1 July 2004
Getting ova

"Limiting access to the Pill," says this piece in Prevention, "threatens a basic aspect of women's health care."

(And please note that while there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of small-p pills, there is only one Pill.)

The piece is called "Access Denied," and you know it's serious, because Planned Parenthood is involved and because there's a hint of some shadowy anti-abortion cabal Out There Somewhere.

Dawn Eden thinks the piece, written by Caroline Bollinger, is ridden with paranoia:

Bollinger's fearmongering is based upon the presumption that the professionals who refuse to prescribe or dispense birth-control pills are unreasonable people. Like so many secular reporters covering religious topics, she assumes that no intelligent, feeling human being would believe that life begins at conception. One senses in her article the liberal paranoia that President Bush and his appointees, if given the chance, would turn America into an evangelical-Christian theocracy.

But I don't believe that Christians stop working their brains when they start working their faith. I believe that the very same person who would have the faith and courage to take a principled stand on a life issue, would also have the reason to see when it's fair to make an exception.

Even if one day I went to the drugstore and the pharmacist refused to fill my prescription, I still can't imagine being unable to find a pharmacist who would fill it. When one has faith in the reasonable nature of people in general, one does not fear the opinions of a few. The First Amendment, which allows Americans to remain faithful to their religion in the workplace, assures that this nation will not be a theocracy, because it protects the diversity of citizens' opinions and faiths.

The only thing I'd quibble with is in the second paragraph I quoted. I don't think it's implausible that our theoretical pharmacist could accept the possibility of an exception; however, since prescriptions don't necessarily contain the details of why a particular drug is being prescribed, the pharmacist may not have the information needed to make that sort of judgment call.

As for a national movement to outlaw oral contraceptives in general, don't expect it to go anywhere until there's a lot more research on the topic. For the moment, scientists are still perplexed as to how the darn things work in the first place; gauging potential side effects is another matter entirely.

And one larger question looms: Will people turn away from pharmacy as a career if they feel it presents them with an increasing number of moral or ethical questions?

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 to Dyssynergy )
Crazy for the blue, white and red

This neighborhood looks different, but don't think it's subversive; a real-estate guy crept out in the dead of night — and very likely in the middle of a thunderstorm — to plant a small US flag near the curb at every household on the block, and they're still flying happily this afternoon. (In fact, there's probably greater exuberance, since the winds have picked up a bit.)

I'll leave mine up through Saturday, then replace it on the Fourth with a larger flag (obtained, ironically, from a rival real-estate guy), and reinstate the smaller one, probably not so close to the curb, on Monday morning.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:25 PM to City Scene )
The official WT04 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 5 July, and continues for a bit more than two weeks.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you're not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it's awfully damned long, and much of it is through unfamiliar territory.

How long is "awfully damned long"?

The first three of these jaunts averaged about 4600 miles; this one will be slightly shorter, but still around the 4000-mile range.

You've done this three times before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it's good for me to get out of town, and it's good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Will you be blogging every day?

That's the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002 and 2003.

What's the shape of this year's route?

Roughly triangular; the two vertices (I live, of course, at the third) will be Great Falls, Montana and Fargo, North Dakota, which are around a thousand miles apart, but more than a thousand miles from me.

Any unusual destinations along the way?

What on earth does that mean?

You know perfectly well what I mean.

Aren't you supposed to phrase this in the form of a question?

But no, I'm not looking for venues to go, um, skyclad. At least, not specifically.

Is there any chance you'll say "Screw it" and not go home?

I'll certainly go home — unless an opportunity arises that makes it unnecessary to go back to work, in which case all bets are off.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:36 PM to World Tour '04 )
2 July 2004
Tulsatown rebellion

The Midwest Prisoner is not overly fond of the townspeople around him:

[T]he average Tulsan is slightly to the right of Heinrich Himmler and willing to burn them at the stake if they don’t agree with the white, fundamental Christian line.

I'd like to hear Bruce's take on this before I go any further.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:28 AM to Soonerland )
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 to Dyssynergy )
Every day I have to cry some

So sang Arthur Alexander, and if he were like most guys I know, he didn't particularly want you to bear witness to the event — though he wasn't in quite the same amount of denial as, say, Dee Clark:

There must be a cloud in my head
Rain keeps falling from my eye-ye
Oh no they can't be teardrops
For a man ain't supposed to cry

So it must be raindrops. I've counted the tears a few times myself over the years, but seldom did I actually want to be seen crying: the less evidence, the better.

And maybe this is also true of Blossom Dearie, whose "Inside a Silent Tear" is bothering the heck out of Ian at Banana Oil this week.

They craved paradise

And blew up a parking lot.

(Don't it always seem to go?)

(Corrected a transcription error. I can do 1000 words with no problem, but half a dozen and I can't read to save my life.)

3 July 2004
Lesser contenders

All too often, the late Marlon Brando lived up to Terry Teachout's description of him — "a self-indulgent, undisciplined ham" — and Teachout suggests that he occupies a lesser level in the Pantheon than would actors who also took on the task of writing or directing. And in Brando's case, this makes sense; had he been on the other side of the camera, he might have been more disciplined. (The prototype here is Clint Eastwood, whose direction tends to be spare and not even slightly self-indulgent.)

Turn this approach toward music, and you get the post-Beatles/Dylan emphasis on performers who write their own stuff, a phenomenon which R. Alex Whitlock is happy to endorse:

A singer or band is an interpretative artist. But a singer or band that writes their own music are creative artists. No matter how wonderful Faith Hill's voice is, she's singing from someone else's script. She's doing what someone else has planned for her. I can appreciate her vocal talent, but it becomes difficult to connect with the artist herself.

Which makes sense as far as it goes, but then you're stuck with the question of Shania Twain, who does write her own stuff, but who annoys Nashville purists even more than Faith does.

My own bias here comes from two phenomena: the fact that the pre-Beatles pop/rock which informed my early years was written largely by professional songwriters, not by the performers themselves — two words: Elvis Presley — and the fact that songwriters, thanks to their performing-rights agencies, are guaranteed a piece of the financial action, which surely encourages performers to write their own material, however derivative.

What's more, the best recordings by some of our "self-contained" recording artists have a lot of different fingerprints on them: Dylan might still be warbling in front of baristas in Dinkytown were it not for The Band. It's indisputably easier, as Whitlock suggests, to get a handle on an artist who's wearing as many hats as possible; perhaps the difference here is that I'm more interested in finding my own emotional connection to a given song than getting a grip on the artist's intention. Or maybe I'm just being self-indulgent.

Welcome to the jungle

In 1939, Solomon Linda wrote a song called "Mbube," about a lion sleeping outside a village. "Hush," says the lyric, translated from Zulu: "if we're all quiet, there'll be lion meat for dinner." What happens if the lion is awakened — well, Linda didn't go there.

A copy of Linda's recording with the Evening Birds, a sizable African hit, wound up in the hands of American folksinger Pete Seeger, who worked up an arrangement based on Linda's chorus, which he misheard (78s being what they were in those days) as "Wimoweh." African singer Miriam Makeba released a version of "Mbube" herself, which got some notice, but what put the song on the American map was a recording by the Weavers, backed by Gordon Jenkins' orchestra — interestingly, the original label bills Jenkins above the Weavers — which, as "Wimoweh," made the Top 20 in 1952. The group's 1955 Carnegie Hall reunion album contained a live version of the song, which is where Jay Siegel heard it.

At the time, Siegel was the lead singer of a doo-wop group, the Tokens, which was coming off a small hit for RCA Victor called "Tonight I Fell In Love." The Tokens worked up a vocal arrangement of what they'd heard the Weavers sing; Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, staff producers at RCA, were impressed, but noted that it was all chorus and no verse. To take care of this issue, George David Weiss, a songwriter who knew his way around places far beyond Tin Pan Alley — his next project with Hugo & Luigi was the revamping of Giovanni Martini's "Plaisir d'amour" into an Elvis hit — was brought in to gin up some English narrative.

The actual recording, with soprano Anita Darian added to the mix, was decidedly weird; RCA, after pleas from the group (other than Siegel) to shelve it, tossed it onto a B-side, where it might have died, but the A-side (a Portuguese folk song called "Tina") just wasn't as compelling as the Zulu number on the flip, and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a title from Weiss' English lyric, made it to Number One.

Purists, of course, were horrified, and the fact that Weiss' lyric wasn't so far off from Solomon Linda's original impressed them not in the least. The Tokens, of course, cried all the way to the bank.

Solomon Linda's bank account, alas, never saw much in the way of deposits from this song, and his estate — Linda died in 1962 — is now suing for royalties from the single biggest user of the song: the Walt Disney Company, where The Lion King has been a steady moneymaker for years. The suit asks $1.6 million. Others are also deemed to be owing, but for the moment, Disney's pockets are the deepest.

It's possible, I suppose, to grumble about the expropriation of African pop. Miriam Makeba recorded hundreds of songs from Africa, but on this side of the pond she is best remembered for the trifling (if exuberant) "Pata Pata." And Paul Simon's Graceland LP bent all sorts of South African sounds into the service of Simon's elliptical lyrics. Not being any sort of purist, I'm glad to have these sounds over here at all; it would be even nicer were their originators properly compensated.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:26 PM to Tongue and Groove )
4 July 2004
John Adams explains it all

Of course, it was the second of July, that fateful year of 1776, when the Continental Congress decided to sever their ties to Britain; however, the full-fledged Declaration of Independence was dated the fourth, and that's the date which we celebrate.

And there is indeed much to celebrate. John Adams, in a letter to his wife on the third, had predicted there would be:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.

Adams was indeed prescient, except for that little matter of the date. We'll forgive him for that, and we'll applaud him for this:

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend those States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

Nobody said this business of freedom was going to be easy. And the eventual Constitution acknowledged as much: that business about forming "a more perfect Union" doesn't imply that we've already achieved perfection, only that we're going to work at it.

And so we do, well into our third century.

Also on the birthday roster

Today my son Russell is twenty-three, an age where I distinctly remember thinking, "Aren't things supposed to start making sense about now?" They are, and yet they aren't; by now, the wackyness of adolescence is starting to disappear, and it's replaced by — what? The transition from party animal to family man doesn't happen overnight, and the period of adjustment takes longer than either of us ever imagined. (Okay, I wasn't much of a party animal, but you get the idea.) It's nothing he can't handle, though. While he seems to have picked up my mannerisms and penchant for nonlinear thinking, he's also got his mother's bulldog tenacity, which is proving to be far more useful. His life is securely anchored; all he has to do now is determine how to best to navigate.

