1 September 2006
Making the ponies drink less
According to the study, consumer expectations for alternative-fuel vehicles tend to be unrealistic. Those considering a hybrid expect to pay a premium of more than $5,000 and hope to achieve 28 more miles for every gallon of gasoline. The actual mileage improvement is closer to 9 mpg. The shortcomings of expectations aren't quite as drastic for diesel consumers who believe they will pay $2,800 more than a gas-powered car and derive 21 miles more for each gallon, but in actuality receive an increase of about 12 mpg.
Well, the actual mileage improvement is closer to 9 mpg on otherwise-similar vehicles, and it's at least possible that some of these folks are contemplating not just hybrids, but smaller hybrids.
Toyota's genius, I think, was building the Prius on its own platform, so it couldn't be directly compared to the Corolla or the Echo/Yaris or the Camry or anything else they sell over here. Honda's Insight was similarly dissimilar, but its penalty-box-on-wheels nature probably discouraged as many buyers as its alleged 55-mpg fuel economy attracted, and the car was dropped from Honda's US line for 2007. Meanwhile, you can get quite a luxe-ish Prius if the check you write is big enough, and I keep wondering when Lexus is going to get its own version in the $35-45k range. (Assuming they use the same bifurcated powerplant, they could call it something like CS150h.)
And the laws of physics are nowhere near being repealed: the chief enemy of gas mileage is sheer mass, and you shouldn't expect anything miraculous from a vehicle that weighs two and a half tons no matter what kind of technotrickery is pressed into service.
The Pentagon takes interest
So-called "payday-loan" and "cash-advance" places dot the urban landscape: the local Feist Yellow Book has nine pages under "Loans," and while actual banks and traditional finance companies are listed, generally in small print, the big ads are for small-time operations with big-time interest rates. I have no idea how trustworthy this bunch is, but I am not heartened by things like a half-page ad listing four companies who turn out to be at two addresses: each location has two offices, apparently differing only in name.
The Department of Defense has been looking into these joints also; they estimate that 17 percent of military personnel have used these companies for quick loans. And it's not hard to understand why: most of the troops are young and inexperienced in financial matters, and they're not what you'd call especially well-paid: starting pay at grade E-1 (FY 2006) is $1178.10 a month. (This is five and a half times what I made as an E-1 in 1972, but it's still not an enormous sum.)
Defense, therefore, would like to curb this sort of thing, and there's no money for giving the troops a huge raise, so the next-best thing is to cap the interest rates charged by lenders. The example in the AP story: fellow writes $300 check post-dated two weeks, gets $255 cash. I look at this and I think, well, $45 is not that big a finance charge, but then I do the math, and the annual percentage rate is around 400 percent.
The cap sought by the Pentagon is an APR of 36 percent, about what you'd pay on the worst credit cards, and a House/Senate conference committee is considering such a measure. Would such a cap drive these firms out of business? Warren Bolton of The State (in Columbia, SC, home of Fort Jackson) thinks so:
In 2004, the Department of Defense asked states to support 10 key issues that would improve the quality of life for service members. One of the 10 was to prohibit predatory payday lending. So far, 11 states have made changes that outlaw triple-digit interest rates for payday loans: Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia. "These states have been successful in maintaining strong usury laws and aggressively enforcing those laws," the Pentagon report said.
That's certainly true in North Carolina and Georgia. North Carolina has a 36 percent annual percentage rate usury cap for small loans. In Georgia, lenders can't exceed a 60 percent annual percentage rate. Both those states have shut payday lending down.
Oklahoma legislators introduced two bills this session to cap lending rates to service personnel at 36 percent. Senate Bill 1920, by Daisy Lawler (D-Comanche) and in the House by John Carey (D-Durant) died in the Finance Committee, as did SB 1062, by Mary Easley (D-Tulsa).
The industry itself points out that sometimes the alternatives could be worse:
Payday advance APRs are often lower than customers' alternatives (on the same 2-week term)
The problem, though, isn't the one-shot triple-digit APR: it's the spiral of rollover loans that follows when the borrower discovers that he isn't quite caught up just yet.
