1 April 2004
Good timin'

I have always argued that the reason the popular music of the 1960s is still around is not so much that it's better than music from other decades of that century, but that it's infinitely extensible: unlike hits more obviously tethered to their time and place, the best Sixties tunes have a universal quality to them that keep them going, year after year, decade after decade.

A brilliant example of what I mean popped up today on the Dawn Patrol. Riffing on the opening lines to "Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders ("The purpose of a man is to love a woman/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man"), Dawn Eden seizes on a notion and runs with it:

Now that I think about it, this whole gay-marriage debate would be a lot more interesting if the demonstrators at rallies would communicate only in Sixties pop songs. Homosexual couples could sing "Give Us Your Blessing," mayors eager to marry them could sing "I Know a Place," the arrested-but-defiant Unitarian gay-wed ministers in New Paltz could sing "I Fought the Law," distraught citizens wishing to uphold traditional marriage could respond with "Stop in the Name of Love," and President Bush could drown them all out with "When a Man Loves a Woman."

I've tried to tiptoe around this subject myself, although it's mostly due to morose self-absorption: every girl I've ever had breaks my heart and leaves me sad. Still, I have to admire the ingenuity that went into it, and if you're thinking maybe this is a prime example of rhetorical overkill, well, Mama said there'd be days like this.

How now, Dow Jones?

For the first time since 1999, Dow Jones has shuffled the portfolio that makes up their oft-quoted Industrial Average.

AT&T, International Paper and Eastman Kodak, all of which have been part of the DJIA for decades, will be dropped as of the start of trading 8 April. Replacing them will be AIG, Pfizer and Verizon.

The reasoning, from Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul E. Steiger:

[The changes] recognize trends within the U.S. stock market, including the continued growth of the financial and health care sectors and the diminishing relative weight of basic materials stocks.

Adjustment factors are applied to insure that there is no numerical discontinuity when changes are made to the portfolio; it has been many years since the DJIA was determined by simply adding the prices of those thirty stocks.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:39 AM to Common Cents )
The one where we break a story, maybe

Someone passed to me what is represented as "internal polling from CHS (Cole Hardgrave [sic] Snodgrass)" regarding the Republican candidates for the Senate seat currently held by the retiring Don Nickles. CHS is a real firm, once headed by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK 4) — the other partners are Sharon Hargrave Caldwell and Deby Snodgrass — and while I can't think of any reason why anyone from CHS would leak things to me, I'm reprinting it here just to see what happens.

 40% - Tom Coburn
 25% - Kirk Humphreys
  9% - Bob Anthony
  2% - Linda Murphy

CHS is working on the Humphreys campaign, so they can't be particularly happy about these numbers.

(Linda Murphy, in case you've forgotten, was appointed Secretary of Education in the Keating administration — Democrats in the legislature refused to confirm her appointment — after having run unsuccessfully against Sandy Garrett for State Superintendent.)

Of course, not being a Republican, I can't vote in their primary. I will hazard the following speculations:

(1) I thought Kirk Humphreys was going to shrug off this Bass Pro thing — as Mayor of Oklahoma City, he pushed hard for the $18 million city subsidy to the chain to park a store in Bricktown — until Bass Pro let it be known that they were building a larger store in Broken Arrow, for which they got no subsidy whatsoever.

(2) Bob Anthony, the maverick of the Corporation Commission, may be too much of an iconoclast for Oklahoma Republicans.

(3) The same might be said of Tom Coburn, who has a tendency to resist suggestions that he "go along to get along."

The primary will be held 27 July; a lot can happen between now and then, and this being Oklahoma, something almost certainly will.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:53 PM to Soonerland )
Air mail

An observation to which I can relate, courtesy of Robb Hibbard (31 March, 5:15 pm):

[R]etrieving one's correspondence au naturel adds a little excitement to the venture, plus someone always comes along and offers to throw a t-shirt or something on you.

In my case, a tarp.

But inasmuch as I now live in an older neighborhood and have an actual mail slot in the door, rather than the much-hated (and, in this particular instance, badly-arranged) cluster boxes provided by the Pitiable Hovel, nobody's delicate sensibilities are affected.

Besides, I have no shortage of Ts.

Remembering Timi

Her full name was Rosemarie Timotea Aurro, but by the time they squoze it down to fit on the label of a 45, she'd become Timi Yuro.

The small name, however, was attached to a BIG voice. In 1961, not yet twenty-one, she took a humdrum mid-50s R&B pout and turned it into an event.


How powerful, this voice? Elvis himself cut this tune, and it's still Timi's version you remember.

Timi Yuro sang lots of things. We forget, for instance, that she got the pop hit of Hank Cochran's "Make the World Go Away", two whole years before Eddy Arnold conquered Nashville with it; in between hits, she recorded old standards, folk tunes, and anything else she could fit in. (It helped that she was recording for Liberty, a record company which didn't believe in underutilizing their artists.)

But I'm spinning "What's A Matter Baby" right now, her big 1962 hit, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention.

And my hurtin' is just about over
But baby, it's just startin' for you

Sung and recorded at the very edge of distortion, then remixed by Phil Spector, this may be Yuro's best: the voice is just as big, and the finger she's pointing is even bigger.

Throat cancer, which wouldn't stay put even after they removed her larynx, ended her career; finally, having migrated to the brain, it ended her life this week.

