located at number 326, which is a good thing:

Six is also very auspicious, not only because it has the same sound as "profitable" or "luk" in Cantonese but also because 6 is twice 3 and 3 is a lucky primary number since it takes a minimum of 3 points to create a geometrical shape. Three is the beginning of all things and twice 3, that is 6, means progress and doubling of everything that you started with. For the same reason the three digit numbers 326 and 666 are also popular with the Chinese.

Disclosure: My own address, balanced between yin and yang, is just fine.

(Via Kipper, who sitteth at the right hand of Xrlq.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
3 January 2006
Erie similarities

Normally I wouldn't grumble about new construction in Buffalo (that's New York, not Oklahoma), but this particular deal sounds venal enough to have been cooked up in Tulsa. The Greater Buffalo Blog reports:

Here's one that deserves to go down in flames: The new headquarters for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, the local nonprofit medical insurer, on 15 acres of land behind City Hall. It is a local parlor game to rue development mistakes of the past. Yet, with Blue Cross, we are going to be saddled with a project that breaks all the rules of citymaking. We'll pay for the pleasure, too. The deal includes, for starters, a $10,000,000 federal tax benefit, a taxpayer-funded $14,000,000 state environmental clean up that a private owner was obligated to pay, a probable city payback for a $16,000,000 parking ramp, and the selling of a 6.5 acre public parcel of land assessed at $3,500,000 to a private developer for $1. All this merely to move a local company from one city neighborhood to another.

Some of the gory details:

The project site is isolated, at least five blocks from any streetfront retail (about 2,000 feet), and seven blocks from Lafayette Square, the closest concentration of commercial activity. This is much too far to induce retail sales.

In a region with mass transit in a downward spiral of service cuts and declining ridership, we are exchanging a headquarters building located on five bus routes and Metrorail, for one that is four blocks from the nearest bus stop.

Over 50% of downtown land is devoted to parking, including several underutilized public parking ramps, yet a 1600-car, $16,000,000 ramp is to be built expressly for this building's employees, likely at city expense.

The shape and placement of the buildings is such to lead one to believe the encroachments on [Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency] land are done to trigger some kind of funding or tax abatement for the developer, and fees for BURA.

Urbanistically, the building and its public areas are sited so as to discourage pedestrian activity, forfeiting the opportunities presented by the corner of 7th and Court streets. Architecturally, it will be a cheap, tawdry, and altogether unavoidable monstrosity that destroys the architectural and historical presence of John Selkirk's landmarked Gas Works façade of 1859.

They say "façade" for a reason: that's all that's left of the original Gas Works. The building itself was demolished in 2000, at which time it had been on the National Register of Historic Places for twenty-four years.

Preservationists complained:

The new building appears to have little relationship to the old structure but appears to have been a stock plan from an office park plopped down in the city next to the gasworks.

Buffalo's preservation ordinance sets forth a number of criteria for review of a proposed improvement. Among them are scale, relationship of building masses and architectural details including materials, colors and textures. There seems to have been no attention to any of these.

Additionally, the building fails to make itself part of the urban fabric but creates an island for itself.

Drawings of the new facility along the bottom of this page. "HealthNow" is the parent company of BC/BS-WNY.

Oh, and Buffalo is trying to land a Bass Pro Shops store too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:47 PM)
11 January 2006
Lackluster video

I haven't set foot in a Cropduster Blockbuster Video store in about a decade, and apparently I haven't missed much:

Blockbuster has always charged as much as it imagines the traffic can bear. Its late fees were brutally high, and it raised the price of rentals substantially when it removed the fees. Did it think we wouldn't notice?

Blockbuster employees hereabouts are teenagers who don't give a damn. There is no avenue whatever for customer feedback to get to anybody who cares. If, in fact, there IS anybody who cares.

Worst of all, Blockbuster drove out the independent video stores in our area stores which had knowledgeable and entertaining movie buffs behind the counter and which carried lots of old movies, foreign movies, documentaries, and other things I actually wanted to see.

Blockbuster has instead arrogantly stocked its stores with hundreds of copies of the most idiotic current releases, ignoring "long tail" customers altogether. It followed the old Henry Ford business model: "You can paint it any color, so long as it's black."

I made my first forays into home video in 1981, buying a Beta VCR and a CED videodisc player; I followed with a LaserDisc player in 1982. I split my business between Buttons, a video cousin to the Sound Warehouse chain, which was quick to get hardware goodies, and Kaleidoscope Video, a local store with two locations and enormous quantities of nonhits on tape.

But that was then. Now I rent nothing; if I want to see it badly enough, I'll actually catch it in a theater, or if it doesn't play here too common an occurrence, alas I'll figure out some way to get the DVD. (And I'm not above writing to the producer if I have to.)

And should I have actual time for rentals at some point, I'll probably sign up for something like Netflix. Less hassle, better selection.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
12 January 2006
I am not unsympathetic

Steve Gigl nominates a phrase for oblivion:

I would be happy to never hear the phrase "I don't disagree" ever again.

I wonder what he thinks of this site's slogan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 PM)
13 January 2006
Will Mr. Six retire?

Buried in a story about the shuffle on the Six Flags board of directors was this bit of alarming news:

Six Flags said it signed OgilvyOne Worldwide to enhance direct and interactive marketing efforts nationwide. The company also said it would put its advertising contract with Michigan-based W.B. Doner & Co. up for review. That contract expires in June.

Mike Antinoro, executive vice president for entertainment and marketing, said Doner has helped create brand awareness for Six Flags. The agency developed a campaign around the popular Mr. Six character.

"We're now in the process of analyzing every aspect of our business, and we're looking forward to Doner's participation in the process as we investigate how to most effectively build on this awareness," Antinoro said in a statement.

"Put up for review," to my mind anyway, translates as "Gawd, this stuff sucks."

I'm thinking old man Six is about to be put out to pasture.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
14 January 2006
FCCed up

George Carlin famously noted (on his Class Clown album) that there were seven words you can never say on television, and when this routine was played on New York's WBAI radio, the FCC decided that you couldn't say them on radio either.

Where can they be said? At the FCC's Web site, apparently: a manager at WFMU fed these words and several others into the fcc.gov search facility. The results are startling, but probably not surprising; it's always the censors who have the most extensive collections of smut.

Don't even ask about the "Alaska pipeline."

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:36 AM)
20 January 2006
Personally, I blame Charming Billy

Jonah Goldberg quotes The Wall Street Journal:

Cherry pies are the only frozen fruit pies that must meet quality standards set by the Food and Drug Administration. Other fruit pies including apples, blueberries and peaches are exempt.

The FDA created the rule more than 30 years ago. At least 25% of the pie by weight must contain cherries, and no more than 15% of the cherries can be blemished. No one recalls why cherries were singled out. "We likely issued the one standard because we were petitioned to," FDA spokesman Michael Herndon says.

Perhaps they anticipated, even feared, that everybody must get stones?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
21 January 2006
Elvis was here

The first real recording studio in Nashville was "The Castle" in the Tulane Hotel, 8th Avenue North and Church Street, opened by three engineers from WSM radio in 1945. At the time, Nashville was hardly "Music City USA," a term apparently invented by a WSM announcer during a 1950 broadcast, but things were starting to percolate, and in 1954, RCA Victor, which had made a number of recordings at The Castle, decided they needed a facility of their own in town.

Nipper's first Nashville digs were at 1525 McGavock Street, in a building owned by the United Methodist Television, Radio & Film Commission. In January 1956 a fellow named Elvis Presley arrived, having been acquired by RCA from Sam Phillips' Sun label in Memphis, and tracks were laid down, one of which was "Heartbreak Hotel," which sold in the jillions and topped the charts. (Its B-side, "I Was the One," made the Top 20 on its own.) By 1957 RCA was a powerhouse in Nashville, selling both country and pop, and ponied up the bucks for a brand-new studio on 17th Avenue South and Hawkins (now Roy Acuff Place), which became known as "Studio B." ("Studio A" was actually built later.)

Not much happened at 1525 McGavock after that until the arrival of Jim Owens Productions in the 1980s, for which I am eternally grateful. (Two words: Lorianne Crook.) And not a whole lot happened after Owens and company moved on, circa 2000; Winston Rand reports that the building is being replaced by a parking lot. Studio B, meanwhile, has been turned into a museum and learning laboratory.

If there's a lesson here, it's simply that not everything we'd like to save is going to be saved and that I'm never going to see everything I wanted to see. What made 1525 McGavock interesting to me, apart from the Crook and Chase connection, was this bit of weirdness: one of the goals of the RCA crew was to be able to duplicate Sam Phillips' slapback echo in the studio, despite the fact that Sam had actually created the sound, not with studio acoustics, but with a carefully-timed tape delay. I thrive on stuff like that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:44 PM)
24 January 2006
No, it's your store

This could get complicated. Albertsons, which had been looking for a buyer for its grocery chain, got three: rival SuperValu will buy most of the grocery stores, CVS will acquire standalone Sav-on drug stores, and 655 stores in the West, including Oklahoma, will go to an investment group led by Cerberus Capital Management.

The divestiture of the Western stores has suggested to some analysts that Cerberus and friends aren't interested in the grocery business, particularly; they just want the real-estate properties that come with the stores. Cerberus begs to differ:

Cerberus' business is taking underperforming assets and making them perform. They have a pretty good track record of doing that, and that's the commitment with Albertsons. Our plans are to operate the stores under the Albertsons name. We will maintain the same benefits plans and programs for all employees.

SuperValu already owns the Sav-A-Lot stores in the state; it could simply be that they didn't want to run two chains side by side.

In Boise, headquarters of the Albertsons chain, the outlook might be less rosy:

The Big Promise made by Albertson's CEO-of-the-moment, Larry Johnston:

"We are also pleased that in addition to maintaining a presence in each banner's headquarter city (Jewel-Chicago, Acme-Philadelphia, Shaws-Boston, Albertsons-Los Angeles), SUPERVALU has stated that it intends also to maintain an important presence in Boise, Idaho for the foreseeable future."

[W]ould anyone care to wager on the exact duration of "the foreseeable future"?

Not me. I can't see that far.

I am a regular Albertson's shopper have been for a few years but I'm not emotionally wedded to the place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
Eight bucks a pack

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, apparently upset that there are still New Yorkers who smoke, is proposing to raise the city's tobacco tax another 50 cents per pack, bringing the combined city/state levy to $3.50.

"We're trying to save the lives of our children," he said on one of his periodic pilgrimages to Albany.

At this price, it might be cheaper to move every child in the Big Apple to New Jersey and be done with it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 AM)
No more Persiaflage

Miriam has figured out what to do about Iran:

Couldn't we just arrange for Ted Kennedy to take Ahmadinejad for a little ride? Perhaps around Cape Cod, somewhere.

We could call it "an attempt to normalize relations."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
26 January 2006
Worst. Team Name. Ever.

Houston's new Major League Soccer team will be known as "1836".

I hereby retract anything untoward, unkind, or unsupportive I ever said about the Stanford Cardinal [singular].

Better ideas or at least no worse here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
27 January 2006
Factoids? We got some

Playboy has a page every month called "Raw Data," described reasonably enough as "significa, insignifica, stats and facts." Once in a while there's something worth mentioning here, but the February issue hits the trifecta.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that raising the price of beer 20 cents would cut gonorrhea rates among young adults by almost 9%.

That isn't on the CDC's Alcohol Factsheet, but this is: "For every 1% increase in the price of beer, the traffic fatality rate declines by 0.9% (Ruhm, 1996)." I'm just waiting for someone to pitch the idea of increasing beer prices by 111 percent in the expectation that the action would almost completely eliminate traffic deaths.

According to insurance company Progressive, 35% of Americans would change political parties for $500.

I can be bought, but not that cheaply. Maybe they mean "on primary-election day."

44% of women say they can't enjoy sex with a less intelligent partner.

Go back to sleep, Maureen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
29 January 2006
How K. West was one

I have stayed away from the subject of Kanye West's fatuous Rolling Stone cover, largely because I was hoping he'd find it worthwhile to follow its example: throw himself into the ocean, say, and then show up at Sean "Puff Daddy" "P. Diddy" Combs' house 72 hours later.

Admittedly, it never once occurred to me that someone would actually take this man seriously; I mean, I care as much about what Kanye West thinks of American culture just about as much as I care what Ashton Kutcher has to say about superstring theory, which is a number that approaches zero as quickly as it's possible to get there. But maybe that's because I'm over 40:

All of you commenting about Kanye must be 40 yrs. old or older. Young people, such as myself, can care less about Kanye's political rampage. When he said that Bush did not care about black people, he was only saying what almost every black person wanted to say. Kanye has the youth rapped up in his fingertips. He wants the same recognition from the grown folks. I understand Kanye completely. When your an music artist, your suppose to walk down the same path everyone else did in the past. However, Kanye is making his own path. He is redefining what pop artists is actually capable of doing. You all need to stop looking at things in black and white. Kanye is practically defying the laws of music artists and I love him to death for that.

The preceding brought to you by one "bigballs," commenting at In the Agora, wherein Joshua Claybourn has some semi-kind words for West's oeuvre: "Observe his music in a vacuum and it deserves tremendous acclaim." I'll pass, thank you; to obtain that vacuum, I'd have to go look for something else that sucks that much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
A thousand miles apart

Yet so much in common: White Settlement, Texas and Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

It's times like these I yearn for an uncomplicated place like, oh, Normal, Illinois.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 PM)
31 January 2006
Your regular Desiree Goodwin update

The latest in the ongoing Desiree Goodwin saga: the Harvard librarian ran for, but did not win, two positions in the university's Clerical and Technical Workers union, one on the union's executive board, the other as representative from the Graduate School of Design.

(Previous coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, here [with picture], and here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
1 February 2006
Killed my groove, I've got to say


(Via Outside the Beltway.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
5 February 2006
This has gone on too long

At least, Chad the Elder thinks so:

Why in this fast-paced world of I-Pods, TiVo, high-speed internet, DVRs, one-click ordering, HDTV, file-sharing, PDFs, and wireless this and wireless that, do we still insist on using legal paper (8½" x 14") for things like mortgages and loans? I understand that the law talking elite might prefer to use a legal pad for scribblin' their notes and doodling, but why must the rest of us, the folks, be forced to deal with documents designed for the shyster set?