In the next office over, someone is twenty-three and then some (never mind how many) today. Your basic Oklahoma farm girl, her wants are simple, and her emotional baggage, so far as I can tell, is confined to one small carry-on piece. Incredibly sweet and mostly even-tempered — in other words, the exact opposite of me — she really deserves better than this tedious workaday existence. I don't know when, exactly, but I'm convinced someday somebody will walk up to her and say something like this:

It's not much of a spread — a few acres, just enough of a crop to sell and a little left over to feed the livestock — but it's mine, and someday I want it to be ours.

And the floodgates will open and she'll rush into his arms and they'll live happily ever after and I'll find out once and for all if I'm going to miss her as much as I think I will.

Universal dystopia

Aesop wrote of a dog who had plopped himself down in a manger, making it impossible for the livestock to eat; in fact, the miserable son of a bitch growled and barked at any animal who dared approach. There was no discernible benefit to the dog, but he wasn't about to give up his position for anything.

"Totalitarian states," says Francis W. Porretto, "are implicitly doomed by their own rigidity." Aesop's dog, if he stayed indefinitely in the manger, would starve to death; something likely just as final and probably just as stupid awaits the SOBs running hellholes like Iran and North Korea.

But Porretto isn't through with this idea yet:

[S]uch a State, captained by sociopathic madmen, might have decided to take the whole world to Hell with it. Isn't a version of that what we're worried about in North Korea and Iran?

And what fresh Hell is this? See Porretto's short story The Last Ambassadors.

Things I learned today (4)

And after all, learning is the most enjoyable part of living, or so I've heard.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:56 PM to Blogorrhea )
5 July 2004
Last entry from home base

For the next two weeks at least, we're on the road. Watch this space for sporadic updates.

Plain but not simple

Colby, Kansas — 423.7 miles

When George Nigh was Governor of Oklahoma, he envisioned a Northwest Passage, a road that would carry people from the capital all the way into the Panhandle. The question of whether anyone actually wanted to go to the Panhandle for some reason never came up.

But unwilling to do the usual I-35/I-70 two-step on the way into Kansas, I decided to see just what sort of road we wound up with, and it's actually not so bad, though it's a bit confusing when two or three US routes (plus Oklahoma 3, which was the original northwest-to-southeast route) are signed on the same darn road. There's lots of time to think about it, though, because there aren't any distractions by the side of the road. Cattle, crops, more cattle, the occasional natural-gas pipeline — this is it through the rolling hills of the High Plains. Until, of course, you get to Kansas and they stop rolling.

Some might consider this landscape sort of bleak, its colors muted almost to greyscale, the sort of Kansas that Dorothy Gale wanted to escape. And indeed, this is where you'll find Dorothy's house, in the grimy industrial burg of Liberal.

And as a city slicker, sort of, and in the absence of Star Trek-style replicators, it's useful for me to remember that if it weren't for people working in those fields, I wouldn't get dinner tonight. It will be a long time before places like this look suburban, and the transition won't be a smooth one; the Burger King in Woodward, Oklahoma sits literally in the shadow of a grain elevator.

Bumper sticker on an 18-wheeler near Watonga, Oklahoma: I WANT TO BE LIKE BARBIE. THAT BITCH HAS EVERYTHING.

And as I passed Poky Feeders in Scott City, Kansas, I admit it: I yelled "Eat, dammit, eat!"

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:33 PM to World Tour '04 )
6 July 2004
Not bluffing

Scottsbluff, Nebraska — 733.7 miles

First, the nomenclature:

Scottsbluff, the town: one word.

Scotts Bluff, the county or, well, the Bluff: two words.

I'm sure everyone here has already mastered these fine details. (Duh.)

And who the hell was Scott? His first name was Hiram, he worked for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and they found his remains in the vicinity back in 1829.

I was beginning to think someone would have to find my remains today. In an effort to throw some variety into this year's version of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, I took off into Colorado and threaded my way up US 385, a road which for years has jumped out at me from the maps and yelled "Aren't you wondering why there's nothing here?" Well, it's not nothing, but through northeastern Colorado and the Nebraska Panhandle, it's not much either. I can understand why towns like Burlington and Julesburg insisted on the alignments they did, so that unless you're a local and know the tricks you have to take the business route through town; small towns need all the help they can get these days. On the other hand, the perfectly charming little town of Wray didn't pull this stunt, but its toad-in-the-hole topography makes it impossible to miss anyway.

And 385 does go somewhere: Rapid City. But not very rapidly, I'm sure.

I'd have to check the maps to see how many times I crossed back and forth between Central and Mountain time today. Lunch wound up being at 1:30 Mountain; props to Shari's, apparently a popular Northwest chain but one which I've never seen before. It seems that Scottsbluff is their farthest-East outpost. If only there'd been a Shari's when Hiram Scott came through — but never mind.

(Time posted is in Central, mostly because I'm really too lazy to keep changing it.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:51 PM to World Tour '04 )
7 July 2004
Wyoming around

Sheridan, Wyoming — 1096.8 miles

Let's hear it for fossil fuels.

I've never seen so many trains in my life, and while some of them are hauling farm implements on flatcars, or boxcars full of grain, most of what I've seen has been hoppers of coal. And since US 26, my route out of Nebraska, runs parallel to the tracks, I got to see plenty of them on the way. (Back home, of course, the predominant fuel for power plants is natural gas, and some of us actually pay for that renewable wind stuff, but out here, if coal isn't king, it's at least the ten of clubs.)

Wyoming is remarkable, anyway: it's quite a bit larger than Oklahoma, but has fewer people than Oklahoma City. And it's almost the same shape as its license plates. (As is Colorado, but let that pass.) Towns tend to be few and far between, which explains much why I paid two bucks a gallon for 88 octane in the hamlet of Kaycee, a long way from Jay Em and indeed a long way from anywhere, but a spiffy sort of place if you have any peripheral interest in the Old West.

Sheridan, of course, positions itself as a tourist trap, but besides its gateway status, it has lots of neat stuff, including an actual Bucky Fuller-style geodesic dome, not unlike (but in better shape than) the one along 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. And for those of us who get entirely too much thrill sliding along two-lane roads barely glued to the mountainside, there's US 14 to the east.

An actual case of too much thrill came on I-90 earlier, though: a bit of dicing among two pickups, two eighteen-wheelers, and yours truly, trying to make enough holes for everyone at 85 mph, when up comes the reason for the bottleneck. It was a pickup from a beer distributor, hazards flashing, doing 45 at the outside, and as I passed too close I found out why: the Fates, a passing truck, or incredible bad luck had dropped something into the windshield heavy enough to have turned it into glass fabric, with barely enough adhesion left to keep it from blowing into the poor fellow's face. Rule One under these conditions, of course, is "Get away from the hazard," so I sped up and disappeared into the distance. Those of you who know my car know that it's a modest little sedan with an engine displacing a mere 1991 cubic centimeters; if you're curious, second gear at 87 mph does not reach redline.

(Hmmm. Maybe I should have called this "Two Liters Across America.")

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:49 PM to World Tour '04 )
And a brief timeout...

...to let you know that the Carnival of the Vanities goes on without me, and the 94th edition is hosted by democrats give conservatives indigestion, and there's lots of good stuff to read while you wait to see what happened when I ran into Dave.

Besides, the just-shy-of-extortionate rate I'm paying for this room includes a connection to the hotel LAN, so I may as well do something with it.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:22 PM to Blogorrhea )
8 July 2004
Way up north

Great Falls, Montana — 1509.2 miles

I was hoisting a couple in Scooter's last night, and a chap from Yukon, Oklahoma (!) who knew this part of the world well advised me that I-90 was about as unattractive a route as one could find in Montana.

Which, of course, it is, but this is true of Interstates in general; Charles Kuralt once noted that thanks to the Interstate system, it is now possible to drive from coast to coast without seeing anything. Still, I-90 got me to Billings, which is a sort of neat town, though you'd never know it if all you had to go by was the view from I-90. (Tulsa has a similar problem, and Oklahoma City, pace Bobby Troup, isn't at all "mighty pretty" from the highway.)

Fortunately, there was a two-lane to take the bad taste of I-90 out of my mouth; in fact, the roller-coaster ride that is US 89 through the Lewis and Clark National Forest managed to leave me fairly gasping for breath. Apart from the wild variations in altitude — Big Baldy Mountain, which one gets to circumnavigate, or graze, or something, climbs to a lofty 9100 feet — there's the classic mix of tight turns, narrow roadway, and theoretical high speed limit. Add to this Belt Creek, which runs (and runs fast) along the side of the road, giving you something to drown in when you fail to make the curve, and the occasional roadside memorial as a reminder, and you've got the makings of some serious scare. If anything, I owe the guy in front of me in the F-250 with the camper shell; he was going through these with surprisingly little difficulty for a big, tall, tippy truck, and the need to keep my distance prevented me from taking curves posted at 45 mph faster than 60.

Thank you. I'll be here through Friday night.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:59 PM to World Tour '04 )
Entering the Dave Zone

So what's it like to run into the likes of me?

Something like this.

(Personal to V.: He's sane, but he's not obsessive about it.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:27 PM to World Tour '04 )
9 July 2004
Really good falls

I don't know if I'd call them Great Falls, but the Missouri River, splashing through town, is definitely gravity-driven, and Lewis and Clark were by all accounts duly impressed, and these days Montanans revere Lewis and Clark.

I'd also assume they're somewhat fond of gambling. Steakhouses have slots; service stations have slots. On the assumption that Dave Thomas would never have countenanced such a thing, I peeked into a Wendy's, and found no slots. I did, however, find a birthday party for a ponytailed young lady, and a small convocation of Christian bikers.

And really, this juxtaposition fits perfectly into Western tradition, where what you did was more important than who your relatives were, and while the West is no longer quite as Wild as it used to be, you can still see traces of its wildness, even in a meticulously-neat town like Great Falls, planned by Paris Gibson in an orderly, almost Minnesota-like fashion. It surprised me not at all to find that Mr Gibson originally hailed from St Paul.

The other towering figure in local history was Charles M. Russell, who came to Montana from St Louis, Missouri, consumed with the idea of becoming a cowboy. A good cowhand, he became a superlative artist, documenting the last days of the Old West right up until his death in 1926. His Great Falls home and studio are still standing, as part of a C. M. Russell Museum complex.