2 April 2004
Buffer zone

Along Southeast 29th Street, north of Tinker Air Force Base, there's a stretch where it looks like something used to be there, but isn't anymore. No mystery, really: development in this area was halted, and existing development actually removed, in an effort to reduce encroachment on Tinker, and to deprive the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) folks of an excuse to close the base. ("You've got houses right along the flight path, fercryingoutloud.")

Apparently even more area is going to be cleared: the Powers Nissan dealership at 8021 SE 29th has been condemned by County Commissioners after Mr Powers balked at their $2.5-million dollar offer for the property. District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth suggests that Powers, who originally had been leasing the property, timed his acquisition to maximize the possible take; he bought the tract two years ago for $2.15 million on the same day as the bond election held to raise money to acquire properties for an expanded clearance zone.

Powers says he'd take the offer right now if he had a place to go, but he's having problems finding a suitable new location. The commissioners want the space cleared off by summer.

Disclosure: I bought a car from Powers' dealership some years ago. Nothing in the transaction suggested to me that there might be weasels in the boardroom; I've always considered them straight shooters.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:21 AM to City Scene )

It's standard operating procedure for public-radio stations, during their semiannual pledge drives, to sound just as mournful and Oliver Twisted — "Please, sir, I want some more money" — as they possibly can.

Even allowing for this tendency, there seems to be a lot more desperation than usual in the voices at our local NPR station, and I'm wondering: could the listeners be responding to the reassignment of Bob Edwards by cutting back their donations?

I may be imagining things — wouldn't be the first time — but I have a feeling that NPR management is going to wind up with low-cholesterol free-range egg on their faces when all this is over.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:45 AM to Overmodulation )
Name that domicile

I have no reason to think I provided any inspiration, but Steve Gigl has decided to name his house.

And, with the ratio of fireplaces to chimneys an inexplicable 3:2, Chimneyhenge hews to a certain perverse sort of logic, don't you think?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:25 PM to Blogorrhea )
The pushing of the Christ

What a visual Donna conjures up here:

Tonight is Audra's play. She plays a leper in Jesus Christ Superstar! She is also in the chorus. I am looking forward to going, mainly because she told me that the guy playing Jesus is somewhat overweight and they struggle to get him up on the cross. The band actually puts down their instruments and helps hoist him up.

Now I'm not a fan of the usual ethereal, wan, almost wussy characterization of Christ that shows up in entirely too much Western art and semi-art, but this adds a whole new, um, dimension to Mark 15:31.

"He saved others, himself he cannot save," indeed.

Addendum: On a scale of 35 to 98, rate the probability that I will burn in hell for this post.

Update, 3 April, 4:20 pm: She went, and she's reevaluated the guy playing the lead:

As it turns out, he was just broad and husky. I had visions of Meat Loaf circa 1976 up on the cross, his big belly obscuring the loincloth. That was not the case. This Jesus was just big-boned.

Still: Meat Loaf? Donna, I'm crazy about you, but you're scaring me.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:32 PM to Almost Yogurt )
3 April 2004
Behind closed doors

You follow the news for any length of time, you quickly pick up on Standard Media Qualifiers. Angry Palestinians, for instance, are generally described as "militants," even in circumstances where "terrorists" might be more appropriate. Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation are usually dubbed "right-wing think tanks." (Left-wing think tanks, of course, are hardly ever identified as such.) And homosexuals who aren't closeted are referred to as "openly gay," a term which, says Laura, rings false:

[I]t seems to me a bit like calling someone openly Jewish or openly a lawyer.

It seems to me that the default assumption about homosexuals, sometime in the last ten years, has switched from being in the closet to being out. It's expected that a homosexual will be openly homosexual, espcially when talking about the younger generations. The closet still exists, of course, but it is now the aberration, and is therefore the state that's deserving of special mention — openness no longer requires it.

Actually, I think this particular media term is intended mostly as CYA: "We're not the ones who outed this person, so don't blame us." And there still being a thriving business in opening the doors to closets despite the wishes of the occupants thereof, I'm not surprised that its usage has persisted.

Now when we start seeing people described as "openly straight," I'll know the pendulum has completed its swing.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:06 AM to Almost Yogurt )
Bread upon the waters

In 1966, H. Richard Lawson graduated from tiny Oklahoma Christian College with a computer-science degree, going on to Purdue for postgraduate work. Lawson Software set up shop in Minnesota in 1975 in the arcane field of enterprise software, and today has grown to 1700 employees worldwide.

And now Lawson and his wife Pat (OC '67) have bestowed upon a much-grown Oklahoma Christian University a gift of 4 million shares of Lawson common stock, presently worth over $30 million, one of the largest gifts in the school's history. OC won't be going on a buying spree, though; most of the money will be allocated to the school's permanent endowment.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:52 AM to Soonerland )
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 to Dyssynergy )
Universal translator

The OkiePundit has identified code words used by Oklahoma politicians of a certain stripe:

"Second amendment Rights" means I'll make sure you get to buy as many lethal weapons as you want and shoot stuff. "Sunday school teacher" means I'm a Christian and I'll push the infidels to the margins of society and let them know this here is a CHRISTIAN nation by God. "Life long resident" means I ain't never gone nowhere and I'll fight to keep our district jus like it tiss. "Traditional marriage" means I hate gays as much as you do and we ain't lettin those perverts do their fornicatin round Oklahoma, by God.