Everything in my office at home; binders, file folders, hanging folders, file drawers, and the fireproof safe is set up to store the standard, widely-accepted and used 8" x 11" documents. So when I get handed a stack of important legal papers at the bank and wish to preserve them for posterity's sake, I'm forced to fold, bend, spindle, or mutilate them in order to get them to fit. What's the deal with that?

I can barely resist posting this explanation:

This history of legal size paper (8.5" x 14") is unclear, although most historians agree it is a descendant of "foolscap," a traditional British paper size dating back to the 16th century. About 8.5" x 13.5", foolscap was used for official documents and it is believed that the size has been retained by the legal community more for tradition than for any practical purpose.

Incidentally, "foolscap" refers to the watermark once used by a major producer of paper in this size; it is not a snide commentary on the quality of legal documents. I think.

Even more incidentally, I have an actual legal-size scanner, which has one distinct advantage, at least for me, over its smaller brothers: it can do an LP jacket (around 12½" by 12½") in two passes rather than four. (Works pretty well, too.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
7 February 2006
Suckers wanted

Well, somebody is reading the mommy blogs:

I'm in the casting division with ABC Television and we're looking for great families and moms who love to stand out from the crowd, families who aren't afraid to be unique. We think that amazing mothers who are part of your groups would be amazing to feature on our program.

We're currently casting for ABC's hit family show, "Wife Swap!" Please don't be confused by the title "Wife Swap" is a family show on ABC primetime. The premise is simple: two moms from two very different families get the opportunity to swap lives (but not bedrooms everyone has their own!) for a week to experience what it's like to live a different lifestyle and to see what they can teach each other about their own! In this case we're looking to feature interesting families with unique interests and hobbies and all the fun that goes along with it. I would greatly appreciate you forwarding my information on to any of your family members, friends, and associates who might be interested in sharing their lives with us for a week!

And so forth.

Costa appears to be nauseated by the idea:

An online farm system for reality television. It almost makes me wish blogs had never been invented.

Remind me to pick up an extra bottle of Pepto.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:22 PM)
10 February 2006
In sync

Watches? So three minutes, 20 seconds ago. Here's how they do it in the Land of the Big Sky:

[H]ere in Montana, there are only two or three mobile phone providers, with Verizon Wireless being the major player; most people here have Verizon service (or at least most of the folks that I work with). Invariably, if someone at work asks what time it is, several folks whip out their cell phones and report the time. Since we are all subscribed to the same service, and our phones have replaced our watches, the time is the same for all of us: no one's phone is set 5 minutes ahead so that they're not late to a meeting, and no one's phone is running slow. We are all on Verizon Time.

During the World Tours, I allow my wireless service to dictate the time, mostly so I won't have to bother with time zones, but at home I set the darn thing myself: for some reason, they always seems to be about a minute and a half off. Then again, it's a consistent minute and a half.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:01 AM)
11 February 2006
Is there a National Knifal Association?

The United Kingdom, beginning 24 May, will "allow" its subjects to turn in their knives under an "amnesty" program which is likely to yield, among other things, a substantial quantity of "scare quotes."

No, actually, they're serious:

Launching the amnesty for England and Wales, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: "Every weapon handed in will be a weapon that cannot be used in crime.

"Anyone with a knife or other weapon that might be used to cause fear and distress on our streets should take this chance to get rid of it."

In other news, Tamara K. reports:

[A] motion has been launched to retroactively change Richard I's sobriquet to Richard Coeur De Poulet.

[Insert fowl pun here]

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
12 February 2006
Yard? What yard?

The City Council of Austin, Texas has taken steps to discourage McMansions.

Under the Council's temporary rules, which will be reviewed later this week but which are legally in effect already, builders wishing to tear down and rebuild homes can choose the largest of the following:

  • 2500 square feet
  • 20 percent space increase
  • 0.4 ratio of home size to lot size

These rules are in effect for 120 days; the Council is expected to come up with permanent rules in the spring.

I'm trying to imagine my modest little wedge of land 11,000 square feet, just over a quarter-acre with a 4400-square foot faux château sitting on it.

(Via Daily Pundit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
14 February 2006
Unfortunately, no parade

This is National Condom Week, and while the Condom Museum is still in the planning stages and therefore unable to provide you with handy mnemonic devices, you should take it upon yourself to remember the following Stretchy Facts:

  • Condom use prevents something or other, and also protects against something else, though it's not, you know, ironclad or anything.

  • While wrapping yourself in something cold on the way to something warm may seem contradictory, just tell yourself that you're practicing a form of diversity.

  • That condom you've been carrying around for a year and a half, just in case? Throw it away. It's going to leak faster than the last three Administrations combined.

  • The amount you'd save by not using condoms is insignificant compared to the amount you'd save by not actually dating.

Finally, the Playboy Advisor once took on a three-pronged question from a reader who was (1) worried about sexually-transmitted diseases, (2) suffering from premature ejaculation, and (3) dissatisfied with the size of the unit. The Advisor recommended:

  1. Wear a condom.
  2. Wear two condoms.
  3. Wear three condoms.

(Notice: This post has been scanned for Trojans.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
15 February 2006
Worst. Team Name. Ever. Update.

After "pressure from the Hispanic community," Houston's Major League Soccer team will be renamed to something other than "1836."

For myself, I'm surprised that they waited for said pressure: I mean, it was a crappy name to begin with.

(Previously mentioned here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:02 PM)
18 February 2006
No, you can't have this

I once got carded for buying spray paint, and while I suppose I should consider myself flattered that anyone thought I was underage I was in my forties, fercryingoutloud I have to assume that in the eyes of at least one store clerk I looked like someone who, somehow deprived of socially-acceptable highs, would resort to huffing Krylon for a buzz.

I haven't bought any since, so I don't know if it's now kept behind the counter along with all the semi-effective cold remedies, but I'm guessing that it's just a matter of time:

Next we'll be charging kids as felons for carrying sugar. Oh wait, did that. Yes a sixth grader had powdered sugar and was charged with a felony for possessing a "look-alike drug".

Funny, I could have been charged for this same thing when I was sixteen, except that it was cornstarch. I had cornstarch in a ziplock bag with me at high school for nearly two weeks. I even shared it with my friends.

Football off-season weight lifting ... and we were out of chalk. Not so bad if you were one of the weaker guys, but I was lifting over 500 pounds in the dead lift. Having your grip slip might mean torn muscles or broken bones. I figured out that cornstarch worked OK. Today I'd get thrown in jail for it.

Sugar and cornstarch go behind the counters too. As a matter of fact, if something can be abused in any way or if it even looks like something that can be abused, then someone somewhere wants it behind the counter.

So far, no one has resorted to hiding the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
19 February 2006
Urban ruins

About a year and a half ago, I wrote this about a working-class neighborhood on the west side of the city:

Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?"

Dean Esmay lives near Detroit, where there are a lot more than a few blocks like this, and this is what things look like after they've had a chance to fester:

Today there are so many such buildings rotting away in Detroit that the city can't even keep up with the need to remove them, even though they're ugly, worthless, and often a hazard to children. This, by the way, is the flip side to the arguments against the controversial Kelo decision. The city needs to seize these properties and demolish them, and find something useful to do with them, including selling them to private businesses if they can.

But of course the point is moot in Detroit, since almost no business wants to set up shop there. So literally thousands of abandoned shells litter the landscape.

This doesn't strike me as a killer argument in favor of Kelo, exactly, but for many sections of Detroit, it's presumably too late to do much of anything else but bring out the dozers and start over.

And there's this:

When an area's population goes down, its economy goes down even faster. I can think of no better example of how wrong the Malthusian fallacy is than watching this terrible decay in action. As people leave an area, property values go down, and eventually, things that were once valued in the millions of dollars become so worthless they're simply discarded like trash. Office buildings, even mansions, even skyscrapers. Not necessarily because they're beyond salvage or repair, but because no one wants to be there, and with no people there is no value.

Human beings are not liabilities, they're assets. Nothing illustrates this better than watching what happens when an area rapidly depopulates.

What this might mean for New Orleans, I don't even want to imagine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
22 February 2006
On Her Majesty's Transmission Service

You'd think that if anyone could drive a stick shift, it would be Bond. James Bond.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
23 February 2006
Random Thursday observation

It's a darn good thing there weren't any cartoons in that mosque: someone could've gotten hurt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:16 PM)
1 March 2006
The high cost of lizards

Geico, forbidden by New Jersey law to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity in its auto-insurance rate structure, has come up with a real winner: collar color.

The Star-Ledger reports that a single male, age 30, from Newark who works as a janitor would pay $2880 per year; were the same man a lawyer, he'd pay $1686.

Geico withdrew from New Jersey in the 1970s, complaining of excessive regulation; it appears that since their return in 2004, they've learned to read the fine print. New Jersey insurance rules apparently permit this sort of pricing if the company can demonstrate correlation between educational level or occupation and loss experience.

To me, this suggests that state insurance regulators ought to look into the possibility of requiring that all risk factors used by a company be disclosed, and the weighting thereof be noted, when requesting a quote; that Newark janitor might well want to take his business elsewhere, if Geico considers him that much of a risk. There would be howls from the boardroom at first, but since when is that a surprise?

(Spotted at Fark and duly marked up 15 percent.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
5 March 2006
Don't you dare open this market!

The Swedes have rent control, and it doesn't work any better there than it does here. In fact, it might even be worse.

In Sweden, rents are generally set by something called "bruksvärde," which means literally "value of usage"; municipal housing providers negotiate with the hyresgästföreningen, or tenants' unions, and private landlords are expected to stay within the same general price range. The agreements cover size, age and general condition, but do not cover location: an apartment in downtown Stockholm and an otherwise-similar apartment out in the boondøcks will rent for just about the same number of kronor. It should surprise no one that new construction is essentially at a standstill; no one will give up an old apartment to move into a newer and de jure costlier one. Swedish scholar Johan Norberg writes:

[H]ere in Stockholm we are obsessed with flats because it's impossible to hire one. You have to be wealthy enough to buy one. And this is because of rent control, which means that the government stops you from hiring at market prices which means that people never leave a flat in central Stockholm, that the flats are empty until the contract can be given to their kids, that there is a huge informal market, that no one builds new flats and that the old ones are turned into cooperative flats. And just like in every rationing system, you have to have the right contacts to get a flat in Stockholm.

It's an election year, and there's been a proposal to eliminate rent control. The tenants' unions have hired an ad agency to conduct some guerrilla marketing; the agency prepared thousands of stickers to plant on tenants' doors warning them that a switch to market-based rents will cost them 30 percent more.

The effect these stickers will have on would-be tenants way down the waiting list has yet to be determined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
6 March 2006
Thank you very mulch

A reader of Bob Waldrop's Oklahoma Food Blog has a warning for us gardening-oriented types:

[B]e very careful about buying mulch this year. After the hurricane in New Orleans many trees were blown over. These trees were then turned into mulch and the state is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away.

So it will be showing up in Home Depot and Lowes at dirt cheap prices with one huge problem; Formosan Termites will be the bonus in many of those bags. New Orleans is one of the few areas in the country where the Formosan Termites has gotten a strong hold and most of the trees blown down were already badly infested with those termites. Now we may have the worst case of transporting a problem to all parts of the country that we have ever had. These termites can eat a house in no time at all and we have no good control against them, so tell your friends that own homes to avoid cheap mulch and know where it came from.

LSU's Ag Center has issued this report on the critters.

File this under "invasive species."

Update, 3:15 pm: Snopes is doubtful about this; also, Home Depot says they don't buy bulk mulch from this part of the world.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
7 March 2006
Miss Tomlin smiles from the wings

Joe Goodwin is concerned about the latest telco merger:

Don't get me wrong I'm all for corporate success and the "trickle-down" theory. But didn't we recently (about 20 years ago) go through a heck of lot of trouble to break up the Bell system? Yet here we are, watching Ma Bell slowly reassemble herself like a zombie from one of George Romero's movies.

Not to worry. Zombies, more than anything else, need brains; AT&T, even before the dismemberment into Baby Bells, had already sworn off brains, and people who worked there for extended periods will tell you that the place was absolutely hostile to anything resembling a brain. If you had one, or had access to one, you kept it discreetly to yourself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:53 AM)
11 March 2006
Sticker shock and then some

I don't have any bumper stickers. But if I did, I sure as hell wouldn't consider them subject to employer review:

A San Diego County woman is suing her former employer, accusing her manager of firing her on the spot when she saw the woman's car had a bumper sticker advertising a progressive talk radio station.

In a civil suit filed at the county courthouse in Vista, Linda Laroca is targeting both her former manager, Beverly Fath, and the company she briefly worked for last year, Advantage Sales and Marketing, Inc.

According to Laroca's suit, the bumper sticker in question read only: "1360 Air America Progressive Talk Radio."

In her Feb. 21 claim, Laroca asserts that on Oct. 8, three weeks after she started working for the marketing company, Fath called her on a Saturday and requested they meet at a nearby grocery store parking lot so Laroca could pass on some documents Fath needed.

During the brief encounter, Laroca charges, the manager pointed to the bumper sticker the only one on Laroca's car and remarked that it was a new sticker and called it "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station."

Laroca alleges in her suit that Fath then told her, "The country is on a high state of alert. For all I know, you could be al-Qaida."

A stunned Laroca laughed nervously at the statement, the suit alleges, and then was dealt "the final blow" when Fath fired her on the spot.

California law would seem to prohibit this sort of thing. And if it doesn't, well, it ought to.

(Via skippy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
17 March 2006
Title of the week

By Derek Powazek: SXSW to MPAA: STFU.

You know, were I in the presence of high-profile, high-energy übergeeks who have had it up to here [gestures] with Digital Rights Management and other 21st-century farces, I probably wouldn't want to finish off my first sentence with "I'm from the Motion Picture Association of America."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 AM)
20 March 2006
She can always run for President in 2012

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has announced his retirement as of the end of July. NFL owners will begin the search for his replacement at the Annual Meeting in Orlando next week.

Now comes the $183,500 question: would Condi Rice bail out of State to take what she says is her dream job? (Would the owners even offer it to her?)