One of the first things I noticed when I got here was the Maple Leaf flying on the fourth flagpole at the hotel. Canada is actually pretty close by — less than 120 miles up Interstate 15 — and I'll be approaching the border more closely during the next couple of days.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:38 PM to World Tour '04 )
10 July 2004
Out of the mountains

Williston, North Dakota — 1972.3 miles

When they assigned so-called "US" highway numbers back in the Jurassic period, east-west routes got even numbers, and the numbers increased north to south. Highway 2, therefore — there is no "US 0" — would presumably be the farthest north, and generally it is; the western leg of US 2, which runs 2100-odd miles from Everett, Washington into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is pretty close to the 49th parallel. Which gave me an idea: since the major failing of "oldies" stations is the overfamiliar playlist, I opted to track down a Canadian station, assuming that Canadian content rules would at least expose me to some hitherto unknown tunes. And it worked, to some extent: for instance, I'd heard of Edward Bear — their "Last Song" was a big hit in the US in 1972 — but I'd missed "Masquerade," an earlier song that had made chart noises in Canada but not down here. While I might disagree with the premise philosophically, today I was a fan of Canadian Content, and thank you, CHAB, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Almost a third of those miles on US 2 are in Montana; in fact, the last milepost in the state is Mile 667. If there's a post for Mile 666, I didn't see it, and believe me, I looked.

I did see, however, some signs touting a highway-improvement measure billed as "4 for 2," which would expand US 2 to a four-lane road. Not being a Montana resident, I couldn't tell you whether this is a good idea or a bad one, but traffic this Saturday didn't come close to filling the two lanes that exist.

And then back into Central Time and into the spiffiest hotel in Williston, North Dakota. It's small but cozy, and what's more, it has a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:31 PM to World Tour '04 )
11 July 2004
Against the grain

Jamestown, North Dakota — 2337.3 miles

Around the end of May I made some noise about someday driving US 52, an odd diagonal route that slashes across the States 45 degrees out of phase. One end of it is in downtown Charleston, South Carolina: in fact, I used to catch the bus after school from where 52 (which was Meeting Street) crossed Calhoun Street. I've driven it as far north as Florence, which isn't any great shakes, but now I've seen the other end, which is on the Canadian border, separating the town of Portal, North Dakota from the town of North Portal, Saskatchewan. There's not much on this side of the border crossing, and there was no activity this Sunday morning. On the other hand, it didn't look like a really good idea to be seen taking pictures of a border crossing, lest Tom Ridge have to dig into his box of Crayolas.

52 angles southeastward through Minot and joins I-94 at Jamestown, which boasts, among other things, the World's Largest Buffalo, constructed in 1959 for some sort of bisontennial celebration. What I didn't find around here was any mention of someone I assumed would have at least some sort of shrine downtown, the late Norma Deloris Egstrom, who reminds you that chicks were born to give you fever, be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

And speaking of the latter, of course Canadian radio gives the specifics of the weather report in the metric system; it was a chilly 12 in Estevan this morning, while over here in North Dakota it was an equally chilly 54 following a brief early-morning thunderstorm.

The definition of "early," I suppose, is flexible: sunrise is about 6:10 am in these parts this time of year, about fifteen minutes earlier than what I'm used to. On the other hand, sunset isn't until almost 10 pm.

And if Montana is sporadically wild and woolly, North Dakota is placid. To those people who demand excitement in their lives, it might even be soporific. But I looked at those mostly-green fields today and I found myself wondering: what is it with these people who want to live their lives in some sort of rabid rabbit warren, right on top of one another, constantly on the move? Maybe I'm just getting older, but right now I can appreciate the virtues of a place which isn't going to grow 40 percent — maybe not even 4 percent — in the next twenty years.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:45 PM to World Tour '04 )
12 July 2004
A river runs through it

Fargo, North Dakota — 2628.0 miles

A Red river at that, and while those of us who occupy the southern tier of the Plains insist that our river is the truly Red one — see, that Oklahoma clay is good for something! — the Red River of the North isn't some somnolent stream that winds its way between North Dakota and Minnesota because it doesn't have anything better to do. And while it seemed calm enough today, it wasn't so long ago that the city of Grand Forks had it up to here with the Red River.

I remembered the news coverage back in '97, but I had to see for myself: when the river crested at 54 feet — flood stage is a mere 26 feet — did it destroy the heart, the soul, of the city?

No way, Don José. Seven years after the fact, Grand Forks is glorious and, well, grand; I made just enough wrong turns through town to see quite a bit of the place, and it's clean, green, and (I hope) prepared for the next Flood of the Century. And as I passed over a bridge into Minnesota, I glanced down into that still, silent water and thought, "Sneaky bastard."

Upstream in Fargo (the Red flows north, ending up in Lake Winnipeg), things weren't quite so bad. But the biggest little city in North Dakota was already in the process of reinventing itself. As James Lileks once said:

[A] funny thing happened to Fargo during the 1980s and '90s — the area started booming and never found a reason to stop. As the rest of North Dakota emptied out, people came to Fargo for the clean-fingernails jobs: insurance, hospitals, banking.

And to support them, a lot of fingernails were, and are, getting seriously soiled doing major construction. I have yet to see more than a small fraction of the city so far, but I had Lileks' article in mind as I crossed through town, and he's not at all kidding about the boom: there is so much activity in so many places you could almost sell this town as the home version of Faust. (Add your own blast of demented, tormented heat.)

Does this make Lileks the Midwestern Mephistopheles? Probably not. But note: friends and neighbors in the Okay City plan weekends in Branson, excursions to Vegas, trips to Padre. I spend half a week in North Freaking Dakota. And frankly, I think I'm getting the better end of the deal.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:46 PM to World Tour '04 )
Thanks, I'll eat it here

Two words: Famous Dave's.

Although to avoid situations like this, I directed all my remarks to a large, burly gentleman.

(There's one in Tulsa now. Surely it's just a matter of time....)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:40 PM to World Tour '04 )
13 July 2004
At the very edge of civilization

Tom Isern is a professor of history at North Dakota State University, a couple of miles from my temporary perch in Fargo, and basically, he's had it up to here with doomsayers:

North Dakota now holds in eastern perceptions the position held by Kansas in the 1890s and Oklahoma in the 1930s — a gray place on the plains abandoned by anyone with any youth or gumption left. I get calls from reporters all the time (the last one was from Japan) asking where they can go to find the most human tragedy in the least amount of time and space. They have their lists of things to cover: abandoned churches and schools, dusty main streets with stores boarded up (preferably with a yellow dog lying about), old people reminiscing about the good old days, young people complaining there’s nothing to do here.

The writers also all have their pat explanations for regional decline — big farm machinery, fast cars, harsh climate. They are strong on description, but their explanations are clueless.

Not that it would ever occur to me to tell you that North Dakota is doomed. Yes, the rural areas of the state are declining in population; the same thing is happening in most of the other forty-nine. And while it's very easy to issue romanticized pronouncements about the family farm, the fact is, we don't need millions of folks to work those farms anymore; what determines the quantity of farm production these days is not the number of available field hands, but the unsteady balance of market economics and government subsidies.

And I don't believe for a moment that having a population of ten per square mile, as North Dakota does, is some sort of tragedy. (Oklahoma has around fifty; factor out the two largest metro areas and the figure drops into the twenties, with Lawton, about the same size as Fargo, as the largest remaining city.) Maybe it's inevitable that a place called the Peace Garden State is going to be rather sparsely populated. But I figure that the people who live here are ingenious enough to keep themselves afloat; after all, they manage to get by without voter registration just fine, and this is the sort of independent streak that usually means a finely-tuned survival instinct.

I talked to at least half a dozen Fargonians (if that's the term) today, generally with kind words for the place, and always with the qualifier: "Of course, this is July. Had I arrived in February, I might think different." All of them understood, but none took umbrage, and the general impression I got was "Yeah, we have horrible winters, but so what else is new?" Not that Oklahoma in February is particularly wonderful. And given the delights of a July in Fargo — people are all over the place, while back home in the Okay City everyone is indoors cranking up the air conditioning — it might be worth enduring that February. It is, after all, three days shorter. Usually.

When Dave left Oklahoma for Montana, he didn't announce that he was never coming back. But once he got into the Great Falls groove, living anywhere else just seemed, well, silly. I saw some of that during my brief stay in Montana; I'm seeing the same sort of thing in North Dakota. Not everyone can live here — not everyone should live here, perhaps — but the place has its rewards, if you know how to look for them.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times evidently doesn't:

It sounds cruel to say so, but towns like Rawson are a reminder that the oversettlement of the Great Plains has turned out to be a 150-year-long mistake, one of the longest-running and most costly errors in American history.

Ten per square mile — a figure which has remained more or less constant for more than half of those 150 years — doesn't constitute anything resembling "oversettlement."

What Kristof wants, as it turns out, is the Buffalo Commons, the entirety of the Great Plains turned into a giant theme park, a vacationland for lawyers in love. If Bismarck and Pierre and Helena don't sneer at this, well, they should. Tom Isern does:

At the heart of this consensus is the conviction that human civilization has failed on the plains. People failed, and they left. This leads to a logical conclusion: the plains are empty of people whose wishes need be taken into consideration. The region is a frontier again, a place in need of a plan. So all sorts of people from distant places propose their plans.

Me, I like North Dakota just the way it is.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:29 PM to World Tour '04 )
14 July 2004
Ninety-five

Interstate 95, so far, is my least favorite thoroughfare in the Eisenhower system: it's not especially thorough, particularly around the Delaware River, and the fare will eat you alive.

Conversely, Carnival of the Vanities #95, brought to you by Josh Cohen's d-42.com, has redeeming social value and your weekly minimum requirement of bloggy goodness, all rolled into one. Tell 'em Tom Sawyer sent you.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:33 PM to Blogorrhea )
And even more Dakota

Pierre, South Dakota — 3026.9 miles

Which, I hasten to add, is pronounced "Peer"; I was sufficiently proud of myself for remembering this at the South Dakota tourist-info booth that it didn't occur to me to check the pronunciation of towns like Watertown. (Hey, you never know.)

The transition between the Dakotas is not abrupt. In eastern South Dakota, farmland predominates, while ranching rules in the West, pretty much the way it is in North Dakota. This far south, the line of demarcation is somewhere along the Missouri River, which is about half a mile from where I'm parked right now. The city of Pierre is built more or less onto the side of a hill overlooking the river, and some of these streets are seriously steep. Outside the city, it looks like the sort of place where they'd film Dances with Wolves, which in fact it is.

Rest areas cost money, and roadside parks usually have just a couple of picnic tables and a trash can. South Dakota splits the difference by equipping roadside parks with actual outhouses. To the extent that an outhouse can be said to be up-to-date, these are; there are proper seats, and someone comes by once in a while to install a new roll of paper. I didn't attempt to measure the, um, drop distance, but it's considerable.

