1 March 2005
Underneath the cap
The County Assessor has gotten in his licks for the year, and given the progress of real-estate prices in this neighborhood, they were perfectly predictable.
According to today's notice, Surlywood is worth just over 11 percent more than it was at this time last year. Under Oklahoma law, they can increase the taxable market value a maximum of 5 percent, which they did. Assuming the tax rate remains unchanged, which it probably won't, my actual taxes will go up 5.7 percent.
Still, this is quite an improvement from last year, when as a new owner I didn't qualify for the 5-percent cap and they made up for what they didn't get from the previous owner in one fell swoop.
Engage the cloaking device
It's called a "plasmonic cover" by its proponents, Andrea Alù and Nader Engheta of the University of Pennsylvania, and it works by resonating in tune with the light that would normally illuminate an object, thereby reducing the amount of light that is scattered, making the object in question more difficult to see. Eliminate all the scattering, and the object is effectively invisible.
There is, of course, a downside: the cover must be tuned for any specific wavelength of light, which means anything you can see in ordinary visible light, which is made up of a multitude of wavelengths, isn't shieldable. Yet.
(Via the largely-unseen Syaffolee.)
You gotta know when to hold 'em
And, conversely, when to let them go. In the case of José Padilla, [link requires Adobe Reader] the Bush Administration was given a sharp reminder of the latter by the US District Court for South Carolina.
"The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." Const. Art. 1, § 9, cl. 2. This power belongs solely to Congress. Since Congress has not acted to suspend the writ, and neither the President nor this Court have the ability to do so, in light of the findings above, Petitioner must be released.
If the law in its current state is found by the President to be insufficient to protect this country from terrorist plots, such as the one alleged here, then the President should prevail upon Congress to remedy the problem. For instance, if the Government's purpose in detaining Petitioner as an enemy combatant is to prevent him from "returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again[,]" Hamdi, 124 S.Ct at 2640, but the President thinks that the laws do not provide the necessary and appropriate measures to provide for that goal, then the President should approach Congress and request that it make proper modifications to the law. As Congress has already demonstrated, it stands ready to carefully consider, and often accomodate, such significant requests.
The Court ordered the government to charge Padilla, to name him as a material witness in an actual case, or to release him, within forty-five days.
Doing the poll dance
I get to sit today's election out: four of eight seats on the City Council are up for grabs, but the Ward 2 slot isn't among them. (Wards 1, 4, 7 and 8 have races.)
However, there is some serious stuff going on in the 'burbs. Mid-Del schools will be hoping for approval of the sale of $8 million worth of bonds to finance upgrades and repairs; Moore schools are seeking to issue bonds totaling $47 million, which would finance a new high school, new grade-school classrooms, plus computer and cafeteria upgrades.
Nichols Hills has some bonds to sell, too: $12.5 million to cover various city improvements. And Logan County wants to replace their ancient jail and seeks approval of a 0.75-cent sales-tax increase, to expire in 2015, to pay for the new lockup.
If you're affected by any of these, get ye to the polls.
(Note: This was written yesterday and set aside, and still had references to "tomorrow" therein; I have expunged same.)
But not for you
Sometimes they just write themselves:
A Springfield [Illinois] woman who began lobbying against gun violence after her son was shot to death in 2002 was arrested last week when police allegedly found an illegal gun and drugs in her home.
Annette "Flirty" Stevens, however, said Monday she's innocent, and the arrest is an attempt by police to get her to give up information about unsolved crime in the city.
The handgun, which had a scratched-off serial number, and drugs allegedly were discovered Friday morning inside Stevens' home in the [address redacted]. Authorities said they obtained a search warrant for the residence as part of an ongoing investigation of a recent series of drive-by shootings. No one has been hurt in the gunplay.
Stevens has not been formally connected to any crime directly related to the drive-by shootings. But Friday's discoveries could lead to her being charged with defacing the identification marks on a handgun, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance and having no valid firearm owner's ID card, police said.
Further comment from me would obviously be superfluous.
(Discovered at JunkYardBlog.)
2 March 2005
Plastic everywhere you look
CardData reports that there are nearly fifteen payment cards per household in the US: 6.3 bank credit cards, 6.4 retail cards, and 2.2 debit cards. (I am running below average, but not much below.) By the end of this year, they say, there will be 1.5 billion cards in use, which is a whole lot of plastic. Then again, the card industry is sending out five billion solicitations a year, most of which are presumably winding up in the trash.
Mild to go, before I sleep
I was flipping through the dial the other day for some reason, and I caught Florence Henderson hawking handbags on one of the shopping channels. Now past seventy, The Actress Formerly Known As Mrs. Brady is showing a few signs of being past seventy, but her hemlines, even today, remain right above her knees, which, assuming my trusty Sony Wega is giving me accurate information, I find to be very much justified.
Which is by way of saying that contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to push the envelope to get someone's attention, a position I think would be endorsed by Lileks:
Chris Rock at the Oscars. I was not offended. I did not go white as a Byrd weekend rally costume when he said naughty things. I've heard worse. I've said worse. I just think that the tone of public discourse should strive to angle up, rather than down. Others feel there's something liberating in the use of earthy, honest language. On one side, Donna Reed in a dress and pearls; on the other, a hoochie mama in a thong. I would suggest that the proper model is Donna Reed wearing a thong under the dress. Propriety in public, relaxed standards in the personal sphere.
Yeah, I know: Lenny Bruce. But Lenny got in your face for a few minutes and then disappeared back into the Village. Today it's considered a failure of the system if they're not in your face 24/7.
And you know, I don't feel at all put out at never having gotten to see June Cleaver's boob on national television.
What a ratio that is
Speaking of in one's face, George Carlin famously observed that there are seven words you can never say on television.
On the other hand, there are 1,121 words the NFL Shop will not print on a personalized jersey.
(Via Fark; above links should be considered Not Safe For Work.)