Still, for all the presumed "predatory" nature of these firms, they pale next to the rent-to-own outfits, the only places in town where you can still buy a low-end PC for $2,000. It's enough to make you yearn for a layaway plan.
It's all ova now
As usual, Python was here first:
LORETTA: It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.
REG: But ... you can't have babies.
REG: I'm not oppressing you, Stan. You haven't got a womb! Where's the fetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!
JUDITH: Here! I I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the right to have babies.
FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.
REG: What's the point?
REG: What's the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can't have babies?!
FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
REG: Symbolic of his struggle against reality.
Fun is where you find it
And upgrading WordPress is not where I prefer to find it, but part of this afternoon was spent upgrading an existing installation to 2.0.4 and, for no good reason I can think of, installing a new one somewhere else.
Still, I could update five or six or fifty or sixty WordPress installs in the time it takes me to do one Movable Type upgrade on this place, which perhaps explains why I'm always a version or three behind.
A soft, Zillowy cloud
We're down to $106,663, $2297 below last week, and only $10k above what I think this place is really worth.
Quote of the week
Actually, I have two this week, and they're both storm-related; I simply couldn't pick between the two.
In a move to foster improved relations between the meteorological community and the news industry, the National Hurricane Center announced today that it is lowering the requirements for a storm to be officially named as a hurricane. The previous standard was sustained winds of 74 miles per hour, but the recent brush with Ernesto, and subsequent inability of reporters to say the word "hurricane" in conjunction with every reference to Ernesto, began to cause some friction between the two groups. "It was very frustrating, having to watch my colleagues in the field use the term 'tropical storm' when referring to Ernesto, when it had once carried the formal title of 'hurricane'," said news anchor Troy McDonald of station WECT in Wilmington, NC. Other news industry leaders echoed his concern, with John Zarella of CNN pleading with Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, to do something that would enable reporters to use the word "hurricane" in as many situations as possible.
After a two-day summit between the two communities at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, Mayfield announced that the new criteria for a Category One hurricane would include sustained winds of only 25 miles per hour, and storm-surge levels of only six inches. In a prepared statement, Mayfield expressed confidence that the revised standards would not only enable the news industry to use flashier graphics more often and increase Nielsen ratings, but would also allow the National Hurricane Center to take a more active role in educating the public about the dangers of powerful storms.
Meanwhile, a year after a Category
The night closes out at Pat O'Brien's, who had an entrance on Bourbon, but prefers its more respectable address on St. Peter's, the only one that's open. It's massive inside, a huge courtyard at the end of a brick alleyway, with two spiral staircases leading up to private second floor areas with plush emerald carpeting. Appropriately, [they] invented a drink called the Hurricane anywhere else in the country, the bartender mixing the drink has to use Pat O'Brien's patented mix and the glass that it goes in, and my friend buys me one to celebrate an excellent week. We toast to the future, to the people we've met, and to the city itself, our faces and glasses lit up only by Pat's famous flaming fountain, a huge Parisian fountain that shoots water, lit with fiber optics, towards the sky in a ring around blue and yellow flames. No locals tonight, just us and the cool air, and the noise from Bourbon. The rest of the world could be a mile, or a century, away. New Orleans is a little like that. It's far removed from the country in its history, its mannerisms, its outlook, and really, its feel. There's no place like it, and I'm in love. I'm pleased with that assessment of my feelings, because it means that despite the destruction I've seen, despite the depression that the news claims haunts the flood plains and the citizens, there must still be something to the city to fall in love with. There must still be a heart, a soul, a life.
Now to get ready for some local stormage.
2 September 2006
From the Department of Eternal Tweakage
Some folks are disinclined to leave an email address with a comment here, and inasmuch as some previous versions of Movable Type made those email addresses into live links if the commenters didn't also leave a URL, I certainly can't blame them.