Speaking of drop, the official elevation at Pierre is 1490 feet, which is quite a bit lower than I'd anticipated, what with the Badlands being just beyond the river and all, but still 600 feet higher than Fargo (and 250 feet higher than Oklahoma City). This hotel has a couple of curiosities: hot tubs in some upstairs rooms, and Internet access via the AC power lines. And what would life be without curiosities?

Weird Radio Promo: KPFX-FM in Fargo-Moorhead, imaging as "The Fox," does a commercial-free hour with no DJ announcements weekdays from 9 to 10 am, during which time they, um, Shut The Fox Up. (Of course, they did say that three or four times.)

And it's "Watertown," just like it looks, in case you were wondering.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:10 PM to World Tour '04 )
Ain't ya got no culcha?

Well, maybe. Driving around the country has cut into the time available to calculate my personal Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index, but for those who care, it's 49.5 percent.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:30 PM to Almost Yogurt )
15 July 2004
Verily, upon the cusp

North Sioux City, South Dakota — 3334.1 miles

I got your Tri-State Area right here, pal: while Sioux City (airport symbol SUX) is in the northwest corner of Iowa, North Sioux City is in South Dakota — and South Sioux City is in Nebraska.

This means, of course, that I've been in South Dakota all day, and of course I have tales to tell.

Last night I was in Pierre, a pleasant-enough town on one side of the Missouri River, in the Central time zone. This morning's first few miles brought me to Fort Pierre, a pleasant-enough town on the other side of the Missouri River, in the Mountain time zone.

And one of the more interesting stories about this area that does not relate in any way to Lewis and Clark comes from Fort Pierre. Back in 1743, two brothers, Chevalier and Louis la Verendrye, chatted up the natives and informed them of their desire to commemorate the event by burying a lead tablet containing the details of their meeting. The natives couldn't read French, so they had no way of knowing that the Verendrye brothers were actually claiming the area in the name of Louis XV of France, and indeed this area was included in the Louisiana Purchase, the deal between the French and the nascent United States sixty years later.

In 1913, the plate was dug up, apparently quite accidentally, by local students; it's now in the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center across the river in Pierre. A small monument to the Verendryes stands on the hill overlooking Fort Pierre where the plate had been buried; French diplomacy, you may be assured, continues in the same tradition.

I was somewhat put off by the discovery that interspersed among the Wall Drug signs by the roadside were signs advertising the Wall Drug Web site. Somehow it's not the same, unless they've figured out how to make ice water downloadable.

On the subject of radio advertising, I note with some bemusement that Tom Daschle's political spots are paid for by "A Lot of People Supporting Tom Daschle Committee," which, while very probably true, sounds even sillier than it looks.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:27 PM to World Tour '04 )
16 July 2004
Westward movement

Independence, Missouri — 3689.2 miles

Actually, my movement today was more or less southerly. What moved was a teensy star break near the right edge of the windshield, the result of a bit of flying debris somewhere in Wyoming. Inasmuch as it exactly resembled the last one of these I got, three years ago, I opted to leave it alone and have it fixed when I got home.

Bad mistake. This morning the little so-and-so waited until I was safely out of town and tried to expand on its little asterisk of destruction. There was nowhere to go on the right side, so it started spreading leftward. By the time I'd done 30 miles, it had grown to two inches; by 75, it was fully a third of the way across the glass.

Inasmuch as the break is not yet within my line of sight, I'm not really upset, but I'm going to have to pony up for some new glass. First estimate I got was about 60 percent of my insurance deductible.

That aside, US 75 south of Sioux City is a good low-level thrill ride, at least until you've passed the two reservations. I wandered onto Omaha's north side, which offered an unexpected historical reference: a house on Pinkney just west of the Belt Line Railway turns out to be the birthplace of Malcolm X. And after days of gawking at babes of Scandinavian extraction, it's probably about time I shifted back into a more, um, diverse mindset. Omaha's west side, your basic suburban sprawl writ large, completed the task, although getting there required me to run through midtown, where I noted the presence of a pavilion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center bearing the inspirational name Storz.

And from there into Kansas City, where none of the streets actually go anywhere but it's so damned much fun to drive. Or would be, if you didn't have to share those streets with all those other drivers. And they're probably still out there, long after I've checked into a room for the night.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:34 PM to World Tour '04 )
17 July 2004
Surrounded by youngsters

Which is an improvement over last night's hotel room, which was perfectly nice except for its utter lack of air conditioning: it would work for half an hour or so, and then trip the circuit breaker, which prompted a call to the front desk, who dispatched someone to look at the system, after which it would work for half an hour or so, and — well, you get the idea. This wouldn't have been an issue, perhaps, except that the room opened out into the pool area, which means that humidity seemed to be somewhere in the 140-percent range. Nice place, but a tad disorganized; I will look elsewhere next time I need a room in this part of the world.

And for the next night or two, I'm crashing at my daughter's place; during this time, I will look over some of her more outrageous wedding plans, observe my son's band (which practices in her garage) in action, and reacquaint myself with the grandchildren. (As the saying goes, had I known how much fun the grandkids would be, I'd have had them first.)

The crack in the windshield has turned slightly northward, which may or may not mean it's going to stop creeping toward the driver's side. At any rate, I'm not going to have it looked at here; I would be most annoyed if I replaced the windshield and then caught some stray gravel during the last few miles home.

Did I mention my son has a band? Minus their vocalist, who's out with some unspecified ailment, they're making some serious semi-metallic noises as I type. (I don't think they're quite ready to be compared with Metallica or anything, but then they've never sued a download service either.) And it's eerily quiet when they stop.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:03 PM to World Tour '04 )
18 July 2004
In the Forbidden Zone

I've traveled to forty-two states and a handful of foreign countries; I've driven enough miles to reach half a dozen times around the world. Even in the cases where I can't say "Done that," I can still often say "Been there." But nothing between here or there can prepare the unsuspecting male — and I suspect less than most — for a hall of mirrors, lined with organza, fueled by estrogen.

I refer, of course, to the bridal salon.

For some inscrutable reason, my daughter wanted some input from me in the process of selecting her wedding dress. Inasmuch as her mom was already booked for this task, I definitely felt like the third wheel on this particular axle, but far be it from me to shy away from a Parental Duty, even one for which I am ill-prepared. Interestingly, the ex and I were in almost total agreement on the four gowns being tried, which surely is a first. (There was a disagreement on the tiara, however.) And I was at least possessed of enough presence of mind not to yell things like "Six hundred dollars for this?"

No matter. In the best of all possible worlds — and in the weird wonderland of weddings, that's the only world that's permitted to exist — all brides are beautiful, and all brides are entitled to look like a storybook heroine. And after a bit over an hour of Deep Immersion, I'm inclined to think that the bridal salon, in its dedication to these premises, is probably doing us a favor, albeit a short-lived one: if today is, as the phrase goes, the first day of the rest of your life, why not look like a fairy princess for that day? Real Life™ will intrude soon enough.

It will start intruding on me again rather quickly; barring catastrophe, I should be home late tomorrow.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:33 PM to World Tour '04 )
19 July 2004
Enough already

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 4088.0 miles

For a trip that was supposed to be a couple days shorter, it certainly didn't seem like it; then again, it's usually about day 14 or 15 when the serious fatigue starts to set in, and, well, this was day 15. And while it's certainly a good thing that Oklahoma is actually fixing some of the more heinous sections of I-35, it's also the sort of thing that slows one down on the way home.

Still, I can't complain. Apart from the windshield (still unfixed) and some small items for the kids, this trip cost a mere $1575, about two-thirds of last year's tab despite markedly-higher fuel prices.

This year's data:

Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 139.0
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 29.5
Worst tank, in mpg: 27.4
Best tank, in mpg: 31.7
Fastest speed attained, in miles per hour: 91
Number of emails accumulated: 855
Number of which I actually had some reason to read: 126

And no Toll Report: I didn't spend one dime on toll roads this year.

I would like to acknowledge the kind participation of the following:

Dynamo Dave Sherman, my guide to the Treasure State and a treasure in his own right;

Gate City Bank, West Fargo, North Dakota;

Wash Tub Laundry, Vermillion, South Dakota;

River City Glass and Mirror, Omaha, Nebraska;

Fate Unknown, Jackson County, Missouri.

And to the next generations — Rebecca, Rob and Nick; Russell, Alicia and Laney — lots of love, and thanks for putting up with the old man.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled tedium.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:15 PM to World Tour '04 )
Not so damn smart

I don't have a whole lot of faith in software-filtration systems, and here is Exhibit F. To this article at Fragments from Floyd, I attempted to post the following comment:

I've used the CA product for several years; results were satisfactory enough that 42nd and Treadmill, on my recommendation, installed it on all the corporate boxes under a site license.

The firewall that comes packaged with the EZ Armor package, incidentally, is a rebranded ZoneAlarm.

The comment was rejected with the following curt missive:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content.

Please correct the error in the form below, then press POST to post your comment.

Emphasis in the original.

I have no idea exactly what Fred's using to keep down the spammers, but it's obviously turned up too high. (It won't take a ping for this, either, for the same reason.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:47 PM to Blogorrhea )
20 July 2004
Wow, I coulda had a V6

Bruce's thinking on engine choices:

I wanted a car with something better than a four because I assumed that it would hold up better. I tend to think that fours are pushed too hard by highway and stop and go driving.

Bruce drives something (he's not saying what) with a six-cylinder.

Longevity, of course, is the result of many factors, but there's not much doubt that a four works harder than a six when asked to perform the same tasks. My own car has a small undersquare four, the long stroke intended to produce some additional torque, and at its 6500-rpm redline, the mean piston speed is 3929 ft/min. The V6 offered as the up-option is allowed to rev to 7000 rpm, and its shorter stroke results in a mean piston speed of 3170 ft/min. In this benchmark, at least, the V6 is having to strain itself about twenty percent less — and given the gearing on these cars, it's probably doing 25 mph faster. (No, I didn't do the math; Julian Bradbury did.)

Still, there weren't too many times during the past couple of weeks when I really wished I'd spent the extra two grand for the V6, even with the A/C running.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:30 AM to Driver's Seat )
A blow to the Anti-Destination League

I missed this completely, probably because almost every mile I drove in Colorado during the Tour was along a two-lane road (US 385), where it's irrelevant.

Still, it's worth mentioning, and worth suggesting to other jurisdictions:

If you are caught lagging in the left lane, you will be subject to a $35 fine, an additional $6.20 surcharge and a three-point penalty to your driving record.

Three points, of course, will do more damage to your wallet, via increased insurance premia, than $41.20 worth of fines. In my experience, the number of left-lane bandits is relatively small, but it only takes one to screw up traffic flow for miles.