In the days of 39
My very first home town was Waukegan, Illinois, which was Jack Benny's home town. I didn't realize this until many years later, but it makes sense to me: whatever comic skills I have the sense of timing, the willingness to play straight man, the occasional bit of self-deprecation are all basically a low-budget version of Jack Benny's. And today I drop his name, not because of any desire to sound au courant, but because I know I owe him big-time. So when I returned to Waukegan for a visit in 2002, I was delighted to see him honored by the city that he called home.
Dawn Eden, who knows me too well, pointed me to this New York Daily News reminiscence about the day Jack played Carnegie Hall, and not for laughs, either. He loved the violin, and while he was never especially good at it his lack of musical chops became an early piece of Benny shtick just once, he thought, he wanted to do a serious concert.
It happened in 1959, and while nobody was going to confuse Jack Benny with Fritz Kreisler, Jack, after some scary practice sessions, did a creditable job: "a much better virtuoso than one would expect him to be," said the man from Variety. The concert, a benefit for the New York Philharmonic pension fund, raised $36,000, and Jack would go on to headline similar fundraisers in the years to come.
But he never let his newfound prowess go to his head. In 1961, home in Waukegan for the groundbreaking of the new Jack Benny Junior High School (now a 6-8 middle school), he beamed at the crowd and said, "Who would have thought that they'd name a high school after Jack Benny Junior?"
The audience roared, as they always did, and as I still do when I remember this story.
Shot down at the fantasy factory
It doesn't happen too often, but when it does, I get to teeter on the edge of sanity for just a few moments and contemplate things that can't possibly be, before the real world reasserts itself and gives me a dope-slap.
And, well, the circumstances were right: a sunnyish (for March) afternoon, traffic crawling at 25 mph, and in front of me, a beautiful (this is my delusion, and I say she's beautiful, so back off) blonde in a Benz.
Not just any Benz, either; this was the SL55 AMG in Arrest Me Red, the first one of these I've seen in the city, and for a moment I had a flash of "Am I even allowed to drive around here?"
After about two blocks, I'd gotten to the point where we'd negotiated the prenup, and after two blocks more, we were flying to Stuttgart to pick up some AMG accessories Mercedes had unaccountably forgotten to include in the car's $124,020 price.
She veered off after half a mile, which at 25 mph takes longer than you'd think, and I wound up a few blocks later inhaling the diesel fumes from a Metro Transit bus. Back to reality. It is a measure of how serious this was that one of my favorite songs ever the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" had popped onto the stereo and I didn't even notice.
Wherever you are, Lady Benz, thank you, and I promise to keep my distance.
Meanwhile in T-town
Michael Bates' ongoing battle against the Tulsa World got three-quarters of a page in this week's Oklahoma Gazette. You'd think this would be an obvious item for their Web site, but it fell through the cracks or something. (But see Update below.)
Ronald Coleman, general counsel for the Media Bloggers Association, characterized the World's outburst as "an incredible emblem of the thick-headedness of old-media monopolies."
World attorney Schaad Titus advances a new notion in this piece: if links by BatesLine or other blogs prompted the reader to shell out the World's regular fees before viewing, that's okay with them. I wish they'd asked him if they were going to cut Bates in on any revenue he might generate if he did this.
And speaking of Schaad Titus, two years ago he and the World pushed for access to a database compiled by the city of Tulsa as part of the settlement of a lawsuit alleging employment discrimination in the Police Department. "It is important for city [residents] to understand what has happened and have them believe the settlement is good for the city, to unite the city rather than divide the city," he said. "If you don't have public access, you'll have no way to understand." There is no record of whether Titus or the World offered to pay the city for database access.
(Update, 3 March, 11:30 am: Here's a link to the Gazette story. My thanks to Editor Rob Collins.)
Two to the eighth
According to Rolf Harris in "Two Buffalos," 128 is enough of those.
But we never get enough of the Carnival of the Vanities. The 128th weekly compendium of bloggage at its best is hosted by Belief Seeking Understanding.
Of course, when I hear 128, I think of this.
3 March 2005
Pinch-hitting for Penderecki: Alban Berg
Fritz Schranck reports on the new District of Columbia baseball team, the Washington Atonals.
Hey, it looks like that to me.
Of course, there will be sacrifices
The solution to global warming? Ravenwood figured it out years ago:
Most people think that most of our oxygen comes from trees. But with two-thirds of the Earth's surface covered with water, it actually comes from oceans full of plant plankton, who dutifully convert CO2 to oxygen through photosynthesis. The biggest harm to plant plankton is not global warming, since a spike in CO2 would just mean that plant life thrives. Instead, plant plankton's biggest predator is whales. Whales scoop up plankton by the truckload. It would seem obvious then, that the solution is to protect plant plankton by slaughtering whales. With an absence of predators, plant plankton will overpopulate and drastically cut CO2 levels.
Amend that bumper sticker to read SAVE THE WHALES: COLLECT THE WHOLE SET!
Third second thoughts
The House has voted 59-39 to repeal the Oklahoma Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act, which permits employees of cities with 35,000 population or more to organize into unions. The law has previously been found unconstitutional by judicial ruling.
The Senate has yet to vote on the repeal.
Now to unload "Van Helsing"
Peerflix is, for lack of a better term, a DVD-swapping service: you set up a list of discs you own and a list of discs you want, and Peerflix, for a buck a transaction, arranges for shipment from those who own to those who want. This could get very complicated very quickly, but those who go through dozens of discs per month (you know who you are) should be delighted.
(Via Lifehacker, yet another Nick Denton World Domination entity.)
Not this year, folks
The Oklahoma Libertarian Party sent this as a press release (it's not on their Web site yet), and rather than rewrite it and take credit for having written something, I'm running it as is:
After being told that ballot access reform legislation will not be heard in committee this legislative session, Oklahomans for Ballot Access Reform says the new rules put in place at the State House aren't delivering openness and accountability as promised by House Speaker Todd Hiett.
House Bill 1429, which would lower the number of signatures necessary for an unrecognized party to get on the ballot, is assigned to the Rules Committee. Supporters of the bill were told by its author, Rep. Marian Cooksey (R-Edmond), that it would not be heard in committee. The office of Rep. Sue Tibbs (R-Tulsa), Chair of the Rules Committee, has confirmed that the bill will not be heard, but no reason is being given. The bill is identical to a bill introduced by Tibbs two years ago. Several members of the committee have already indicated they would support the bill, and Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso) agreed to sponsor the bill in the State Senate. OBAR members are finding it difficult to understand why the bill won't even be heard in committee, a necessary step for the measure to proceed to the House floor.