Update, 21 March: She says she'll pass, thank you; she's enjoying her job at State "at the moment." Hmmm.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
23 March 2006
Scents of a girl, not yet a woman

The Foley's department-store chain coughed up another one of its sporadic sale catalogs this week, and bound into it an insert with not one but two signature fragrances bearing the name of Britney Spears.

Sephora.com on "Curious":

Curious by Britney Spears tempts the senses with fragrant blooms of Louisiana magnolia touched with golden Anjou pear and dewy lotus flower. The anticipation builds with a fresh bouquet of white flowers. Pink cyclamen brings an unexpected twist to the rich floral heart, while bottom notes of vanilla-infused musk enveloped in rich, creamy sandalwood and radiant blonde woods weave an addictive aura into the fragrance.

And on "Fantasy":

A fragrance inspired by love's ability to overwhelm you when you least expect it, Fantasy Britney Spears is a captivating blend of ripe fruits, sweet cupcake accord, delicate flowers, creamy musk, orris root, and sensual woods.

I probably should not have opened up the two scents within ten minutes of one another the mixture is overwhelming but individually, these didn't perturb me as much as I thought they might. They're very girly, in the sense of "If you're over 30, this is going to come off as a desperate attempt to recapture your lost youth," but they're not sickeningly sweet. Still, I'm waiting for either Patty or March to come up with a proper review.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:27 PM)
26 March 2006
Taking leave of one's census

How big is a small town? I suppose it depends on your frame of reference, but I think that a population of forty or fifty thousand would be enough to fill up a pretty fair-sized city.

David Lynch thought that his mythical town of Twin Peaks had about 5,120 people; ABC apparently balked, whereupon the "Welcome To" sign on the edge of town, seen in the opening credits, was amended to read 51,201.

Something similar seems to have happened to Smallville:

Smallville is obviously a small town. It's surrounded by farms, apparently only has one coffee shop (the Talon), and has little of what a "city" is supposed to offer. There's never been a mention of a Smallville Mall, for example, and there is apparently only one high school in the town, Smallville High. Having grown up in a small town about 30 minutes from a big city (and about four hours from Dallas, a really big city), it felt about right.

Then, in one of the third-season episodes, Clark was trying in vain to describe a bad guy to the sheriff, but he didn't have enough details to make it work, so the sheriff said, "In a town of 45,000 people, Mr. Kent, that's not much to go on."

To be exact, 45,001.

And as in Twin Peaks, where everyone knew everyone else, or at least everyone else's business, something that doesn't happen in cities of 50,000 and up try that in Midwest City, Oklahoma sometime the numbers in Smallville don't add up:

Any town with more than about 40,000 people needs more than one high school, and certainly wouldn't be based around a single main street like Smallville is on TV. Such a large population would explain why kids keep arriving and vanishing without too many people noticing, even though at other times, everyone seems to know everyone else. Still, when the producers came up with that figure as a "reasonable size" for a small town that would support their story lines, did any of them bother to look at census data and figure out that it would be close to the seventh-largest city in [Kansas]?

Now I'm starting to wonder about Eerie, Indiana (population 16,661).

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:48 PM)
27 March 2006
Two-headed girl dies

No, this doesn't link back to the Weekly World News.

Addendum: Dwight and Sarah would like you to know that the Two-Headed Blog lives on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:00 PM)
28 March 2006
We don't need this stinkin' badge

When I was in the Army during the French and Indian War okay, I'm not that old, but my first term of service began 34 years ago this week we tended not to be too impressed by the Good Conduct Medal, and even less by the National Defense Service Medal, which we disparaged with terms like "fire guard badge."

I'm not sure I'd say that today. There was some sort of war going on, but I was rather a long way away from it, and I earned a total of three medals on active duty, two of which were the oft-derided GCM and NDSM. (The other was the Army Commendation Medal, which I'm going to have to tell you about someday, since the story, like rather a lot of mine, is slightly wacky.)

And apparently the Air Force is no longer awarding the GCM, which is no big deal, says Dave:

Military personnel are expected to engage in "good conduct" at all times, so rewarding them for doing so just seems to be a waste of energy and a pointless display of colored ribbon. I would prefer that the time spent processing such medals and paperwork, and purchasing them, and arranging them on uniforms, instead be spent doing something more tangible that truly helps the military fulfill The Mission.

And while I can't argue with Dave's premise, I'm goofy enough to think that pointless displays of colored ribbon are part and parcel of the military experience, and I'd hate to sacrifice them on the altar of the Great God Efficiency.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
And for God's sake, don't exhale

Forget the white wedding. Today, it must be green:

Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, but scratch beneath the glossy surface and it's immediately apparent that it also causes substantial environmental damage.

According to Climate Care, an organisation that offsets harmful carbon dioxide emissions, the average wedding emits around 14.5 tons of CO2, markedly more than the 12 tons emitted by the average person during a whole year.

This suggests that you can offset fully 83 percent of the CO2 from your ceremony simply by killing someone. I recommend, as a matter of common courtesy, that it be someone not on the guest list.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
High-priced orders don't upset us

George Carlin once groused about people putting minor purchases on plastic:

Take my word for this: Tic Tacs is not a major purchase. No one should be borrowing money from a bank at 18 percent interest to buy a loaf of bread.

Not a problem: we'll put it on our debit card.

Then again:

It's a lesson George Beane, a Palmdale, California resident, will never forget. He and his wife pulled up to a local Burger King drive-through window last week and ordered two Whoppers and a couple of cheeseburgers.

The distracted and busy cashier had already rung up the order and taken $4.33 off of George's debit card. But in her haste to put the 'fast' in fast food and get to other customers, she accidentally rang in the charge again without erasing the first three digits.

That brought the Beanes' burger bill to a whopping $4,334.33! And to make matters worse, no one noticed.

At least not right away. But when the Beanes went to make their monthly mortgage payment several days later, they were astounded to discover there was no money left in the account. It had all gone to pay off their meal mistake.

The restaurant tried to get the couple a refund, but their bank told them the funds were subject to a three-day hold and there was no way they could change it. The Bank of America instituted the policy to stop those who don't have sufficient funds in their accounts from spending any more money.

No word on whether the Beanes got mayonnaise on said burgers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:30 AM)
30 March 2006
Pier pressure

March misses the old Pier 1 Imports:

The new Pier 1 is a downscale Pottery Barn, with cheaply made furniture, candles in scents I don't want, and wall art I don't like. I want my funky old Pier 1 with that fell-off-the-ship hodgepodge of hemp clothing, ancient powdery teas, mystery spice bags, ratty posters, weird creepy wood bibelots, etc. Not because I really need any of that stuff. I just miss the smell. If you could bottle the unique, spicy, musty, foreign smell of the Original Pier One, I'd be first in line to buy it. I'd use it as a room spray. They don't even carry baskets any more. Yeesh.

I remember when Wilcox Records moved off 23rd Street to across from Penn Square and then died a miserable death; the space was filled by a Pier 1. Of the old configuration. At the time, I was resentful; I have since backpedaled slightly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
3 April 2006
Disturbing of Slumber Time

Generally I yield to Lileks, since (1) he can outwrite me with one hand tied behind his back and a Child" whispering in his ear and (2) he has a week's seniority over me in this wacky Inter-Nettery stuff.

But after having to drive to work in pitch darkness again, I cannot let this go by without complaint:

There are those who do not like Daylight Savings Time it's false time, a patent lie; why not say the sun sets at midnight? You can believe these things if you like, but do not bring them up in my presence. By my lights, setting the clocks back is the unnatural part. As a night owl, I treasure the longer evenings, and few things put a lilt in this grey hard lump of anthracite I call a heart than stepping outside at eight and seeing the world has not been cast back in the black pit. I love Daylight Savings Time. For that matter I'm used to its conclusion; it's actually become part of the rhythm of the year for me. When the clocks go back the day seems to contract; when they leap ahead in a single bound, as though they've been straining at the leash the day expands and exhales. It's a wonderful thing. People who oppose it are ugly and stupid and un-American and wrong and evil and anti-life.

"Expands and exhales." As Bart Simpson might have said, "I didn't think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows."

I realize Daylight Savings Time is an artificial construct. (Like the 60-minute hour, for example.) And I ... don't ... care. If nothing else, I like resetting all the clocks. The average American has more clocks than a 15th century Pope could dream of owning. And next year it starts the second week of March! Suicides in the Northern tier states will drop, I tell you.

If it's that wonderful, why don't we have it all year?

Oh, yeah: sunrise in January at a quarter to nine.

My VCR, at least, has automatic adjustment for DST: instead of blinking 12:00 constantly, it now blinks 1:00 constantly. Maybe I should get a TiVo.

Addendum: Lynn likes DST.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
How logo can you go-go?

Those semi-wacky Austrians at Monochrom conducted an interesting little experiment: they asked a sample of their countrymen to draw a selection of corporate logos from memory.

Draw whatever conclusions you like. I'll suggest only that the Lacoste alligator comes off quite a bit better than the Peugeot lion.

(Via Jeffrey Zeldman.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 PM)
7 April 2006
That "fake news" stuff

This Raw Story report on so-called Video News Releases has been getting plenty of airing, and deservedly so. Noting that a prime offender was KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, Matt Deatherage said: "KOKH doesn't seem to know that there's supposed to be a line between news and advertising."

But if none of these prepackaged propaganda pieces is news, neither is the Center for Media and Democracy study referenced by Raw Story: VNRs have been oozing into newsrooms for two decades. Medialink Worldwide is reported (by themselves, anyway) to have invented the VNR way back in 1986; TV Guide did features on VNRs, which they described as "fake news," in 1992 and 1993. The G. W. Bush administration was caught issuing such things on its own two years ago.

None of this excuses the current batch, of course. But we shouldn't see this as a new and insidious attempt to influence the public; it's an old and insidious attempt to influence the public.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
10 April 2006
Not including taxes

A Malaysian man has been billed $218 trillion for final charges on a disconnected phone line.

According to the New Straits Times, Yahaya Wahab ordered his late father's telephone service turned off in January and sent in $23 to pay the final bill; he wasn't aware of any additional charges until he received the nastygram from Telekom Malaysia's collection agent.

Telekom Malaysia Bhd is connected to the Malaysian government, which suggests some form of bureaucratic bungling. Here in the States, it would never, ever occur to Verizon or AT&T to bill any residential subscriber for more than $50 billion.

(Heard this morning on NPR's Morning Edition.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
Welcome to Hovel Heights

Dwayne, way back here, was startled that houses in my neck of the woods were topping $65 a square foot. Now it's more like $80.

I shudder to think what he'd have to say about $925 per square foot.

(Via Steph Mineart.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
11 April 2006
Separated at birth?

Oklahoma State mascot Pistol Pete and Mexican president Vicente Fox?

Pistol Pete and Vicente Fox

You make the call. And there's more where that came from.

(Via Deadspin.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:56 PM)
12 April 2006
Cambridge face with the Oxford booty

Everything is quantifiable, apparently. Here's the formula for feminine keisterrificness:

(S+C) x (B+F)/T = V is the formula that describes the "ideal female ass" in shape, bounce, firmness and symmetry, according to psychology lecturer David Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan University in England:

S is the overall shape or droopiness of the bottom, C represents how spherical the buttocks are, B measures muscular wobble or bounce, while F records the firmness. V is the hip to waist ratio, or symmetry of the bottom, and T measures the skin texture and presence of cellulite.

"Honey, does this make my butt look big?"

"I dunno. Let me go find the calculator."

Sir Mix-A-Lot was not available for comment.

(Via Belhoste.)

Addendum, 13 April: Terry notes: "In my humble opinion, the true perfect ass is not the one being evaluated but the one doing the study."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
14 April 2006
Paging Dr. Payne

Once in a very blue moon, someone ends up in exactly the right job.

There was an ad calling attention to this campaign in Harper's, with a modestly clever tagline:

If you shoot wolves to save moose and then you shoot the moose, you're either out of your mind or in Alaska.

What struck me, though, was not the boycott of the Last Frontier per se, but the identity of the contact person at Friends of Animals, organizer of the boycott: President Priscilla Feral.

I will be so crushed if it turns out she was originally Priscilla Farrell, and changed the spelling to match the cause.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:46 PM)
18 April 2006
All or nothing at all

I just filled out the annual Consumer Reports questionnaire and ballot, and they've changed the way their Board of Directors is selected.

In days gone by, twelve nominees were on the ballot, and you picked six of them; the top six ascended to the Board. This time around, there is a slate of six, and you vote for all six or against all six.

I don't think this is an improvement.

On the upside, I did my part to see that the car I drive gets as many red dots as possible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 PM)
19 April 2006
Yeah, it's got a hyphen

Lileks objects to the term "anal-retentive":

A person has an utterly reasonable desire for a certain amount of order, and they're slapped with a term that makes it sound like they've been using yogic powers to keep their bowels blocked for decades.

Not a constipation devoutly to be wish'd.

Freud blamed this phenomenon on toilet training, but then every source he found for everything lay along a semicircle from navel to coin slot, which suggests he had issues of his own.

Is there a better term that could possibly supplant "anal-retentive"? "Control freak" doesn't seem to capture it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
20 April 2006
Delta is toast

And here's the crust:

[T]he nation's No. 3 airline is asking some 50,000 employees to volunteer to clean aircraft at night on their own time. Their reward: a free T-shirt, reward points good for merchandise and a chance to show their pride in the airline.

Employees will pull four- and eight-hour shifts to clean interior windows and walls, "scrape stuff from tray tables and floors ... if there's gum on the floor," said spokesman Anthony Black. Cleaning lavatories is part of the drill, too.

They may be No. 3, but this sounds like No. 2 to me. Wal-Mart must be wondering why they didn't think of this. (They didn't, did they?)

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:27 PM)
21 April 2006
Worst. Commute. Ever.

Three hundred seventy miles round-trip: from home in Mariposa, California, to work in San Jose, and back again. For those of you who work in New York City, this is the equivalent of living in Providence, Rhode Island. In terms of distance, I mean.