(Via Baldilocks, no doubt a glorious travel companion.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:55 PM to Driver's Seat )
Let there be leaps

Which, historically, begin with one small step for a man.

Says Rand Simberg:

Thirty-five years after Neil and Buzz walked on the moon, we have neither the NASA Mars base, or the huge spinning space colonies. But we're finally seeing new progress on a front in between those two visions. Forty years after the end of the X-15 program, we're recapitulating some of the early NASA program privately, and diversely, with the efforts of Burt Rutan and the other X-Prize contestants and suborbital ventures. They won't be diverted down a costly dead-end path of giant throwaway rockets. Instead they'll slowly and methodically evolve capabilities and markets, creating the infrastructure for low-cost access to space. Once we can afford to get, in Heinlein's immortal words, "halfway to anywhere," we'll finally be able to return to the moon, to complete the job begun by those first voyagers, and this time we'll be able to stay.

We're at our best, I think, when we're pushing the limits of what we know. On a much smaller scale, I know I'm a lot more focused during the World Tours, which so far have been through unfamiliar territory, than I am during the 49 weeks when I have to work for a living, when the only limit pushed is the threshold of exasperation. There will likely never again be the sort of excitement that John F. Kennedy managed to whip up for that first moon-landing program — for one thing, every special-interest group between here and Betelgeuse will complain that money put into space, be it private or "public," is money that won't go into its pet programs — but I persist in my belief that we were put on this earth to find out stuff.

And, yes, occasionally to fart around.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:19 PM to Almost Yogurt )
Now in Gippervision!

Dawn Eden writes to Film Forum:

Would you ever give serious consideration to a Ronald Reagan film festival, or would you instantly laugh away the very idea of it?

I admit up front that I've seen fewer than a third of Reagan's fifty-odd film appearances, but I'm inclined to think there's enough good stuff to justify a retrospective. Certainly The Girl from Jones Beach, with its pre-Stepford eye on Perfect Womanhood, is relevant today; in Cattle Queen of Montana, Reagan holds his own against the formidable Barbara Stanwyck; and Kings Row demonstrated once and for all that he could play leads that were something other than just affable.

And yes, there are some stinkers in the bunch, but Bedtime for Bonzo isn't one of them.

Eureka College, Reagan's alma mater, scheduled just such a festival this past May. I wonder which films they chose.

(Update, 21 July, 10:25 am: Film Forum responds.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:07 PM to Almost Yogurt )
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 to Dyssynergy )
They're younger than that now

The history of the Japanese game manufacturer Nintendo goes all the way back to the 80s.

That would be the 1880s.

I knew this — read it somewhere back around 1990 — but I had no idea about Google's origins in the early 1960s.

(Via the ageless Dean Esmay.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:42 AM to Bogus History )
Restraint of trade

Marie Stopes International, which provides "sexual health and pregnancy choices" in the South Pacific, offers the following advice to would-be customers on their FAQ page:

We are occasionally subject to demonstrations by anti-abortionists. They usually take the form of a few people gathered outside trying to dissuade our clients from entering the centre. Although these people have no right to interfere with your legal or moral right of choice, we cannot prevent them protesting unless they break the law. We do understand how traumatic this may be and stress that you do not enter into any conversation with these people. Note that they cannot prevent you from entering our centres. Try not to let them distress you and walk calmly past. There will be a member of our team to help you once you are inside the centre.

I have no doubt that Marie Stopes' concern about trauma is genuine; in fact, they filed a protest against the establishment of a childcare center on an adjacent city lot in Perth, saying that "the sight and sound of children playing in a neighbouring property might cause emotional strain for women considering terminating a pregnancy."

Charlie Gregorini, mayor of the City of Swan, can relate:

It would be an emotional situation for someone who's decided to have an abortion and then the last thing they hear before they enter the clinic is the happy voices of children.

Indeed. A two-meter brick wall will be erected to block those scary sights and sounds. Meanwhile, Tim Blair has another idea:

Here's a compromise: the childcare centre is allowed to be built, but all children attending it must be dead.

Solomon in all his glory never rendered a decision as crisp as this.

96 tears

If you parted with exactly one drop of lachrymal fluid for every edition of the Carnival of the Vanities, you'd be up to ninety-six.

And Carnival #96 is now up at Soundfury, with the sort of theme one used to see only every four years or so. As always, it's the best of blogdom in a single handy package, suitable for framing or for sneaking out of the conference room in one's socks.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:59 AM to Blogorrhea )
Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Who's the Majorest Babe of all?

Some "panel of experts" has put together a list of the most naturally beautiful women of all time, and at the very least, their findings are deeply flawed.

I mean, I really didn't expect to find She Who Is Not To Be Named on the list, and I have no particular quarrel with Audrey Hepburn at the top — she's a bit on the insubstantial side, perhaps — but there's something wrong with a methodology that ranks Liv Tyler above both Monica Bellucci and Halle Berry.

If it's a methodology at all, which I tend to doubt. Surely any rational system would have noticed that a couple of individuals are represented twice on the list (Beyoncé Knowles, at #18 and #29, and Marilyn Monroe, at #27 and #36), and, as Craig Ceely notes, Cleopatra makes the cut (at #86), "although no man alive knows what she looked like." And it was always my understanding that Cleo's appeal was more, um, functional than aesthetic anyway.

As a (generally inactive) member of the male half of the species, I of course applaud research in this area, even though I believe, as Hugh Hefner seemed to believe before the invention of the airbrush, that the natural habitat of the hottie is wherever you may find her.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:54 PM to Almost Yogurt )
22 July 2004
Going up

Richard Tanenbaum wants you to live downtown.

Seriously. A year ago, he bought the mostly-vacant Montgomery Ward building at Main and Walker, a classic Art Deco structure on the National Register of Historic Places, and started the process of turning it into "The Montgomery," featuring about five dozen upscale apartments with a restaurant and a gallery downstairs.

This spring, Tanenbaum bought the former Citizens Tower at 21st and Classen; this week, the Oklahoma City Council approved rezoning the Tower, which will be renamed "The Classen" and divided into about 100 condos in the $130k range. It's not actually downtown, but it's very close — two miles to the business district, two and a half to Bricktown — and the view, says Tanenbaum, should be spectacular.

The plan for The Classen varies somewhat from initial speculation, which called for fewer but larger residences. Tanenbaum expects to have units for sale by next spring.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:22 AM to City Scene )
Put the blame on me

My daughter's home has a single-car garage, most of which is given over to musical instruments; a single-width driveway; and two vehicles, one small, one not so small. Visitors, therefore, are on their own when looking for a place to park, and sometimes the path of least resistance is on the grass adjacent to the driveway.

One day after I depart, this happens:

The Independence City Council moved Tuesday to prohibit parking in yards.

While the city has a limited power to enforce the new law at this time, city officials say it's necessary to have the ordinance on the books.

Acting City Manager Robert Heacock talked about the change.

"I think it's important that the community make a statement," Heacock said. "Some residents feel ham-strung because there are people out there doing it, with four or five cars parked in the yard."

Then again, she can't park in my yard either. The Oklahoma City ordinance governing this district states the following:

Parking. Motor Vehicles; Motor Homes; Campers; Boats; Trailers and any other Wheeled Vehicles, Related Equipment and/or Attachments, Motorized or Non-Motorized, Operable or Inoperable, and/or any item(s) intended to be Transported thereon... Forward of the front building line, shall only park on a hard surface, described as a driveway made of concrete, asphalt or similar product, brick type pavers, natural stone or gravel.

Fortunately, my existing driveway is probably long enough to accommodate three vehicles of the sub-Leviathan class.

Party dressing

Maureen Dowd makes it into the August Harper's Bazaar with an article titled "Democrats or Republicans: Who Dresses Best?"

I'm not inclined to draw any conclusions myself, but here are some pertinent quotes culled from the Dowd piece. From Stephanie Cutter, director of communications for the Kerry campaign:

With Democrats, you can get some stilettos, some Manolo Blahniks, things that are more Sex and the City. Republicans are more Friends.

I suspect Ann Coulter might disagree. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, sees it this way:

For liberals, it's socially acceptable to dress like libertines. Republican girls look better in such costumes because deep in their hearts they suspect that the look is a sin, a concession to the grossly oversexed culture that they spend their day jobs lamenting. What enhances their appearance is the eroticism of complicity.

Meanwhile, Robin Givhan, fashion editor of The Washington Post, sees convergence of a sort:

The stereotype has been that Republicans tend to go for the fur and big jewels and more obvious expressions of wealth, while Democrats tend to be less flashy and have a more Midwestern kind of reserve. But I don't think that really applies now that you look at Teresa [Heinz Kerry], the Queen of Chanel, and Laura [Bush], who wears Oscar de la Renta and looks practically nauseous when the subject of her clothes comes up.

Not to say that Mrs Bush is dowdy, as Dowd herself points out:

Laura Bush is a pretty woman who always dresses appropriately. It wouldn't suit her to be too glamorous or clothes obsessed; she's not a "look at me" type. She has an understated wardrobe, a sort of fetching Marian the Librarian look, that has become more stylish as she's gone along.

I'm not sure I understand "as she's gone along" — is the First Lady actually setting fashion trends? — but I can certainly understand the appeal of Marian the Librarian.

As for the pictures, well, they're here, along with my standard brand of half-baked (sometimes quarter-baked) interpretation.

Road not found



I shot this on South Dakota Highway 44, and if it's not the middle of nowhere, well, who can tell?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 4:53 PM to World Tour '04 )
23 July 2004
The Roosevelt Rule

I found this in Caren Lissner's novel Starting from Square Two (Don Mills, Ontario: Red Dress Ink, 2004).

"I used to toss obnoxious men aside without a second thought. Now if I meet one who's single, I'm expected to look for the bright side. It's like the Roosevelt Rule."

"The Roosevelt Rule?"

"Fear of being alone is worse than being alone itself," Hallie said. "When I was nineteen and didn't have a boyfriend, I never felt bad about it. Because I figured someday I would. My friends and I had plenty of fun alone. What ruins the fun is the fear that you'll be that way forever."

Gert knew how scared Hallie was. "You know, you could find someone in the blink of an eye," Gert said. "It could happen tomorrow." But she didn't think she sounded convincing. She didn't like issuing comforting platitudes, but she didn't want Hallie to give up, either.

Hallie stood up and went over to her stereo and fondled the copper Empire State Building on top. "I'm in New York City," she said. "I'm healthy, attractive, and I have a steady job. I should be seeing every play on Broadway. I should be eating at the best restaurants and getting drunk with friends and singing at piano bars. I should be taking road trips across the country and sleeping under the stars. But since those activities are enhanced doubly and triply when you do them with someone you love, I've put them on hold and instead spent all my time looking for that person. It's just too hard to live in the moment when you know how much better the moment would be if you found someone."