"Rep. Hiett took over as speaker and promised an open process," said OBAR spokesman James Branum. "HB 1429 has support inside and outside the Legislature. Someone is keeping this bill from proceeding, but there's no way for us to find out who or why. That's not an open process, and there's no accountability."
Current law requires an unrecognized party to petition for signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the number of voters in the last presidential or gubernatorial election in order to get on the ballot. To participate in the 2006 elections, a party would need to gather more than 73,000 signatures. HB 1429 would change that to 5,000 signatures, the amount required until 1974. Surrounding states all have much lower signature requirements for ballot access, 1% of voters from the last election in Texas, 10,000 in Missouri, 5,000 in Kansas, and 1,000 in Arkansas. During the 2004 election, Oklahoma was the only state in the country limited to just two candidates for President.
If ballot access reform is not passed into law this legislative session, the issue may be taken out of the Legislature's hands. A lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party is on appeal to the State Supreme Court. The Libertarians agreed to a stay in the case to give the Legislature the opportunity to act, but if HB 1429 is not even heard in committee the case will continue. Past litigation by the OKLP has resulted in easing restrictions on alternative parties at least four occasions.
And while the Libertarians are pushing this, they're not alone; members of the Constitution and Green parties are also backing the movement to loosen up the ballot. Could someone in the state GOP be pulling the strings behind the scenes? I don't know, but I find the idea that Republican brass might feel threatened by third parties more than a little amusing.
Where's the Undo key?
The reaction to the flipping of the columns was mostly negative, and the new BlogSnob format didn't fit well with it, so I reset them to the way they were, with the nav stuff on the left and the content, such as it is, on the right. My apologies to those of you who had just gotten used to it in reverse.
4 March 2005
Summer of '61
This week's assignment calls for the following: "you're 8 and it's a typical summer day." In the interest of having something interesting to say, I've stretched the definition of "8" to include "more than seven and a half, anyway"; I hope this doesn't meet with too much derision.
My father had recently been transferred to the Naval Base at Charleston, and there was a major waiting list for base housing, so for the time being, we (there being five of us, and a sixth appeared the following year) checked into the projects. I wrote about said projects back around the turn of the century:
"Legare" is an Old Charleston sort of name, and Old Charleston did things differently, so you shouldn't be surprised that it's pronounced "luh-GREE". Like Simon. George Legare had been a Congressman in the previous century, and for some reason Charleston County chose to name a public housing project after him. Across the road was a "separate-but-equal" facility for persons of African-American descent, this one named for a Senator, in this case "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman, one of South Carolina's most blatant white racists. One of the state's little jokes, I suppose. But I was too young to understand all these details; I was busy colonizing a series of abandoned culverts just off the edge of the project, and playing the occasional game of hopscotch. In fact, one of the neighborhood girls and I spent the better part of a summer day creating an Olympic-size hopscotch court. Forget jumping to ten, or even twenty; to negotiate this course, you had to complete nearly two hundred squares, circles, and whatever other polygons we saw fit. And we were about to do exactly that when the rain started and all our hard work and most of our chalk washed away into the grass.
The abandoned culverts served me as Fortress of Solitude for those occasions when I needed one, which was surprisingly often in those days. I didn't have a lot of friends, and the young lady who joined me in the hopscotch endeavors took entirely too much pleasure, I thought, from scaring me half to death. Not that I'd avoid her, of course.
This particular housing project was sandwiched between two major roads, the nearer of which became the Edge of the World, the point beyond which I dared not go on pain of, well, getting run over. There was, I recall, a little ice-cream stand on the Edge, but the times I had actual coin of the realm to spend there were few and far between, and I couldn't see any reason to hang around there unless I actually bought something.
The farther road contained no interesting commercial buildings, and what's worse, there was a railroad track running more or less parallel to it on the far side. I'd seen enough Saturday-morning Westerns to know that railroad tracks were what you got tied to if you'd gotten in the way of the Bad Guy, and I had no urge to be lashed to the rails, so I stayed clear of them. That is, until I noticed that beyond the tracks, there was a decently-sized hill, and inexplicably, there was a stairway of sorts, from just beyond the tracks, up the hill, to where?
Yes, I did find out, but by then, we were well into fall.
A ha'penny will do
The city of Broken Arrow has reduced its sales-tax rate from 3.5 percent to 3 percent this week. (The state sales tax remains at 4.5 percent; county tax varies, as Broken Arrow straddles the Tulsa/Wagoner county line.)
In 1998, Broken Arrow began collecting that extra half-cent to finance a new branch campus of Tahlequah-based Northeastern State University. The tax was scheduled to run eight years, but it brought in more money than anticipated, and additional NSU funding materialized. The city decided to drop the additional half-cent, and on the first of March made it official.
What's more, the bonds for the NSU project, which were supposed to be retired in 2011, are being paid off early, which will save the city about $1 million in interest.
Raiders of the Deep Rock
As of yesterday, billionaire Carl Icahn was the largest single stockholder in Oklahoma City's Kerr-McGee Corporation, controlling about 4.68 percent of KMG stock. Icahn associate Barry Rosenstein controls about 3 percent of KMG.
Typically for Icahn, he began making suggestions. In a letter to Kerr-McGee chairman Luke Corbett, Icahn suggested that the chemical business be spun off and that the oil-production business start selling future production in advance while prices are high. "Never before," said Icahn, "has there been such a disconnect between the stock market valuation of publicly traded (exploration and production) companies such as KMG . . . and the value at which oil and gas futures are trading in the commodity markets."
And while he was at it, Icahn nominated himself and Rosenstein to the Kerr-McGee board, a move which was not greeted warmly by management.
The most likely outcome? KMG will follow Icahn's recommendations to the extent that they get the stock price up to where he wants it, and then will pay him handsomely to go away.