Well, shooting stuff is actually a pretty good use for those "lethal weapons," but the Sunday-school teachers I've met — admittedly a small sample — didn't strike me as particularly interested in marginalizing people. Maybe it's different in Senate District 18, a narrow vee in the spirit of Elbridge Gerry which extends from east Tulsa to a corner of Grand Lake, where the Pundit doesn't actually dwell but did find these terms in a mailing.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:38 PM to Soonerland )
4 April 2004
The legacy of Laci and Conner

Thursday, the President signed into law something called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes injury to a fetus during an attack on the mother a separate crime.

I don't have a particular problem with this measure, but I don't think it will stand up to scrutiny by the Supreme Court either. Rod Dreher, writing in the blog of The Dallas Morning News (they don't do permalinks — see 1 April, 3:50 pm) explains why:

I think that pro-choicers are right to say that this law undermines Roe v. Wade, even though the language of the law permits abortion. It's illogical to say that the mother's preference makes the difference between a form of homicide and a legally permissible act. I think this is probably why SCOTUS will overturn it.

And Dreher sees another controversy, this one local to Dallas, brewing:

We're a pro-choice paper (as far as I know, I'm the only pro-lifer on the editorial board, though I invite others, if they're there, to identify themselves). It's safe to say that I won't be writing this editorial, if we do in fact editorialize on the UVVA. If we come out against the UVVA, I hope y'all have good arguments to explain to the public why when Conner Peterson died, a human being did not die. And if we come out in favor of the UVVA, I hope y'all have good arguments to explain why the personhood of a fetus can only be determined by the decision of its mother. I hope y'all can explain why this is any different, morally, from the 19th-century, when the whims of white people decided the moral personhood of black people. I can see the bumper sticker now: Don't like slavery? Don't own one.

Interestingly, Dreher comments elsewhere (1 April, 3:00 pm) that liberals, at least within earshot of him, complain about how &*%$# right-wing the News' editorial page is. He should hear some of the grumblings about The Oklahoman.

Narrowing the strike zone

It could be argued, I suppose, that California's so-called "Three Strikes" rule is overly expensive, but as Patterico has been pointing out, the price to be paid for letting career criminals back on the street — and it will be paid: the current measure seeking to amend "Three Strikes" [link requires Adobe Reader] calls for every single sentence issued under its provisions to be rethought — is far higher than can be denominated in mere dollars. Why California would even consider such a thing is beyond me.

And one of Patterico's examples is a sexual predator for whom "repeat offender," as a description, is almost wholly inadequate; you might as well charge Saddam Hussein with littering. This character, whose primary target was girls five to seven, has no business ever getting out of prison. I don't know if I'd go so far as Laura, who recommends as a general policy "Nail their gonads to the ceiling and use 'em as a piñata" — for one thing, I don't want to see what pops out of them when they break — but any law which makes it possible for him to be sprung is a law I don't want to see enacted, in California or anyplace else.

How much do I hear?

Let's see. The Bush campaign in 2000 spent $185,921,855 for a total of 50,456,002 votes, which works out to about $3.68 per vote.

Pittsburgh writer Dave Copeland, meanwhile, has put his 2004 vote up for auction. I reasoned that at the very least, there would be a House contest on Copeland's ballot, and since he's a thoughtful sort of person, he probably puts as much effort into researching a Congressional candidate as he would a Presidential wannabe, so I doubled the $3.68 and entered a bid slightly in excess of $7.36.

Oops: someone has already bid higher than that.

At least Dave Copeland has the satisfaction of knowing that his vote, to someone anyway, is worth more than the votes of the rest of us out here in the Teeming Milieu.

(Via The Last Page, who is one of those people who could sell me anything.)

(Well, maybe not turkey bacon.)

Downstairs at the upstairs

It was a lovely sunny day outside: what better time to descend into a dark room in an even darker basement?

Well, actually, it was the last chance to see CityRep's production of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which ran for four weeks to solid reviews and decent attendance. CitySpace, the Rep's 90-seat (more or less) facility, somewhere between five-eighths and four-fifths round, sits under the Music Hall; as a late buyer, I got what might be considered the worst seat in the house, but the sightlines were still good.

By now, the story is out: everyone, or at least everyone likely to buy tickets, knows that 23rd Floor is a just-barely-fictionalized retelling of Simon's experience as a fledgling writer on Sid Caesar's Golden Age variety series Your Show of Shows, the staff of which, when they went their separate ways, would continue to make great comedy. But trying to match up the individual characters with Woody Allen or Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner or Larry Gelbart is really irrelevant; what matters here is the idea, which I endorse wholeheartedly, that trying to be funny will drive you crazy. And Simon's balancing act, just enough pathos to remind you why these people love what they do, is difficult to describe, let alone express, but director Catrin Parker pulls it off deftly. The cast (with two substitutions for "medical reasons") is obviously having a wonderful time, and the only time I felt slightly out of sorts was when I contrasted Simon's words with Dennis Palumbo's (and, rumor has it, some of Mel Brooks') in the 1982 film My Favorite Year, set in, yes, a just-barely-fictionalized version of Sid Caesar's Golden Age variety series Your Show of Shows. Then again, Dick Benjamin's movie didn't have anyone who grabbed at my heart quite as efficiently as Brenda Williams, who plays Carol, the sole female writer on the 23rd Floor staff.