Well, I definitely have no business singing in piano bars.

Still, I feel compelled to raise the possibility of a new deal, so to speak.

(Update, 10:40 pm: Fixed links.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:45 AM to Table for One )
Razing awareness

Michael Bates has been all over the story that World Publishing Company, owner of the Tulsa World, plans to tear down the Skelly Building and the nearby Froug's Department Store building. The Skelly will become a parking lot for the World; Froug's will be replaced by a heating/cooling tower.

Says the World, this represents their commitment to downtown. Bates is not persuaded:

The Tulsa Whirled [Bates' standard nickname for the paper] strongly supported the reopening of Main Street to vehicular traffic. They told us that we had to reopen the Mall to traffic in order to encourage residential and commercial development. It is a shame and an outrage that fronting Main Street — newly reopened at great taxpayer expense — will be a big air conditioning system where a department store once was. Our city leaders need to take action now to prevent the Whirled from devaluing the taxpayer's investment in Main Street and downtown.

And what greater waste than to demolish tens of thousands of square feet that could be reused and redeveloped to create maybe a dozen parking spaces, just so the Whirled's executives don't have to cross the street. Don't believe it when they say it's for the customers. They could easily make arrangements with the lot across the street or the new city-funded structure a block away. They could validate parking.

The Whirled's publisher says this demolition represents the Whirled's commitment to downtown. The Whirled appears to be committed to the idea of downtown as just another suburban office park. As with [Tulsa Community College] and its parking land grabs, downtown would have a better chance of becoming a real downtown again if the Whirled packed up and moved rather than tearing down more buildings.

Here in Oklahoma City, The Oklahoman did exactly that when they ran out of room at Fourth and Broadway; that 1909 building is in use today, and OPUBCO donated the property just to its east to the Downtown YMCA, whose previous facilities had been destroyed in the 1995 bombing.

Let us not accuse OPUBCO of excessive altruism: they have their fingers in many pies, downtown and otherwise, and their legendary distrust for the public sector has seldom restrained them from tapping the taxpayers when the situation permitted. Did the Gaylords believe that what's good for OPUBCO is good for Oklahoma? Surely. And occasionally they turned out to be right.

What Tulsa doesn't need is to repeat the mistakes made in Oklahoma City during the "urban renewal" days, when the answer to every question was "bulldozer." We learned — the hard way, to be sure, but we learned. An example:

Situation: Not enough parking spaces in the Bricktown entertainment district.

Oldthink solution: Remove a vacant building or two, add parking lots.

Actual solution: Merchants lacking their own parking lots cut a deal with Metro Transit to run a free shuttle bus from an existing parking lot on the edge of Bricktown to their front doors during peak hours (4:30 pm to 2:30 am Thursday through Saturday plus special events).

There's nothing happening at this end of the Turner that can't be duplicated at the other. Let's hope Tulsa — and the Tulsa World — can learn from our experience.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:16 AM to Soonerland )
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 to Dyssynergy )
24 July 2004
Representation and then some

From the US Constitution, Article I, Section 2:

The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative.

For the first Congress, the Constitution spelled out the number of Representatives for each state, a total of 65; after 1790, with Census figures available, the House was enlarged to 106 members, with Virginia having the most (nineteen) and Delaware and the newly-admitted Tennessee with one each.

By 1850, the House had grown to 232 members, and the method used to apportion the Representatives was changed to allow for a fixed House size, though the continued admittance of new states kept increasing the number until finally in 1911 the number was fixed at 435. (In 1960 this was increased to 437 to allow one Representative each for Alaska and Hawaii; in 1970 it was dropped back to 435.) Based on the 2000 Census, each of those 435 represented an average of 646,952 persons, well beyond the "thirty Thousand" described in the Constitution; with the national population now over 280 million, that ratio would result in a House with over 9,000 members.

Five years ago, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) floated a notion to expand the House by thirty seats, making the following pitch:

Most of the new seats would go to states in the South and the West. But several would also go to states facing knockdown drag-out fights by minority groups, who worry that they will lose representation when their state loses a seat.

At the time, I scoffed:

Istook has been screaming about the evils of Big Government for years; why would he suddenly want to make one house of Congress seven percent bigger? He hasn't come to his senses — he fears the Census is coming to him. The population of Oklahoma is growing substantially slower than the national average. In 1990, the state narrowly missed losing one of its six seats in the House. In 2000, losing a seat is almost inevitable, which means that there's at least a one-in-six chance that Istook will have to get a real job.

In 2000, we did lose a seat; however, Istook remains in the House.

D. Frank Robinson, running for Congress as a Libertarian, argues this way:

I believe there is a significant relationship between a century of progressively diluting the people's representation in the U.S. House, where all spending bills must originate, and the plunge in the value of U.S. currency, the vast rise in taxation and debt, and the emergence of an excessively militaristic foreign policy and imperialist Presidency — all in service to an anti-capitalistic corporate fascism. The Congress no longer declares war, guards the nation's money, or uses the power of the Commerce clause strictly, it just makes a show of squawking about details of bills and pass bills on subjects for which they have authority. Then they enact without even reading whatever the Executive demands as expedient for corporate interests.

Does Robinson want, as did Istook, 465 members of the House? Not even close. In Mr Robinson's idealized Congress, there are 1,776 members, which, assuming a 2010 population of 300 million, would cut the number of persons represented by each member to less than 170,000.

They could probably squeeze 600 into the existing House chambers; I'm not so sure they can handle triple that number. Still, while I have doubts about Robinson's proposal, there's a fair amount of truth in his complaint, and smaller districts, I think, might be more difficult (though by no means impossible) to gerrymander. And speaking of which, Robinson has an idea to allow individual voters to pick their own districts, which would definitely change the shape of things.

And I admit to being bemused by the thought of the big electronic map on Election Night 2012, red and blue LEDs at the ready, and the notice: Electoral Votes Needed to Win: 889.

D. Frank Robinson is seeking the Fifth District seat in Oklahoma, currently held by — wait for it — Ernest Istook. With the Democratic challenger, Harley Venters, toeing the leftist line without missing a step, and Istook being, well, Istook, Robinson might look pretty good by November.

(Update: I failed to notice that Harley Venters himself had a primary challenger, the even-more-unknown Bert Smith, who actually won; it will be Istook vs Smith vs Robinson in November.)

Turn around, look at us

There's a nifty new stone marker at the northwest entrance to my neighborhood, at the northern end of the narrow park that separates it from five lanes of May Avenue. I don't know whether this little bit of braggadocio will bring any additional visibility to our little strip of the city, but it definitely does look cool.

And speaking of additional visibility, the Asian district is about to get some identifying signage of its own: street signs along Classen from 24th to 35th will add references to the district, and the overhead signs at 23rd, 30th and 36th will add a yet-to-be-designed district logo.

What these two installations have in common is the amount of city funding involved: zero. Over on my street, the Neighborhood Association paid for the new marker; residents and merchants in the Asian District are covering the costs of the street signs.

This may seem like a trivial sort of thing, but I'm persuaded that getting people to live and shop in the central city is easier if you're willing to brag about it a little.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 9:46 AM to City Scene )
Replenishing the chutzpah fund

NorthWestern Corporation, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is reorganizing under federal bankruptcy protection; president/CEO Gary Drook says the company should be financially sound and on its own again by this fall. "Don't worry about ownership," he reportedly has told employees: "I'll be out of a job, but you'll still have one."

Not that Drook plans to suffer any: he's asking the bankruptcy court for nearly $3 million in severance, and $3.5 million for three other top NorthWestern officers.

This isn't quite as galling as, say, the Menendez brothers asking for clemency because they're orphans, but it's close.

(Via MT Politics)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:41 AM to Wastes of Oxygen )
Half a million served

At just before 12:13 this afternoon, this site recorded its 500,000th visitor, from an SBC IP (216.63.148.113) apparently in north Texas. Scarily enough, 'twas someone who has it bookmarked.

Five months and four days for the last hundred thousand. This won't impress anyone on the A- or B-lists, who can score that many in mere hours, but down here amongst the more modest life forms, it borders on Actual Accomplishment.

As always, I thank all of you who have helped to run up that otherwise-meaningless number.

(Update, 9:40 pm: For a more meaningful number, see The Spoons Experience, which reached 500,000 today.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 1:32 PM to Blogorrhea )
25 July 2004
Me, myself and iPod

Andrea Harris quite reasonably sneers at this Toronto Star piece about 25 years of the Sony Walkman® and how it has made us isolated and withdrawn, members of — but never participants in — the Global Village posited by Marshall McLuhan. It's yet another complaint by socialists, she says, about how the proletariat refuses to follow the current Five-Year Plan:

Behind the studied concern you can hear the faint cries of "If only people would all listen to the same music, think the same thoughts… Our thoughts…"

I am, as regular readers know, a devotee of old Top 40 radio, the format constructed upon the very communal listening experience the Walkman is alleged to have destroyed, and which itself is pretty much dead these days. But Top 40 was stomped to death by two pair of shoes: corporate wingtips did most of the damage, but the sandals of the counterculture managed the occasional kick. Sony's little portable music machine? Wasn't even a player.

When I was growing up in Charleston, South Carolina in the Sixties, there were eight radio stations — well, nine, technically, but WTMA broadcast the same programming on AM and FM. In the early Seventies, the FCC, having been seized by the notion of increasing programming diversity, outlawed simulcasts in all but the smallest markets. Station owners, under the gun to fill up that space, took the path of least resistance: the growing number of automated formats vended by program syndicators.

Meanwhile, independent record labels had ceased to be a factor at the top of the charts, a trend begun about 1967 when psychedelia became a musical force to be reckoned with and major labels spent big bucks trying to get in on it. Meanwhile, some of the little guys, notably Motown, had become fairly huge themselves. The last indie label to make big chart noise on a regular basis was Miami's T.K. label, home of K. C. and the Sunshine Band, which petered out even faster than the rest of disco.

Actual Top 40 stations had begun shying away from the term, even cutting their playlists back to thirty or fewer. New York's WABC in the Seventies pitched itself, not as a Top 40 or "contemporary" station, but as "programmed for mass appeal."

And more and more radio stations went on the air, filling in blank spots on the dial where there was room, and sliding into the cracks where there wasn't. FM radio, once the red-headed stepchild, was becoming dominant over its grungy mono parental unit.

All these things happened before the introduction of the Walkman; the arrival of the Compact Disc and the music industry's de-emphasis of singles finally finished the job.