Generally Consumer Reports is not one's first choice for snarky commentary, the "Selling It" section on the inside back cover aside, but whoever writes the little hundred-word individual-model blurbs in the annual Auto Issue has apparently gotten his leash paid out a few yards, to generally amusing effect.
The trend started last year, with this dismissal of the Hyundai XG350:
If you want to reminisce about a brand-new Buick from the 1960s, this is it.
And this on a car they recommend, mind you. The same verbiage is back this year, the Hyundai being essentially unchanged for '05, but some other vehicles come off a lot worse. The Chevrolet Impala's "interior fit and finish is borderline offensive." On the Kia Rio, "one of the lowest-priced cars sold in the US," you should "expect to get what you pay for." And Saab's two artificially-Swedened models, the 9-2X ("peculiar crossbreeding") and 9-7X, for which they put "Saab" in scare quotes in one line, apparently really annoyed them.
Nothing here that would jolt a Car and Driver reader, to be sure. On the other hand, Consumer Reports doesn't sell advertising, so none of the aggrieved automakers have the option of cancelling their ads in response.
5 March 2005
By now they might be seniors
The Junior League of Oklahoma City dates back to 1927; Mrs. Joseph Rumsey was its first president. Its purpose, then and now, is to promote volunteerism, develop opportunities for women, and provide support for local organizations. (The League's Remarkable Shop, a sort of upscale thrift shop, has been operating since 1930.)
The League's current headquarters is the Blinn House, the former Oklahoma County Home for Girls at 6300 North Western. Chesapeake Energy, whose campus is just to the south, has struck a deal with the League to buy the Blinn House, and Monday ground will be broken on a new Junior League office at Grand Park Center, just east of Western on Grand Boulevard. I expect that the Blinn House, which is on the National Register of Historical Places, will be changed little by its absorption into the corporate culture; you could show the Chesapeake facilities to a visitor and tell her it's a small private college, and she wouldn't question it for a moment. Not that I've ever done that sort of thing.
Incidentally, Pam Newby of the Junior League of Oklahoma City is the current President of the Association of Junior Leagues International.
Generally low Marx
I wrote that Junior League item and then hit the showers; at some point therein some unrepentant vestige of my Sixties self roused itself to reproach me for the proudly-bourgeois tone of the piece, and demanded: "How is this sort of thing consistent with sticking it to The Man?"
I may be past fifty, but I'm hardly past my rebellious phase. Still, times change as much as people do, and political issues, which by nature tend toward the ephemeral, change even more. (Heard anyone screaming for free silver lately?) So I reminded this spectre of the current Social Security kerfuffle and other putatively-evil BushCo initiatives, and pointed out that the Democrats, the party where Sixties burnouts seem to have been accumulating over the years, have positioned themselves as enthusiastic defenders of the status quo.
Besides, these days The Man is a neighbor of mine.
Buckets of brand identification
Costa sends along some thoughts before lunchtime at the Colonel's:
Technically, the restaurant in question is no longer called "Kentucky Fried Chicken", and hasn't been for years. Corporate officially changed the name to strictly KFC in order to get away from any perceived regionalism / redneckedness. Yes, it's a lame move, and in fact lots of franchises across the country still have "Kentucky" up on their outdated signs. But that's the corporate line.
Of course, some of your rumormongers believed it was because KFC was vending some unspeakable non-chicken products on the sly. And in some circles, the very word "fried" might be considered a pejorative.
I don't have extensive experience with Kentucky two visits and the only Kentuckian I know personally has relocated her sweet home to Alabama, but for the life of me, I can't think of anything particularly dislikable about the Bluegrass State. Then again, as a person of Midwestern birth who grew up in the South and now lives among the cowboys, I've never been able to work up enough arrogance to look down on other states. I mean, if I put my mind to it, I could probably say something nice about New Jersey.
But perhaps Kentucky gets more respect in the rest of the world:
In a slightly related note, a friend tells me that KFCs in Holland have maps of the US on their walls, with Kentucky highlighted and a pointer arrow on it.
I do hope this practice doesn't catch on at Taco Bell.
Saturday spottings (on the edge)
Generally, southeast Oklahoma City comes to an end at Pottawatomie Road, the far side of the 21900 block east, the beginning of Pottawatomie County. But there's a half-section beyond this point, and that's where I was headed today.
When you're this far from the center of things, you don't expect to find much in the way of city services, although I did see an actual Oklahoma City police vehicle patrolling near SE 130th and Peebly Road, and a few driveways sported the standard city trash containers. Otherwise, it's your standard exurban/rural area, large lots with an incredible variety of houses, the trashiest of trailers to the niftiest new construction, interrupted here and there by convenience stores and churches. This is not the place to go looking for a Burger King. (Indeed, one shouldn't look for a Burger King anywhere in the city these days: every one I've seen lately has closed up shop.)
What makes this little 320-acre parcel beyond the county line unusual is that it's literally inaccessible from the rest of the city. Pottawatomie Road runs along the western edge of it, but there are no eastbound roads; to get there, you have to get onto Fishmarket Road, by taking either SE 89th (which becomes Memorial Road) or SE 119th (which becomes Homer Lane) and going a mile east. Lake Drive (SE 104th) is the northern boundary of the spread, which extends half a mile to the south between Pottawatomie and Fishmarket. This part of Pottawatomie County is unincorporated and apparently largely unserviced: the McLoud post office delivers the mail, and street signs are likely to be handmade. Lake Drive itself is maybe a lane and a third wide. One southbound road, called Eastway, shows up half a mile to the west, but that's it. I am normally not a big fan of deannexation, but I honestly can't think of any reason why Oklahoma City should hold onto this remote tract.
I pushed on northward and wound up in Green Pastures, east of Spencer, an area annexed to Oklahoma City during the late 1950s. Green Pastures is mostly rural, not unlike that remote corner of Pottawatomie County, but its population is largely black. (We forget sometimes that at statehood, about 8 percent of Oklahomans had African ancestry.) Parts of it are spellbindingly beautiful; parts of it are scary. Sometimes they're the same parts. I really need to go back through there again and get a better look. (Ironically, I used to live a lot closer to there, but never made the effort to see it.) To the east of Green Pastures is an area called Dunjee Park, named for Roscoe Dunjee, legendary editor of the Black Dispatch.