I am therefore somewhat pleased to announce that (1) MT no longer does this and (2) I have gone back and removed the links to email addresses of commenters in the seven thousand-odd entries in the database. (I think I got them all, but I haven't paged through every last screen to verify, so if you spot one, feel free to call my attention to it.)
Don't look for the union label
After all, though they may be candy, they're still scabs:
The bandage itself is thin, sturdy plastic you know the plastic that a package of Oscar Meyer bologna is in? It's that type of plastic. On the back are two sticky spots that you remove the protective covering and use those sticky spots to stick it to your skin. The part over your "wound" is a hinged area that opens to reveal the candy "scab". (photo) The hinged area is re-closeable so you can take a few licks and save it for later.
The candy scab is simply molded, pressed sugar like a SweeTart or pressed Pixy Stix but the top is "scab red" and molded to look like a real scab. You get five bandages per box plus a pack of five "scab refills". The candy itself is nothing special, but isn't bad tasting. The whole thing is pretty gross though.
Well, we've had boogers, and now scabs. What's next? A Hershey's Kiss in the shape of a lump o' crap? Otter Pops with chunks of real otter? (Keep in mind, I rule Google when it comes to ocelot spleen.)
Just a little Peyton Place
Dawn Eden is showing a YouTube of Jeannie C. Riley, and along with it come some questions about "Harper Valley P.T.A.", to this effect:
I wonder looking past Riley's ultra-glam gold lamé boots and silver lamé dress [in the video clip] is the message of this song as positive as it purports to be? Is it just about putting the lie to self-righteousness and calling hypocrisy by its proper name? Or is it really just a sad tale of a fatherless teenage girl whose mother drinks, runs around, and then tries to justify herself by talking trash about her judgmental neighbors?
Myself, I'm inclined to cut Mrs. Johnson some slack, inasmuch as her single-mom status was visited upon her in the worst way. The first line of the song, after all, is "I want to tell you all a story 'bout a Harper Valley widowed wife," which doesn't necessarily mean that she wasn't a Wild Child before she was wed, but does confer upon her a smidgen of, you should pardon the expression, moral authority that would not devolve upon, say, "The Girl Most Likely," the title of Riley's second hit single. (And, come to think of it, the narrator of "Most Likely" is accused of all manner of depravity, being as how she's a poor girl and all.)
But the key, I think, is printed on the record label between the title and the artist. "Harper Valley P.T.A." was written by Tom T. Hall, and if anyone in Nashville exemplifies elliptical, nowhere-near-in-your-face narratives, it's Tom T. Hall: he's more interested in letting the details accumulate than in beating you over the head with a Message. (Exhibit A.) If the song seems to take the side of the widow Johnson, it's because and Hall was astute enough to keep it a secret until the very last verse it's told from the point of view of the daughter, who is not what you'd call an unbiased observer. And by saving that bombshell for the very end, Tom T. Hall forces you to look back at both sides of the matter: yes, Harper Valley may be overrun with hypocrites, but nowhere does he say that they're misjudging Mrs. J.
So Dawn's seeing it straight: both of those premises are there, though many of us, having been told since, oh, the 1960s or thereabouts, that hypocrisy is the greatest of all sins, see only the one. (Photo snagged from Collectables Records.)
Mr. No Traffic Political Blogger Guy
Certainly deserving of being honored as one of the "Real Men of Genius", I'd say.
... 'cause while any guy can watch the news, you pay a webhost 15 bucks a month to make snarky comments about it.
Exactly what makes this "civil"?
It's called a "civil registry," and Ohio is screwing around with the concept, armed with this law:
A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.
The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.
And, of course, county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or alleged victims never, ever make mistakes, never accuse anyone falsely.
It's "Orwellian," says Lachlan:
Who can assure the citizens of Ohio that they won't be added to this registry erroneously? We all know the Court of Public Opinion is far stronger than the actual courts. And there is always the chance someone will decide to take matters into their own hands, even when there is nothing concrete to back it up.
Who could possibly come up with something that stupid? From the news story:
The concept was offered by Roman Catholic bishops as an alternative to opening a one-time window for the filing of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse that occurred as long as 35 years ago.