And speaking of grabbing at my heart, I felt a small twinge driving home. High clouds had moved in, but there was still lots of bright. The city had turned on the sprinklers in the parklike center median of Shartel through Crown Heights, and there was a couple, maybe thirtysomething, dashing through the water jets, soaked to the skin, quite possibly having the time of their lives. Alas, I'm short on dash these days.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:22 PM to Almost Yogurt )
5 April 2004
Contemporary methology

Lynn S. heard the big BOOM, and — well, let her tell you:

A short time later three police cars and a fire truck came flying up the road in front of our house. If we were betting folks we'd all be betting it was a meth lab. We don't see any suspicious fire or smoke anywhere though.

Might have been. Meth labs are second only to wind in terms of sheer ubiquity in these parts; a couple weeks ago they found one operating out of a hotel room on Route 66, about three-quarters of a mile from me. Nothing was blown up, but the mere presence of the damned thing was disconcerting. For all I know, there may be another one by now.

The state thinks they can curb the industry — and let's face it, by now it's big enough to be considered an industry — by restricting sales of products containing pseudoephedrine, a common base ingredient in meth. Wishful thinking, say I.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:55 AM to Soonerland )
All you need is cash

I've kept my distance from the current Kos célèbre, generally, but I must point out that there really isn't anything particulary surprising about The Remark: according to various leftist pronouncements, doing anything for money is somehow a little bit unseemly, too capitalist to sit well with people who spent all their intellectual capital on Marxist ideology. Halliburton is reviled, partially because it's an American corporation — its ties to Vice President Cheney are purely incidental — but mostly because it's making money in a war zone.

This notion extends well beyond Iraq, and it's one reason the left is constantly calling for the government to undertake tasks that could just as well be done by the private sector: privatized operations are more interested in the bottom line than in the Good of All Mankind, and the government would never be so tacky as to turn an actual profit. Whether the private firm can do a better job at less expense is irrelevant.

Thus the complaint about "mercenaries." Whether those poor folks met the definition of the word or not, they were working for a private firm, and therefore their deaths should be considered even more meaningless than those of our "real" troops.

Don't get them started on health care. Please.

It's better by half

Ford is coming under fire in Britain for an attempt at viral marketing in which the sunroof of the SportKa minicar, in the process of closing, decapitates a cat.

According to Ford, this campaign and a similar one showing a pigeon smacking into the hood were developed and promptly rejected for reasons of taste; they have no idea how they were leaked to the Net.

Ads for GM's Vauxhall unit have already attacked the Ford spots as "acts of such blatant cruelty in a desperate attempt to sell cars."

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:30 AM to Driver's Seat )
Trust the sforzando, Luke

Syaffolee, on a recent concert appearance by Joshua Bell:

Perhaps the best analogy was one that popped into my head while Joshua Bell was digging vigorously into Ravel's perpetuum mobile, his locks shaking in the light as he jerked his bow and his feet moving intricately as he shifted on stage. He's the classical equivalent of Luke Skywalker in black doing a showdown with Darth Vader. Except he's using the violin instead of the light saber.

Now I'm actually sorry I missed him.

Only one day away

By way of explanation: Rich Appel has a spiffy e-zine called Hz So Good, and for the next, um, cycle, he asked rock critic, liner-note maven and all-around dreamboat Dawn Eden to put together some thoughts about Gene Pitney's 1963 hit "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa." Since I'm somewhere within that radius myself, Dawn offered a copy to me for my own wacky site, and of course I said yes, so here it is.

Gene Pitney "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" by Dawn Eden

The first thing I notice about this song is that Billy Joe Royal or his arranger shamelessly lifted its intro for the intro of "Down in the Boondocks." Neither song is a favorite of mine, despite my appreciation of Royal and downright adoration of Pitney — a masterful songwriter and one of the greatest performers I've ever seen.

This song gets under my skin from the beginning, with Hal David's lyric, "Dearest... darling..." I realize that, compositionwise, it's a great lyric, because it captures the guilt that the protagonist feels in his situation. But knowing that doesn't make it sound any less cloying.

Bacharach and David understood camp, even before Susan Sontag popularized the term. Indeed, this song has a sense of wicked irony that would do Quentin Tarantino proud. It's all in the lyrics' unusual, twisted perspective.

Usually Brill Building songs sung by men were written in such a way that a female listener could pretend the song was being sung to her. This was true of so many of Pitney's early hits: "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," "Every Breath I Take," "Only Love Can Break a Heart." What Hal David did with this song was put the listener in Pitney's place, imagining the risk and delight of succumbing to temptation. The girl to whom Pitney is singing — or, as the lyrics say, writing his letter — is a pathetic dupe, robbed of her eternal bliss by some floozy Pitney picked up at a motel just a few hundred miles down the road.

Even the title "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" is camp. To a pair of hack songwriters (and say what you will, Bacharach and David in 1963 were hacks) in an airless cubicle in the Brill Building, Tulsa was truly down in the boondocks. Those young but already hardened Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, probably visualized the recipient of the protagonist's letter as some blonde Southern belle — maybe the virgin daughter of a wealthy oilman. How funny to think of her soldier-boy beau, returning from duty on some Texas base (for we know those Southerners are too thick to get a college deferment), falling for a streetwalker outside a Red Roof Inn.

Excuse me while I press "skip."