The Census Bureau considers anything over an hour and a half to be "extreme". [Link requires Adobe Reader.] I'd hate to see how they'd characterize a trip more than four times that long.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:07 PM)
26 April 2006
First, Inspector Gadget

At least we'll be able to measure the slippery slope as we slide:

[G]ay marriage and polygamy are only the beginning, because the dark road that begins with equal rights leads inexorably to the next terrifying step: legalized, state-sponsored robot sex!

Since the dawn of time marriage has been defined as a union between one man and one woman who are not also complex electronic devices and once you abandon one part of this ancient formula you abandon it all! Oh sure, today you may think it's harmless for gays and lesbians to get married, but take away the precious protection of state-sponsored homophobia and tomorrow you'll have men marrying machines, unhinged threeways between two lesbians and a minidisc player, crowds of deranged mechanophiliacs humping household appliances in an orgy of animatronic man-on-android action! And the children! Within a decade America will be raising a morally deformed generation of depraved mutant human-toaster hybrids brainwashed to bang half-robot potato-peeler people by our cyborg-sympathist media elites! And not only will this destroy the sanctity of marriage, it will destroy Western civilization itself, as our superintelligent sex computers rise up against their human masters to make bottoms of us all!

I can say only that I don't know any lesbians who own MiniDisc players.

(By way of Joanna at Fey Accompli.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
Sporks illustrated

Don't eat with your hand, son. Use your entrenching tool.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
27 April 2006
Meet Jeanne Doe

Deer use your landscaping as a salad bar only in blue states, says Farmer Flick:

Generally, in the South you don't get deer eating your landscaping. Because when there's an overpopulation of whitetail, the PETA folks don't protest while the rest of us buy a hunting license and demonstrate a little darwinism on 'em.

I should point out (although it's likely unnecessary to do so) that the last time I saw Bambi, I was rooting for Godzilla.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:59 AM)
30 April 2006
Preaching to the perverted

Once in a while, I surf over to the local craigslist, mostly to see if the personals have caught up in depravity with those in the bigger cities. (Short answer: Not quite, but give them time.)

Historically, the "casual encounters" page has come with the sort of disclaimer you'd expect, but now there's something extra:

please note the following, and choose safe sex for you and your partner:
  • anonymous sex with multiple partners greatly increases your risk of contracting STDs, including HIV

  • gay, bi & ts/tg men please check out this health alert (new)

  • ask your own questions in the safer sex forum, moderated by the folks from SF city clinic

Apparently this is being phased in on other editions of craigslist as well. Reasonable advice, I'd say, though (1) presumably everyone knows these things already and (2) compliance levels are likely to fall well short of 100 percent. Besides, rather a lot of these ads appear to be ill-disguised, if not un-disguised, spam.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
2 May 2006
Insert "Cherry Orchard" joke here

A Fox Reality (UK) series called My Bare Lady will ask four female porn stars to try their hand, as it were, at legitimate theatre you know, to see if they can really act.

David Lyle, general manager of Fox Reality:

It's a wonderful tale of redemption. Do they want lines that are a little more challenging than "Oh, here's the pool guy..."?

They apparently asked no men, and I suspect it's for the obvious reason: they already know the answer.

(Via Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 AM)
5 May 2006
Everybody was feng shui fighting

KRON-TV is located at 1001 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. This number, said a station executive's astrologer, was some kind of bad juju, and so the station has pasted the digits 5-5-2 adjacent to its actual number.

Be it noted that here in Oklahoma City, when we screw around with a TV station's address, our motivation is more mundane: promotional value. KFOR-TV, channel 4, which continues to occupy the same building it's been in for the last thirty years through three ownership changes, has somehow drifted from 500 East Britton Road to, um, 444.

When the FCC forces everyone onto digital channels, I suppose KFOR-DT will have to move; I don't see any way to wedge a "27" into the mix.

(Via Romenesko.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:45 PM)
6 May 2006
If it moves, tax it

"In this world," said Benjamin Franklin, "nothing is certain but death and taxes." And Eric Scheie notes that the former doesn't spell an end to the latter:

Cigarettes cost Catherine Cavallo her husband of 25 years.

Now they might cost her $875.63.

Two years after her husband, Anthony, died of smoking-related illnesses, Cavallo got a New Jersey tax bill for the thousands of cheap cigarettes he had ordered on the Internet.

In 1949, the Feds enacted something called the Jenkins Act, which required tobacco vendors to report out-of-state sales to the buyer's state; originally intended as a means to shut down tobacco bootleggers, Jenkins is now being put to use by a number of states to get the names of online buyers which included the late Mr Cavallo.

Says Scheie of all this:

I remember the good old days when the very idea of "taxing the Internet" brought indignant cries of outrage from every geek and libertarian with a modem. Now it seems like a done deal. Ebay, Paypal, even virtual money the state has its mitts everywhere.

Not to be confused with Mitt Romney, governor of Taxachusetts, a state which three years ago began enforcing Jenkins on its own.

Down here in Oklahoma, we have our own variation on this theme: tribal smoke shops, which make up about 4 percent of our tobacco retailers, garner 50 percent of the actual sales. There are various tribal tax rates, the lowest of which is 6 cents per pack; the rate assessed outside the tribes is $1.03. The Oklahoma Tax Commission hurriedly passed some emergency rules, which for now are on hold, at least partly due to the possibility of litigation by the tribes, who see them as yet another encroachment on their sovereignty. Besides, this is not an area where the state has a strong record of enforcement; you want enforcers, you call New Jersey.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 AM)
7 May 2006
Documented horror

I can't pass up an item titled "I ruined the Constitution":

We went to the National Archives to see the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They're kept in a darker room under special lights in special glass cases and all that. No flash photography allowed. As we walk into the room, the guard says, "Ladies, there's no line system," and boy was he right, but there should be, because some people were seriously hogging some documents. One thing this trip taught me is that while I'm way into America, not so big on Americans. Like the one lady in front of me who wanted to take twenty pictures of the Constitution from every angle instead of just buying a postcard or looking it up on the freaking internet. So while I waited for my turn in the no-line system, I turned my camera off to save the battery, but when she moved suddenly, I saw my window, turned the camera back on, aimed and shot. And immediately realized that I had forgotten to re-turn off my flash, thus adding my name under Nicolas Cage's on the list of People Who Are No Longer Allowed Near the Constitution.

Wasn't Cage trying to steal the Declaration of Independence?

(Via This Fish Needs a Bicycle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:55 AM)
9 May 2006
One pill makes you something

This Washington Post story asserts that college men are turning into candidates for Viagra, what with all these forward, forceful women putting the move on them.

Lindsay Beyerstein suspects something else entirely:

If you really want a psychosexual explanation for this putative phenomenon, you could start with the pernicious myth that all normal men are rarin' to go 24/7. In the old days, men always had to ask women for sex, and so they asked for sex when they felt like it. Nowadays, women feel entitled to initiate sex (gasp!) when they feel like it. Maybe macho culture is teaching guys that natural ebbs and flows in sexual desire are pathological.

Steve Martin: "You know 'that look' women get when they want sex? Me neither."

And if you won't buy psychosexual explanations, how about a purely mercenary one?

Doctors know that [the] vast majority of impotence complaints can't be linked to identifiable pathology of any kind. Often, it really is "just one of those things." There's no bright clinical line between recreational and therapeutic Viagra. (Nor should we be overly concerned about establishing one, except for insurance purposes.)

However, society isn't comfortable with the idea of recreational sexual enhancers. At least for older dudes it's plausible that there's some organic problem, if only the aging process itself. So, there's a lot of nudge nudge wink wink in the ads and the promotions about how this is a SERIOUS DISEASE, but that if you treat it your patient just may have a LOT MORE FUN.

So far, there's no comparable fiction that would allow Pfizer to market to twenty-somethings under the guise of medical need.

"So far." And wouldn't it be handy for a cohort of twentysomethings to show up at a time like this with exactly the need, as it were, for exactly this drug?

I don't have this issue myself: the flesh is willing, sort of, but the spirit is mostly bored at the moment. Still, I'm an Older Dude and presumably could get the Magic Bullet in wholesale quantities were I so, um, inclined; I'm simply not persuaded that it's the answer to my particular question. For someone not quite half my age who's thinking he should be up for anyone, anytime, anywhere, "It's not your fault; you just have this condition" might have powerful appeal indeed.

I hasten to add that this is just a theory; while Beyerstein has done pharma marketing in the past, she hasn't tapped into some double-secret plans deep within Pfizerland. But if I see more stories of this sort, I'll start to wonder.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
There is no news until 10 pm

KOTV is reporting that the third-penny sales tax in Tulsa has passed.

Interestingly, none of the major media outlets in Oklahoma City at this writing seems to have any numbers on the OG&E franchise election: I checked 4, 5, 9/NewsOK, 25, KTOK and KOKC radio, and not one has anything to say about it.

And it's not like it would have taken a long time to count the ballots or anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 PM)
12 May 2006
Sometimes you gotta improvise

There's nothing more I can add to this:

There is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra today than on Alzheimer's research. This means that by 2040, there should be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.

This is not, incidentally, the MacGuffin in Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
13 May 2006
Oh, the manatee

Three words not even I ever imagined in sequence: "sea cow nookie".

(No, this isn't going in 3WC.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 PM)
14 May 2006
Powerful motivation

Boy, do I know what this is like:

I have decided I am sick of this, and as soon as I can I am moving into a house, preferably one I own. I want a freaking yard between me and the specimens of humanity I have to share the earth with.

Especially if they're specimens like this:

[T]he idiots upstairs had another all-night party, which apparently involved playing hackey-sack, and the constant drunken, shouted conversation of some idiotic, flat-voiced woman.

I've never regretted it, not even when I saw the property-tax bill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 PM)
16 May 2006
Snap to it

Having once watched in horrified fascination, or maybe fascinated horror, while a petting-zoo goat ate a diaper bag don't even ask I can't say I'm surprised by this:

[T]he alligators have been doing their part to keep Florida's reputation as the State in America Most Likely to Become the Location For Cthulhu's Eldritch and Tenebrously Horrible Summer Palace intact. Of course, it helps that a fresh crop of stupid people has moved down here. Any Florida native can tell you there are a number of reasons we don't jog alongside canals in the evening, every once in a while relaxing on the banks with our legs dangling over the water while chatting on our cell phones, and large reptilian creatures with a taste for raw meat is only one of them. For myself, though I am usually on the side of humanity against evil Ma Nature, I feel rather sorry for the alligators. They were just doing what they do. What would you do if a tasty cheesecake or filet mignon just walked right up to you and practically said "eat me"?

Well, you can always try reasoning with them:

The record-breaking spike in fatal alligator attacks in Florida is hitting women and minorities the hardest, the very people who can least afford fatal alligator attacks. The Gleeson Bloglomerate is strongly opposed to fatal alligator attacks, and calls upon the leaders of the Amphibian-American community to put an end to the cycle of violence.

Of course, to make this stance work, you have to figure out some way to blame Bush.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
Did they mean Mark Cuban?

Cuban president Fidel Castro says that Forbes' estimate of his wealth $900 million or so is about $900 million too high, and that if the United States can prove that he's this rich, he will resign.

Forbes noted in its original article that "Castro, for the record, disagrees, insisting his personal net worth is zero."

Inasmuch as my personal net worth is greater than zero, though not much, I'm inclined to believe Forbes over Fidel.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:18 PM)
17 May 2006
The advantage of Anytime Minutes

In the previous entry, I reported that some poll or other had determined that IT is the most stressful job on earth.

This determination may well have been premature. It certainly looks like customer service in Gaza might be worse:

Palestinian gunmen stormed the headquarters of mobile company Jawwal in Gaza on Tuesday in protest at having their phones cut off, employees said.

They said around 20 gunmen entered the building saying their cellphone memory cards were not working. A short while later they began shooting, damaging over 10 computers but causing no casualties.

Jawwal is the mobile subsidiary of Palestinian telecoms firm PalTel, which operates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I can't imagine this happening Stateside. Not even to Cingular.

(Via Snoopy the Goon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:03 AM)
19 May 2006
But of course

My camera expertise is somewhere between Not Much and Hardly Any, but I do know what a cable release is, and this made me laugh:

[There are] two types of "cable release" attachments available for my Canon Rebel: One is wireless, one actually runs a cable between you, the shutter release and the camera. I opted for the latter.

The shutter release with wire was ten dollars more. I thought that wireless technology would be more expensive, but the expert explained it this way: "It's because of all that extra, you know, wire and stuff."

I once had a VCR with a remote control attached via a cable. I think they charged $59 extra for it. Nowadays that will buy you a handful of "universal" remotes that will run half a dozen different devices, and not a cord in the bunch.

Then again, JVC used to sell a joystick (with wire) for my stereo receiver: it served as four-channel balance control. Or that's what they say in the manual, anyway, since I never bought it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 AM)
23 May 2006
A roof way over your head

With the possible exception of Dubai where even if you could afford the purchase price you couldn't afford the air conditioning the one place on earth where the real-estate prices seem most out of whack is the San Francisco Bay area. (I say "seem" because I'm really not in a position to judge the market at this great a distance; still, if a mediocre one-bedroom condo in Mountain View, half the size of my house, sells for over $300,000, I daresay someone is getting screwed, and I don't think it's me.)

Enter Boycott Housing, which suggests you do exactly that:

By all agreeing to boycott buying a house for a period of time, and telling our friends to boycott buying a house, we CAN make a difference. We can show that once people stop paying insane prices, the insanity goes away. It's going to happen anyway let's just speed it up so more people don't get hurt, and so we can get our house sooner!

Were I the cynical type, I'd suspect that the bubble is about to burst anyway and these folks would like to be able to take credit for it. And we all know how well other people's boycotts work, which is to say "not very." Still, California housing prices have tanked before, and at least some observers expect them to do so again, more likely sooner than later. The question then becomes "How long can you hold out?"

(Via Burbed.com, which offers some tongue-in-cheek (I think) suggestions for giving the bubble a few sharp stabs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
25 May 2006
It's a conspiracy, I tell you

News Item: The Nike iPod sports kit is a joint venture between Nike and Apple, mixing fitness and music.... The sneaker sends a wireless signal to the iPod, telling you how far you've gone, how long you've been working out, and how many calories you've burned.