Most of my Spottings excursions don't run 100 miles. This one did. And frankly, I needed the reminder that there's a lot more to the city than downtown, Bricktown, and what's around the corner. Mayor Cornett said in his State of the City address: "For over 100 years, we've been a City that has grown and expanded on the edges." We pretty much had to: after all, we got our first ten thousand residents in the first 24 hours.
6 March 2005
Not much in store
Last month I noted, somewhat belatedly, the lack of supermarkets on the city's northeast side, and it occurred to me afterwards that there wasn't an abundance of chain stores of any sort serving this largely-black quadrant: there's a CVS which used to be an Eckerd's (though, surprisingly, not a Walgreen's dogging its heels), one of Yum! Brands' KFC-plus-something-else stores, and a couple of Mickey D's around the edges, but chain retail is otherwise conspicuous by its absence. I wondered if this was an anomaly, but, says Karen DeCoster, it's worse in Detroit:
[U]ntil the Dennis Archer administration took over the mayor's office in 1994, there was hardly a single chain store anywhere that was willing to locate inside the city's borders. This was a phenomenon only known to Detroit. Most people whom I talk to, from other areas, cannot comprehend that the city of Detroit did not have mega-stores, shopping malls, retail giants, chain grocery stores, chain video stores, etc. within its city limits. This seems like a fairy tale to them. Phoenix, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. they have all had the benefit of economies of scale in their cities.
Detroit? Hardly a single K-Mart, Kroger, Meijer's, Blockbusters, or otherwise, was located in the city borders. Starbucks? Not a chance. The only businessmen left were the Arabs many are Chaldeans who opened up independent grocers, video stores, dollar stores, makeshift retailing outfits, etc. As one who had to shop at these places as a financially struggling 19-year-old, I can attest to the fact that these stores were absolutely awful: high prices, rotten food, poor selection, nothing fresh, and they were all dirty as all heck. It left city consumers with having to purchase their daily needs from these brave-but-less-than-efficient businesses, or make trips into the suburbs to find a place to shop. (Poor Detroit residents have consistently fought against these stores, what with their unkempt ways and high prices, but these people were the only ones, for the most part, willing to dare risk any kind of entrepreneurship in the city of Detroit.)
In some circles it is de rigueur to bash chain retail for its negative effects on local stores, an attitude which overlooks the possibility that some of those local stores might actually deserve it. And residents of northeast Oklahoma City who actually want to take advantage of the chains have had to venture into other parts of the city, or head east into the 'burbs. As close as Wal-Mart is likely to get is NE 23rd and Douglas Boulevard, in the north end of Midwest City, coming next year. Still, that's only six miles from MLK; imagine how far you'd have to drive or ride the bus to get out of Detroit.
They say that art and pain are intimately intertwined, and I'm inclined to agree; if I had to stand perfectly still with my clothes off in front of a bunch of art students for forty-five minutes, I'd scream.
Of course, they'd probably scream at the thought of having to look at me for forty-five minutes.
First we pass the bill, then we read it
The state of Ohio, starting 2 May, will license auctioneers, and will require them, among other things, to serve an apprenticeship, to pass exams, to pay an annual fee, and to post a $50,000 bond even if all they're doing is selling some tchotchkes on eBay.
The primary author of the bill, Senator Larry Mumper (R-Marion), apparently had no idea that it would have such a wide-ranging effect:
This was to insure that auctioneers were abiding by the established rules and regulations. The bill is flawed. We will amend it and correct the problem before it goes into law. It certainly will not apply to the casual seller on eBay, but might apply to anyone who sells a lot.
Translation: "Aw, come on, people, we're trying to do some serious regulation here, and you just want to nitpick."
You know, Senator, if you and your friends weren't so damned eager to regulate everything under the sun, you wouldn't run into situations like this.
Rule 7: No pooftahs
I turned this up at what is now billed as the last unorthodox church of the lactose incompetent. It's a passage from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, and it's well worth repeating:
Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him. "Peter," he says, "kindly remember rule number 6," whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.
The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: "Marie, please remember rule number 6." Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.
When the scene is repeated a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: "My dear friend, I've seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of rule number 6?"
"Very simple," replies the resident prime minister. "Rule number 6 is 'Don't take yourself so g--damn seriously.'"
"Ah," says his visitor, "that is a fine rule." After a moment of pondering, he inquires, "And what, may I ask, are the other rules?"
"There aren't any."
I do have to watch myself carefully for violations of this rule; should I go astray, the results are not pretty.
I can't choose, it's too much to lose
Los Bravos, a Spanish band with a German-born lead singer, scored three Top 100 hits in the States in the Sixties, the biggest of which was "Black Is Black" in late 1966, which made #4. Of course, you'll find Los Bravos on my singles rack filed under L. I suppose it would be more appropriate to move them to the Bs, but I'm not all that worried about being accused of deep, heinous, Euro-centric Caucasoid Cluelessness; I mean, it's not like they're Mexicans or anything.
[Insert ? and the Mysterians link here.]
To make this more interesting, let's say I bought the most recent 45 issue of "Black Is Black," which Universal had the temerity to pair up with Danny Williams' "White On White." It's enough to drive you to crimson and clover, over and over.
7 March 2005
Writing a new chapter
As I see it this bill is an attempt to secure for the credit card issuers, some of the biggest of all contributors to political campaigns, what was formerly unsecured credit and reduce their risks.
I don't have any problem with credit card companies making money. And I do think that people should be responsible for their debts. But there's a simple solution to reducing the exposure of the credit card issuing companies: stop giving unsecured credit. I do have a problem with the credit industry improving their bottom lines by having the government do the heavy lifting for them. They knew what the rules were when they issued cards to people who couldn't pay.
With literally billions of card offers every year, you have to figure that not everyone who replies is going to have a credit score in the 800s. And personal bankruptcies haven't been steadily increasing, either; from 2003 to 2004, they actually dropped slightly. I don't think bankruptcy should be viewed as just another personal financial tool, but I don't think it should be redefined purely for the benefit of the creditors, either.