You can read Dawn Eden's daily exploits at The Dawn Patrol; if you'd like a free sample of Hz So Good, write to Rich Appel at audiot.savant@verizon.net.

6 April 2004
That was the year that was

New slogan at Oddly Normal:

Capitalism — improving your world since 1783.

Um...okay. Why 1783? The Treaty of Paris?

Suggestions welcomed.

Here I am, stuck in the middle

Occasionally I complain about clowns to the left of me. Lynn would like you to know about jokers to the right:

[W]e have moonbats here in Oklahoma but, unlike most of the rest of the country they are of the Right-wing variety, not the Left. Now I'm not talking about ordinary Christians here — I'm talking about serious moonbattery. According to these people the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and absolutely anything to do with Halloween is not merely harmless, meaningless fun for the kids; it's Evil. Even if the kids have no idea that the Easter Bunny is really a pagan fertility symbol, having fun with the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts and so forth is still a mortal sin. Nothing. But. Evil! Period. (Come to think of it, just about anything fun is a mortal sin).

There was a flap some years back about a Tulsa Union student alleged to be a witch; for the life of me I can't understand why she didn't turn the lot of them into newts.

Lynn continues:

My theory is that the closer you get to Oral Roberts University the higher the concentration of Right-wing moonbats. ORU is located in Tulsa so there are more RWMb's in Tulsa and the surrounding area. In other words, ORU is to the Right what Berkeley is to the Left.

I remember attending a science-fiction con in Tulsa at a hotel opposite ORU, complete with Society of Creative Anachronism displays on the lawn; passersby, observing the jousting, alternated between appalled and actually frightened. "You'd think," I said, gesturing towards Oral's Prayer Tower, "they'd appreciate the medieval around here."

In Oklahoma City, where I now live, our moonbats work on policy, not on philosophy: the poster child is probably Rep. Bill Graves. Proximity to Graves is probably harmful to one's higher brain functions; fortunately, I don't live in his district, and he'll be term-limited into oblivion soon enough.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:28 AM to Soonerland )
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 to Dyssynergy )
The way they did the things they did

Anyone who has heard me sing (you know who you are) will not at all be anxious to repeat the experience; my voice on its best day can make a turnip weep, and it's been a while since I've had a good day, laryngeally speaking. So some might consider it cause for alarm that I've just taken delivery of six CDs of karaoke backgrounds.

But these aren't ordinary backgrounds by any stretch of the imagination: these are actual backing tracks from Motown hits, played by the genuine Funk Brothers, remixed and remastered by studio wizard Suha Gur. Each disc contains eight tunes in two-track mixes, instruments left, vocals right, perhaps for practice. And then, starting at track 9, the same tunes, mixed for stereo, minus the lead vocals.

If you're wondering why anyone would listen to these discs for any other purpose, wonder no more. Motown production techniques were remarkable for their time, and it simply hasn't been possible to observe them at close range up to now: Berry Gordy's primary interest was the mono singles mix, which he intended to knock your socks off, not to impress you with subtlety and detail. Stereo mixes were generally afterthoughts, and sometimes they didn't bother with them at all.

But since Suha Gur had to go back to the session tapes to produce these tracks, generation upon generation of murk and noise and glop and tape slap and God knows what else have simply disappeared. And without the primary distraction of the lead singer, you can delight in the Funk Brothers' instrumental work. I've got "My Guy" cranked up now, and with Mary Wells out of the room, the interplay between lead guitar and organ, nearly inaudible on the 45, has me grinning from here to there, thinking "Damn, but that's beautiful."

Not every tune comes across as perfectly seamless. In some of the sessions, both background and lead vocals were recorded on the same track, so leaving off the lead required leaving off the background as well. And sometimes a lead, usually Smokey Robinson, drifts in and out of the mix. But as a tool for studying the Sound of Young America, these discs, issued through The Singing Machine Company but not available on their Web site — I got mine from amazon.com — are at least as essential as the Funk Brothers documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. And who hasn't wanted to be Levi Stubbs or Martha Reeves for three minutes?

7 April 2004
Large and discharged

In my neighborhood and a few others, the first Wednesday of the month means Big Junk: this is the day the city makes a separate run to scoop up stuff that won't fit in the standard carts. You're allowed four cubic yards of Big Junk per month; anything over that, they'll pick up, but you'll be billed for the overage.

It's always interesting to see what's been tossed out. In the two blocks east of Surlywood this morning, I spotted flattened cardboard boxes, old furniture, a dishwasher, and about three-quarters of a lawn mower. Some of this stuff may never make it into the truck: scavengers, in between raiding Dumpsters, often make the rounds a few minutes before the city crew. Somehow, though, I doubt any of these, um, informal recyclers would be interested in the tree and a half I dragged out to the curb last night.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:32 AM to City Scene )
Your basic viable energy policy

Bruce grasps something that a lot of our politicians don't:

People are asking what the president is going to do about gas prices. I say, "why should he do anything?" Are we willing to admit that we WANT the U.S. government to create artificial prices in the market. By doing so you only risk prolonging the use of oil for industries that would be better served, long term, by moving to alternatives. Not to mention the consumption of inefficient vehicles based on an unrealistic expectation of fuel prices.