Is this really what we want? Tam has her doubts:

And now your personal electronics can snicker about you behind your back with your sneakers and, for all we know, get together with your Blackberry and con the ATM machine into pulling your account down around your ankles while your back is turned. At what point do we just say "Stop! This is crazy! Don't put a computer there!"

Right before you have to do this, I guess:

I'd type about this more, but I have to go press Ctrl+Alt+Del on my toilet seat.

[sigh] Remember levers?

Next, I suppose, is a GPS insert for your shorts, so you'll always know exactly where your ass is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:27 PM)
27 May 2006
Parenthetical military observation

Actually, my DD214 is correct. I know this because there was a crusty old Warrant Officer looking over my shoulder as I typed it.

(I was a better typist then, I think, probably because I hated what passed for error correction in those days.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:26 AM)
31 May 2006
The perils of stock photography

Peril #1

Peril #2

(Remaindered by Kottke, freshened by Church Marketing Sucks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
You can check out anyone you like

But you can never leave:

I got the email from Match.com this afternoon with the Match.com discount, Subject: Someone Wants to See Your Profile!

While there was no potential date in the message, there was a Match.com promo discount with legs: "Just For You! Find love this Memorial Day with a 72-hour FREE trial!"

I'm not doing much this weekend, and like many others, I would like to find love. (Again.) And of course, there's always more research. I clicked through the forms as I ran a few calls. I put "cancel Match.com" on my calendar, and was about to hit "send," with my credit card number as required, when something in the back of my head said to be sure I knew how to cancel Match.com. The notice was on the last sign-up page, in the middle of 4 paragraphs of small type.

"Mail or deliver a signed and dated notice, or send a telegram" to an address in Plano, Texas.

No email. No phone calls, toll free or other. No forms on the site, or the internet for that matter. And, not a single acceptable reason for this. (The phone rep acknowledged it and then went into lilting infinite scripted loop of, "The terms are there and you can decide not to take this promotion, but you sound like you are interested...")

My last experience of this sort not with a dating site, of course came when an email informed me that Real SuperPass would be going up by five bucks a month so they could bundle the service with McAfee's security package. I called Bangalore to cancel; the young lady at the other end was utterly flummoxed that I would even consider canceling a subscription that had six months left to run, and she didn't seem to believe that my regard for McAfee is right up there with my regard for bedbugs.

I am paid up through November, so I backed off from the cancellation. For now.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:04 PM)
2 June 2006
Snake on a plane

Okay, it's just one snake, but it's a start, right?

(Via Defamer.)

Addendum: "Norman Mineta condemned this incident of species profiling," sez See-Dubya.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:20 PM)
4 June 2006
You must be this smart to shop here

The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City is Utah's biggest outdoor retail center; it's the sort of integrated mixed-use community that we're only just starting to see take shape in this neck of the woods.

You'd think that retailers would be queueing up to get space in this place, and, well, some of them are. On the other hand:

Two national stores planning to come here changed their minds when they learned how few Utah residents have college degrees. In fact, the numbers have taken such a downward turn, even state leaders are taking action.

The Gateway was supposed to be a new home for store Crate and Barrel and restaurant The Cheesecake Factory.

The reason in this case is eye opening. These businesses prefer areas where at least 35-percent of the population has college degrees. Everyone assumed Utah would clear. To the dismay of even Gateway developers, we didn't come close, with just 28 percent.

Considering that Oklahomans got out of the fourth grade only after two tries and only just recently got indoor plumbing, or so the stereotype says, I've got to wonder if maybe the Utahns are being handed a line; the Cheesecake Factory is building a location on an outlot at Penn Square, even as we speak. (Well, okay, it's Sunday, they may have the day off.) We don't, however, have a Crate and Barrel. Yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:48 AM)
Defordable housing

CT finds a bargain New York City rental:

Naturally, all of these one-bed dealios are in the outer boroughs; Manhattan probably has its share (especially counting rent controls), but they tend to not stay vacant long enough to get listed. And bear in mind, what counts is location, not dimensions:

For $1,125 per month, with a month's rent free, everything was brand-new just really small. The bedroom measured about 10 feet by 12 feet, and the whole apartment was only 350 square feet.

My garage is 290 square feet.

If you can scrape up an extra $25 a month, you can get into this place in Oklahoma City's MidTown if you can't afford that much, how about a three-bedroom house in Mustang for a thousand or so?

Yeah, I know: "location, not dimensions." I suspect New York real estate exists in some inchoate fourth dimension where there are actually people who can afford to write checks this big for quarters this small. And I have no doubt that it's a wondrous place. Then again, if property taxes are routinely being expressed in scientific notation, it had darned well better be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 PM)
6 June 2006
Anyone for an F?

Just like it says:

A school has changed the names of its primary one classes after complaints that they left some children feeling inferior, BBC Scotland has learned.

Bonnyrigg Primary School had called its classes 1a and 1b but some parents of children in 1b said it left the youngsters feeling second best.

The classes will now be known as 1ar and 1ap, incorporating teachers' surnames in the new titles.

In reality, the a and b divisions were based on age, but apparently one's self-esteem takes precedence over one's date of birth.

I wonder when someone's going to notice that B classes in American Kennel Club performance events are actually more advanced than A classes.

(Via Girl on the Right.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
7 June 2006
Mere death is no impediment

There is customer retention, and there is well, this:

Her father passed away recently, and she had to cancel or close all of his various accounts. When she called to cancel his AOL account, they asked her why she was cancelling the account. ?It was my father's account, and he died.? ?Is that the only reason?? was their reply. She was dumbfounded. They did cancel the account, incidentally.

Occasionally dead people (their estates, anyway) are taxed; in some parts of the country, dead people vote; there's no obvious reason why dead people couldn't use AOL. Besides, they never call for tech support.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
8 June 2006
Some strange sense of entitlement

Late last year, various cities and towns in Georgia filed suit against eighteen travel-booking sites, claiming that the sites' booking of discounted hotel rooms en masse was cutting into tax revenues. The defendants filed for dismissal; in May, a judge ordered that the suits could proceed.

The argument, as presented by a Savannah TV station:

Let's say you make your reservation directly with the hotel for a hundred dollars. You'll pay a 6 percent hotel/motel tax of $6. The hotel gets the $100 and pays the city $6. If you book your reservation through a travel website, you'll still pay a hundred dollars and a 6 percent hotel/motel tax. But since the website bought the room at a discounted rate, say $60, it only pays the city 6 percent of that, or $3.60.

My first reaction, of course, is "You can get hotel reservations in Savannah for $100?"

The assumption here is that demand is completely inelastic, that if those rooms hadn't been booked at $60, every last one of them would inevitably have been booked at $100. The idea that someone might pass up a hundred-dollar room entirely and stay in some less-expensive lodging or some less-expensive location never quite occurs to them. (When I went to Charleston during World Tour '01, I stayed, not in the high-zoot South Of Broad district, but in decidedly-unhip North Charleston. Didn't affect my ability to see the sights in the slightest.)

Were you to extend this premise logically, eventually retail stores would not be allowed to put items on sale: the lower price inevitably means lower sales tax being remitted.

Allow me to express this in the form of a metalaw:

No one is ever obliged to arrange his affairs to maximize his taxes.

Governments should keep this in mind. Not that they will.

(Suggested by Fark.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
12 June 2006
Time to save some real money

I can definitely get behind this idea:

So far, outsourcing manufacturing and services has led to higher chief executive compensation, at the expense of shareholder profit. For example, IBM's chief executive, Samuel J. Palmisano, who has been moving jobs to India, last year saw his total compensation rise 19 percent to $18.9 million even as the total return for his company's stock fell 16 percent.

That's proof that globalization hasn't gone far enough. China, India and other emerging markets offer shareholders a virtually unlimited talent pool from which to draw chief executives. With an increased supply of candidates, a truly independent corporate compensation committee would be easily able to hire superior leaders at salaries and benefits that are a small fraction of what their American counterparts in those fancy corner offices demand.

And saving money isn't the only upside, either:

Major American corporations have been shifting their factories and labor force to China and India for some time now. It would make sense for the chief executive of an American corporation to come from, and be based in, those areas of the world where the potential for market growth is the greatest. It would be reassuring to have a chief executive who understood the local business practices, the country's cultural underpinnings and the language.

Also, given the importance placed on performing well in science and math in countries like China and India, it would be more likely that an offshored chief executive would have had a rigorous technical education instead of degrees in the "softer" management disciplines that are common at American business schools.

A win-win situation all around. Admittedly, saving $10 million or so on a CEO pay package isn't that huge a deal, given the sheer size of some of these operations, but given the fact that the guy's going to get his contracted salary-plus-benefits even if he runs the place into the ground, it is only prudent to minimize the company's potential expense, and, well, $10 million is $10 million. If they've got a hundred million shares in play, their earnings per share just went up a dime.

This does not mean, of course, that every business should immediately outsource its CEO. There would be no benefit, for instance, from filling the top slot at 42nd and Treadmill from New Delhi; it requires an uncommonly-specific skill set, one which is not easily duplicated at a distance, and one for which no effective curriculum exists.

But the outsourcing of CEOs, I think, might help to address, perhaps even ameliorate slightly the post-Enron perception of corporate executives as common thieves with uncommon expense accounts.

(Via Population Statistic.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
15 June 2006
Cookies tossed at school

Forsyth County, Georgia is working on a new "wellness" policy for its public schools, and one of the provisions they're considering is banning homemade treats for classroom consumption: you can bring them for yourself, but you're not allowed to share them with classmates.

This will have one salutary effect: no more "Did you bring enough for everyone?"

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:36 PM)
Cabeza del aero

It never takes long, does it? Introducing the Ben Roethlisberger Replica Motorcycle Helmet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 PM)
16 June 2006
Crap for the pure of heart

Now you can get your very own unicorn droppings, just to wave in the face of unbelievers. I assume that they, um, don't stink.

(Via Belhoste.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 AM)
17 June 2006
A three-finger salute

Bill Gates knows when to leave, says Jeff Jarvis:

Gates was merely the best businessman ever born. He was ruthless. But capitalism is ruthless. It is a system. And it is that system not his operating systems that made Gates so damned big. Gates was not an inventor and innovator and I'll argue that his prognosticating books aside he was no visionary. He was an exploiter. His first product was another version of the Basic programming language. His master stroke was taking the essence of a now-forgotten operating system called CP/M and turning it into MS-DOS, the neurology of the personal-computer revolution. He took the tool that truly created the technology age, VisiCalc the spreadsheet that let business people ask "what if?", which is what put computers on every office desk in the world and turned it into Excel, part of his Office suite that also included Word, which itself was really just an adaptation of WordStar. He took the art of the Apple Lisa and Mac and turned it into the clumsy painting-on-velvet, Windows. Gates took others' innovations and turned them into products and profits. Every great invention needs a business genius to bring it to market. For software, that was Gates.

But then came the internet, the great invention that by its very open essence defies productization. In spite of government fears in the U.S. and the EU and try as he might Gates couldn't take it over and exploit it. This was not his only failure. Gates tried to become a media mogul in a local listings service, in a news magazine, in a TV network, and in a web portal but that eluded him. In an era when everyone can now master media, Gates could not. So perhaps this is indeed the end of the Gates era. And if anyone is smart and ruthless enough to know that, it's probably Gates.

While going through the stacks last night, I found a manual for MS-DOS 3.3 (1987). I'm pretty sure that it doesn't qualify as any sort of cultural artifact, but it does, I think, add to Gates' rep as Perennial Looming Presence. Still, it wasn't a presence that awed anyone: by now everybody knows the joke about how if Microsoft built cars, they would run only on MS-GAS, and they would crash twice a day for no apparent reason.

Today, old business models are crumbling into dust. If Bill Gates is getting out when the getting is good, he's maintaining his edge; there are plenty of the walking dead (the phone company, the music industry, and Old Media generally) whose transition and/or exit strategies haven't even been imagined yet.

Update, 7 pm, 18 June: Jon Swift explains why this is no big deal:

Although Bill Gates announced that he would be retiring in two years, there are sure to be delays in the transition schedule and the date of his retirement will probably be postponed many times. In fact, it may never happen at all.

It is also possible that Gates may be retired prematurely before all the bugs are worked out. Microsoft may decide to go through a retirement beta testing phase to work out these bugs. Even when Gates does officially retire, there may still be problems, so he may be forced to announce his Retirement 2.0, although you can be sure new problems will then crop up, some of which, but not all, will be fixed in the Second Edition of Retirement 2.0, followed by some patches.

Another Genuine Advantage from Redmond.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:15 AM)
21 June 2006
On the wall there are bottles of beer

Some poor soul Googled his way into this place in search of "Henry the eighth I am" verse sixty-eight.

Second verse, of course, is same as the first, and the third turns out to be identical to the the second so I conclude that the 68th verse is likewise unchanged, except for the inevitable effects of vocal fatigue.

Still, I can't imagine anyone singing sixty-eight verses of this; it's got to be one of those rhetorical questions for which you don't really want an answer, like "If M&M's melt in your mouth but not in your hand, what do they do under your arm?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
22 June 2006
The narrowest possible broadband

Reason's Nick Gillespie asks:

Isn't there every reason to believe that cable companies and telecoms would similarly use whatever revenues they generate via tiered services to develop the next big thing in terms of networked communications? And isn't there also reason to believe that some of the cable companies and telecoms might not go the tiered-service route, just as some political commentary magazines including this one offer free online access to their material?

In a word, no. Innovations from the telephone company? We're years, maybe decades, behind the rest of the world already in this realm, and suddenly Verizon or, even more preposterous, AT&T will bring us into the New Tomorrow? It is to laugh.

"Trust us" is barely plausible as a slogan for a bank; for a former government-approved monopoly whose fondest desire is to regain that status, it's somewhere between laughable and ludicrous. If the Bell System were still around, you'd still be paying $3 a month to rent a frigging Princess phone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
23 June 2006
One minute to auto-destruct

This almost seems sensible:

I postulate that the reason why GPS voices are predominantly female, drone-like and monotone is due to the influence of the Star Trek: TNG "Computer," circa 1987, whose voice was also female, drone-like and monotone.

I demur, if only because ST:TNG doesn't begin until 2364, and we already have GPS.