To which Jeffrey Quick responds:
In other words, to protect the church's assets, the bishops threw the rest of Ohio to the dogs. That should be worth 7 aeons in Purgatory, at least.
This is a shameful piece of work, or some other four-letter word, and the fact that Ohio legislators actually bought this bill of goods suggests that housecleaning in Columbus is way overdue.
3 September 2006
Sound your Z
zzzzuh! - noun
1. When a man, who is neither conventionally good looking, nor what you would ordinarily define as your "type," walks into the room, and the moment your eyes lock, something in your brain screams, "Yes! I want to have your babies!"
You'd hardly need a 2.
Anyway, it should surprise no one that I'd not heard of this.
Good old dumb luck
You probably don't remember the Beagles. Stringer and Tubby were two American dogs playing mid-Sixties Britrock in an obscure cartoon series that ran for a year (1966-67) on CBS and then recycled the following season on ABC. It's not a candidate for DVDing, either; apparently the film editor had all the tapes, and he died, and they were never seen again. (A couple of kinescoped segments have turned up on YouTube.)
It was inevitable that there should be a Beagles album, and Here Come the Beagles was issued on CBS' Harmony label at something like $2.49 list. F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, previously mentioned here, remembers the music:
The songs performed in each adventure by Tubby and Stringer were surprisingly good, ranging in musical style from borderline soft-rock to gentle ballads, with intelligent lyrics.
And one of those ballads "What More Could I Do?" has haunted me for nearly forty years.
I was sifting through Usenet last night when something about the Banana Splits, a similarly bogus (but far more successful) band, came up, and I learned that the Splits' one and only LP had been reissued on CD. This got my attention. And when I looked up the CD, I found that not only were the Splits' cereal-box issues included, but so were ten Beagles tracks.
And where was this track listing? Why, eBay, where a copy of said CD was at auction with five minutes left.
I closed my eyes, punched in a bid (okay, I might have looked at the screen for that), and waited.
Sometimes, everything in the universe seems to be lined up properly. Not often, of course, but often enough to serve as a reminder that it does actually happen. And $2.49 forty years ago, adjusted for inflation, comes to well, okay, I overpaid. A little.
Way back in the 1980s, I invented the online sock puppet.
Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not much of one. And, unlike today's poseurs, I did it right: I had these personalities if that's the word actually disagreeing, challenging whatever points were made by the other.
And the true stroke of demented genius was that the roles of puppet and puppeteer were introduced in reverse order: the fake personality acquired all the credibility, and then the "real" one was assigned to take potshots at her. (Yes, "her." I am not one for halfway measures.)
Yes, of course it was dumb, and eventually (as in "after two or three years") it became unsustainable. Most of us figure this out pretty quickly. Jane Galt did:
I actually did sock puppet once, long ago on this blog when it was Live from the WTC, but I wasn't defending myself; I was making fun of me. (I thought of a funny rejoinder to something I'd said which obviously wouldn't be that funny if I was saying it.) I don't remember what the post was, and the comments from that blog are long gone, but even at the time, I remember thinking that this was kind of stupid and juvenile. And I was a brand new blogger in my twenties, not an established media personality.
Moreover, it's really quite unnecessary: there is no position so outré, so perverse, so downright asinine, that you can't find somebody to agree with it.
(I'm C. G. Hill, and I approved this message.)
Fukang interesting car
The PSA group of France (Peugeot-Citroën) has a joint venture with Chinese automaker Dongfeng, producing a range of Citroën-branded vehicles for the Chinese market. The crowd-pleaser of the bunch looks to be the FK, or Fukang:
The new design of Fukang 05 style completely meets the taste of Chinese consumers. It has been the most significant upgrade since its appearance on the market in 1992, and the new design enables Fukang to maximize engine efficiency. The introduction of this model emphasizes that Fukang is the first choice for the consumers and provides a great choice for the consumers who like Fukang.
No PSA or Dongfeng products are scheduled for US sale, so American consumers who like Fukang are just completely out of luck.
