The following is a public-service announcement

You have several weeks to prepare:

If you have circus peanuts, don’t wait until October to dispose of them.

(Via @BayAreaFrau.)

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It’s practically an anthem

Grace VanderWaal’s Just the Beginning album is due out in November, a week before the new Taylor Swift disking. Which doesn’t matter so much, except that Grace, for the first time, has had writing assistance on three tracks, and we all remember when Tay-Tay wrote all her own stuff, back in the Old Silurian period.

Still, the best co-writers give you something you might not have gotten otherwise, and what Grace gets in “So Much More Than This” is essentially a Katy Perry-esque pop bounce. Give a listen:

Okay, maybe it needs more ukulele, but for the moment, I am persuaded that Grace’s first three singles in advance of her album are decidedly more interesting than Taylor’s two.



There are plenty of public servants out there who take that “service” business seriously. (The OHP officer who came up behind me on the shoulder after a tire disintegrated one morning — and volunteered to put the spare on for me — qualifies easily.)

And then there are the ones that don’t:

I don’t know what it is — does power corrupt, or does the promise of power (and the perks it carries) attract people who are perhaps less scrupulous? Or is it harder for the earnest and awkward and honest to navigate the minefield that is small-town politics? Hard to know. (Though I think some of these are appointed positions …)

Again, I find it frustrating. I know it’s because I carry some remnants of the childhood belief that there should be fairness or at least justice in the world, and I get frustrated that if I park a little bit wrong in a space, I face a $20 ticket — which I then feel bad about the rest of the week, and not because I’m out $20 — but other people embezzle or intimidate or whatever and seem to feel no remorse for it. (And in some cases, the people-doing-wrong do it for years, and accumulate a lot of “goodies” before they are found out). And yes, I know, I shouldn’t compare my life to other people’s and I should be “in it” for service to others, but it does make me frustrated to see so many people working hard and scrabbling and sometimes not getting the things they need, when others break the rule and seemingly get every want fulfilled …

One factor working against good government in small cities is the absence of local media coverage: radio is mostly syndicated stuff, television is piped in from the nearest megalopolis, and your daily newspaper’s ownership is in some place like Davidson, North Carolina.

(Actually, I think Davidson is a really nice little town busily mutating into a suburb of Charlotte, twenty miles to the south, and they have one of the great small liberal-arts colleges, but they’re probably a long way from your town’s centers of power.)

And yes, there’s the Golden Rule, but we’ve been off the gold standard for decades.

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Not to be noticed

I have said before that my taste in women’s shoes seems to run toward the insubstantial. I am not sure how much this particular preference is due to an early-childhood overdose of Disney’s Cinderella and those wacky glass pumps — bibbiti-bobbiti-who? — and how much due to the ongoing desire for a proper cloaking device. One thing is for sure: a shoe I can barely see will command my attention.

There was a piece on last week about a “clear shoe” trend which featured about a dozen styles and a whole lot of Lucite. One of the featured shoes was a Steve Madden slingback pump with a leather toe cap and ankle strap; the rest, except for the footbed itself, was clear plastic. I duly went to look it up elsewhere, and found something clearer:

Clearer by Steve Madden

This is in fact called “Clearer”; there’s practically no upper at all, and the heels are hollowed out and filled with nothingness. Quips the copywriter at Zappos: “Pull out all the stops in your future-ready ensemble!” I want to see that ensemble when it’s assembled. “Clearer” sells for $110.

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Depressed mode

Morrissey, responsible for the lyric to the sunniest, most upbeat song about suicide everthis is its closest competitor, and I don’t think it’s entirely serious — is delivering an album called Low in High School. The lead single, “Spent the Day in Bed,” is not entirely morose:

This is track five. The complete track listing:

  1. “My Love I’d Do Anything for You”
  2. “I Wish You Lonely”
  3. “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage”
  4. “Home Is a Question Mark”
  5. “Spent the Day in Bed”
  6. “I Bury the Living”
  7. “In Your Lap”
  8. “The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”
  9. “All the Young People Must Fall in Love”
  10. “When You Open Your Legs”
  11. “Who Will Protect Us From the Police?”
  12. “Israel”

As usual with Morrissey, some will embrace this stuff no matter how outré, and others will dismiss it with sarcasm.

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Bloomberg on the Equifax data breach:

[K]eeping data secure is difficult, and Equifax is hardly the first company to let people down in this fashion. Also, it’s too soon to know how the breach happened, whether the company was negligent, and what kinds of additional defenses could have made a difference.

Um, you are wrong, subprime breath.

Dave Schuler grasps the obvious:

Let’s stop right there. By definition if you’re robbed the controls you have in place were inadequate to prevent the robbery. You were negligent. What the editors of Bloomberg are talking about is criminal negligence.