All else being equal, we tend to buy whatever's cheapest, which guarantees that nothing will speed the transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles quite as effectively as high prices for fuel. Your standard statist, claiming to be sympathetic to the plight of the poor or some similar smarm, will pursue policies that, were there one gallon of gas left on planet earth, would require that it be sold for a buck and a half, preferably to someone other than Donald Trump. We don't know for sure how long we will be awash in cheap fuel; the least we can do is enjoy it while we have it, and be prepared to move on when we don't.

Incidentally, prices are off about four cents a gallon in my neck of the woods; the going rate at the name-brand stations is generally $1.599, plus or minus a cent or two. I'm anticipating $1.85 a gallon for the slightly-shorter-than-usual World Tour '04 this summer, which will hurt, but it won't hurt as much as staying home.

Prying open the primary

Oklahoma's primary elections are closed: Democrats vote only for Democrats, Republicans for Republicans. The Oklahoma Libertarian Party, whose membership may be described as "not large," proposed opening their 2000 primary to members of the major parties. The Election Board balked, noting that state law permits them to admit registered Independents, but not members of other recognized parties.

Eventually the Libertarians sued the Election Board; US District Judge Stephen Friot ruled against the party, saying that the law was intended to insure "that the results of a primary election... accurately reflect the voting of the party members." An appeal was filed, and yesterday the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Friot's decision in a 3-0 vote.

Nothing in this ruling mandates that the two major parties have to allow crossover voting, but it's a first step towards opening up the primaries, which I think will prove beneficial to third parties in years to come, especially with the general level of dissatisfaction with the Big Boys.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:41 AM to Soonerland )
Doing the 81

For some of us, the 81 is a dance, dictated by Terpsichore of Philadelphia to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and sung, way back in 1964, by Candy and the Kisses.

For you regular folks, who might wear tennis shoes or an occasional python boot, it's the 81st edition of Carnival of the Vanities, presented this week by Ross White's Leaking Pure White Noise.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:37 AM to Blogorrhea )
At night you will look up at the stars

In 1944, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off from Corsica in a Lockheed Lightning P-38, to photograph southern France in anticipation of an Allied landing, and was never heard from again.

Not until 1998, when a fisherman off Marseilles turned up a bracelet inscribed with the names of Saint-Exupéry and his wife, was there any clue as to the fate of the author of The Little Prince. Two years later, a diver found some P-38 fragments; the French Ministry of Culture organized a salvage team last year, and a plate with the plane's serial number has now been found, verifying that this is indeed where Saint-Exupéry went down, though no trace of his body has yet been located.

Still unexplained is what caused the plane to crash in the first place; there was no evidence that the plane had been shot down or otherwise damaged in flight. And it still perhaps stings that Saint-Exupéry's narrator in The Little Prince, published the year before his deadly mission, was a downed pilot.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:25 PM to Almost Yogurt )
8 April 2004
Futility is resistible

Lynn thinks there's more to the Collective than we've been given to understand:

In spite of the fact that many episodes of Star Trek were obviously intended to make a point, until fairly recently I had never thought of the Borg as anything other than a typical sci-fi plot device: the apparently undefeatable foe who, nevertheless, must be defeated. But then the world got shook up and a lot of people started shouting and, amoung the many things they started shouting about, one was respect for other cultures. So now, I keep thinking I see a political message in the stories involving the Borg and I'm not sure I like it.

Intelligent dialog is not one of the Borg's strengths. "Resistance is futile," and "You will be assimilated," cover almost every situation. I guess when you're the strongest you don't have to talk to anybody. I'm sure someone out there thinks that the U.S. is the Borg. That can be easily dismissed with a bored yawn. Sorry, we've heard the like too many times in the past two and half years. The fact is, we go out of our way to respect other cultures. If I visited Saudi Arabia I could not walk around bare-faced and with several inches of thigh exposed but a woman from Saudi Arabia is free to cover her face when she is visiting the U.S. So exactly who is doing the assimilating?

Let me go on record here as being in favor of exposing several inches of thigh.

Of course, the most startling development in all of the Federation's interactions, so to speak, with the Borg is the fact that once they assimilated someone from France.

But then:

What does assimilation mean? When the Borg "assimilate" another culture that culture disappears completely. They either become Borg, indistinguishable from other Borg, or they are destroyed. But is that really assimilation and is that what we do in America? Or is it just a twisted moonbat fantasy? Does not that which is assimilated become a part of the whole, thus adding to and changing the original?

I vote for "twisted moonbat fantasy." No one is forced to buy clothing at Old Navy or lunch at McDonald's. If people escaping the Third World embrace these American icons, it's because they think it's an improvement over what they're used to. And I suspect they'd bitterly resent being told by some Defender of the Culture in beautiful downtown Berkeley that their choices really aren't freely chosen, that they've been duped into accepting something inferior by the force of the hive mind.

Assimilation American style involves both give and take. Every group that has come to America has added its own bit of spice to the pot. Some people believe that traditional cultures must be preserved intact without any "imperialist" American "corruption." I suppose that makes sense if you're running a museum.

Exactly. Fill the box, seal the edges, open the display for public viewing, and make sure nothing ever changes.

And remember: One's connection to the Borg is through external means. It can be broken. Just ask Seven of Nine. Or, for that matter, Jean-Luc Picard.

Pay to the piper

State Question 676, passed in 1996, limits the increase in assessed value for property-tax purposes to five percent per year.