Today, Charleston has thirty radio stations. Simulcasts are no longer banned. The Big Four record companies are in Adapt-Or-Die mode. Radio has lost its primacy as a source for new music. Hundreds of small-town stations have gone to satellite delivery of canned "live" programming or have relocated to larger markets. And AM radio, where it all began, is no longer a factor in the music market; it's now 24/7 talk.

None of these things should surprise anyone who has been paying attention for the last twenty-five years. The Star quotes a Canadian musicologist:

Because music resides in the cognitive faculties of the individual, it provides the means to construct a customized soundscape that can inspire the listener, trigger all kinds of sensations at will in an environment that shuts out the world. In fact, the world is at odds with the user.

I can assure you, this was every bit as true forty years ago as it is today, and I have the vinyl to prove it. And Edward Bellamy, in Looking Backward, anticipated it a century ago: "an arrangement for providing everyone with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will."

Bellamy, of course, never imagined Top 40, let alone hip-hop or emo. But he knew that the future of music was in the home, not in the concert hall. The Walkman merely extended the definition of home. For the "crusty old socialists" of the Star, for whom "home" is the place you go only after you've performed your services to the community, this is anathema. No wonder they're upset.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:32 AM to Tongue and Groove )
Of jackboots and blue pencils

The Oklahoman doesn't carry Doonesbury, which doesn't bother me much; should I need to read Garry Trudeau's strip, the Oklahoma Gazette carries a week's worth every Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Alabama, The Anniston Star is upset because Continental Features, which produces a prefab color Sunday comic section for the Star and thirty-seven other papers, is dropping Doonesbury. "This is wrong, offensive to First Amendment freedoms," says Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers.

"This is a business decision," replies Continental head Van Wilkerson. "It doesn't have anything to do with personalities or Garry Trudeau or Doonesbury or anything else."

Which is not entirely true, since it was Doonesbury's May cartoon about a university president's head on a silver platter, which arrived about the same time as word of the beheading of Nicholas Berg in Iraq, which prompted complaints from some of Continental's subscribing papers. Continental polled its customers, and twenty-one out of thirty-six (two had no opinion) asked that the strip be discontinued.

Nor is it true, as Ayers insists, that this is some sort of First Amendment issue. No one is blocking the Star from carrying the strip; it simply won't be conveniently packaged with the rest of their Sunday comics. The daily Doonesbury, which was never distributed by Continental in this package, continues to appear in the Star; the paper will strike a deal with Universal Press Syndicate to pick up the Sunday strip, which will appear elsewhere in the Sunday edition — perhaps the op-ed page.

I do, however, agree with Garry Trudeau's assessment of the situation:

Obviously editors have to be responsive to reader complaints. But a newspaper that only prints content that yields no complaints is not a newspaper I'd care to read.

(I note that this is the second piece today where I've had something to say about a newspaper named Star.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 2:42 PM to Almost Yogurt )
Instructional, he is

In his book The Stories of English, linguist David Crystal says that George Lucas' Jedi Master Yoda speaks in a manner reminiscent of old Anglo-Saxon, and that children studying the English language would find the contrast between old language and new to be interesting.

Crystal also recommends Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings for these students, pointing out that Samwise Gamgee and Gollum spoke non-standard English variants which presumably would be useful for comparison.

Teachers who have despaired of ever imparting standard English to their charges will undoubtedly be delighted at this news.

(Via Dowingba)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:29 PM to Almost Yogurt )
26 July 2004
Sifting through the damage

Needless to say, 42nd and Treadmill is in a scary state; it may take all day for me to determine just how scary it is.

I'm looking through you

The windshield malfunction from the Tour has now been repaired. After looking over the damage, our man at Metro Glass shrugged and said, "I can fix that."

He could.

If the light hits just right, you can see where he's filled in the crack, but it's not horrendous, and the price — fifty-five bucks — was right. And eventually I'll have to replace this windshield, probably about the middle of the '05 Tour, but for now, this will work just fine; the offending area, after all, is way over on the passenger side, and how often do I have passengers?

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:15 PM to Driver's Seat )
Rip van Hoodwink

Those wonderful folks at Macrovision claim they have a "99-percent" effective copy-protection system for music CDs. A CD thus protected will demand to be run on Windows Media Player, which will then offer (yeah, right) to install Macrovision's Active Software Protection program, which blocks rippage and cloning.

For a few more weeks anyway, until they come up with a version of this that will screw up Apple as well as Wintel boxes, this looks like another good argument for a Macintosh.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 3:52 PM to PEBKAC )
People who need people

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downes, on the recent spate of hostage-taking by your friendly neighborhood, um, militants:

If these terrorists want to achieve certain objectives and they know by taking people hostage they can achieve them, it's the cheapest and easiest way to do their job.

Trinidad Jimenez of the Spanish Socialist party apparently felt slighted by Downes' declaration:

The Spanish government would never have accepted threats from a terrorist group.

To which the Currency Lad responds:

Well — bombs went off in Madrid, calls were made for Spain's withdrawal from Iraq, Spain withdrew. That sounds like a threat accepted to me.

Of course, Madrid considers it merely the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

Let us cheer our friends in Canberra, and let us hope that others see the wisdom of their example.

27 July 2004
Far as the eye can see

Right off River Drive

I don't want to give you the impression that there's nothing between here and the Canadian border or anything, but this was the actual view from my hotel room in North Sioux City, South Dakota.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:32 AM to World Tour '04 )
Bragging rights

Michele is not impressed with Planned Parenthood's new "I Had an Abortion" T-shirt:

Like most who have already written about this shirt, I thought abortion was a privacy issue. Well, now you can proudly display your choice on a t shirt. How repulsive.

I wonder how proud the Kerry people are to have invited to speak at their gala a woman who represents the group selling t shirts with this saying?

And did the rep hand out any Emergency Contraception Pens?

This is just too perverse. Keeping abortion legal is one thing; transforming it into a lifestyle choice, of no more significance than one's preferred brand of deodorant, is something else entirely.

Dawn Eden points to I'm Not Sorry.net, whose FAQ page is pretty blatant:

[T]his site DOES tell the other side of the story, a story that the anti-choicers don't necessarily want women to hear — that abortion, quite frankly, isn't that big a deal for many of us.

I suspect it's a bigger deal than they let on; otherwise, they wouldn't be so alarmed at the possibility that their, um, flexibility might be reduced.

(Update, 11:20 am: Allah is in the house and on the case with more T-shirt possibilities. Muchas gracias: Xrlq.)

Blatant plugola

Incidentally, if you're not reading Cheney W. Halliburton Kevin McGehee, you're missing out on some first-class snark; the man delivers political observations, cultural commentary, musical interludes — everything, in fact, except nude photos of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

If McGehee's not on your blogroll, your blogroll is incomplete.

(I think this is blatant enough; don't you?)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:44 AM to Blogorrhea )
It's a Kerry Okie

No, really, it is.

Which proves that even an empty orchestra has a few chairs occupied.

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 to Dyssynergy )
Primary surprises

Turnout seemed pretty good — at 5 pm, I was the 641st voter in my precinct — and I figured things were going to be close.

Some of them were. John Morgan slipped past Steve Harry for the Democratic nod for House District 87 by a margin of 99 votes. But on the GOP side, Trebor Worthen, despite having three opponents, won a majority and will not have to face a runoff.

The biggest shocker of the day, though, was Tom Coburn's utter dominance; it wasn't even close. With Brad Carson easily winning on the Democratic side, this sets up a Senate race between a former Representative and the man who succeeded him. (Coburn, you'll remember, took a vow to serve six years in the House, and duly left after his third term, leaving an opening which was filled by Carson.) Okiedoke's Mike calls it "a blow to Oklahoma's Republican Party elite," who had lined up behind former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, a distant second.

Personal raw data:

Offices with candidates on the ballot: 3

Candidates for whom I voted who actually won: 1

Which is about average for me these days, really.

Mopar for the course

From the Department of What Were They Thinking? comes this bit of news from Auburn Hills: DaimlerChrysler is pondering the creation of another nameplate to go head-to-head with Toyota's ostensibly youth-oriented Scion brand.

From a company which has actually killed off two brands in recent years — Eagle and Plymouth — this qualifies as bizarre. Certainly the dealerships aren't in any mood to spring for more signage changes.

But assuming that what Gen Y wants is low-priced, quirky vehicles is dangerous. Scion has low-priced and quirky in spades, yet the average Scion buyer is forty years old. Honda's Tupperware-based Element, originally pitched at post-adolescent males, sells largely to soccer moms. And Chrysler's own PT Cruiser missed its intended twentysomething market entirely.

DaimlerChrysler admittedly doesn't cover the bottom price rung very well, with only Dodge's Neon competing, but with Chrysler wanting to play in Lincoln land these days, the company's German overlords might do better by going back to Chrysler's Seventies practice of importing Asian vehicles, this time perhaps from Hyundai, and slapping implausible names on them.

As for the twentysomethings I know best, my two children, well, he drives an essentially-extinct Oldsmobile Silhouette van, and she drives a Toyota Matrix wagonlet. Between them, they've owned one Mopar product over the years: he once had a Dodge Ram pickup. I don't know what it would take to get them to put Chrysler or Dodge on their want lists, but I'm reasonably certain that they are quite immune to appeals to their age group.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 11:49 AM to Driver's Seat )
The old 97

Not a wreck at all, but the 97th edition of Carnival of the Vanities, presented this week by Jeff Doolittle with an eye toward the past. Your weekly roundup of bloggage deluxe is only a click away.

(Disclosure: I actually have something in the Carnival this week.)

Permalink to this item ( posted at 12:20 PM to Blogorrhea )
Verendrye through tomorrow

Verendrye Monument

Commemorating explorers Chevalier and Louis la Verendrye, this tablet stands on a hill overlooking Fort Pierre, South Dakota. The complete inscription:

HERE ON MARCH 30, 1743 THE VERENDRYES BURIED A LEAD TABLET TO CLAIM THIS REGION FOR FRANCE. THIS TABLET FOUND ON FEB. 16, 1913, IS THE FIRST WRITTEN RECORD OF THE VISIT OF WHITE MEN TO SOUTH DAKOTA.

ERECTED BY STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND FT. PIERRE COMMERCIAL CLUB 1933

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:52 PM to World Tour '04 )
29 July 2004
Sweetness and light

If you were expecting any such in the race for Don Nickles' Senate seat, you might want to think again.

Both Brad Carson and Tom Coburn have represented the Second District in the house. Carson's first volley questioned Coburn's concern for his constituents:

The question is: What did he do for the district? The answer is nothing.