That’s why I’ve been arguing for strict liability. Equifax should be held responsible for the consequences of their actions and inactions whatever its managers’ intent and whether or not they were reckless. It also explains the math I’ve been citing: if every individual whose data has been exposed due to Equifax’s heedlessness is compensated for a single hour of remedial action and/or worry about it, that alone would be enough to break the company.

Think Takata and airbags.

[T]here are already plenty of laws on the books to deal with this situation. What is missing is the will to enforce them.

Isn’t that usually the case?

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Bar exam flunked

Foxtel is an Australian company, providing both cable and satellite television and telephone service. It is a joint venture of News Corp (hence “Fox”) and Telestra (hence “tel”). As you can easily see, it has enjoyed steady growth in nearly two decades of existence.

Graph of Foxtel growth from the Canberra Times in Australia

Okay, maybe not so easily.


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A lot of believers back then

Mike Nesmith of the Monkees apparently used to distrust the press, and not just the musical press. He illustrates with this tale from 1977:

“As we sat down for the interview, before he asked the first question, I told him that I was going to lie to him. He was taken aback, then seemed a little nonplussed and asked why. I said it was because I didn’t trust the press, that I didn’t expect him to tell the truth, so neither would I …

“I said that some of the things I would say would be true and some false, and it was up to him to figure out which was which, according to the normal standards of journalistic responsibility. He asked how he would tell the difference between when I was lying and telling the truth, and I said, “You won’t. That is the point of the lie …

“Then came a point where he asked me about the sales of the Monkees records, and I saw the chance. It isn’t too well known, I said flatly, that we sold over thirty-five million records in 1967. More than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined … he diligently wrote all this down, and I wondered for a moment if I had chosen too outrageous a lie to tell, but it turned out it had been just right.

“The next day in the paper, there it was, printed as fact.”

To this day, this totally bogus number — “class-A mendacity,” said Nez — is being quoted by people who don’t know any better, which is most of them.

(From the Nesmith autobiography Infinite Tuesday, via American Digest.)

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The unsoaked rich

Colonel Bunny, on the subject of the one-percenters and how they stay there:

The mask has slipped in the last 25 years as the infection of high-speed trading on the stock market, the flood of insane derivatives, the chummy relationship of public employee unions and politicians, open borders, and massive money creation, among other things, have come to light. The result has been the enormous transfer of wealth to the richest 1% that has accompanied astronomical wage stagnation. This is parasitism.

No one’s been minding the store in the West for a long time. Almost all Western nations have flooded themselves with savages and run up massive debt and money supplies, all to satisfy, I presume, the moneyed interests and their lumpenproletariat clients on whom the former rely to deliver reliable votes for economic destruction and the slide into third-world grime and savagery. This has nothing to do with common sense or patriotism.

There’s scarcely any money worthy of the name down here in the old Teeming Milieu; at best, what we have turns out to be nothing more than positive ledger entries. The more pragmatic among us will note that this is better than negative ledger entries; but at any moment your personal balance may be confiscated at the whim of the State. And if they want you in red ink, in red ink you shall be.

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Actually, I was nearly broke

My ex zinged me on Facebook today with this:

Man wants to mow the lawn in his birthday suit

Okay, she wasn’t that scornful back in the day, but she certainly wasn’t keen on that sort of idea.

(From the voluminous humor files of Alan Drucker. God knows where he got it.)

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JD Rucker said this last fall:

But if not Clooney, then who? How about Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)?

Assuming Clooney doesn’t run, the more likely and mainstream choice of Senator Kamala Harris is poised to be the nominee. She’ll win California if she’s even a blip on the radar. Her opponents would have to eliminate her from contention altogether for her to lose this state where she is extremely popular.

Unfortunately for other hopefuls, the only way to eliminate her from contention will likely be through scandal because if California’s current plan passes, she’ll only have to go through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. The state is pushing to move their primary to early March, making it the kingmaker it has always wanted to be.

As Politico points out, her opponents would be hard-pressed to mount the fundraising efforts necessary to blitz the most populous state in the nation with enough juice to derail her. That’s not going to happen unless Mark Cuban or some other self-funded billionaire enters the race. Harris will be the Democratic nominee and the DNC will wholeheartedly embrace her as the Trump-slayer.

And for those benighted jokers who make their selection on the basis of eye candy, she’s a cinch:

Kamala Harris has something to say

Kamala Harris has something to say

For those more obsessive than I:

And hey, if George Clooney does win, the First Lady will suddenly be vaulted into Jackie Kennedy territory. We’ve looked at her once.

Okay, more than once.