(Disclosure: I went through a Chapter 7 in the early 1980s, though the amount I had written off was less than the amount I wound up paying back.)
Donna shows you her Chin
A Japanese Chin, in fact, with the clunky (and almost certainly AKC-approved) name Master Beauregard Duke Bebop W. Le Moko.
I don't think I'm qualified to call him "Beau."
Term limits for everyone
Rep. Trebor Worthen (R-Oklahoma City) has come up with House Joint Resolution 1015, which would limit all statewide officeholders to two terms.
The Lieutenant Governor, the State Superintendent of Schools, the Insurance Commissioner, the Treasurer, the Attorney General, the Labor Commissioner, and the Auditor and Inspector are all elected for four-year terms; the three members of the Corporation Commission are elected for six-year terms. Of the ten offices in question, five are occupied by Democrats, five by Republicans, so it's not like Worthen, a freshman Republican, is trying to engineer some sort of GOP coup here.
Worthen knows from term limits: his father, Robert Worthen, used to hold that same District 87 seat before running out of time. State legislators are now limited to twelve years in office. If you ask me, if twelve years is enough for legislators, twelve years is enough for other statewide offices; I'd support this measure if it were rewritten to set a twelve-year limit, three terms for everyone except the Corp Comm. And it is, at least in part, up to me: since this requires a change to the state Constitution, HJR 1015, if passed, would call for an election.
Coming full circle
Northern Virginia credit-card giant Capital One is paying $5.3 billion for Louisiana-based Hibernia Corp., giving them a retail presence they didn't have before.
Oh, wait, they did. Capital One was spun off from Richmond's Signet Bank in 1995; Signet was absorbed by First Union two years later.
There is truly no new thing under the sun, or in your wallet.
Tons of Saabs
I have now seen a print ad for the Saab 9-7X, which, as noted previously, is basically a Chevrolet TrailBlazer, more stock car than Stockholm. My prediction was this:
[T]here will be a fair number of buyers lined up at the Saab store who will have no idea that the sturdy Swedish steed before them was bred from purely American stock.
The General isn't inclined to tell them, either. From the ad:
With its clean, Scandinavian design, an available 300-hp, V8 engine and a taut, Saab-tuned sport suspension, this SUV refuses to blend in.
Unless you park it next to a Buick Rainier. (Come to think of it, why does Buick have a truck?)
Unique even in its approach to safety, the 9-7X features its ignition key between the seats to help reduce the risk of knee injury in a collision. After all, when a car company started by 16 aircraft engineers decides to design an SUV, status quo thinking doesn't stand a chance.
Of course, there's nothing remotely aircraft-like about this big rig, except for its Airbusoid mass. If this sort of thing actually catches on, we will know it is time for GM to stop all of its Saabing.
(Update, 9 March, 10:30 am: Saab CEO Peter Augustsson has resigned in the wake of a decision by GM to produce most of its European models at the Opel plant in Rüsselsheim, Germany instead of at Saab's Swedish facilities.)
8 March 2005
Where the babes are
"It's not that looks matter per se. It's just that beautiful women are always on the cutting edge of social trends. Remember how many beautiful women were in the anti-war movement twenty years ago? In the yoga classes fifteen years ago? At the discos ten years ago? On Wall Street five years ago? Where the beautiful women are is where the country is headed," said my friend.
To which I would add only the following observations:
1. The Neighborhood Association, and therefore the neighborhood, has been getting a steady influx of Major Babes;
2. There are an awful lot of extremely attractive females on my blogroll, most of whom got there long before I had any idea that they were extremely attractive.
Yes, I am that superficial at times. Thank you for noticing.
Gimme the Delhi special
[A]s I was watching the videos (all culled from the huge pool of Bollywood musicals) it occurred to me that movies coming from a place where you aren't even allowed to kiss a girl, much less undress and go at it like pistons in the engine of a Pontiac Sunbird (that is being filmed under spotlights with zoom lenses to a "hot jazz" soundtrack) and where each shot of pretty dancing girls seems by law to also require regular shots of a staidly bopping turbanned and sari'ed grandpa and grandma watching from the side, are about a thousand times more erotic than the steamy, razor-shaved-to-slide-under-the-high-end-of-the-MPAA-rating-guide products of soulless Hollywood.
Rather a lot of participants in Hollywood love scenes appear to be inspired mostly by Brian Wilson's "Little Deuce Coupe": they're stroked and bored.
I guess I am saying we need more, not less, rules, because from where I am sitting grownup things like pleasures were both more exciting when they were hedged around with moats and dragons and armed guards, and were taken a lot more seriously before the era of Let It All Hang Out turned into Let Janet Hang Out Her Tit On Daytime TV.
Well, I'd say we could probably use some unwritten rules, the sort that don't wind up in court, the kind that used to govern our public conduct before the cultural arbiters came up with the idea of celebrating the deviant, the norms being tools of the patriarchy and all those other Bad Things.
One of the most fiercely erotic scenes I've ever seen on screen was in Silk Stockings, a 1957 remake of Ninotchka with Cyd Charisse as the stern lady Communist seduced by French finery and/or Fred Astaire. When she swaps out her sturdy socialist underwear for the silken delights of the City of Lights, you see scarcely any flesh at all, but then you don't have to: you know what she's feeling. Were they to film this today, they'd have the camera in so close you could see every digitally-retouched vein, with all the warmth of a speculum just out of the fridge.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a big First Amendment fan, and where it says "Congress shall make no law," I'd like to think they mean it. But I'm weary of middle-school innuendo being passed off as actual examinations of human sexuality. There may indeed be folks for whom going at it like pistons in an engine is the highest form of expression, and I certainly wouldn't want them to be suppressed, but I can think of no reason why they should be celebrated either.
Over to you, Domenico
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Maestro Sergiu Comissiona died early Saturday morning here in the city, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to conduct the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
But before that final curtain, he taught a master class for conductors at Oklahoma City University, and Matt Deatherage was there:
The Maestro . . . looked quite relaxed. He would occasionally stand beside the podium and conduct briefly alongside a student. He kept tempo with the tiniest motions, so larger hand gestures clearly communicated his style and dynamic wishes.