The grounding of Birdman
After half a year of suspension from the NBA and thirty days of rehab, Chris "Birdman" Andersen has straightened up.
Will he fly again? There's still the rest of the suspension to serve, and he can't play overseas or in the CBA, which honor the NBA's suspensions.
Marc Spears of the Denver Post thinks the NBA should back off just enough to allow Andersen to play in the D-League:
What would it hurt for the NBA to allow Andersen to suit up for the expansion NBADL Colorado 14ers? Isn't losing the majority of a $14 million contract and being kicked out of the league punishment enough? The minor-league team could give the 28-year-old without a college degree a chance to keep his skills sharp and live a positive life. It also would give the interested Broomfield team a marquee name player.
"If he's demonstrated strong rehabilitation, we'd certainly be interested," said Gary Hunter, the president and CEO of the 14ers' parent company. "It's all subject to the NBA's rules and guidelines."
Andersen, who is working out daily, said: "It would definitely help me out to play. Staying in shape. Staying on top of my game. Improving on areas in what I need to improve."
Mixed emotions here. I'm a hardass about punishment generally; on the other hand, earning one's way back into the good graces of the powers that be has a certain philosophical appeal. For now, I'm tilting slightly toward "second chance."
Also: 14ers? I'm told that this refers to the mountains around Denver, which run 14,000 feet or thereabouts, but to me, it sounds like jailbait.
Oh, yeah, those
I am pleased to report that everyone I nominated for the 2006 Okie Blog Awards did actually make it into the final round of voting.
I do, of course, question my own inclusion in the running for Best Overall Blog; to my knowledge, I have posted only one item this year mentioning overalls.
And I do encourage you to vote for your favorites, whoever they may be.
4 September 2006
Strange search-engine queries (31)
Once again, we go rifling through the referrers and riffing on their requests. (Who was that who said "release Roderick"?)
refurbished square dance halls with no gambling: Say, that is square.
who discover number eight: Number Six, while he trying to escape.
my wife can pee standing up: Doesn't matter. Put the damn seat down, you brute.
blond hair blue eyes 125 lb. newport beach girl: Geez, and I thought I was picky.
chemical engineering tootsie pop thesis: A National Science Foundation grant of $1.6 million was used to construct a device which could deliver licks at a constant frequency and subsequently detect the presence of the center when reached.
intj personality defects: We don't have any. Not that inferior types like yourself can be expected to know that.
nudist roommate=wanted: Got no closet space to spare, eh?
sacramento anal bleaching salon: If you want to see assholes in Sacramento, wait until the Assembly is in session.
why doesn't anyone wear pantyhose: It's too hot and they always run.
johnny mathis embarrassed by sexuality: Chances are he was simply concerned about what Mary will say.
dead man returns pants to walmart: Being dead, he'd have time to wait in line at the Customer Service counter.
washington mutual platinum visa where is my card: Did you check your other pair of jeans? I think they're in the laundry hamper.
percentage of married women swallow: All I know for sure is that it's less than 100.
Just don't use That Word
It's just, you know, too non-inclusive:
One of the larger churches in Oregon is no longer a church. Well, it still would probably be categorized as a church. But it no longer calls itself that. East Hill Foursquare Church in Gresham is now simply known as "East Hill Family."
And why is that?
"Church implies a single group of people," Senior Pastor Ted Roberts stated. "Now we are multiple people groups, the 'Café' service, the 'Classic' service, and the 'Central' service. Probably within one to two years, we will have an additional worship venue service off campus.
"And that is the future of East Hill to go beyond these walls eventually and not be limited geographically. We will become a family."
Or maybe a sports bar. Who's gonna know?
(Via Church Marketing Sucks.)
Report from the Domain Master
I've picked up one new domain, which so far has gone through three posts and seven different WordPress themes. (Obviously the influence of Andrea Harris has been far greater than I had anticipated.)
I might do one or two more, though I note that SeeJacquelinePasseyNude.com has been taken.