We've gotten millions for roads, millions for jobs, millions for methamphetamine [enforcement] and we're close to having a solution for Tar Creek. He did nothing for roads, nothing for jobs, nothing for Tar Creek and nothing for methamphetamines. He did nothing for his district, nothing for the state.

(Source here.)

Tom Coburn has argued that Brad Carson is a lot farther to the left than his campaign material claims, and Coburn's Web site has now put up a chart with the title Who Really Represents Our Oklahoma Values?

This is going to get nasty, I have a feeling.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:50 AM to Soonerland )
Wipe that Lear off your face

Jay Tea over at Wizbang! has a tale to tell, a story of sisters, an examination of the sources of power, and, as he says, any resemblance to anybody you'd be likely to recognize is "purely coincidental."

(Cordelia's plight, I thought, was rather sad, though I tend to think that Goneril's frustrations were at least partially self-inflicted.)

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 to Dyssynergy )
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 to Dyssynergy )
I dream of genius

Well, actually, I don't; I figure whatever brilliance I have or can acquire will be offset somewhere else, inevitably to my embarrassment. And while I suspect I could qualify for Mensa, I don't have any real desire to do so; even if I am so damned smart, I make a point of not being impressed by being so, and as Dynamo Dave points out, the goals of the organization itself seem a trifle murky:

What, exactly, would a "non-political" society look like? No dissent? No political debate? No public discourse? And that bit about "no religious disinctions" — in what sense? Everyone believes the same thing/s? No religion at all? And "no racial distinctions" — seems to me that a certain führer had the same goal. What on earth does this statement mean? Sheesh...it sounds either like some sort of drug-induced hippie-dream from 1968, or a plank from the National Socialist Party circa 1933.

Or John Lennon, circa 1971. "Imagine there's no heaven...."

In my humble estimation, the organization proved itself most useful when it lent its name, probably involuntarily, to a middle-80s Playboy pictorial titled "The Women of Mensa," which reminded me (as though I needed reminding) that high IQ and drop-dead gorgeousness are not at all incompatible.

The existence of babes at this level of majorness, however, is not sufficient inducement for me to take the Mensa entrance exam.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 5:36 PM to Almost Yogurt )
30 July 2004
In the distance, more distance

Out on US 385

Too much vegetation for Mars, and besides there's that big slab of something in the foreground; it must be US 385 in eastern Colorado.

The black, snaky substance on the road is the ever-popular temporary patch known to some of us as "I Can't Believe It's Not Tar." I think. I wasn't going to get close enough to it to find out, especially with trucks whizzing by every, oh, twenty minutes or so.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:28 AM to World Tour '04 )
Izzypundit

The history of blogging is long and complex and filled with gaps of varying duration; I know I've thought about it and wondered, "Surely there must be something between Samuel Pepys in January 1660 and Glenn Reynolds in May 2001."

(Actually, I was blogging almost a year before the Professor, but my impact on the Blogosphere™ is essentially nil.)

But if I really wanted to identify a Missing Link (sorry), I could just bounce over to Coffeegrounds, where The Prop makes a good case for I. F. Stone as the first of our modern pundits — even if he did update only once a week.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 7:08 AM to Blogorrhea )
Trilateral emissions

Aldahlia, after wrestling with Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty, has calculated that conservative books, like Gaul, are divided into three parts.

There are Moderate Conservative books, there are Religious Instruction books, and well, there's the Hate Fest:

[L]acking any sense of humor or trace of irony, [these books] vehemently blame half of the country for everything that's every gone wrong, on any planet, in any universe, in the history of time. Increased prison populations: it's the Deviant Liberals. Inability to finance a third summer home in the Hamptons: it's the Lazy Liberals. Small pain in ankle after long hike: it's the Taxing Liberals. Raining in Baltimore: it's Liberal Wizards with Satanic Sympathies.

Substantial pain in neck during four days in Boston: it's the Anybody But Bush Liberals.

Meanwhile, on Shalit in particular:

What cracked me up about A Return to Modesty was its blatant disregard for the realities of a free market, even though the first lines in the book state that she's a fiscal "conservative" and the daughter of an Economist. Guess what? You can't advocate for the moral superiority of an unrestrained open market, and then pretend that it won't have any effect on the cultural outlook on sex. Well… you can… but you can't expect to do so and be taken seriously. When we're told that it's a virtue to view all things as commodities, then it should come as no shock when all things become commodities.

The response from social conservatives is likely to be something along the lines of "Some things are too important to be left to the marketplace." Contemporary liberals will agree, though their list of "some things" will be substantially (I almost said "radically") different.

And this is exactly why the Republican Party has spates of fractiousness: fiscal conservatives and social conservatives have at best fairly narrow strips of common ground, and holding them together is trickier than it looks, especially with Bill Clinton, their common bête noire, on the sidelines.

I'm thinking we can expect even more subgenres under the category of "conservative books" in the future.

Nor will there be any padding jokes

Are you ready for some football?

Not me. On the other hand, a lot of it goes on during the summer, and the Oklahoma City Lightning of the National Women's Football Association, 8-0 in the regular season and champions of the South Conference, is headed for Louisville for tomorrow's NWFA title game against the fearsome Detroit Demolition, likewise 8-0 and champions of the North.

Okay, it's not just the NWFA title game. It's the Dickens Energy Cider Women's Pro Football Championship Presented by Progressive Medical Rehabilitation Group. Previous editions have drawn over 5000 fans.

And the NWFA has pushed the envelope for team names as well: the league boasts D. C. Divas, Connecticut Crush (now that sounds dangerous), and the ever-delightful Erie Illusion.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 6:50 PM to Almost Yogurt )
31 July 2004
Window of opportunity

Two or three days of rain, one day of "partly sunny," and a return to more summerlike (read: "hot") weather predicted for the weekend. So what did we Moderately Sophisticated Urbanites do with our Friday evening?

Right. We got out the lawn mowers. I don't think I've ever heard so many of the contraptions going at once. It was a gloriously irritating cantata in n-part disharmony, a sound-effects record of angry bees played loud at 16 rpm, the occasional string trimmer adding counterpoint.

Oh, and the back yard looks pretty good, too, though I should know better than to do this after putting in an eleven-hour day. Everything south of my chin hurts.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 8:39 AM to Surlywood )
Gotta have pop

Phil Dennison on the marketing phenomenon that is Ashlee Simpson:

Through the clever management and marketing by her father, she's got a top-selling record; a record that's sold three times as many units than her more-famous sister has ever sold in a week. But who the hell was Ashlee Simpson a week ago? A year ago? Who the hell had ever heard of her? What has she done to EARN this?

That's what really gets to me, as a musician myself: What has she done to earn this? Has she spent years shopping her songwriting around to other artists trying to build a name? Has she had to build a reputation by playing every joint with a stage and a PA, performing for four people, the bartender and beer money? Has she had to pay real dues of any kind?

Nope — she's simply followed the path laid down by Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and Britney and Christina, and Avril, and a million others just like them. (And arguably — well, maybe not so arguably — the Shangri-Las and Diane Renay and Leslie Gore, but still. Like I said, it's not like I have illusions about this.) Surround yourself with good management and good handlers, and present yourself as a pre-packaged brand, and you too can get a hit record.

Brook Benton spilled the beans forty-two years ago in "Hit Record":

People always ask me, "How do you make a hit record?"
And I tell them, "It's you, the public, who make the hit records."
But here's what I do:
Now, I get a little beat [cue drums]
And I get a little song [cue piano]
And I get a little group [cue "Yeah-Yeah" girls]
Then the band comes along [cue everybody else]
That's all, that's all, that's all, that's all,
That's all I need — to make a hit record.

Debbie Gibson didn't play any cheap dives in her formative years, but she did sing kid roles in musical theater, she made a couple of minor opera appearances, and she started writing songs at twelve; she wrote all ten tracks on her first album (Out of the Blue, 1987), coproduced a few, and produced one ("Foolish Beat," a #1 hit) herself. No slouch, the Debster.

The one thing Phil's Sixties examples have in common is that they all, due to the vagaries of fate, managed to connect with legendary producers. The Shangri-Las had issued a couple of flop singles before George "Shadow" Morton took up their cause; after Bob Crewe was called in to produce Diane Renay's last record for Atco, he signed her to a management contract and gave her the deluxe treatment; and Quincy Jones found Lesley Gore singing at a New York hotel, brought her to Mercury, and produced all her early hits.

Still, none of these stories are at all reminiscent of, say, the Golliwogs, a name inflicted by a record company upon Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets, who spent a decade or so in various California musical backwaters before emerging from the swamp as Creedence Clearwater Revival. (And the first CCR single, you'll remember, was a reissue of a Golliwogs stiff: "Porterville".)

If I see a difference between Then and Now, it's this: Then, the record men were hoping to make money. Now, the record men are hoping to make more money than anyone has ever seen. The difference is more than quantitative. And as playlists tighten and consultants dictate and publicists shout from the rooftops, The Industry wants instant returns on its investments, and to today's J. Random Labelhead, a superstar is worth a hundred steady catalog sellers.

And finally, everyone should go track down Tiffany's 2000 album The Color of Silence, not just because it's good, which it is, but because it's actual evidence that teen-dream vocalists can produce something worthwhile — eventually.

Permalink to this item ( posted at 10:10 AM to Tongue and Groove )
Humble folk without temptation

While I found this piece reasonably interesting, one sentence did jump out at me:

One minor surprise was discovering that nudists can also be conservative Republicans.

Well, yes, there are some grim, puritanical, sexless drones on the right side of the spectrum, but that hardly describes everyone over there; it doesn't even describe a majority of conservative Christians, a decidedly smaller subset, the stereotype of whom is presumably being extended here to the entire GOP, even though it's palpably false. [Link NSFW]

Admittedly, your serious nudists don't even mention sex if they can help it; however, I suspect their official disinterest is intended specifically to keep pervs at bay.

An equal-opportunity employer

Which does not, incidentally, describe the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, apparently.

These days, assuring that one does not discriminate almost demands proportional employment by race. The EEOC, curiously, seems to be 46.4 percent black, six times its own quota guidelines for nonfederal workers.

La Shawn Barber would like to know:

Are these government bean counters trying to achieve the magic number of skin colors and genders (excluding white males) so as to create perfect harmony? Good luck with all that. Not happening on this planet.

Not that I, one of those excludable white males — I have Hispanics and Arabs on my family tree, but, well, you know how it is — particularly want to work for the EEOC; moving from a job which is largely irrelevant to the human condition to one which, in my view, actively seeks to worsen it, is not my idea of good career progression.

The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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