There are a couple of catches, of course. The actual tax can rise more than five percent, if the tax rate increases. However, since tax increases must be approved by voters, this is less of an issue than it could be.

The other one will hit me this year: if the property is sold or otherwise conveyed, the limitation does not apply, inasmuch as the assessor has to come up with a new set of numbers. Tax bills come out in October. I didn't take possession until the last week of November; at settlement, I paid about one-tenth of the taxes to cover my 36 days of possession for the year. But for 2004, the tax bill will reflect a new, updated, and significantly higher assessment; in subsequent years, the five-percent cap will kick in again.

Assuming the actual rates don't rise, which they haven't in a while and probably won't by October, I'm looking at about a $150 bump in this year's property taxes, which isn't onerous but isn't fun either. The Gods of Escrow will, of course, demand $13 a month to cover the difference.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:25 PM to Surlywood )
9 April 2004
Two cubed

"The average eight-year-old," it says here, is "explosive, excitable, dramatic, and inquisitive."

And that's just the beginning. Eight-year-olds tend to be:

  • Exuberant
  • Eager for praise
  • Observers of adult behavior
  • In high gear
  • Pleased with group learning
  • Analytical — evaluate while learning
  • Imaginative
  • Caught trying to determine limits
  • Talkative
  • Able to see humor
  • Rule bound

All these things you can look for on this very site over the next 365 days: today it's eight years old.

(And looking for them, I hasten to add, doesn't mean you'll find them.)

Update: There's a time line, sort of, in the current Vent.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:02 AM to Blogorrhea )
Horton hears a Ho

I think Lileks is getting tired of the Vietnam analogies:

It's Warholian: in the future, all conflicts will be Vietnam for 15 minutes.

Vietnam was an anomaly. Vietnam was perhaps the least typical war we've ever fought, but somehow it's become the Gold Standard for wars — because, one suspects, it became inextricably bound up with Nixon, that black hole of human perfidy, and it coincided with the golden glory years of so many old boomers who now clog the arteries of the media and academe. A gross overgeneralization, I know. But it's a fatal conceit. If you're always fighting the last war you'll lose the next one. Even worse: Vietnam was several wars ago.

Maybe it's just me, but as a boomer on the cusp of old, I'm inclined to give Nixon a pass, on this matter anyway, and blame this syndrome entirely upon people my age or slightly above who continue to live in the past because they fear they might be irrelevant in the present.

And as fears go — and I've gone with lots of them over the years — this one is as close to guaranteed self-fulfillment as you can get.

The street from hell

Normally traffic accidents, even fatal traffic accidents, fall outside the purview of this site.

But this one, well, it bothered me, mostly because 26 years ago, I actually lived at SE 29th and Vickie Drive, and that intersection was Crash City even then: there's an elevation difference between the two roadways that makes blind spots almost inevitable, and traffic on 29th is always trying to make all the lights, of which there are an abundance. If you're crossing 29th on Vickie, you basically have to climb out of a hole and hope nothing hits you as you crawl across five lanes.

Come to think of it, all the major intersections on Vickie are hazardous. At SE 15th, you must turn: you have to duck under the I-40 overpass for about 800 feet, and wait out at least one, maybe two lights, before you can continue. At Reno, you have a one-way stop sign and a blind spot, and the northbound extension is barely even visible. And at NE 10th, you're fair game for petroleum tankers. (I got crushed by one once, albeit two miles away.)

Back in October, when I was looking to get out of my old apartment, I actually drove the entire length of this street sizing up possible locations. What was I thinking?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:36 PM to City Scene )
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 to Dyssynergy )
10 April 2004
Bits and pieces

Reader and blogger Phil Dennison is a comer and a goer in a six-man band, or would be were it not for the fact that said band in fact contains two women and four men.

Be that as it may, The Fragments, based in northern Virginia, play that sort of jangly pop that charms those of us who remember antiquities like melody and repels those surly folk who see music as a tool to increase their snarliness. They've made some, um, fragments available for download, and what I hear is solid post-garage stuff, somewhere on the continuum between Carolyne Mas and Rachel Sweet, too sharp for bubblegum but not all that Stiff either, basic 4/4 that sticks because you still believe it after all these years. If I ever outgrow this sort of music, go ahead and nail down the lid.

A long and protracted struggle

From the tattered notebook of Kimberly Swygert:

At New York's Kennedy Airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school math teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-Gebra movement. The FBI is charging him with carrying weapons of math instruction.

"Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult," Ashcroft said. "They seek solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of their absolute values. They use secret code names like x and y and refer to themselves as 'unknowns,' but we have determined they have many common denominators with coordinates in every country."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes. Murky statisticians love to inflict plane on every sphere of influence," the President said, adding: "Under the circumferences, we must differentiate their root, make our point, and draw the line."

President Bush further warned, "These weapons of math instruction have the potential to decimal everything in their math on a scalene never before seen unless we become exponents of a Higher Power."

Attorney General Ashcroft said, "As our Great Leader would say, read my ellipse. Though they continue to multiply, their days are numbered as the hypotenuse tightens around their necks."

Actually, I think what Ashcroft finds most frightening is the possibility that binomials, even (yes!) polynomials, might be accepted as legitimate equations.