Frustration in Beijing
Poor China. Still upset over that island they want so badly:
Apparently, some Israeli tourists going to travel in China with the latest Lonely Planet book were asked to hand in their very expensive book at the border-crossing due to its 'political nature' showing maps of China which color Taiwan in a different color suggesting that Taiwan is not a part of China.
I've got to agree with Gaijinbiker on this one:
You can't be a superpower if you're this insecure.
In their defense, however, they don't generally go berserk over cartoons.
Such an anode
When Jay Tea gets the electric chair, they'll give him 9 volts:
Earlier, while shopping, I noticed that Energizer is selling pink batteries to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
This sounds like a fine, noble endeavor, and no one should criticize either organization for this program. But I still had two evil thoughts as I looked at the display:
For just a moment, I wished they'd bring back B batteries.
The scale of economy
But what I'd really like to be able to do is to pick up on that old adage (adages are always old, aren't they?) about a picture being worth a thousand (or, in this computerized age, 1024) words and then creating that picture with a mere ten words.
Something like this:
We sit a while, sipping lemonade, rocking in harmonic silence.
That phrase "harmonic silence" is utterly gorgeous, and not just because it's the answer to that tedious business of whether the tree makes a sound if no one's there to hear it when it falls. Sound is, after all, movement of air, and as any meteorologist worth his Doppler can tell you, the air has patterns, rhythms, beats of its own, and if you're at all attuned to the world around you, you can rock to those beats, and you don't even have to have a chair to do it: all you have to do is listen to what's between the sounds. People mocked John Cage for writing a piano piece with no notes, but he knew what he was doing:
"There's no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence because they didn't know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. The wind was stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out."
Second and third harmonics, occasional dissonances, even a chord or two, in a score of nothing but rests.
The ability to convey concepts like this without three or four paragraphs of exposition now that's writing. One of these days I hope to learn how to do that on something resembling a consistent basis.
5 September 2006
I'd like to think that there's a parallel universe where you don't have to parallel park, where all the beautiful women have beautiful cars, and nobody has to go through this:
[W]hen my DB9 Volante arrived in December I was dying to show it off.
Except I couldn't. The passenger door wouldn't open properly because the window did not drop to clear the frame. So off it went to the garage for a new door module.
Oh, well, it's under warranty, right?
But this was only the beginning. The second fault to emerge was with the sat nav system. It was unusable. Aside from the retro 2-D graphics that look less advanced than you'd see now as standard on much cheaper cars, it was permanently 30 miles off target. It had me driving through fields, across rivers and even into dodgy urban areas where this car just isn't meant to be.
Then the hood started squeaking noisily from both rear sides. The garage fixed that but left me with a rattle at the front. I've been waiting since May for the bit of trim to remedy that.
And for this much money, you're entitled to a few creature comforts:
[T]he Aston is very chilly to drive in winter and the windows don't rise up automatically after you put the hood down. You have to do this manually, a nuisance and surely a careless oversight. When I asked my dealer why these things weren't even available as optional extras I was told "because it's a sports car not a luxury vehicle". But who said these things had to be mutually exclusive, especially when you're paying £125,000 or more? In eight months my DB9 has been to the garage four times and awaits another visit (to fix the sat nav, rattling hood, Bluetooth and handbrake warning bell).
(Note to self: Do not kvetch at Gwendolyn for tossing up an engine light, especially since you obviously don't know how to tighten a farging gas cap.)
When I was younger I coveted the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3, an early-Seventies Teutonic hot rod of the American school: they took the mid-sized (by our standards) S-class body, to which an inline six was usually fitted, and dropped in the monstrous V8 from the 600 limo. It did not occur to me then that the very fitments that gave it such electrifying performance non-electronic fuel injection, a complicated air suspension would give mechanics fits. (Not that Herr Jakob would complain; two of these in town could put his daughter through Bennington.)
Nowadays, of course, a bone-stock V6 Honda Accord could outrun the 6.3, and make a perfunctory appearance at the dealership just long enough to get the oil changed.
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