Sometimes less is more.
And the concert did go on, with Philharmonic Music Director Joel Levine at the helm.
As the countdown continues
It's called "The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act of 2005", it was introduced by Senator Mel Martinez and Representative David Weldon, both Florida Republicans, and its purposes are as follows:
(1) to facilitate balancing the acknowledged right of persons to refuse consent to medical treatment and unwanted bodily intrusions with the right to consent to treatment, food, and fluids so as to preserve their lives;
(2) in circumstances in which there is a contested judicial proceeding because of dispute about the expressed previous wishes or best interests of a person presently incapable of making known a choice concerning treatment, food, and fluids the denial of which will result in death, to provide that the fundamental due process and equal protection rights of incapacitated persons are protected by ensuring the availability of collateral review through habeas corpus proceedings.
Or, in other words, to prevent debacles like the upcoming execution (it doesn't qualify as anything else) of Terri Schiavo, scheduled for ten days from now.
(Courtesy of Patterico.)
9 March 2005
Devon backs off
Oklahoma City's Devon Energy Corp. is terminating its operations in Syria, citing current political pressures. US sanctions against Syria do not block Devon's oil exploration, but the company is unable to import replacement parts for its equipment.
Devon had planned to invest approximately $17 million in the Syrian oil fields, and began operations, with the consent of Congress and the Department of State, in 2002.
The libertarian vs. the conservative
Home of the Braves
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, having taken care of all its other problems, produced a list of thirty or so college athletic teams with Native American names, mascots, logos, whatever, and one of the schools on the list is the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, whose teams are called the Braves.
And if the school has anything to say about it, they will continue to be called the Braves. As it happens, UNC Pembroke began operations in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School, charged with training Native American schoolteachers in answer to a petition by the Lumbee tribe, and while they broadened their scope to include other academic endeavors and other tribes over time, they did not admit non-Indian students until the 1950s.
So "Braves" makes sense for UNC Pembroke, and the Lumbees like it just fine. Says Tribal Chairman Milton R. Hunt:
To us, [the logo and nickname are] a part of the university’s name, just an extension of that, and the Lumbees would consider it an insult if it were changed.
(Via Tongue Tied.)
Scenery? What scenery?
When Bobby Troup was getting his kicks on Route 66, he noted that "Oklahoma City is mighty pretty."
He wouldn't have thought so if he'd had to take I-35 or 40.
Meanwhile, for those of us a bit more earthbound, there's the 129th edition of Carnival of the Vanities, hosted this week by Solomonia, as always incorporating seven days' worth of quality bloggage in a single handy container.
Kermac splits the difference
Kerr-McGee has now responded to the proposals by Carl Icahn, and while they're considering spinning off the chemical division as he suggested, and will engage in the sort of stock-repurchase plan he recommended, they dismissed his suggestion of selling off future production as "irresponsible." CEO Luke Corbett:
Mr. Icahn's proposal of a VPP [volumetric production payment] of this magnitude would extract the revenue from approximately 32% of our proved developed producing reserves, while leaving the company with 100% of the costs.
And that's not all:
We have seen VPPs employed productively on a much more prudent scale, but Mr. Icahn's proposal is tantamount to mortgaging the company's future simply to provide Mr. Icahn and his partners with some quick cash.
I'm not persuaded that selling off the chemical division is such a wonderful idea if oil goes bust again, the company will be in, you should pardon the expression, a deep hole but buying back $1 billion worth of stock puts some idle cash to work and props up the value of those equities at the same time, which should be useful.
10 March 2005
Sending Monsanto to the showers
Back when I was your average Young Married Suburban Lout, I had a porch covered with AstroTurf, and it was every bit as hideous as you think it was. But no matter how horrid it might have looked at my house, the Evil Syntho-Grass is at least a bazillion times worse with base paths cut through it.
So it's a joy to report that the National League, in addition to avoiding modern-day abominations like the designated hitter, this season spurns AstroTurf; with the former Montreal Expos now making unmelodic sounds in the nation's capital, there are no NL stadia remaining with plastic grass.
I note that out here in the Pacific Coast League, only one team plays on pseudogreen: the Portland Beavers. You'd think a bunch of Oregon grinders would have a genuine organic environment, but no.
Big wheels keep on turning
Tom Lindley's column in this morning's Oklahoman is perhaps a trifle overexuberant about the prospects for riverfront development along The River Formerly Known As The North Canadian:
With the new Dell Inc. call center under construction on the west end and a $110 million American Indian Cultural Center planned for the other, seemingly all that is left to do is carve up the middle of downtown Oklahoma City.
New zoning stipulations will need to be enacted, but no doubt plenty of room will be available for walking and running trails, bicycles and skateboards. There will be boats in the water and vegetation along the rocky river embankments. There will be room for high-rise apartments with remarkable views of the downtown skyline. To top it off, there may be room for a five-star hotel, a championship golf course and a new-age lifestyle center.
Quite a bill of goods. Then again:
Pat Downes, development director for the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, estimates inquiries from the public and developers have tripled since the new corridor was dedicated in December. "The first and longest step was to get water in the river," he said. "It's now a real river; it's no longer a speculative venture."
And just think of the money we'll save by not having to mow it.
Then again, the hard part turning a raggedy old ditch into a full-fledged river is already done. From here on out, it's all downstream.
Um, because he can?
The old saying goes: "Physician, heal thyself."
The legal equivalent, I suppose, is "Solicitor, sue thyself."
Bound to perplex
Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, "Damn, I oughta write a book"?
Probably not. And it occurs to me that by now, with four thousand and odd blog articles, plus nine years' worth of Vents and various other ephemera on this site, I've already written a book. Maybe two or three.
And if I had the brilliance of a Scott Ott, the style and tenacity of a Dawn Eden, or the sheer verve of any number of people who do this better than I do, I'd think about trying to sell this stuff of mine.
On the other hand, I can't think of any reason why anyone should want to reread it at all, let alone in hard copy.