Way past Uncle Ben

Apparently not everyone on the Left has hopped on the let's-bash-Condi bandwagon. From The People's Republic of Seabrook:

Rice may have the political instincts of Pee Wee Herman (or Niccolò Machiavelli), but no one with any sense would question her intellect or her ability to hold her own in a debate. I suspect [Thursday's] inquisition did nothing to disprove this. Let's give credit where credit is due.

In the meantime, can we all just lay off the cheap Photoshopping and gratuitous insults directed at Rice? I may not support her politics or the man she works for, but no one deserves to have this sort of thinly-veiled racial vituperation directed at her. It demeans all of us. We can do better than this.

Most of the criticism of Dr Rice I've seen has not been particularly racial in nature, except to the extent that any black American public figure who doesn't toe the Jesse Jackson / Congressional Black Caucus line can expect to be criticized.

But I believe we will do better than this, eventually. In fact, I'm counting on it.

11 April 2004
Reunited (and it feels so good)

No prospect is more daunting, I maintain, than meeting up, thirty-five years later, with your first love — and this applies no less when the object of your devotion is purely fictional.

Just over a year ago, I said this:

Next month I have to come to grips with the BBC Films/Independent Distribution Partnership's production of Dodie Smith's late-Forties novel I Capture the Castle, a book I first read in high school and dust off every other year or so just to reacquaint myself with the residents of ruined Castle Godsend and to see if I'm still in love with Cassandra Mortmain. (I tend to be, shall we say, frustratingly constant in my devotion, particularly when it is not returned, which is almost always the case.)

I could boycott the movie on general principle, and there's always the chance that it won't play here at all — after all, they may need extra screens for The Matrix Reloaded — but even if I can avoid the theatrical release, I'll still have to contend with the eventual DVD. Fortunately, the canned synopsis floating around seems remarkably true to the storyline, and the Samuel Goldwyn company, which is distributing the film in the US, has a reputation for picking up the Good Stuff.

Indeed, the film did not play here in the hinterlands at all, and when the DVD was released in December, I ignored it for two months, contrived somehow to have it back-ordered for two months, and when it finally arrived this week, I stared at it for two days, almost afraid to pop the seal, lest all the connections I've made to the book all these years might be disrupted somehow by the visuals. Finally, late last night, I worked up the nerve and started the disc, promising myself I would not spend four minutes out of every five looking for insignificant yet pickable nits.

I'm not writing a detailed review here — for that, I recommend this piece by Seattle's Three Imaginary Girls — but I must state for the record that whatever fears I may have had were unfounded. The castle itself is just what I envisioned; the countryside is classically beautiful (Wales and the Isle of Man stand in for Suffolk); and the cast is well-nigh perfect. It's a talky sort of film, but then these are people who have a lot to say. And Romola Garai brings Cassandra to life in a way I wouldn't have thought possible: not a girl, not yet a woman, struggling with both the cerebral and the hormonal but sworn to do the Right Thing come what may, this is the character for whom I fell so hard so many years ago.

Mere nostalgia? Hardly. In the grand scheme of things, one's first love ranks second among the most important romantic relationships of a lifetime — one's last love, of course, is the first — and Cassandra Mortmain, confused yet resolute, completely fictional yet utterly real to me, contributed as much as anyone to the structure of my life. And in one way, the film version improves on that structure; the book closes with nine words, a triplet spoken thrice, while the film ends with eight: "I love, I have loved, I will love." If the ending is not technically happy, it's not technically the ending, either.

Dodie Smith's book was published in 1948, the same year that C. B. Warr directed the construction of the house which today is mine, a reminder, to me anyway, that what we are doesn't start with when we're born. And life itself is much like I Capture the Castle: even when it's carefully plotted, it's still vaguely out of control. Heady lessons at fifteen; still viable at fifty.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:27 AM to Table for One )
So bright, it's gotta wear shades

There are good and sensible reasons why radio stations quit using cart machines, but like the 8-track decks they superficially resemble, I find them fascinating. (The world today may be digital; some of us remain unrepentantly analog in our thinking.)

Radio guy John Quincy had a spare machine and a bright idea, and he took both to a custom lamp manufacturer, with highly illuminating results:

Custom lamp made from ITC cart machine

Now is that cool or what?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:27 AM to Overmodulation )
You are what you link

From the blog of Congressman Brad Carson (D-OK 2), currently running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Don Nickles:

Today, some of you may have seen the story in the Tulsa World about weblogs (blogs) and some of the controversial things that people say on them. Now, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has sent out a press release bashing me for linking to various sites.

Let me say this: about half the sites I link to are conservative, about half are liberal. They are all interesting reading.

Along this line, I will recommend the following reading material too. For the NRSC's benefit, I will note their political affiliation. Further note to NRSC followers, PLEASE don't read anything that you might disagree with, no matter how brilliantly written.


This might have carried more weight had not the Carson people sent out an email whine about it, which Bill Quick reprinted:

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in an attempt to censor open dialogue amongst 2004 voters, issued an attack release on United States Senate Candidate Congressman Brad Carson of Oklahoma this week.... The NRSC release entitled, "Brad Carson: A-Blogging He Will Go" attacks the Democratic candidate saying:

"On Brad Carson's Campaign Blog, The Candidate Personally Recommends His Supporters Visit The Websites Of Radicals" (Brad DeLong, Daily Kos, Juan Cole)


Observes Quick:

I certainly never would have guessed, two and a half years ago, when I started Daily Pundit... that in such a short time we would see national political figures and parties slamming each other for t