And really, almost all computerized voices, "male" or "female," are drone-like. Monotone, even. Suits me. I'm not ready for Eddie; he just doesn't seem Sirius.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 PM)
27 June 2006
Oh, but we can't live there

Michael Bates turned up this plea from a woman in the Tulsa 'burbs, circa 1990:

I am a mother of four children who are not able to leave the yard because of our city's design. Ever since we have moved here I have felt like a caged animal only let out for a ride in the car. It is impossible to walk even to the grocery store two blocks away. If our family wants to go for a ride we need to load two cars with four bikes and a baby cart and drive four miles to the only bike path in this city of over a quarter million people. I cannot exercise unless I drive to a health club that I had to pay $300 to, and that is four and a half miles away. There is no sense of community here on my street either, because we all have to drive around in our own little worlds that take us fifty miles a day to every corner of the surrounding five miles.

I want to walk somewhere so badly that I could cry. I miss walking! I want the kids to walk to school. I want to walk to the store for a pound of butter. I want to take the kids on a neighborhood stroll or bike. My husband wants to walk to work because it is so close, but none of these things is possible ... And if you saw my neighborhood, you would think that I had it all according to the great American dream.

Unspoken is the answer to the question: "If this is what you want, why did you move there?"

SeeDubya is a bit blunter:

So get in your car. So walk the two blocks to the grocery store. So bike in the street. So bake a casserole and take it over to your neighbors. So exercise in your home. So adapt, improvise, overcome.

Bad city planning exists. Bad architecture exists. Both are depressing and irritating. But, lady, but nothing stops you from going for a walk if you want to. So why don't you take responsibility for your own happiness instead of depending on the architects to do it for you?

I live halfway between an elementary school and a grocery store: it's about three blocks each way. And there were walkers out this morning at six-thirty, even a runner or two.

What we don't have around here is a lot of children: this neighborhood is largely young couples and empty-nesters, and not much in between. And I don't expect this to change any time soon: if you're buying a house in town and you've got school-age kids, your friendly agent will steer you away from my neighborhood, despite its manifest advantages, because it's in an urban school district and you can't possibly want that. No one will mention that this particular school is among the best in the district and competitive with what you'll find on the edges of town; they won't go out of their way to slander the place, exactly, but if you're already thinking the worst, because that's what you've always heard, they'll be happy to agree with you, if only implicitly.

Yeah, of course, "we want what's best for the kids." But the best often comes wrapped in a heavy blanket of the worst, just to keep you on your toes; "I can have everything I want" is pernicious Boomer nonsense that works only if you decide that you don't want all that much.

Of course, if you really need three thousand square feet, sorry, we can't accommodate you, and thanks for dropping by.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
29 June 2006
Besides, Tom likes her

There's something faintly disquieting about this:

[T]he Boston PD has been posing as a twenty-year-old hottie on MySpace.com in an attempt to get you to turn in your guns.

Okay, not so faintly.

(You know about Tom, right?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
1 July 2006
Off the bubble, as it were

A Los Gatos, California home for a mere $350K? As always, there's a catch:

Nice home with a view, bright and sunny 14 minutes to downtown Los Gatos, 17 minutes to Santa Cruz. Home appears to be intact and in good condition. Landslide on lower part of property. Large retaining walls needed. Good opportunity for contractor or investor that has experience with retaining walls and Santa Cruz county. The extent of the slide needs to be determined. Sellers want to move on with their lives and are willing to take a loss. Before landslide, home was valued at $750K. Lenders will not lend on this property now. Best cash offer gets it. No contingencies, close escrow in 10 days or less. Offers reviewed on June 26 at 5PM. Home is vacant. Come out and take a look but be careful. Enter property at your own risk.

Zillow.com still has it at $790K.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 PM)
2 July 2006
Yeah, press this

I still have a rotary phone around here somewhere.

(Via Rocket Jones.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:31 AM)
3 July 2006
Should you kiss your asteroid goodbye?

Probably not. The burning hunk o' space junk that's due in the neighborhood today will keep its distance, and that distance is around 400,000 km, about the mileage on the average Philadelphia taxi.

This particular flying object rates a flat zero on the Torino scale, where 1 is the equivalent of being hit at 60 mph by a thirty-year-old Ford sedan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
This goes on your Permanent Record

Remember when Brittania used to rule? Now they just collect data:

Details of all 12 million children under the age of 18 in England will be recorded soon on a database called the Children's Index. Parents have yet to grasp that professional opinions on, say, their abilities as a parent, or concerns about their children's development and health could be entered by teachers, GPs and social workers without their knowledge or consent. Nor that the Children's Index will be linked to other databases dealing with such controversial issues as a young child's potential to become a delinquent.

The Ministry of Love: because we care.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 PM)
4 July 2006
The real Digital Divide

A letter to the editor of the Reminder Community News in East Hartford, Connecticut they get no link because their site is insufferable as transcribed by Jennifer:

It's in the news. President Bush has signed ?Indecency Legislation? into law, making it possible for TV and radio broadcasters to be fined up to $325,000 per incident of showing indecent nudity or broadcasting raunchy language. However, cable and satellite companies are exempt! This is discrmination against poor people. This is just absolutely unfair! Why should those who can afford cable or satellite be able to watch nudity and we poor people cannot? The Supreme Court ought to shoot this one down right now. I cannot believe this is happening in this land of the free! Only if you got the big bucks is it free!

Expect a measure to change "Land of the Free" to "Land of the Reasonably-Priced."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
5 July 2006
Weasels we have heard on high

Make sure you must always buy. A particularly-heinous example:

I cancelled my AOL account over the weekend. The CSR was polite enough, although he got quite defensive when I said I wanted to make sure the account was actually cancelled, rather than just put on a suspended billing list for a while.

He told me that after I cancelled, I could still sign on via AOL's Web interface to check mail on that account. He then said that he would be sending an e-mail cancellation notice to that address, and specifically urged me to sign on to make sure I got the notice. I told him that I didn't want the e-mail address to remain active, because I wanted to make sure that my less-attentive friends who sent mail to that address got a bounce. He seemed sort of nonplussed, but admitted that the address wouldn't actually be activated until I signed on for the first time. He also said that I'd get a paper copy of the cancellation notice snail-mailed within a couple of weeks.

Then he transferred me to the boilerplate-bot, which told me that if I signed on to check my "free" e-mail I would be reactivating my AOL account and authorizing monthly billing.

So they tell you that it's free, urge you to sign in to make sure you've been "cancelled," and if you don't listen carefully to the disclaimer at the end of the call you wind up back in AOL's clutches. Verily, these are some wacky guys.

Not even Karl Rove in all his majesty was as devious as this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
Damned withholding

There's very little I can add to this:

English economists reckon having more sex can be as beneficial to lifelong happiness as an extra $50,000 in the pocket.

The study, done by no-sex-please-we're-British economists and titled Money, Sex and Happiness: an Empirical Study, said that increasing the frequency of sex from once a month to once a week caused the same amount of happiness as getting a $50,000-a-year pay rise.

Researched by Dartmouth College economics professor David Blanchflower, along with Warwick University's Andrew Oswald, the study took 1990s American data of about 16,000 people and generalised the results for males and females of all ages.

"The most interesting thing this study shows is that money buys happiness, but not as much as you would think," Blanchflower said in his summary.

I have my doubts, mostly because at that rate $50k for a fourfold increase I'd be looking at $6 million, and I think I could be bought off by the Knights of Chastity for a bit less than that. (Send offers to the usual address.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:20 PM)
6 July 2006
Ken Lay lives!

Well, maybe not.

Then again:

I hate to sound coldly skeptical, but this thing looks fishy from the get-go. There's been no hint of ill health from Lay during the unfolding Enron scandal and his subsequent trial. Now, when he's been convicted and awaiting final sentencing in October, he checks out? Not to mention that such death announcements typically aren't made public until much later than the actual passing often as much as a day later.

Too, too convenient?

Update, 11:40 am: Then there's this Gawker headline: Ken Lay Dead Getting Approximately Same Amount of Respect As Ken Lay Alive.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
7 July 2006
Marilyn Monroe's ghost flies free

It's a whole new kind of profiling:

I am here to tell you that I have seen the future, and it is looking up your dress.

The new [airport] screening machine is a thing that looks like the kind of wind-tunnel isolation booth they used to put game show contestants in and then blow around money, which the contestants would try and grab.

But that's not what's going to be happening to you in the isolation booth.

What's going to happen is that the Department of Homeland Security is going to blow hot air up your dress and analyze it.

I'm not even kidding. This machine, which has no name on it so I'm going to go ahead and call it the Gyno-2000, shoots a VERY STRONG BURST OF WIND directly up your dress, if you happen to be so unlucky as to be wearing one at the time. It has a mechanical voice that warns you (sort of, but not really) when it says "Prepare for air blast!"

Of course, for some time now DHS has been blowing smoke up ... um, never mind.

Has anyone else encountered this thing? It sounds like yet another good argument for driving everywhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
9 July 2006
Yes, we have no such title

This spring, I suggested you all run out and get a copy of Slow Road Home: a Blue Ridge Book of Days by Fred First, and now it's showed up at Barnes & Noble, for preorder, "available on August 28."

There's just one hitch: Fred published this himself, and he has made no arrangements to sell the book through bn.com, on August 28 or any other date.

Putting the most favorable spin possible on this, B&N presumably has noted that the book is in print and has a proper ISBN number (0-977-93950-2), and expects that the publisher will make it available to them in time.

On the other hand, for now this is clearly a case of, as Fred says, "selling what you ain't got."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
Soft and Zillowy

In the four months since I put up a small post about Zillow.com, I've kept watch over the one property I know best mine and inexplicably, the Zestimated price has risen by nine grand during that period. I attribute this to strong sales elsewhere in the neighborhood.

On the other hand, I can't come up with any explanation for this:

After checking out our present house and feeling relieved that its value hasn't totally tanked since we bought it, I decided to type in the address of the house I grew up in in New Jersey, the sale of which nearly shattered me two years ago. I longed to see it again, even a fuzzy birds-eye satellite shot.

Zillow responded: There is no house at this address.

I blinked, thinking, there must be some mistake. I typed in the address of our old across-the-street neighbors, just one digit away from our address. It showed up right away. I zoomed in on their house. Their driveway was directly across from ours. I zoomed in and zoomed in. I saw trees with skinny, bare branches. I saw the house that used to be next to ours. I spotted all the neighbors' houses: the Kiesselbach's, the Wubbes', the Schleichers'. But it was true. Where my house used to stand was an empty lot. It was a gray-green scrabble of nothingness.

My house is gone. I'm typing through tears.

And where did it go? Nowhere:

So, I spent the weekend crying over the little green house. Gone, gone, gone. But first I emailed my best high school friend, and asked her to check it out, to make sure it was really gone.

I immediately started planning a massive writing project, in which I would meticulously record every memory of every square inch of that property, from the circular driveway to the mulch pile in the back yard, to the enclosed porch and the laundry room.

When we got home, an email from my friend Cathy. With a photo, taken from her car. "Relax," she wrote. "It's still there no worries."

If there's a lesson here, it's this: Put not all thy faith in a single database.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:37 AM)
Just imagine the security check

One of the more amusing aspects of life in Oklahoma City is nodding your head at visitors and saying, "Yes, we did name our two largest airports after guys who died in a plane crash." You wait just long enough for the furrows to appear on their brows, and then you say, "What's more, it was the same crash."

On the other hand, we can't top this: Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia, is renaming its airport for Genghis Khan.

I wonder if Norm Mineta is looking for work.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:14 PM)
14 July 2006
That darned old county line

The amiable Dr. Chris Lawrence has adopted a more modest return address:

I've decided to list my return address on job applications as "St. Louis" rather than "Clayton," since the USPS says either is acceptable, and the six people who know the difference might think I was some sort of rich snob otherwise.

The USPS here seems to be wanting to get people to use "Nichols Hills" rather than "Oklahoma City" where appropriate; I keyed three addresses known to be inside Nichols Hills city limits, and all three of them came back standardized to NH even the one in 73120 rather than 73116. (Not all suburbs get this kind of treatment.)

On a whim, I typed "10 N. Bemiston, Clayton, MO" into the USPS search screen. It duly came back:

SAINT LOUIS MO 63105-3304

Which, if you're keeping score, is the Clayton City Hall.

I suspect, though, that if you had the nine-digit ZIP correct, you could put "Saint Louis," "St Louis," "Clayton," or for all I know "Timbuktu" in there, and your mail would (eventually) get to the right place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
They broke the mold

And apparently allowed it to spread throughout the building:

Major fixer with mold problem. No open houses or broker's open. Viewers required to wear respirator mask & sign hold harmless statement. Sellers say tear it down. Contractor report will be available by 7/9. The good news is that the location is convenient & in one of Marin's best school districts. Charming neighborhood of interesting homes. You can make this one fun too!

I'm not even sure I should post this, if only because I don't relish search traffic for "fun with respirator mask".

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
17 July 2006
Crazy from the heat

After a while, it addles the brain:

My son-in-law and my daughter live in the Central Valley. He doesn't believe in God, or air conditioning. Their houses are often 110 degrees in the daytime. Their answer to my vociferous complaints (not about God, but the heat) goes like this: "We don't need air conditioning. It's always cool at night." Great! I sweat until I'm as wet as a swamp critter, then at night the sweat dries and I get hypothermia.

He inherited this air-conditioning denial syndrome from his father, who told me, "We don't have air-conditioning. You don't need it." The father lives in Solvang, where the sidewalks melt in summer. If anyone in the world ever needed AC, it is the inhabitants of Solvang.

So the younger couple are building a house, an expensive one, on a very expensive piece of land. The driveway alone will cost more than my entire net worth. No air conditioning. Why? "We won't need it."

There are, of course, things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of a home just ask Bob Waldrop. And, in defense of Dad, the Santa Ynez valley, heated up during the day, loses much of that heat at night: highs near 100 and lows in the 50s are common this time of year. Still, were I sinking seven figures into a home, you better believe it would have some means of cooling itself off besides waiting twelve hours.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
This scream may be monitored

Okay, don't scream at them, but don't force yourself into a bland monotone either, and here's why:

The next time you call a credit card issuer to complain about something you might want to turn up the heat with a bit more emotion. A new technology enables a call monitoring system to issue an alert to call center managers when the customer's voice hits a certain decibel level, uses harsh or foul language, or the name of a competitor. NICE Systems' "Emotion Detection" technology digitizes and stores angry calls on a server, where it can be batched with other angry calls, searched by keyword and emailed as a sound file among company managers.

No comment as yet from Vincent Ferrari.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:31 PM)
20 July 2006
Little things mean a lot

Not even the rainbow is safe anymore:

The rainbow-colored steps on the 500 block of Castro Street have long been a magnet for tourists. Countless visitors to the city's gay neighborhood have sat down on them to snap a visual remembrance of their San Francisco trip. Locals are also drawn to them, using them as a backdrop for pictures that later end up in online profiles or slipped into cards sent home to family and friends.

In fact, they're sufficiently iconic that even breeders like myself have heard of them.

So naturally they've got to go:

But the wide steps that lead up to the building's two storefronts and entrances to two apartments will soon be altered to make way for new doorways to the shops that are handicap accessible.

"The code requires the Patio Cafe building and the adjoining building [the buildings are merged] to be ADA compliant and it is necessary to remove most of the stairs at the street level," [says owner Les Natali].

But a reduced rainbow will eventually return:

"Some stairs to the upper level will remain, and they will be painted in the rainbow colors."

Assuming, of course, that said colors aren't some day ruled to be discriminatory against persons with color blindness.

(Via Bill Quick's San Francisco Real Estate Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:17 PM)
Paging Claudette Rains

If you're a female, the Taliban would just as soon you kept yourself out of sight:

Women's faces are being painted out of billboards across the city of Peshawar in northern Pakistan after local government officials threatened to take action against advertisers.

The depiction of uncovered women is considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, whose influence is growing in the North West Frontier province.

Similar edicts were issued and posters defaced in 2003. "These multinational companies want to promote obscenity, lewdness and vulgarity," said a furious religious leader, Shehzada Babar.

And what could possibly be more obscene than a woman enjoying a biscuit with her tea?

These people need a healthy dose of Britney Spears in her birthday suit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:50 PM)
26 July 2006
Grout expectations

Is anyone truly prepared for this?

My kitchen contractor called me at 8 am today to talk about grout. I can count the number of times I've thought about grout colors on two fingers. Three if you include that I'm telling you about it now. John's a very tactful, laid back guy, so our conversations usually go like this:

J: "I'm going to grout the kitchen floor today. Have you given any thought to the grout color."

That clues me in to the fact that I probably should have considered the matter prior to this morning.

Without looking, I can tell you that the Betty Crocker Frosting White tile in Surlywood's kitchen is surrounded by a nice charcoal grey; the red stuff in the bathroom was set up with a neutral color that ultimately didn't remain so.

And (let us pray) I'm not going to do any floor replacements anytime soon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:33 AM)
You're nobody 'til Photoshop loves you

Cathryn Michon, Grrl Genius, is drop-dead gorgeous, and it's all an illusion, she says:

Yes, that is a picture of me but it is a professional retouched picture of me. A professional retouched picture is an actual picture of a person the way a package of uncooked chicken is a delicious meal of crispy golden fried chicken. I mean, sure, it's CHICKEN, but it's not fried chicken.

In the above picture (photo by the brilliant Grrl Genius Susan Maljan, shameless plug) I had both my hair and makeup professionally done (Geniuses Kim Ayers and Chanda Hutton, another plug) and the makeup was thick enough that if you saw it in real life you would have sworn that I had just arrived from an evening of performing kabuki theater. The previous day my hairdresser Bill Belshya of Jonathon Salon in West Hollywood (true Enlightened Male, final shameless plug) had cut and colored my hair so that not even twenty-four hours would elapse between highlighting and photographing. I'm lit with (approximately) a thousand billion gigawatts of imperfection removing light and I'm wearing some kind of vacuum sealed, fat sucking body stocking under that dress, as well as a gravity defying underwire bra.

All that is before the SWAT team of retouchers came in and made me look younger than I would in a pre-natal sonogram.

It may take a village to raise a child but apparently it takes a small Latin American country to take a photo of me.

Those of you who saw the Britney Spears Harper's Bazaar cover may well have thought, "Geez, I know pregnant women are supposed to glow and all that, but she looks like she's been dipped in Nu Vinyl or something." With that thought in mind, here's a Grrl Genius-recommended demonstration: a representation of a typical magazine cover which, with a few well-placed clicks, gives up the secrets of What's Real and What's Been Fixed.

I learned two things from this:

  1. You look better than you think you do;
  2. I'm not as proficient at retouching as I'd like to think.

Oh, and save the Armor All for the car.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
30 July 2006
A hole in the middle

Janny Scott's article in last Sunday's New York Times, about the "vanishing middle class" in American cities, got some play in blogdom, by no means all of it weepy wails for government intervention.

But the last paragraph bothers me no end:

"This trend toward living and interacting with people who are like you is intensifying a lot," said Professor [Joseph] Gyourko [of Wharton], who lives in the affluent suburb of Swarthmore, Pa. "I do not meet the full range of incomes and social classes within my neighborhood. Well, think about what happens if metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco and the like turn into my suburb. You'll have even less interaction. The most interesting and potentially foreboding implication of this sorting is that it changes the way we view life."

Well, if it's such a tragedy that you don't get to "meet the full range of incomes and social classes within my neighborhood," Dr Gyourko, why the hell don't you move?

It has long been an American practice to move to get away from certain segments of society and cut down on such "interaction." Today, of course, our professional classes teach us that doing so is just so wrong: how are the drug dealers and the layabouts and the common pond scum supposed to thrive without ordinary citizens to exploit?

And the good Professor misses another point:

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the percentage of households earning more than $100,000 a year rose to over 30 percent in 2000 from approximately 7 percent in 1970, [said Gyourko]. "Is that area worse off?" he asked. "At least so far, there's a lot of evidence that economically they're better off. Land prices are really high, lots of people want to move there."

Supply and demand, right? Nothing wrong with that. But then there's this:

Thanks to inflation, $100,000 in 1970 is not the same as $100,000 in 2000. So the fact that there are many more people making that amount compared to 30 years ago does nothing to help illuminate the issue. Once again, we're seeing the results of a writer who skipped taking math in college.

If there's a lesson here, it's simply this: Reporters for The New York Times should quit when they're ahead, if by chance they're ever ahead.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
31 July 2006
Honey, we're moving

And we don't have to pack anything, either:

A Kansas couple woke up Monday to the sound of falling rocks hitting their windows and quickly realized their apartment was falling into an abandoned mine shaft.

Galena, KS, city officials confirmed occupants were living in an apartment located in the rear of the Green Parrot Bar when it began to fall piece by piece into the sinkhole around 7 a.m.

"When they checked out the noise, they realized the building was falling in," said Meredith Shetley, assistant city clerk.

"Fortunately, there were no injuries," said David Black, Galena Police administrative assistant. "Workers spent the morning shutting off gas and telephone lines."

And I thought I used to live in a dump.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
2 August 2006
The Ministry of Roommates will contact you

Because, after all, you have no right to live alone:

People living on their own consume more energy and create more waste than individuals sharing a home which could cause an environmental crisis in the near future, according to a report published in the journal "Environment, development and sustainability".

The report said the fastest growing segment of the single household is among those aged 25-44 and in particular, single never-married men aged 35 to 44.

It said one-person householders are the biggest consumers of energy, land and household goods. They consume 38% more products, 42% more packaging, 55% more electricity and 61% more gas per person than an individual in a four-person household.

Besides, you really didn't want to live by yourself anyway:

"As part of the planned housing programme for England and Wales, there is a real opportunity to house this group in ecological new builds, that are prestigious, well-designed, state-of-the-art and environmentally sound," said Dr [Jo] Williams, who works at UCL's Barlett School of Planning.

Dr Williams added that a significant proportion of those living on their own were often single people who might enjoy living in a community which would give greater opportunity for greater sociability.

"Regretful loners who are forced into living alone by circumstances create demand for more collaborative lifestyles, such as more widespread co-housing schemes, where you have private space such as a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen but share some living and storage areas," she said.

The Planners will not be content until we're all crowded into proletarian concrete bunkers and they have to stack us against the walls like rolls of unused linoleum.

(Via McGehee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
Feedback loopy

I got my 136 feedback points on eBay the old-fashioned way: I won auctions (from a few cents to $900), I paid up promptly, and I was acknowledged to have done same by a variety of sellers. (I've never sold anything on eBay.)

Apparently this practice isn't quite fast enough for some people:

Scammers have turned to automated bots to create eBay accounts with a positive feedback record, reports security vendor Fortinet.

Online criminals use the automated scripts or bots to create vast collections of user accounts with positive feedback records. Those accounts can then be used to attract buyers by offering high value items that are never delivered after the bot-master criminals have received payments.

I can just imagine some wanker banging his nonexistent chest and proclaiming "I AM THE BOT MASTER!"

The bogus accounts typically sell virtual items such as wallpapers and e-books through a "buy it now" auction for one cent and no shipping costs. Those items are then bought by another fraudulent eBay account, all in an automated fashion.

Further indicating a level of automation, each buyer is leaving identical comments for each transaction.

Says security vendor Fortinet:

"Most [of the sellers'] user names are made of six to eight random letters and bear around 15 evaluations. Having a look at these profiles reveals that they've bought roughly the same items all for one cent."

After two hundred or so auctions and no problems at all, I'm not going to abandon eBay. But I suppose I need to turn the Alert Level up past Bert.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:01 AM)
4 August 2006
The path of least resistance

In these parlous times, there's no good reason to incur any unnecessary expenses:

I entered the "non smoking" room at a Motel 6 in Sacramento, California, only to find an ashtray. So I called the front desk to complain and was told, "Oh, just turn it over, now it's a non-smoking room!"

Oh, and that light they'll leave on for you? Dimmer switch. Just watch.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
6 August 2006
Next: Disney buys Guantanamo

What's better than a Soviet prison camp? A Soviet prison camp catering to the tourist trade:

The Mayor of what used to be one of the most infamous outposts of Josef Stalin's Gulag wants to charge masochistic foreign tourists £80 [about $150] a day to "holiday" in an elaborate mock-up of a Soviet prison camp.

Igor Shpektor, the Mayor of Vorkuta, 100 miles above the Arctic Circle and 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, says he is looking for an investor to turn an abandoned prison complex into a "reality" holiday camp for novelty-seeking tourists keen to understand what life was like for Soviet political prisoners at first hand.

Residents are perhaps not so keen:

Camp survivors, some of whom still live in Vorkuta, have condemned his idea. They call it a "sacrilege" and a tasteless insult to the memory of those prisoners who died in the area. Historians say 200,000 prisoners, known as zeks, died in the camps surrounding Vorkuta, out of more than two million deported there between 1932 and 1954.

But it's not like Vorkuta has a whole lot to offer otherwise:

In winter, the temperature plunges to minus 50C, while in summer the population of mosquitoes explodes. At the Gulag's peak 132 camps existed in and around Vorkuta. Now the city desperately needs new funds to pour into its dying economy. Eight of its 13 coal mines have shut in the past 15 years and the city's population has almost halved, from 217,000 to 120,000.

Life in Vorkuta is so bleak and subsidy-dependent that the government and the World Bank are offering residents money to move so the authorities can, literally, turn out the lights.

I'm not sure that this is such a bad idea, though really, if they're going to recreate one of Stalin's major projects, they should do it in a location where Stalin is still staggeringly popular say, Berkeley.

(Via Pratie Place.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
How I hate those mirrors

It's a boy, Mrs. Walker, it's a boy:

Good-looking parents are 36 percent more likely to give birth to a girl than less-attractive couples which also explains why women are, on average, better looking than men, argues [Satoshi] Kanazawa, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Kanazawa based his conclusion on data collected during in-home interviews with 2,972 randomly selected young adults in 2001 and 2002. All were parents 18 to 28 years old, and they participated in the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. As part of the study, the interviewer rated the respondent's physical attractiveness on a five-point scale that ranged from "very unattractive" to "very attractive."

Kanazawa compared the percentage of boys and girls born to study participants who were very attractive with the sex ratio of babies born to everyone else. He found that 56 percent of babies born to beautiful parents were girls. For parents in each of the other categories, fewer than half of the babies 48 percent were girls.

But ... is there a reason for this?

[W]hy are beautiful people more likely to have girls? Kanazawa says scientists studying humans and other species have found that parents who possess any heritable trait that increases male reproductive success at a greater rate than female reproductive success will have more males than female babies, and vice versa.

Because men value physical attractiveness more than women do when looking for a mate, good looks increase the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons. So attractive people should have more daughters which is exactly what Kanazawa found.

I note in passing that I have two children: a daughter and a son.

(Via Exploding Aardvark, with the following caveat: "A previous study by the same researcher [who incidentally used to teach here at the U of I] found that tall people are more likely to have sons. What happens with a tall, beautiful couple?")

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
7 August 2006
It followed me home, can I keep it?

Civilian contractors, recently returned from Iraq, are kicking back with a couple of cold ones, and Tamara is there:

Yeah, a lot of firefighters and cops over there are civilian contractors. These people need a lot of help just setting up basic... I mean, think about it: They've never been able to just pick up a phone and dial 911 to get help before, so they just don't know what to make of it. And when they do call, they've got real problems. There's not much rescuing kittens, it's... I mean, like, "Hello? Hello? Yes, my child has bring into the house an anti-tank mine. It is sitting on the living room floor. I live in the four story apartment, on the third story. Can you help me, please? What do I do?"... and I'm thinking An anti-tank mine? Buddy you don't need the fire department, you need the army!

Have one on me, guys.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 AM)
13 August 2006
Land rovers

I haven't bought a plane ticket in five years or so, and I don't particularly regret it: there are vanishingly few instances when I need to be halfway across the continent in a single day, and recent "advances" in passenger screening, by most accounts, have fallen somewhere between merely obtrusive and obsessively counterproductive. "And besides," I am wont to remark, "my car has never lost my luggage."

So I drive, and so does Bill Quick:

I, for instance, wouldn't dream of flying to Los Angeles any more. I drive. Yes, I admit I began that policy back when smoking was banned on all airlines, and checkin security was just beginning to become onerous. The time tradeoff, in exchange for being able to inhale the intoxicant of my choice, as well as travel in large-seat air conditioned comfort with my own music seemed reasonable to me. Today, air travel has only become worse, to the point that there soon won't even be a time tradeoff on any flight under, say, five hundred miles. Come to the airport three hours, four hours, five hours early and prepare to be treated like cattle by a bunch of unionized morons? Thanks, but I think I'll pass.

And I think, if this goes on, more and more people like me will pass as well. Why does the government take the easy way out of harassing people, rather than actually doing things that might be effective, like arming pilots, armoring cockpits, and instituting high tech substance-catching and people-profiling systems?

Because it can.

Personally, I'm in favor of having those morons ionized.

In the meantime, I take comfort in the recently-revealed knowledge that I can go 400 miles on a single tank of gas (presently $50ish).

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
14 August 2006
Curbing sprawl

I am not one of those New Urbanists who think that anything beyond the core of the central city is of no interest; on the other hand, I am also not keen on endless developments on the fringes while the core is neglected. (Only recently let's say, within the last fifteen years has Oklahoma City come to realize the value of its core, and the city takes one step back, or at least to the side, for every couple of steps forward. We're still learning.)

A number of solutions have been proposed, some workable, some which might work but which won't likely ever happen, but nothing strikes me as quite so ingenious as Arkansas writer Kevin Carson's prescription:

[P]erhaps the most effective measure would be shifting the property tax off of buildings and improvements onto site value alone. The effect of such a policy, wherever it has been tried, has been to increase the cost of holding land vacant in older parts of town and to encourage in-fill development. When such a tax shift has been implemented, it is immediately followed by mass sales of vacant lots that have been kept out of use for years for speculative purposes, and by an enormous construction boom. Shifting taxes onto land value also encourages efficient and intensive use of land, rather than the giant parking lots and unusable front yards associated with current sprawl development. Such a policy would take taxes off of human labor and ingenuity, and put them instead onto the unearned wealth that pours into the pockets of landlords.

The Oklahoma County Assessor is already calculating land values for taxable properties, so it's not like this would be an enormous regulatory burden; getting it past the usual suspects, of course, is another matter entirely.

And there is one downside, at least from my point of view: while I have the smallest house on the block, I have the largest lot, so I can expect the biggest tax bite should Carson's idea be implemented. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

(Spotted in Michael Bates' linkblog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
15 August 2006
We B Peeved

Men's Health magazine, always on the lookout for new statistics to hype, has announced the 100 Angriest Cities in the US.

The criteria:

Our search for evidence of urban anger began with the percentage of men with high blood pressure, from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (as calculated by Sperling's BestPlaces). We then factored in FBI rates of aggravated assaults and Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers on workplace deaths from assaults and other violence. And because rage and the road often go hand in hand, we also included traffic-congestion data from the Texas Transportation Institute, as well as speeding citations per state from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

I leave to the Floridians who read this page to explain which of these components got four Sunshine State cities into the Top 10, with Orlando and St. Petersburg holding down the top two slots, Miami seventh and Jacksonville ninth. By contrast, Soonerland is practically placid, with Tulsa pulling in at 41st and Oklahoma City yawning to 58th. For maximum mellow, you want Fargo or Bangor or Manchester, N'Hampsha.

(Via Fark.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
16 August 2006
Cracking down on Induhviduals

"Against stupidity," wrote Schiller, "the gods themselves contend in vain." Governments, seeing themselves as the moral equivalent of, if not actually superior to, gods, are missing an opportunity here; why, there are at least 16 steps that could be taken now. A sampling:

"8 Items or Less" line violators will have their number of fingers reduced to 8, for obvious reasons. The government is here to help.

"You Must Have an IQ Greater Than 7 x 24 - 60 to Enter Through This Gate" signage will appear at all public queues, especially at amusement facilities, cinemas and airports. Failure to answer the mathematical equation correctly (and minor variations thereof) within 20 seconds will result in guards immediately repositioning the stupid at the end of the line. Sans kneecaps. Because we just know that there'll be a dispute about admission fees, payment methods and whether you really do have a "constitutional right" to bring your own, open beer can into the facility.

Woe betide he who inserts parentheses around (24 - 60) and presents himself with an IQ of -252. (Alternatively, he could be appointed to a government job; obviously the qualifications are in place.)

"Induhviduals," you'll remember, is a coinage by Scott Adams, though he originally applied it to people who didn't receive the Dilbert newsletter. It has proven to have far greater application than he imagined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:07 PM)
21 August 2006
Snakes on a tomb

Not necessarily official doctrine:

We definitely have a huge problem with our mosques. Many of these mosque preachers never had any religious education; they could just be members of the congregation who know a word or two from the Quran and end up preaching to hundreds if not thousands every week.

Preaching against Jews and praying that God will orphan their children is not the only problem with these guys. Many of them, including even those who had religious education but are extremists in nature, say insane stuff that drive sensible minds crazy. For example, they might issue crazy fatwas on the nitty gritty things of life, things you'll find it very hard to believe that the almighty would be interested in. Other focus on hell and the "torture of the tomb." They think that by scaring the guts out of people, they'll pray more and visit the mosque more frequently.

I have a friend who one day decided that he had enough of his local mosque preacher. During the prayers, the man was telling the people about the "torture of the tomb" and what awaits the sinner when he dies. "And the bald snake will whirl itself around you in your tomb," he said.

The obvious question?

My friend raised his hand asking for permission to say something. "You said the bald snake, but is there a snake with hair in the first place." The guy's eyes popped out and several people started laughing.

I do hope the friend is still alive; some of those preachy types have no sense of humor.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:14 PM)
22 August 2006
All thumbs

Thumbs up to SBC/AT&T/whoever they are this week for putting a wide variety of long-distance packages on display on their Web site; this is exactly the sort of information a customer needs.

Thumbs down to SBC/AT&T/whoever they are this week for making it impossible to order one of those packages over the Web if you already have one; you have to call the poor, harried service rep and give him the chance to do his spiel for the nine or ten other products they're dying to sell you, and then they'll talk to you about changing your LD plan.

Oh, well. They'll learn, one way or another.

Addendum, 3:40 pm: BStewart gives Bell Canada the finger. Maybe the whole darn fist.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
25 August 2006
Tie me drawing hand back, Mack

The BBC isn't having any of this:

The Franz Kafka Big Band, a comedy series commissioned for BBC Radio Scotland, has been withdrawn from the schedule after editors thought that jokes about Israel and Palestine and a sketch in which a cow flies into the World Trade Centre were inappropriate.

Executive producer Nick Low (I guess it's okay to like him) says:

We are disappointed because we have been working on this for eight months and now I don't know if it will ever see the light of day. The Franz Kafka Big Band has always been about not compromising what it does. The BBC has been very supportive, it is just whether we can thrash things out and whether a compromise can be made. I don't think we are talking fine-tuning; there are major changes that would need to be done.

The heinous offenses of the show:

One controversial segment is called Rolf's Blasphemous Cartoon Time, featuring Rolf Harris drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and Buddha. Another sketch has a voiceover for a famine appeal while the person is eating. There is also sexual content.

Anyone want to guess which of these is causing the uproar?

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
26 August 2006
Tiny ship to be tossed

One of the boats used as the S. S. Minnow on Gilligan's Island is on sale for $99,000. I have no idea of the extent of its seaworthiness, but you'd think it would be good for at least, oh, a three-hour tour.

Then I looked at the ad offering the vessel, and spotted this:

10' Dinghy, 3 batteries, sleeps 5.

Got that? Sleeps 5. Put seven aboard and you're going to wind up with stranded castaways, none of whom are guaranteed to look like Tina Louise or Dawn Wells.

(Via Steph Mineart.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 AM)
27 August 2006
Now leasing: The Depths

A couple weeks ago, I linked to this Rocket Jones observation:

Ever notice how when a new housing development is going up, if it's Something Estates then it's ritzy and pricey, and if it's Whatever Heights then it's always "affordable" housing. If I had the money, I'd do a development called Estates Heights just to see what would happen.

Doesn't matter, says Punctilious:

Including the words Heights, Ridge, Hills or Vista in your subdivision name does not change the fact that it is still in a flood plain.

Remind me to run up to Quail Springs and see the, um, springs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
We're doomed, I tell you

But you don't have to believe me. Ten thousand reasons are being collected, and as of this writing, 2,388 have been reported; after reading them all, I have to conclude that (1) most people haven't a farging clue and (2) it probably wouldn't matter all that much even if they did.

Although surely it means something that Paris Hilton is #1.

(Via kottke.org, which is #185.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
Missed your paper? Call Manila

In greater Orlando, anyway:

Today we announced that after careful study, the Orlando Sentinel has decided to outsource our circulation customer service calls to APAC Customer Service, a U.S.-based company with operations in the Philippines. The Los Angeles Times has successfully outsourced its circulation call center through this company for several years. Other Tribune newspapers also have decided to take this step.

While decisions like this are very difficult to make, this change will benefit our customers and our business in several ways. It will allow us to implement best practice customer service processes, utilize state-of-the-art technology including upgraded circulation and voice response systems, lower costs and provide expanded hours of operation.

Actually, this is less of a big deal than it sounds. (Your call to the Oklahoman is answered in Québec, and in my experience, their system works pretty well.)

Still, "local," as a word, is becoming as obsolete as "yclept."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:44 PM)
28 August 2006
Hal has your cash

Saturday afternoon, a woman in a truck pulled into the drive-thru and found, to her amazement, some nimrod on foot using the ATM. (I have reference to me.) The transaction didn't take long, and she didn't look particularly alarmed, though I think it's probably a safe bet she doesn't see much of this.

And if she's really fortunate, she didn't see any of this. [Possibly NSFW]

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
Throw it back

The Oklahoman's Mr. Monday sees the demotion of Pluto as an opening:

You're bopping around the cold suburbs of cosmos, minding your interstellar beeswax, when you get a call.

It's those bullies from down the road Jupiter, Saturn, Earth and they want you to know you're out. You're too small, a Solar System pip-squeak. They've demoted you to the "dwarf planets." It's you, a couple of chunky rocks and a new gal by the name of UB313.

So, that was easy, right?

How can you can kick a planet to the curb in a week and still have Baylor in the Big 12?

And while we're at it, how about those Royals?

Since 2000, the Royals have lost 571 games, plus another 85 this year. They are on pace to lose so many games that baseball will cease to exist in 10 years.

I question this assertion. Every game the Royals lose, some other team presumably wins. (Although that other team certainly isn't Baylor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
29 August 2006
Well, this sucks (2)

Or, more precisely, it doesn't. A couple of killjoys Theoretical physicist Professor Costas Efthimiou of the University of Central Florida and Cornell University postgraduate student Sohan Gandhi have determined that vampires cannot possibly exist:

They argue it would take just two and a half years for vampires to wipe out the entire human race from the day the first one appeared, based on the myth that vampires turn their victims into other vampires by sucking their blood.

If vampires feed once a month, the great grandaddy of all vampires would have killed one human and produced one vampire in the first month. So in total there would be two vampires and one less human, or a tally of vampires 2, humans -1. By the next month, the 2 vampires would kill 2 humans, and so on.

After n months there would be 2 x 2 x 2 ... x 2 = 2n, or a geometric progression with ratio 2. "The vampire population increases geometrically and the human population decreases geometrically," they say.

Using the principle of reductio ad absurdum, they conclude that vampires can't exist as their existence contradicts the existence of humans.

Barnabas Collins was not available for comment.

(Um, thanks, Gail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 PM)
30 August 2006
Buoy, oh buoy

This never happens with bass boats:

A participant in the annual Sex Dolls Rafting Tournament near St Petersburg was disqualified in shame for "sexual abuse of apparatus", Mosnews reports.

That's St Petersburg, Russia, by the way. I can't imagine this sort of thing happening in Tampa Bay.

[Safety for work arguable]

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:55 PM)
31 August 2006
You must pay more for your buzz

Seattle puts the bite on Mad Dog 20/20:

The Washington State Liquor Control Board today approved a ban on 29 brands of fortified wine and beer for Seattle's "alcohol-impact areas."

The ban applies to neighborhoods covering more than six square miles of the city, including Capitol Hill, the Central Area, International District and University District.

The list of banned beverages includes cheap malt liquors, including Steel Reserve, Olde English 800 and Colt .45, and fortified wines such as Cisco and Thunderbird. Supporters of the ban say those products are favored by homeless alcoholics who cause problems in city neighborhoods.

Store owners in those neighborhoods will have to stop selling the prohibited products by Nov. 1.

The Law of Unintended Consequences should kick in around the third or the fourth.

In the meantime, Bayou asks:

[T]his really borderlines on poor-man discrimination. I mean, do they really think that taking the cheap booze off the shelf is going to stop an alcoholic from buying something else or from going to a different neighborhood to buy their preferred skanky drank?

Evidently they really think that. In my capacity, so to speak, as a person who, once upon a time, hoisted one too many one too many times, I suggest that drunks are far more cunning than Seattle's city council (or anyone's) ever imagined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
4 September 2006
Frustration in Beijing

Poor China. Still upset over that island they want so badly:

Apparently, some Israeli tourists going to travel in China with the latest Lonely Planet book were asked to hand in their very expensive book at the border-crossing due to its 'political nature' showing maps of China which color Taiwan in a different color suggesting that Taiwan is not a part of China.

I've got to agree with Gaijinbiker on this one:

You can't be a superpower if you're this insecure.

In their defense, however, they don't generally go berserk over cartoons.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
Such an anode

When Jay Tea gets the electric chair, they'll give him 9 volts:

Earlier, while shopping, I noticed that Energizer is selling pink batteries to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

This sounds like a fine, noble endeavor, and no one should criticize either organization for this program. But I still had two evil thoughts as I looked at the display:

  1. Was it accidental that a company that sells items in sizes rated AAA, AA, C, and D should support the fight against breast cancer?

  2. What kind of a statement is being made when the store I'm in only has the pink batteries in size AA?

For just a moment, I wished they'd bring back B batteries.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
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The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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