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Stepping over the water line

Peter Grant takes umbrage at the current state of the federal flood-insurance program:

Let’s assume that Hurricane Irma will cost about the same as Hurricane Harvey in terms of insurance payouts. That’s $22 billion in total. Let’s assume, too, that the historical average holds, and that about 30% of those claims will be repeat claims from properties that had previously been damaged by flooding. That’s $6.6 billion. That money might as well be poured down the drain … because it’s merely repeating previous repairs. What’s more, if those properties are permitted to reinsure at subsidized rates, we — the taxpayers of America — will be on the hook yet again for future repairs, which are certain to arise when the next hurricane hits those properties.

Proposed solution:

The taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance program should be modified AT ONCE. Those who are presently insured under it should be able to keep their insurance … but for one future claim only. As soon as they make a flood-related claim, the payout should be in the form of a forced purchase of their property, and a razing of any and all buildings on it. The property owner(s) can use the payout to settle any outstanding debts on the properties, and apply the balance to buying or building another home in a less flood-prone area. We, the taxpayers of this country, should no longer be liable for any repeat claims on their former property — otherwise we’re subsidizing failure. We’re subsidizing the repair, cleanup and construction industries, as well as the property owners.

I also propose that any new or replacement construction in flood-prone areas, and any repairs to properties formerly covered by the federal flood insurance program, should be automatically denied access to that program. Those who build or rebuild in such areas should be forced to pay for insurance at commercial rates, which should not be subsidized by the rest of us. Why should we pay for damages that we know are almost certain to be incurred in future? Is that a proper use of our taxes? I maintain it’s not.

This is actually a bit milder than my own thinking, which runs along the same lines but does not allow for even a single additional claim. I would also be amenable to allowing private flood insurance, if you can find someone to write it. The premiums would presumably be higher, but hey, that’s what’s supposed to happen with increased risk.

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Privet in public

Chinese privet, it appears, is the new kudzu:

Chinese privet was brought to the U.S. in the 1800s as a decorative hedge, but it has spread rapidly across the Southeast, now covering more than 1 million acres in Alabama alone. The small, woody hedge has become a major problem here, crowding out native plants in forests, on rights of way and in people’s back yards.

So what’s the deal with Ligustrum sinense and its cousins?

Privet is a successful invasive species because of its ability to outcompete and therefore displace native vegetation. This competitive superiority to native vegetation is connected with the plant’s ability to adapt to different light conditions. For example, in low light environments, privet is able to produce fewer and larger ramets than its competitors. These larger ramets make privet more tree-like, making privet better able to compete for light than its more shrub-like native counterparts. Privet is an ideal invasive species because it reproduces both sexually and asexually. Through sexual reproduction, privet produces seeds that are easily dispersed by wind and animals. These seeds can rapidly colonize disturbed soil such as that perturbed by fires, forest clearings, erosion, or abandoned agricultural land. Privet matures quickly, which allows for a short generation cycle and even greater dispersal. The roots of privet can reproduce asexually through root suckers.

Which makes eradication problematic, because if you don’t kill every last square inch of it, fragments of root will eventually turn into more privet.

Inevitably, it has spread: this privet, and several others like it, have made it halfway across the continent, to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. And none of them are good for insects:

[O]ne study found the abundance and diversity of butterflies increased following privet removal to almost the same abundance as that of a similar forest community, with no history of privet invasion. In a study conducted in Georgia, privet was found to decrease the diversity of native honeybee colonies. Plots removed of privet resulted in four times as many bee species as control plots in which privet was not removed. Traps placed in undisturbed forest plots with no history of privet caught an average of 210 bees from 34 species, while traps placed in privet-infested plots caught an average of 35 bees from only 9 species.

Birds like the little berries, but there’s little nutritional value to them, and the resulting excreta, if it doesn’t land on your car, is likely to produce still more privet.

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You can only outsource so far

At that point, the alternative is to bring the function back in-house while not actually hiring anyone to perform it:

A year ago, the Washington Post introduced Heliograf, an in-house program that automatically generates short reports for their live blog. It was first used during the Rio Olympics to provide information such as the results of medal events for services like Alexa. At that time Sam Han, engineering director of data science, said, “The next challenge is to broaden the subjects covered, deepen the kind of analysis possible and identify potential stories for our newsroom.”

It looks like that day has arrived. Over the past year, the Post has published 850 stories from Heliograf, expanding its reach to include reporting on subject like congressional races and high-school football games.

Um, Mister Bezos, sir, can this thing be trained to write editorials? Asking for a friend in the news business.

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In search of Fairness

Let’s try it this way:


Disclosure: I have never had a beer at the State Fair.

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The size of the universe

Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher, on the bridgeYou remember Dr Crusher, don’t you? Once upon a time, she found herself alone on the Enterprise, while the universe seemed literally to shrink around her. (If you’re keeping score, and of course you are, this was “Remember Me,” season 4. episode 5, of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Turns out that this isn’t necessarily the kind of situation one has to be a member of Starfleet Command to experience.

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