Come on down to my bloat, baby
With time based archives (like monthly and weekly), each entry is not stored on a separate page, but as part of the whole archive page. In the case of Powerline you now have to load the whole monthly archive page to get to any single article. That's not so bad early in the month, but as content and pictures are added eventually it doesn't load very fast even for high speed internet users. Dial-up users will get hourglasses instead of content.
The advantage of being one person with nothing to say: my largest single monthly archive, instead of being a Powerlinesque 4 MB, is a mere 240 KB. (This would be January 2005, if you're keeping score.) And I have E-Z-Linq individual archives so you don't have to read through them; the main reason I keep monthly archives at all is for my convenience in looking up stuff, in case I know about when I posted something but not necessarily where.
Disk-space limits? Perish the thought. I've used up about 105 MB of the 4800 (yes, Virginia, that's four point eight gig) I'm allotted.
(Update: Kevin Aylward adds: "I'm not picking on Powerline which happens to be one of my favorite blogs they just made for a fresh example.")
11 March 2005
And a nose of deepest blue
Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, one of the more highly-regarded films of 2004, was apparently booked for the Noble Theatre at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but was scrapped at the last minute when someone noticed it bore an NC-17 rating.
The Literary Tech sends a missive to that someone:
With respect, I would ask that you seriously reconsider this decision. I would suggest that decisions of this nature will not lead to a growth of the film program at MOA, and this decision does little to stimulate the intellectual life of Oklahoma City. While this issue is most starkly seen when applied to Almodovar's respected work, it is an issue that must redound to other works.
In transcending the immediate concern for Mr. Almodovar's Bad Education, one sees a time where only the most innocuous issues can be addressed in films presented at the MOA theater. The recent Oscar-winning film The Sea Within offers us a case in point. Anyone who takes exception to Mr. Almodovar's fine work would need to consider taking exception to a wide range of films of all sorts. In time, one would expect little of note or merit to be shown on the screen at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I hope for more for my city and, one day, for my son.
This was going to be the month that I actually buckled down, ponied up the bucks, and became an OKCMOA member; I think now perhaps I shall wait a while and see what happens.
(Update, 13 March, 9 pm: OKCMOA film curator Brian Hearn says that it was his fault that Bad Education was dropped; the Museum has a policy that requires NC-17 films be submitted to the Museum Board for review, and, he told GayOKC.com, he neglected to do so.)
For when "vibrate" isn't enough
Signs of the Apocalypse, Volume MDCLXVI: Wireless content company Brickhouse Mobile has announced that under an agreement with adult-film vendor New Frontier Media, it would begin offering ring tones for mobile phone users featuring actual porn stars making groaning and moaning noises, plus lewd wallpaper and downloadable video.
This, of course, supports Penn Jillette's argument that "Shopping, sex and shopping for sex propel all new technology." And I'm not one to get bent out of shape, so to speak, about sex: see previous item. On the other hand, I'm thinking I can keep my old stripped-down Nokia phone with no "cool" features whatever for a while longer. (Heh-heh. He said "stripped.")
(Via Jacqueline Passey.)
Kermac ups the ante
Round three in the battle of Carl Icahn vs. Kerr-McGee Corporation begins with a lawsuit filed by KMG against Icahn and his associates.
The suit claims that Icahn's group violated the Securities Act of 1934 by acting collectively without identifying themselves as a group, and that the SEC was not notified in a timely manner as required when one of the group acquired more than $50 million in KMG shares.
Counsel for Icahn said he hadn't seen the suit yet, but he believed it was "without merit."
Just one of the troops
This was the assignment:
Write about a specific event that precipitated a dramatic change in your perspective on life. This could be a childhood event, an illness, an accident, or even something someone said that really touched you or made you think.
That word "dramatic" put me off, since it suggests really substantive changes, and, well, I haven't had really substantive changes. I've been through a lot in my time, but I'm still basically the same person I was when I was born, except for not weighing seven pounds, six ounces anymore.
But I will cite one incident from May 1972, when I was taking the Army's Basic Combat Training, and doing generally well at everything that didn't require tremendous physical strength, something I'd never actually had. Still, I was making progress even at that, until an object on an obstacle course lived up to its name and smacked me to the ground, my ankle purple and twisted and swollen seemingly to the size of a watermelon.
So I got about on crutches for a couple of weeks, didn't mishandle any weapons or anything like that, but the dreaded PT test was coming up, and I figured I had to knock out a seven-minute mile with this bad leg or be recycled into another group and have to go through most of the same horrible things again for an extra six weeks. Since my best time before the injury was 8:07, I was not optimistic.
The test has changed much since then, but when I was there, there were five events, each of which were scored from 0 to 100 points, and 300 points, in whatever sequence, were required to pass. That day the mile run was last, and your friendly neighborhood gimp was faced with having to turn in a 6:53 time. I would have cried if it wouldn't have looked so pathetic.
Then out came the battalion commander, in fatigues like the rest of us but still looking as sharp as his silver oak leaf in the Missouri sun, and he said to me, "You can do this. Come on." And he took off around the oval to pace me through those 440 yards of hell four times over.
"Yes, sir." I was so absolutely flabbergasted that I forgot to notice how much pain I was supposed to be in.
And then, suddenly, it was over in five minutes, fifty-six seconds. I had 311 points. I had passed.
The rumor went around that our company was on track to be the first in several years to have completed the cycle with no failures other than disciplinary. I don't know if this was true, but I do know that I don't remember anyone from that company who did get sent back for another six weeks. It would certainly provide some motivation for the battalion commander. But I don't really care what was going through the Colonel's head right that instant. What mattered was that he considered getting my unworthy butt through the system an important part of his mission, and that's what he did.
If ever you ask me "So how did you get such a high opinion of the military?" this is your answer.
(Submitted to Wizbang's Carnival of the Trackbacks.)
12 March 2005
New improved full dimensional stereotypes
This made the email rounds and wound up in The Oklahoma Observer, fercryingoutloud, so I figure it's probably semi-safe to post. If you're considering seeking an engineering degree from a college in this state, you should be able to answer the following questions: