23 August 2002
No lists please, we're British

Given the sheer quantity of flak stirred up by the BBC's putative "100 best" list of Great Britons, it was inevitable that someone would put together a list of the 100 worst. And it surprises me not at all that a handful of individuals appear on both lists.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
24 August 2002
Words with the Lone Wolf

Fifty Penn Place in Oklahoma City is not your average mall. For one thing, it's vertical: retail and restaurants occupy the lower levels, office space fills up the tower. What's more, it's mostly devoid of chain stores. Instead of the usual panoply of Bed, Bath and Boredom, 50 Penn Place offers a place for beautiful women (I assume unbeautiful women are turned away at the gate, since I've never seen any there) to see the latest manifestations of, say, Stuart Weitzman's shoe obsession.

And there's Full Circle, a bookstore that sprang from the loins of a drugstore turned nightspot, moved simutaneously uptown and downstairs, and competes very nicely, thank you very much, with Messrs. Barnes and Noble and those other out-of-town guys. I was there today to see an old friend try his best to injure his carpal tunnel by signing as many books as people would be willing to haul away. And since Brian A. Hopkins is now a Known Factor, and an honored one, in the realms of horror and dark fantasy, quite a few of those books made it past his pen and through the door. Apparently I'm not as forgettable as I thought I was, because he spotted me quite a distance from the table, though mercifully he seemed to have forgotten my pseudonym from those days. I filled up the holes in my Hopkins collection, we traded stories, and eventually I got the heck out of the way so the next fan could get a chance and the woman behind the checkout (beautiful, of course) could collect forty bucks or so from me. It's an experience I hope to repeat when — not if, but when — he wins that Nebula award.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 PM)
25 August 2002
It was a dark and stormy quarter

The announcement came last month:

"Gregory FCA, the Philadelphia area's largest investor and public relations agency and publisher of the electronic IR Reporter, is staging a writing contest commemorating the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history (WorldCom), this year's crisis in market confidence and all the pervasive prevarication that made it possible....Entrants should pick their favorite infamous public company -- as targeted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the media or your own shrinking 401 (K) statement -- and rewrite the company's last annual earnings release (the one right before the big shoe dropped) in the words of the contestant's favorite author."

And now come the winners. Who knew Bernie Ebbers was just the latter-day incarnation of Holden Caulfield?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:21 PM)
31 August 2002
Have you had your Phil?

Phil Donahue's new MSNBC show is barely outdrawing infomercials these days, and to add to the general level of mirth, now John Bono's Big S Blog ("Migod, what a big S!") has inaugurated the Donahue Show Death Watch. If you'd like to speculate as to just how long America's News Channel (yeah, right) can keep this fossilized specimen of Sixties cluelessness alive, feel free to play along.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
It's marketin' time!

Perhaps in answer to DC Comics' Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure, which came out last winter and sold an amazing 700,000 copies, Marvel has shipped Fantastic Four #60 (actually #489, but who's counting?) with a startling cover price of nine cents and a temporary revision of the mag's long-time slogan to "The World's Cheapest Comic Magazine". Even ignoring the effects of four decades' worth of inflation, this is less than the price of issue #1 in 1961, which sold for a dime.

As usual, Canadians suffer from the exchange rate: they have to shell out a whole fifteen cents for this issue. And of course, as an unreconstructed Sue Richards (née Storm) fan, I'm happy to pay even regular retail. But you haven't bought a comic book in years and years, so what you want to know — apart from "Why is this greyhaired hack blogging about this sort of thing when there's a war on, fercrissake?" — is: "Is it a good story?"

I think it is. In fact, I think it's worth 25 times the price. Which is what you'll pay for #61 (#490) next month, if Marvel's promotional mavens have been sufficiently prescient.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:00 PM)
5 September 2002
Beat the Reaper!

It's called Sick Day. Think of it as The Real World with physiological, not just behavioral, toxicity. Will it come to the States? How desperate do you think the networks are? (Two words: Desmond Pfeiffer.)

(Muchas gracias [sort of]: JunkYardBlog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:24 AM)
8 September 2002
Reality bites

The mysterious voice(s) of In Arguendo, with a sentiment we are proud to echo:

We would like to take just one moment to, well, brag really that we have NEVER watched one single episode of ANY reality show that has come out in the last couple of years. Not Survivor, Big Brother, Fear Factor, Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire, or any of them. Yes, this makes us feel good, and we just wanted to share.

This item was titled American Idol Finals!!, and no, I didn't watch that either. Frankly, if I want to see relentlessly-mediocre people who are in way over their heads, I can always tune in C-Span's Congressional coverage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:21 AM)
12 September 2002
How we did it

There is no longer any doubt that small, decentralized terror cells like those of the al-Qaeda network can wreak serious havoc in a short time. But did they win the early battles only to lose the war?

Of course they did. American resolve is famously implacable, and American military might is unequaled. But the third force in this triad — American culture — will prove to be the decisive factor.

Even the late, unlamented Osama bin Laden would have to admit it. However much he may have railed against the evil modern West, he never would have stood a chance using the tools of medieval Islam, and he knew it. And Western mores, which much to the annoyance of European Community types are de facto American mores, have already gotten a foothold in Islamic countries, and no amount of haranguing by the mullahs and the military will dislodge them. The burqa will be just as obsolete as the codpiece, and in retrospect just as silly.

So the larger war is already won. We must still remain on guard while the last of the medievalists empty out their curiously-modern weapons, and the necessity of replacing a few regimes is still on the agenda, but the hearts and minds of millions of Muslims enslaved by the perversity of their leaders are already starting to turn our way. There will probably always be hard-line Islamic fascists, but they will be banished to the margins, not by American forces, but by the insistence of a Muslim people anxious to join the rest of the twenty-first century.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
15 September 2002
A Mickey Mouse operation

If you think, as I have, that Michael Eisner's tour of duty at the top slot at Disney has been at best sort of Goofy, you'll be pleased to know that Eisner's days are numbered, and the numbers are low.

Aimee Deep, who broke this story, adds this little historical note:

"Eisner is the last of the hitmen to go, now that Levin of TimeWarner, Messier of Universal, Middlehoff and Zelnick of BMG, and Berry of EMI have all fallen, victims of their own greed and collusion."

Come to think of it, I don't miss any of those guys either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
Tribune axes Greene

Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, famed for his nostalgic looks back at lost youth, apparently had a taste for present-day youth as well. A tipster informed the Tribune that Greene, a few years ago, had met a teenaged girl through his column, and the two subsequently had had an affair. The newspaper confronted Greene with the story, then asked for his resignation.

Evidently I'm not cut out for journalism; I get the chills just talking about vaguely sexual matters with twentysomethings.

(Muchas gracias: Pejman Yousefzadeh.)

Update, 4:40 pm: "Good riddance," says Spoons.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:12 PM)
18 September 2002
Nyuk^3

Gregory Hlatky, in praise of the Three Stooges:

"[G]reat Americans, every man jack of them. Probably did more too for classical music (the boys singing the sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor, Christine McIntyre singing 'Voices of Spring,' Larry with his violin) than the combined present-day managements of Vivendi Universal, EMI, BMG, and Sony."

I am compelled to point out here that the sole American firm among the Big Five, AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group, is not mentioned by Mr Hlatky, and with good reason: they do even less for classical music than their four rivals.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 PM)
22 September 2002
Welcome back, Qatsi

I saw Koyaanisqatsi during its first release in 1983, and it scared me, or at least left me decidedly off-center. On the face of it, the film seemed easily dismissable as neo-Luddite Technology Is Evil stuff, but no such conclusion is ever reached; if anything, the incredibly-detailed cinematography of technology both amazing and mundane comes across as equal parts condemnation and glorification. And the score by Philip Glass is a true masterpiece of minimalism, shifting imperceptibly in synchronization with one's brain waves. I left the theatre, made a copy off cable the first time it aired, and duly put it out of my mind for the next couple of decades, managing to miss Powaqqatsi, the sequel.

With the third Qatsi film, Naqoyqatsi, due this fall, MGM has issued the first two films separately on DVD, and bound them together as a promotional two-pack. (I paid $22.99 at Best Buy for the set.) No doubt the DVD would look better than my old Beta tape, but at least part of the motivation for buying this thing, apart from getting to see Powaqqatsi at last, was to see if my interpretation of the film, such as it was, stood up after all these years, or if I was just young and dumb and full of it.

And there are still no answers, nor, says director Godfrey Reggio in an interview tucked into the Special Features section, are there supposed to be. The film is supposed to open the mind, not fill it up with some particular agenda; if there are questions, the film has done its job. On that basis, Koyaanisqatsi must be considered a roaring success. And Glass' score still haunts me. (Yeah, I know, Glass can be repetitive. So is hip-hop. But you don't hear anyone complaining about hip-hop, probably because it's Authentic Ethnic Street Gibberish and therefore cherished by Relentlessly Multicultural types, under penalty of face-loss. Give me Glass any day. Steve Reich, even.)

If you haven't seen the first two films, I urge you to take a look for yourself. If nothing else, you'll get a look at the source material for almost every music-video cliché you've ever seen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
23 September 2002
I got the Red Blues

The "Red vs. Blue" stuff invented for the benefit of clueless TV anchordrones has turned into a cultural measuring stick, and too often We the People are using it to beat upon each other.

The ever-thoughtful Geitner Simmons dissects this phenomenon today in Regions of Mind. "This isn?t, or shouldn't be, a caste society based on one's geographical location," says Simmons. "But a lot of people, in the blue-state region as well as the red-state camp, certainly act as if they would like it to be."

Well, maybe. My one remaining chat haunt attracts mostly people in the Tri-State Area. (And what's with that name, anyway? Are the other 47 states forever separate from the Connecticut-New York-New Jersey axis, and separate from each other?) I occasionally catch some flak from newbies, surprised to hear a voice from "deepest Oklahoma, where the wind comes rushing up your shorts," or something like that, but the regulars don't have any problem with me — especially since I've actually visited them in their element and was quickly able to persuade them that yes, we do have running water here, and no, I don't have to remove bison residue from the front yard on a regular basis.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:15 AM)
27 September 2002
Can you go home again?

Stephanie Losi gauges the distance between Then and Now:

"It has become very clear to me that most of my high school classmates have gone on to do nothing. Not nothing in the sense of sitting around and becoming deadbeats, but they seem to have vanished, disappeared into the vast mass of anonymous humanity, not made a name for themselves. I remember us clearly at 18, filled with delusions of grandeur and ambition. We all would be famous at 25, rich and happy and in love with the person of our dreams. We would travel, we would express ourselves, we would be great. But I search Google now and find very few hints at what my former classmates might be doing. I wonder if using Google to gauge life accomplishment is a foolish pursuit; I strongly suspect it is, but it's the only way to check in on those I no longer speak with. Google selects for Internet savvy; it excludes huge segments of the population who are not online or do not care to leave a record of their being here. I am considering going to my tenth high school reunion. Not sure yet."

I didn't go to my tenth, or my twentieth. Or my thirtieth.

But while I'm easily Googleable, the result of six years on the Web and eight or nine on Usenet, the searcher will quickly discover that whatever my putative Internet savvy, I have gone on to do nothing. And what's worse, I'm damned good at it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 PM)
30 September 2002
The sons of Johnny Knoxville

The producers of The Riot Show, an amateur video shot in central Connecticut by evidently-bored high-school students, would like you to know that they're not ripping off MTV's Jackass.

They probably don't carry as much insurance as MTV, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
1 October 2002
Next is the E

Russell Wardlow, in his capacity as Mean Mr. Mustard, takes us out to look at the ravers:

"[A] friend of mine worked for several months at a webhosting company in which many of the other employers were weekly ravers, and had been doing it for several years. They were the most cohesively sour, bad-tempered and generally unhappy group he ever met. I know there isn't conclusive evidence about this, but I took that as a pretty strong indication that you can seriously screw up your serotonin receptors, if not permanently, then at least while you're taking the drug regularly. And who wants to be a depressed sourpuss 6 out of 7 days a week? You might as well just go Goth. The makeup is probably cheaper than the weekly E fix."

I manage eight days a week as a depressed sourpuss, and I've never had so much as a milligram of E. And believe me, you don't want to see me done up as some sort of Mutant Gothboi. But "cohesively sour, bad-tempered and generally unhappy"? I am there, Jack. In fact, I am there so long I should charge these guys rent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
5 October 2002
What a day for a daydream

Most of what gets posted here is ignored, not so much for reasons of quality, or the lack thereof, but the simple fact that this particular site doesn't have the reputation of the better-known blogs. (Of course, since it's been up far longer than most of the better-known blogs, maybe it is reasons of quality, or the lack thereof.) Still, once in a while, something I write resonates in sections of the blogosphere, and this, from 27 June, is one such item:

"[P]ersonally, I don't have much use for Ann Coulter — to me, she's simply the flip side of Katie Couric, albeit with nicer legs."

Contrary positions were staked out, and eventually a consensus was reached, which, I suppose, proves that there's always room for irrelevancy, though it does support Jesse Walker's premise that Coulter fans have much in common with fans of boy bands. And I read enough issues of 16 and Tiger Beat during my, um, formative years to understand the concept of a non-sexual object of desire.

Of course, Mr Walker reminds us, "Coulter's merits or demerits as a writer, thinker, and human being have nothing to do with whether anyone thinks she's cute," and that's true as far as it goes, but after sixty years or so of pervasive, even invasive, television, it must be said that superficial aspects of appearance count for something. Sometimes they even inspire fantasies, and not always pleasant ones, either.

(Disclosure: I am not, to my knowledge, anyone's object of desire, sexual or otherwise.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:40 PM)
6 October 2002
A Higher Truth

From Andrea at Ethereal Reflections:

"Being depressed and having PayPal isn't always a good combination."

Yea, verily.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:47 AM)
7 October 2002
A door closes, a door opens

Arts & Letters Daily is dead.

Long live Philosophy & Literature.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:20 PM)
16 October 2002
Letting the mediocrity shine through

Is the National Junior Honor Society elitist? A Connecticut middle-school principal seems to think so:

"In reality, there's nothing about their academics that would make them more suited for...leadership roles than a student who works hard for Bs."

And this year, there will be no NJHS chapter at this school, ostensibly because the faculty adviser transferred out, but it seems pretty clear to me that this guy has had too many sips of Berkeley Kool-Aid; he did everything but suggest that students not qualifying for the Honor Society were suffering from impaired self-esteem.

I was sufficiently incredulous to ask an actual teacher for a translation, and here's what I got:

"We want everyone to be happy, noncompetitive and average."

We?

"Nearly every teacher I know thinks this whole entire philosophy of noncompetitiveness is complete and utter horseshit. The upper crust is the only slice of the education community which seems to find this middle school mission enlightening and avant-garde."

Well, the Sixties are over. The principal in question "acknowledges" that he's taking a "bold step"; I guess sliding right off the edge of the cliff requires a certain level of boldness. Me, I'm suffering a certain level of sickness just thinking about it.

Update, 7:23 pm: Expanded the teacher's remarks to improve clarity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 PM)
17 October 2002
Poetic licensing

It's hidden behind the Premium wall, but there's an interesting piece by Suzy Hansen in Salon.com this morning which follows up on the fallout from New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka's blither about how Somebody Blew Up America. The remarks I found most pertinent were those by former United States poet laureate Robert Pinsky, who offered this:

The poet laureate of New Jersey has the same right as any other American to make a fool of himself.... Does anyone doubt that the Cantos would be much better if [Ezra] Pound's thinking were less cockeyed, provincial, demented, nasty? Poets are people; their works are human works.

I don't know, really. Inevitably, the Cantos (which I haven't so much as looked at in thirty years, but which now I feel compelled to tackle once again) reflect Pound's personality and his politics, but by no means does this constitute a qualitative judgment; no one (perhaps save Robert Fisk) writes from within a vacuum.

There is, I believe, a romantic notion on the political left to the effect that artists, simply because they are artists, are necessarily more in tune to the ways of the world than the rest of us, and the Baraka debacle is probably not enough to dispel that notion. Baraka's politics, ultimately, are of little interest; only the poetry matters. And Somebody Blew Up America, as it happens, strikes me as not so great a poem; were it a great poem, its positive qualities, I believe, would ultimately outweigh its political posturing. Ezra Pound might have appreciated the situation.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
Start the party again

"You would cry, too, if it happened to you," chirped Lesley Gore in "It's My Party".

"Like hell I would," retorts DragonAttack at RockSnobs, because...well, because that's the way boys are.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
Gimme an F

The F Scale, designed in the heady days of 1950, is intended to "estimate...fascist receptivity at the personality level." Now we all know about intentions, and my personality is anything but level, but I took the darn thing anyway, and scored a 3.23, which is fairly near the middle of the scale.

(Muchas gracias: AC Douglas.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 PM)
18 October 2002
Swept ahead

I made some noises to this effect last year:

Lina Wertmüller's Swept Away was one of the quirkier movies of 1975, throwing gruff sailor Giancarlo Giannini onto a remote island with haughty yacht passenger Mariangela Melato. They can't stand one another, and of course they wind up in each other's arms. Hardly the "unusual destiny" of the original title, and, you'd think, hardly ripe for a remake — especially a remake under the direction of Snatchmeister Guy Ritchie. On the other hand, his wife, also signed for the project, should be able to put her Material Girl experience to good use playing the rhymes-with-snitch female lead.

The buzz on the new Swept Away is, um, not good, which might suggest to the suggestible that Madonna and the Mr. should quit doing films together. The ever-contrarian Wing Chun has other ideas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
19 October 2002
The handling of pans

It seems to me that the ideal time to conduct audience surveys for commercial radio is right about now, while NPR affiliates are repelling listeners with their semiannual hat-in-hand bit. (I don't know what the PBS pledge schedule is; here in Oklahoma, it seems to run from January to December.) I am aware that it is necessary to take these measures to keep the stations going, and I have a whole shelf of station-branded mugs accumulated over the years, and so far I have never lost a parking space as a result of pledge drives, but there's still something a trifle disquieting about the entire process.

No, I don't know how to replace the pledge drive. I suppose I could slip Diane Rehm a couple of bucks when she comes to town in a couple of weeks, and if anyone is taking contributions to buy Click and/or Clack a Toyota Land Cruiser, I'm in, but I suspect we're stuck with what we have for the time being.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
20 October 2002
What a spectacle

"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses," said Dorothy Parker. I never believed it, myself; I mean, it wasn't that I actually made passes at girls who wore glasses — scarcely if ever did I make a pass at anyone irrespective of eyewear — but I knew of no instance where a pair of glasses actually made someone less attractive.

Now it turns out that Mrs. Parker may have been correct after all. I refuse, however, to budge.

(Muchas gracias: This link was swiped from Donnaville; Donna's got the looks, she's got the glasses, but alas, she's got no individual item links.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:27 PM)
22 October 2002
Kicks just keep getting harder to find

Christopher Hitchens, of all people, heads west in a Corvette (what else?) to find the mystique of Route 66, and he tells the tale in the November Vanity Fair. A few pertinent observations, first near St Louis:

The most striking thing to me...was the constant reminder of Middle America's German past. It's not just the prevalence of the Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser ambience. There was a big Strassenfest, or street fair, in progress, and in Memorial Park were playing the Dingolfingen Stadtmusikanten Brass Band, Die Spitzbaum, and the Waterloo German Band. Some 58 million Americans tell the census that they are of German origin, even more than say English, and you would never really notice this, perhaps the most effective assimilation in history, any more than you "notice" that the minority leader in the House and the majority leader in the Senate are named Gephardt and Daschle.

Regarding Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City, miles on through more red-soil country, is not so pretty. (Oh, the sacrifices that songwriters will make for a rhyme.) And some of its inhabitants are a tad bored by its piety. In the joint that I find as the evening descends, the bony young barman tells me that locals head for Texas for three things (it's always three things): "Booze, porn, and tattoos." His plump gay colleague, when I ask if there is anything else to look forward to on the road, exhales histrionically and breathes the magic name "California...."

Around Amarillo:

Texas still wasn't as different as it likes to think. You hear a lot about the standardization of America, the sameness and the drabness of the brand names and the roadside clutter, but you have to be exposed to thousands of miles of it to see how obliterating the process really is. The food! The coffee! The newspapers! The radio! These would all disgrace a mediocre one-party state, or a much less prosperous country.

To harp further on radio:

[I]t was a dismal day when the Federal Communications Commission parceled out the airwaves to a rat pack of indistinguishable cheapskates, whose "product" is disseminated with only the tiniest regional variations.

Go read the whole thing. If nothing else, you'll get a glimpse of what it's like to feel superior to an entire region, something I've never been able to manage in forty-nine years and visits to thirty-odd states. I've driven this route a few times myself, at least the western four-fifths of it, and yes, some of it seems a bit dispiriting at times, but I don't believe that civilization ends at the east bank of the Hudson, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 AM)
23 October 2002
Happiness is a warm segue

"Norton Womble, reporting live from the scene of a sniping in suburban Washington. Now back to music, starting with Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust', right here on 99.7 FM."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
24 October 2002
As deaths go, a short one

Jim Romenesko's Media News is reporting that the late, lamented Arts & Letters Daily can no longer be considered "late". The site, along with other assets of ALD's parent company, has been acquired by The Chronicle of Higher Education, and founder Denis Dutton will return as editor. Debut of the new ALD is scheduled for Friday, 25 October.

Three, maybe four cheers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 PM)
29 October 2002
Enough with the boomers already

People have been sick of the baby-boomer generation for some time now, though few seem quite as annoyed as TeeVee's Philip Michaels, who writes:

America will watch as the Baby Boomers yammer on, through their TV series surrogates, about how memorable their life and times have been, how lasting their legacy, and how much better their music is than anything you or I ever listened to. It's a little bit ironic, considering that this is the generation that greeted their parents' oft-told stories of growing up — how tough they had it during the Great Depression, how they had to MacGyver up everything from living quarters to toiletries — with eye-rolling contempt. Well, the Baby Boomers have become their parents, prattling on and on while everyone within earshot wishes they would just shut the hell up.

I'm not about to give in on the music question — the lamest sub-Spectorian girl-group opus is about three orders of magnitude better than anything you'll ever hear out of Christina Aguilera — but otherwise, I'm shutting the hell up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
6 November 2002
UnTwained masses

Okay, you've got an English class to teach, more literary than grammatical this semester, and one of the books you have to cover is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What's first on your list of things you need to make this work? Enough copies to go around? Tom Sawyer as a prerequisite? If you're in Portland, Oregon, at the very top of the list is, of all things, sensitivity training. That whirring sound you hear is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, subterranean pinwheel.

How in the world did we ever get to this sorry state? Erin O'Connor explains:

Literature teachers and literary "theorists" have long used (I mean used) literature to further a distinctly left-leaning multicultural agenda — to study English in school today is to become sensitized to how literature has historically been an instrument of both power and resistance; it is to absorb the etiquette of "diversity" by way of — as the truth of — literary history. It is to "learn" about oppression. Huck Finn is a favorite stomping ground for English teachers who use literature to stage politicized discussions about the various -isms; assessing the quality and caliber of the novel's "racism" has become something of a pedagogical sport in recent years — as if pejoratively labelling a work of art were an act of interpretation, as if stroking our enlightened egos at Twain's expense could even begin to do justice to the complexity and enormity of his deceptively simple little novel.

It's not just Twain's expense, either; to the extent that our children are herded through this "multicultural" charnel-house, they are deprived of the opportunity to make up their own minds, to learn how to decide for themselves what a book like Huckleberry Finn — indeed, any book — really means.

(Muchas gracias: John Rosenberg.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 PM)
7 November 2002
Yours for a pledge at the $360 level

Those of us who blog swear by, and occasionally at, our templates. Yes, I know, I did this site for years with no content-management system (and, some might say, no content either), and there are still manually-maintained blogs out there, but the point seems relatively inarguable just the same, and I assure you, I didn't spend a great deal of time reinventing the wheel every day. Data-entry types, of course, are hopelessly tethered to various Templates of Doom.

Then again, that's all computer stuff. Do other more-or-less-cultural activities have the same need for ready-made, fill-in-the-blanks packages? Michael at 2 Blowhards is persuaded that there's some sort of PBS Documentary Kit out there, and all you need are the following:

  • Shots of sunsets.
  • Shots of water.
  • Shots of empty Colonial-Williamsburg-style interiors.
  • Shots of nothing in particular framed by leafy trees.
  • Tracking shots over old piano keyboards.
  • Slow zooms back from old sepia photographs — repeat this move endlessly.
  • Nothing-in-particular passages from letters, to be read in nothing-in-particular "period" tones.
  • Period songs, to be performed in a prissily nostalgic style.
  • For background music, lean heavily on the plink-plonk of a lonely solo piano, or the pulseless noodlings of a ruminative guitar. If you really want to knock 'em unconscious, have a banjo player pluck a few strings really, really slowly.

Time to set free the Ken Burns within you, say I.

(Update, 10:26 pm: Reformatted slightly, but no textual changes.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 PM)
13 November 2002
Corrida de toros

Apart from the usual Hollywood distortions, I know nothing about bullfighting. I've never been within five hundred kilometers of Pamplona; I skipped Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon; I haven't seen Almodóvar's Matador. I didn't even pick up Herb Alpert's "The Lonely Bull" until three years after its release. Repeat: I know nothing about bullfighting.

Your standard animal-rights types will be more than happy, I'm sure, to tell me that it's nasty and horrid and brutal and such. On the other hand, Jesus Gil, who has actually toiled in this particular vineyard, finds it eminently defensible:

There is very little that is predictable in a bullfight, and the "score" doesn't have to be "Matadors 6 Bulls 0" — there are times (admittedly few) when a bull performs so well in the ring that he is cured and sent to the farm to live the rest of his life as a seed bull. Actually, this is the dream of every aficionado — to see the bull go out alive.

If that's so, why are they almost always killed?

[T]he reason the bull is killed is actually the Vatican's fault. Even threatened with excommunication the Spaniards continued celebrating bullfights, where the bull was used over and over — and large amounts of people were killed. So the Vatican issued a Papal Bull (no pun intended) saying essentially, "one man, one bull."

I still don't think I want to see one of these things up close and in person, but it's always nice to hear the other side for a change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
15 November 2002
The power of pasta

If I remember correctly, the oldest woman ever to appear in a Playboy pictorial was fifty-five. (This would be Nancy Sinatra; how does that grab you, darlin'?) Still, there are names on the magazine's wish list who will never be removed no matter how old they get, and one of those names belongs to Sophia Loren, who reportedly is miffed for being offered only £100,000 for doffing her designer duds. This does not mean that if Hef ups the ante, she'll do the deed, but the sheer thought of it — well, do I actually want to see a 68-year-old Italian woman in a reasonable semblance of her birthday suit?

If you've read this site for more than twenty seconds, you already know the answer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
Being objective about subjectivity

This is something I've pondered myself once or twice, with results so inconclusive they don't even deserve to be called "results". From Lactose Incompetent:

There are days when I feel that, if I had it all to do over again, I'd specialize in English Lit, hoping that in some way I'd learn how to read critically, to distinguish good writing from bad using more subjective criteria than "I like this" and "I don't like...that".

I can usually distinguish bad writing — give me ten minutes and I'll give you paragraphs full of it — but spotting good writing is a trickier business. Not as tricky, however, as producing it:

Perhaps I'm merely suffering from America's Cult of the Individual, that each person should choose their own path, make their own choices, decide their own destiny. My writing style is a hodge-podge of bits lifted from authors I enjoy, blended into a sassy compote with my own speech pattern.

I wish I had the temerity to describe what I write as having "style".

But I do understand the "hodge-podge" bit: sometimes I think I'm doing the prose equivalent of Peter Schickele's Quodlibet, in which every single musical phrase is lifted from some other, presumably better work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
16 November 2002
A pack of Peter Parkers

Hmmm...

He would turn down relationships with people he loved because he knew his presence in their lives endangered them. He would get fired because saving people made him chronically late for work. He would leap into harrowing situations to save people, knowing most of them were scared of him, and that if he wasn't careful the cops would try to nab him. The press always vilified him, lumped him in with the criminals he tried to stop, and even though he succeeded time and time again at getting the bad guys and saving the good ones, he never outlived his bad rep.

J. Jonah Jameson dumping on Spider-Man again? Well, yeah. But, as Bryan Preston points out, the ol' web-spinner gets about the same sort of press as your average conservative Christian: if it's at all positive, it's probably grudgingly so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:12 PM)
19 November 2002
Minority retort

What's a "Culture Representative"? At Tufts University in Medford (pronounced something like "Meffuhd"), Massachusetts, it's a reserved minority slot in the student government, intended to ensure that those who have been historically underrepresented have some sort of voice and some sort of recourse against abuse.

Enter Rob Lichter. Writing in the Tufts Daily, he disclosed the existence of a previously-ignored minority:

Conservatives are a distinct minority here at Tufts, and consequently, the concerns of our community are not adequately represented. Conservative students have been harrassed and physically assaulted, their media stolen and vandalized. Hate messages have been scrawled on bathroom walls and dorm whiteboards, and individuals have been verbally berated and ridiculed.... Has the Senate passed a resolution asking for dialogue with conservatives? No. Has the Bias Response Team [considered] these problems with the same seriousness they show other minorities? No.

Jeff Jacoby, in an op-ed in The Boston Globe, is sympathetic:

Real diversity encompasses the spectrum of human variety — a vast array of tastes and talents, beliefs and backgrounds, passions and personalities. What passes for diversity on campus and wherever the left holds sway is an impoverished fraud. Depressing that it should still be necessary to say so.

Meanwhile, Lichter and other conservatives at Tufts continue to pursue a Culture Representative position, motivated by the not-exactly-unspoken desire to undermine the whole system. There's a faint hint of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" here, but nobody said the process was going to be either easy or pleasant.

(Muchas gracias: Erin O'Connor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
21 November 2002
Bound to rebound

Dr. Earl Leathen Warrick, one of the "founding fathers", if you will, of Dow Corning, has died in Orange County, California.

Warrick, born in 1911 in Butler, Pennsylvania, devoted his career to polymers and elastomers; he invented silicone rubber and held, singly or jointly, 44 US patents.

It was a failed experiment, though, that perhaps brought Warrick his greatest fame. During World War II, Warrick and fellow researcher Rob Roy McGregor were trying to work up a synthetic rubber that could serve as a workable substitute in the wake of wartime shortages. "3179 Dilatant Compound" really wasn't suitable for tires or weatherstripping, but it did have quite a bounce to it, and they took it home to the kids. Dow Corning had no particular interest in selling children's playthings, so it was left for some astute marketing type to buy up lots of the stuff, seal it into little plastic eggs, and spread it across the land, where you and I eventually spread it across the Sunday funnies.

You can still buy Silly Putty today; in fact, you can buy Dow Corning's original 3179 Dilatant (call it Sensible Putty) directly from their Midland, Texas facility — if you're prepared to order at least two 50-lb cartons.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
23 November 2002
There's a kind of Hush

It's called Help Us Silence Hollywood, and it's getting some play in blogdom. The crux of this particular biscuit:

We, the undersigned, being of sound mind and strong viewership, would like to petition both Hollywood and the news media in order to restrain celebrities (movie & TV stars, pop & rock stars, producers, directors, etc.) from capitalizing on their celebritihood to sound off on whatever issue-du-jour comes rolling along to which they must bear witness. It is our deeply held belief that, on an extremely sunny day, only ½ of one percent of these stars could pass an entry-level college final relating to the political event for which their feet are oft found wedged deeply in their mouths (see B. Streisand, A. Baldwin, M. Moore, H. Belafonte, S. Penn, J. Fonda, W. Harrelson, M. Sheen, E. Asner, J. Lange, et al, etc., ad nauseam) and thereby merit no ink nor air time. It is ruinous enough for the civic culture to hear TV anchors who wouldn't know a "demand curve" from their elbow yammer on and on about the economy, but the glitterati sermonizing to us about America!?

It's clearly time to demand some evidence of educated brain waves prior to handing the public megaphone to celebrities. It is also our belief that if not for showing off their silicon, facelifts, and/or hairplugs on the silver screen, most of these knuckleheads would be modeling underwear at Wal-Mart, working third tier escort services in Jersey, or removing asbestos from tire factories in Detroit. And, as such, the news industry must restrain from entering these vacuous remarks into the public domain until said celeb has passed the appropriate college-level test corresponding to their tirade at hand.

Various examples follow. There's little to dispute in the description — for every David Duchovny, just this far from a Ph.D., there are likely dozens of Melanie Griffiths who barely escaped Krispy Kreme — but I'm not signing off on this thing. Hollywood types have the same Constitutional rights to make blithering, idiotic statements as the rest of us. Here in the Land of Blogorrhea, our job is to fact-check their asses, not to silence them.

(Muchas gracias: Rachel Lucas, who reproduces the complete text of the petition.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 AM)
More than a mouthful is improbable

For years, I have cherished the delusion that the true bird of love is the swallow. What was I thinking?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:53 PM)
25 November 2002
Ahead of Tyler, even

How is this possible? "Madison...is now the second most popular name for girls in the United States." So reports Kevin Lauderdale, and by "now" he means "born in the year 2001."

There are, evidently, a lot of parental units out there who really liked Splash, or are hoping their daughters grow up to be Moxie. I mean, what other possible explanation is there?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:53 PM)
Wired, or tethered?

The quest for Newer and Cooler Stuff isn't doing us a whole lot of good, says Trinity:

MaryJane, my 1974 Volkswagen Beetle, is still running, still beautiful, still anti-air conditioning, anti-power locks, anti-power windows, anti-anti-lock brakes, totally air-cooled, sputtering piece of good German machinery. I don't need an airbag. I don't need a rollover bar. I don't need cup holders, or a fancy extra outlet for my non-existent cell phone that doesn't keep me connected to the digital world. Technology is supposed to "free" us from our daily struggles, make our lives more convenient. Well, I don't think so. I think technology is just putting more chains and shackles on our limbs. What do I need a cell phone for? There are payphones everywhere. I don't need to fork out $35.00 a month for a nifty little phone that has games and a cute little 'N Sync-specialized ring and a corny message for my voice mail. I don't need a pager. Who is going to page me? God? Am I the President of Iraq? Do I NEED to be paged?

[Mental note: This is not the place to mention my nifty little phone that plays "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". Even at under $20.]

"Anti-anti-lock brakes". I like that. There's something vaguely disquieting about turning a major driving function over to a bunch of microchips; I still get slightly queasy at the thought of cruise control, fercrissake.

I'm not giving up my cupholders, though.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 PM)
1 December 2002
They love that dirty water

The embattled archdiocese of Boston, having been unable to settle some 450 claims of sexual abuse by its clergy, is now on the verge of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

There are distinct advantages to a Chapter 11 filing. Existing civil lawsuits will be suspended; no new suits can be filed. But there is also a downside: the filing will be widely construed as an admission of liability by the archdiocese, and their financial records will be opened to the public for the first time. Some church properties — notably, the chancery in Brighton, to include Cardinal Law's residence — are likely to be turned over to the court to pay claims against the church.

Cynics, of course, will scoff. "They're already morally bankrupt; this just takes care of the money."

(Muchas gracias: Bill Peschel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:45 PM)
4 December 2002
Specialty of the house

In Chicklit's Paper Jam, Anna Carey reports on a small English publishing house with a narrow but clear focus: Persephone Books Ltd, which puts out high-quality editions of "forgotten books by female writers" and distributes them through its own Web site (and its own store in a former betting shop in Bloomsbury).

Given the sheer number of titles published each year — easily a hundred thousand in the United States alone — a lot of good books will inevitably fall through the cracks, and the number of undiscovered classics hiding in the crevices must be fairly huge by now. Persephone so far has retrieved 38 of them, and while this isn't a quantity likely to upset the descendants of Mr Barnes and Mr Noble, it's definitely a worthy effort, especially since, in the words of the founders, the books are "guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget." Such a deal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
5 December 2002
So you want to be a literary critic

On the off-chance that some of you aren't reading Cinderella Bloggerfeller, I point you to the latest exposition from Cindi's bloggergänger Dr. Dinah Dienstag, unexpectedly appearing on a Thursday for once. (I doubt there will be a name change to "Donnerstag", but you never know.)

This time, the good Doctor brings us a list of Essential Clichés, bits of cant which simply can't be overlooked by anyone seeking to make his mark in the murk of Post-Modern Criticism. Or something like that. In the midst of all the pseudo-literary bushwa circulating these days, it's kind of hard to tell.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
World ends, film at 11

Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Truly, the end is at hand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
6 December 2002
Credentials, please

As anyone who's used a recent Windows machine knows, certificates aren't necessarily what they're cracked up to be; the presence — or, for that matter, the absence — of digital signatures may turn out to be meaningless.

By no coincidence, something similar is true in one's life away from the computer as well. Alexandra at Out of Lascaux might have the potential to be a truly great teacher, but so long as she's lacking the appropriate signatures, we may never know:

Teachers need to be Certified to teach in our school systems. What does this mean? It means they attended several "education" classes, either in college or as an "alternative program" and did student teaching for a year or so. The NEA will tell you that Certified is synonymous with "qualified," but I beg to differ.

The National Education Association, which aspires to be a Great and Powerful Professional Organization, has the urge that typifies almost every G.P.P.O.: they wish to define the profession in their terms, and their terms only. Included in those terms, of course, is the desire to restrict the profession to those who have had the proper indoctrination.

Not that the indoctrination necessarily does anything to enhance actual teaching. Alexandra continues:

My problem with many public school teachers is that they are not educated, they are trained. The difference is that education teaches you to think: training teaches you how to act.

And, of course, how to complete the paperwork before and after you act.

I am neither educated nor trained, but I can certainly tell the difference between the two, despite my complete and utter lack of certification. (Those of you ready to hit the Comments link to tell me that I am indeed certifiable — well, I already knew that.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 PM)
7 December 2002
That don't oppress me much

Andrea Harris slaps down the tragically hip:

It is hysterically funny to read statements from young persons who are pierced with the equivalent of an anvil's worth of steel, have the entire Sistine Chapel tattooed on their bodies, and are living off their parents' credit cards complaining about "conformist, fascist, Amerikkka" when the worst thing that might happen to them in this country is that they might get pulled over for playing their Rage Against the Machine cds too loud in their Mitsubishi Eclipses.

Yeah, all those nonconformists look alike.

(Aside to Ravenwood: Yeah, it's a strange title. Blame Shania.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
Life's less-rich pageant

If anyone still cares, Azra Akin, Miss Turkey, has become the new Miss World.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 PM)
8 December 2002
Porn in the U.S.A.

I had some thoughts on Oliver Willis' piece on the porn industry, and on Susanna Cornett's comments thereto, and by the time I'd turned them into something vaguely resembling readable text, I had a couple of screens full of screed, which after not enough polishing is now available as The Vent #320.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
Involuntary deaccession

The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam is missing two paintings today; thieves gained access from the roof, dropped into the building, and made off with two of Van Gogh's early works, valued at somewhere between millions and priceless.

Swiped were View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884).

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
To Hellmann's and back

"What is it about Southerners and mayonnaise?" asks Kevin McGehee, and he's not kidding:

[W]hen you put mayonnaise on a hamburger, you are offending the spirit of the noble cow that kindly gave its life for your sustenance.

I estimate that over the past four decades, I have uttered some variation on the theme of "Hold The Mayo, Dammit" literally a thousand times, so I can relate.

And remember: revenge is a dish best served with tangy Miracle Whip®.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 PM)
13 December 2002
Name your poison

I know from nothing about Encover, Inc., but its name, at least, strikes me as aggressively bland. Floyd McWilliams, who actually saw the name affixed to an office, is a bit blunter:

This is a typical Silicon Valley dot-com name, and it sucks. "Encover" sounds like an English word being mangled by, say, a wild and crazy guy from Bratislava.

Is it even English? I keep wanting to give it a French twist (ahnh-ko-VAY). Doesn't help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
16 December 2002
Will there be a fourth overture?

Tongue presumably firmly in cheek, the estimable Dr. Weevil proposes a revision of Beethoven's Fidelio suitable for those sensitive souls in the European Union, in which Leonore, horrified when she realizes that she's actually pointing a pistol at Pizarro — "A gun? What are we, crass Americans?" — tosses away the weapon, leaving the way clear for Florestan to be stabbed to death and subsequently venerated as the first martyr of the gun-control cause.

Come to think of it, this might also work at the Berkeley People's Opera.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
18 December 2002
Hey, pal, include this

Unlike some of my fellow infidels, I don't get horribly bent out of shape when someone utters the dreaded C word during Christmas — uh, during the, um, holiday season. Sometimes, though, it takes The Onion to settle the holiday hash. Quoth Jim Anchower in The Cruise:

Last Friday, Smalley totally dressed me down for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. I told him I thought we were supposed to say that, and he was like, "You're supposed to say 'Happy Holidays.' It fosters an environment of religious inclusion." I got a news flash for you, Smalley: It don't make no difference if you tell them "Happy Ass Day." They're there to get a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree.

Yeah.

Have a Happy Ass Day, y'all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
19 December 2002
The crones of academe

I have always suspected that Departments of Women's Studies have nothing to do with me, except to the extent that I am considered a threat because of my membership in the half of the species with the external genitalia. Okay, fine. Maybe some people need to designate enemies before they can find friends. It never occurred to me, though, that we might be better off without those studies.

It has, however, occurred to James Lileks:

You know, if every "Woman's Studies" department was closed, and the student loans were used to create businesses that hired women instead of studied them like tragic butterflies impaled on the patriarchal pin, we might be better off. Granted, we'd be without PhD theses like "Rape Symbolism and Beatrix Potter: A Rake's Progress," but the culture would survive; the only noticeable effect at all would be a 17% decrease in Frieda Kahlo poster sales, and a 50% decrease in 33-year-old college students.

"Here Comes Peter Cottontail" is evidently more menacing than I had imagined.

But belligerent bunnies aside, all this makes me wonder what a "Men's Studies" curriculum might be like. Certainly the three-hour lab for home beer production would be inadequate, and the wisdom of Vince Lombardi can be exhausted in a few paragraphs. I am reasonably certain, however, that at no point will any of the instructors suggest, even for a minute, that women are capital-E Evil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
20 December 2002
Lady looks like a dude

Have Playboy Playmates become androgynous? Not quite. But there is, apparently, a marked trend away from the hourglass: over nearly half a century of centerfolds, the average bust and hip sizes have dropped somewhat, while waistlines have actually increased. What's more, although the average height has gone up, as it has in the general population, the average weight is essentially unchanged over the study period.

I'm not quite sure what I think about this. I do know that present-day Playmates, however attractive they may be, tend to be about my daughter's age or below, which has the effect of making whatever enjoyment I derive from their photos seem inevitably somewhat creepy, a situation Steely Dan would have understood.

On the other hand, Miss January 2003 is thirty-five (link possibly NSFW), by a slight margin the oldest woman ever to appear in the magazine's signature feature. (Of course, I read the articles first.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 AM)
21 December 2002
From the Teachers' Handbook

Chapter 12, Section D, Paragraph 5-7b:

Do not attempt to wake a sleeping student by lobbing a Koosh Ball in his/her general direction. If you miss, you look foolish; if you hit, you get sued.

And in either case, you will probably not get your Koosh Ball back.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 AM)
22 December 2002
Curse you, Irving Berlin

In days of old when knights were bold and tinsel not invented, snow right before the 25th of December was viewed as an annoyance and an impediment to travel. Which, of course, it was.

Nowadays, by which is meant the last sixty years, almost everyone is dreaming of a white Christmas, and entirely too often those dreams come true: we're going to be staring at half a foot of snow before the reindeer make that last pass over the housetops.

Women I know on the East Coast will sneer at the mention of a mere six inches, but there's at least a measurable chance that the car nearest to them on a frozen road will be occupied by an individual who actually might know how to drive on the the damnable stuff. We don't get odds that good here on the Lone Prairie. Come to think of it, hardly anyone here knows how to drive in July, either.

And if you must listen to "White Christmas," Bing is good — Bing is always good — but the Drifters, in this instance, are better.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:55 PM)
26 December 2002
We'd all love to see the plan

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason Magazine reports that after all these years, sales of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, despite the Chinese switch to Pinyin notation (rendering him "Mao Zedong") and Mao's switch to Death Mode, are still strong. The little (three by five) red book, distributed all over China and occasionally elsewhere, is printed in, um, San Francisco, California. I don't know if it contains pictures, but as John Lennon once (well, twice, actually) pointed out, if you carry such, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 AM)
28 December 2002
Smoking that bluegrass, or something

Is it my imagination, or is the new Kentucky license plate truly the smarmiest automotive excrescence since fuzzy dice?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
29 December 2002
A thoroughly modern moviemaker

George Roy Hill (no relation) is gone. The director of crowd-pleasers like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, which won eleven Academy Awards between them, he was equally at home with difficult material (say, The World According to Garp).

For me, the best thing he ever did was the gentle comedy A Little Romance, in which an American student in Paris (Diane Lane, all of fourteen years old) and a French kid (Thelonious Bernard) find themselves mad about one another and, courtesy of a romantic fable spun for them by that charming old rogue Laurence Olivier, obsessed with getting themselves to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, that their love may be forever sealed.

Many years after this 1979 film, I briefly entertained the fantasy of doing likewise with the person not yet (un)known as She Who Is Not To Be Named, despite a gnawing suspicion that at the precise moment when we started to pass beneath the bridge, when according to the legend the Kiss of Eternity must be delivered, she would gaze up at the Palace and holler, "Who let the Doge out?"

Which of course would have sealed the deal anyway, but I didn't realize that at the time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:22 AM)
Samuel Pepys: blogger

The first entry (1 January 1660) in the blog-based version of the Diary of Samuel Pepys is up. The adaptation, by Phil Gyford from the 1893 Wheatley edition, manages to be both mind-numbingly obvious and wonderfully audacious at the same time: if you've read Pepys before, well, you're reading him again, but it's a genuine kick to see this seventeenth-century text in a twenty-first-century milieu, and Mr Gyford deserves great heaping volumes of kudos for this undertaking.

The site, incidentally, runs on Movable Type. No, not Gutenberg's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
31 December 2002
Def but not blind

Rap impresario Russell Simmons puts out a magazine called One World. If you see this title and assume from it that Mr Simmons is contributing to the ongoing homogenization of world culture, you might want to think again: the cover of the December/January issue features rapper Lil' Kim in a burqa, but she's got it bunched up around her shoulders, and underneath — well, already the complaints are coming in from the arbiters of Islamic culture.

In point of fact, this is a lot more than Lil' Kim usually wears, but I doubt that this particular argument will carry much weight at your friendly neighborhood mosque.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
5 January 2003
With honors

There is a marked dearth of home-schooled youngsters — that is to say, zero — in the National Honor Society. Not a reflection on the students; it's just that NHS has chapters in schools, and that's that.

Now there's an honor society for home-schooled kids who excel. In 1999, the first chapter of Eta Sigma Alpha was founded in Houston. Now the organization is going national: it has spread to at least ten states and more than twenty chapters.

Why bother, you ask? Membership in NHS scores points on college applications; membership in Eta Sigma Alpha, which has standards even higher than NHS, will eventually score points for the home-schooled. And it's one more step toward burying that stereotype of home schooling as a tool of fundamentalist Christians to ensure that their spawn grow up pious and dumb.

(Muchas gracias: Mrs. du Toit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:02 PM)
6 January 2003
The Vegas idea

Penn and Teller live in the deranged metropolis of Lost Wages, Nevada, which means that they don't have to seek out showbiz: showbiz looks for them.

Once a year, Penn puts out a list of films, bands, acts, and whatever he watched during the previous year, not so much because he thinks we should care but because it fits in with his need to document everything. The 2002 list, for some reason, is smaller than 2001's.

Teller? He didn't say a word. Go figure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
10 January 2003
Two hundred so far

I used to throw the Charleston Evening Post into ninety-one yards six days a week. It wasn't much fun, but it did teach me the importance of drudgery as a means of putting coins in my pocket, and besides, I didn't have to get up at three in the morning to throw The News and Courier.

As in many other cities, co-owned morning and evening papers were fused into one. But if this fuzzes up the family tree a bit, well, one thing is clear: the original Charleston Courier put out its first edition on 10 January 1803, and today's Post and Courier is celebrating its 200th birthday. As a former reader and, um, independent contractor, I tip my hat to the paper that did as much as any single publication to teach me to read, both the lines of type and the messages in between.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
11 January 2003
Tall and tan and young and lovely

Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim with a lyric by Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes, "The Girl from Ipanema" was a huge hit (#5 in Billboard) in the States in 1964, in a recording by Stan Getz and João Gilberto for Verve, with Jobim himself at the piano and Gilberto's wife Astrud on the English-language (by Norman Gimbel) vocal. The picture it paints in the mind is vivid indeed, but it never occurred to me to assume that there was a model for it.

Now comes word that The Girl herself, Helo Pinheiro, now 55, will appear on the cover of Playboy's Brazilian edition in March, alongside 24-year-old daughter Triciane. I simply have to get a copy of this — for historical purposes, of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
12 January 2003
Sit right back and you'll hear a tale

Tom Carson's seriously-wacko novel Gilligan's Wake isn't quite as Joycean as the title implies, though the opening section, in which the narrator, claiming to be one Maynard G. Krebs, discovers that he's not hanging with the Beats by the Bay after all but is in the Mayo Clinic's Cleaver Ward, overseen by the stern Dr. Kildare F. Troop, is riddled with enough entendres, double, triple and fourple, to live up to Finnegan's standard.

From then on, it's every storyteller for himself. A Navy man tells tales of WWII-era PT boats with Quinton McHale and Jack Kennedy; a millionaire describes his role in the rise of Alger Hiss and his all-too-loveless marriage; his wife recounts life in West Egg during the Jazz Age and a friend named Daisy; a star of B (and occasionally C) pictures meets up with the Rat Pack; a young woman from Kansas finds fascination at the Sorbonne; and somehow all of their lives are intertwined by the machinations of an evil genius — a professor, in fact.

As a metaphor for 20th-century American history, Gilligan's Wake works better than it has any right to. Audacious and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, it's a glorious confection, with a high incidence of "What the hell was that?" Lots of brain candy, though the flavoring masks empty calories here and there; I don't see this becoming America's answer to Tristram Shandy or anything, but it's a good way to spend a three-hour tour.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
13 January 2003
Waiting for the third shoe to drop

First it was Joe Strummer of the Clash.

Then it was Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Who's next?

Bigwig knows, and he's truly sorry. Really.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
14 January 2003
The lexicographers of Room 101

First, the dictionary definition:

proselytize, v. intr. 1. To induce someone to convert to one's own religious faith. 2. To induce someone to join one's own political party or to espouse one's doctrine. v. tr. To convert (a person) from one belief, doctrine, cause, or faith to another.

Now maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just a sign of the times, but I never hear this word from someone who is actually trying to perform the act described in definition 1. Where I do hear it, mostly, is from people complaining that some religious — um, "faith-based" — organization is doing this, possibly with government money: "Don't look, Ethel! They're proselytizing!"

Now the First Amendment, quite properly, restricts the government from pushing one denomination or another, and if tax money is going into this sort of thing, complaints are in order. But what has happened is that the very word that describes the process, however innocent, has acquired a negative connotation, and those who aren't inclined to think kindly of religious groups in the first place (and I'm discovering that there are more of them than I thought) are more likely to use it, not as a description, but as a bludgeon.

And so the language is further debased, and another thoughtcrime is entered into the dictionary of Newspeak.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
18 January 2003
Deriding Derrida

Technically, bloggers do not deconstruct: they fisk. And while the technique of fisking owes much to Jacques Derrida's theory of deconstruction, it owes nothing to Derrida's penchant for revisionism: texts are fisked because of what they say, not because of what we think they ought to say.

This week at NRO, Mark Goldblatt, last seen turning out a scathing novel about African-American culture, takes apart both Derrida and Derrida, the hagiographic documentary now playing at a theater near you if you don't live within a thousand miles of me, and he's almost gleeful in his, um, deconstruction:

[H]e is not now, nor has he ever been, a philosopher in any recognizable sense of the word, nor even a trafficker in significant ideas; he is rather a intellectual con artist, a polysyllabic grifter who has duped roughly half the humanities professors in the United States — a species whose gullibility ranks them somewhere between nine-year-old boys listening to spooky campfire stories and blissful puppies chasing after nonexistent sticks — into believing that postmodernism has an underlying theoretical rationale.

I've always aspired to some form of post-postmodernism myself, and generally fallen flat.

What would Derrida think about fisking? I don't know, and Goldblatt doesn't say, but I suspect that he'd take exception to it, if only because the fisker bases his interpretation on the assumption that the author of the text being fisked actually intended it to read that way, whereas Derrida, I surmise, would be predisposed to assume that there is some deeper subtext somehow being missed. And I'd take exception to that, since most of the Truly Fiskable seem devoid of depth; indeed, some meet the qualifications for bas-relief.

(Muchas gracias: Cinderella Bloggerfeller.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
20 January 2003
What this day is about

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech from the Lincoln Memorial, a speech which forever will be designated by its most stirring phrase: "I have a dream."

The speech, which Dean Esmay has thoughtfully reproduced today, is a stark reminder of the way things used to be, a benchmark by which we can measure how far we have come — and how far we still have to go.

There's little more I can say, though I'll point you toward my visit to Selma, Alabama two summers ago, a trip which in retrospect is starting to look like a pilgrimage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
21 January 2003
Buncha dips

I tend to look askance at all things related to the Super Bowl, if only because they peg the Hype-O-Meter and it's a pain in the neck to have the device recalibrated afterwards. On the other hand, some of the peripheral statistics are occasionally amusing.

For instance: The California Avocado Commission predicts that during the Bucs/Raiders clash, some 40 million pounds of the green stuff, mostly in the form of guacamole, will be polished off by America's couch potatoes. That's gonna take a lot of chips.

For those keeping score: The biggest month for avocado consumption is May, what with both Cinco de Mayo and the Memorial Day weekend to keep us busy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
Brunswicks and Oranges

In a lifetime of fifty years, give or take a few weeks, I have spent maybe a total of six days in New Jersey. And while some fascinating things have happened to me in the Garden State — how many people can say that they've trodden the Boardwalk at Seaside Heights in wing-tips? — its contribution to what I am is necessarily fairly small. (Well, yes, there was that meeting with Susanna Cornett, but she's not really from New Jersey, if you know what I mean, and this is where I got my first real-life glimpse of SWINTBN, but she's not really from New Jersey, if you know what I mean.)

Nick Gillespie, who edits Reason magazine, really is from New Jersey. And this, he says, is what it means:

To grow up in New Jersey is to grow up an existentialist, to realize the world is indifferent, if not downright hostile. You have to be on the lookout for other people's bullshit, because you're constantly being told that where you're coming from is useless. After a while, you realize that a lot of political and social distinctions are not about reality and truth, but about people trying to put you in your place so they can better regulate your behavior.

Come to think of it, it's not all that different from growing up in South Carolina, another state routinely maligned by people who really should know better, or living in Oklahoma, yet another.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:45 PM)
22 January 2003
A Mauldin farewell

Something I noticed:

It's very tough to live in this country and cling to young ideals. Some people have been able to do it, but they are rare, and any of us who thinks he can do it before he tries it is guilty of considerable smugness.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin said that in 1947, when he was twenty-five. Of course, he'd been through a lot more than most of us: he'd enlisted in the Army at eighteen, and when he wasn't toting a rifle, he was drawing cartoons for the newspaper of the 45th Infantry Division. When the 45th was dropped into the middle of World War II, Mauldin found himself in Europe, where the Stars and Stripes started carrying his stuff, bringing him high praise from the enlisted men and, at one point, a world-class ass-chewing from General Patton. Back home after the war, he took up editorial cartooning, which he'd probably be doing right now if pneumonia and Alzheimer's hadn't killed him off this morning.

Bill Mauldin was 81 years old. I'd like to think that Willie and Joe, his two WWII dogfaces, lived long and happy lives themselves.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 PM)
24 January 2003
Apocalypse pending

Jerry Springer has been characterized as a sleazeball TV host for so long it's hard to imagine how his public image could possibly get any worse.

Well, it can. Replace, if you will, "sleazeball TV host Jerry Springer" with "Senator Jerry Springer".

That sound you hear is the popping of the third seal.

(Muchas gracias: Kevin McGehee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Music industry saved, film at 11

Well, maybe not. But Record Industry Association of America CEO Hilary Rosen, who has done more to destroy the Big Five music firms' relationships with artists and consumers than a whole server farm full of Napsters, is leaving her post at the end of this year, and her replacement, as yet unnamed, is bound to have a better, or at least less pathological, grasp of the situation.

I just wish she was taking Jack Valenti with her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
25 January 2003
No wax tadpoles, though

In 1903, having detected a demand for safe, quality, affordable wax crayons, Binney & Smith Company, 81-83 Fulton Street, New York City, introduces a box of eight for a nickel — Black, Brown, Orange, Violet, Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow — and devises the name "Crayola". The rest, as they say, is history, and if you grew up in the States, it's likely part of your history too.

(Oh, those fat Besco crayons that were flat on one side so they wouldn't roll away? Also a B&S product, hence the name. Hard to chew, though.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:53 AM)
Uncontrollable emissions

Keith Bradsher, the New York Times hack who spewed out that anti-SUV book last year, is apparently going wider with his campaign: his publisher has kicked in a few bucks' worth of underwriting to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of Car Talk, the popular NPR radio show. (I caught the first sponsorship announcement on show #304, this weekend.) By no coincidence, the brothers had been conducting a campaign they call Live Large, Drive Small, which needs (and, frankly, deserves) no explanation.

Much is made of the fact that SUVs, being taller, have a higher center of gravity, and therefore are more likely to roll over than real cars. Now real drivers — "On the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers," explains Volkswagen — are aware of this and conduct themselves accordingly behind the wheel. Your basic leftist, on the other hand, resents the very idea that different people have different skill levels, and seeks to replace it with criteria of a more political nature. Out here in the Real World, we tend to think that if some idiot goes too fast around a curve and rolls his expensive new toy, well, the word "idiot" is pretty much self-explanatory. Proponents of the Nanny State, however, demand that we be solicitous of idiots, and in fact encourage them to employ solicitors when idiocy produces undesired results.

As usual, most of the proffered "solutions" do nothing for the problems they imagine. Changing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards will have exactly zero effect on the vehicles already on the road. If they seriously wanted people to get into smaller, more fuel-efficient automobiles, they would push for a substantial (at least $1.00 per gallon) increase in the gas tax. But they won't do that, because it would affect everyone with a gas tank, including themselves; what they really want to do, of course, is to punish Those Other People.

In the long run, what does all this mean? Backlash, baby, backlash. When all is said and done, Keith Bradsher may wind up selling more sport-utility vehicles than Cal Worthington ever imagined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 PM)
26 January 2003
The Painter of Light

Alexandra, poking her head Out of Lascaux, poses a perfectly reasonable question:

[W]hy do "we", the artsy crowd, despise Thomas Kinkade so much? He has painted some beautiful works, mixed in with the syruppy sweet English country garden/gazebo things. I mean, if he had been doing the same stuff in the 1880's, he would have been as revered as Renoir (who was rather a hack himself, I must add). He also owes a lot to Caspar David Friedrich in his palette. So do we scorn him because he mass produces this stuff, thereby becoming a millionaire? Or is it because it's so pretty?

That's some of it, I think; if he did one-hundredth the volume and charged one thousand times as much, he'd probably get more positive reviews from the cognoscenti, who believe with all their sniffy little hearts that anything owned by someone who has a big-screen TV to watch the Green Bay Packers can't possibly have any merit whatsoever.

I snagged a 2002 Kinkade calendar once upon a time, and reported on it as follows:

Kinkade has a mind's eye way better than 20/20; the scenes, mostly pastoral with a couple of nods to city life, are sentimental and idealized, yes, but he gets the details right, and unless you're predisposed to sneer at everything sentimental and idealized, a stance I am not prepared to sustain for extended periods, you might find yourself actually responding emotionally to the images he creates. This may not be the world we know, but it's a world we wish we did know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:02 PM)
31 January 2003
Powerful bleats and japes

Yeah, I know, everyone reads Lileks anyway, but I just loved this particular bit:

[W]e use one of them all-natch'ral peener butters. No, I do not have to go to the co-op, scoop it from a flyblown communal vat with a wooden spoon, put it in my reusable crock and carry it to the barter-counter with the handy hemp handle. This brand of all natural PB is made by Smuckers. (Always wondered if they really knew how odd their ad campaign sounds: With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good. By this logic, Dodgammed Sassmole Skithead Futtersmuckers would taste even better.)

I'll be sure to ask for it at the Piggly Wiggly.

Sudden flash of insight: Once Iraq is, um, subdued, the most productive thing we can do is open up the society to Western wackiness. Wouldn't you just love to see the first Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Baghdad?

I tell you, this Lileks guy makes you think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
Second season on The WB

Some rejected TV series, courtesy of Mimi Smartypants:

Vasectomy 2003: Medical shows are always very popular with certain demographics. An hour of guys in sweatpants putting icepacks to their groins is going to be great.

Saved By The Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells: Wacky hijinks ensue when Edgar Allan Poe is resurrected, transported forward to our time, and enrolled in a Baltimore public high school. (Or maybe we should set in the 1980s. Can't you just see E. A. Poe wearing a shirt that says RELAX or CHOOSE LIFE?)

My So-Called Dentist: He is not a real dentist, but don't tell our contestants!

Tiny Henry Rollins In A Jar: Sitcom. Henry Rollins is shrunk to the size of a cricket and put in a jar by an adorable six-year-old girl with pigtails. She gives him a stick to climb on and another stick to bench press and she loves him very much. Every episode ends with a self-glorifying spoken word piece and a Macintosh product placement.

And, of course, So Much More.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:29 PM)
1 February 2003
Sox nox, hox box

Back in 1991, the Chicago White Sox moved to a new facility. What made this move unusual was that the new ballpark was given the name of the old ballpark: in effect, Comiskey Park moved across the street.

The Sox aren't going anywhere, but this year and the next twenty-two, they're playing in something called "U. S. Cellular Field", in exchange for $68 million. That's the plan, anyway; given the ongoing shakeout in the wireless-telephone industry, the likelihood that there will even be a "U. S. Cellular" in 2025 strikes me as really low.

Of course, there are options even then.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 AM)
9 February 2003
Start making scents

Jason Kottke has decided:

The way we figure it, the world doesn't need another stupid web application, it needs bacon-scented candles.

And not just bacon, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:52 PM)
14 February 2003
Not including "Drugrats"

(Disclosure: I know the guy who wrote the item linked below. He's not a blogger. He doesn't even play one on TV. But he has a genuinely-warped sense of humor, honed by the desperation that befell him after he deserted the front lines during the Peloponnesian War.)

Who has the top basic-cable series? Fox News? Lifetime? MTV? Not even. You want audience, you go to Nickelodeon. Half animated, half might-as-well-be-animated, the Big Orange Blotch dominates the segment like no other.

Of course, this means a lot of audience research, and some shows inevitably don't make it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
15 February 2003
Time expiring

The end begins this way:

Haddon Brooks, a poet, stood in the last city of the Earth, waiting for the word impact to come from space. He was being recorded. What he saw, how he felt, all the sounds and smells and smallest touches of the death of his world went up and out to the ships as they began the final journey to new homes somewhere in the stars. His vital signs were being monitored, thalamic taps carried his thoughts and transmitted all the colors of what lay around him, to be stored in memory cassettes aboard the ships. Someone to report the death of the Earth had been the short of it, and from that call for a volunteer he had been winnowed from the ten thousand applicants.

This is the opening paragraph from Harlan Ellison's 1972 short story Hindsight: 480 Seconds. A planetoid is approaching the solar system; it will not reach Earth, but will graze the Sun, ripping into its corona and spraying radiation for hundreds of millions of miles. As you'll remember from your grade-school science, the Earth lies just within the first hundred million.

And so the cities were melted down and the peoples gathered together and the ships built, and everyone on Earth would be moving to new homes in the galaxy — except for Haddon Brooks, who offered to remain behind and chronicle the eight minutes between the collision with the Sun and the end of all life on Earth.

In Ellison's story, everyone knows that the end is coming — they've had plenty of warning — and the departure from Earth is orderly and organized. But suppose there wasn't plenty of warning. Dr Geoffrey Sommer of the Rand Corporation think-tank opines that it might be better that way, that it might be better if the world did not know what was to come:

When a problem arises with high uncertainty, there is an opportunity to spin the problem to avoid global panic. If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all.

This might apply just as well to presumably more concrete threats — or, in the wake of this past week's increased terror threshold, less concrete threats. Are we better off not knowing? I'm not entirely sure what I think about this. Given my standard anxiety levels, which are considerable, I'm inclined to believe that news of certain impending death within X time period (as distinguished from certain impending death, period, which is presumably unscheduled as of now) might be quite enough to push me over the edge, in which case it would be a kindness to put me out of my misery.

Or perhaps I may find the eloquence of Ellison's Haddon Brooks at the very end of his report:

"I'm afraid, up there. I'm afraid of my vanity to be the last one here. It was foolish, oh how I want to go with you now. Please forgive me my fear, but I want so much to live!"

If there only had been time. He was chagrined for just a moment that he had let them down, had failed to do what he had been left behind to do. But that lasted only a moment and he knew he had said as much as anyone could say, and it would be right for the children of the dark places, even if it took them a thousand years to find another home.

Then he turned, as the seconds withered, knowing the solar storm had drenched him and at any moment he would vaporize. He looked up into the water-blue sky, past the blinding sun that suddenly flared and consumed the heavens, and he shouted, "I'll always be with you—" but the last word was never completed; he was gone.

(Muchas gracias: Susanna Cornett.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 PM)
16 February 2003
If you build it, they will hurl

I haven't posted anything on the proposed World Trade Center replacements, mostly because everything I know about architecture could be slipped into the corner of a thimble and still leave room for all my good romantic advice and the souls of half a dozen managers at 42nd and Treadmill.

And maybe it's just as well, since according to Nedward, architecture is so riven with jargon and nonsense that hardly anyone, to include its practitioners, understands it anymore:

The death and destruction of WWI caused a huge shift in Western values, specifically because science and technology was employed so successfully in the killing of a generation of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held idealized notion that technology would usher in peace and prosperity was dashed, and many of the prevailing assumptions in the arts were also vacated. It was in this void that the Modernists arrived — along with their avant garde aesthetics and their intent to social engineer.

So what has Modernism accomplished? Well, not much good. We've still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the original WTC was a wind-swept, anarchistic structure, cut off, and horribly out of scale from the surrounding streets and neighborhood. When you stood in the Plaza looking up at the structures, it was difficult to feel anything but dread. In fact, that seems to be a prevailing requirement of the Modernists — your building must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the initiated. You have to be educated for seven years at MIT to understand the beauty of the Brutalist form.

There's a lot to be said for Mies and "Less is more," but sometimes less just isn't more. And while some contemporary buildings around town seem perhaps a trifle baroque, especially considering the age of said town (114 years doth not an eon make), entirely too many structures look like Stalinist housing for the proletariat. If that's the alternative, I want gargoyles, I want turrets, dammit.

The original twin lights to the heavens that were turned on in the wake of September 11th were far more inspiring, I think, than anything solid so far proposed for WTC replacements. I hope that those lights will inspire someone who can draw, and that the newest additions to the New York City skyline will not only stand tall, but sparkle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:40 PM)
18 February 2003
Fear of dead air

When there is breaking news — real breaking news, as distinguished from the parade of ephemera that is routinely pitched as such on television — the first commandment becomes "Get pictures!" And get pictures they will — even someone else's.

During Columbia's last mission, the first pictures came from WFAA-TV in Dallas, an ABC affiliate which has an agreement with CNN. When CNN went live with the story, they used WFAA's video. At a couple of points, so did Fox News, though Fox had no prior arrangement with WFAA. As an experiment, CNN sneaked a small logo into the far corner of the screen, and watched with bemusement as it appeared on the Fox monitor.

Is this actionable? Probably not. Satellite feeds are all over the place, and keeping them out of "unauthorized" hands is likely more trouble than it's worth. And cooperation is not unheard of: during the unfolding of 9/11, all the major networks agreed to share whatever they had. CNN, in fact, considers the Fox action during the Columbia disaster to fall within the bounds of fair use, but it would have been nice if they'd asked first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
21 February 2003
She's a doll

Guys of a certain age and/or a certain mindset have no use for Barbie, except as part of a punchline. "But Daddy, she's so popular!" "Popular? How so? Every friend she has, you have to buy for her!" We don't really relate to Barbie: we pop open a Foster's and throw a couple of shrimp her way, and that's that.

So I'm naturally mystified when a Barbie Collectibles catalog shows up at my mailbox. I think, "Well, yeah, those old dolls with their period outfits, they probably bring a few bucks these days." But I don't throw it away, and after a couple of days I work up the nerve to see what all is being offered.

And holy mother of pearl, will you look at this stuff! Serene enough for Merchant-Ivory, hotter than Beyoncé, seemingly every conceivable fashion idiom of the last thousand years clings to that 39-21-40 shape. And while the cynical side of me thinks, "Yeah, this is a way to get someone to pay ninety-five bucks for a doll, fercrissake," I have a sneaking suspicion that outfitting a workaday Barbie for a seven-year-old girl probably isn't any less expensive.

Maybe I ought to get the Lady Camille. "Champagne-colored jacquard, lace-trimmed chiffon and strands of faux pearls envelope this dainty figure in the absolute splendor of [the Neoclassical] period of art." Okay, she just stands there. But she's got The Look, and I don't argue with The Look. Not now, not ever. I don't care if it's Mattel; it's swell.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
22 February 2003
In the Hundred-Acre Courtroom

Arguably no corporation screams so loudly about the rights of intellectual-property owners as The Walt Disney Company, which is why it is so delicious to see them embroiled in a suit over royalties.

Shirley Slesinger Lasswell and daughter Patricia Slesinger inherited the merchandising rights to A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh character. They licensed the characters to Disney many years ago. While Disney pays the bills for stuffed plush and apparel and such, they've never paid any royalties for Pooh videos, computer games and software, on the basis that these items were not specifically mentioned in the Disney-Slesinger contract.

Having been caught once myself by this sort of argument, I suppose I should feel some sympathy for the Mouse House, but at some point in the proceedings, somebody at Disney actually tossed out a bunch of pertinent legal documents, following which the company moved to block the jury from hearing about it. The California Supreme Court has now rejected that motion.

Disney, as a matter of course, doesn't much like paying for things. You may remember their last animated feature, Treasure Planet. (Actually, you probably don't; it was a box-office disaster.) Basically, it's Robert Louis Stevenson in space, just one more Disney effort to wangle something copyrightable out of public-domain material. But God forbid it should ever go in the other direction.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
23 February 2003
BFD

There is a dubious tradition of referring to action movies by some sort of abbreviation: Men in Black was truncated to MIB, Independence Day somehow became ID4 (if the Declaration had been signed on the 23rd, it just wouldn't be the same), and the second X-Men feature, for which Rebecca Romijn-Stamos has only just now scraped off all that blue stuff, is already being referred to as X2.

Knowing all this, I was still caught off-guard by Fox's film version of Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which, for the purpose of marketing to the adolescent boys (ages 11 through, oh, 49 or so) who will want to see it, will be advertised as LXG.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
27 February 2003
It's a terrible day in the neigborhood

Fred Rogers, always "Mister Rogers" to your kids and mine, lost his battle with stomach cancer this morning. He was 74 years old; his PBS series had run for thirty-two years.

I'll miss the guy. He was one of the few hosts on children's TV who wasn't trying to sell action figures and snacks.

(Update, 1:20 pm: Weetabix, as always, says it beautifully.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
28 February 2003
Obligatory Lileks reference

As required under the provisions of Article II, Section 2-B of the Blogger Convention (revised '03), here is a spiffy Lileks riff on "What if Saddam Hussein had appeared, not on 60 Minutes II, but on American Idol?"

Simon...would cut him to shreds: "first, lose the moustache; we're not shooting a porno movie and it's not 1979. Second, I don't believe your gestures. I believe you believe them, but that hardly counts. I don't hear passion. I don't hear hate. I sense hate, but I don't feel hate."

Jeebus, I wish I could do that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
One extra order of wings, please

Mean Mr. Mustard reports that PETA's chicken farm-equals-Auschwitz promotion is old news, that PETA's spokesvegetable Ingrid Newkirk has been harping on this notion for years. He cites an incident on Dennis Prager's talk show on KABC, Los Angeles, before Prager went national:

[O]ne of the things [Newkirk] mentioned again and again was the fact that our yearly killing of a few billion chickens was no different than the 6 million Jews that died in the Holocaust. She cheerfully reiterated this point until Prager pursued a line of questioning that asked if she thought it was murder to kill a mosquito on your arm and if she would herself would holocaustify any insect that displayed designs on her veins. She stalled for a while, and when Prager made it clear he wasn't going to relent, Newkirk became huffy, claimed it was an unfair question and hung up.

I figure PETA is probably only two fund-raisers away from a campaign to improve the public image of Escherichia coli, which is routinely bad-mouthed by government health officials and other misguided souls.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
1 March 2003
The devil in the dial

I've never been to Vancleve, Kentucky, but last year's somewhat-unintended slide through a series of small Kentucky towns persuades me that I'd probably like the place. Only two things do I actually know about Vancleve: it has a long-established gospel radio station (WMTC AM/FM, the call letters meaning "Win Men To Christ"), and it's the home of the Kentucky Mountain Bible College, which for some time now has been trying to rid itself of its telephone number, which, like other numbers in Breathitt County, starts with 666.

Telephone companies move slowly, when they move at all, and I don't know if this particular bout of slowness is at all related to the need to conserve phone numbers to keep from adding more and more area codes, but finally the school has won: if you're wanting to call them, you need to call 693-5000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
3 March 2003
None dare call it English

The Timekeeper is back in the States and up to full fearsome strength. Not that it takes a whole lot of strength to fisk a high-school senior, but in four years or so the recipient will be a college senior and produce even higher cranial durometer readings, so the time to strike is now.

The student in question offers this startling revelation:

I recall sophomore English, where I stayed after class one day to inquire about the rest of the year's planned reading material. Of the 10 or 20 books required since I entered high school, only one had been written by a woman. Precious few of the others dealt with or even included issues pertaining to women.

Rebuffed by a teacher who pointed out that, hey, this is English class, not a women's studies course, she exploded:

"Doesn't it strike you as somewhat ridiculous that to get the slightest mention of a woman beyond her position as wife to a prominent male figure, I have to go hunt for it on my own, outside of school?! Does it not strike you as odd that half of the world's population is systematically rendered invisible through curriculums such as your own?"

To which the Timekeeper responds:

Does it not strike you as thoroughly ridiculous that the teacher is expected to change the curriculum from a study of literature to a politically correct sociology class to raise the self-esteem of a grievance group, rather than on the merits of the literature involved?

As she gets bitter, he gets better. Read the whole thing. (Good to have you home, Keep.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 PM)
9 March 2003
I learned the truth from seventeen

Some people keep "delightful" and "silly" far apart in little mental boxes, lest the two meet and contaminate one another like chocolate and peanut butter.

Not being one of those people, I direct your attention to the Periodic Table of Haiku, a perfectly legitimate scientific tool with a three-line verse attached for each chemical element. (Scansion isn't always perfect, but what the hell; you try writing something about molybdenum in 17 syllables.)

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:15 PM)
13 March 2003
Guys like him, they have it made

All in the Family creator Norman Lear will collaborate with Trey Parker and Matt Stone on several episodes of their Comedy Central series South Park.

[Insert terlet joke here]

This makes a certain amount of sense; Parker and Stone, like Lear, built their reputations by pushing the envelope without rendering it completely unreadable. And Lear's status as a full-fledged Hollywood liberal obviously didn't bother Matt and Trey, though it's unlikely they'd want to work with the likes of, say, Barbra Streisand.

And mister, we could use a man like Eric Cartman again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
16 March 2003
Endless eggs from a golden turkey

Back around the Dawn of Video, Michael Medved and his brother Harry put together an orange-crate-coffee-table book called The Golden Turkey Awards, which purported to list the Worst Movies of All Time, the worst being Edward D. Wood Jr.'s messterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space. Now anyone who's seen even one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 knows that there are films out there that make Plan 9 look like Citizen Kane. Did the Medved brothers do any actual research on this book, or did they choose to rely on shtick and snark?

I can't tell you what Harry was thinking, but it seems to me that Michael's career since then has been nothing but shtick and snark. His "Hollywood hates America" premise is all over the place these days. And were I a failed screenwriter with an axe to grind, I suppose I'd keep the wheels spinning as long as possible myself.

Soundbitten's G. Beato has analyzed the situation, and he has reached the following conclusion:

Medved suffers from an inversion of the "liberal guilt" syndrome, a condition known as "conservative entitlement."

[F]or talking about movies, and not even talking about them in a particularly illuminating or entertaining way, Medved has made a pretty good living and achieved a fair measure of renown. Aware, no doubt, of how arbitrary his success has been, he insists that it is in fact the product of nothing but his "relentless hard work." Feeling restless and uneasy with his privileges, however, he feels compelled to discredit anyone who suggests that there are other factors in life besides "relentless hard work" that contribute to one's success. And thus his relentless attacks on Hollywood liberals.

I don't know how extensible this premise is, but I've always wondered how popular Ann Coulter would have been had she looked more like Golda Meir.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:19 PM)
19 March 2003
And even Moore silliness

From Karen Croft's The Fix column at Salon.com:

Michael Moore, whom the NY Post whimsically calls a "wide-bottomed windbag," is pissed at a documentary about birds. He's claiming that Sony Pictures Classics is limiting the screenings of Winged Migration (its entry at the Academy Awards) so that fewer members can vote (the rule says you can't vote in the category unless you've seen all the nominated films). This, says Moore, will favor Sony's film over his own documentary Bowling for Columbine.

And people say (yes, I know you do) I'm paranoid.

I can't wait to see what Rachel Lucas makes of this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
20 March 2003
The regular March Madness

King Kaufman in Salon:

When people are dying half a world away, does it really matter whether Kentucky or Texas wins the national men's basketball title, or whether Sam Houston State or Wagner can pull off a colossal first-round upset out of the 15th seed?

The answer is no, it doesn't matter any more than it ever does, which is not at all.

Except that it does matter. It matters because this is what we do, this is how we live our lives. There are always people dying half a world away and sometimes half a block away, or even closer. There are always serious issues, global, local and personal, that make the problems of an Oklahoma shooting guard with a pulled groin muscle not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Exactly so. Some people get paid to wail and wring their hands, others choose to do it on a volunteer basis; but most of us have lives to lead, and the process of, um, "regime change" does not occupy center stage in those lives. We are a nation, but we're not all that nationalistic.

[T]here's room for point guards as well as paratroopers, tomahawk dunks as well as Tomahawk missiles.

That's how we enjoy playing games under the clouds of war. We fit both into our lives. It's a luxury we have because the war isn't being fought on our turf. We shouldn't take it lightly. But we should take it.

And you know what? When the war was being fought on our turf, in the frightening days of September 2001, we took it then, too. We took care of business, we mourned our losses, and we got back to work — and to play. One of the finer aspects of living in the United States of America, I do believe.

Let the games begin.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
22 March 2003
Quote of the Weet

Weetabix takes on NASCAR:

I suspect that when the rapture comes and the demons run around looking for people to scoop up and bring to hell, they'll pick out the folks with the Dale Earnhardt memorial stickers in their window first.

Okay, I like NASCAR — at least, I like the concept of people racing cars that bear an extraordinarily slight resemblance to vehicles that can be purchased at the local dealership by mere mortals — but dammit, I thought it was funny.

What's more, I once defended Thomas Kinkade, and as Weet says,

[W]hy hang a Thomas Kinkade picture in your home when you can letter up a big sign on cardboard that reads "Hi I have no taste of my own. Would you like some delicious aerosol cheese?" and send the money you saved to the Make a Wish Foundation.

(Aside to Kevin McGehee: "Mmmmm...aerosol cheese....")

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 PM)
23 March 2003
Hollywood babble-on

Andrea Harris explains the thundering cluelessness in and around Tinseltown:

[Hollywood celebrities] actually live in a bell jar surrounded by yes-men and sycophants whose job it is to constantly puff up their egos and the fragile self-esteem that most entertainers seem to have, and to shield their charges from as much of unpleasant real life as possible. Even the lesser Hollywood lights get this sort of treatment, as much as their place on the Hollywood food chain will get them. But strip away all of this and you have a collection of people who are usually no more well-informed (and in many cases, are not capable of being any more well-informed) on politics and other matters outside their sphere than the average cashier at a suburban grocery store.

Perhaps this explains why Michelle Pfeiffer hasn't said anything remarkably dumb: she actually worked as a cashier at a suburban grocery store.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 AM)
24 March 2003
Obligatory Oscar comment

Well, it sounded like Adam Sandler:

"That's it! When we do the sequel to Eight Crazy Nights, we pitch it to the Academy as a documentary about Jewish culture. We can't lose!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
26 March 2003
Thou shalt not joke about such

Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, reports The Register, is quite aware that the Bonsai Kitten site, "dedicated to preserving the long lost art of body modification in housepets," is a gag. Nonetheless, the RSPCA is going ahead with a campaign to get the site closed down anyway.

Did I miss something here? Did Her Majesty's Government convene a Ministry of Acceptable Humour while Tony Blair was busy with this dust-up in the Middle East?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
27 March 2003
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it

In an interview conducted by Q magazine, Madonna complained that the world of pop music had become "homogenised" and grumbled about "Svengalis holding talent searches" who dominate said world.

In a related story, Bowling for Columbine writer/director Michael Moore complained about a worldwide surplus of loud, chunky white guys in baseball caps.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
28 March 2003
Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.

All through this RoadSassy piece, one part nostalgia for the Hollywood that was and one part nausea at the Hollywood that is, you can hear the cry of the disillusioned lover, never denying the heartbreak, but not willing to go through that sort of thing ever again. Who knew the stuff our dreams were made of was just, well, stuff?

[U]nder star bedazzled skies, convertible tops down, nestled in the arm of our nervous dates, we lifted our face to the silver screen and allowed you to take us into your magic. We trusted you with the transport of our hearts and desires, we permitted you use of our sacred thoughts and our most eviscerating pains, we trusted you to pretend to be us, up there on that screen. We trusted you to safeguard the holy drama of the human condition, and to speak our stories, our lives well, with eloquence and passion, dignity and grace.. We trusted you to know us, because you were messengers from our finer selves, to the lands our dreams would never ever quite take us to. So you were our emissaries and you, for a very long time, honored yourselves, and us, by seeking the highest and best there is to being human and saying. "Hey guys.....you can be all that you dream. The human condition is sublime and we are so much a graced and wonderful people. We will share with you how to dream your highest dreams." The American dreams.

And we believed, and we never, ever thought to guard against you.

Why would we? We were on that silver screen, our hopes and our aspirations, larger than life; we were larger than life. Many years passed before it became necessary to cut us down to size.

Read the whole thing. Then drive out toward the local dodecaplex — and then keep driving.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 PM)
1 April 2003
But we're so diverse!

Jessie Rosenberg of the excellent Discriminations blog has weighed in on affirmative action as practiced at American universities — not on the blog, but in the "Main Line Voices" department at The Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a "major fad," she says, and takes it from there:

The percentage of students categorized as "Hispanics" in a college means nothing. What about the percentage of radical libertarians? Speakers of Elvish? People who can recite the first 100 digits of pi? These are the categories that matter. I'm not a "white." I'm a physics major, a conservative, and my ancestors are from Russia, Ireland and Romania. I have no more in common with a recent immigrant from Germany than I do with one from Ghana, but I'd certainly like to talk to both — as individuals. That's what diversity is truly about.

For the record, I am one-quarter Latino, have trouble with ten digits of pi, and have met only a handful of Germans and no Ghaniffs. :)

I wonder if speakers of Elvish will be present when the Supreme Court hears the Michigan law school preference case today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
4 April 2003
We lose a good journalist

Michael Kelly, columnist for The Washington Post and editor-at-large of The Atlantic Monthly, has been killed in a Humvee accident while traveling with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

Kelly, 46, who stepped down as The Atlantic's editor-in-chief last year to get back to his reportorial roots, was the first casualty among "embedded" American journalists. Under Kelly's guidance, The Atlantic had become less sleepy and more pointed, and pushed toward a centrist, occasionally conservative point of view, reflecting Kelly's own politics, the departure of Mortimer Zuckerman from the publisher's office, and the need to distinguish the magazine from the competition in general and the reliably left-wing Harper's in particular.

I have a feeling I'm going to miss this guy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:49 AM)
8 April 2003
A reader's greatest fear

Things may have changed since The Lord of the Rings series began, at least for some people, but few things upset me quite as much as seeing that a book of which I am inordinately fond is about to turn into a motion picture — how can they possibly do it justice?

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

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

Then there's that R rating, about which I have some misgivings. Yes, there's some brief nudity in the book, but it's fairly nonsexual in nature. (Cassandra takes a bath; Topaz, the free-spirited stepmother, is wont to "commune with nature," which Cassandra decides to try for herself just once.) This, of course, reflects the collapsed state of my libido: I don't think I can handle seeing an object of my affection in her birthday suit. (I am, of course, amenable to testing this thesis.) And there's something a trifle disquieting about seeing something I read when I was fifteen being turned into an R-rated film. Still, this isn't exactly Disney material. Then again, neither was Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, at least at first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 PM)
10 April 2003
Neener, neener, Janeaner

ABC television is developing a sitcom to star outspoken war critic Janeane Garofalo as — what else? — a TV producer. No pilot script is available, so I have no idea whether Garofalo's character is the sort of person who, say, considers dictators like the late Saddam Hussein to be the moral equivalent of the American President, but at least one prowar group is threatening to boycott the network if Garofalo's show airs: "We do not wish to see the faces of liberal Hollywood," said a statement emailed to ABC.

Actually, her face isn't her best feature, but that's another issue. I have always been a Garofalo fan, but it's been increasingly difficult in recent months as she's sunk further into Hollywood's moral, um, quagmire.

Meanwhile, LGF's Charles Johnson would like to know if Janeane is planning to apologize to Dubya as promised.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
14 April 2003
Dick Cheney dip

Not an editorial comment: a recipe by Amy Langfield. What a friend we have in cheeses.

(Muchas gracias: Matt Welch.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:32 PM)
15 April 2003
King leer

If you scroll to the bottom of this item, you'll discover that Larry King has a certain fondness for thongs. At least it's not in the Marv Albert sense, thank heaven; still, there's something a trifle disconcerting, at least to me, about the whole septuagenarian-gawking-at-fortysomething-woman scene. (My father is 75, and his wife is 50, but I've never known him to gawk.)

Small voice doing a bad imitation of General Zod: "Is this your way of expiating your guilt for running that Google search for olsen twins fan fiction?"

Um, that was research, dammit, and I made a point of avoiding the more prurient stuff.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
Target of opportunity

How could I possibly miss this?

At Lucky Leo's Amusements, patrons who shell out $5 get to fire 60 paint balls at a human decoy dressed in military fatigues and wearing a rubber mask resembling [Saddam Hussein]. The name of the game: Shoot the Geek.

Oh, wait: I didn't.

(Muchas gracias: greeblie blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 PM)
17 April 2003
And we need new logos, too

News Item:

Beginning June 16, Spike will be the latest moniker for The National Network (TNN), which changed its name two years ago from The Nashville Network.

Hmmm. I wonder if this sort of thing will catch on elsewhere in the cable industry....

Oxygen   Boron

Cable News Network   Credibility Near Nil

Lifetime   Smip! (Soccer Moms In Peril)

Animal Planet   C-SPAN 3

TV Land   The Beaver Channel

Comedy Central   Caddyshack Central

Nick   Shtick

Fox News Channel   Cartoon Network

You know, this could work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:54 AM)
18 April 2003
Why stop at Spike?

As mentioned here previously, The Nashville Network/The National Network/The New TNN is about to morph into Spike.

TeeVee's Philip Michaels has a better name for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
20 April 2003
PBR for our times

The late Waylon Jennings sang of getting "back to the basics of love" in a relentlessly-untrendy place: Luckenbach, Texas. Shortly thereafter, of course, Luckenbach became hip, and eventually succumbed to a disease once described by Zen master Yogi Berra: "It's so crowded, nobody goes there anymore."

Bret Schulte of The Washington Post sees the beginning of another back-to-the-basics movement, this one packaged in bottles and cans:

Pabst Blue Ribbon, a forgotten if not forsaken brand, once the solace of the beleaguered working man, and, regrettably, a beer often associated with what people in polite company call "trash," has staged a surprising comeback. The resurgence is mostly among young adults, led by colleagues such as snowboarders and indie filmmakers.

Sales of Pabst are up 5 percent; package sales (as distinguished from over-the-bar sales) are up 12 percent. You could explain part of this as being simply a reflection of the general lack of health in the economy, but while PBR is cheap, there is no shortage of cheap beers out there. There's another factor at work here:

Pabst caught on among some elusive Gen-Xers for other reasons, namely because of what it isn't: mainstream.

The popularity of PBR is a lesson in reverse psychology. Young adults have taken to the beer because it wasn't forced down their throats. Like ugly clothes and extreme sports, Pabst's value lies in its expression of individuality and choice, a rejection of consumer society by those who feel manipulated by it. Pabst's selling point is its distinct unpopularity, its unself-conscious existence among beers that reinvent themselves as regularly as political candidates.

Of course, this lack of trendiness is itself sort of trendy, and fads die as quickly as they are born, but it does my old blue-collar heart good to see people bellying up to the bar and ordering the sort of beer that the self-proclaimed cognoscenti actively scorn. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Falstaff revival.

Update, 6:55 pm, 21 April: Fritz Schranck will have you know that there were beers, even beers produced by Pabst, that didn't come up to the high standards of PBR.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
27 April 2003
Follow the yellow school board

Alexandra thinks we need to pay more attention to the man behind the curtain (9:13 am, 27 April, if Blogspot archives are their usual gassy selves):

My son was reading The Wizard of Oz in his 5th grade class. I was surprised at first, thinking they would avoid anything with "wizard" in the title. But I looked at the text. They changed much of the wording for fear of I-don't-know-what. It was as grey and lifeless as the Kansas plains Dorothy lived on. I was glad I had the real text at home, to show him what they were doing to it. He agreed that it was not right, and I made sure he let the teacher know — not that she could or would have done anything about it, just as a reminder that someone is watching. Perhaps we should all remind the schools that we are watching. Or perhaps we should make Fahrenheit 451 required reading for all textbook publishers and school boards.

I worry that the schools are getting reminders — (dis)courtesy of an effete corps of illiterate snots who are convinced that 90 percent of the curriculum is intended as subliminal indoctrination into the Dark Side. They come from all edges of the political spectrum, but they all spew the same vaguely-veiled threat: "You're not teaching my child that!" Eventually, of course, they teach no one's child anything.

And Fahrenheit 451, I predict, will go over their heads, at an altitude where it will be totally unrecognizable, as Mark Twain might have predicted.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:19 PM)
29 April 2003
Piling high and deep

If your eyes glaze over at a title like Media and the social construction of crime and policing: Process and Effect, you're probably not alone; its very flow suggests industrial-strength academic word-crunching. And that's precisely what Susanna Cornett is going to have to be doing: that's the title of the core proposal for her doctorate, which she will submit to her faculty advisor this week.

Sounds serious, right? And of course it is. I do hope she is able to retain some semblance of her sense of humor through it all. She's posted the actual proposal (it's on Blogspot, so archive pages may be flakier than country biscuits) for those of us who keep wanting to know where the heck has she been fercryingoutloud.

And when it's all over and she's torn out far less of her hair than she thought she would, she'll lean back and say, "You know, that was a darn fine job." Count on it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
Shoes for industry

I yield to no one in my fondness for strappy sandals, but £1 million seems a bit excessive.

(Muchas gracias: Venomous Kate, who presumably could do them justice.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:14 PM)
Bibbiti, bobbiti boos

Bigwig hates Sleeping Beauty.

No, really. I mean, he truly hates it:

It's a horrible annoying video, worse than Barney at his smarmiest, or Barbie at her boobiest. The heroine is Walt Disney's blandest of all time, not to mention the crappiest female role model for little girls since Marie Antoinette. She makes Snow White look like a paragon of forcefulness.

It's hard to decide which is worse in the movie, the off hand yet absolute depiction of women as powerless objects, or the horribly twisted sexual subtext of the whole thing. As Song of The South is to African Americans, so Sleeping Beauty is to women.

Can anything be done about this?

Someone should remake this movie with a man as the sleeper, and a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Briar Rose as the rescuer. Have her invade the witch's castle amid a torrent of gunfire and acres of blood, execute Maleficent with a graphic shot to the back of her head, light a cigarette and leave the prince to his slumber.

At the very least, she'd be a better role model for my daughter [than] Disney's limp blonde noodle is.

Methinks Bigwig is too fond of Lara Croft for his own good, but I have to admit: of all of Disney's "classic" films in the vault, Sleeping Beauty is probably the one I'm least likely to buy on DVD.

I'll have to ask my daughter (age 25) about this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:09 PM)
2 May 2003
Not a puff piece

Baseball Crank associate The Mad Hibernian has, shall we say, mixed emotions regarding Nurse Bloomberg's antismoking decree. On the plus side:

[T]here is something nice about coming home from a bar without feeling like you have to delouse.

There are, however, consequences:

I was down at the aptly-named Village Idiot in Manhattan last Friday and, before long, a few of us found ourselves commenting on the mysterious, godawful smell inside. It took us awhile to realize that, lo and behold, that's how the bar actually smells and probably how it had always smelled, but we had never noticed before due to the ever-present haze and smoke which had always hovered inside the place.

Advantage: smokers. Which is worse: a bar that smells like Camels, or a bar that smells like camels?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 PM)
3 May 2003
Still looking for Jenny

Someone wandered in here last night searching for the area code for 867-5309, proving that even putative one-hit wonders like Tommy Tutone (who actually charted three records) last forever.

In fact, I think 867-5309 may ultimately supplant those "555" numbers in TV and movies that don't fool anyone. Check out this T-Mobile Roaming FAQ item (scroll to the bottom of item #8), or Call Forwarding on this GSM Features page.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:38 AM)
4 May 2003
Mourning the Old Man

The great stone face of the Old Man on the Mountain has always been the defining symbol of New Hampshire; his not-quite-smile, not-quite-scowl has always seemed to be the ultimate expression of "Been there, seen that."

And yes, the experts say that the collapse of the Old Man was inevitable, that wind and weather and time and trouble would bring down that great stone face — any time you've got this much rock exposed, you've massively increased the risk factors — but still it seems impossible; you no more expect this than you expect Lady Liberty to shorten her skirts and do the Hokey Pokey.

This has not been a great year for New Hampshire, with the fire on Mount Washington back in February and now the Old Man crumbled into dust, but you don't spend four hundred years in New England without acquiring some sort of resilience. And I hope they don't decide to redesign the state highway signs, small reminders of the Old Man at his finest and craggiest.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
Smart people, dumb ideas

"Intellectuals," says Cinderella Bloggerfeller, "are simply human beings who should be judged by the same standards as ordinary people." Certainly they're no less capable of blithering idiocy than the rest of us, a point made in La connaissance inutile (English title: The Flight from Truth) by Jean-François Revel (translation by Mr Bloggerfeller):

[T]he intellectual's intervention in public affairs takes place under the strong influence of considerations, pressures, interests, passions, acts of cowardice, snobberies, bids at social climbing, prejudices and hypocrisies which are identical in every way to those which motivate other men. The three virtues necessary to resist them, namely clearsightedness, courage and honesty, are neither more nor less widespread among intellectuals than among any other socio-professional category. This is why the quota they have supplied to the great aberrations of humanity is, proportionately, equivalent to the quota furnished by the rest of their contemporaries.

Which is why I'm not too perturbed that, for instance, national scold William Bennett plays the slots; it may seem inconsistent with Bennett's incessant grousing about the lack of virtue displayed by some of us, but for most of the human race, achieving a level of perfect consistency usually occurs at the moment of death, at which point it really doesn't matter anymore.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:03 PM)
6 May 2003
Get that Stuff outta here

Wal-Mart, in one of its periodic spates of piety, has barred the lad mags Stuff, Maxim and FHM from its magazine racks.

The only real surprise here, for me anyway, was "Wal-Mart carried FHM?" I mean, it's not like the place is overrun with copies of The Weekly Standard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
I give it a 62

I just can't take any more of Oliver Beene.

I mean, I'm sure there's a place for a TV series that combines the worst of Malcolm in the Middle and The Wonder Years, and most assuredly that place is Fox, but geez, this thing is strained, and not just because half the stars are named Grant.

The last straw was this week, when one scene called for worse disarray than usual on the floor, what with Oliver being dragged across it and all, and just above the center of the shot was a lovely Atlantic 45-rpm record.

With a farging bar code on the right side of the label.

Yes, I know period pieces are prone to anachronism — I could swear I saw Paul Pfeiffer in Wonder Years doing the infamous Marv Albert Yes! — but dammit, there are some things even I won't forgive. Not even the presence of implausible hottie Wendy Makkena, last seen (by me, anyway) in Sister Act as the wimpiest nun ever to wear the wimple, can save this show.

(Dear Vickie: Is this obscure enough for you?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 PM)
7 May 2003
Hug a teacher today

And if you're still in a good mood, go read this denunciation of the Ed Biz by Cam Edwards.

The money quote:

The NEA...supports things like abortion rights, homosexual / bisexual / transgendered rights, gun control, socialized medicine, and reparations to Native Americans. Now I don't care if you're for or against these things. The question I have is why do teachers unions need to take a public stand on things like this? Do my kids get an education or an indoctrination at school?

Is the NEA technically a union? Teachers in the Oklahoma City district are represented by AFT for collective bargaining. The NEA, as I understand it, fancies itself more of a "professional association," along the lines of the AMA. Still, its influence is considerable, and not always salutary.

Update, 11:45 am: See Comments. The NEA may not be the union around here, but it's clearly somebody's union. (Thanks, Cam.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 AM)
9 May 2003
Weapons of UMass destruction

First they were the Redmen, and that was fine for a while, but by 1972 the forces of political correctness had grown sufficiently strong, or at least loud, to demand a change.

So they became the Minutemen, a name with even more history behind it, and one that wasn't likely to incur the wrath of the Defenders of Ethnicity. (Did you ever notice that actual members of these allegedly-aggrieved ethnic groups complain a lot less than their self-appointed spokespersons?)

Now the University of Massachusetts is changing the name of its athletic teams again, this time to the Gray Wolves. There didn't seem to be any organized objection to the Minuteman — UMass women's teams, competing as "Minutewomen" (!), didn't raise any particular fuss — but the poor old colonial fellow was, after all, a representative of only a single gender, and what's worse, he toted a musket. God forbid anyone should be seen with a gun these days.

Are gray wolves indigenous to Massachusetts? Springfield Republican outdoor writer Frank Sousa has the numbers:

[T]he last gray wolf sighting around here was in the late 1890s, in a barrel outside Thompson's Clothing Store in Amherst after being shot in Northampton. And those were skinned.

And you just know those weasels from PETA are going to jump all over this.

(Update, 10:30 am: Cam Edwards offers an alternative: "I suggest replacing the name Minutemen with Nancyboys. That's mixed-gender, and it certainly reflects the moral fortitude of the current student population when compared with the original Minutemen." Ow!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
10 May 2003
Da Bars

I'm not saying I've never set foot in a sports bar, but were I to make a list of my Favorite Places in All the World, sports bars would probably not rank highly. Apart from the atmosphere, which is usually no more breathable than vichyssoise, there is this built-in cognitive-dissonance generator, as explained on Play One on TV:

Sports bars seem to have a decorating budget that rivals most major league baseball clubs, but it doesn't hide the fact that a "sports bar" is one of the most un-athletic places on the planet. You can have all the accoutrements that money can buy — big screen televisions, subscriptions to ESPN Sport Paks, sports memorabilia and equipment signed by successful athletes, and a wall festooned with baseball caps and football helmets. But this won't change the fact that if the average sports bar put its clientele onto a soccer field, 90% of them would be dead of heart attacks within the first ten minutes. The other 10% would be on the bench breaking into the beer keg.

I won't even speculate as to which of those groups would be more likely to include me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
11 May 2003
Buck Floomberg

Actually, I don't know anybody by that name, but it gives me an opportunity to plug a T-shirt that is, shall we say, somewhat critical of the Mayor of the City of New York, and which incidentally can be had at The Store at NewYorkish.com.

(Via suck-my-big.org)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 PM)
12 May 2003
It was a dark and stormy review

I don't know if Robert Burrows' The Great American Parade is truly, as WaPo critic Gene Weingarten says, "the worst novel ever published in the English language," but having grown up on both Bulwer-Lytton and Jackie Collins, I simply have to check this out for myself.

Personally, I'd rather have a real live dead-tree book — I am, after all, a creature of habit — but the online publisher Lulu now has TGAP in e-book and printed-on-demand formats, so it appears I'll get my chance. The hard part, of course, will be finding the time to read the darn thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
18 May 2003
A reprieve for the Minuteman

He's probably going to get some sort of retrograde facelift, and I fear they'll take his musket away, but the UMass Minuteman is staying, at least for now. An outpouring of support from Massachusetts residents — and, perhaps more persuasively, an upsurge in orders for Minuteman schwag — has led the school to reconsider its decision to replace the fellow with a gray wolf.

(Muchas gracias: Joanne Jacobs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
20 May 2003
Open season on mascots

The Minuteman may be safe, for now; but what UMass giveth, Ole Miss taketh away.

Colonel Reb, the old Southern (make that Suthun) gentleman who represents the University of Mississippi, may be headed for a makeover; Ole Miss AD Pete Boone says the Colonel is "an 18th-century person," and obviously we can't have such people hanging around in the twenty-first.

Then again, it's not like the Colonel is waving a Confederate flag or anything.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
23 May 2003
Spoleto!

I left Charleston in 1969 and managed to stay gone for thirty-two years, which means that I've never actually seen the Spoleto Festival USA, which was founded in the Holy City by composer Gian-Carlo Menotti in 1977. And that's a shame, since by all accounts this is one of the top arts festivals in the country. (I've never seen its Italian counterpart either, but then about three-quarters of the time I spent in Italy, in the spring of 1974, I was waiting for a Pan Am jet to be checked out after a bomb threat. At least, that's the story they were handing out at the time.)

Spoleto USA begins today. One of these years, I know not when, it will begin with me on the scene.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:41 PM)
26 May 2003
In remembrance

She was a sailor.

She married twice, she bore five children, she lived a life neither all that happy nor all that long; but if you visit the spot of earth where she was laid to rest, the one thing you will know for certain, the one thing perhaps she most wanted you to know, was that she was a sailor.

The uniform changes people. It always has. It's not an instantaneous change, like the flicking of a light switch; it's a slow and gradual change, like sunrise coming over the horizon. And like that sunrise, once it starts, it's impossible to stop.

It has been many years since a major mobilization, many years since the whole nation was called to arms. Fewer of us wear the uniform. And that's a good thing: fewer of us will be placed in harm's way. But it's not such a good thing in another way: fewer of us remember what it means to wear the uniform, to put one's country ahead of oneself. Today there are those who fear the uniform, who distrust those who wear it. Sometimes we say that they have no regard for their country, but that's not really true; they still live and love and work here, just like the rest of us. They simply believe that the world is supposed to be like the Hundred-Acre Wood, and they cannot accept that parts of it are more like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. For some of them, a wake-up call came with the toppling of the Towers; others dream on.

And I don't begrudge them their dream; I, too, wish the world were quieter, more peaceful, more like a children's book. But I also know that it won't happen on its own, and that some of the world's self-proclaimed "peacemakers" desire anything but peace. It takes more than the mere absence of war to produce peace; it takes the combined efforts of people dedicated to the proposition that freedom is worth the price.

You'll recognize those people at once. They wear the uniform.

As did I. As did my brother. As did my sister's husband. As did my father.

And as did my mother; she was a sailor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
A Memorial Day tribute

Michele has a stirring story to tell, as a reminder of what this day is all about.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:22 AM)
28 May 2003
Taking liberties

It's called Sticky Fingers: A Tale of Saks, Lies and Videotape, and it's a musical based on Winona Ryder's 2002 shoplifting trial.

<davebarry>
I am not making this up.
</davebarry>

The production is being staged at Point Loma High School near San Diego; Ryder has reportedly been invited to attend.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
Dues as a function of word count

Weetabix has grasped another High Truth:

The truth of the matter is simply that there are a finite number of words that must be written before something brilliant comes from your pen. And for someone like Margaret Atwood, that number is something like 132, whereas for someone like Wally Lamb, the number is probably in the six-digit range (go ahead and kvetch in the comments section but I really really HATED She's Come Undone and I read it when it came out, pre-Oprah, pre-Renee Zellweger film, pre-everything. It was schlock. It could have been good and instead, he beat the reader over the head with every bit of schmalz he had stored in his noggin. And he had the focal character commune with whales. With WHALES. I'm getting mad again just thinking about the bad plot devices in that thing. So, seriously, I'm glad that the book changed your life and made you cry or commune with your inner fat girl, but it just didn't work for me.)

My inner fat girl reminds you that Weet is talking about her comments section.

Where my own brilliance threshold kicks in, I don't know; I haven't reached it yet. And my word count is way into six figures, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
4 June 2003
Sartorial elegance

Andrea Harris, on music-video wardrobe concerns:

[A]ll the people in videos look like they were either attacked by a crowd of mad tattooists or were caught in a multicolored spandex tornado.

Of course, if you put everyone in Armani suits, everyone assumes you're making a statement likely to be even more fatuous than the one you're actually making.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
6 June 2003
Sheets to the wind

David "Clubbeaux" Sims describes his encounter with the Klan, and while he's not what you'd call enthusiastic about the group, he understands why it's still around, and why it's not just a collection of ignorant, bigoted Klux:

It goes along with my overall theory that low-level racial tension is quietly encouraged and abetted by the rich and powerful to keep the poor divided and distracted. Maybe it's never occurred to the framers of social engineering in as blunt terms as that, but it's uncanny how frequently policies trumpeted as helping blacks are at the expense not of the well-to-do or the connected, but the lumpen, the low-middle class or outright poor white rednecks. In every state in America. And of course when poor whites complain they're kicked down as "racists."

Now social engineering is to engineering what social disease is to disease — toxic and virulent, yet passed on with the best of intentions. And it would be well to remember this:

Poor whites aren't any more racist than anyone else, they're just victimized by racial politics more than anyone else, so they squawk about it more than anyone.

And if you squawk about it — well, you just might be a redneck. Rednecks, however, are not among the Protected Classes embraced by the occupants of the seats of power.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 AM)
7 June 2003
Thighs matter

I am normally unconcerned about how much an actor resembles the person being portrayed — both Alanis Morissette and Morgan Freeman can do God convincingly, I think — but no way am I going to believe that Hillary Rodham Clinton has legs like Sharon Stone's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
Trees kill themselves in shame

The Roman Catholic bishops of Illinois have declared that the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are seriously anti-Catholic, suggesting their flocks should spurn these big-selling Tales of the Last Days.

Peppermint Patty offers a more compelling reason for avoiding these books: they suck.

My 7th Grade son can write better fiction than this. It's painful to read this stuff, it reads like the crap I used to write when I was 12: awkward, unnatural, pretentious, lacking any true ring of authentic speech or thought.

Don't hold back, Patty. How do you really feel?

What shocks me profoundly is the obscene amount of money [LaHaye and Jenkins] are making off of the worst written books in the history of literature, and this includes The Bridges of Madison County, which runs a close second.

Having survived L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series — ten volumes of steadily-increasing horribleness — I'm inclined to drop Madison County to third, or twelfth, or something, but clearly Left Behind is in august company. Fortunately, August comes but once a year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:09 AM)
11 June 2003
Of coarse, of coarse

You don't need me to tell you to go read Lileks, but this bit is so good it demands to be repeated:

If "not buying something" is "in effect, censoring" then I have spent my entire life silencing the right of Adam Sandler to speak his mind. And would someone please explain to me why "civil liberties" groups are spending their time worrying about the homogenization of popular culture? I'd offer that American society provides so many opportunities for expression that "civil liberties" groups are reduced to complaining that the failure of Wal-Mart greeters to hand out free copies of Phuq U's latest CD is the equivalent of the National Guard arresting Molly Ivins and confiscating her typewriters.

It's that "diversity" thing, y'know; and since we Ward Cleaver types don't rush to embrace it — "What if it sucks?" — the nation must rise as one to shove it down our collective throats and into Wal-Mart's inventory system. I persist in the weird notion that "Wal-Mart doesn't carry something you want? Fine. Go somewhere else."

My subscription copy of Vanity Fair arrived yesterday, its cover liberally festooned with implausibly hot yet relentlessly underage babes. (Yes, Kevin, including both Olsens.) I gawked at this thing for entirely too much time, then started wondering if maybe the squarer retailers (which around here means most of them) were going to put one of those rectangular shields over the rack to prevent in-store gawking. I have nothing in the world against teenage girls — once upon a time I was in love with a teenage girl — but I get queasy when they're presented as Hotties On The Verge, and I don't think it's just because I'm fifty and the, um, commodities in question are younger than my children. God knows what Lileks would make of this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
12 June 2003
Good night, David

Veteran newsman David Brinkley has died at his Houston home.

Brinkley, 82, cohosted NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report from 1956 to 1971; in 1981, he moved to ABC, where he became the host of This Week, a position he held for sixteen seasons.

A personal note: While I mourn Mr Brinkley's passing, it scores me 18 points and $20 in the Amish Tech Support Dead Pool.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:30 AM)
13 June 2003
Just slightly Spiked

The planned unveiling of Viacom's Spike TV, the replacement for The Network Formerly Known As Nashville, has been put on hold; a New York judge has issued an injunction against Viacom at the request of Spike Lee, who believes that the name is an infringement upon his persona.

No word from director Spike Jonze, the late bandleader Spike Jones, or Buffy's erstwhile boyfriend.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
14 June 2003
And they didn't need a road map

After 125 years, apparently it's over.

Today in Pikeville, Kentucky, descendants of the Hatfield and McCoy families signed a truce, ending the feud that is believed to have started in 1878 when Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing a pig.

Actual warfare between the families has been sparse in recent years; in fact, in 2000, the Reunion Festival was established as a means of drawing the feuding families together (and, not incidentally, to draw some tourism dollars to the Tug Valley). Still, there had never been a formal end to hostilities until today.

So far, no response from Korea, where the war between North and South now moves into first place on the Formally Unresolved Conflict charts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 PM)
15 June 2003
No slab jokes, please

Tony Roma, whose little BBQ place in North Miami grew to over 250 upscale rib joints across the country, has died in California at the age of 78.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
19 June 2003
Retiring the Colonel

As predicted in this space last month, the University of Mississippi will sideline its mascot this fall. Officials at Ole Miss apparently want something "more intimidating" than the old Southern gentleman known as Colonel Reb.

At least, that's the story. I'd hate to think they bought into this mythology:

Ole Miss's reluctance to embrace integration in the '60s and its resistance to dump a minstrel song and jettison Confederocentricity in the '70s, '80s and '90s has hobbled this school's athletic progress for the last four decades. To understand the damage done, we need to look no further than three athletic programs that were equals on the football field in the early 1960s.

When both the Universities of Georgia and Alabama dumped "Dixie" and other vestiges of the Old Confederacy in the 1970s, the University of Mississippi's "Pride of The South" kept right on playing that inflammatory song. Ole Miss kept waving those rebel flags.

Georgia and Bama actively embraced change, as well as black students and athletes, and mostly furled their Rebel flags. Ole Miss mostly didn't. Guess what? Georgia won the SEC last year, and Bama has won several national titles since they banned the rebel flag and stopped playing "Dixie."

"Confederocentricity"? I have to admire any eight-syllable word that takes up only twenty letters, but otherwise, I ain't buying. As they say in the Big East, "I got your post hoc right here, pal."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
21 June 2003
Weapons of audience attraction

I don't get Showtime, unless the cable company screws up, but I admit to a certain amount of curiosity about their upcoming feature D.C. 9/11, a dramatization of the first few hours after the planes came crashing into the world as we knew it.

"It's a straightforward docudrama," says producer-scripter Lionel Chetwynd. "I would hope what's presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation." It probably won't change any minds among members of the I Hate Bush Club, but then again, what on earth possibly could?

Me, I'm fixated on Penny Johnson Jerald, whom I remember as Kasidy Yates from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and who looks like she could be Condi Rice's kid sister, a useful commodity considering she's playing Condi Rice.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:35 PM)
22 June 2003
Bent before Beckham

Kim du Toit sets the Wayback machine to the premiere of Spice World.

Old news, yes, certainly. But (1) it's a quality du Toit rant from the archives and (2) it's supplemented by some high-grade eye candy, two factors which I think eminently justify calling attention to it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:44 AM)
27 June 2003
Neologism watch

Tiger proposes the replacement of the pejorative-sounding "idiotarian" with the perhaps less-accusative "inanitarian".

Personally, I think it lacks punch. On the other hand, it's a hell of a lot better than that "bright" crap.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
Affirm this

Found at Bleeding Brain, courtesy of Wild:

The white lad and the black lad were both born as naked as j-birds. Neither was born with the title deed to a plantation stapled to his ass.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
29 June 2003
Missionary positioning

It's called the Abstinence Clearinghouse, an umbrella organization for the various groups which cajole/harangue/persuade (pick one) young folks to eschew the wonders of sex until they're properly licensed by the state, and they're holding their convention in Las Vegas. Of course.

It goes without saying that there are very good reasons why teenagers should not have sex — ask any 35-year-old grandparent — and I'm as likely as anyone to buy into the mythology of Waiting For The Right One, but something about this enterprise leaves me cold, and it's not just the tendency of some of the promoters to disseminate misconceptions about condoms, either.

I wrote this back in 1996:

Some people still value [virginity], perhaps in the way one values that new-car smell, but it goes away after a while, and good riddance.

I got married at twenty-four. It didn't last. Maybe it might have if either of us had known what the hell we were doing. Those zealous guardians of home plate wouldn't have helped us in the slightest.

Update, 9:15 pm: Arthur Silber scoffs at their slogan:

"True Love Waits." If you know it's "true love," it shouldn't wait. Not for a second.

Now he tells me.

Update, 7 am, 30 June: On his radio show, Cam Edwards points out that "True Love Waits", as a slogan, belongs to some other group.

Now he tells me.

(I'm starting to see a pattern here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 AM)
30 June 2003
The lady Katharine

About the late Katharine Hepburn, I will say only this:

Never did a woman go so far out of her way to avoid looking "girly", nor did one ever look so beautiful while so doing.

Oh, to have been Spencer Tracy, just for a few hours....

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
Give me smut and nothing but

Imagine Philip Michaels' surprise when TiVo's program listings helpfully pointed out a soft-core T&A-fest. On his local PBS channel, yet.

Now imagine his annoyance when it failed to materialize.

(And if Charlie Rose does any skinnydipping next season, I'm sending in a pledge, just so I can cancel it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:13 PM)
4 July 2003
Somebody blew up Baraka

It couldn't happen to a nicer moonbat.

New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka, after coming under fire for a poem which asserted that Jews had advance knowledge of the World Trade Center attacks, had been asked to resign. He refused. In January of this year, the New Jersey Senate considered a bill to abolish the position entirely; it passed 21-0, albeit with 19 abstentions. This week, the Assembly passed that bill on a 69-2 vote, and Governor James McGreevey, one of Baraka's harshest critics, is almost certain to sign it.

I liked the Trenton Times editorial comment:

Somebody blew up the poet laureate's job
Amiri Baraka, as before, remains completely free
To peddle to the gullible his loony history
In characteristic clumsy meter and adolescent rhyme —
But no longer in New Jersey's name and on New Jersey's dime.

(Muchas gracias: Timekeeper at Horologium.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
6 July 2003
It came out of the sky

The Kalahari bushman N!xau (the exclamation point represents a sort of click), the unlikely star of The Gods Must Be Crazy, has died in Namibia.

In Jamie Uys' 1980 film, N!xau finds a mysterious item on the ground that can only have been sent by the gods: an empty Coca-Cola bottle. He brings it back to the tribe, observes that it brings only sorrow, and resolves to return it to its creator.

N!xau went on to a film career of sorts, doing a sequel to The Gods in 1989 for Uys and winding up in Pacific Rim features, before returning to the bush. He was believed to be about 59 when he died.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
7 July 2003
Ream the meme

If you read half the stuff on my blogroll (which I try to do on a semi-regular basis), you might think Chris Muir's Day by Day, featured at several of those blogs, is the funniest thing since Mary Matalin gave James Carville a wedgie on Meet the Press. (And if she didn't, well, she should have.)

I'm not quite so enthusiastic myself: okay, it's funnier than Doonesbury, but then the bridge column by Omar Sharif and Tannah Hirsch is funnier than Doonesbury.

SurlyPundit, on the other hand, thinks Day by Day sucks, and is prepared to tell you why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 PM)
8 July 2003
Gloomy gusto

Now this is pithy:

If there is one consistent undercurrent in Nineties America, it's the theme of diminished expectations — the death of optimism, if you will. People now routinely expect things to get worse before they get better, if they're going to get better at all. In this kind of atmosphere, suicide begins to look like the single most sincere form of self-criticism.

Credited as "found on the internet".

More precisely, it was found here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:11 PM)
12 July 2003
Say it in subtitles

Fritz Schranck might be a member of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society, which, judging by its mission statement, is likely a sterling bunch of folks.

Unlike the foreign-film buffs that Donna always seems to encounter:

As much as I love to see foreign films, I hate the audience. There is always a group of people who feel the need to demonstrate their grasp of "culture" by laughing a little too loud and a little too long at mildly amusing situations within the movie. The laughs are forced and desperate. HO HO HA HA I GET IT! SEE, I AM SMART AND WORDLY, THIS IS HYSTERICAL HA HA HA!

Donna's Philadelphia is evidently farther from Fritz's Sussex County than I thought.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:09 PM)
28 July 2003
The first name in monologues

That would be Bob, as in Bob "Who are you calling a legend?" Hope, who died yesterday, and Susanna Cornett, one of those unpretentious mountain-type persons I was talking about, has a lovely tribute to the man who invented stand-up comedy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
2 August 2003
Gibleting idiots

Martin Brest is the man behind Gigli — he directed it from his own script — but so far as I can discern from all the negative buzz, the spiritual father of this film is Arthur Carlson, station manager at Cincinnati radio station WKRP. "As God is my witness," said Brest, evidently channeling Carlson, "I thought this turkey would fly."

Turkeys play a role in the film, or at least in its dialogue, being the central image in the least-convincing sexual come-on since — well, since I used to date. Natalie at Pickle Juice is happy to rewrite the line, with considerably more persuasive results.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
5 August 2003
I now pronounce you

I've mostly stayed out of the gay-marriage brouhaha so far. Way back in 1996, I complained about the Defense of Marriage Act, and got a tad hyperbolic in so doing; subsequently I figured it might not be a bad idea to lower my profile on this issue.

But while I haven't exactly recanted, I would rather avoid demonizing the opposition. And along these lines, Moira Breen has precisely the argument I'd been unable to come up with on my own:

I believe most people who are uneasy about gay marriage are not so because they are hateful bigots, but because they are looking back over forty years of trends in marriage, divorce, and sexual behavior that (righly) disturb them — serial marriage, high divorce rates, contempt for concepts of duty and loyalty toward spouse and family, the view that children's lives are secondary in importance to the ever-shifting desires of adults. They see the push for gay marriage not as a separate argument revolving around fairness and justice, but as an extension of those deplorable trends — and they are encouraged in that perception by many of [same-sex marriage's] proponents, who do make the argument in those terms.

Emphasis in the original. Regardless of the hardware possessed by Heather's, um, parental units, marriage is fundamentally about children, about providing them a structure within which they can grow and develop; the partners themselves, like it or not, are secondary players. This is not to say that childless couples don't deserve to have their unions sanctified by church or state or whatever, but the fact remains: marriage is fundamentally about children. Moira again:

As state and society we don't poke our noses into people's reproductive plans or fertility status before they marry, but this (quite proper) delicacy and respect for privacy cannot negate the fact that societies institute marriage because of the existence of children. If children did not exist, we would not be arguing this issue at all, for an institution of marriage would never have arisen to fulfill a non-existent need.

Of course, if children did not exist, we would probably not exist either — as the story goes, if your parents didn't have children, neither will you — but since they do, any plan to redefine marriage that doesn't focus primarily on children is going to draw opposition, and, I think, rightfully so. I still don't like DOMA or its preemptive-strike motivation, but proponents of same-sex marriage have yet to offer an alternative that puts the emphasis back where it belongs: on the kids.

(Update, 6 August, 9:30 pm: Bruce at This Is Class Warfare takes exception to this reasoning.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 AM)
6 August 2003
Laughing out loud

Most of the time, I can listen to The Diane Rehm Show without so much as cracking a smile; the show is so often deadly earnest that grinning is simply out of the question.

Then there was this morning, when Diane asked guest Jennifer Finney Boylan about the, um, effectiveness of sexual-reassignment surgery, an operation Boylan had undergone and subsequently described in her memoir She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders.

Said Boylan, the surgery was "very good"; she stumbled a bit, then finally quoted Kate Bornstein: "The plumbing works, and so does the electricity."

Well, I thought it was funny.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:51 AM)
10 August 2003
Authentic street gibberish

On this entry yesterday, I posted the following comment:

The Wino Look seems to have two separate sets of champions: young black men, who desperately fear being tagged as "acting white", and young white men, who desperately need to annoy their parental units.

At the time, I wondered if maybe "desperately" was too strong a word. Now I don't. Here's John McWhorter in the New York Post on the culture so airily dismissed as "urban":

The attitude and style expressed in the hip-hop "identity" keeps blacks down. Almost all hip-hop, gangsta or not, is delivered with a cocky, confrontational cadence that is fast becoming...a common speech style among young black males. Similarly, the arm-slinging, hand-hurling gestures of rap performers have made their way into many young blacks' casual gesticulations, becoming integral to their self-expression. The problem with such speech and mannerisms is that they make potential employers wary of young black men and can impede a young black's ability to interact comfortably with co-workers and customers. The black community has gone through too much to sacrifice upward mobility to the passing kick of an adversarial hip-hop "identity."

For those who insist that even the invisible structures of society reinforce racism, the burden of proof should rest with them to explain why hip-hop's bloody and sexist lyrics and videos and the criminal behavior of many rappers wouldn't have a negative effect upon whites' conception of black people.

I take issue with McWhorter's negative characterization of "The Message" elsewhere in his article — to me, it's far more an expression of despair than a call to street action, and besides, it's a damned good record — but for the most part, he's nailed it. Replacing "Tha Man hates us 'cause we're black" with "Tha Man hates us 'cause we're assholes" is not my idea of an improvement.

(Muchas gracias: Phillip "delusional duck" Coons.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:46 PM)
11 August 2003
Taking stock 30 days early

It's a month before the anniversary of the date which will live in infamy as "9/11", and I admit to having given the matter little thought.

In the meantime, Michele reminds us:

In our haste to get back to "normal" we forgot how to stay together. The spark that lit our souls and made us vow to be united become a dull ember, growing darker and darker until no one even remembered it had existed.

We failed to take the single most important lesson from that day with us when we climbed out of our blackness. We did come together, but we did not stay together. We went our separate ways and some turned their anger back on us and spit on us as we mourned.

Some stopped remembering. They stopped staring at the skies, waiting for the lion to awake once again. They stopped comforting each other and stopped thinking about that day.

It is a mistake to think the sleeping lion will always sleep. It is a mistake to think our enemies have spent their energy and will retreat forever. It is a grave mistake to turn from each other again and split this place in two, for that is what our enemy wants, and that's when he will wake and pounce again.

He laughs at us as the day slips farther and farther from our memories. The flags are battered and torn, the signs hanging over freeways broken and written over. He grins as his day of glory becomes less and less of a factor in our lives.

When we forget, we drop our resolve, we lose our strength and we open ourselves up to letting it happen again.

Just a reminder. It's here because I need it too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
12 August 2003
Anything you can do, I can...um....

So what would happen if the National Education Association got to run a school?

Seven years ago, the NEA, staked with $1.5 million, decided to get into the admininstrative side of the Ed Biz. The Charter School Initiative, for all its flowery prose, managed to open a total of four schools (out of six planned), and their track record is — well, here's a report from the Education Intelligence Agency. You decide:

Kwachiiyoa opened in September 1999, two years later than expected and after a change of administrators, but the school had the financial and staff support of the California Teachers Association, the San Diego Education Association, the local school board and the teachers' college at San Diego State University. San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Maureen Magee called it "perhaps the most enthusiastic charter school launch the city had seen."

The school was to be run by a 12-member governance council, which consisted of six teachers, two parents, two community partners, one classified employee and one student. "The governance structure of Kwachiiyoa Charter School is based on the philosophy that teachers are professionals whose voice in school management and operations is essential to achieving academic goals," read a school goals document. Goal #1 was "high student achievement."

By the time Kwachiiyoa's initial charter expired on January 14, 2003, enrollment was at half-capacity, three classroom teachers were jointly running the school without benefit of an administrator, and the school was the lowest-performing of the 121 schools in the San Diego Unified School District. It ranked lowest even when compared to other California schools with similar student socioeconomic backgrounds. For the 2002-2003 school year, Kwachiiyoa was forced into a state intervention program for underperforming schools. Similar poor academic results were reported in 2000 and 2001.

Moreover, district staff found the school "had failed to maintain adequate financial records and adhere to commonly accepted accounting practices." The district concluded that the "lack of school leadership clearly contributed to this breakdown of fiscal control and to the failure of the school's academic program."

This year, the Kwachiiyoa staff sought a new charter for the school, without union involvement, but the San Diego City school board denied the application on June 24, citing the school's track record.

Is this the Peter Principle in action? I can already hear Cam Edwards ready to pounce.

(From Education Weak, via Joanne Jacobs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:43 PM)
13 August 2003
Delicate nuances vs. furniture polish

Lileks on the various varieties of vodka:

There is a difference between vodka brands. The cheap stuff is all varnish remover, as far as I'm concerned, but in the upper end, the rarified realm where the bottles look like something hand-blown to hold a relic of a saint, the distinctions are quite subtle. I'm a Belvedere man, myself. It's a lovely marriage of velvet and freon.

Can't wait until the Rev. Mr. Green gets hold of this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
14 August 2003
We ain't got no culcha

SurlyPundit would like to visit New York, and a lot of the usual reasons apply, but her reasoning behind those reasons is interesting:

Canadians and other non-Americans love to jeer at Yanks for lacking culture, which I will never understand — the MOMA, the Metropolitan Art Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Carnegie Hall, the art galleries and opera houses and theatres and museums even in relatively small cities? Canada is a cultural wasteland, and not only by comparison. The only gallery really worth seeing here besides the National is the Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton, and I bet most Canadians haven't heard of it. The AGO is passable, but it hardly measures up to the New Brunswick place, and you expect more from Toronto, the largest city in the nation. If we spent less time complaining about this fact and more time actually making art, things might be different. So the next time someone starts jacking off about how Americans are such boors with their McCulture or whatever, please punch him in the face and tell him what I just told you, and then go make some art.

(Internal links added by me.)

Some of our off-jackers will be unimpressed — "So our dead white men are just as good as their dead white men?" — but out here on the prairie, we do our damnedest to preserve the good stuff because, well, that's just the sort of thing we do.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 August 2003
Not necessarily hosed

The following item is from 1999. Really. However, since I only found it last night, while following up some of the items in my referrer log, I have no qualms about reprinting it today, especially since my reaction to it is the same today as it would have been four years ago. The source is Breakup Girl's SuperList, a worthy protoblog that unfortunately didn't make it into the current version of the site. (I did update the link.)

Last week (sorry!) was the Venastat Great American Cross-Out, which called for women to stop crossing their legs for one day. Why? Apparently it leads to bad circulation (blood, not social). According to Venastat's research, 45% of American women cross their legs most or nearly all the time. Most of those (72%) say it's just a habit; 59% say it's flirting. And 70% of men say it works. I say "Your legs are your friends; keep them together."

All thoughts of Sharon Stone aside — just 70 percent?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
16 August 2003
For Toronto is never truly dark

Spiffiest quote from the Great North American Blackout, courtesy of Debbye Stratigacos:

The perennial optimism of Torontonians was evident in the fact that it seems like everyone trooped over to beer stores Friday convinced that the Powers That Be would recognize those stores as an essential service and thus they would be open — and were proven correct.

There's a lot to be said for having your priorities in order.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:16 AM)
17 August 2003
Baghdad laughs and sweats some more

I had heard Anne Garrels' All Things Considered report on the Iraqi response to the Northeast blackout Friday afternoon, and inasmuch as it had been a long day at the salt mine, I assumed that what I heard as smugness and snideness was just the effect of fatigue on my remaining brain cells, and thought no more about it. I mean, I'm sort of fond of Garrels: she's been through a hell of a lot as a Baghdad correspondent, and under the circumstances, a little bit of attitude is forgivable.

Well, I'm not the only one who picked up on smug and/or snide. At The Sound and Fury, LAN3 singled out this particular paragraph, matching the italics to Garrels' inflections:

It seemed like God was finally on their side after a long long time, inflicting a hint of the pain Iraqis have experienced for the past 5 months. Iraqis were just disappointed the blackout hadn't lasted a little longer, so Americans could really understand what it means to live without regular power. And when told that Americans were suffering in 95-degree heat, Iraqis were a tad disappointed; suffering is living every day with daily highs topping 125.

Ain't it awful? This isn't quite as annoying as, say, Palestinians cheering after 9/11, but it does make me wish that I owned the patent on Schadenfreude; I could retire tomorrow without a care in the world.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:10 PM)
18 August 2003
Failure is not an option

Public schools in Beaufort County, South Carolina, have implemented a new policy: first-semester grades must be on a scale from 62 to 100.

I thought at first this might be an homage to American Bandstand's Rate-A-Record, which scored current 45s on a scale from 35 to 98, but no, it's a self-esteem thing. Explains Deputy Superintendent Edna Crews:

"What we're trying to do is look at how can we send the message to students that we want them, number one, to be successful. We want to give kids some hope."

Some hope that they can pass a class even if they screwed off for half a year? Why stop at 62? Why not just give them 100 right off the bat? Surely they'll feel even better about themselves when they get that automatic A.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:37 PM)
20 August 2003
Belt and suspenders

Susanna Cornett takes exception to an offhand description (on a History Channel program) of Indianapolis as "in the middle of the Bible Belt". Somebody, she concludes, is wearing his belt way too high:

As far as I know, the Bible Belt pretty much includes the Southern states, which typically have more fundamentalist and charismatic religious groups than the North, Midwest and West. If I had to draw it, it'd start somewhere off the coast of North Carolina, and encompass a swath from southern Kentucky to northern Florida, out to the mesquite and tumbleweeds of west Texas. It would not include the Midwest (all those cool Lutherans! No open avowals of ... well, anything, there). Indiana is firmly in the Midwest. Them's Yankees.

But her objection is less to the geography than to the subtext:

It's little comments like that, basically throwaways in the context of the whole program, that reveal the depth of the biases of the people involved. They really do see the middle of the country as this monolithic entity filled with tight-lipped illiterate and hateful people, except for the few who happen to have coastal sensibilities or alternative lifestyles. The comment about the Bible Belt was clearly meant to be derogatory, indicative of religious bigotry and callousness toward the pain of others because they're different.

I'm not so sure the producers were deliberately trying to be mean-spirited — I mean, if I really meant to be derogatory, I wouldn't confine myself to a single throwaway line — but I think she's right about this "monolithic entity" stuff. When I relocated to the West Coast in the late 80s, I encountered a surprisingly large number of people who, upon seeing my Oklahoma plates, were surprised that my teeth were my own and my résumé was readable.

And some of this does go in reverse: when I returned, this time with California credentials, some people wondered if I'd "gone Hollywood." Not a chance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
Notes from a Zen Bastard

The New York Press has a funny (but not all that safe for work) reminiscence by Paul Krassner, founder (and, originally, entire staff) of The Realist, the Sixties Zeitgeist in magazine form. "Irreverence," said Krassner, "is our only sacred cow," and The Realist managed a sixteen-year cattle drive (1958-74) before running short of capitalist moolah. Krassner revived The Realist as a newsletter in 1985; it lasted, um, sixteen years.

I doubt the Press will get much traffic from this little blurb, but hear me out: if you think everything that's wrong with the world originated in the Sixties, you need to read this, just so you know whom to blame. For those of us who flirted with the counterculture — and as everyone knows, I'm a terrible flirt — it's just as essential.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 PM)
26 August 2003
Spongeworthy

Oh, please.

Did anybody this side of Fred Phelps actually think that SpongeBob SquarePants is gay?

Now bi, I might believe.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
28 August 2003
The dream, plus forty

I wasn't there when Dr King said he'd been to the mountaintop. And maybe that's just as well, since a sorta-white kid on the cusp of ten with barely a clue about what life was about would have just gotten in the way.

As the parental units started to pay out my leash, I started to notice things. And the explanations never quite sufficed. Why was my water fountain right there in the center and their water fountain over to the side? It's the same water, isn't it? "It's just the way it is." How come I always get a seat near the front of the bus? "It's just the way it is." And maybe it was, but it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Then I was dispatched to this fancy-schmancy preparatory school, where the curriculum was eccentric but difficult, the surroundings were right out of a copy of Southern Living, and the headmistress was distressed at the sort of goings-on that had taken place in Washington in the summer of '63. "They won't make me integrate," she thundered. I knew the word, at least in its general form, but it took a while for me to connect it up to the fountains and the bus and the fact that every one of my classmates had always been white.

The, um, segregation academy ran up to grade eight; for the four years following, I would be in Charleston's Catholic high school. Or, more precisely, one of Charleston's two Catholic high schools; the way it was hadn't changed.

But the status quo had just about run its course. Quietly, with little notice, the diocese announced a change in student assignments: in future, all ninth-graders would be assigned to what was now called the Annex, and all the higher grades would meet at the main campus. There was some wailing, some gnashing of teeth, but the world didn't come to an end.

And up to this point, I had thought that members of the clergy had taken a vow of indifference to all things political. In the spring of 1969, an incident at the Medical College of South Carolina proved otherwise. The doctors and the medical students were all white; there were black nursing assistants and LPNs, but most of the black faces belonged to support staff. Tensions were high and growing higher; twelve black workers were sacked for trying to unionize the support staff, and finally all the support staff walked off the job.

That was the 19th of March. On the 31st, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy preached to a crowd of 1500 downtown. He would return in April to organize a march; Andrew Young and Coretta Scott King would be there too. Governor McNair mobilized the National Guard and set a 9 pm to 5 am curfew. The picket lines kept growing, and if you looked carefully, you'd see the occasional priest, even a nun or two.

Came the 11th of May. Mother's Day. Five thousand people, including much of our faculty and five members of Congress, joined the march. The state would not be moved. It would be late June before the University gave in on most of the workers' demands. And about this time, I left Charleston; the family moved to Oklahoma, and I went off to school in Texas.

So I missed most of the unwinding of this particular story, but the details stuck with me, and as the years passed, I felt growing revulsion for the way it was, and for myself for not doing enough to stop it. I still kick myself now and then for trying to stay out of the line of fire. Okay, I was a sorta-white kid on the cusp of sixteen with barely a clue about what life was about, and I probably would have just gotten in the way, but I made a promise to myself, a promise which proved difficult to keep but which would always remain in the back of my mind: Never again will I try to defend something, or try to overlook something, that is just plain damned wrong.

And in the Eighties, courtesy of some historical documentary, I got to hear Dr King's speech in full. To this day, it gives me goosebumps. I hope it always will.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:30 PM)
Received wisdom (one in a series)

And once again, said wisdom emanates from Donnaville, now in spiffy new MT digs.

[H]aving observed 100s of couples, I noticed that most men have what appears to be an innate need to pick their girlfriend up and spin her around. Because I stand 6 feet in height, the likelihood of a man being able to pick me up and spin me around (without my feet dragging on the ground) is not very good. This immediately nixes me as a potential mate.

Then again, according to six-foot-six Penn Jillette, one of the sweetest sounds on earth is "Oh, I could wear heels with you."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 PM)
30 August 2003
Look at me, I'm not Sandra Dee

Michael Blowhard notes that scoping the babes isn't quite what it used to be:

[T]he girls and women remind me of the chic new architecture: a matter of ever-shifting translucent panes, of alluring surfaces twinkling one right behind another, all of them beguiling the eye while moving forward and back, in and out. Some people find this kind of thing to be bliss. I find it to be like an endless diet of whirling TV graphics. Walking around the city these days, I have to do my deliberate best not to walk into lampposts. Casual girlwatching used to be an easy-to-manage thing, something I could do semi-consciously. Now the pressure is so high and the attractions are so loud that it's almost impossible not to girlwatch.

Given my own history in this realm — yes, I look, and yes, I feel just a tad embarrassed for doing so, and yes, I would feel about 0.7 centimeters tall should the object of my gaze raise an objection — I can understand what he's going through, even though women on the Lone Prairie tend to be just a bit more conservative in their garb. It's almost an argument for shopping at the local flea market, where at least there's the theoretical expectation that no one's there to show off, though I'm not inclined to test this hypothesis personally.

Of course, gawking gets to be an ethical handful when the gawkee is underage, something some of us are more easily able to overlook than others, and the trends being what they are — well, let Michael finish the thought:

How much farther can it go? 14-year-old girls who will probably be my bosses in 14 more years are growing up in a world that takes Britney, Cristina and online porn for granted; they'll soon be pushing the boundaries a little farther. But once the waistline has sunk down to the pubic hairline, how can it go any lower? I have visions of waistlines continuing to sink and hemlines continuing to rise, and of a day when the two of them cross paths.

And if it does, all the pressure will be off. Few areas, I suspect, are quite as sexless as your average nude beach, partly because the proponents want it that way — keeps the complaints from politicians down, doncha know — but mostly because the reality is never (well, almost never) quite as wonderful as the fantasy.

Not that I care that Cameron Diaz gets an occasional zit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
1 September 2003
From Brussels to Yorkshire

Greg Hlatky raises Borzoi, an honorable breed from the Russian steppes, possessed of dazzling speed, singular beauty, and strength which belies its fragile appearance. Is it any wonder he's not especially fond of toy dogs?

Unlike the calm aloofness of the sighthound, the massive dignity of the working dog, the headstrong all-weather exuberance of the sporting dog ("Great day for hunting! Let's play two!"), or the intensity of the herding dog, the typical Toy is a smug little bundle of fur, teeth and attitude, yapping at the world through the undeserved prominence of his mistress's arms. Some, like the Pekingese, scarcely seem capable of locomotion at all.

I am minded of Robin Williams' description of the Pekingese: "Look! A dog! Let's hit it in the face with a shovel!"

I don't bear quite so much animus toward the animals, myself, but I have to admit, if you put a gun to my head and ordered "Today, you will go get a dog," and you further prohibited me from running down to the shelter and picking up a nice, sensible mutt, most of the toy breeds would be way down my list; it's all very nice that they've been bred to be companions to mankind and all, but the breeds that actually do things are companions just as worthy, and they have talents which extend beyond occupying lap space and defecating on the rug.

Some of my best friends have owned LFDs — I even briefly dated the owner of a Maltese, and the less said about that, the better — but most of my experiences with toys have struck me as really good arguments for cat ownership.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:06 PM)
3 September 2003
Stretch a point, there's nothing to it

What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it's the only thing that there's just too little of.

While you're waiting: Madonna™ condoms, which cast a whole new light on the phrase "Material Girl".

I'll be sure to ask for these while I'm at the store picking up my Donner Party Trays.

(Muchas gracias: Anna at Primal Purge.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:17 PM)
5 September 2003
You're censoring me!

A reminder from Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau:

Technically, the exclusion of my strip from a newspaper is not censorship. It's called editing. Newspaper editors have a right and responsibility to control the content of their papers. They're public stewards and have to make dozens of calls every day on what meets the standards of their particular community. I don't always admire the rationale for dropping a strip...but I see no reason why I should expect to be in every one of 700 papers every day.

You'd be surprised how many people haven't figured this out yet. Or maybe you wouldn't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 AM)
An expansion joint on Voucher Road

Max Jacobs (he's either Common Sense or Wonder) generally applauds the House vote to approve a school-voucher plan for the District of Columbia, but one thing is bothering him:

My worry is simple, a government funded voucher program will eventually be followed by government regulation. It will start very reasonably by requiring teachers to have a certain level of education (though one wonders why parents would ever send their kids to a school with subpar teachers if given a choice, making the regulation unneccesary). So there is a chance that this voucher system will, in fact, end up hurting private schools as they will have to eventually deal with burdensome regulations.

A regulation that is unnecessary is a regulation still. Not being in the Ed Biz, I'm enough of a naïf to think that the imprimatur of the regional accreditation organization would be sufficient, but then I'm not sitting at a big desk in Washington trying to think up a way to expand the reach of my department either.

Private schools could opt out, though, couldn't they?

But what happens when they end up having a large number of their students being part of the voucher program and therefore would take a large hit if they withdraw from the program? What is likely to happen is that they will feel forced to accept the new regulations bit by bit until there is little difference between them and public schools. I mean is it really that unfathomable that the teachers unions pressure Congress to push private schools to unionize making the teaching quality in the public schools and private schools more or less the same?

A new slant on the slippery slope. I don't like the sound of this, but dammit, he might just be right.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 PM)
7 September 2003
And here's to you, Mrs Such-and-such

With the laundry done, I settled back in my chair to perform two concurrent tasks, one sort of painful, one more like hopeful: I grabbed this week's accumulated bills and logged onto the bank site to pay them, and I popped open this week's newest musical acquisitions to play them.

Tucked inside the envelope with the phone bill was a pitch for the telco's own online-payment service, illustrated with an overhead shot of a woman at a notebook presumably using said service. Now Net-based services are no less likely to fall back on Sex Sells than any other commercial endeavor, but the telco's bill-paying model isn't the usual barely-legal refugee from a Skechers ad; you can't see her face, but her slightly-streaked, vaguely-unkempt coif, the slight thickness around her upper arms, the prominent striations on the backs of her hands as she types — all these things indicate that we're looking at, not some twentysomething babe, but her fortyish (fiftyish?) mother. And that's a good thing: not all of us are youngsters anymore, and when we were, we didn't particularly want to be reminded of things like phone bills. Besides, I was pleased to note, Mom had a nice pair of gams.

And precisely at that moment, Fountains of Wayne launched into "Stacy's Mom", a song about a guy who doesn't mind hanging with a classmate, but:

Stacy, can't you see, you're just not the girl for me
I know it might be wrong but I'm in love with Stacy's mom

I pulled the booklet from the CD case to verify that yep, that's what I heard.

This probably isn't the sort of synchronicity that would have impressed Carl Jung, or even Sting, but it shook me up for a couple of minutes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:00 PM)
13 September 2003
Escape from New York

You're behind the counter at the auto-rental facility at the Philadelphia train station on 12 September 2001. You point to the form and you tell your customer, "Miss, I need your employer, work address and work phone number."

And for a work address, she tells you, "Number 2 World Trade Center, 59th Floor, New York, New York, 10014."

Your jaw, of course, hits the linoleum.

As for the customer, how she got out of the WTC and to Philly and beyond is the stuff of nightmares, even today.

It's posted at Little Green Footballs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 PM)
16 September 2003
Jet-puffed, indeed

I drove all through Delaware this summer and never saw a single field of marshmallows, though Fritz Schranck has a perfectly reasonable explanation:

The vines are...planted in secluded fields, surrounded by taller, quick-growing crops such as corn. Hiding the marshmallow plants is vitally important. That's because early in the growing season, the crop is a prime candidate for poaching, at least while the delicate young marshmallows remain small enough to carry.

The leading cash crop in Oklahoma is also hidden from public view, albeit for different reasons entirely.

I wonder how well Rice Krispies sell in Delaware.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
17 September 2003
It's Bash the RIAA Day

As it is on every day that has a D in it.

At Cybergrass, Banjo Bob suggests a model for the music industry, and guess what? It's just down the street:

Why doesn't the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) suffer from the same problems? Maybe it's their management style.

Here is where it gets interesting. The cost to go to a movie is around $8 today. IMAX productions only cost about $12 for prime seating. By the time you add the cost of your popcorn, candy and drink, you're spending about $20. The cost to purchase the DVD of the movie at discount centers may be around $10 to $15.

Now, compare that to the cost to go to a concert. Tickets can run $35 to $100. Refreshments can easily add $5 to $15 more per person. The cost to purchase a 40 minute average length CD is $15 to $24.

I'm seldom inclined to defend Jack Valenti's MPAA, but his business model does seem to be less insane.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
19 September 2003
Writhing at Wally World

It started with an observation by J Bowen at No Watermelons Allowed. Noting that Playboy was planning a "Women of Wal-Mart" pictorial, Bowen asserted that "Playboy has really run out of ideas."

I tossed some similar schemes they'd worked up over the years into his comments section, and I figured that would be the end of that — until this popped into my email today:

I myself am a Wal-Mart employee. I don't see why we couldn't do Playboy. I have wanted to pose for this artful magazine for years, Wal-Mart or not, I would do it. I am the mother of three wonderful sons who they themselves would be proud to say [their] mother did a Playboy shoot. We have discussed it more than once. I don't know if you have any ideas on how to contact them so they could come to Texas and have a little fun, but I would love to find that information myself. Not everyone who models for Playboy is a slut, and not everyone that works for Wal-Mart is against this idea. I myself think it would be an exciting experience and my husband thought the very same thing!! Enjoy your day, and pass this on to Playboy, if you so choose: or have the balls.

I have no influence — in fact, I arguably have negative influence — with The House That Hef Built, but Playboy is convinced that Wal-Mart is just jam-packed with "pent-up passion," and who am I to disagree?

Besides, it goes against the grain for me to suggest that a woman keep her clothes on, so if this reader or any other employee of the Bentonville Bastille wishes to see what Playboy has to say, or wants to volunteer for the periodical, the very least I can do is tell her to click here.

Ball count: two.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 PM)
20 September 2003
Jersey torn and frayed

Susanna Cornett explains why she's moving back down South first chance she gets:

I'm a southerner, a country girl, and a Yankee metropolis is no place for me to be. I want to drink ice tea on the porch without hearing a car alarm, I want to be able to say "sir" and "ma'am" without people thinking I'm mocking them, I want to be around people who don't think "grits" is something you do with your teeth when you're mad.

Seems reasonable to me. Of course, that Long Island iced tea will make you ignore car alarms, and probably everything else, but I think it's a fairly safe bet she's referring to something less lethal.

Besides, Alabama, her chosen destination, has charms of its own, although she's going to have to reset her Weather Pixie.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:27 AM)
Call me? Irresponsible!

This week, there appeared a long and thoughtful piece by Fusilier Pundit (WeckUpToThees!) on the dodgy subject of telemarketing. He spurns the governmental no-call list, and explains what needs to be done:

Generally, the gummint needs to legislate in a way that allows edge-implemented solutions to emerge, instead of requiring centrally-implemented ones. Start by making sure that carriers deliver the full value of my $4.95 per month for caller ID, meaning that I want phone companies to pass that data, even be required by law to pass that data, if the called party is paying to receive it. For those telemarketers using banks of pitchmen offshore, from switches or premises equipment that doesn't generate a caller ID, you're not exempted. At the point where your banks interface to the United States PSTN, you can be required to identify yourselves.

If a telemarketer places calls from a residential line, or a line that's identified as if it were residential (yes, we get them too) maybe the gummint can get involved here, though that will be trickier from a First Amendment standpoint. Caller ID is worthless if the very people who prompted me to order it can duck it.

I reported on my own experience back in the spring of '96:

I installed a Caller ID box and a low-end voice-mail system, and basically just quit answering the telephone entirely.

And eventually I got rid of the voice-mail system, which makes me about as inaccessible as possible without actually ripping the wires from the walls. I don't pick up anything without a number attached. As is the practice chez Fûz, OUT OF AREA sends up a red flag:

We want a telephone that can be programmed not to ring if a caller is unidentified. The overwhelming majority of callers we don't want to talk to mask their caller ID.

I'd pay a few extra bucks for that myself. The telco here offers some sort of challenge/response system, but I suspect it will discourage legitimate callers (of which I have two or three) just as much as it will Verbal Spammers.

And just because I'm listed in the directory doesn't mean I consent to having my bell rung at odd hours.

(Note: Minor imprecisions of phrasing were changed approximately 20 minutes after the original posting, and the title was unsubtly altered.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 PM)
22 September 2003
Life in these United States

He'd hate like hell for me to say so, I suspect, but no one grasps the Zeitgeist quite as expertly as Lileks:

I took Gnat to another church fair. I had to laugh; well, of course this is why the Saudis hate us. Look at this: a beer garden, games of chance, rock music, hot dogs, teen girls with bare midriffs, purple hair, exposed bra straps and you-go-Jesus! baseball caps — and it's a Catholic Church Fair. Of course, this is why I love us.

Of course, this is why we love Lileks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
Choice of colors

This meme started floating around a few days ago, and I hadn't given it much thought, mostly due to doubts as to the extent of my qualifications, given the vectors of some of the branches on my family tree. Still, in a nation where racism is off the front burner but still very much a reality, surely it's worth the effort.

In the meantime: What does it mean to be white? Aldahlia answers:

It means that I come from a line of heroes, and assholes, and mothers, and drifters, and the the combination just happened to result in pale skin with freckles and visible veins. And, in a society like ours, white means that I have a duty to refute the idea that white is "normal" and everthing else is "ethnic," I have a duty to point out the harm of ingrained assumptions, and, above all, I have a duty always [to] know that if I'm looking for a world of equality, the first thing to understand, to hold to rigorous standards, and to ultimately change, is myself.

I am almost entirely freckleless, and occasionally entirely feckless, but mostly I'm on the same page here, and of course she's right; being white is not the default, so to speak, and given the current trends in births and immigration, it eventually won't be the majority. (In some areas, it's already happened.) I do have concerns about hyphenates, at least in terms of terminology; those who define themselves as Something-Or-Other-American, inevitably, if perhaps inadvertently, are putting the "American" aspect of themselves last, and I have trouble thinking of that as a Good Thing.

Still, whether you buy the old melting-pot metaphor or the more contemporary salad-bar concept, it's important to remember that we're all in this together, and the lamentations of a few extremists notwithstanding, we're gradually getting closer. And at this point — indeed, at any point — the labels matter less than the lives.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:36 PM)
23 September 2003
Gone to a quieter place

Actor Gordon Jump, most recently the lonely Maytag repairman but perhaps best remembered as Arthur Carlson, manager of the fictional radio station on the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati, has died in Orange County, California at the age of 71.

No turkeys were involved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:43 AM)
24 September 2003
O brave new Rio Grande Valley

The South Texas Independent School District has decided not to drop Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World from the tenth-grade Advanced Placement curriculum at the district's Science Academy.

A handful of parents had objected strenuously to the books; the district has responded by requiring principals to offer alternatives upon parental request.

I liked this statement by Beverley Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, sponsor of Banned Books Week:

It is not only the right of parents, but their responsibility to be involved in what their kids are reading. But there's a line that they cross when they ask that in addition to their kid, that nobody else have access to that book.

Amen to that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
27 September 2003
Long live Cosmo Brown

Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly's sidekick in Singin' in the Rain, the man who raised dancing with a dummy to an art form in that movie's "Make 'em Laugh" sequence, has died in California at 78.

As a clumsy, oafish non-dancer, I couldn't relate so easily to Kelly, and I never could decide whether it was more useful to fixate on the seemingly-accessible Debbie Reynolds or the ethereal, unreachable Cyd Charisse, so O'Connor held this rambling wreck of a film together for me, and I'm glad he did — even if he did wind up in the hospital for a couple of days after the mayhem of "Make 'em Laugh".

"Thanks, R.F. At last I can stop suffering and write that symphony."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 PM)
29 September 2003
Watching the watchers

No one will ever accuse The Daily Oklahoman of being a great metropolitan newspaper; the kindest thing I can say about it, generally, is that it sticks to its editorial guns.

Then again, it's never occurred to me that the Oklahoman would necessarily benefit from a "readers' representative", an ombudsman, someone whose job it is to critique the paper's coverage and practices; if readers object to the way the paper is doing its job, they can quit paying for it (or, in the case of some of us, kvetch in public about it).

Matt Welch takes a dim view of ombudsmen (ombudspersons?) himself:

Ombudsmen tend to have a startlingly uniform view of how news organizations and their employees should act and think of themselves. Crime coverage and screaming headlines — bad. Four-part, 17,500-word series on race relations in a sleepy Southern town — good. They typically see their position, the newsroom, and the paper itself to be exalted above the readers they are allegedly paid to represent.

If a paper exercises poor editorial judgment, payback, in the marketplace and elsewhere in the press — and, lately, in the Blogosphere™ — is swift and ferocious. And it's unclear how the new "public editor" at The New York Times could have done anything to alleviate, say, the Jayson Blair situation. Every organization should have one person whose function is to point out things that are going wrong, but it's not necessary to invest that person with the trappings of a Representative of the Public; it is only necessary to pay attention to what is said.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
Weapons of mass consumption

It's been said before, many times, many ways, but it always bears repeating, especially when it's said as well as it is by Tobacco Road Fogey:

Western popular culture is probably the most successful weapon we've ever had against totalitarianism in the last half-century or so. Our music, our films, and our television programs demonstrate the freedoms we take for granted, and utterly baffle those who have known only the dead hand of government-controlled media. They marvel at things in our culture that we find so commonplace as to be trivial — fast food, well-stocked stores of all shapes and sizes, people on television openly criticizing all of our institutions. These things, and myriad others that escape our notice, leap off the TV or movie screen when viewed by someone who's never known the freedom we were born into.

I would add only that these things also seem to baffle some of our own residents, who can't understand why anyone would willingly embrace Burger King or Costco or Fox News when there's a more enlightened path — theirs — to follow. Nor can they understand why no one seems to be joining them along said path.

Hold the mayo on that Whopper, please.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 PM)
30 September 2003
Scents and sensibility

It's hard to describe an actual aroma without being able to call forth a replica thereof — O Smell-O-Vision, where is thy stink? — but if anyone can pull it off, it's Fred:

Smell being a very idiosyncratic and subjective observation at best, I'll tell you that to me, walnut smells astringent and medicinal...blending the faint aroma of iodine, a hint of freshly opened Band-aid with an underlying foundation of varnish. Trust me. Walnut is the smell of cool weather itself.

In terms of sheer poesy, this perhaps surpasses even Lileks' description of Belvedere vodka last month:

It's a lovely marriage of velvet and freon.

Half of the writers in the world, I presume, are below average; reading these guys always makes me feel like I belong with that half.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
3 October 2003
As opposed to "Uncle" Tom

Wake Forest University is wondering what to do about Doctor Tom.

Doctor Tom wasn't a real doctor; he didn't even play one on TV. In fact, inasmuch as he died in 1927, he never saw a TV at all.

Tom Jeffries was the maintenance man for the Demon Deacons for forty years, and a plaque to his memory was raised by alumni in 1933. When the new Wake Forest campus was built, a replica of the plaque was created.

None of this would be controversial except that (1) Doctor Tom, as he was known to everyone, administration, faculty and students alike, was of African-American descent, and (2) some in the university community have decided that the plaque "is a daily insult to Mr. Jeffries and every other person of African descent who walks onto this campus," in the words of Rev. Carlson Eversley, an adjunct professor at Wake Forest's school of divinity.

What should the university do? Eversley wants the plaque amended to show Tom's last name and an explanation on another plaque of why and how the omission of same is dehumanizing, complete with references to the practice as it existed in the antebellum South. Oh, and an apology from the administration.

It is, of course, fascinating how unpleasant memories from the pre-Civil War era are so easily evoked in people who weren't born until a century afterwards.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
4 October 2003
The new alphabetical order

As an actual registered Democrat with a current subscription to Mother Jones — yes, really — I get regular mailings from the activist Left. One operation with which I was unfamiliar is Syracuse Cultural Workers, which bills itself as a "Peace and Justice Publisher Since 1982", and whose catalog arrived here yesterday.

Most of the contents were pretty predictable — T-shirts, posters, buttons, books like How Wal-Mart Is Destroying the World — but one particular poster caught my eye. It's called The Alternative Alphabet Poster For Little And Big People, it appears to be an SCW exclusive, and here's the pitch:

Features words ranging from basic elements of a child's life to concepts likely to be met with puzzlement. It reflects respect for the Earth and all its creatures; for its variety of cultures, histories and peoples; for principals [sic] of justice and freedom; for wonder in the sky above and the soil below.

A is for Africa, B is for Bicycle, and so forth. Twenty-five of the twenty-six entries seem at least defensible, and they did come up with a reasonable X word (Xylem), but I'm puzzled by E: Echinacea?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:34 AM)
8 October 2003
Coming distractions

It is a measure of something, surely, that in a 178-page issue of Harper's Bazaar — November '03, to be exact — an issue with both a feature on Meg Ryan and a pictorial with Gisele Bündchen, the only photograph that got more than perfunctory attention from me was a shot of Christine Todd Whitman.

Well, yes, she's expensively-dressed, but everyone in Bazaar is expensively-dressed; it's their raison d'être. So it's probably not the $2680 Carolina Herrera jacket/skirt combo or even the $1100 Salvatore Ferragamo pumps; what I'm seeing, I think, is a woman who is absolutely thrilled to have a private life again, and I do believe it shows.

Not that I have extensive experience observing women being thrilled, mind you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 AM)
10 October 2003
Resisting the technological tide

The late Neil Postman was not a Luddite; while he decried the encroachment of technology, particularly media technology, he believed strongly in the ability of the human mind to deal with the sort of sensory overload which defined the last half-century or so.

Among observers of the media, Postman generally took second place behind Marshall McLuhan. But while McLuhan tended to stay on message (and therefore on the medium), Postman was all over the map. An educator by trade, his first shot across society's bow was Teaching as a Subversive Activity, written with frequent collaborator Charles Weingarten and published in 1969, a book which asks the ultimate question about education: "What's worth knowing?" (An excerpt is posted here.) The Disappearance of Childhood (1982) suggested that mass media were blurring the lines between children and adults, to the benefit of neither; Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) blasted Hollywood for trivializing the human experience.

Former student Jay Rosen remembers Neil Postman in Salon this morning. It's worth some of your time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
We is well edumacated

Best of the Web (scroll down to the bottom of "The cognitive elite") is reprinting this paragraph found at DemocraticUnderground.com:

I would dare to assume that most of us here are in the upper 1%-20% of the population intelligence-wise. We must come to the realization that the majority of the population is in the lower 80% to 99% percent of the bell-curve. WE are not the norm. The Republicans understand that the average American is not very bright. They cater and pander to the masses. The Democratic Party tries to appeal to the population about "issues" that these people just don't understand.

Says James Taranto at BoW of this:

If it comes as a revelation to the Democratic Undergrounders that 20% is less than a majority, they're not exactly rocket scientists, are they?

What I find amusing is that these are generally the same sort of people who routinely castigate the GOP for its presumed lapses into voodoo economics. In their world, it's Lake Wobegon in reverse: most everyone is below average.

(Muchas gracias: Kimberly Swygert.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 PM)
11 October 2003
Stranger than truth

And they say chemotherapy sucks.

(Via Cruel Site of the Day)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:24 PM)
12 October 2003
The only gay Indian

Well, actually, she's not, but she might be the most visible these days.

(Muchas gracias: Steph Mineart.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:22 AM)
13 October 2003
A clock that always says 12:30

David Marcus of the San Jose Marital and Sexuality Centre has done the math:

Our research has shown that if you spend more than eleven hours a week looking at Internet pornography, then it is starting to become problematic.

This does not mean that 10:55 is okay and 11:05 is dangerous; what it does mean is that there is such a thing as a slippery slope, and porn serves as, shall we say, a lubricant for same.

A quote that jumped out at me:

Dr. Ursula Ofman, a Manhattan-based sex therapist, says that she's seen many young men coming in to chat about I-porn-related issues. "It's so accessible, and now, with things like streaming video and Webcams, guys are getting sucked into a compulsive behavior."

And they probably liked it better than not being sucked at all — at least, at first.

(Muchas gracias: Susanna Cornett, who cheerfully wields the Fiskars™ on the article in question.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
14 October 2003
La plume de ma tante

A parent with a child in a Tulsa school got this explanation of what's going on in the classroom:

The theme for the year is Discovery. The concept for the first 6 weeks is systems. Then the concepts are perspectives, celebrations, economics, exploration and adaptation.

The training I received this summer on the Tulsa Model for School Improvement stressed the importance of accessing the knowledge that students already have about the themes and concepts and then building on it. Building the background knowledge they will need for the new learning, introducing the themes and concepts is to be done in broad generalizations that they can apply to their lives now and in the future before it is "narrowed" for specific classroom use. After a summer of asking the experts what they would do/how they would do it, I decided to introduce the new learning in English to enable the students to more easily and quickly grasp the concepts that we will be using. New strategies and techniques are to be non-academic the first time the students use them to allow them to concentrate on learning the new strategies and techniques before they are used academically. To this end, I have been teaching the 7 Learning Community Guidelines and the Life Skills, class and team building activities to teach the new strategies and structures. Teachers are also expected to teach students about the 8 Multiple Intelligences and how they learn best, the 7 Learning Community Guidelines and the 18 Life Skills which are the basis of the Tulsa Model discipline plan. This is what we have spent the first several weeks concentrating on.

Um, yeah. Okay. Whatever you say.

Now what, exactly, does all this have to do with teaching French?

I can appreciate the idea of avoiding rote memorization, but in a foreign language for which total immersion is impracticable, there is really no choice but to learn all those irregular verbs and such.

Michael Bates, who brought this to light, comments:

Learning a language has nothing to do with grasping big ideas and key concepts. It's about learning spelling and pronunciation and verb forms and sentence structure — many little details that you just have to learn. J'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons, vous avez, ils ont. Yes, a good teacher will draw on the student's experience to help explain concepts or teach vocabulary words, but much of a foreign language is by definition foreign and just has to be learned by heart. Yes, a good teacher will draw on different techniques to help students with different learning strengths, but memorization, learning by ear, and learning by sight are essential to learning a language well enough to use it.

Meanwhile, the school board, having been thwarted at every turn by the presence of trees, has rewritten the curriculum to avoid any mention of the forest.

"Theme for the year," indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
16 October 2003
Digitus impudicus

The impudent finger, as the Romans called it. (Hint: it's not the thumb.) And, in Texas at least, it does not necessarily constitute a breach of the peace.

Two years ago, Robert Lee Coggin was trapped behind a member of the Anti-Destination League on US 183 in Lockhart. Annoyed at this obvious failure to observe Texas lane discipline, he tailgated the miscreant and flashed his lights. The perp, thinking the police were on his tail — Coggin's Chevy Caprice was, at one time, a police cruiser — duly pulled over, whereupon Coggin flew by and allegedly flipped him the bird. Hackles rose, police were called, and Coggin was charged with making an offensive gesture, drawing a $250 fine.

Coggin was sufficiently pissed off at this to try to get his conviction overturned, and the Texas Third Court of Appeals in Austin has now ruled in his favor.

I'm still not going to drive through Austin with a "Tuck Fexas" bumper sticker, though.

(Via Hit & Run)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
17 October 2003
And no cholesterol, either

The warning labels affixed to cigarette packs may have had little effect upon the actual number of smokers, but they've provided the raw material for probably thousands of parodies over the years, some of them actually amusing. One of my favorites turned up in the National Lampoon, back when they mattered; it was a warning label for prepackaged marijuana that read something like this: "Warning: The Attorney General Has Determined That Reeferette Smoking Is Hazardous To Your Ass."

I don't know if Acidman read that particular piece, but he definitely has the same sort of spirit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:36 AM)
22 October 2003
That 50s show

The new house, of course, is new only to me: it was built in 1948, and most of the neighborhood as it exists today was in place by 1953 or so. Inasmuch as it's the city's express desire to keep this place looking like 1953, I find myself contemplating the Fifties as we know them, and as they've been redefined in the half-century since.

Decades, of course, seldom conform to mere chronology, and the Fifties were arguably the longest decade of the twentieth century, beginning 25 June 1950 along the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula and ending 22 November 1963 in the city of Dallas. In the intervening years, we've been taught that the Fifties were a perfectly dreadful era, riven with paranoia and choked with conformity, the spectres of Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy glaring down upon the landscape, and June Cleaver forever stuck behind her vacuum cleaner.

But a truer picture of the Fifties, I think, emerges when you stand these arguments on their heads. Tailgunner Joe's obsession with communists, however overwrought, was based on fact. Jim Crow was about to be plucked: in 1954, Linda Brown won out over the Topeka Board of Education, and the following year Rosa Parks was arrested, precipitating the Montgomery bus boycott. Innocuous pop tunes were displaced by rhythm and blues and its marginally-legitimate child, rock and roll. And while Ward may have been the nominal head of the Cleaver family, it takes less than half an hour to notice that June actually ran things.

And I think of the American automobile industry, which produced such marvels as the beautifully-understated '53 Studebaker and the wonderfully-overdone '57 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, reminders that the Fifties were a time when Americans thought they could do just about anything. Then came the misadventure of Vietnam, which persuaded us that we weren't all that omnipotent after all. We haven't been quite the same since.

But in the Fifties, the sky was the limit, the bonds of earth still surly, and while I have no compelling urge to turn back the clock, I'd like to see some vestige of Fifties ebullience, that peculiarly American brand of self-confidence, take root and grow in the 21st century, while I put down roots of my own in a place (and not just a physical place) that remembers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
23 October 2003
The Voice of Doom calling

Over at Spathic, the Arbiter is assembling a fantasy cast for a remake of a movie that needs no remake: The Philadelphia Story.

Téa Leoni as Tracy and David Duchovny as Mike? Insane, or inspired, or maybe some combination thereof. On the other hand, Bruce Willis is Sidney Kidd.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
24 October 2003
Should you be a writer?

According to a girl in love, Piers Anthony says you probably shouldn't.

In fact, he's said that rather a lot, now that I think about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 AM)
28 October 2003
Roger, over and over

Fox News chief Roger Ailes does seem to cover the same ground a lot, but I suspect it's because everyone asks him the same questions every time.

In a piece for Broadcasting & Cable, Ailes is his usual part genial, part pugnacious self:

I've had a broad life experience that doesn't translate into going to the Columbia journalism school. That makes me a lot better journalist than some guys who had to listen to some pathetic professor who has been on the public dole all his life and really doesn't like this country much and hates the government and hates everybody and is angry because he's not making enough money.

Which naturally leads to the question of "objectivity" — does it really exist?

I can be objective about the war and the coverage of the war. But, as a United States citizen, do I want the Taliban to win and subjugate all the women and execute people in stadiums? No, I'm sort of opposed to that. The concept that the journalists are totally objective is crazy. They have friends. They have an education. They've gone to some school where some professor spun their brain out. They've got a view of life. They've got history. They've got parents. They've got people they like and socialize with. They have a view based on their experience. And they bring all that to journalism. Their job is to try to sort through that and get to as much truth as they can get to, which is what we do, every day.

And Ailes describes an encounter with former New York Times editor Howell Raines:

Raines clearly was driving an agenda. I called Howell. I forget the story. It was their Afghanistan coverage. There was some stuff...that wasn't true. We had guys on the ground, and so I called him up and said, "Howell, you're going to get an award for fiction here." He said, "I'm hanging up." I said, "You don't seem to have a sense of humor, Howell." He said, "I don't have one about journalism." So then, later, when Jayson Blair happened, I sent a note and just said, "Maybe it's time to develop a sense of humor about journalism."

Maybe it is. And Roger, if you're reading this: you might want to impress that idea upon Bill O'Reilly.

(Muchas gracias: Debbye Stratigacos.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:19 AM)
30 October 2003
Because you love nice things

The title here is a slogan from the old Van Raalte company, which during the Forties and Fifties sold upscale lingerie and hosiery and such, moving into pantyhose in the Sixties and disappearing sometime in the Seventies. As commercial appeals go, it cuts straight to the chase; only L'Oreal's "Because I'm worth it" exceeds it for ego massage. But we wouldn't respond to it at all if it weren't true: we do love nice things.

I'm reading Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, and one paragraph continues to poke at me while I decide how to dress up my new home. It's from the very first chapter, The Aesthetic Imperative:

People have always decorated their homes. But the aesthetic quality and variety of home interiors have increased dramatically. Furnishings once reserved for rich aficionados are now the stuff of middle-class life. In the early 1990s, when Pottery Barn launched its interiors-oriented catalog, American home owners could not buy a wrought-iron curtain rod without hiring an interior designer. "We had to go to a little iron shop in Wisconsin and teach them how to make a curtain rod," recalls Hilary Billings, who turned the Pottery Barn catalog into a home-furnishings source for the aesthetically-aspiring middle-class, a niche that rival Crate and Barrel also filled. Now such once-exotic offerings can be found in discount stores. "Crate and Barrel changed the world," says [former Art Center College of Design president David] Brown, "and then Target changed it again."

Target certainly seems kinder to my pocketbook, anyway.

This week I received a catalog from an operation called Design Within Reach, which is presumably aimed at people with homes worthy of coverage in Architectural Digest, with budgets to match. In years gone by, I would have tossed it without a second look. Not today. I pored over the pages, wondered what it might be like to own a chaise longue based on Le Corbusier's 1928 design, or a Ludwig Mies van de Rohe daybed, and, for a few moments anyway, ignored the financial realities.

So maybe it's not quite so imperative, this aesthetic, at least just yet, at least for me; get a knockoff of this chaise into JCPenney, though, and I'm in.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
1 November 2003
Too full of Monty

Yahmdallah (30 October) has had it up to here, maybe a trifle farther, with The New Movie Eroticism:

I don't think I can make a believable assertion that I am not a prude, but I will state that I have found some scenes of sex in past movies wonderful, tasteful, and appropriate for the story, thus my suspension of disbelief expanded into other happy suspensions, if you will. But Kathleen Turner and William Hurt going at it in Body Heat, or Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice putting a cutting board to good use, were exciting and titillating, and most precisely because we don't see any genitalia during an erotic scene. Seeing someone's privates does something to our wetware (ultra-geek term for our brains, you perv), and suddenly we are slammed into another mode (whether we like it or not). I guess because that is something related to one of our most intimate acts that we can't feel anything but the emotions related to the same. It breaks the fourth wall in a way nothing else does, even a creepy 3-D Michael Jackson reaching out of the screen for your kids at Disney World.

One must go into realms H. P. Lovecraft might shun to exceed Michael Jackson's level of creepiness, I aver, but otherwise this seems fairly close to the mark. I imagine, though I haven't seen it and don't plan to, that the low point will probably be Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, which climaxes, so to speak, with a scene involving Chloe Sevigny playing scales and trills on Gallo's piccolo.

It's not like this never happened before in a more-or-less mainstream film — by most accounts, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie were not simulating their sex scene in Don't Look Now, thirty years ago — but it never occurred to director Nicolas Roeg to focus the camera on the actual organ-grinding, and I don't think I'd particularly have wanted to see it if he had.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of real life. If you or I walked in on a couple dancing horizontally, the most likely reaction would be "Uh, excuse me," followed by a hasty retreat.

And speaking as a person with a Y chromosome, who is entirely too capable of fleeting thoughts of "I wonder what she looks like naked" when in the presence of any adult female this side of Madeleine Albright, I'd just like to say that I'd prefer my fantasies to remain unsullied by any of that frightful reality stuff.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:18 PM)
2 November 2003
Getting there is half the fun

Maybe more than that, by Fred First's lights:

My family thinks when I say this (usually upon some large disappointment) that I am being a pessimist. I see it quite the opposite. The journey is certain. Find joy in each step, each mile, each word along the way with hope that the end may be the best part. The end is uncertain — that you will get there at all, that by the time you arrive the party will be over and all the lights turned off. If the end is not what you had anticipated, as often is the case in this age of quaking earth, you still own the thrill of the getting there.

My credentials as a pessimist are well-established, but this is precisely the spirit in which I undertook the three World Tours. If all that mattered was the destination, I could have subjected myself to the various indignities of air travel and gotten it over with much more quickly. And when I get to do it again, probably in 2005 (I see my '04 budget rapidly being consumed by Stuff For The House), I expect to feel exactly the same way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:02 PM)
Sirens at ten paces

Andy Crossett hedges only a little here:

It's been suggested that the Britney Spears pants-less pose on the cover of the November issue of Esquire is the best celebrity leg-art photo ever taken. That's a big statement to make, but it's certainly the best I've seen in a long, long while.

I'm not entirely persuaded, especially since the Spears pose is deliberately styled after one Angie Dickinson did for the same magazine in 1966 (which was reproduced for the cover in 1993).

What say you, loyal readers? Britney or Angie?

And in view of the burgeoning interest in Blogging Babes...no, I'd better not go there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:08 PM)
7 November 2003
Neo liberalism?

Lileks has now seen all three films in the Matrix trilogy, and he detects the vacuum at its center:

It is a product of deeply confused people. They want it all. They want individualism and community; they want secularism and transcendence; they want the purity of committed love and the licentious fun of an S&M club; they want peace and the thrill of violence; they want God, but they want to design him on their own screens with their own programs by their own terms for their own needs, and having defined the divine on their own terms, they bristle when anyone suggests they have simply built a room with a mirror and flattering lighting. All three Matrix movies, seen in total, ache for a God. But they can't quite go all the way. They're like three movies about circular flat meat patties that can never quite bring themselves to say the word "hamburger."

If this Bleat had had a working permalink, it would have been just about perfect.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
8 November 2003
Hawkeyed vision

My children tend to be scornful of Iowa, which, they patiently explained to me, is an acronym: "Idiots Out Walking Around." I don't know why. Maybe it's a Missouri thing, something like the way Oklahomans are expected to sneer at Texas and vice versa.

And I have to admit that my particular experience in Iowa is limited to a couple of days over a couple of summertimes, and suburban Des Moines strikes me as just as dull as it sounds, but as Dawn points out, I've missed the good stuff:

What it feels like to stand in the middle of a field with nothing around for miles but the sound of your footsteps and the birds. What it feels like to be in the middle of dense woods and see where a buck has scraped his antlers on a tree. Or where a doe has lain for the night. To have a pheasant fly out of bush and scare the shit out of you. To watch where you step because there might be a snake or even better an Indian arrowhead. To walk along a stream and see how busy a beaver was all summer. To sit quietly in the woods and wait to hear those footsteps of a deer.

Mental note: Next time I'm in Iowa, get farther away from I-35 and/or I-80.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
11 November 2003
Breathing free

The Oklahoman has a number of Veterans' Day-related pieces today, but this is the one to read.

In the military, we are reminded, the living always remember the dead.

And on this day, I hope, everyone remembers both.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
Hey Norton!

Art Carney, Jackie Gleason's best bud and comedic foil on The Honeymooners, died Sunday at his home in Connecticut; the family did not make any announcement until today, after private services.

Carney, who went on to win an Oscar as the first half of Harry and Tonto, was 85.

Do not confuse Ed Norton with Peter Norton, who used to make useful products for your PC.

Then again:


Ed Norton Utilities


(With thanks to Steve Kremer.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 PM)
18 November 2003
Ich bin ein Cassette

Not only did John Fitzgerald Kennedy die, but he died awfully close to Thanksgiving, which will make it difficult for people who revere his memory to move for a national holiday to commemorate that day in Dallas.

Which is not to say that American retailers can't rise to the occasion. Michele tells of working in a New York record store in November 1983, when a co-worker hit upon the deeply offensive and incredibly funny idea of putting up a display rack of Dead Kennedys material to, um, capitalize on twentieth-anniversary JFK nostalgia.

This went over about as well as you'd think — Jello Biafra himself could scarcely come up with a more blatant lightning rod for public outrage — but the idea that it actually happened brings me some strange mutant form of glee.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
19 November 2003
Perhaps not for Cubs fans

New York's NoRelevance is sort of Lileks East: while you won't find the level of volubility that you love about Lord High Master James, you will find a similarly deranged obsession with cultural ephemera.

The newest exhibit is called Cult of the Goat: Bock Beer Labels and a Homonym Gone Awry, and if ever you've wondered if there was truly a connection between brewskis and Beelzebub — but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Go and enjoy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
22 November 2003
Straight from the Georgia woods

Some thoughts while I wait for the assault of the next cold front:

What constitutes a beautiful day in Georgia?

Well, it starts by stepping out onto your front porch and sinking ankle-deep into a pile of multi-colored leaves. Next, you breathe in a breath of crisp air and detect not a trace of the odor usually emanating from the chickenhouses less than a mile away. Having fully enjoyed the jaunt to the driveway, you then proceed to your vehicle, and enjoy the ten or so miles to town with the sunroof open and the music of choice blaring. And, ya know, you don't even mind that it takes THIRTY MINUTES to get there because you got stuck behind a should-be-antique pick-up with a max speed of 30 mph. That's because it's just too darn difficult to get pissy once you see just HOW MUCH that mutt in the back of that pick-up is enjoying himself. Ears perked, tongue hangin' out, wind in his coat — happiness should be so simple.

It might be at that. Of course, once up to 30 mph, you should be able to negotiate the ten miles into town in twenty minutes, but what the hell — sometimes it doesn't pay to be in a rush.

(Muchas gracias: Key Monroe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 PM)
6 December 2003
Signal-to-noise ratio

Syaffolee complains about one cultural manifestation I admit I hadn't really noticed:

[I'm] tired of meeting so many young Asian women who think they are being individual by being angry and foul-mouthed. There are already many people in the world who are angry and foul-mouthed and I find it neither interesting nor unique. Perhaps they think it's a way of rebelling against the stereotypes of meek and accommodating or strung-out overachiever, but in fact, they're just creating another stereotype for themselves. And I don't think the much blogged about comedienne who makes money using this attitude is helping matters much.

Why haven't I come across this phenomenon myself? I suppose it's because I'm well removed from academia, which means that the most likely places for me to see young Asian women of any description will be at cultural events, where I seldom hear them talking at all, or in a retail context, where there are recognizable advantages to not being rude.

As for the comedienne in question, I've caught some of her shtick on television, and, well, I have to wonder if she'd have attracted any attention at all if she bore a surname like Jones. Of course, this is just me being angry and foul-mouthed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
7 December 2003
Sole sustenance

Mark Pierce takes a dim view of cosmetic surgery for the feet:

I know I'm only a guy and therefore could not possibly understand such things. But does anyone else think that cutting into the foot for cosmetic reasons is just not the brightest thing in the world? Again, maybe it's just me... and admittedly beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the foot is not exactly the sexiest part of the body anyway. Is it?

Cosmetic surgery in general is perhaps not the brightest thing in the world, though I'd be the last person in the world to tell the Sixpacks (Joe and Susan, not necessarily including their 2.3 kids) that they shouldn't go spending their money (their insurance likely won't cover it) on trying to look better: if it buys you some peace of mind or an occasional wolf whistle, it may be worth the risk that comes with any medical procedure more complicated than popping a couple of Advil.

Still, the foot is a fiendishly-complicated arrangement of hard-to-fix parts, and there's a lot to be said for "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And is it sexy? Certainly it can be. (Bless you, Jimmy and Manolo and Michelle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 PM)
9 December 2003
Sloppy seconds

I mentioned the new announcement for the Academy Awards ("And the Oscar® goes to...." instead of "And the winner is....") in this post, mostly in an effort to deflect attention from my lowly position in the 2003 Weblog Awards.

Now the Proprietor at Coffee Grounds has decided to see how well this no-losers philosophy extends to, among others, professional athletes:

In the NFL coaches and players have repeatedly over the years stated their feeling that, unless you go all the way and win the Big Ring, you have had a disappointing season. Hey, Oakland Raiders, don't fret, in 2003 you are simply the non-Super Bowlee! Ask former Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer what happens when the Bombers make it to the World Series but come up two games short. (And this is a 70-year old guy who still came off the bench to help out in a brawl.) Hey, Pinstripers, you are nothing less than the 2003 non-World Series-ee! Hey, Al Gore...

Somehow this reminds me of the old Cold War-era joke about the auto race between an American Chevrolet and a Soviet-built Moskvich. The Chevy won. Pravda duly reported that the Moskvich placed second, while the filthy American capitalistmobile came in next to last.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 AM)
12 December 2003
One beam at a time

Seven World Trade Center is coming back.

The first steel beam was raised yesterday, on the way to a height of 1776 feet.

And below the beam fluttered an American flag — crafted in Afghanistan.

You gotta love it. As Michele says:

We are moving on and rising up. We will never forget, but we will not curl up in the rubble and die, either. The New York City skyline will never be the same; none of us will ever be the same. But we can adapt and we can look at the rise of new buildings as another stage in healing.

Amen to that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
15 December 2003
Splendor in the crass

Michael Wolff argues that media have become rude because the sight (or hearing, in the case of talk radio) of it strikes a chord deep within us, a desire to be just as overbearing as we've never been allowed to be in a Polite Society.

Kevin Holtsberry takes exception to this idea, complaining that "it makes a vice into a virtue."

I started scribbling on this topic, and it got longer and longer and still I didn't come up with a reasonable conclusion, so I killed the post.

And then, thinking that maybe I'm not the only one who is of two minds on this subject — I mean, I greatly enjoy heaping invective upon the deserving, but there are times when it's counterproductive — I reposted it as a Vent with the same title. (Of course, I hate to waste a good title.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
17 December 2003
By the yarbles

What to do with Saddam Hussein? Robb Hibbard (Wednesday, 2:16 pm) suggests the Ludovico Technique, as described in A Clockwork Orange:

Ideally, Saddam would undergo the treatment received by the droog Alex in Anthony Burgess' best-known work. The bezoomy old veck's glazzies would be pried open real dobby as he viddied the veshch he created.

Not that we're trying to rehabilitate the merzky prestoopnik, mind you:

I couldn't care less about the philosophizing. If ever someone merited some horrorshow tolchocking, it's Saddam.

Choodesny, O my droogies, to viddy such in the gazetta.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 PM)
18 December 2003
Quick, hide the yearbook!

If you're thinking that one of the drawbacks to home schooling is the utter lack of memorabilia and/or schwag, think again. Jostens, a name familiar to an awful lot of students approaching baccalaureate, has brought out a line of graduation products, including announcements, diplomas, caps and gowns, and (yes!) class rings — everything the kids at More Science High get, without having to stand in line.

(Muchas gracias: Kimberly Swygert.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 PM)
19 December 2003
Ask for it by name

Uzi Gal, who invented the submachine gun that bears his name, died last year, and now, after nearly fifty years, the IDF is replacing its stock of Uzis with more modern weaponry. One potential replacement is the Corner Shot, which, as its name suggests, can actually fire around a corner.

While Israel may not be using the Uzi, they will continue to manufacture it for export. Meanwhile, Costa at The Critical 'I' reminds us that we can still get AK-47s — for now, anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 PM)
24 December 2003
Bruce!

Cam Edwards' post about Lenny Bruce receiving a posthumous pardon from New York Governor George Pataki for some reason reminded me of my favorite Bruce story, and how often do I pass up the chance to tell a favorite story?

It was 1963 and Camelot was still in full swing. JFK had stared the Soviets in the eye, and they blinked; Jackie had remade fashion in her own image; a comedian named Vaughn Meader who did a note-perfect Kennedy impression sold zillions of copies of an LP called The First Family and was readying Volume 2; and all, we thought, was right with the world.

Then came November and that terrible day in Dallas and nothing was ever going to be the same. The national funny bone disappeared, with no sign it might ever be tickled again. A week passed, and Lenny Bruce was booked into a theatre on the Lower East Side, and the audience was more than usually anxious: what would he say? How can he say anything at a time like this?

And Lenny Bruce came out and stared at the audience. He unscrewed the mike and walked away from the spotlight. He stared at the audience, paced up and down the stage, and stared at the audience again. And what he said was this:

"Vaughn Meader is screwed."

Which, as it turned out, was true.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
25 December 2003
Did someone mention spirit?

Tomorrow Mike of Fly Over Country is heading to Beirut; he and his wife will be doing some missionary work in Lebanon, and then stopping off in Paris for a couple of days. "Two hostile environments," he quips.

Does the Orange Alert faze him in any way? "What's my faith worth," he says, "if I'm scared?"

Heh. Indeed.™

Godspeed, good fellow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:10 PM)
26 December 2003
Make way for spring break

Bob Moos, in DMN Daily (the blog of The Dallas Morning News), wonders if maybe we're going through these holidays at the wrong speed or something:

As sure as there's a Santa Claus, some holiday-weary Dallas residents will have their Christmas trees on the curb, ready for garbage pickup, by noon today. What is it with these people? Can't we savor the season just a little while longer — say, to New Year's Day? Maybe they're so eager to get on with things because they're the ones who started celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween.

DallasNews.com not being fond of permalinks, just scroll down to It's 10 O'clock — Do You Know Where Your Tree Is? (26 December, 8:15 am).

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:05 PM)
6 January 2004
Order in the court

Judge James Alexander had had it up to here with people appearing before the Oakland County (Michigan) Circuit Court in garb more suitable for putting up drywall. The court now has a dress code and some stricter rules of conduct, and violators may be sent home or worse.

This action hasn't built any excitement in Pontiac just yet — so far, Judge Alexander has sent just one person home to change — but things should get interesting as temperatures rise and quantities of clothing diminish.

(Via Dawn at Altered Perceptions)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:43 AM)
The 2.29-night stand

VibeOK, the section of NewsOK.com that's aimed at young, happenin' kids (pardon me while I hurl), is asking, in the wake of the latest Britney Spears debacle: "If you could marry a pop star for 55 hours, who would it be?"

A dozen choices (six male, six female) are offered, none of them especially inspiring, but if I had two days and change, I suppose the least annoying of the bunch would be Beyoncé Knowles, who is easy on the eyes and generally not known as a pain in the neck.

On the other hand, I could think of a dozen bloggers more worthy of my time, though I am no more likely to win their hearts than Beyoncé's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 PM)
10 January 2004
Just fading away

Alfred Pugh has died in Bay Pines, Florida. According to the Veterans Administration, he was the oldest American veteran who had been wounded in combat.

Pugh, who spoke both French and English, served in World War I as an infantryman who doubled as interpreter, and was taken out by a mustard-gas blast in the Argonne. "We didn't get gas masks," he said, "until the day after it happened." The French subsequently elected him to the Légion d'Honneur with rank of Chevalier.

The VA says about three hundred American WWI veterans are still alive.

Al Pugh survived the mustard gas, but it was something else that got to his lungs that killed him: pneumonia. He was a week and a half short of his 109th birthday.

I thank him, as I thank all our troops.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
11 January 2004
Girl on film

Aldahlia says she's "an honest to God movie snob of massive proportions," and maybe it's true:

I pick movies apart with a rabidity I've never seen in anyone else, ever. I watch movies in a way that's so obnoxious, I've had friends bring strangers over, so that they can witness just how obscene and disturbing my type of movie consumption really is.

You don't want to watch a movie with me, trust me. I can ruin just about any cinematic experience.

As for justifying it, I really can't. It's something I do compulsively. Mine is not to wonder why. Mine is to point out even the most minute flaws. Mine is to read things into fairly generic flicks that I should never have thought to begin with.

Having once castigated a radio station for playing a hacked-together edit of Tommy James' "Crimson and Clover" instead of the proper single version or even (heaven help us) that absurd quasi-psychedelic LP mix, I suspect I am in no position to grumble here. And besides, if everything (and everyone) were perfect, we'd be bored out of our skulls.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 AM)
13 January 2004
Potrzebie party

Mad #438 (February) is hyping its fake letter from Michael Jackson, but the spread you have to see is a six-page satire by Jeff Kruse called "The League of Rejected Superheroes". It's decent enough, but what makes it work is that Mad somehow managed to snag some Big-Name Artists. (Yeah, I know, Mad is a corporate cousin to DC Comics, but still, there's some sort of Wall of Separation between them.)

Frank Miller introduces you to Inebrion, a superhero who has had one or two or a quadrillion too many.

J. Scott Campbell shows you Scantily-Clad Woman, for whom "wonderbra" is more than a mere brand name.

Dave Gibbons presents the Entomologist, who apparently was bitten by a radioactive tortoise at the zoo while he was trying to get the attention of some of the spiffier bugs. (No relation to Dr. Weevil.)

John Byrne illustrates Mediocre Man, so far the only superhero who acquired his powers through a Sally Struthers home-study course.

John Romita, Jr. gives us Sloggtor of Globbzorr, who is apparently fortysomething and divorced.

Michael Allred delineates Vocabulon, to whom sesquipedalianism is just the beginning.

Arthur Adams found time to draw Apathenia, Queen of Not Giving a Damn, who first appeared in BFD Comics back in 1993.

And finally, from the pen of Jim Lee, The Incredible Infringement Man, who...what's that? Any more and I'll have to pay royalties?

(Actually, I just wanted to get something up on this before Four Color Hell found out.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 PM)
15 January 2004
Jacket fluff

Erica is irked by the ubiquitous term "bestseller":

Is it just me, or is every book a "bestseller" for at least five minutes? Hearing that a book is a bestseller doesn't really make it that much more interesting for me. "Bestseller" tells me "it's a really good seller like all those other books."

And possibly "We shipped so many of these books that it's got to be a hit, and by the time they're remaindered, nobody will remember what we said anyway."

Besides, book quality and book sales have a tangential relationship at best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
17 January 2004
Going their separate ways

In 1977, the two Cincinnati daily newspapers, Gannett's Enquirer and E. W. Scripps' Post, entered a Joint Operating Agreement, under which they would maintain separate news operations but pool their advertising and circulation functions. The agreement was for ten years, and would be automatically renewed unless one of the two parties opted out with three years' notice. The Department of Justice approved the deal in 1979.

Gannett has now officially informed Scripps that they are opting out, that the JOA will end at the end of 2007.

Evening papers in general have been in decline; Post circulation today is one-quarter what it was when the deal with the Enquirer was struck.

What may save the Post is its strength south of the Ohio River, where a separate Kentucky Post edition is circulated for readers in northern Kentucky.

The next two JOAs up for renewal are in Birmingham, Alabama and Tucson, Arizona: both expire in 2015.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:48 AM)
20 January 2004
Channeling the banshee

The universe of rock and soul contains some truly memorable screams, from James Brown's opening shout in "I Got You (I Feel Good)" to Roger Daltrey's anguished shriek right before "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" in "Won't Get Fooled Again".

Howard Dean's uncontrolled emission in Iowa, the sound of a man choking on his second Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, doesn't quite match this lofty standard, but apparently, unlike these examples, it works with a number of different songs, and, well, there's a lot to be said for versatility.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 PM)
23 January 2004
Vacancy at the Treasure House

Bob Keeshan, creator and star of the long-running children's TV series Captain Kangaroo, has died at the age of 76.

Keeshan, who made his TV debut on NBC's The Howdy Doody Show as the silent clown Clarabell, signed with CBS in 1955 and demonstrated for the next thirty years how he thought a kids' show ought to be done: gentle, occasional lessons, low commercial load.

Cue up Edward G. White's "Puffin' Billy," a track from an old British production library which became the Captain's first theme song, and watch the ceiling for ping-pong balls.

(Muchas gracias: Laurence Simon, Amish Tech Support.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:41 AM)
What would Samuel Adams do?

Spirulina? Flavonoids? Do I want stuff like this in my beer?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Hell, no.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:52 PM)
25 January 2004
We're waiting for a silent O'Reilly

Can't get enough of Howling Howard Dean? Connecticut-based HeroBuilders.com is introducing a 12-inch Dean doll in two flavors: one which pontificates on matters like, say, guys in pickups with Confederate-flag decals, and one which replicates the famous (and now ubiquitous) Yeeeagh! Either one of these characters will set you back $35.95 — a version without the voice saves you $11 — and they'll ship the last week of February; dejected fans of Richard Gephardt should note that these Deanette sets are made right here in the good old USA.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:21 AM)
27 January 2004
Book 'em

Georgie Rasco of the Oklahoma City Literacy Council tosses up this startling statistic:

A publishing industry study showed that from April 1999 to March 2001, six out of 10 U.S. households did not buy a single book. "Unfortunately, reading may therefore someday be engaged in by a small minority of people who are regarded as eccentrics by their fellow citizens," states the American Booksellers Association.

Given the vast quantities of books being purchased in this country, obviously some of us are taking up the slack — but the sixty percent who don't buy books aren't benefiting in any substantial way from the forty percent who do.

I try to avoid getting worried about this Great Divide, lest I come up with some bizarre notions that involve, say, the government conspiring with the pharmaceutical companies to keep us dumb and drugged.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
Look, a talking school!

One of the evergreen pieces from Frosty Troy's The Oklahoma Observer is the "I Am Your Public School" essay. While the Observer has no Web presence, the essay can be read at the site of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Yesterday, Cam Edwards opined that "I Am Your Public School", in his words, is "due a good fisking."

Chris O'Donnell obliges.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 PM)
28 January 2004
Quick, get me rewrite

Actor and "semiotician" (okay, if you say so) Erik Todd Dellums has a major problem with Anthony Mingella's film of Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain: it's not about slavery. It's set during the Civil War Between The States For Southern Independence; therefore, reasons Dellums, it should be telling the story of the plight of black Americans. Never mind that this isn't the story Mingella — or, for that matter, Frazier — was trying to tell. We're talking big-H History here:

Could you imagine The Pianist or Schindler's List ever being made with but a few seconds of the reality of the Holocaust? Of course not. A film with such a gross misrepresentation would never make it past page one of a screenplay!

Come to think of it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really should have contained scenes critical of logging, and there isn't one mention of gas chambers anywhere in The Producers.

Dellums' current project is Camp D.O.A., for which the casting call requested, among other standard-issue characters, a "Caucasian male, 18-25, hip-hop type." How dare they have some white guy stick his nose into black culture?

(Via Ravenwood's Universe)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
29 January 2004
Ed Anger buys the farm

Eddie Clontz, once (and maybe future — who knows?) editor of the Weekly World News, has died in Salt Springs, Florida.

In 1979, the National Enquirer went legit, so to speak, and ponied up the bucks for color presses and whatnot; the owners wanted to get their money's worth out of the old gear, though, so the Weekly World News was created as a drain for stories not considered good enough for the Enquirer. Clontz, previously a staffer at the St. Petersburg Times, was hired in 1981 to spruce up the old clunker, and he hit upon the notion of printing stuff that no one could possibly believe. (Just in case you thought this was a New York Times innovation.)

The WWN, by any conventional standard, is an anti-newspaper, and Clontz, by all accounts, had a splendid time keeping it that way. His tiny staff of mostly non-journalists — for instance, staff writer R. Neale Lind is perhaps better known for writing a gorgeously sappy love song back in the Sixties — created a series of bogus bylines and recurring characters that moved half a million copies every seven days. And they got paid well for doing it, too: Clontz once observed that "we have to pay them a lot, because we are, in effect, asking them to end their careers. We're the French Foreign Legion of journalism."

Eddie Clontz was fifty-six years old, not quite the same age as Elvis Presley at his passing. (Elvis, according to the WWN, died on 14 May 1993, in Nashville, of complications from diabetes.) His paper, of course, will go on forever, or at least so long as people wonder about Bat Boy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
30 January 2004
A load of crap

Hardly the first time you've seen that here, eh?

But this time I speak literally. Wild at Bleeding Brain, back from his trip to Africa, describes a rather distasteful practice of thuglings in an unnamed city (from the context, I assume Nairobi):

My old man seemed nervous and excited to have his first son back. He sat in the front seat of the car pointing out landmarks in the city as we sped past.

He warned me to keep the windows of the car up because of a popular blackmailing technique used by street urchins.

As a person sat at an intersection, the thieves would lean into the car holding a mass of feces. The occupant of the car would be advised to surrender a wallet and watch. Failure to do so would result in the feces being mashed into the occupant's face.

Now that's an incentive program.

Two parts of Wild's report from Africa have been posted, and I hope there's more to come, not so much because I want to hear about methods of street crime in Kenya, but because the country — indeed, the whole of Africa — seems as remote to me as Neptune, and more often than not the viewpoints filtering through Big Media strike me as tightly canned and loaded down with axes to be ground.

By contrast, Kim Du Toit's tales of South Africa are always compelling, even when they venture into the scary stuff, and I think Wild's stories will be just as worthwhile.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:29 AM)
1 February 2004
Cheesy movies, the worst we can find

Apparently we truly can't control where the movies begin or end; the SciFi channel has finally quit showing reruns of the last three seasons (the only ones to which they had the rights) of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This isn't exactly surprising — when production ended in the late 90s, it should have been perfectly obvious that the reruns would end in the not-too-distant future — but it's still a shock to the system, since MST3k was arguably the last comedy show with any legitimate claim to innovation.

CT points out that there wasn't much chance of a revival anyway:

There had been rumors ever since the original episodes ended in 1999 that Sci-Fi would pull the plug at some point; I think it's amazing that it's maintained its life-after-death existence for this long. It had definitely become untenable, because the rights to many of the original movies they used had expired, and re-purchasing those rights just didn't make sense (thus the ever-decreasing number of reruns they could air). It was just a matter of time.

Which rights, I presume, have to be renegotiated for the video issues as well, which haven't exactly been pouring out of Rhino lately.

Oh, well. Push the button, Frank.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:07 PM)
2 February 2004
Now that it's over

Well, yes, I'm going to forbid my daughter to see Justin Timberlake, which is probably about as difficult as telling her to avoid gargling with bleach, but the most telling comment about yesterday's Bowl (they tell me that there was a football game, of all things, going on in the background) came from Linda Richman, by way of Robb Hibbard:

Kid Rock is neither a kid, nor does he rock. Discuss.

And that's the end of that.

Update, 9:05 am: Well, almost. Greg Hlatky points out that this was to be expected:

It was a cheap vulgar moment from a cheap vulgar company during a cheap vulgar show during a cheap vulgar sporting event. MTV's aim was right at its demographic: sullen pimply hormone-soaked adolescents of all ages. And they hit their target dead on.

And frankly, Janet — Miss Jackson if you're nasty — has generally been the least annoying member of the family; this may have been a setup, but I'd like to think they didn't warn her in advance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
Tempest in a C-cup

A regular reader complains about the coverage of the uncoverage of Janet Jackson's frontage:

This whole piece of absurdity is going to take on the same biblical proportions as Dean's Unholy Scream. Both events are hugely blown out of proportion; both events were staged; and both events deserve nothing but a glancing nod and toss to the garbage heap.

It is most unbelievable the airtime and press coverage both these events have garnered. In the grand scheme of things, our society is beyond pitiful that we will spend weeks concentrating on one man's scream and another woman's exposed breast.

But of course. They are the very definition of trivial. But trivial, as it happens, is what we do best; if we expended this much energy on dealing with, say, governmental and corporate corruption, or what's going to happen to the Federal budget when all these damn baby-boomers retire at once, we'd run the risk of actually accomplishing something that various groups of people manifestly don't want accomplished and will resist to the bitter end. What's more, it would stretch the national attention span well beyond what's considered to be its upper limit.

Give us something insignificant, however, and our species shines: oh, if we could only ask Robert Jenkins about his ear.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:49 PM)
3 February 2004
Flying back to Rio

The redoubtable Man from F.U.N.K.L.E. explains how it is that City of God director Fernando Meirelles came to be nominated for a 2003 Academy Award for a picture released in 2002:

[A]pparently, the Academy has now adopted the Byzantine eligibility rules favoured by the Grammys, by which songs from the same album are eligible in consecutive years, unless they're songs by U2 or Santana, in which case they're eligible in perpetuity, or until they win, whichever comes sooner.

On the other hand, nothing winning an Oscar® — not even Oliver! — can possibly rival the embarrassment level of the Grammy for Best New Artist bestowed upon Milli Vanilli.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
4 February 2004
And Mr Clean is sexist

Eric Scheie, perplexed by the flap over the Philadelphia restaurant Chink's, observes:

Increasingly, intent is completely irrelevant. All that matters is that someone felt offended. There doesn't even have to be specific use of offending words; even similar sounding words can lead to trouble. An example was the use of the word "niggardly" in the District of Columbia, which forced a mayoral aide to resign.

And, of course, no teacher dares assign Joseph Conrad's The Person of Color of the Narcissus these days.

Curious to see the extent of this sort of thing, Scheie went looking for a household product that is seldom seen these days: Spic and Span, which was spun off by Procter & Gamble in 2001 but which is still being manufactured.

Thus motivated, I investigated, and verified that the original surname of Manny, Moe and Jack, the Pep Boys, was not, as I had imagined, Pepstein.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:31 AM)
5 February 2004
Don't blame anybody

Violence, we are told, is caused by many things: venal media, wrenching poverty, societal pressures, and, lest we forget, easy access to guns.

In fact, the connection between any of these and any single violent act is tenuous at best. We make these assumptions because we can't handle the idea that some people, indifferent to the tenets of a civilized society and irrespective of circumstances, are going to do Bad Things; surely there's some way we can reach them, make them see the error of their ways.

Andrea Harris knows better:

[T]here is a point where we say human beings should be considered knowledgeable of right and wrong, and at the very least we could stop pretending that adults who choose criminal violence are doing so due to pressures beyond their control instead of consciously choosing the path of evil.

The thing the appeasers don?t want to accept (because it threatens their own sense of power and their view of how the world works) is the fact that violent people are not so because we treat them inhumanly, but because they have already decided that we are not human — at best we are obstacles to their desires. Confronting them and calling them on their behavior — calling it what it is — shocks them into at least realizing that they are dealing with another human being like themselves; and paradoxically gives them the respect they supposedly crave. For example, for decades we in the West — or at least, the intellectual elite — treated Muslim fanatics like little children stamping their feet whenever they spouted threats. Far from allaying the hatred that they felt for us, this attitude merely fed the flames, and the results we saw on September 11th, 2001 (among other dates).

I don't believe anyone is entirely beyond redemption, at least in the Scriptural sense, but until Ludovico arrives with his technique, we're going to have to deal with sociopaths in the time-honored fashion: isolate them, put them where they can't do any further damage. Obviously there are degrees of depravity — the Palestinian suicide bomber is more of a menace to society than the suburban shoplifter — but neither is entitled to a free pass, and I don't much care which theory about extenuating circumstances gets trotted out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
6 February 2004
Don't go there

What's the worst possible vacation spot for children? An abandoned steel mill? The Michigan caucuses? The back seat of Michael Jackson's car?

Why, it's the Big Rock Candy Mountain!

I mean, lemonade springs might be nice if you don't mind total immersion in something yellow and spewing, and I'd love to see a bulldog with rubber teeth just once, but cigarette trees? Why, John Banzhaf would have a myocardial infarction.

Yeah, I know. Haywire Mac wrote this as an ode to the road, to the hobos who hopped freights and such; he wasn't thinking about the kids at all. But eighty years later, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" has somehow become a song for children, and the youngsters don't seem to be any worse off for it — though I suspect today's vendors of tunes for tots don't bother to do the last couple of stanzas, sparing your grandchildren and mine the scary image of a lake of whiskey. Or worse, of stew.

(Inspired by Dawn Eden, which is getting to be a fairly common occurrence these days.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
7 February 2004
The old grey whistle-pig test

Groundhog: The other other white meat.

Don't take my word for it. Ask Fred.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
More than a mouthful

The Amateur Gourmet attempts to make, if not mountains out of molehills, cupcakes out of Janet Jackson.

Google was unable to turn up any Milton Berle kielbasa recipes.

(Muchas gracias: JaxVenus, Days Gone By.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:19 PM)
8 February 2004
Whoa! Babes!

This year, Lyric Theatre, the mainstay of local musical theatre, decided that there might be some audience for off-Broadway, non-mainstream stuff, and established something called Second Stage to mount productions that you might not think would go over in sanitary central Oklahoma.

Judging by the crowd at the Civic Center's Little Theatre today, they needn't worry. Pageant: The Musical Comedy Beauty Contest, Second Stage's debut offering, satirizes that American institution nine ways from Sunday, mocking insipid talent competitions, brainless "spokesmodels" and vapid production numbers, and throwing in just a hint of backstage backstabbing. It's screamingly (I almost said "hysterically," but that wouldn't do, would it?) funny, and the ending might be different every night, since members of the audience actually pick the winner. (Earning the tiara today was Miss Great Plains, who in her talent spot performed a bit of wayward oratory called "I Am the Land.")

All in all, it was a wonderful two hours of silliness, complete with an actual wardrobe malfunction, made more ironic by the fact that the victim also serves as Lyric's costume designer. (Of course, as a Southern belle, she never lost her sense and sensibility for so much as a second.) I have no idea what the second offering from Second Stage will be, but I'm there, Jack.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
9 February 2004
Where the bois are

Try as I may to be, um, heteroflexible, I have a great deal of trouble keeping up with the new taxonomy of gayness; there are so many groups and subgroups (and subsubgroups, and no domme jokes, please) that it's well-nigh impossible for someone outside the community to get the hang of it, so to speak.

And just when I'd figured out LGBT, too.

(Bubba, of course, considers them all a mass of undifferentiated preverts, but then he'd include peace activists, environmentalists, and about two-thirds of the Democratic party under that label too, so it's not as precise as he'd like to believe.)

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:30 AM)
11 February 2004
Woof!

Our congratulations to Ch. Darbydale's All Rise Pouchcove — you can call him Josh — the four-year-old Newfoundland who won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club show last night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:44 AM)
12 February 2004
Intellectual flexibility

This is something Lileks said, but I wanted a copy of it here as a reminder to — well, me.

When you are presented with new facts that blast apart your old beloved precepts, you either reexamine what you believe, or you hammer the new round pegs into old square holes. We all know people who refuse to revise their past, who've fixed their identity in a Golden Age and resist any attempts to revise their judgments. They?re stuck in a world where Hotel California is a bitchin' album and WKRP is classic TV and vans with airbrushed scenes of surfer girls are the apotheosis of automotive art and there was this one Saturday Night Live skit where Reagan like totally lost it and went all mental, and . . . those were the days, dude.

Fine, whatever. This much is true: when you're 50, holding on to the details of your 20-something convictions is like being 40 and trusting the insights you had when you were ten.

In view of the above, I believe it is a Good Thing that I was not blogging in the middle Seventies, or even keeping a handwritten journal: much of what I said, what I did, in those days would be unrecognizable at best and indefensible in any case.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
16 February 2004
As the pages turn

There was no way I could pass up David Kent's debut novel Department Thirty. For one thing, Kent lives here in town; for another, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to put out a novel about shadowy anti-government conspirators. In Oklahoma City. In 1995, yet.

But this isn't some variation on a theme by Timothy McVeigh. Kent's scruffy hero, Ryan Elder, comes home to Oklahoma after being sacked from yet another radio job, and his parents seem strangely distant, even cryptic.

And then they kill themselves.

What all this is about takes a while to unfold. Some of it is sort of predictable, some of it isn't, but all of it moves at decently high speed, and you know there's bound to be a screenplay in there somewhere. (Of course, if they do make a movie out of Department Thirty, they won't film it here; they'll throw in some exterior shots of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and shoot the rest in Vancouver, so this is one of your few chances to tour the Okay City's meaner streets.) It's a good read, and I'm looking forward to Kent's next book.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:26 PM)
18 February 2004
This year's matryoshka

To know recursion, you must first know recursion.

If that makes sense to you, you'll understand Slice City, a Sims game that is actually played by Sims.

I am not making this up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:41 PM)
19 February 2004
Ineffable mystery

UltraTart will honor the tradition of Lent by giving up something very dear to her.

And from the looks of things, it will be effing difficult.

(Not safe for some workplaces)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 PM)
23 February 2004
Grey and loving it

From Blue Rinse to Blue Jeans is the title of a new British study which asserts that the age of fifty, a number fraught with anxiety for some of us, will become increasingly less traumatic as life expectancy increases — about seven years over the next thirty — and new technologies address the usual health issues.

The fly in this particular ointment, of course, is the fact that said new technologies cost money, and it will take some time for them to become sufficiently entrenched to be affordable by mere mortals. Still, the pace of change is picking up, and recent history suggests that hardly anyone will be left out completely; even in semi-socialist Britain, the life of someone meeting the contemporary definition of poverty scarcely resembles the lives Hobbes once characterized as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

I suspect the curve will turn upward even faster once the baby-boomer generation gets out of the way.

(Suggested by Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
4 March 2004
Juxtapose, there's nothing to it

It is, of course, quite proper for Dickinson's 10-screen theater at Penn Square Mall to show The Passion of the Christ, and quite proper to advertise it on their sign in the mall lot.

I do wish, however, that they hadn't positioned it between Twisted and Club Dread.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
7 March 2004
All hail the mighty king

Stephen "Brute Force" Friedland cut a lovely little single for Apple (!) in 1969 called "King of Fuh" (Apple 8, U.K.), produced by the Tokens. (Force, in fact, had been a Token for the previous couple of years; I don't know if he played on the infamous Intercourse album.)

This guy who sells sofas in Canada has got to be a spiritual descendant of His Majesty.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
8 March 2004
Swimming to Long Island Sound

Apparently that was Spalding Gray they pulled out of the East River over the weekend.

Gray, who hadn't been seen since January, had a long history of depression, and presumably committed suicide. In an interview in 1997, he had suggested an epitaph for himself: "An American Original: Troubled, Inner-Directed and Cannot Type." I'd swipe that for myself, except that I can type.

Spalding Gray was sixty-two years old. He leaves behind a wife, three children, and an impressive body of work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:34 PM)
10 March 2004
Forsyth, forsooth

I figure, if Robb Hibbard (9 March, 12:25 pm) can get away with a reference to Gregory's Girl, so can I.

In his piece, Hibbard actually describes a scene with Gregory's sister:

Madeline is about to begin sipping a ginger beer float (ugh, who else believes ginger beer one of the vilest concoctions ever brewed outside the realm of underpants?). Anyway, prior to the beverage's imminent consumption, Madeline delivers a miniature soliloquy germane to the nature of longing, and how quelling longing leads only to further longing. "But that can't last forever," she says, and enjoys her float.

Wise beyond her years. And not just wise, as one of the neighborhood boyz who seeks to win Madeline's heart explains to Gregory:

"She's only ten, but she has the body of a woman of thirteen."

Ah, youth. What a pity to waste it on the young.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:37 AM)
11 March 2004
Return to Geauga Lake

Six Flags World of Adventure in Aurora, Ohio was created from the fusion of two amusement parks: the classic Geauga Lake park, founded way back in 1888, and Sea World Ohio, which opened in 1970.

The park has been drawing about 1.5 million visitors a year, but Six Flags has had a couple of rough years, and will now sell the park to Cedar Fair LP, operators of the Cedar Point amusement park near Sandusky, for approximately $145 million.

The first order of business for Cedar Fair likely will be to expunge all Six Flags-related indicia, including Warner Bros. characters used by Six Flags under license, before the park opens in seven weeks.

Six Flags, based in Oklahoma City, retains one Ohio park: the Wyandot Lake water park near Columbus. The firm also is selling off seven of its eight European facilities.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:35 AM)
15 March 2004
Anticipating the madness

Cam Edwards predicts the Final Four:

Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, and UConn. Kentucky beats Oklahoma State, Miss. State beats UConn, and Kentucky wins the whole shebang.

I mention this because he mentions this:

[T]his post is subject to revision without notice in order to make my picks look better.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And besides, if Kentucky wins, Susanna Cornett is happy, which must be considered a desirable outcome.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:58 AM)
16 March 2004
Nematode the wet sprocket

It is widely reported that Martin Luther was beset by — or, by some accounts, was obsessed with — flatulence and its, um, related phenomena.

If your immediate response to this is "Yeah, it's because of that Diet of Worms," Dawn Eden has a song for you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
20 March 2004
It's two, two, two films in one

Michele notes that the two biggest box-office phenomena so far in 2004 are The Passion of the Christ and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and that got her thinking:

These two movies each bring in a different kind of audience. Each movie will make a (relative to the cost of the film) ton of money. Each will have taken a place at number one on the box office charts. And, most importantly, the movies share a common theme: rising from the dead! So I had a blockbuster idea, one that will combine the two disparate, yet large, group of movie goers who are fans of each film. One that will be able to suck the cash out of the pockets of both zombie fans and Jesus followers, bringing them together in a force so large, it will forever change the way blockbuster movies are made.

Here's the poster. I like it, I like it.

And if Mel Gibson likes it, I propose another videosyncrasy: Bring back the Road Warrior and have him plunge off a cliff. Passers-by rush to help, but it's too late. Still, with his dying words, he reveals his most precious secret: the location of a stash of high-tech equipment which, in the right hands, can literally rebuild the world. And the Samaritan wannabes, once united in their goal of saving this man, now turn on each other in an effort to find the equipment first.

They could call it It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Max.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
23 March 2004
Cents and sensibility

The original plastic squeeze-to-open coin purse, the Quikoin®, was invented in 1951, but it didn't become truly ubiquitous until the 1960s, when seemingly every girl (and not a few boys) schlepped along one of these ovoid contraptions, branded with some corporate emblem.

Eventually it went the way of all fads, but in the post-ironic 21st century, where "old" is the new "new," the Quikoin® is back. As it was then, so it is now. And if you think this seems a trifle anachronistic in an era when people pay for Tic Tacs with debit cards, you're missing the point.

(Via Dawn Eden, an anachronism in her own right.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Rituals in red and white

Bruce works in retail, so he knows what shopping entails, but shopping at Target is something else entirely:

Target is nesting central. It makes me want to don a shirt that says "no coupling zone" in big letter across the chest. Happy little couples leisurely plod up and down the aisles, looking at towels, picking up decorative lampshades and taking up the whole DAMN aisle! They flaunt [their] happy couple...ness.

Since my usual reaction to happy couples is to (1) puke my guts out and (2) puke my guts out, in that order, I can understand his frustration. But is this inevitable? Do we all act this way?

Hey, I used to be the same way (a little) when I had a mate, but I was considerate of those other people that just wanted to get in and get out. They had a mission. Get a file folder, get some kitty litter, grab a pack of TP and some Doritos. Then get the hell outta there.

I don't think I've ever been the "nesting" type, but I don't think I've ever gone into Target with the express intention of buying X items and nothing but X items, either; I browse, and I take up probably more than my fair share of the aisle. Still, shopping doesn't do a lot for me, and it doesn't do much for Bruce either:

I recognize the cathartic benefits, the sating of our hunter-gatherer instincts, the need to accomplish a task. However I don't have lots of extra money so I can't make shopping a hobby.

I rather suspect that some of the "hobbyists" can't afford it either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
25 March 2004
In the quiet suburbs of R'lyeh

And not approved by Sanrio, either: it's Hello Cthulhu!

(Muchas gracias: Syaffolee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 PM)
27 March 2004
Hottie spirit before a fall

Fraters Libertas are asking "Who's hotter?" One person mentioned in their poll is author/pundit Peggy Noonan, and while Saint Paul is justly fond of her, he can't bring himself to consider her hot:

[T]here's nothing terribly wrong with her face. In fact there's a lot right about her beautiful, fashionably cut blond hair, her bottomless pale blue eyes which reveal a piercing intellect and just a hint of a tragedy. Her forehead, ears, cheekbones — fine, fine, fine. Draw a horizontal line across her face, centered about mid nose and concentrate on the top half only and she's a knockout.

It's the lower half of the picture where the heretofore divine genetic code got a little scrambled. To be specific, it's her big, flaring nostrils and long, thin lips. Upon intensive study, I believe they can only be described in one way: porcine.

I need hardly point out that Saint Paul is not at all hinting that anyone is going to lop off Peggy Noonan's ear in the hopes of making a purse from it, but True Perfection is not bestowed upon mere mortals, and the distribution of fragments thereof seems random at best. An appearance by sitcom creator Diane English in the new Entertainment Weekly struck me similarly; while Hanes thought enough of her to feature her in a hosiery ad some years ago, the EW head shot reveals the facial expression of a basset hound in pain.

Then again, as a person whose appearance is untidy at best, I am hardly in a position even to pretend to be judgmental.

(Update, 10:25 pm: Accepted twenty lashes and a copy of the Northern Alliance pamphlet "How To Tell Fraters Apart, Dammit".)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
31 March 2004
On the way to post-industrial

It is no secret that the US economy is shifting toward services and away from manufacturing, to the general despair of (mostly) Rust Belt states where industry seems to be in free fall. The most immediate result of this transition is an expansion of political rhetoric, a lot of yammering about saving jobs. But other things seem to be happening in the background, and one of them might be a general improvement in the national morale.

How is this possible? A study by psychologists Leaf van Boven and Thomas Gilovich [link requires Adobe Reader] suggests that spending our money on services — travel, performing arts, even something as seemingly mundane as dining out — enhances our lives, or at least our perception of our lives, more than buying furniture for the house or toys for the den.

This is not some anti-consumption screed, either; it's an acknowledgement of the fact that we are the sum of our experiences. New goods are nice, but then it's time for newer goods; as later possessions displace earlier ones, their relative position in our hierarchy of needs remains more or less constant. Experiences, on the other hand, are cumulative; we'll always have Paris, even after we've gotten back from Iceland. And experiences can be shared in a way products can't: we'd love to hear about your hike up the Appalachian Trail, especially if the alternative is hearing about your new plasma TV.

These findings, of course, seem more relevant the higher you climb on the socioeconomic ladder; down on the lower rungs, there isn't a whole lot of discretionary income to devote to either goods or services. But overall, it's a fairly safe bet that the demand for services will increase faster than the demand for consumer goods, which means that the American economy is doing exactly what you'd expect under the circumstances. The politicians, of course, will be the last ones to figure this out.

(Via Andrew David Chamberlain's The Idea Shop.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
2 April 2004
The pushing of the Christ

What a visual Donna conjures up here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 AM)
4 April 2004
Downstairs at the upstairs

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

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

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

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

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 PM)
7 April 2004
At night you will look up at the stars

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

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

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

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
12 April 2004
Crashing symbols

A logo for the proposed New York City Olympics in 2012:

NYC 2012


I like it. But Skip Perry asks, quite reasonably:

So, do those two big blocks remind anyone of anything?

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
17 April 2004
Help yourself

First, let's get the terminology under control, with the help of George Carlin:

If you're looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That's not self-help. That's help. If you did it yourself, you didn't need help.

Not because she needs help or anything, The Girl Formerly Known As Aldahlia has obtained a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and she is, to put it mildly, not impressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 AM)
18 April 2004
The mediocrity is the message

So-called "public-service announcements," says Myria, are "a boil on the ass of society paid for mostly by your tax dollars," and it's not hard to see why:

Has there ever been one of these things that wasn't designed specifically to sing to the choir? The anti-smoking ones particularly get me, probably because they're so omnipresent. Yeah, here's a good idea, we'll tax cigarettes and then give that money to modern-day collectivist Puritans so they can tell smokers how bad smoking is for them. Yeah, uh-huh, that makes sense. For starters, is there anyone in the country, anyone, who is under any illusions the potential health effects of smoking? I mean, seriously, is there someone out there who is going to see one of these adverts and go "Holy shit! I didn't know these things were bad for me!" and throw away their Marlboros or whatever? If nothing else, the fact that collectivists have managed to ban smoking just about anywhere save the peak of Mount Everest (and perhaps even there, dunno) should be a big clue (though, for contrarian types that might actually be an incentive to continue smoking, come to think of it). That smoking is perhaps not the greatest thing for your long-term health is hardly a big secret here, but then PSAs tend to thrive on the terminally obvious. Any day now I'm expecting one where someone says "I thought Twinkies were good for me, now look at what a tub-of-lard I am?" with the tagline "Sugar kills, Homey." Then we can move on to fat, caffeine, salt, then maybe move on to warning people that having sex can result in pregnancy.

Not a chance. If we discourage people from having sex, the terrorists have won.

And have you ever noticed that there always seems to be a supply of people who will testify in court that they smoked for thirty, forty years and never had the slightest inkling that sticking burning leaves in their mouths might not actually be good for them?

The FCC gives Brownie points to stations for running these things, which is yet another indication of their contempt for the media they regulate and the audiences those media halfassedly attempt to serve.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:23 AM)
20 April 2004
Round up the usual supporting players

A perfectly obvious statement by Tim Cavanaugh:

[T]he incidental stuff is almost always the most enjoyable thing about a movie. Second bananas, supporting parts, cameos, villains, and comic reliefs, being spared the burden of carrying the picture, get more time to pull gags and chew scenery. That's why actors like to play those parts, and why audiences enjoy watching them.

Among other things, Cavanaugh was thinking of Casablanca, where Bogart's Rick is justly revered, but it's Claude Rains' Captain Renault who has proven over the years to be the most quotable.

And when they put together a Caddyshack tribute page, they didn't name it after Ty Webb (the Chevy Chase character); it's CarlSpackler.com, an acknowledgment of the fact that Bill Murray, billed fifth, towers over this movie like the Dalai Lama himself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
23 April 2004
Fetch the soft cushions

The University of the Incarnate Word, a Catholic college in San Antonio, is discontinuing its Crusader mascot and team name in the name of, you guessed it, cultural sensitivity. The aggrieved group this time: Muslims. You'd think they were expecting the Spanish Inquisition or something.

(Via Tongue Tied)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:13 AM)
28 April 2004
Mister Ranger, SIR!

The Queen of All Evil, having researched everywhere from Jellystone National Park to Quick Draw McGraw's kabonger, has determined that Yogi Bear is gay.

Now I knew that when you're with the Flintstones, you'll have a yabba-dabba-doo time, a dabb-a-doo time, you'll have a gay old time, but I never knew anyone else was locked away in Hanna-Barbera's closet.

Well, except for Velma.

(Update, 6:50 pm: I wonder if ol' Yogi has tried these?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:46 PM)
29 April 2004
Here's your license

A reasonable question from I Speak of Dreams:

In California, you have to take 30 hours of classroom instruction and have 55 hours behind the wheel before you can get a driver's license. Shouldn't we require at least 85 hours in communications and how to stay married before granting a marriage license?

Then again, will anyone vouch for the superiority of California drivers?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
2 May 2004
Piled higher and deeper

Erin O'Connor sees too many people with the same ideas cluttering up Departments of Humanities:

It is agreed that there is a massive overproduction of Ph.D.'s, and that departments that are contributing to this massive overproduction of Ph.D.'s are grossly irresponsible toward grad students even as they serve their own needs very well (they get the cheap labor they need to get freshman comp taught, and they get a pool of smart, interesting students to whom faculty can administer narcissistically gratifying graduate courses). Usually, the solutions offered to this problem run along the lines of suggesting that fewer Ph.D.'s should be produced, that those that are produced should be better supported, and that "The Profession," as comprised of hundreds of discrete departments, should renew its commitment to the tenure track by, well, being very committed to it (this commitment in turn is organized around an ideal of hiring as many TT faculty as possible, cutting back on adjunct labor as much as possible, and placing as many newly minted Ph.D.'s as possible in TT jobs). It doesn't work, and it can't.

But one reason is that the problem of what to do with all these Ph.D.'s is too narrowly defined. It's true that a Ph.D. in English or history is not a terribly magnetic job qualification outside academe. Such degrees can, in fact, be positively detrimental to one's extra-academic job hunting, in large part because there exists beyond the academy a not entirely unwarranted belief that humanities Ph.D.-types are the prospective employees from hell — incapable of meeting deadlines, incapable of communicating clearly, contemptuous of taskwork and pragmatic problem-solving, incapable of working well with others. It's a stereotype, and an often unfair one. But it doesn't come out of nowhere, either.

What to do with all these people? She has one possible solution:

There is one market, though, that is WIDE OPEN for humanities M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, and that is the independent school market. "Independent" is mostly a contemporary code word for "private," though it can also mean "charter." Your Ph.D. — or, if you are ABD, your M.A. — is a very attractive qualification in this market. In contrast to the public school system, it counts as a teaching qualification (thus preventing you from going back to school to get a highly redundant ed school teaching certificate). Independent schools are eager to add people with advanced degrees to their faculty — in part, this raises the profile of the school and looks good to parents and donors, but far more importantly, these schools recognize that refugees from academe can make marvelous high school teachers. They know this to be true because their faculties are already full of them.

How do we know she's serious? She's taking this step herself, leaving the faculty of an Ivy League university to teach English at just such a school, emboldened by the experiences of those who have gone before her:

I've met a number of such refugees from a number of schools this year. The schools themselves have been as different from one another as people are — but at all of them, the refugees say, entirely independent of one another, that the work they have found in the world of independent school teaching far surpasses the academic life. All say they are able to do the sort of intensive, personalized teaching they dreamed of doing as college teachers, but could not do in a higher ed setting; all say they feel more intellectually alive than they did in academe; and all say, too, that they have a much greater sense of purpose and of professional satisfaction than they did in academe. They are palpably happy, and the differences they are making in kids' lives are real and meaningful. They also have summers off and, having jumped the assembly-line production schedule of the academic track, can follow the far more ethical and constructive course of pursuing their own research and writing projects when and as the spirit moves them.

Far be it from me to suggest that the turmoil just beyond the tenure track is breeding Bolsheviks or anything like that, but I've always believed that if you're doing something truly worthwhile with your life, you're just a tad less likely to veer off into the Land of the Moonbats. (This belief, of course, is wholly independent of my own experience, but then I've never felt I was doing anything particularly worthwhile; my days in the military impress me a lot more today than they did then, owing to a steady, if insufficiently steep, decline in my level of immaturity.)

And this suggests a path for the public schools as well, inasmuch as their current obsession with credentials is almost certainly keeping them from attracting the best people. They're meeting the needs of the teachers' unions, perhaps, but they're not necessarily meeting the needs of the students.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:13 AM)
6 May 2004
More jacket fluff

Edward Ocean wants to know:

Is it a new law that all books about Bush now must have white covers with red and/or gold lettering?

Examples abound.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
8 May 2004
At least they didn't propose "freshpersons"

The four-campus Connecticut State University system is discontinuing use of the word "freshmen" and replacing it with "first-year students."

"The whole notion of coming in with one class and leaving with that class," said Peter M. Rosa of Student Affairs, "is more historic than actual."

Although course materials will not be immediately revised to reflect the new terminology, blog items referring to this decision will continue to be sophomoric.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:20 PM)
Exiled to Cyberia

"Cyber" bothers Erica:

cyber

Er, I guess it's more of a prefix.

cyber-

No, it can be used as a word.

cybersex

That's how I hate it most. But I hate it as a prefix, too.

It's easy to hate. As I once said:

"Cyberspace" itself was a reasonable coinage, its forebear "cybernetics" having been established for a good half-century or so by now, but not everything lends itself to being cyber-ed — not that anyone will be dissuaded by that simple fact.

Then again, I suppose it's a good thing we're overworking a prefix, instead of a suffix, this time. If I hear of just one more political scandal referred to as Something-gate, I swear I'm going to cyberbarf.

Which I've done rather a lot in the eight years since I posted that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
12 May 2004
Shot by both sides

Susanna Cornett points to this Charley Reese column, ostensibly about Michael Moore, which offers an explanation of the difference between rights we have and rights some of us think we deserve. And that difference?

The best way to understand the difference between a true right and a falsely claimed right is that a true right does not compel anyone else to do anything except leave us alone.

That's why it is wrong to say that people have a "right to medical care." To say this implies that someone else must be compelled to provide it. Medical care that is affordable is a desirable social goal, but it is not a right. Ditto education, housing, jobs and other economic benefits.

Reese goes on to provide a definition of a truly free society:

A truly free society is one in which people can think, say and do what they please as long as they don't infringe on other people's rights to think, say and do what they please. No one has a right to not be offended. No one has a right to demand that others agree with him or her. No one has a right to utter defamatory falsehoods. The reason maintaining a free society is so difficult is that it butts heads with the itch many people have to control other people.

And am I imagining things, or has there been an upsurge in itchy buttheads in recent weeks?

Susanna notes:

Some controls are necessary to create the order and predictability a society must have to function, and societies also make laws delineating moral boundaries. The head-butting comes from competing views of what those controls and boundaries should be.

I don't think we'll ever get everyone to agree on the location of those boundaries, but the phrase that pays is "competing views": each gets its chance in the marketplace of ideas. If some of them get shot down, well, that's the way the system works. A surprisingly large number of people believe that if their trial balloons don't fly, it's the result of a conspiracy by Those Other People; it can't possibly be because their ideas were laughed off the market.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Long novel, no verbs

A minor sensation in France, perhaps: Le Train de Nulle Part, "The Train to Nowhere," 233 pages without a single verb.

Author "Michel Thaler" (a pseudonym), per a review in Le Nouvel Observateur, perhaps misogynistic, in spite of a statement to the contrary by Thaler's publisher.

No English translation yet, sorry; twenty euros (plus shipping) for the original French not in my present budget.

Closest English equivalent: Gadsby, a 1937 novel by Ernest Vincent Wright, 50,000 words without a single letter E.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:59 PM)
13 May 2004
What's a Grecian urn?

Up to now, efforts to quantify physical attractiveness have relied on arbitrary measures like the millihelen, which is defined as that quantity of beauty required to launch one ship.

Obviously something this banal wouldn't do for People's 50 Most Beautiful People: they must have science, and indeed they do. Per Dr Francis Palmer's point system, you get 75% of the points for your cheekbones, 10% for eyes/eyebrows, 7% for lips, and 2% each for jaw, chin, and neck; sleek nose; clear skin; and "general harmony of features."

There are, I think, major problems with this formula. For one thing, it makes me look a lot better than I actually do: the cheekbone/jowl conflict doesn't compute. More to the point, it makes the preposterous assumption that every last bit of visual appeal is located in areas north of the clavicle. A certain consistency is to be desired, I suppose — I'm not all prepared for someone who looks like Sharon Stone from here down and like Broderick Crawford from there up — but as a practical matter, not everyone's best feature is facial. Sometimes it's not even tangible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 AM)
Pencils at the ready

Rhode Island blogger Justin Katz isn't the sort to put all his words on the screen; he's a member of the Third Thursday Writers' Group, which meets every second Tuesday (just kidding) at The Redwood Library and Athenæum, the nation's oldest (257 years!) lending library, in legendarily-gorgeous Newport. What's more, Katz' Timshel Literature operation publishes the Group's annual volume, The Redwood Review, a trade-paperback-sized collection of the best the Group has to offer. Beautifully designed and crisply written, this series is definitely worth your time; it's a reminder that however wonderful bloggage can be, there's still no substitute for words on a page.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 PM)
14 May 2004
The price of fame

Rachel Lucas has done the math:

[T]he main reason I believe one of the worst possible fates in life would be to become famous is because when you become famous, people like me sit around in their pajamas on Friday afternoons and write snotty things about you on their web sites.

Obviously I have a long way to go; at worst, I get characterized as grumpy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 PM)
15 May 2004
Think binary

Joe South, in one of my favorite songs, said this:

Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

But before you start that hike, Susanna Cornett whispers words of wisdom:

The problem with moral relativists is that "if you just walked a mile in their shoes" business. Some behaviors are just wrong on their face, regardless of culture, time, circumstances or provocation.

Grayscale would not exist were there neither black nor white.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:53 AM)
16 May 2004
Stabbed, not stirred

Quentin Tarantino, having successfully killed Bill, wants a shot at James Bond.

At least he's picked the right Bond story. Casino Royale is one of two Bond tales for which the descendants of Albert B. Broccoli do not control the movie rights — the other is Thunderball — so it should be at least reasonably simple to negotiate the rights. I don't think the Broccoli operation will willingly release Pierce Brosnan to play Bond for Tarantino, though.

Would I go see this? No doubt. The 1967 original was made as a deliberate spy spoof, and a remarkably unfunny one at that; the best thing about it was the Tijuana Brass recording of the Bacharach/David title tune (A&M 850, #27 pop in Billboard). It's about time someone did this story justice.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:44 PM)
17 May 2004
They do

At the stroke of midnight, City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

I am seriously torn on this issue. On one level, I'm thinking, "Well, it's about damn time." On another, I'm wondering about all the dire consequences predicted by opponents, and how (if?) they're going to materialize.

I can't say I'm delighted with this development. Still, I'm going to back off. If this is truly The End Of The World As We Know It, we'll know it soon enough. And if it's not, we'll know that too.

In the meantime, congratulations to the happy couples. (I always cry at weddings.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 AM)
19 May 2004
Buffeted by all sides

If I learned anything in my three trips to New Jersey, it's that a really good waiter is worth his weight, if not necessarily in gold, certainly in stacks of currency; the fellow who worked our table those nights definitely earned the $150 or so tip he got from our $700-ish dinner tab. I don't think we ran him ragged, exactly, but we didn't make it especially easy on him either.

The Interested-Participant, meanwhile, has happened upon a survey which refutes the general notion that wait staff are low-skilled, low-wage personnel. At entry level, earnings of $17 per hour are typical; an experienced waiter makes around $22 an hour. These earnings are supplemented by the occasional free meal. Tips, of course, are taxable, and most of them are duly reported to the IRS.

I knew I was in the wrong business, but then I always have been.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
23 May 2004
For this they skinned a sheep?

Phil Libin's brother Mark just got his B.A. from Columbia, and while this is clearly an Important Milestone, Phil thinks the impact is lessened by the physical appearance of the actual diploma, which, he says, looks like "the university seems to have merely cut-n-pasted his name into nonsense baby-talk stolen from a blogger.com template."

Worse than that: it's in ALL CAPS.

I never was a big fan of those ornate Teutonic fonts in which maybe twelve or thirteen letters out of twenty-six were easily distinguishable, and Columbia deserves credit for going to a more modern typeface, but still it's in ALL CAPS.

And with that more modern typeface, an affectation is revealed: a reversion to the Latin V instead of U, reminding you of those earliest days of Columbia when it was still part of the Roman Empire. The top of the diploma reads CVRATORES VNIVERSITATIS COLVMBIAE, which, as we approach 2800 A.U.C., strikes me as, in the immortal words of Swiftus, "Nuts. N-V-T-S, nuts."

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 AM)
More or less untouched

There are lots of reasons for getting a marriage annulled: the discovery of fraud, the failure by one partner to dissolve a previous marriage, the involvement of Britney Spears. One which comes up occasionally is failure to consummate the marriage, which at least is relatively easy to define.

Unless, of course, you're dealing with the new same-sex marriages, in which case the old definition apparently doesn't mean anything. The question is fairly obvious, I think: what specific sexual act must be performed to constitute a consummation? "How could two people," asks Mike Pechar, "get married when the nature of their relationship inherently meets the criteria for nullification?"

The issue, as I said a couple of months ago, "gets more complicated the more you look at it." I'm not saying all the issues are intractable, but there certainly are a lot of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
26 May 2004
Nothing new under the sun

Sure enough, it's the twenty-sixth, but there's no new Catherine Bosley news; the last thing I had to report was back in April.

I do hope that wherever she might be, she is having a reasonably good time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
Based on a theme

The now-forgotten motion picture Celsius 127 premiered nearly sixty years ago, during a time when the Allies seemed to be hopelessly bogged down in their quest to put an end to the Axis plans for world domination. Billed as a documentary, Celsius 127 was actually more of a polemic, an attempt to whip up anti-American sentiment by suggesting that the President had deliberately misled the public about his desire to keep the nation out of what had started out as a purely European war, and following up that suggestion with edited newsreel footage of the most unfortunate occurrences during that war. The film's regard for truth is exceeded only by... well, just about everything, actually.

Greg Hlatky, not only a wiser man than I but a better film critic as well, has the details of this bilious little artifact. Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times; a blatant propaganda piece like Celsius 127 could never be made today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
29 May 2004
Your basic cold day in hell

All the flapdoodle over The Day After Tomorrow, and I didn't even bother to read the credits.

UML Guy, however, did:

A 20th Century Fox release of a Centropolis Entertainment/Lions Gate/Mark Gordon Co. production. Produced by Mark Gordon, Roland Emmerich. Executive producers, Ute Emmerich, Kelly Van Horn, Stephanie Germain. Co-producer, Thomas M. Hammel. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Screenplay, Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachimanoff; story, Roland Emmerich, suggested in part by the book "The Coming Global Superstorm" by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber.

Oh, yeah. Art Bell and Whitley Strieber. Now there's some serious science.

Dear Al Gore: When are you going to do something about global dumbing?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 PM)
30 May 2004
Decoration Day

Spring 1868. General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a support organization founded by veterans for veterans, issues the following as General Order No. 11:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

This wasn't the first Memorial Day, technically; the townspeople of Waterloo, New York had inaugurated just such an observance two years earlier. But General Logan's call to honor fallen soldiers resounded nationally, and five thousand turned out at Arlington National Cemetery on the thirtieth of May, placing flowers and placards and gifts on the resting places of twenty thousand.

Two years later, General Logan spoke at Arlington, and this is part of what he said:

This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims.... Let us, then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us....

I come from a family with strong ties to the military. Both my parents were sailors, and my father had served in the Army before joining the Navy. A brother served in the Navy; a sister took on the duties of a soldier's wife. But it took me rather a long time to understand the "noble dead"; I knew nothing of death except that it was a scary prospect, and I didn't see nobility as being part of the package.

The first inkling of what it meant came during Basic Combat Training in 1972. I was eighteen, grossly immature, and generally scared spitless. The guys with the funny hats who dragged us out of bed at 0500, well, they were just an obstacle, to be endured and then to be forgotten.

Except that they knew things. They weren't scholars issuing position papers from ivory towers; they were men who had Been There, who had faced real enemies, and who had come back to show us pathetic slobs how to face real enemies ourselves. There were things you did, and there were things you did not do, if you expected to come back yourself. And since we were all green as hell and totally lacking in life experience, what we wanted more than anything else was to be able to come back.

So we learned. We fired (just as important, we cleaned) our weapons, we studied simple tactics, we got used to sleeping with the rocks and the ticks, we got to the point where we weren't as embarrassingly bad as we had been a couple of months earlier. And the NCOs, who up to then had never been satisfied with our performance, pronounced themselves satisfied: we were going to be all right.

Most of us did come back. But some did not, and we found ourselves grieving for them and for their families, because we knew that it could just have easily have been us. Their sacrifice was received and found worthy. Noble, even.

I thought about this during the dedication of the World War II Memorial this week, especially when that old soldier Bob Dole explained why it was happening:

What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.

I hope, as I slide into old-soldier status myself, that I've done my best to live up to those ideals.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:36 PM)
1 June 2004
General Lee speaking

This Caren Lissner story can't possibly be excerpted, so:

The other day, I took a walking tour of Dorothy Parker's old haunts, and afterwards there was a small lunch at the Algonquin. Some people were talking about Dorothy's friends hanging out in speakeasies, and several people said that Prohibition was the dumbest thing ever.

"That's how the mob made their money," one woman said.
"And the Kennedys," said another.
"And Bo and Luke Duke," I added.
Eleven of the twelve people just stared at me. The twelfth laughed.

You know what? The other 11 were just damn culturally illiterate.

Now if we could just remind the politically illiterate that Prohibition was the dumbest thing ever.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
3 June 2004
Dude, where's my bicycle?

Robb Hibbard has permalinks at last!

And to commemorate this august (though it be June) moment, a list of his criteria for moviegoing:

Generally, I'll watch anything that has any or all of the following: 1. Inventive use of profanity; 2. Laughable nudity; 3. Art chicks in emo glasses who think they're on a higher plain intellectually than the pathetic people around them.

Somehow I suspect his DVD shelf has far more diversity than mine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:29 PM)
5 June 2004
Cradle robbery

From CaribPundit comes this story of a movement in Guyana to raise the age of consent, currently twelve, following the attempt of a 37-year-old businessman to marry a 13-year-old girl over the objections of her mother.

This hit me harder than I thought it would, and I know why. About ten years ago, I had a pen pal of 14 or so; we were both fans of Roundhouse, a comedy-plus-music series that aired on Nickelodeon for three years. I still have a photo of her somewhere. But it would never have occurred to me to visit her, let alone try to lure her into the sack. (The show was eventually cancelled, we fell out of touch, and surely she's forgotten me by now.)

This is undoubtedly related to the vaguely-creepy feeling I get these days from the Playmate of the Month, who almost always proves to be younger than either of my children. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd been brought up in Guyana, but I doubt it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 AM)
Remembrance

On the marquee at La Baguette, a French restaurant a couple miles from me:

6 JUIN 1944

They didn't need to say anything else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:33 PM)
12 June 2004
Received wisdom (one in a series)

Bruce works in retail, which gives this observation additional resonance:

"Why do you want what you want?"

The answer to that question should never be "I don't know".

I almost always have an explanation for any purchase I make, although sometimes it's as lame as "It made me feel better."

And I wonder if I'd make more such purchases if I had more discretionary income.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
13 June 2004
Wagering on the Daily Double

Now that Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen are, um, legal, McGehee thinks the demand for unclad photos of them will be diminishing.

I have my doubts. In the mind of the Average Perv, "twins" trumps "underage"; if anything reduces the demand, it will be their desire to separate themselves into individuals — lately, interviewers have been asked not to refer to them as a unit — rather than their long-awaited post-jailbait status.

Still, Mary-Kate seems awfully insubstantial for serious fantasy material these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:29 PM)
14 June 2004
That's the way love is

The "Ask the Critic" sidebar in Entertainment Weekly, like most such features, is highly dependent on the quality of the questions asked, and it's probably a good thing we see only one or two questions a week and not the thousands which were thrown away.

Sometimes, though, they strike gold. Asked about a pop-music figure who might deserve a biopic, Owen Gleiberman suggests exactly the one I'd most want to see: Marvin Gaye, played by the comparably-inspiring Taye Diggs. I'm not sure I'm ready for Beyoncé Knowles as Tammi Terrell, but I'll be doggone if Morgan Freeman isn't perfect for the vengeful Marvin, Senior: the showdown between Gaye and his dad (you know the story) should be enough to qualify for Oscar® bait. How sweet it is, indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 PM)
16 June 2004
Battlestar Decibella

No way would I allow this mutant '59 Cadillac / 23rd-century sewage-treatment plant / Gatling gone wild on my shelf.

I mean, I'd feel compelled to don body armor whenever I was in the same room with it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:30 PM)
19 June 2004
For your summer reading list

The Rabid Librarian (14 June, 11:27) lists four dozen bizarre but apparently genuine medical texts which are catalogued in the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database. Some of these just demand your attention:

  • Patterson R, Stewart-Patterson C.:  The well-made bed: an unappreciated public health risk.

  • Horseman RE.:  Medical treatment that sucks.

  • Go K.:  Constipation among operating room nurses: flatulence as evidence.

  • Osmun WE, Naugler C.:  The impact of hissy fits in primary care.

  • Wilhite M.:  Chronically dead persons.

  • Muntz HR.:  The use of silly putty as an ear plug.

Collect the whole set.

(Update, 20 June, 8:15 pm: Sya has links to some of the actual documents.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:49 PM)
21 June 2004
We have always been at war with carbohydrates

CT at The Critical 'I' spots something unexpected in the Atkins Diet logo.

Now I'm thoroughly creeped out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:15 PM)
24 June 2004
Bowling for column space

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a marketing phenomenon, says Frances Lee of Case Western Reserve University:

[I]t seems to echo The Passion [of the Christ]: intense enthusiasm, organized groups buying tickets with proselytizing zeal, the sense that one is getting something that corporate America wanted to stifle.

James Joyner has his doubts:

I hereby predict the movie will do far less box office than did The Passion. There are far more evangelical Christians than incredibly fat moonbats.

Moore's last film brought in a shade over $21 million domestically, and almost the same amount overseas; I think Fahrenheit 9/11 will exceed these figures comfortably, though Passion's $370 million ($600 million total) is well out of reach.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:42 AM)
27 June 2004
crazy/beautiful/beyond

There's a shot of Kirsten Dunst in a sundress on the cover of Vogue this month, and the import of this didn't hit me until about 0.4 seconds into the usual perfunctory inspection: migod, she's going to grow up to be Susanna Cornett.

Well, I guess she'd have to pick up a couple dozen IQ points first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
30 June 2004
The leech is back

Medically approved, as a matter of fact.

Hirudo medicinalis has a long, more-or-less respectable history as an instrument of healing, so to speak, and at least two physicians out here in the not-so-wetlands are putting them to good use.

I leave for someone else the task of writing the joke about how the French firm Ricarimpex has received FDA approval to market leeches in the US.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
The new kid-size 2Pac

I actually sort of liked some of the recordings ("tunes" would never do here) by the late Tupac Shakur.

But that doesn't mean I want the guy's thug-life mumblage taught in the schools, fercryingoutloud. If this is poetry, then Little Richard's "Awopbopaloobopawopbamboom" is grand opera.

On the other hand, the Shangri-Las easily qualify as theatre.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
14 July 2004
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)
20 July 2004
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)
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)
21 July 2004
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)
25 July 2004
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)
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)
29 July 2004
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)
30 July 2004
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)
1 August 2004
Once the stuff of dreams

It may not be true that everything old is new again, but I was never comfortable with the idea that everything old was destined for the trash heap.

So I was heartened to see that Susanna Cornett's appreciation of all things Victorian reaches even further than she might have imagined.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:30 AM)
3 August 2004
Quietly into the night sky

During World War I, the Service Flag, known more descriptively as the Blue Star Flag, was seen throughout the land, a simple banner with a blue star representing a family member serving overseas, the blue star replaced by a gold star should he be killed in battle. The practice continues to this day; if you haven't seen one lately, well, this Newsday scribe seems to think we've lost interest in such things:

Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war, it's hard to escape the reality that America doesn't have much stomach for fighting anymore. Support for Operation Iraqi Freedom stood at 76 percent in April 2003, according to Gallup. Today, support has sunk to 47 percent. What's caused that huge drop? Mostly, U.S. fatalities — just over 900. Heck, during the U.S. Civil War, both sides lost many more men than that in single afternoons, and the fighting lasted four years. But today, America finds itself in a "post-heroic" culture, mostly because of small families. To put it starkly, mothers won't part with their only son, who might also be an only child.

Somehow this doesn't seem plausible. A lot of things have happened since, say, the founding of the Gold Star Moms, and decreasing family size is certainly one of them, but I'd argue that diminishing support for the war is at least partly due to the ongoing efforts by papers such as Newsday to make sure we get a steady dose of bad news from Iraq. Some bad news, of course, is inevitable, and not even the most avid hawks will give this operation a grade of A-plus — myself, I'm inclined to award a "gentleman's C" or thereabouts. And if we are indeed in a "post-heroic" culture these days, I suggest it has something to do with the post-World War II fascination with antiheroes, once literary curiosities, now durable archetypes.

Geitner Simmons inquires:

I hadn't heard about the small-families aspect as a factor shaping American public opinion. Is [James P. Pinkerton, the Newsday columnist] on the mark, or is that just op-ed hyperbole?

That, I couldn't tell you. On the other hand, Pinkerton was using this example as an illustration of how our future will be inextricably intertwined with robotics, of all things, so I'm going to assume at least standard fanboy levels of hyperbole.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
8 August 2004
The original Hellfighter

Red Adair, who started out as a roughneck in an Oklahoma oilfield in the Thirties and wound up the go-to guy when your oil or gas well was on fire, died this weekend in Houston at 89.

After World War II, during which he was part of a bomb-disposal unit, Paul N. Adair went to work for Myron Kinley, who had built a business controlling oilfield fires, and set up his own company in 1959. He stayed with it for thirty-five years, taking on the scariest assignments imaginable and inspiring the 1968 film Hellfighters, starring John Wayne and crediting Adair as technical advisor — though it was the Wayne character's assistant, played by Jim Hutton, who proved to be the real hothead on screen.

In 1991, Adair, then seventy-six, was brought in by the Kuwaiti government to tame the dozens of oil wells set ablaze during the Gulf War, a project predicted to last three to five years, which Adair's team finished in less than nine months.

Red Adair feared no fire, on earth or elsewhere; he quipped in 1991 that he'd struck a deal with the devil "to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won't put all the fires out." Myself, I rather think he's gone somewhere with better climate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 PM)
10 August 2004
The sweetness of sixteen

Grameen ("Rural") Bank is an anomaly among financial institutions: 90 percent of its shares are owned by the poor people of Bangladesh whom it serves. (The government in Dhaka owns the remaining ten percent.)

Grameen's specialty is microcredit, and here's how it works:

The assumption is that if individual borrowers are given access to credit, they will be able to identify and engage in viable income-generating activities — simple processing such as paddy husking, lime-making, manufacturing such as pottery, weaving, and garment sewing, storage and marketing and transport services. Women were initially given equal access to the schemes, and proved not only reliable borrowers but astute enterpreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children. Today over 90 percent of borrowers are women.

And the story of one of these women is at the heart of the motion picture 16 Decisions, named for the philosophies underlying Grameen Bank lending. I haven't seen it yet, but Christine has — it's running on the Sundance Channel, which is outside my cable tier for now — and she was moved:

I am both inspired and humbled. Inspired by the many women in Bangladesh who have taken control of their lives and families, not out of the need to be "heard", "recognized" or "validated", but out of sheer necessity and because it's right. And I am humbled by the grace and fortitude that these women exhibit in their every action.

Words to live by, and not just for women either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:01 PM)
11 August 2004
Of crocodiles and cuttlefish

The American Chesterton Society recently made its first-ever pilgrimage to G. K. Chesterton's England, and Dawn Eden was there.

For the most part, she was delighted, though she was dismayed to see a peripheral argument among the pilgrims — whether Shakespeare was a Roman Catholic, of all things — taking center stage. "Somewhere along the way," she says, "the idea of examining and celebrating G. K. Chesterton's life and career got buried." Nonsense in the wrong place? Perhaps.

I rather think she'll have more to say in the next couple of days, but for now, let's welcome her home. (I, of course, followed the other way home: I stayed there.)

(Update, 4:45 pm: Gawker welcomes Dawn home with their infamous Five Questions.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
18 August 2004
Meanwhile at First Baptist

And I mean first; a British archaeologist, after five years of research, has concluded that a cave on the Israeli Kibbutz Tzuba was the base of operations for John the Baptist.

The cave, about two and a half miles from John's birthplace at Ein Kerem, features a pool of water which would be just perfect for, you guessed it, baptism, and art on the cave walls seems to illustrate a Nazarite, which John was.

None of this is necessarily conclusive, but real-world corroborations of Gospel events have been few and far between, and while a certain skepticism is probably healthy at this point, I have a gut feeling (if that's the term) that this might be the real deal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
19 August 2004
That was then - this is coming

Tulsa author S. E. Hinton, who's scarcely been heard from since Taming the Star Runner sixteen years ago, finally has a new novel coming out, and this time it's not aimed at young readers.

Hawkes Harbor, published by New York-based TOR Books, is due 15 September.

Hinton's The Outsiders, published in 1967 while she was still a student at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, is the best-selling young-adult novel of all time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
20 August 2004
Fear strikes out

People, usually well-meaning, will tell you to your face "it's just a number," but every time the Odometer of Life rolls over another digit I feel something of a twinge. (Heaven help us all when it rolls over two digits at once.)

Still, once you've done enough of these, the presumed panic eventually gives way to — a sort of contentment? Michele has calculated that the answer can be 42:

Let's take stock of things here, to give this questionable fear of 42 some context: I love my life. I really like my job and all the people I work with. The thought that I'll be there the rest of my working days does not depress me at all. We just became first time homeowners. In short time, I will be a business owner. My marriage is great. My kids are wonderful. My entire immediate family is healthy. Sure, money is tight, but I've already accepted that will always be the case. I already have everything I need and most things I want. I have wonderful friends. I'm satisfied with what I have done with my life and what I'm doing now. The future looks good.

There's a lower incidence of rose colors in my own spectrum, but this is what I wrote at the moment of fiftyness:

For roughly twenty years, I've been more or less content to go with the flow, to let the chips fall, to pile up the clichés. Something — I'm not sure what — has set up a diversion. Something has changed. And perhaps that's my task for the next five years: to figure out exactly what that something may be.

So I have to clean yet another house, sort through the emotions, the neuroses, the random thoughts, find out what's worth keeping and what can be tossed. It's a scary proposition, to say the least. Yet somehow, I'm not particularly scared.

And maybe, just maybe, that's what's changed. Fear may do you some good when you're younger; at fifty, it's just one more thing that gets in the way.

In retrospect, the fears I had didn't do me much good at all, but it took me entirely too long to start clearing them out.

And actually, forty-two is quite a nice age: still young enough to care about things, but old enough to know when not to give a damn. I have a feeling Michele's going to like it. A lot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
The tao of Popeye

"I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam."

Bruce grasps this concept better than most, or at least better than I do sometimes:

I guess I've always been about "being" and less about "doing".

This is the path of doom. It leads nowhere but here, right where I am, happy with myself but with very little tangible that I can point to as my accomplishments. But I still have acceptance by the people that matter to me the most, and those that couldn't live with my lifestyle have moved on.

You can go on and lead a perfectly happy life always seeking the acceptance of others or society at large, but you'll have to move from one surrogate to another, always climbing to another peak, always looking for a taller one.

When Paramount took over production of the Popeye shorts from the Fleischer studios, they deemphasized his Everyman nature in favor of making him, if not exactly a superhero, certainly larger than life. Even as a kid glued to the television on Saturday morning, I objected to this sort of thing: wasn't life large enough already?

Popeye didn't need to do much. And if he never quite secured the exclusive rights to Olive Oyl, well, he was always able to deal with the occasional spate of Blutality. For him, that was quite enough.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
A small sampling

Michael Blowhard reports from the marketplace:

Women in gourmet food stores are far more likely than men to help themselves to food-goodies as they shop.

I'm inclined to believe it's just as true at more mundane markets; last Wednesday at the neighborhood store, I was in the checkout line behind a woman who had bought a $1.29 bag of chips and had finished off roughly half of them during the five-aisle trip to the register.

She was profusely apologetic, though the clerk seemed more amused than horrified, and I tossed in a remark to the effect that "If they're that good, I should have bought some of them instead of [holding up bag] this."

More often, though, it's half-empty 20-ounce beverage bottles.

(Update, 21 August, 8 pm: Syaffolee says: "The problem, in my mind, is the reason [Blowhard and yours truly] think women do this. It is not about a woman's attitude toward food. It's about control.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
24 August 2004
Hey Craz!

If you're of a certain age, you hear Jackie Gleason as Joe the Bartender, calling offstage to Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim, and then going through some of the oldest shtick in the vaudevillian's trunk.

And very likely, you loved it. I did. Larry Miller did. And you were always amazed at how that ancient lush was able to turn off the tics and the popping eyes and the slurred speech just long enough to sing one of the Old Songs exactly the way it was supposed to be sung, only better.

He may have been a lush, perhaps, but he wasn't ancient: in 1962, when Gleason signed him up for his variety show, Frank Fontaine was only forty-two. He sang because he'd always sung; he'd fronted Vaughn Monroe's big band in the Forties before discovering that he could also be funny.

Today, it takes two parts snark, one part misplaced irony, and two parts loudness, blended not especially well, to produce a unit of Standard Comedy Product. Sometimes it's even amusing. But more often than not, I'm wondering just where the change came, and just who it was who decided that the proper place for comedy was right in the audience's face.

Probably the same guy who decided that the Old Songs should be warehoused at the museum, I guess.

(Courtesy of Dawn Eden, who wasn't there, but who understands just the same.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:58 AM)
25 August 2004
Fare imbalanced

The Free Speech Film Club at the Norman Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1309 West Boyd, has reportedly booked a screening of Robert Greenwald's documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, tomorrow evening at 7 pm.

So says the Oklahoma Gazette, anyway; neither the Fellowship nor the official screenings list has a Web reference to it. I'd make sure it was really there before driving over to Norman; the Gazette is usually pretty reliable about these things, but things can change in a hurry around here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
29 August 2004
Whip it good

Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, making a possibly-idle threat:

Laura Riccio thinks that even if we don't have a horse, we have reasons to bring out the whips:

I'd guess most would think it barbaric, and in a way it is, I suppose. However, I think we underestimate the barbaricity of the alternative that seems to be our society's replacement punishment for such crimes. Incarceration itself, of course, is also not pleasant to endure, especially for prolonged periods (i.e., more than "until you calm down", as parents are fond of saying), and I think it would take a bit of argument to justify the proposition that, say, a year in prison is any less cruel than thirty lashes.

And that's not the only selling point, either:

It would cost us, as a society, far far less to administer than long-term incarceration. I haven't priced horsewhips lately, but I bet they're well under $35,000 per thirty lashes.

Easily. I say, let's do it in memory of Groucho.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:40 PM)
30 August 2004
A screaming comes across the screen

When I was much younger, I read V. and The Crying of Lot 49, which managed to persuade me that Thomas Pynchon was some kind of weird virtuoso, man; I've got to see what comes next.

What came next was Gravity's Rainbow, which shared the National Book Award in 1974. (A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer was the other laureate.) Gravity's Rainbow "puts the world of manipulation and paranoia within the perspectives of history," said Ralph Ellison at the NBA ceremony that year, and maybe it does, but it's as thick and impenetrable as the hull of a German V2 rocket.

I was twenty-two when I first tackled this book, and I've made three subsequent tries; I got through it completely only once. I rather think I've discharged any obligation I may have had to this book. Syaffolee, in her twenties, is even less impressed:

Every two pages, I wanted to scream and hurl the book hard enough that it would crash through the wall and conk the person next door unconscious. What was Pynchon thinking? Or more accurately, he wasn't thinking at all. If this book was a person, it would be an automaton with all the grey (and white) matter blown away except for the brain stem. On the surface it's just one big phallic metaphor as obvious as a guy with a tent in his pants. Look deeper and you might as well go insane by gazing into an encyclopedic Pandora's box. Don't try this one out unless you're a masochist who enjoys painful lobotomies over a nice relaxing weekend.

On the upside, I did manage to work "Tyrone Slothrop" into my late-Eighties list of suitable noms de screen, though it was never received as well as, for instance, Patty O'Furniture.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
6 September 2004
Curves ahead

I've met the Queen of All Evil, and she in no way resembles the strange denizens of Flatland.

I mention this because the Queen's consort has an interesting piece up about the disconnect between the underfed wraiths who are supposed to be the very model of a modern female beauty queen and the actual women we encounter in Real Life.

Besides, he invokes both ancient Greek sculpture and the neoclassical paintings of William Bouguereau, which proves he's serious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
What it takes to make a pro blush

Costa at Population Statistic meets a cute girl in a bar who may or may not have had Greta Garbo's standoff sighs.

Of such encounters are legends made.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:57 AM)
8 September 2004
Wedlock is a padlock

R&B fans may recognize the title as that of a recording by Laura Lee, whose biggest hit (Hot Wax 7105, 1971) was called "Women's Love Rights." It's been a recurrent theme in feminism for many years; starting a lecture tour in Australia, author Germaine Greer said that the high divorce rate was something to be celebrated:

The big change is the divorce rate. Exactly the thing that people tear their hair out about is exactly the thing I am very proud of. But life for these women is very difficult. The price of their liberty has been taking on a massive amount of toil.

And why might that be?

This is because women misunderstand the corporate world. They think you are meant to work in the corporate world, when you are in fact meant to take credit for other people's work.

Oh.

How this connects to Greer's announced topic for the day — "Shakespeare and sexual difference" — I'm not in a position to explain.

I will point out, though, that the very same Laura Lee LP which features "Wedlock Is a Padlock" also contains a mournful version of the standard "Since I Fell For You." All together now:

When you just give love, and never get love,
You'd better let love depart.
I know it's so, and yet I know,
I can't get you out of my heart.

You made me leave my happy home,
You took my love, and now you've gone,
Since I fell for you.

How, um, empowering.

(Via The Currency Lad)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 AM)
11 September 2004
Drive through, please

I worked at Mickey D's in the early Seventies, and, well, I don't remember anything like this: Playboy is putting together a pictorial of women who work at McDonald's.

Hmmm. Maybe I will have fries with that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 PM)
14 September 2004
HD BFD

John Cole reports that the following look better, or at least as good, on high-definition television:

  1. Natalie Portman
  2. Heather Locklear
  3. Jennifer Garner
  4. Beyoncé Knowles
  5. All female cast members of NBC's Las Vegas
  6. Nature, in particular oceanography
  7. All sports

The following, however, are not improved:

All people who are not Natalie Portman, Heather Locklear, Jennifer Garner, or Beyoncé Knowles.

It is, of course, reassuring to know that John Cole has his priorities in order, but this isn't, at least to me, a compelling reason to spend the extra bucks for HDTV.

Yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:56 PM)
20 September 2004
The Wintour of our desk content

"Save this portion for your tax records," said the subscription offer: "The cost of this subscription may be tax-deductible when used in business/professional purposes. Consult your tax preparer."

Well, I understand the premise here, but I did consult my tax preparer, which is myself, and I told me that there was no way I could justify deducting a subscription to Vogue.

Besides, the Fall Fashion issue (September), which averages over 700 pages, would never fit through my mail slot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 AM)
21 September 2004
Put on your high-heeled sneakers

Dawn Eden doesn't have much nice to say about Sex and the City, and given her priorities in life, there's no reason she should.

Still, the former HBO series did have some impact on popular culture, to the extent that it's had some small but measurable effect on women's shoes, pushing them a notch or two in the direction of sheer frivolity. Not that I'm inclined to complain — I get to look, I don't have to wear — but the laws of physics sooner or later will overrule the demands of fashion.

Much later, if you're Syaffolee:

I wear running shoes approximately 99.9% of the time that I am wearing shoes.

There's a lot to be said for stability.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
22 September 2004
Calling all wordsmiths

New York's Algonquin Hotel, hoping to restore its reputation as a gathering place for the literati, has reopened its Oak Room with a brand-new Round Table.

Like the original Round Table around which the likes of Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley traded quips, the new Table is rectangular, and there's an ancient Underwood typewriter on hand in case of inspiration — though there's also a Wi-Fi hotspot, should the inspired be ready to upload on a moment's notice.

Among those attending the opening of the new Round Table were Nat Benchley, grandson of Robert; Kevin Fitzpatrick, president of the Dorothy Parker Society of New York; and Anthony Adams, son of FPA (Franklin Pierce Adams).

I wonder if Dawn Eden will be dropping by for the occasional luncheon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
23 September 2004
If you blink, you miss it

Courtesy of Always Victoria, some indications you might be from a small town:

  • Third Street is on the edge of town.

  • You don't signal turns because everyone knows where you're going, anyway.

  • Running from the cops consists of hiding in the cornfield.

  • Anyone you want can be found at either the Dairy Queen or the feed store.

  • The closest McDonald's is 45 miles away.

  • So is the closest mall.

  • Being able to hit a road sign with a beer bottle while driving down the highway is considered a necessary skill.

And, of course, many, many more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
King Leer

Roger Ebert was, and is, quite unapologetic about having written the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, so you can be sure that the one commentary on the death of Russ Meyer that I wanted to read was Roger Ebert's farewell in the Chicago Sun-Times.

I've seen only a smattering of Meyer's oeuvre, but what I've seen is fascinating; yes, these are skin flicks in the classic sense, but in these skin flicks the women hold all the cards, control all the scenes.

And anyway, you gotta love a director (he deserved, but probably would have shunned, the term "auteur") who, upon being asked where he found all these implausibly bosomy actresses, explained that beyond a certain cup size, they find him.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:05 PM)
24 September 2004
They said so

"Who says so?"

"You know. They say so."

"And who are They?"

[We pause here to allow surly grammarians to pop a Xanax.]

"They" is the Missouri inventor formerly known as Andrew Wilson, who last week was granted permission by a circuit judge to change his name to simply "They."

They is 43, lives near Branson, and holds more than a dozen patents; They's latest product is Shades Eyewear, sunglasses with an integral visor, which should make They a lot of money.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
25 September 2004
Where the melting pot works

"It's an American dream," said Eric Burdon; "includes Indians too."

And many, many more, as Susanna Cornett notes in a lovely tale of a Chinese restaurant in Alabama where the dream is very real.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
26 September 2004
Aw, nuts

I'm kind of sorry I missed this; I'm sure I would have had a ball.

(From Good Grief! Does this blog make my butt look big? via deblog)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:40 PM)
27 September 2004
Tonight's the night

27 September 1954, New York City. A new television show, and host Steve Allen is warning the audience: "This show will go on forever."

Fifty years later, it looks like Steve was right.

I just wish NBC would do more to celebrate the anniversary of what has been arguably its most influential program.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
28 September 2004
Sprawl for one, and one for sprawl

It was probably inevitable: someone has come up with a study which purports to show that urban sprawl is a health issue, that people who live in the 'burbs are susceptible to varying illnesses because, well, they drive everywhere, befouling the air and depriving themselves of the joys of walking all over the place.

The proponents admit that they weren't able to find any increase in mental illness in suburbia, and they seem almost disappointed about it. But considering the folks who move out there in the first place — they tend to have higher incomes, to distrust city school systems, and worst of all, to be white — it's pretty clear what the real problem is: the suburbs are a breeding ground for Republicans, and obviously this sort of thing must be discouraged by any means necessary.

(Via Jeff Jarvis, who notes: "Yesterday's 'sprawl' is today's 'preservation' project.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
5 October 2004
From a Tallahassee lassie

If these apply to you, you just might be a Floridian.

  • You exhibit a slight twitch when introduced to anyone with the first names of Charley, Frances, Ivan or Jeanne.

  • Your freezer never has more than $20 worth of food in it at any given time.

  • You're looking at paint swatches for the plywood on your windows to accent the house color.

  • You think of your hall closet/saferoom as "cozy."

  • Your pool is more accurately described as "framed in" than "screened in."

  • Your freezer in the garage now has only homemade ice in it.

  • You no longer worry about relatives visiting during the summer months.

  • You, too, haven't heard back from the insurance adjuster.

  • You now understand what that little "2% hurricane deductible" phrase really means.

  • You're putting together a collage on your driveway of roof shingles from your neighborhood.

  • You were once proud of your 16" electric chainsaw.

  • You now own 5 large ice chests.

  • You recognize people in line at the free ice, gas and plywood locations.

  • You stop what you're doing and clap and wave when you see a convoy of power company trucks come down your street.

  • You're depressed when they don't stop.

  • You have the personal cell phone numbers of the managers for plywood, roofing supplies and generators at Home Depot on your speed dialer.

  • You've spent more than $20 on "tall white kitchen bags" to make your own sand bags.

  • You're considering upgrading your 16" to a 20" chainsaw.

  • You know what "bar chain oil" is.

  • You're thinking of getting your wife the hardhat with the ear protector and face shield for your anniversary.

  • You now think the $6,000 whole house generator seems reasonable.

  • You look forward to discussions about the merits of "cubed, block and dry ice."

  • You ask your family and friends up north to start saving the Sunday Real Estate classifieds.

You know, Tornado Alley doesn't seem so bad all of a sudden.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:01 AM)
It wasn't easy being him

A moment of silence, please, for Rodney Dangerfield, who died today in Los Angeles at the age of eighty-two.

Out of respect, of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 PM)
8 October 2004
Have you matriculated today?

There's a new scholarship at Michigan State University, available to a student of color who qualifies as lesbian, bisexual, gay or transsexual. Lajoya Johnson, who arranged for the scholarship and is now raising funds for it, says she hopes the scholarship will help make more LBGT students of color want to come to East Lansing. (I always thought the abbreviation was GLBT, but then I'm out of the loop on matters of this sort.)

This sort of thing is fine with me; I mean, a perfunctory search through some schools' financial-aid offices will turn up scholarships with requirements even more specific than just being nonwhite and nonstraight, and I'm not about to complain about them. I did, however, find something odd in this comment by the university's LBGT rep:

There's a reality that for some students, if they choose to be out and open about their identity, often risk being cut off by their families of origin. The burden of tuition and room and board then falls solely on their shoulders.

Which is no doubt true, but: families of origin? Didn't all of us (Adam and Eve excepted) originate in families? What did I miss here?

Meanwhile, Dawn Eden proposes sauce for the gander:

I would love to start a scholarship for heterosexual students. With a 4.0 grade average, of course. There could be an underprivileged 16-year-old girl in Michigan right now who wants to go to MSU, but can't get a scholarship because she's attracted to boys. This injustice must stop.

I suspect this would go over better than, say, if I proposed to endow a chair in NASCAR Studies at Bryn Mawr, but the world continues to surprise me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Melts in your mouth, not on your screen

Mike Horshead researches a question it didn't occur to you or me to ask: What is the correct pronunciation of M & M?

Don't laugh. This is undoubtedly a matter of serious interest in Hackettstown and along 8 Mile Road.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:38 AM)
10 October 2004
Hit the road, Jacques

The death of French philosopher Jacques Derrida reminded me of this January 2003 piece wherein I tried to find some common ground between deconstructionism and the blog technique known as "fisking."

Since undoubtedly Derrida will be mourned in academic circles, I'm happy to reprint this observation in NRO by Mark Goldblatt on the arrival of a documentary film about Derrida, which inspired my original post in the first place. (I didn't quote as much of it the first time around.)

[H]e is not now, nor has he ever been, a philosopher in any recognizable sense of the word, nor even a trafficker in significant ideas; he is rather a intellectual con artist, a polysyllabic grifter who has duped roughly half the humanities professors in the United States — a species whose gullibility ranks them somewhere between nine-year-old boys listening to spooky campfire stories and blissful puppies chasing after nonexistent sticks — into believing that postmodernism has an underlying theoretical rationale. History will remember Derrida, and it surely will, not for what he himself has said but for what his revered status says about us.

(Adjustment of hat angle motivated by Michelle Malkin.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 AM)
Half verbal, so to speak

I've always suspected that the SAT is important largely because ETS says it is, and I'd take these numbers with a grain of salt even if they didn't come with the disclaimer that "many of these scores are unverified."

For the record, I took it twice in high school, back in the Pleistocene era, and both times I scored between Scott McNealy and Rush Limbaugh.

(Via Bill Quick, who scored similarly.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:12 PM)
12 October 2004
Not just a hat

A fellow named Pouncer left this as a comment at Stephen Green's place, and it's as good an explanation as I expect to see about how it is that some of us, George W. Bush included, don't get upset by the presumably-derisive use of the term "cowboy":

[T]he image I want the world to have of Americans in general and the US President in particular, the image that matters, the image they should understand is the image of the movie cowboy.

A cowboy can take the first punch without falling down, but then he wins the fight.

A cowboy fights fair — he doesn't respond to a punch by drawing his pistol.

But a cowboy doesn't wait for his opponent to "clear leather", either. If somebody "goes for the gun" the movie cowboy draws quicker, aims straighter, and amazes the onlookers with the awesome precision of his gun-handling.

A movie cowboy knows that sometimes, sadly, the sheriff is in league with the cattle baron or other forces of evil. Sometimes a cowboy has to choose between obeying the law, submitting to authority — or doing the right thing. In such circumstances the cowboy spits upon the law — he always chooses to do the right thing. (Speaking of spitting: A cowboy's attitude toward tobacco, liquor, guns — and morphine — isn't founded firmly on legalities, either.)

The movie cowboy doesn't really want to live in town and be sheriff for a timid bunch of fat bankers, gimpy bartenders, slick gamblers, scruffy miners and painted dance-hall girls. He'd like nothing better than to hand over the badge to somebody else — and ride on in pursuit of the next frontier. But there are kids, and the schoolmarm, the circuit-riding preacher and that youngster in the general store with the dime novel in his pocket, a .22 in his saddle holster and a dangerously quixotic gleam in his eye ... so a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

A cowboy may surprise you with a quote from the King James Bible or a line or two from Shakespeare. His faith is deeper than he lets on. His appreciation of bawdy entertainments is raucous. But in either case, alone by the watchfire or by a dim and flaring lamp, the movie cowboy is liable to pull a battered book from his pockets to engage in a dialog with minds of generations gone, seeking lessons worthy to pass on to his own descendants.

You can have your ninja, your samurai, your viking, your paladin, your land-knecht, your vandal, hun, mongol, visigoth or aristocratic serf-abusing religous crusader rampaging back and forth across Eurasia looting and plundering, raping, pillaging, impaling, crucifying, enslaving, did I mention raping?, burning starving and destroying the very civilisations and societies that engendered them — all to the merry madrigals of the bards paid to spin the history. Fine. Great. That foreign shit can make for dandy movies, too.

Like, when Bing Crosby shows up — whistling — as the Connecticut Cowboy, er, Yankee in King Arthur's court — who shows the knights-on-horseback how to use a lasso... and a revolver.

Yeah, even Connecticut! Birth place of the Shrub. Cowboys aren't just Texans, y'all. Ever see the movie where James Garner teaches the natives how to ranch — teaches 'em in Hawaii? Do you have any idea how much beef is raised in New Jersey, New York, and New Hampshire? That you can walk into shops from Key West to Whidbey Island and buy boots, spurs, a hat — and yes, a six-gun?

Yeah, the image is important. We're cowboys, and they can call us that.

But they'd better be smiling when they do...

Thank you, Pouncer. (And thanks to Mark Twain, for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, a book which I have read somewhere between twenty and sixty times in the last 50 years.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
16 October 2004
A question for the ages

Well, not all ages, obviously:

Within 10 years there will probably be software that can merge photos and voices with movies. The most common use of this would probably be for [word excised from original to thwart Googlers, but it rhymes with "corn"]. Consumers would use the program to merge photos of celebrities or acquaintances with a [same word, used as an adjective] movie to create [same word, a noun this time] that stars whoever it is they lust after. Naturally, many people would be unhappy knowing they are depicted in home sex movies. Imagine that Congress decides to prohibit the distribution of the software. Do you think the law should be upheld, and if so, on what grounds?

An idea by Eugene Volokh, from the draft of a textbook on the First Amendment, as quoted (except as noted) in the Marginalia section of Playboy (November 2004).

(For myself, I think the most immediate effect of the development of this theoretical software is that bloggers of the female persuasion would quit posting pictures of themselves. Damn the bad luck.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:24 PM)
19 October 2004
One more for the book basket

It's called School Work: How Two Grumpy Optimists Started a Successful Charter School (now how can you resist a title like that?), it's being published by Palgrave Macmillan, and it's written by columnist-turned-blogger Joanne Jacobs.

There are, of course, Uncomfortable Realities:

The advance is pathetically small, so if I make any money from the book it will come from royalties, which I'll have to generate by relentless self-promotion. With the help of my blogger buddies, I hope. Anyone who's a close personal friend of Oprah, drop me a line.

I don't know Oprah from Uma (yeah, right), but this is a book I will definitely have to read, which means that I'll actually have to buy a copy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
23 October 2004
Many tongues, some forks

During his tour of the Pacific Rim earlier this month, French President Jacques Chirac, anxious to get in a few shots at the Americans, was quoted as follows:

There is a tendency towards a prevailing Anglo-Saxon culture which eclipses the others. If we accepted our American friends' ideas, there would quite quickly be only one form of cultural expression, and all the others would be stifled to the sole benefit of American culture.

"Nothing would be worse for humanity," said Chirac, "than if there were only one language." Especially if that language were English, I suspect.

Reality intrudes, however, even into Gallic machinations, and a government review of the French education system calls for all students to study English, which is, after all, the language of "international communication." Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the French Prime Minister, reportedly favors the change, but M. Raffarin isn't in a position to dictate the terms, and a deputy within Raffarin's UMP party, Jacques Myard, has come up with what might be considered an alternative approach:

English is the most-spoken language today, but that won't last? If we must make a language compulsory, it should be Arabic.

However, Greg Hlatky replies that they won't have to:

With Europe's trends, learning Arabic will soon be made compulsory for you.

I suppose we can start to worry when l'Académie française opens up an Arabic annex.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:18 AM)
24 October 2004
Make mine vanilla

The very Piquant Sheila admits that, by some people's reckoning, she's not all that spicy after all:

I am Caucasian. Certain parts of my body are so pasty white that I could apply as a stand-in for the Pillsbury Doughboy. I am heterosexual, and I'm sure my husband is quite pleased with that turn of events. I am female, another thing that pleases my husband no end. My lineage isn't chic — half Cajun, part Native American, Irish, and Scottish — which doesn't qualify for affirmative action or government programs. I am not a minority. I am not "oppressed" or maligned. I don't use hyphens to describe myself. I'm not a this or a that American.

Know what that makes me? A plain vanilla milkshake. Not some exotic Starbuck's concoction, which is damned depressing in this climate of whining, gimme gimme gimme Nanny State government. I feel left out.

And that's only the beginning.

Allow me to point out, however, that in the Real World, vanilla is highly prized and very expensive, and that most people settle for an inferior imitation thereof.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:46 AM)
25 October 2004
Tie a purple ribbon 'round the redbud tree

Have you finally given up on keeping track of which colored ribbon represents what cause? Jeff Jarvis can help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 AM)
Fenway 6:9-13

If you'd asked me right after game three of the American League Championship Series — making the larger assumption that I might still have been awake at that hour, which frankly would have been a hell of a lot to assume — I would have told you in so many words that "The Red Sox don't have a prayer."

And obviously I would have been wrong, too.

(Via Accidental Verbosity.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:16 PM)
26 October 2004
It's the unreal thing

The difference between Diet Sprite® and Diet Sprite Zero®?

Zero.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
27 October 2004
Will it ever end?

Forrest Covington at The Muse at Sunset notes that it's not just popular-music types who are contributing to the polarization of the nation:

This whole election, actually the last four years since the last election, political stridency has spilled over like a toxic oil slick into areas of life hitherto uncorrupted. A lot of artist types have helped exacerbate the trend, mostly pop musicians and "actorvists", but some of the more "serious" types have offended as well. I recall especially Stockhausen's bizarre remark that September 11th was a "work of art".

[Insert "Karlheinz" joke here.]

Less than a week before the election, and already I wish 2008 was over and done with. One tradition — that of the gracious loser — was basically stomped to death four years ago; I shudder to imagine the next victim.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
28 October 2004
Well, it isn't Space Invaders

Or is it? Dawn Eden finds a Planned Parenthood videogame, and it supports the organization's apparent belief that missile command is too much to expect from joystick owners.

The title is "Birthcontroids," and that's just the beginning:

It sounds like a combination of birth control and hemorrhoids, which is appropriate, as the butt-ugly graphics seem to come from Uranus, and Planned Parenthood is, as usual, talking out of its Asteroids.

If you believe that the increasing sexualization of adolescence inevitably mars the experience — or even if you don't — you simply have to see this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
2 November 2004
Out of the mouths of babes

Em describes her first vote, at age 3:

After [Mom] finished, we went over to the pint-sized voting machine that was set up for all the kids who came with their parents. You could cast a vote for George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.

I took the poker for my punch card ballot, and carefully weighed my options. This was serious business, after all. After a minute of reading, however, I realized that something was wrong with my ballot. I turned to my mom and asked, "Mom? Where's Geraldine Ferraro?"

Good question. Where is Geraldine Ferraro these days, anyway?

(Via Em's big sister Erica, also a babe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:46 PM)
6 November 2004
Digital rights mismanagement

Costa Tsiokos considers the freebie CD packed with the November issue of Wired and points out one potential stumbling block for Creative Commons licensing:

[T]he makeup of the disc is a perfect example of the marginal support the Creative Commons scheme can expect to receive. Major acts like the [Beastie Boys] can afford to lend their support, because they've already made their money from their years of work in the "old" music business. Obscure and unsigned acts latch on strictly as a way to gain wider exposure and dissemination of their work.

Yet as a showcase, the Wired CD doesn't show much. Tracks that wouldn't make the final cut on moneymaker albums? It gives Creative Commons a poor image.

I haven't played that disc yet, but I can see where this leads. And a two-tier copyright system, with some works protected under the traditional system and others released to Creative Commons, is very likely, I think, to result in exactly this reaction to most potential purchasers: "He must not think much of it if he's letting it go out like that." Cynicism of the marketplace? Maybe. But it's the marketplace that rules in these matters.

For the record, stuff on this site is covered under traditional copyright, though the 1998 revisions to the federal copyright act motivated me to repudiate all extensions beyond the Berne Convention's provision of protection for 50 years following the death of the author — like all this stuff isn't already forgotten while I'm still alive, fercryingoutloud.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:42 PM)
7 November 2004
That '70s smarm

Do you live in a room like this?

Here we have a mix of old green crap, new green crap, and some stunning green transitional crap, all of which serve to give this room the exhausted, mealy flavor of overcooked vegetables.

If you must see this — and trust me, you must — well, it's Lileks. Do you need another reason?

Of course you don't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:44 PM)
9 November 2004
I [snicker at] Huckabees

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and his lovely bride are apparently about to convert their Arkansawyer-Standard Marriage to one of those newfangled Covenant Marriages, as described here.

I'm torn on this particular issue. On the one hand, I am not overly fond of divorce, having gone through one myself, and I've been persuaded for some time that the grounds for divorce in this state are perhaps a bit on the lax side. (Contrary to popular belief, failing to cover the spread at OU-Texas is not considered legal grounds in Oklahoma.) But I'm not so sure that the answer lies in creating a two-tier system: some people may want a double-secret-probationary marriage, and I'm the last person in the world to want to dictate the vows they should take, but if we have a second class of marriage, we don't have much of an argument should some future legislature want to create a third, or a fourth, or a sixty-ninth. In 2002, the Oklahoma legislature considered a measure of this sort, but House and Senate versions could not be reconciled, and the bill was killed.

Rita notes that only about 600 couples have taken this step since Arkansas' covenant-marriage act was enacted in 2001; I'm surprised there have been that many. Governor Huckabee would like to see a thousand couples taking part in the conversion ceremony in North Little Rock on (gag) Valentine's Day.

Maybe what really bugs me about this whole business is this: If a couple really, truly wants a stronger commitment than usual, and is willing to forgo what protections (if that's the word) are offered by way of divorce, do they really need a law to back them up? Try as I may, I can't help but see an element of gimmickry here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
10 November 2004
Where the cheapskates are (the sequel)

The Catalogue for Philanthropy has issued its new Generosity Index, which this year, much like last year, argues that blue-state residents are chintzier than folks in the red states. Michelle Malkin breaks it down by electoral-vote winner. And Oklahoma, fourth last year, has moved up to third.

Before anyone goes into full-fledged Gloat Mode, I should point out that questions exist about the methodology used to calculate the Index. This not being my area of expertise, I suggest caution before using these findings to flay your stingy neighbors.

(Tilt of the shawl to Susanna Cornett.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:22 PM)
12 November 2004
Hope I die before I get arthritis

Oops, too late.

Meanwhile, Michele wants an upper age limit on rock performers on stage:

Is there anyone out there who still wants to stare at David Lee Roth's crotch as he attempts a balls-defying split? In leather pants? Hey, these guys can make all the records they want, but I think we need to put a stop to the full-on stadium shows the Viagra generation of rock stars are still putting on. Fifty year old men should not be singing lyrics like She said 'I'll show you how to fax / In the mailroom, honey / And have you home by five' to throngs of barely dressed, barely teen girls. Fifty year old men should not be stomping around a stage in ten inch heels and make up while exhorting the crowd to rock and roll all night and party every day. It's just wrong.

Actually, the part that hurts is this one:

Some day the old guy at the end of the bar will accept the fact that he just doesn't have it anymore. I'll kind of miss him winking at me, but we'll always have the jukebox.

With my luck, it will be packed with disco.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
15 November 2004
Tinseltown rebellion

The Hollywood creative community, when it's not providing a working definition of the term "oxymoron," is lamenting the inexplicable failure of the majority of American voters to embrace their particular brand of politics. Joanne Ostrow in The Denver Post reports:

"The Hollywood community is incredibly distraught about the election results," said Vanessa Taylor, co-creator and co-executive producer of the WB's Jack & Bobby. "I'd say we're in a state of shocked disappointment."

As distinguished, I suppose, from disappointed shock.

Among writer-producers, Taylor said, "People are saying, 'Should I go work for Planned Parenthood or write my feature film?"' Her attitude is, "If you've got a pulpit at all, use it."

Now that's the sort of 120-degree career change I can't imagine. I mean, Planned Parenthood? Don't they already have enough media mouthpieces? And you know these self-described creative types aren't going to settle for mere scut work like, say, the fetus-disposal unit.

So expect the television schedule to be cluttered with more and more Very Special Episodes devoted to Hollywood's ideas of social injustice, and expect the ratings to continue to fall — and expect George W. Bush to get the blame.

Cable, Ostrow notes, doesn't whine as much as broadcast:

"Our strategy is not going to change at all," said FX spokesman Jon Solberg. FX's cutting-edge fare does very well in the red states as well as in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Season One of the plastic-surgery drama "Nip/Tuck" scored higher ratings in Oklahoma City than in New York or Los Angeles. "There is no measurable skew between red and blue states," said John Landgraf, FX president of entertainment.

Tell that to Vanessa Taylor. Five will get you ten she'll come back with something like, "Oh, well, FX, they're a Fox network," her glossy lower lip quivering in contempt.

As a non-creative person — okay, I've written a few hundred thousand words here, and I did once get what looked like an actual offer to work on a series pilot — I'm not allowed to say these things, but I'm going to say them anyway:

1.  Social relevance plus crap equals socially-relevant crap. A story doesn't gain in importance just because it's been overlaid with someone's political agenda.

2.  Karl Rove did not send you a memo on what you can and cannot say. Neither did John Ashcroft, and neither will Alberto Gonzales.

3.  Complaints from the audience do not constitute censorship. Freedom of speech does not guarantee that everyone will just sit there, smiling, whispering "Oh, that's so true."

I could go on, but why bother? Hollywood listens only to Hollywood, unless someone in New York is signing the checks.

(Via Dawn Eden, who isn't signing any checks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
16 November 2004
Reefer modness

In Beach Party? Is this even possible?

Donna says yes, and she has the screen captures to prove it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
17 November 2004
Holy mackerel, Batman

Last time I had dinner with Fritz Schranck, we had seafood. And it was darn good, too.

I would expect, therefore, that Fritz would take a dim view of PETA's latest folly, and sure enough, he does:

Fish are admittedly interesting and fascinating. They also taste great when they're broiled, with a little butter, salt, pepper, and dill weed.

The crux of the PETA argument, per Bruce Friedrich, director of "vegan outreach":

No one would ever put a hook through a dog's or cat's mouth. Once people start to understand that fish, although they come in different packaging, are just as intelligent, they'll stop eating them.

Uh, yeah, right. Fritz?

Neither dogs nor cats are generally accepted as potential dinners by most Americans. On the other hand, for thousands of years pigs have been generally accepted as far more intelligent creatures than either Fido or Tabby. For those same thousands of years, humans have also managed to find ways to eat just about every cubic inch of a domesticated hog.

I'm thinking that Mr Friedrich's insistence on the intelligence of fish is based entirely upon the fact that they are occasionally found in schools.

And, as Dawn Eden says, "If they're so smart, how come they get caught?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

The Mad Hibernian wonders if that's all there is:

American conservatives rage against the liberal leanings of The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, the wire services and the major networks, among others. Still, the alternatives tend to be obviously conservative-leaning outlets, such as FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, New York Post or talk radio. They all have their uses, but is anyone actually in the middle? For those, on either side, who don't like to live in an echo chamber, there is kind of a missing market. Or, in reality, is being truly "fair and balanced" just a pipe dream?

The facile answer: USA Today, which the Hibernian himself cites in his previous paragraph. But USA Today, still reviled by many as "McPaper," is taken far less seriously than any of the outlets which list either left or right — not, I suspect, because of any perceived neutrality, but simply because it doesn't do the sort of long "think" pieces that some people associate with so-called Good Journalism. Indeed, one of NPR's major selling points during semiannual pledge drives is that it does interminably-long stories.

Which invites another question: does digging deeper into a story inevitably open the door to bias? Can you do, say, two paragraphs perfectly even-handedly, only to let your feelings creep into the picture somewhere in the middle of the third? (I'm not saying that this is the average, only that each writer may have a threshold of his own.)

And while I don't buy the notion that everyone in this polarized age is way out there on the edge of the spectrum and no one is in the middle, I do think most people tilt slightly in one direction or another, and to the extent they recognize that tilt — and to the extent that choices are available — they tend to select media outlets that run more or less parallel to that tilt. If choices aren't available (American cities, except for the very largest, tend to have only a single local daily paper, for instance), the tendency is to take what's there and filter according to perceived need.

In some ways, this is no answer at all: "fair and balanced" is in the eye of the beholder. Still, I can't think of any reason why I'd want it anywhere else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 PM)
19 November 2004
Inconsistent adherent

As a donor to the local classical-music station, I was entitled to one of their bumper stickers, which duly arrived yesterday. I did not actually put it on my car, which bears no such indicia, not even the AAA oval.

But I'm wondering if maybe I should. Generally, when I listen to this station is when I'm at my desk at work, when I need the relatively placid sounds to offset the chaos around me. (Seriously. I mean, even The Rite of Spring is soothing in the context of 42nd and Treadmill.) In the car, I tend to crank up noises which are loud and have three, maybe four chords. Someone stuck behind me in the usual May Avenue melee might suffer some serious cognitive dissonance were he to notice the sticker, pull up alongside, listen for Ravel, and get an earful of Ramones.

Just a thought.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
Halleludicrousness

Regular readers, assuming any remain, will be familiar with Dawn Eden, from whom I crib a great deal of material; beyond the simple fact that more often than not I approach this screen with absolutely no idea what I'm going to type and therefore need all the inspiration I can get, I can count on her for a thoughtful, if occasionally heated, consideration of whatever issue has drawn her attention, and very often we find ourselves thinking along parallel — if not necessarily identical — lines. (This is not to say that I'm trying to bring myself more into line with her dating desiderata or anything; it's simply a fact.)

Her New York Post op-ed on the decision by Columbia High School administration to reduce its holiday-music program to the lowest common denominator is of course critical, but there's one paragraph in the middle that really struck a chord. Describing her own days at Columbia, she writes:

Performing in front of the townspeople, I also learned something about the power of inspirational music to bring people together. I knew that the lyrics about the Messiah weren't about my religion's Messiah. Yet I couldn't help but be moved at how Handel's intensely beautiful music, sung by teenagers in intricate four-part harmony, had such an uplifting effect on the listerners, many also not Christian. It was an awesome thing to sing the opening notes of the "Hallelujah Chorus" and see the entire audience rise as one.

This was in the 1980s. Today, the default assumption is that any reference to some religion other than your own — if any — is somehow exclusionary, even coercive. What have we gained? Is anyone other than Michael Newdow happy at the prospect of confining everyone to his own personal spiritual pigeonhole, lest he be exposed to Something Unfamiliar? When did we become the (Sort Of) United Solipsists of America?

Once again, the nebulous desire for "diversity" brings us closer to cultural Balkanization. The melting pot has been replaced, not with a salad bar, but with a row of safety-deposit boxes. And we are the poorer for it.

(Update, 8:15 am: My favorite atheist understands just fine.)

(Update, 11:00 am: The Barista of Bloomfield Ave. digs up the official policy of the South Orange/Maplewood school district [link requires Adobe Reader; the pertinent section is 2270, starting on page 12].)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 AM)
22 November 2004
Red vs Blue with a Golden overlay

Now here's a premise for a "reality" TV show that has some serious potential, courtesy of Lynn S.:

Pick a small group of students — say, two male and two female — from Berkeley and two male and two female students from Oral Roberts University and have them switch places for a whole semester. Pick only juniors and seniors so they would already be fully immersed in their own school's culture.

And then stand back and watch their brains explode them have to deal with levels of cognitive dissonance that scare even me.

I'd watch this. Wouldn't you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:07 PM)
Land of the freaked

Where have I heard this before?

Nowhere at present is there such a measureless loathing of their country by educated people as in America. An excellent historian thinks Americans are "the most frightening people in the world," and a foremost philologist sees America as "the most aggressive power in the world, and the greatest threat to peace and to international cooperation." Others call America a "pig heaven," "a monster with 200 million heads," "a cancer on the body of mankind."

Novelists, playwrights, poets, essayists and philosophers depict America as the land of the dead. It is a country where sensitive souls are starved and flayed, where nothing nourishes and everything hurts. Nowhere, they say, is there such a boring monotony: monotony of talk, monotony of ideas, monotony of aim and monotony of outlook on the world. One American writer says "America is no place for an artist. A corn-fed hog enjoys a better life than a creative artist." One intellectual maintains that "the quality of American life is an insult to the possibilities of human growth."

2004? 2000? Nope. Eric Hoffer wrote that in 1970; it's in his book First Things, Last Things.

(And John Hudock remembered it, for which I thank him.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 PM)
28 November 2004
Viaconned

The beautiful and brilliant Michelle Malkin (a phrase I swiped from Francis W. Porretto) has happened upon a copy of a book/DVD combination titled Remembering Ronald Reagan, bearing the imprimatur of CBS News (!), and sees a serious disconnect in the marketing plan:

What head-in-his-derrière editor at Simon & Schuster came up with this idea?! Here is a simple exercise: Draw a Venn diagram of two sets. Set A is the book-buying population that considers Rather, Stahl, and Wallace "respected journalists." Set B is the book-buying population eager to spend money on a positive remembrance of Ronald Reagan and ever-mindful of the MSM's deeply-held hatred for Reagan and his legacy. The result is what even a mathematically-challenged person like me remembers from from grade school...a disjoint set.

Simon & Schuster, I note, has also just released an audio package called The World War II Audio Collection, by unrepentant plagiarist Stephen Ambrose.

And, of course, there's always the question of why anything from CBS News (with a foreword by Dan Rather, natch) would be shelved under "New Non-Fiction."

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:32 AM)
1 December 2004
Some green with that apple?

The National Education Association has released its annual teacher-salary survey, and once again Oklahoma is near the bottom: 50th, at $35,061. Only South Dakota ranks lower.

These figures do not take into account recent legislative moves to increase teacher pay and benefits, which will not be reflected in the NEA's numbers for at least a year.

The connection between teacher salaries and quality of education is at best somewhat frayed: the District of Columbia, ranked at a lofty #3 by NEA at $57,009, has some major problems in its schools. And Oklahoma's low cost of living, relatively low taxes, and (once fully in place) competitive benefits package tend to offset the low salary numbers.

Still, it is true that many teachers have left the classroom for greener pastures, and retention of experienced teachers is certainly a worthy goal. NEA's focus on salaries is to be expected — it is a labor union, after all — but last I looked, about 50 percent of teachers were paid salaries below the national median, and this isn't going to change no matter how many surveys get published.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
Anchors away

Dean Robbins, reviewing television for the Oklahoma Gazette, on Tom Brokaw's swan song tonight:

In a time when men tend to hang onto power until the Grim Reaper pries it away from them (see Strom Thurmond, William Rehnquist, Yasser Arafat, etc.), it's encouraging to see Brokaw voluntarily step down at the tender age of 64.

Lord knows Peter Jennings won't be so graceful. The only way ABC will get him off the air is to sneak the words I QUIT, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY onto the Teleprompter as he's reading the news.

This might have made Quote of the Week, had the Chief Justice been, um, you know, actually dead.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:14 PM)
6 December 2004
Freedom from merit badges

"From time to time," says a proposed disclaimer for material distributed through Portland, Oregon schools on behalf of groups not associated with the district, "you may receive materials from a group that holds values that may offend some of our families."

Like, for instance, the Boy Scouts of America.

Atheist and gay parents had fought the placing of Scout materials in Portland schools, and said that while the disclaimer was an improvement, the Scout booklets are still handed out by teachers, which, according to the AP story, "lends credibility to the group's message."

The Mandatory Serenity Amendment — "The right of the peoples of the United States to be free from any ideas or materials or products, which they may find offensive, shall not be infringed" — has so far been ratified by 0 states.

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
Beyond the best and the brightest

The National Bureau of Economic Research has conducted a study to answer the question: if racial preferences were abolished, would highly-qualified minority students be less willing to apply to top-rung schools?

And why would they be? Is it possible that not having a substantial minority population at these schools might discourage minority applicants?

The NBER study suggests otherwise:

Comparing data from all SAT-takers in California and Texas in the 1994 to 2001 admission cohorts with administrative data from the eight University of California campuses covering 1995 to 2001, [the researchers] determine that the probability that a student asks the College Board to send his SAT score to a particular campus is a good proxy for the probability that a student will apply to the same institution. They conclude that students' decisions to send SAT scores to a particular campus can substitute for actual applications data.

[T}he end of affirmative action [in those two states] produced few changes in before-and-after score-sending behavior. There was a small, short-lived dip of less than 5 percent in the relative probability of sending scores to selective schools in both states from 1997-9, but the probabilities recovered after 1999. There was no change in behavior for highly qualified students, with the exception of high-GPA Hispanic students in California. They were significantly more likely to send their scores to the most selective University of California schools after affirmative action was abolished.

I infer from this that the best students, minority or otherwise, pay little attention to racial preferences. But look farther down the scale:

After preferences were banned in California in 1998, admission rates among black freshmen applicants to Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego fell from 45-55 percent in 1995-7 to 20-25 percent in 1998-2001. Between 1997 and 1998, the fraction of blacks and Hispanics in Berkeley's freshman class fell from 22 percent to 12 percent. System-wide, changes in minority admission were far more muted. In California, acceptance rates fell by about 7 percent for blacks and 4 percent for Hispanics.

Banning affirmative action admissions had similar effects at Texas schools. At Texas A&M the decline began in 1996. Black admission rates fell by an estimated 30 percent and Hispanic admission rates fell by an estimated 15 percent.

Or, as John Rosenberg explains:

Ending preferences, in short, tends to prevent the admission of students whose admission depends on receiving the preference.

How, then, to increase minority enrollment? La Shawn Barber, who's been there, has a four-point plan:

  1. Get rid of black "leaders" like Kweisi Mfume ranting about too few black images on TV and throw the idiot boxes out the window!

  2. Demand school choice for kids in failing schools. Rescue these kids from rotten teachers who can't even pass high school-level tests and rotting classrooms and give them the rigorous education they need to make it in college.

  3. Raise the expectations of black students by encouraging them to work hard in school. Provide a non-PC, academic environment where every child is expected to compete. Accept nothing less.

  4. After you demand and get school choice nationwide, close down the teachers unions. Liberals may act like socialists, but when it comes to the cash, they're pure capitalists. What would happen if parents had choices in education? They would flee like they're making a jail break, which would mean less money for schools, fewer teachers and fewer excuses to whine about the "lack of funds" for education.

Well, at least she won't have Kweisi Mfume to kick around anymore.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 PM)
10 December 2004
Season's bleatings

Scene: One hundred years from now, and....

[O]ur grandkids will look upon us with a mixture of disgust and amusement. Our teachers are grossly underpaid. Our values are in the toilet — culture is coarsening. Kids go without health care, food, or coats in the winter. And we're worried about Christmas trees and Silent Night.

Glory, or alternate form of acclaim where appropriate, to the deity or deities of your choice, or none at all if so specified, in the highest, or to a comparable level conforming to official specifications, and on earth peace, or similar absence of conflict, and good will, as defined in paragraph 3, section C, "Federal Will Regulations," to men, women, children, and persons of indeterminate or ambiguous gender.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 PM)
18 December 2004
Going the extra 1.6 km

UML Guy forgets to pay his satellite bill, and discovers a Great Truth:

So I went to the DirecTV billing site. This was almost midnight when I got in. I told them I wanted to pay my bill. I gave them the information. They gave me a confirmation page, and advised that I didn't need to call them: the service would be reinstated within an hour after I made the payment online. I was pretty pleased by that (and in fact, I'm almost always pleased by DirecTV's service), because so many places offer 24 or even 48 hour reconnect times for what these days almost always involves somebody pushing a button. One phone company I know can't reconnect service over weekends, period, even though they'll gladly take your money on the weekend. So I thought that promising a one hour turnaround was pretty impressive.

Then I clicked the Accept button. And from the office and the other room, I instantly heard TVs start playing. And I checked my email Inbox. There was a confirmation email.

That is how technology is supposed to work these days. Next time someone tells you it will take 48 hours to reconnect service, ask them why it only takes DirecTV 0.48 seconds.

Are you listening, SBC?

I have an example of my own to offer here, with the small electronics firm PhonoPreamps.com, which vends audio accessories pertinent to us diehard vinyl owners. I'd taken delivery on their midline TC-753 preamplifier, and while it performed up to specs — and better than the decaying phono section in the 30-year-old receiver to which it was attached — the DC power plug didn't seem to fit correctly. At 8:09 pm I wrote up an email query to the company; they responded by 8:22, and after a quick exchange of symptom descriptions, their mailer program sent me a confirmation that a new power brick was being sent out. It was still a few minutes before nine.

I mention this here because (1) one should reward those who have served you well and (2) once this gets into the Google system, it will probably carry more weight than the usual one-line entries in the Amazon.com Marketplace feedback system.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
19 December 2004
It's no walk in the park

Beldar Conehead — an odd fellow, but hey, he was from France after all — used to refer to the mall as an "enclosed retail compound," which is actually pretty accurate, if you ask Bruce:

Long ago when I was a little skater I realized that places that feel public are really only public on the condition that you'll be spending money. We have so few public squares that don't exist for a reason other than shopping. There have been challenges to the idea that malls are public spaces. They are not. They exist as places where we can gather to purchase goods.

And not much else. The mall exists to facilitate commerce; any similarity to actual public gathering places is purely coincidental. Penn Square will never be a Town Square.

I don't have much of a problem spending money, especially on those rare occasions when I actually have some, but my favorite places tend to be those whose priorities don't begin and end with separating me from my cash.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
Your tax dollars at work

"It takes more and more people," wrote C. Northcote Parkinson, "to accomplish less and less." What does this mean in Real Life? Steve Gigl looks at his old grade school:

[W]hen I went to school there, there were 2 kindergarten teachers, and I think 2 teachers from every other grade. We had a principal (I don?t remember an assistant principal), I think there might have been a nurse, and we had a gym teacher as well. There may have been other support personnel, but I was not aware of it.

But now? They have 3 teachers at each grade, which means there are 18 class teachers, along with art, music, 2 gym teachers, gifted and talented, 2 reading teachers, and a math "coach." Ignoring the fact that the latter 3 seem to be redundant considering the fact that reading and math are classroom subjects, we?ll add it all up and say there are 27 teachers and one principal.

But there are 13 faculty members unaccounted for. 13? What do they do? Well, there is/are:

  • 1 early childhood expert
  • 2 learning disabilities experts
  • 2 emotional disabilities experts
  • 1 occupational therapist
  • 3 speech pathologists
  • 1 physical therapist
  • 1 social worker
  • 1 psychologist
  • 1 guidance counselor

And, for all we know, a partridge in a pear tree. Those positions aren't all staffed full-time: the Occupational Therapist, for instance, divides her time among three schools in the district.

To me, this seemed like a lot of people to run a single school, so I checked into the school nearest to me, a school generally well-regarded in this district, and there's pretty much the same complement of positions, plus, owing to the ethnic makeup of the area in which I live, two bilingual assistants.

I guess this is how many people it takes to run a grade school these days. But I can't help wondering: is the day coming when the admirals will outnumber the ships?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 PM)
20 December 2004
We wish you a Merry Christmas

And we hope you'll take it in the same spirit as does Xrlq:

Whether I remain an agnostic for the rest of my life or convert to any other of the world's major religions, I hereby promise that I do not now, nor will I ever, take offense at being wished a Merry Christmas by anybody. The only conditions of this promise are as follows: (1) it must actually be Christmas, or shortly before it (i.e., wishing me a Merry Christmas on the Fourth of July won't work) and (2) the wish must be sincere, i.e., you must really mean "Merry Christmas," and not "get your ass back in church, you heathen." To everyone else I say, if having someone wish you a "Merry Christmas" does not make you feel good, get help. The problem is with you, not with them.

Besides, where else, outside the legend of Robin Hood, are you going to hear "merry" in the first place?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
Now playing

Kinsey is playing in town (at the AMC Quail Springs), which will undoubtedly surprise some folks. I'm a bit amazed myself. And whereas this is normally my cue to run right out and see the darn thing while I still can, I admit to some qualms about the whole premise, and not necessarily the most obvious ones either: Alfred Kinsey may indeed have been something of a perv, and I have no particular reason to doubt that his research and his jollies were occasionally commingled, but what bugs me about this particular enterprise is the bland assumption by some of our cultural arbiters that Alfred Kinsey was some kind of trailblazer, leading us out of the sexual backwaters into the sunshine of polymorphous perversity.

Borrowing Fametracker's Fame Barometer premise, I'd rank Dr Kinsey alongside, oh, Gabriel Fahrenheit, remembered today for his temperature scale. Kinsey's own scale, which attempted to measure one's degree of homosexuality, is useful as a form of shorthand, less useful as a psychological profile. Still, the zero-to-six continuum is probably the one product of Kinsey's research that has much of a chance of holding up as research: many of the ideas Kinsey promoted were second-hand (Freud and Krafft-Ebing generally were there first). What's more, Bruce Thornton suggests that Kinsey was the beneficiary of fortuitous timing:

Kinsey's success at becoming a media sensation occurred because the culture was ready for such a message, particularly in the flush triumphalism of the post-war years, when everybody was in the mood for cutting loose and enjoying the new freedom created by the war. Kinsey simply gave a patina of science to a message many Americans were already primed to hear.

I'm not buying the notion that Alfred Kinsey is responsible for all of the ills of society up to and including the heartbreak of psoriasis, as some would have us believe; to me, he's just another name in the history books with more footnotes than he probably deserves. Call me when Kevin Bacon stars in Fahrenheit! The Heat Is On.

(Inspired by, and with thanks to, Cassandra of Villainous Company, who disavows any knowledge of this screed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:29 PM)
21 December 2004
Go North, the rush is on

US News and World Report has an end-of-year cover story with the unlikely title 50 Ways To Improve Your Life In 2005. To give them credit, unlike Paul Simon, US News does actually list all 50 Ways; however, I doubt anyone is going to take them up on all 50, especially #8: Move to Bismarck.

My fondness for North Dakota is on the record, and indeed I can imagine some people for whom the Peace Garden state might be just this side of paradise, but the key word here is "some." From a hotel room in Fargo this summer, I wrote:

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.

US News found quite a few:

Yes, the winters are cold, the New York Philharmonic never visits, and it's more than 1,000 miles to the nearest coast. But North Dakota boasts shorter commutes, less violent crime, and better high school graduation rates than any other state in the union. Add in the capital's stable economy and low unemployment, affordable housing, sunny skies, and year-round recreation, and you've got a near-perfect recipe for low-stress living.

It helps, I suppose, if you're about my age or older and have lost the urge to go bar-hopping on a regular basis. And if that cold-winter business disturbs you, well, there's always South Dakota.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
And a fa-la-la to you

While I am inclined to defend the trappings of Christmas anyway, I would probably do so more enthusiastically were it not the case that some of the most godawful, loudly-barking doggerel in the farging universe has been pressed into service on its behalf. No, I don't mean "Silent Night" or its brethren in the hymnal; I mean the crap they actually play on the radio between exudings of José Feliciano's incredibly-annoying "Feliz Navidad," which is in a subclass by itself.

And if you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe Wendy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 PM)
27 December 2004
Unresolved questions of 2004

Rich Appel's Hz So Good newsletter (get it from audiot.savant-at-verizon.net) asks the questions no one else dares:

Who's smarter, Smarty Jones or Anna Nicole?
  Um, Smarty by a nose.

Is it true that if you drive cross-country in a car with the new geomapping system, Howard Dean yells out each state as you cross the border?
  Geez, and I complain about having to refold maps.

Now that both Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans have left us, who holds the keys to the Treasure House? Bunny Rabbit? Would you trust that manipulative son-of-a-bunny with that kind of real estate?
  Depends. Is he under the influence of Dr Reisman?

If poker's such a big deal on cable, how come there isn?t "Celebrity Crazy 8s" on Nickelodeon?
  Go fish.

If the Steelers go all the way, can someone convince Jennifer Beals to dump water over herself at the Super Bowl?
  Is it too late to offer up a prayer?

If several million folk can donate $1 to cancer research and get (and wear) a silly yellow rubber bracelet, why can't someone bring back Superballs and sell those to raise money for testicular cancer?
  Now that's a nutty notion if ever I heard one.

When the NHL hung it up for the season, did any sports page actually use the headline "Get the Puck Out of Here"?
  Dawn, that's your cue.

Do you think Nicole Richie has ever actually listened to her stepdad's music?
  Is there any evidence she's actually listened to anything?

Is it true there were no bad reviews of Fahrenheit 9/11 because Michael Moore ate them?
  With relish.

If Curt Schilling's favorite band wasn't Blood, Sweat & Tears, shouldn't it be by now?
  I'm assuming this was a Type O.

And there are many, many more, some of which I don't dare answer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:25 PM)
Many fabulous dates

Three hundred sixty-five of them, in fact, illustrated by a couple of computers from my past (and about nine or ten from Terkish Payne's present, I'd bet).

It's the Classic Computers of the Past 2005 Calendar, and I'm lucky enough to have one, even if it does displace Michelle Malkin and Monica Crowley.

Oh, wait. I have more than one wall, don't I?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
29 December 2004
Fighting for the lower rungs

Five years ago, The Oklahoman was sliced and diced by the Columbia Journalism Review, which pronounced it "The Worst Newspaper in America". (Your humble blogazoid duly reported on the announcement here.)

A lot has happened since 1999: Eddie Gaylord has shuffled off this mortal coil, Patrick B. McGuigan has departed the editorial page, and the paper has undergone some substantial visual upgrades. I still don't think it's anyone's dream daily, but I doubt it could qualify for Worst Newspaper in America anymore — mostly because it doesn't employ as a columnist anyone as manifestly self-absorbed and ill-mannered as Nick Coleman of the StarTribune in Minneapolis.

There is, I suggest, something uniquely warped about someone who expends a whole column of presumably valuable newspaper space to vent spite, and not well-thought-out spite at that, upon a blog, while simultaneously explaining that he's much, much more important than mere bloggers.

I give Coleman this much: he's managed to wangle about half a million Google references to himself in a relatively short time, not an inconsiderable achievement. For me, one of the merest of the mere, this might seem like a good way to push my Warhol-allotted fifteen minutes up to, say, 16:05 or so. On the other hand, I can't see myself mocking, say, The Oklahoman's Tom Lindley, whose worst fault is an occasionally-aggressive blandness.

And, oh, a quandary: what happens if Nick Coleman bumps into Stribmate James Lileks in the hallway? Will there be total annihilation and the release of massive quantities of energy? Now I'm worried.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
4 January 2005
We're sending our love down a well

It began in 1984 with the godawful caterwauling of "Do They Know It's Christmas," a project by erstwhile Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof's heart was in the right place, but the actual record, credited to "Band Aid," written by Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure, produced by Ure and Trevor Horn, split the difference between naïve and nauseating. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime," indeed.

The most telling thing about the Band Aid project, though, is that it immediately spawned an imitator. "We Are the World", credited to "USA for Africa," managed levels of insipidness Bob Geldof never dreamed of, the result of having assembled an all-star cast and giving them not much to work with — although it's a whole lot better than most of Michael Jackson's or Lionel Richie's later material.

So I view the possibility of a Tsunami Relief recording and/or concert with a certain amount of cynicism, though probably not as much as Michele admits to:

Any moment now Bruce Springsteen will hold a press conference, with Bono on one side and Sting on the other. They'll announce a huge show at some vast stadium, maybe two stadiums — one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. Bob Geldof will come out of obscurity to smile for the cameras and remind people that he was at the forefront of the pop-star-as-philanthropist movement. Tickets will be $50 and up. There will be t-shirts, water and food for sale at the show, as well as frisbees and beach balls imprinted with the TsunamiAid logo, which will be copyrighted and trademarked and perhaps drawn by a famous artist. The shows will be simulcast on Pay-per-View. The second the concert is over and the now broke fans have gone home, the DVD and CD will be for sale. Millions and millions of dollars will be raised. By the fans of these stars. Yet the stars will get the credit for raising the money.

After all, they're so concerned and this is such an important issue and nobody would realize how important it is if it weren't for them.

And best of all, they get to bask in the glow without having to write big checks of their own:

I think, instead of spending time getting all these people together, renting a studio, writing a song, recording the song, putting the album in stores, waiting for the constant airplay to kick in and, in essence, begging their public to send money to whatever they are singing about — why don't they all just reach into their pockets and donate a cool million each? Sondra did it. Leonardo did it. It seems a hell of lot more sensible, logistically and monetarily, to just cut a check and get the money where it's going. But, no. Rather than donate out of their own bank accounts, they'd rather reach out to you — you who buys their albums and t-shirts, you who probably has $24 in your bank account at the moment and no gas in your car — to put the dollars in the coffer because, hey, they are donating their time, man. They are donating their talents. And that should be enough. Right?

Call me if Sharon Stone puts on a telethon for varicose veins. Until then, I will continue to base my charitable donations on something other than the whims of the entertainment industry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
6 January 2005
Dead horse beaten; film at 11

Inasmuch as Nick Coleman works for a Minnesota paper and has bashed only one other state recently, there's always the question of why I, down here in Oklahoma City, should care.

Actually, it's a New Year's resolution: to enjoy more Schadenfreude. And besides, the Net has seen to it that no one is purely local anymore; this morning I received a letter from a Twin Cities reader pointing me to a correction run by the Strib regarding that infamous Coleman outburst. (Power Line, of course, has much more to say about it.) "It seems," said my correspondent, "he was so busy blustering he didn't get his facts straight concerning the history of his own newspaper."

Of course, this cuts both ways: if I screw up, the first person to tell me about it probably won't be someone living down the street.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:05 PM)
10 January 2005
Selection of the month, so to speak

A joint venture between Columbia House and Playboy will be selling adult video under the name Hush.

The idea here, apparently, is to marry (temporarily, of course) Columbia House's famed distribution system to Playboy's extensive mailing list; Hush will apparently not be offered to existing Columbia House members unless they're also on Playboy's roster.

If nothing else, this should simplify matters for some consumers: instead of getting suspicious-looking plain brown mailing envelopes from the San Fernando Valley, they'll presumably be getting innocuous plain brown mailing envelopes from Terre Haute, Indiana.

(Via Dash Riprock.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
12 January 2005
Wal-Mart haiku

"Clean-up on aisle four"
(Chinese don't get five-fifteen) —
Sam, you wanted this?

(Suggested by LilRed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
Ain't nothing gonna break their stride

The tradition at Lyric Theatre has always been well within the mainstream, sometimes to the extent that you couldn't see the water's edge.

Last year Lyric floated closer to the edge with the inauguration of something called Second Stage, which would do projects a little beyond PG-13; the first such production was last winter's Pageant: The Musical Comedy Beauty Contest. I enjoyed this greatly, since it was prodigiously funny and generously stocked with gorgeous babes (Y chromosomes notwithstanding), and I noted at the time: "I have no idea what the second offering from Second Stage will be, but I'm there, Jack."

I'm not there yet — the opening is still a week and a half off — but I can't possibly miss this. I Want My 80's Musical, by Tom Stuart and Nick Demos — Demos, of course, is Lyric's artistic director — will be presented, as they say, for the first time anywhere. Or maybe not: what this is, mostly, is an expanded and extended version of Stuart's one-act Kids in America, which played Broadway in 2002, complete with nineteen songs from the period and seven different high-school students, a full 40-percent increase over The Breakfast Club.

And best of all, I get to see it before Michele does.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:42 PM)
15 January 2005
No Civil War jokes, please

According to an ongoing survey by etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart, Charleston, South Carolina is the most well-mannered city in America.

For twenty-eight years, Stewart has been compiling data from her readers and students, and Charleston has come out on top eleven times.

I grew up in Charleston, and I suspect that this gentility is the combination of three factors:

  1. Traditional Southern warmth. This far into Dixie, both people and climate are distinctly warmer than average.

  2. A sense of history. Charleston has been around for well over three hundred years, and being part of it both exalts and humbles: you're proud to be there, and you know it's going to outlive you.

  3. Ties to the military. The old Navy Yard has closed, but Charleston has strong military traditions, and as Heinlein noted, "An armed society is a polite society." (San Diego, another traditional Navy town, placed second in Stewart's rankings.)

That's my thinking on the matter, for what it's worth, and I hope you'll consider it a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

And if you don't, well, bite me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:14 AM)
Welcome to New Bohemia

From the High Plains Reader in Fargo, an ambitious, yet small-scale, plan:

New Bohemia, North Dakota, could be any one of dozens and dozens of small, rural towns or villages.

It could be in the Badlands or in the Pembina Hills. It could be near the Missouri, the Sheyenne, the Pembina, Goose or Red River. It could be in open prairie lands, or in rich farmlands.

New Bohemia, first, though, must exist as a possibility in our minds. We must have the ability to see opportunity where others see hopelessness. We must have the desire to see potentialities. We must trust visionaries.

New Bohemia could be a flourishing, bustling little town filled with artists, craftsmen, musicians and the likes. There could be painters, ceramicists, composers, cinematographers, photographers, writers, singers, carpenters, and anything else within the creative realm.

New Bohemia, North Dakota, could market products through the world via the world wide web.

Distance is no factor. Heart and community would be everything.

HPR editor John Strand wrote that in the fall of 2003. Since then, the idea has both withered and grown: the idea of turning one small, dying North Dakota town into a literal New Bohemia is all but dead, but the notion of a statewide North Dakota artists' network seems to have caught fire.

Julie Neidlinger, an actual North Dakota artist, has some thoughts on the possibilities:

[A]rts in North Dakota is possible, but it's a little different once you leave Fargo and Grand Forks.

For this New Bohemia to work, the goal must be one that does not force a group of grandma quilters in Cando, for example, to conform to some of what is coming out of the more urban areas. And if there is to be a movement beyond deer art, paintings on saw blades, four-line stanza covered wagon poems, and fiddling music, it must be gradual. An education element is necessary.

They seemed to stress more of a statewide collaboration, a way of connecting all artists for a stronger voice, a way to synchronize events, arts, galleries, etc. to create a state-wide functioning arts program that drew tourists in. I like the concept.

As do I, though I think it's probably easier to do this sort of thing one town at a time: small artists' communities, in places like Columbus, Indiana or Floyd, Virginia, or Oklahoma City's Paseo District, have become destinations in their own right, able to attract visitors, and more importantly, buyers. Still, virtual communities can thrive on the Net, and even the smallest towns can participate: Jud, ND, south of Jamestown off US 281, population around seventy-six, has become a village of murals, and a vintage-1905 grocery will soon become the town's Centennial Museum.

New Bohemia can work. The hardest part will be getting the word out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:16 PM)
21 January 2005
The elevation of the national snout

You know this person, right?

"Oh, Muffy and I only watch educational shows or public television. Everything else is just dreadful. We just don't understand people who watch those — what do you call them? — oh yes, sitcoms. The bane of society, I tell you." Meanwhile, the guy knows damn well that you watch not only sitcoms, but cartoons, reality shows and late night movies with gratuitous sex and violence. He's talking at you, not to you.

And it doesn't stop with television, either:

There are musical elitists, book snobs, movie purists. They will scoff at your album collection, laugh at your bookshelf and recoil in horror at your DVD purchases. They will think less of you if own any romance novels. Never mind that you have a PhD, you spend ten hours a week volunteering at the homeless shelter and you take in stray cats. You're a lower class of human being because you own the Skid Row box set. You'll be the scourge of the next MENSA meeting when word gets out about your Harlequin collection.

I've mentioned before that I own both a complete Wagner Ring cycle and seven Debbie Gibson albums, and that doesn't even begin to cover the prodigious amount of stuff scattered (since I haven't had the time or the wherewithal to scrounge up new shelves) through my so-called library (which contains a romance or three), or the insults to the national cultural elite contained therein.

But I'll say this much: I can dash off a decent Shakespeare parody in fifteen minutes, and I can sing you almost anything from The Partridge Family Album. And if you see something wrong with that, perhaps it's the angle of your head: your nose extends too far into the air.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
23 January 2005
Good night, Johnny

To me, Jay Leno has always been just a guest host.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:47 PM)
25 January 2005
Out of the blue

The operator of a Deborah Gibson fan page is heartbroken at the news that the Debster will be appearing in a Playboy pictorial.

Says the fan, the news is "still not being officially released (except to paying fanclub members of the official Deborah website)."

Liz Smith has the story now, and her reaction is pretty much the same as mine:

I never know what to think of the taking-it-off-for-Playboy route. Sometimes it works, but just as often it doesn't. (Yes, everyone oohs and aahs and speculates if Playboy has furnished said naked lady with new breasts, a trimmer bottom, a perkier nose, whatever. But careers are not always enhanced.)

Personally, I can't think of anything of Deb's that needed improvement, but then I'm not the guy paying $5 for the issue. (The price by subscription is more like $2.91.)

And how surprised should I be, anyway? She did Broadway Bares way back in '98. Besides, she's in her middle thirties by now, and frankly, I grow weary of the endless procession of 19-year-olds chez Hef.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:06 PM)
1 February 2005
Line 36, Schedule DD

The Libertarian Girl calls for a tax on breast implants:

Breast augmentation surgery is a negative sum game. The surgery increases the recipient's attractiveness (because men are so stupid), but only at the expense of other women whose natural breasts become less attractive in comparison to the increasing population of surgically augmented women.

If every woman got breast augmentation surgery, it would not change the overall female attractiveness of society (because men would quickly become desensitized to seeing bigger breasts), but would have negative health effects because large numbers of women would suffer from post-surgery complications.

How much of a tax are we talking here?

Four thousand dollars for a pair of implants seems like an arbitrarily acceptable amount. With about a quarter of a million surgeries performed every year, the breast implant tax would raise a billion dollars of revenue annually. (Of course, demand for the procedure would decline after the tax was implemented, so we would raise somewhat less than a billion — but the whole purpose of the tax is to discourage the procedure, so this would be the desired effect.)

Well, as the phrase goes, "If you want less of something, tax it; if you want more of something, subsidize it." I guess the boob-happy boyfriends can pick up the tab.

(Yeah, this is almost a month old, but then I'm really more of a leg man anyway, and besides she's continuing to write on the subject.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
4 February 2005
Rampage by the Robinator

Patrick Goldstein tossed this throwaway into the Los Angeles Times:

The most money any studio put into one of the [Oscar] nominees was the $21 million that Miramax anted up for Finding Neverland. The other nominated films were orphans — ignored, unloved and turned down flat by most of the same studios that eagerly remake dozens of old TV series (aren't you looking forward to a bigger, dumber version of The Dukes of Hazzard?) or bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.

Wounded, but undaunted, Rob Schneider strikes back in a full-page Variety ad:

My name is Rob Schneider and I am responding to your January 26th front page cover story in the LA Times, where you used my upcoming sequel to Deuce Bigalow as an example of why Hollywood Studios are lagging behind the Independents in Academy nominations. According to your logic, Hollywood Studios are too busy making sequels like Deuce Bigalow instead of making movies that you would like to see.

Well Mr. Goldstein, as far as your snide comments about me and my film not being nominated for an Academy Award, I decided to do some research to find what awards you have won.

I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind, Disappointed, I went to the Pulitzer Prize database of past winners and nominees. I though, surely, there must be an omission. I typed in the name Patrick Goldstein and again, zippo — nada. No Pulitzer Prizes or nominations for a "Mr. Patrick Goldstein." There was, however, a nomination for an Amy Goldstein. I contacted Ms. Goldstein in Rhode Island, she assured me she was not an alias of yours and in fact like most of the World had no idea of [your] existence.

And four paragraphs more. Obviously it is not wise to tweak the Schneidmeister.

(Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo opens 12 August.)

Update, 14 August: Roger Ebert comments:

Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways and Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.

Remind me not to irritate Roger Ebert.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
Persistence is futile

Good riddance to Enterprise, says TeeVee's Nathan Alderman:

Here's hoping that idea-bankrupt executive producer Rick Berman gets the hint and goes down with the ship. And that when the series re-emerges in a few years' time (and don't kid yourself that it won't), it's as something new, exciting and unpredictable. There are still plenty of brave new worlds to explore. But for now, it's probably for the best that Enterprise is boldly going away.

Especially if what's on the drawing-board is something along these lines.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
6 February 2005
Pax packs it up

Way back in the fall of 1997, I saw bright prospects for Lowell "Bud" Paxson's ragtag television network, which launched the following year.

This, apparently, is the year it dies: this past week about fifty executives were pink-slipped, including President Bill Scott, which means generally one more press release before the doors close entirely.

What will happen to the sixty TV stations Pax TV owns is not clear, though NBC Universal, which owns just under a third of the network and which has been providing support for Pax stations through NBC affiliates, is presumably the most likely scavenger, especially since NBC demanded in the fall of '03 that Pax redeem NBC's Class B preferred stock and Pax begged off, pleading poverty.

It's probably a safe bet that most of the Pax stations will get new calls, since they all seem to have the ill-fated "PX" letter combination somewhere.

(Scissored out of a much longer piece by Jeff Jarvis.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
9 February 2005
The Scottish post

It's the 1000th anniversary of the birth of Macbeth, and Scotsmen of an historical bent have persuaded Edinburgh to try to rehabilitate the onetime Scottish king's reputation, now torn and tattered no thanks to that nasty Englishman Shakespeare.

Well, yes, he did kill Duncan, but it was a semi-honorable defeat on the field of battle, not an assassination in the, um, dead of night, and anyway, this was how the throne of Scotland changed hands in those days.

I haven't seen Raphael Holinshead's Chronicles, which appeared in 1577 and which Shakespeare routinely mined for historical bits, but apparently one of Holinshead's personages, good old Macduff, from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd, was a purely fictional character, and Macbeth was in fact dispatched by Malcolm himself in 1057 after seventeen not-especially-sleepless years on the throne.

(Via Foxhound News: we reporteth, thou decideth The Glittering Eye.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
16 February 2005
The banned wagon

At 50 Books, Doppelganger describes the motivation behind book-banning:

I like secrets. I like to have secrets. I like to think that other people have secrets. Many of the most interesting secrets — mine and other people's — are dark. They're unpleasant. They're ugly. Even if these secrets have never played out into action, and will never play out into action, the fact that they exist as mere thoughts frightens some people. But sometimes these secret thoughts do play out... in novels. And these novels — and the secret thoughts they represent — terrify some people. And these people think that by eliminating the outlets for these dark, secret thoughts, they're elimating the thoughts themselves.

Given all that, this is what offends me about banning books: it's my soul-chilling belief that, if these people had their way, they wouldn't stop at just outlawing and destroying books. If they had the means, and if they thought they could get away with it, they would bore into my head and take my secrets away from me.

Emphasis in the original.

And don't forget: it's for your own good. It always is. If you don't believe it, just ask them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:56 PM)
21 February 2005
Vanity 3

The March issue of Vanity Fair is designated the "Hollywood Issue," which by rights should mean that it's even more content-free than usual, what with the usual New York tragic hipness supplemented by shoot-outs from the fantasy factory, plus way more than usual Annie Leibovitz photographs of the already-overexposed. At 454 pages this year, it's about a penny a page; I'd generally be better served if they just let me buy the ads, which would save me $2 or so.

But the usual Condé Nasties apparently weren't paying attention this month, because some worthy stuff accidentally crept into the magazine, and no, it's not that two-page shot of Hilary Swank doing the world's highest split. Judy Bachrach's "The Provocateur" profile of Michael Moore, while not exactly short of Moore's own brand of bombast, isn't the hagiography you'd expect from V.F. either. A paragraph therefrom:

New York conservative Lucianne Goldberg, the protector of Linda Tripp in a long campaign to bring down Bill Clinton, tells me that Moore, an Upper West Side neighbor, "put up a live movie camera" — Moore called it a Lucycam — "trained it on our apartment, and put it up in a Web site called seelucianne.com or something like that." The idea being, Goldberg explains, that since Moore felt she had invaded Clinton's and Monica Lewinsky's privacy, he was going to invade hers. Goldberg asked the National Enquirer if it wanted to paste an ad on her window, and made $1,000 a week on the deal. Part of her understands Moore perfectly. "I think we recognize each other in our souls," Goldberg says. "He's up to mischief. I am, too. The difference is, he takes himself seriously, and I don't give a shit."

The cam was in fact located at iseelucy.com; Moore's dormant theawfultruth.com remembers it slightly differently, but only slightly.

Farther along, Peter Biskind quotes the late John Schlesinger, circa 1994:

You couldn't make Midnight Cowboy today. I was recently at dinner with a top studio executive, and I said, "If I brought you a story about this dishwasher from Texas who goes to New York dressed as a cowboy to fulfill his fantasy of living off rich women, doesn't, is desperate, meets a crippled consumptive who later pisses his pants and dies on a bus, would you —" and he said, "I'd show you the door."

And best of all, George Wayne, interviewing the host of Inside the Actors Studio:

Well, there's one thing to be said for James Lipton: he's mastered the art of celebrity anilingus!

Lipton called BS, and I called V.F. to renew. It's the little things that make a magazine worth reading.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
Fear and loathing in excelsis

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson idolized Ernest Hemingway, but I had no idea he'd want to shuffle off this mortal coil in the same dramatic fashion.

Yet there he was, at his Woody Creek, Colorado home, dead from a gunshot wound that was almost certainly self-inflicted. And ultimately, it fits into the pattern of the man's life: no matter how bizarre the story you heard about him, it was very likely true.

Thompson's brand of intensely-personal "gonzo" journalism really didn't catch on, which is also a good thing: while I'd argue that we certainly need our eccentrics, even if they're just this side of dangerous, I'd also argue that hardly anyone could possibly come up (down?) to the standard set by Thompson. (The late Lester Bangs, maybe; but Bangs has long since been relegated to the category of "music reviewer," even though his writings ranged nearly as widely — wildly? — as Thompson's.)

And if we do not see his like again, well, that just adds to the legend. "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone," Thompson said, "but they've always worked for me." Indeed they did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 AM)
Look at me, indeed

Someone asked for a Sandra Dee memory, and the one that jumps into my head most immediately is a scene from the otherwise-ghastly Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding, in the beginning of which she is not only not lousy with virginity but is actually about to give birth, while three suitors beg for her hand in marriage. (In real life, this would exceed the expected number by about, um, three.)

The rest of the film is told in flashback, and at one point our heroine, putting her singing career on hold to the despair of her mother, has taken a secretarial job for a George Hamilton type, played conveniently by George Hamilton. While she takes dictation, we look over at George's desk, and we discover that the scuzzball has installed a mirror thereupon, and has trained it on Sandra's Certified Grade A legs. I need hardly point out that this was a traumatic experience for my thirteen-year-old Catholic-school self; between that and Goodbye Charlie, three years earlier, in which Debbie Reynolds plays a dead guy, it's a wonder I ever got through adolescence at all — though, in my defense, I never actually sent letters to Brigitte Bardot or anything like that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:07 PM)
24 February 2005
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah

Jim Hill (no relation) says that the Mouse House has actually had a change of heart and will release a DVD edition of Song of the South next year.

The cynic in me, of course, notes that 2006 will be the film's 60th anniversary, a perfect opportunity for marketing, and it's a cinch that Disney, were this happening, would see fit to surround the film with enough carefully-selected "extras" to banish, or at least mask, the alleged stench of racism. People who thought Huck Finn was racist because he used the N word will of course not be mollified, but they're still doing a slow burn about Stepin Fetchit, fercryingoutloud, and their complaints will be given the disdain they deserve. It will be good to have this film back in circulation.

(Via Reflections in d minor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
A rack of options

An Italian sex researcher says that the shape of a woman's breasts determine her personality.

No, really, he said that.

(Courtesy of Lawren, who thinks it's "hysterical.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
26 February 2005
As the countdown begins

I haven't been running at 100 percent lately, the result of various minor illnesses combined with the inability to get the leg muscles synchronized with the newer, trimmer knee, and, says Andrea Harris, that makes me more expendable:

It's starting already: the killers are circling this blameless woman, whose only crime is, apparently, being unable to feed herself. We've already decided unborn babies are nothing but viruses, and old people are nothing but parasites, so why not treat a middle-aged woman with brain damage like a bra with a broken underwire? Though her killer-wannabes mouth platitudes about wishing to end her "suffering" the real reason they want her gone is because she reminds them of their own ultimate helplessness.

Woody Allen: "I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

When I was younger, I saw that some day it would be my duty to get the hell out of the way and make room for the generations to come. Nowhere, though, does it say that I have to go quietly, or that I should time my departure for the convenience of others.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
2 March 2005
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
3 March 2005
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.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
5 March 2005
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
6 March 2005
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 PM)
8 March 2005
Where the babes are

Kimberly Swygert quotes P. J. O'Rourke:

"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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
Gimme the Delhi special

Andrea Harris is tempted to say "Hooray for Bollywood":

[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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
9 March 2005
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.

The school must respond to the NCAA by the first of May.

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:22 AM)
13 March 2005
It was right there under your nose

Nickelodeon used to run a strange little show called Roundhouse, which I watched faithfully every week during its four-year run, because it was utterly without shame, because Aaron Spelling once threatened a lawsuit after they made fun of Tori, and because there was a June Cleaver-level hottie in the cast named Shawn Daywalt, who drew the Mom assignments in the comedy sketches, and who since seems to have vanished from the face of the earth.

In its role as a sort of SNL for kids, Roundhouse was fond of fake ads, and didn't shy away from the tasteless. One particularly memorable combination of both involved a breakfast cereal for children who picked their noses: "New Booger Bran from Mucus Mills," declaimed Daywalt. "You'll know it's nutritious, but the kids will think it's snot."

Since then, scarcely a single hardy soul will say anything kind about the stuff, which is perhaps a shame, especially should it prove to have medicinal value.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 PM)
15 March 2005
Topeka fight

TalkLeft's Jeralyn Merritt, guest-blogging at Vodkapundit, would like you to know that Kansas is dull:

Face it, Kansas is a plain-Jane. It's "I Like Ike" and Bob Dole country. It reminds me of my most hated food — mayonnaise — pale, bland, uniform in consistency and boring. There's no ocean, no mountains and its population is hardly a model of diversity. And it's always going to be that way. A simply mediocre, generic kind of place, totally devoid of bathos, highs or lows.

Of course — and she comes this close to admitting as much in the comments — her real objections to Kansas come straight out of Thomas Frank. Not that I mind; I liked Frank's book, which is nicely detailed and spiffily written. But Frank's assumption, that Kansans, culturally and economically, would logically be aligned with the Democrats had they not been somehow seduced in recent years by the GOP, ignores the simple fact that Kansans have almost always voted Republican. Seduction? More likely inertia. Whatever the GOP equivalent of the yellow-dog Democrat, Kansas has 'em.

And while I join Merritt in her dislike for mayonnaise, I can't bring myself to badmouth Kansas; oceans and mountains are wonderful things, but not essential things. Of course, if you want generic with diversity, you come to Oklahoma.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
You, too, can write headlines

MIKE'S H'CAUST HONOR?

Gawker gives this the snark it deserves:

Hey, New York Post: We have limited headline space, too, but c?mon. This never would've happened under Dawn's watch.

In the spirit of innovation which has always characterized this site (okay, quit laughing, dammit), we now present what boils down to a caption contest with no picture. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to produce a suitable headline for the New York Post story linked above that sounds as Dawn Eden-like as possible. Assuming I can talk her into it (and if I can't, I've got more worries than I thought I did), Dawn herself will pick the winner.

Post your entry as a comment below. I expect this will be open through Friday at least.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
17 March 2005
Some day Ms Prince will come

Sometimes this is all you need to know:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel creator and Astonishing X-Men writer Joss Whedon will write and direct a big-screen, live-action Wonder Woman feature film for Warner Bros. with Joel Silver and Leonard Goldberg producing.

The right man for the job, clearly:

"Wonder Woman is the most iconic female heroine of our time, but in a way, no one has met her yet," Whedon said in a statement quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. "What I love most about icons is finding out what's behind them, exploring the price of their power. When Joel and I began discussing the character, I realized there is a woman behind the legend who is very fascinating, very uncompromising and in her own way almost vulnerable. She's someone who doesn't belong in this world, and since everyone I know feels that way about themselves, the character clicked for me."

You know Donna will be there opening night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 PM)
19 March 2005
Silent testimony

Nodak Jack contemplates that Terri Schiavo subpoena:

After watching the baseball hearing, I'm convinced that even in her "vegetative state," she'd make more cogent arguments for her side than Jose Canseco made for his.

No argument here.

And furthermore:

One of my listeners even suggested that she may be more alert than some of the members of Congress in front of whom she'd be placed.

("Listeners": Jack is co-host of "Noonday with Jack & Sandy" on WDAY radio in Fargo, ND.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:42 PM)
22 March 2005
Just one of those things

Terry Teachout remembers meeting Bobby Short:

Going to see my idol in person seemed to me the perfect way to round out my trip to New York, so I booked a table for one and turned up half an hour before show time, blissfully ignorant of the fact that the Café Carlyle is an elegant watering hole intended for well-to-do New Yorkers, not teenage boys in ill-fitting black suits.

Not being much of a drinker, I decided to consume my minimum by having a late supper at my tiny table. I tore into my shrimp cocktail with gusto, unaware that anything was wrong until I put down my fork, looked around, and saw that no one else in the room was eating. I might well have died of embarrassment had it not been for the fact that Bobby Short, formerly of Danville, Illinois, spotted me for an out-of-towner the moment he walked through the door and came straight to my table to say hello, an act of kindness for which I am still grateful.

Teachout never went back to the Carlyle — didn't want to "disturb that perfect memory," he said — but when you're in the presence of greatness, once is probably enough. And the greatness will be remembered long past Short's death yesterday at 80; the songs he sang and played are standards, at least partly because he sang and played them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
27 March 2005
Where have all the children gone?

This New York Times piece notes that American cities are missing out on one particular demographic:

San Francisco, where the median house price is now about $700,000, had the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent, compared with 25.7 percent nationwide, the 2000 census reported. Seattle, where there are more dogs than children, was a close second. Boston, Honolulu, Portland, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta, all considered healthy, vibrant urban areas, were not far behind. The problem is not just that American women are having fewer children, reflected in the lowest birth rate ever recorded in the country.

Officials say that the very things that attract people who revitalize a city — dense vertical housing, fashionable restaurants and shops and mass transit that makes a car unnecessary — are driving out children by making the neighborhoods too expensive for young families.

Virginia Postrel isn't buying the "too expensive" line:

[I]n hugely expensive places like San Francisco that may be true. But my Uptown Dallas neighbors generally hightail it to the suburbs as soon as their kids start walking, and these are people who already own spacious three-bedroom townhouses. They want yards (even though there's a park two blocks away), less traffic, and less crime. They want suburbia.

Here in Oklahoma City, we simply don't have a lot of "dense vertical housing"; only recently has there been any uptick in demand for it. But the same situation applies here, and there's one factor no one's mentioned yet: the fear of central-city schools. Nothing will propel a family out of town faster than the prospect of having their youngsters exposed to this year's model of the Blackboard Jungle.

Oklahoma City is putting half a billion dollars into school improvements, which is a worthy goal, though money alone can't address all the issues involved. One issue seldom spoken is the city school district's racial balance, and "balance" is exactly the word: it's about one-third white, one-third black, and one-third Latino. And, well, some people like diversity a lot better on paper than they do in real life.

Still, we have to be doing better than San Francisco, where the city raised over $300 million for improvements to the schools over a 13-year period, but much of that money was mismanaged or simply stolen outright. I'm waiting to see what happens in my own just-out-of-the-Loop neighborhood, which has one of the better city schools; right now, it seems to be mostly young couples and empty-nesters. (As one of the latter, I haven't had a single occasion to tell those damn kids to get off my lawn.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
28 March 2005
The monkey off its back

Montgomery Ward is back, sort of.

Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are. "Wards? They're dead."

But General Electric apparently sold the name to some enterprising Iowans — which fits with Wards' Midwestern origins — and they're on the Web selling stuff. No brick-and-mortar stores. There's even a catalog of sorts.

If this was announced somewhere, I missed it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:02 AM)
30 March 2005
Hang a left at the Ivory Tower

By now most everyone has heard that not only do college faculties lean to the left, they lean farther to the left than most of us thought.

Obviously some sort of conspiracy — or is it? Lesley advances a theory wonders out loud:

[L]et's say I suggested that maybe the underlying reason for this is that conservatives just aren't as interested in thinky stuff like academics as liberals, preferring instead more lucrative careers in corporate America. Do you think the same people who insist we should be open-minded about suggestions that women just may not as be interested in thinky stuff like science as men wouldn't see my suggestion as prima facie evidence of bigotry against conservatives?

I certainly don't see it as evidence of bigotry. If anything, it's a reflection of the tendency of humans to collect in like-minded groups. If someone can show that the desire to teach is somehow connected to a leftish mindset, I'd like to see the research. And perhaps a conservative grad with the urge to change the world, so to speak, is more likely to choose to do so in a think tank than in the classroom, but I don't know of any numbers supporting this premise either.

Come to think of it, I'm not especially alarmed by the leftward slant of college faculties: there is no shortage of students who emerge from the groves of academe seemingly unaffected by the tilt. And I'm certainly not going to call for some affirmative-action program to put more conservatives on college faculties, which I think would be a case of the cure being at least as bad as the putative disease.

It may be that time itself will correct the imbalance, as people who lived through the 1960s and believed it to be the defining moment of American history die off and are replaced by people who are less afflicted with this particular form of nostalgia.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 AM)
2 April 2005
The legacy of John Paul II

Or one, at least:

If we want a springtime of the human spirit, we must rediscover the foundations of hope. Above all, society must learn to embrace once more the great gift of life, to cherish it, to protect it, and to defend it against the culture of death, itself an expression of the great fear that stalks our times. One of your most noble tasks as Bishops is to stand firmly on the side of life, encouraging those who defend it and building with them a genuine culture of life.

(From his ad limina address to the bishops of California, Nevada and Hawaii, October 1998.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
3 April 2005
Bovine intervention

Michele recalls Gelett Burgess:

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

Which reminded me of a prank once pulled by the late James S. Moran, described by Steven Phenix as "The Last PR Samurai". Phenix recalls that "to help a dairy get a cow into print, he dyed it purple," which is true, but it's only half the story. H. Allen Smith, a friend of Moran's, recounted the rest: after the paint job was complete (including metallic paint on the udder), Moran heard that Burgess was in New York. He tracked him to his hotel, led the cow into the lobby, had Burgess paged, and when the poet appeared, Moran simply pointed and yelled: "THERE!"

This happened, incidentally, well after Burgess had issued the following quartet:

Ah, yes! I wrote the Purple Cow;
I'm sorry now I wrote it!
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'll kill you if you quote it!

Oh, well, you can't have everything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 PM)
6 April 2005
Is it time yet?

File this under "I'm not really surprised, and yet..."

Sean Gleeson (may his tribe increase, but not right this minute) has worked up a Fertility Wizard for use in natural family planning, formerly known as the "rhythm method," occasionally known as "Vatican roulette" by those who presumably couldn't get it to work.

Gleeson says that the methodology used is 95 percent accurate, should your cycle run between 26 and 32 days. (If it doesn't, you should not use the Wizard.) There are more effective gauges of one's fertility, but they require equipment that doesn't interface particularly well with a Web browser.

Apart from its, um, religious implications, there is one distinct advantage to this technique: a notable lack of side effects, especially when compared to stuff like The Pill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
Coffeehouses of the holy

Dave talks about Delocator:

The mission of this site/service, in as simple terms as I can manage, is: don't buy from Starbucks, or any other business that (a) doesn't adhere to bohemian ideals, (b) doesn't serve free-range coffee or other cruelty-free products; (c) does encourage all staff members to sport tattoos and pierced tongues and so-very-hip eyewear. In fact, according to Delocator, the "Starbucks-ization" of coffeehouses is very bad.

I've never so much as set foot in a Starbucks, so I'm not inclined to award them Tool of the Antichrist status myself, but occasionally my smugness rouses itself to the fore, so I now announce a new and utterly worthless meme.

Based on Jason Kottke's Starbucks Density premise, the Bratsucks ("Starbucks" spelled sideways) Index is determined by going to Delocator and entering your ZIP code, then dividing the number of non-Starbucks locations listed by the number of Starbucks locations listed. (For 73112, where I live, the BI is 1.5.)

If this catches on — but never mind, why should it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:02 PM)
The hand that mocked them

I don't know why, but I dearly love stuff like this: Shelley's Ozymandias as a quasi-Seussian rap.

And if that's not enough, try it in list format.

(Latter link via Michael Blowhard.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 PM)
7 April 2005
Delocator has location issues

Plastic Noodle takes exception to the methodology at Delocator, as mentioned here yesterday:

Instead of relying on an address check, it's looking for zip codes which are numerically near by. This doesn't work, at least in Atlanta. I was getting results for Alpharetta, GA (30022) in Duluth, GA (30030), nearly 30 miles away. For future reference, zip codes are added to areas as they grow larger, and don't necessarily indicate proximity. In fact, in large metro areas, zip codes almost never are close together. I'd say that's a bigger problem than any chilling effect.

Naturally, I had to try this out for myself, and so I keyed 73026, a ZIP in east Norman. Delocator coughed up no Norman locations, but did manage to snag Java Dave's in downtown Edmond (73034), two Starbucks in Edmond, and one in the Super Target at NW 140th and Pennsylvania.

So a tip of the cup (careful, don't spill it) to Plastic Noodle, and take anything you derive from Delocator with a grain of, um, non-dairy creamer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
8 April 2005
Tremendous overhead

Now he tells me:

[P]eople are using ARMs to buy houses they can't otherwise afford. That's a bad idea in the first place, since any increase in rates means that the home you can barely afford becomes the home you can't afford. As a general rule, I think people in our society are far too heavily leveraged for their own good. People don't understand the simple fact that you cannot live in an instant gratification lifestyle forever. You shouldn't be living one paycheck away from poverty. You shouldn't be buying a home that you can't hope to afford, and if you are looking at homes out of your price range, you should shop for cheaper home prices, not game the interest rate market and increase your leverage with an ARM.

Actually, I'm almost two and a quarter paychecks away from poverty.

Seriously, I never gave any thought to an adjustable-rate mortgage when I was house-shopping; I figured that if the standard rates, as advertised, were near "historic lows," then there's only one place an adjustable rate can go, and that's up. Better to bite the bullet now and lock in something that will stay locked.

And so I did. By standards I consider reasonable, my home was actually just slightly out of my price range (though the bank was willing to finance almost 20 percent more), but I figured that inside of two years I'd have my car paid off and I'd have a little breathing room, and in the meantime I'd have something I actually wanted, as distinguished from something I could tolerate.

I still think I'm far too leveraged for my own good, but then I have this love-hate relationship with debt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
12 April 2005
The new curiosity shop

In a bleak area in Chatham, Kent, on England's southeastern coast, work is starting on Dickens World, a tourist trap theme park based on the life and times and characters of Charles Dickens, featuring appropriate Victorian architecture and (probably) slightly anachronistic rides.

There is, so far as I can tell, no truth to the rumor that the on-site Uriah Heep character will be played by Senator John Kerry (D-MA).

(Via Chase McInerney.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
13 April 2005
There's a place

I've been in Oklahoma for thirty years, but for most of that time I never felt quite anchored to the red clay at my feet; I was dissatisfied with my lot, and while I accepted most of the blame, I persisted in thinking that being Somewhere Else could only help matters.

In a society that seems to pride itself on its mobility, it's easy to forget the importance of having a place of your own, a place that you call home, a place that you'll defend, if not necessarily to your last breath, certainly into the next few paragraphs. It's a place that's a part of you, just as much as you're a part of it.

Susanna Cornett, on the hills of eastern Kentucky:

It wasn't until I was older that I realized every building, every piece of property I could see from my house was owned by someone I was related to. But that's less land than you might think. The hills close tightly against those loamy bottomlands, and the view doesn't go very far. It's a place where you can feel protected and safe or bound up and smothered. I suspect most people who stay there very long alternate between the two, sometimes during the same day. In a way, in those eastern Kentucky hills, the landscape echoes the relationships, or maybe it's the other way around. Because the hills are low and almost of a human scale, so close you can't avoid living and working and playing on them, they become as much a part of your internal landscape as they are a part of the external one.

She understands. So does Julie Neidlinger, in a North Dakota that seems to be disappearing before her eyes:

[M]aybe I'm not loyal to North Dakota. I'm loyal to where I'm from. I'm from more than a chunk of land with geopolitical boundaries, a page in Rand McNally's atlas. I'm from here, this house, this farm not even a mile east of where my grandfather grew up, and just across the graveled township road from where my father grew up. I'm from a place where I can run my hand over the wood in the granary and see where my grandfather carved his initials as young man, right next to the initials of the hired help. It's the same place where his father used tally marks to count the bushels and planted a chokecherry tree next to the house. This is where I am from.

I am learning. Slowly, you can be sure; but just the same, I am learning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
This is not Britney Spears

I repeat: This is not Britney Spears.

At least, not yet.

Keep this on your shelf next to your Miami Transvestite Barbie.

(Via Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:50 AM)
14 April 2005
The Danube is green

What's more, it ain't clean;
It's green like a bean;
It ain't (not) serene.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
16 April 2005
Against the grain

Only in America, and only some of America at that, would "white bread" be considered a pejorative.

And this is worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
18 April 2005
Lads with fads

Doug Giles lists the telltale signs that you might just be a metrosexual:

  • You use more than three words when ordering your Starbuck's,
  • You're still into rollerblading,
  • You put on cologne to go to the gym,
  • You have an Armani Exchange or Banana Republic credit card,
  • You Tivo Sex in the City and/or Will and Grace,
  • You watch Friends with a note pad,
  • You have panic attacks (look, either have a real heart attack or cut the crap. That feeling you?re feeling is not death; it?s called responsibility and most everybody feels it. So ? suck it up, drink a Guinness and get a life),
  • You shave any part of your body except your face or skull,
  • You buy your shampoo at a salon instead of a grocery store,
  • You take more than two, that's two, minutes to fix your hair,
  • You think Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, and Orlando Bloom are really, really good actors,
  • You think you have a feminine side to get in touch with, and/or
  • You must have Evian and only Evian for hydration.

I might qualify on two of these, maybe. On the other hand, my cutoff point for hair care is a mere forty-five seconds.

The mention of one of those two — one I haven't done lately, but no matter about that — drew a mild rebuke from Francis W. Porretto:

Mr. Giles, for all his points, must remember something about the "Marlboro Man" persona whose return he celebrates: He does what he damned well pleases. So fewer instructions about where to ply the razor — and by implication, where not to — would be in order.

At this point, we're bumping right up against the edge of Too Much Information.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Hemmed in

My stature as a skirt-watcher has never been questioned. (Come to think of it, it's scarcely been mentioned.)

That said, though, I'm not sure I buy the notion that it's necessary to show off a little for a woman to get a job:

[T]hey might be perceived as less than professional and even lose a job offer if they wear a pantsuit to an interview instead of a skirtsuit. And that they can rarely go wrong by reaching for the highest standard of traditional dress — especially in such conservative fields as banking, investments, and law.

I've never considered trying to worm my way into the so-called Human Resources field, but had I done so, and were I to get to the point where I'm trying to gauge someone's professionalism by whether I can see her shins or not, I'd start thinking it was probably time to consider some other line of work.

Of course, I'm not the person hiring. Otherwise, you wouldn't hear things like this:

Most certainly I don't want to play into the stupid sexist bullshit that I need to let someone look at my legs to size my credentials up, and yet I really don?t want to be at a disadvantage at the interview.

On the other hand, Sean Gleeson points out, quite reasonably:

Clothing is a social convention, and one must wear specific sorts of clothing to "fit in" with, or conform to, specific societies, and it has ever been thus.

I think we've identified an actual instance of "male privilege": were a man to apply for such a job, he'd don a suit and tie, and that's that. Simplifies the task immensely. (And God knows no one wants to look at my legs.)

Still, when the chips are down, I think looking one's best might actually trump looking like everyone else in the office. And is it just my imagination, or is the Ann Coulter Time cover cunningly designed to flatter its subject as little as possible?

(Update, 1 pm: Drudge reports that Coulter doesn't like the photo at all: "My own mother would not recognize me!" So much for the royal Timese machine.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
24 April 2005
Cry wolf, and let slip the BS of yore

What's disturbing about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's revelation that they'd overstated the effect of overweight on the death rate by a factor of 14 is the fact that the CDC doesn't plan to change its official stance:

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said because of the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being overweight, the CDC is not going to use the brand-new figures ... in its public awareness campaigns and is not going to scale back its fight against obesity.

"There's absolutely no question that obesity is a major public health concern of this country," she said. Gerberding said the CDC will work to improve methods for calculating the consequences of obesity.

Translation: "We're going to keep beating this dead horse despite the fact that everyone knows it's really a marmoset."

The end result, of course, is that no one will believe the CDC on anything anymore; I'd sooner believe that, oh, Susan Estrich is petitioning the Vatican to push aside Benedict XVI and install a woman in his place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:24 AM)
25 April 2005
Poverty, schmoverty

I will reread this Jane Galt classic while I whine about the bills tomorrow night:

By the standards of, say, 1920, every single one of us, even welfare mothers, is rich. Every single one of us has enough food that we never need to go to bed with our stomachs crying out to be filled. Every single one of us has running water — running hot water — and bathtubs and indoor toilets to put the water into. We have stoves that do not need to be carefully tended to keep the fire going. We have central heat. We have cars or public transportation to take us wherever we want to go for a trivial sum. Almost every poor person in America has a color television, offering free entertainment 24 hours a day, and most of them can afford to buy cable to go along with it. We are so wealthy that even a welfare mother can afford to let her children stay in school until they graduate — indeed, so wealthy that a once-ubiquitous dramatic scene, the child vowing to drop out of school in order to help the family out, has entirely dropped out of the literary canon. The average middle-class man of 1920 would have regarded all but the most hopelessly drug addled or mentally ill street people as wealthy beyond dreams of avarice.

Not that I'm giving up my dreams of avarice, of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:06 PM)
27 April 2005
Zoned out

City zoning regulations grow ever more abstruse, yet cities never quite become the utopias decreed by the planning committees.

Or, as Michael Bates puts it:

After eighty years of experimenting with zoning, it's apparent that zoning doesn't produce the kinds of neighborhoods and cities that are interesting and pleasant places to live. Decades of ham-handed regulation and government-driven redevelopment have created dead downtowns and suburbs with beautiful sidewalks that lead nowhere interesting. The traditional urban neighborhood has been outlawed. The automobile has gone from being a convenience to an absolute necessity for survival, and we've stranded the young, the old, and the handicapped.

(Aside: Suburbs have sidewalks?)

Miami, Florida has some of the most arcane zoning rules on earth, and has gotten little for it beyond very thick city-ordinance books. Miami 21 will, they say, toss out the books in favor of a "form-based" plan.

To see what this means in practice, I took a look at Plan Baton Rouge; the Louisiana capital is transitioning to just such a plan.

The existing Zoning Map makes use of eleven zoning categories for the Downtown. These zoning tech?niques, derived from postwar suburban practice, do not serve well the traditional urban fabric of the Downtown.

Over the years, the existing code has become increasingly compli?cated. It now requires simplification if development is to be easy and predictable; two very real incentives for developers.

The proposed Code consists of four documents: (1) The Regulating Plan, which is a map allocating the new zoning categories. (2) The Urban Regulations which are the central set of instructions keyed to the Regulating Plan. The Urban Regulations refer to the (3) Use Standards, Parking Strategy, and Frontage Standards and the (4) Architectural Standards. There are also a set of Management Standards that should be applied to new buildings and retroactively to all.

The Urban Regulations are here. This is the one I found most interesting:

[Definition of] A and B Grid: A zoning system by triage which assigns frontages of superior and inferior pedestrian character to alternating thoroughfares. This system assumes that certain building types intrinsically create inferior pedestrian experiences (drive-throughs, convenience parking, service stations). Rather than ban them altogether, the A and B street grid segregates them to different thoroughfares. This strategy, which emulates a street and alley system, maintains selected streetscapes at a high standard rather than compromise all the streetscapes somewhat. "A" streets must meet the provisions of this code. "B" streets are exempt from the frontage, parking locus and architectural syntax standards.

I can think of parts of Tulsa where this very process could have come into play very recently.

It will be interesting to see how this all turns out. My postwar neighborhood is some sort of midtown/suburban hybrid, and has some mysterious zoning rules of its own; I'm curious to see how it could have been done differently under the Baton Rouge/Miami plans.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
28 April 2005
Curiously, posted on Thursday

I read Robert A. Heinlein's Friday when it first appeared. The tale of an Artificial Person in a not-quite-post-apocalyptic world is generally not considered among RAH's best, but it's such a breezy read (despite a below-par ending) that I go back to it now and again, and, as always with Heinlein's strongest characters, I've gotten a pretty good mental picture of what Friday herself might be like.

And now that Jacqueline is describing her blog as "[t]he bildungsroman of an aspiring Heinlein heroine," I haven't had to revise that picture in the slightest.

Oh, well. I only threw that in so I could mention this particular passage, which seems to be sticking in my mind these days:

"[A] dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

"Really?"

"Pfui. I should have forced you to dig it out yourself; then you would know it. This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength."

I wouldn't be surprised to see that FWP has something to say about that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
30 April 2005
Sighs matter

Kim du Toit offers a brief glimpse at The Artist Formerly Known As Tula Ellice Finklea.

(Too brief? Try here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
1 May 2005
Loud but never square

I'm not exactly a dedicated follower of fashion, but I like to think of myself as being at least more au courant than, say, the Courant.

Still, my mind drew a blank upon encountering the phrase "ear threads", even though its meaning should be sort of obvious.

So much for my delusions of fashionista-hood.

(Via the beauteous and more-heavily-pseudonymous-of-late Page, played by Rebecca Romijn.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
Ten out of ten for style

With the singular exception of I Capture the Castle, no motion picture has ever caused me more apprehension than has The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and recent fanboy condemnation hadn't made me feel any better about it.

So I betook myself to Tinseltown this afternoon for the first showing of what I refuse to call H2G2, and I'm pleased to report that it stands up pretty well. I didn't want a straight transcription of the book, or of the radio series, which is where I learned all this stuff; what I wanted was about two hours of visuals that did justice to Douglas Adams' wordplay, and mostly that's what I got, though a few catchphrases I might have liked to have heard once more were conspicuous by their absence. The film departs from Adams' original premise in a couple of small ways and in one large one: the character of Trillian, relatively insignificant before, has been redeveloped into someone sufficiently real to provide some sort of motivation for the otherwise-phlegmatic Arthur Dent. By holy Zarquon's singing fish, he might actually be in love with her, and Zooey Deschanel makes it believable, even as she makes you wonder what, other than a source of entertainment, she ever saw in Zaphod Beeblebrox. Trufans, of course, are supposed to hate this sort of sentimental rubbish.

And there are a few disappointments: the clash between Arthur and the bulldozers isn't as frenetic as I might have hoped, and the Magratheans are given relatively short shrift. But I was quite thrilled with Slartibartfast's factory tour, and Vogon poetry is every bit as bad as I remembered it. If you can think of fifty things that you loved about any earlier version of Hitchhiker's, this new film will deliver on 42 of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 PM)
5 May 2005
That E Pluribus stuff really works

Where Susanna Cornett grew up isn't all that different:

Eastern Kentucky, like everywhere else, has its lazy good-for-nothings. It has criminals and unsophisticated unskilled workers and people who've never been more than 30 miles from home. But I've lived in Florida and New Jersey and Tennessee and Alabama. I've spent quite a bit of time in Manhattan. I've visited friends in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, California, Arizona and Indiana. I've been to pretty much every state east of the Mississippi and a lot west of it. Everywhere I've gone, there's the same array of folks. Manhattan is pretty different from Pine Lick, but someone who's never been outside of New York City can be just as parochial as someone who's never left their home county in Kentucky. It's not so much what your experience is, but the narrowness of it and the mindset that accompanies it that results in the Boss Hoggs of this world. And from what I've seen, there's more than a few Boss Hoggs in the Upper East Side.

Which reminds me: I have to start planning World Tour '05.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
7 May 2005
It's only a number

Doc Searls introduces the premise:

A friend of mine, a Ph.D. with specialties in psychology and statistics, once sat on a plane next to an older woman who had achieved a great deal — and spoke proudly of her five grown children, who were all achievers on their own, holding advanced degrees and honored positions in their professions. The woman credited their success to home schooling.

My friend challenged her on that, saying that heredity must also have something to do with their success. "Yes," the woman replied. "It would if they hadn't all been adopted."

We expect so much from "intelligence," despite the fact that our very definitions of it are inconsistent, and even though the tools we have to "measure" it are questionable at best.

[M]ost people are born smart and ... we use the likes of IQ tests to pound populations of uniquely gifted individuals into bell curves.

IQ is a head trip. There's something misleading, even delusional, about it.

No doubt those who score well are smart. But average or low IQ scores are often meaningless, except to the degree that they fortify our belief that intelligence is a fixed value, like height or weight, and as easy to measure. The whole culture we've built around IQ tests serves to legitimize a creepy form of elitism. Worse, it substantiates our need to treat individuals always as members of populations. As typicalities. Nowhere is this more apparent, and obsolete, than in corporate org charts. Yes, hierachies are useful. But so are human beings that like working, and advancing, in companies that value their unique gifts.

And, of course, fitting people into those corporate org charts was the primary motivation for this sort of number-crunching in the first place: find suitably-elevated positions for the ostensibly "gifted," and provide subtle discouragement for those who didn't test well and whose dreams would inevitably be crushed.

This is not any kind of an argument for the abandonment of testing: in an era where no child is supposed to be left behind, there exists a perfectly-legitimate need for the evaluation of students. What we don't need: the compulsion to express those evaluations on a single scale, and the blithe assumption that the scale itself is anything more than a statistical abstraction.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
10 May 2005
Correcting the oversupply

One of the graffiti at the Old Economists' Home says: "If you want less of something, tax it."

Jeff Jarvis offers some suggestions:

[L]et's tax checkered flannel shirts, polyester suits, car alarms that make 20 obnoxious sounds and never turn off, Dr. Phil, mullets, Britney Spears CDs, bare-midriff tops over size 6, Speedos in any size, magnetic ribbons on the backs of cars in any color, Starbucks orders of more than four words, pop-up ads, tofu, PowerPoint, and gum.

A few of those, I contend, are at least somewhat arguable.

(A blog tax, you say? Bosh.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 PM)
11 May 2005
Fighting poverty one house at a time

Not too long after LBJ declared War on Poverty, bumper stickers began to appear: I FIGHT POVERTY. I WORK.

Too simple a solution for the policy wonks of the day, and certainly too simple a solution for today, when everything is somebody else's fault.

Today, Walter Williams weighs in with this:

Avoiding long-term poverty is not rocket science. First, graduate from high school. Second, get married before you have children, and stay married. Third, work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. And, finally, avoid engaging in criminal behavior.

None of these four provisions, you'll note, contains any racial references whatsoever. And if you were thinking of finding some between the lines, La Shawn Barber advises otherwise:

"Racism" is so inconsequential to black people's lives in 2005 as to be laughably negligible. Given the extent of social pathology in certain "black" communities, I can?t tell you how embarrassing it is to hear black men in expensive suits blaming immoral behavior on "racism." It's archaic, tired, shameful and unimaginative. It bores me to tears as they prattle on about "racism," as if white people have that kind of power over blacks. We're teaching our children that if they fail, blame the white man.

I don't know if I'd characterize its negligibility as "laughable" — where it does exist, it's not all that damn funny — but for the most part, Jim Crow has flown the coop, and nobody this side of Trent Lott misses the miserable bird. There are entirely too many people who resent the idea that life requires effort, and the ethnicity of that group, whatever it may be, is stunningly insignificant in comparison to its self-destructive mindset.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Postponed until Boys' Night Out

Defamer reports that the soon-to-be-DVDed Director's Cut of Alexander is eight minutes shorter than the theatrical release.

Why would they do such a thing? To, um, straighten it up, perhaps?

Is Warner Bros. trying to de-gay Alexander for the home video market? We'd really hate to lose some of the interesting moments which explored the young conqueror?s fluid sexuality. Without Anthony Hopkins' revealing voiceover that, "It is said that Alexander was never defeated — except by Hephaiston's thighs, and occasionally by the huge, glistening cock that dangled between them," or the scene where the two fast friends are chased out of the Academy by rock-wielding bullies taunting them as "toga-biters," all [Oliver] Stone really has left is Jared Leto in eyeliner, a couple of elephants, and Rosario Dawson's unexpectedly huge rack. Maybe they think that'll play better in Oklahoma.

Gee, thanks for the cultural stereotype, Bunsen.

Actually, you had us at Rosario Dawson's rack.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
12 May 2005
The city as amusement park

San Francisco, says Joel Kotkin, is an ephemeral place, a city devoted to "stylish living" above all else:

The ephemeral city differs dramatically from traditional urban centers. No longer populated mainly by middle class families and a diverse set of industries, it is dominated by a wealthy elite, part-time sojourners, hordes of tourists and those that serve them.

And its political climate, says Kotkin, runs "from left-liberal to left-lunatic," which would ordinarily suggest a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth over job losses — 13 percent in the last five years — and recent declines in "diversity," because urban ethnics can no longer afford to live there. Instead, San Francisco worries about shopping bags and the possibility that a person addressing the Board of Supervisors might commit a verbal faux pas.

For some inscrutable reason, this sort of circus is being held up as a role model for the rest of us. Kotkin reports:

San Francisco is not alone in building an ephemeral economy. Montreal, Berlin, Boston and Portland, Ore., all display signs of constructing an urbanity based on hipness, art and culture. Like San Francisco, these cities attract large numbers of young, educated people with their notable street life, entertainments and nice architecture.

Less reasonable are the attempts of other, less favored cities — places like Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Manchester, Vt., and Oklahoma City, even Aarhus in Denmark — to peg their futures on becoming hip cultural centers. Some, adopting popular development guru Richard Florida's notions that having lots of gays is key to making your city successful, have decided that they, too, need to get more gay.

Will this strategy succeed in the boondocks? When a reporter from Oklahoma City tells me of the city fathers' dream of attracting hip, cool people, including a large contingent of gay people, to create a Sooner State Castro district, I can answer with one New York word — fuggedaboutit.

You might think, or I might, that if Oklahoma City really wanted to attract gay people, the city would have mounted a campaign against State Question 711 last year. And besides, however popular Dr Florida's notions may be these days, they seldom translate into actual economic success.

Some of our "emerging professionals" bewail the fact that Oklahoma City doesn't seem to be transitioning into a vacationland for lawyers in love. Right now, I'm more interested in whether they can keep the sewer lines from backing up.

(Via Matt Rosenberg in not-always-delusional Seattle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
14 May 2005
Don't go changing

The Lee Enterprises group has agreed to purchase Pulitzer and its St. Louis Post-Dispatch for $1.46 billion, and one provision of the purchase agreement specifies that Lee will retain the Post-Dispatch's reliably-leftward slant for a minimum of five years, a clause I have to assume was inserted at the request of anguished Pulitzer officials who couldn't bear to see any changes in their beloved paper.

Not that they had to worry, particularly — none of Lee's existing papers have any reputation for rampant conservatism, and Lee doesn't have a habit of dictating editorial policy from the home office — but obviously this was a concern, or Lee wouldn't have bothered to make this assurance in the contract.

I have to wonder if Pulitzer would have fretted so had Lee's headquarters been located in a liberal stronghold like New York or San Francisco, instead of in Davenport, Iowa.

(Via McGehee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
Genitally speaking

Rocket Jones has evinced a vaguely-unhealthy interest in a 1977 movie called Chatterbox, which, I must report, I have actually seen. (Worse, I once owned a copy, on one of those old RCA CED NeedleVision videodiscs.)

Actually, it's not as horrid as the synopsis suggests, although the premise is extremely silly. The young lady in question discovers her, um, gift at the conclusion of an indifferent bout of lovemaking: she is grateful to her geekish (and not in a good way) boyfriend, but the Box claims lack of satisfaction. Despairing, she rushes to a shrink, who sees her and Virginia, to give the Box a proper name, as his ticket out of this dead-end profession and into the Big Time.

It's really not all that bad, but it's impossible to describe with any degree of discretion, as demonstrated quite clearly above. The 1988 German film Ich un ErMe and Him in its English release — is a variation on this theme, with Mark Linn-Baker, for some reason, playing a real prick.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:37 PM)
16 May 2005
Ze said

We linguistic mossbacks are apparently standing athwart the path of a grammatical and/or sexual revolution:

For those who are not familiar with ze/hir, it is used rather than she/her or he/him/his for some people who identify outside of a man/woman dichotomy. Like he and she, ze has several forms that are not particularly easy for the average person to classify grammatically (he, she, ze; his, her, hir; him, her, hir; his, hers, hirs; himself, herself, hirself), but anyone who can use she and he is capable of integrating ze. Listening to individuals who respect self-identification and pronoun preference makes this quite clear, as they form sentences like "ze knows that's hir job," "that book is hirs," and so on. There is a pattern that is consistent and easy to produce.

I suppose it's better than "it," but I submit that persons who "identify outside of a man/woman dichotomy" have issues far beyond mere pronoun usage. Even transsexuals, as I understand them, are binary: they are A and seek B-ness, or vice versa. While I must assume it's possible to live Somewhere In Between, I really have to wonder if this is good for one's — um, hir — social life: does the pool of putative datables increase markedly, or does it shrink to the dimensions of Newspeak?

(Swiped from Joanne Jacobs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 PM)
17 May 2005
That's it, I quit, I'm movin' on

How far can you get into a book before you decide, well, you're really not into this book? Syaffolee says:

[M]y "cut-off point" (in quotations because I don't stop reading) is approximately 100 to 150 pages in. If I'm not completely hooked by then, the book is not getting my recommendation.

I'm not quite so forgiving: it takes about 60 pages for me to decide whether a book should not be put aside, but thrown with great force. And I've hurled a few, though only a few.

Of course, if I wrote the book, I'll never make it past the Foreword. (I have written no books, and, Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, I never will.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:11 PM)
18 May 2005
Speaking of horrid books

And I was, wasn't I?

Anyway, Aldahlia reads Left Behind so you don't have to.

And believe me, you don't have to.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
Icing, and an actual cake

Matt's got an idea, and it's a beaut:

[I]t would restore excitement and a following to the season itself, promoting regional rivalries (no more Edmonton-Nashville epics), giving the most passionate fans the best shot at the Cup (by the way, to decide your three or two Stanley seeds, you would of course have your own tournament from among the top XX teams), and spare casual watchers the startling incongruity of a Calgary-Tampa Bay final.

You'll have to read the whole thing, of course, to see how this happy conclusion is reached. (Hint: it involves a Canada/US split.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:52 PM)
20 May 2005
Oh, those media dollars

Wired is saying we spend an average of $240 a month on media, including both content and delivery. CT at Population Statistic, more wired than Wired, spends half again as much.

Which, of course, led me to break out the calculator:

  • Basic cable and broadband: $80
  • Landline: $53
  • Back-up dial-up service: $22
  • Wireless: $23
  • AOL (for my chat fix): $15
  • Newspapers: $7
  • Online subscriptions: $6
  • Website maintenance: $27
  • Traditional magazine subscriptions: $62

(The last figure does not include Stuff, which has started appearing in my mailbox despite the fact that I don't remember ever ordering it.)

Which brings me to $295, a tad ahead of your median Wired reader, but somewhat behind CT. I do, however, agree with his conclusion:

It's damned expensive to be fully plugged-in today. But on the plus side, you?re in on practically all the jokes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
22 May 2005
Surreality check

Donna goes to a Dali exhibition, and it's so, so serious:

When I think of Dali, I think of a man who had a sense of humor. This was not in evidence in the audio tour or any of the written pieces within the exhibition. It was simply surreal how seriously they handled his surrealism. "In this piece, the young poet is depicted with a lobster on his head, which offers us Freudian insight into Dali's own juxtapositioning of...." C'mon guys, there's a freakin' lobster on this kid's head... now that is FUNNY!

Of course he had a sense of humor. This is a man who once did an advertisement for a hosiery company featuring a dandelion with nice legs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 PM)
24 May 2005
All your bass were belong to him

A moment of silence, if you please, for the late Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft, a tall skinny guy with a big, big voice, a member of the R&B group the Mellomen, whose records inexplicably came out under the name Big John and the Buzzards, and for fifty-three years the voice of Tony the Tiger, spokescritter for Kellogg's [Sugar] Frosted Flakes.

Oh, yes: "You're a mean one, Mister Grinch." That, too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
28 May 2005
Xyzzy (mumble)

Can't make heads or tails of Lost? Think of it as simply a new version of Zork.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:23 PM)
29 May 2005
The blessings of technology

"The machines," I said to a supermarket checkout clerk yesterday, "are out to get us," and she smiled: "You got that right."

Well, actually, I didn't. I mean, yes, these contraptions are less than 100-percent reliable, but what invention of man isn't? Still, I retain a healthy respect for our technological experts, and their track record is pretty good, all things considered:

God made the world in seven days, but it was a fairly bleak and hopeless place full of volcanoes and sharks. On the eighth day, however, man got cracking and as home improvements go, did a monumentally good job. He created light, warmth, the potato crisp and the dishwasher. And every single one of these things — everything that makes your life pleasant, comfortable, safe and exciting — is down to engineering.

Environmentalists make out that the planet is some kind of wondrous, self-sustaining entity and engineering has ruined it. They look at the gun, the car and the jet engine as instruments of Satan, but the mosquito has killed more than all three put together.

Then again, Pringles haven't really done much to advance the technology of the potato crisp (a British term for what we call "potato chips" that Procter & Gamble apparently adopted for no apparent reason), unless you think stackability is paramount. (And, well, if you're going to put the damned things in a can, perhaps it is.)

I don't have a dishwasher either.

(Via This Blog Will Be Deleted By Tomorrow.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 AM)
31 May 2005
Remind me to pick up some Oreos

"Boycotts," some girl once said, "are etymologically sexist."

I wouldn't know about that, but it's been a long time since I felt compelled to take part in one: it's not so much a consistent policy of refusing to take part so much as it is a nagging suspicion that most of them are intended, not to get an organization to alter its plans, but to get publicity for the group engaging in the boycott.

And this suspicion grows closer to certainty whenever the American Family Association, Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based activist group, is involved: they will boycott anyone at any level for anything they don't like. Certainly they have a right to do so, but I'm getting to the point where I'd actually support things they can't stand, just because they can't stand them.

Well, some things, anyway. The AFA bombarded Kraft Foods with complaints after word got out that the company was providing some sponsorship money for the seventh Gay Games, to be held in Chicago in 2006. Kraft is apparently not going to back out, and corporate counsel Marc Firestone sent a letter to Kraft employees explaining why:

It can be difficult when we are criticized. It's easy to say you support a concept or a principle when nobody objects. The real test of commitment is how one reacts when there are those who disagree. I hope you share my view that our company has taken the right stand on diversity, including its contribution to the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.

Which, as Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast says, "is more courage than Steve Ballmer had."

Now if Kraft starts kicking in funding for embryonic stem-cell research or something, I'll complain. But I'm not taking part in this ongoing Everything Gay Is Evil campaign. Period. Pass the Cheez Whiz.

(Suggested by Aldahlia.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
Hilton heads in a new direction

Paris Hilton, airhead though she be, never bothered me that much; she just seems to bumble through life, which is a lot easier to do when you have a famous name, a reasonably nice bod, and a few bazillion dollars in the bank. It probably never occurred to her that her car-washing technique is not so great, and in that notorious sex video, she comes across, so to speak, as more dutiful than deranged.

So I'm not inclined to snipe at her: I wish her well on her impending marriage to a guy named Paris, no matter how narcissistic it sounds, I hope they find themselves a lovely townhouse in Paris — what's one more dim bulb in the City of Lights? — and I hope they have lots of little Parisites together.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:23 PM)
1 June 2005
The view from Yancy Street

Mister Snitch says the new Fantastic Four movie will be a letdown:

The FF movie failed to rise to the challenge of mining and translating the sublime, subversively self-aware, pulpy pleasures of its source material to the screen. This same failing doomed The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which sank from sight, unmourned, shortly after it appeared some weeks ago. The FF no doubt will suffer a similar, equally undeserved, fate.

And what's more:

The FF's original self-mocking, pulp sci-fi wit and sweeping scale were lost on its cast, who treated the project as just another gig.

All of these may indeed be true. Still, we're talking my two favorite people in all the Marvel Universe — Sue Storm and Benjamin J. Grimm — and I will be there.

'Nuff said.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
5 June 2005
Calling the spayed the spayed

Writers of soap operas shy away from almost no terms that pertain to women. But when it comes to men, says Meryl Yourish, there's a vas deferens:

The word "vasectomy" was said exactly once, if I'm not mistaken, when Ryan called the doctor to inquire about it. After that, it was called "the procedure," "surgery," or "the appointment," and is now being referred to as having made sure that he will never have children, or having made sure that Greenlee (hey, I don't name 'em, I just report 'em) will never be able to have Ryan's baby, or even "stolen my future."

The overwhelming majority of soap opera fans are women. "Vasectomy" is not a word that strikes fear into our nether regions. It is, in fact, a word we like, because it means we don't have to fool around with various birth control methods that are inconvenient, annoying, slightly gross, or even dangerous. So what is up with the writers on All My Children being unable to allow their actors to utter the word "vasectomy"? Hey, they're perfectly comfortable with using "skank," "slut," and "whore" when referring to female characters they don't like (that is a subject for another day, don't even get me started on that one), and yet, they can't refer to a vasectomy as a vasectomy?

Megan McTavish, what hath thou wrought?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 PM)
6 June 2005
Positively sandalous

It's flip-flop season, and CT is not thrilled:

There are really not that many pretty feet out there. In fact, there are far too many downright ugly ones on display, thanks to this open-toed madness. No matter how many $75 pedicures or toerings administered, ugly feet remain ugly feet. The biggest shame of it is, most women are kidding themselves to the contrary (although I suspect that, deep down, they know they?re not pulling it off).

I have no reason to think I'm especially fortunate or especially pervy, but the below-ankle scenery around here is actually pretty good these days, although multiple toerings (I know one woman who used to wear three and now wears four) probably would qualify as overkill.

Besides, every pair of flip-flops worn means someone is not wearing these hideous fur boots.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
8 June 2005
Edumacation blues

Disclosure: I started this last night with the following statement:

Not that either John Kerry or George W. Bush should care, particularly, but my grades weren't any better than theirs were.

I couldn't think of an adequate follow-up, so I shoved it onto the back burner to await an opportunity.

Such as, well, this non-screedy Bleat from Lileks:

One of the things I've let go in the last few years is the belief that college grades are an accurate predictor of intelligence. (I'm sure it would horrify some of my more . . . vociferous emailers to learn I got great grades in my three-semester European Diplomatic History course.) Put it this way: if you get good grades in college, you're probably not unsmart. (I also excelled in English.) I did well in Art History, my minor; I had teachers and courses that rewarded passionate essays full of doubleplus bellyfeel. I suq'd the hindmost teat in the sciences. I like science — I was a total chemistry set geek as a child — but my essential impatience swamped that inclination, and I really do lack the temperament for mastering that amount of details. Geometry, algebra — they irritate me. I was not an indifferent college student, but college did not seem to be pointing me where I wanted to be. Until I found the newspaper, and that was the end of that.

I attended the U of M for seven years. And I don't have a degree. I have no shame about that, and admit it freely; am I dumber than someone who was in and out in four? I spent one glorious year taking three classes that lasted all year long — Art history, Russian lit, and European history. They led to nothing in the professional sense, and did combine like Transformer Credits to turn into a sheepskin, but I wouldn't trade that year for anything. When I finally left college I took a job as a convenience store clerk, which is just what my English degree would have prepared me for anyway. But. I had clips. Damn, I had clips. I had written about 100 pieces, and I had an audience and a name, however lower-case and minor it might have been. But when you want to be a writer, that matters more than a Masters in Fiction.

So Kerry?s poor scores mean nothing to me. College is an interesting fiction; it?s become the modern monastery that confers Holiness merely by virtue of tenancy in its ivy-slathered walls for a certain period of time.

Nothing so far has pointed me to where I want to be, but then I'm not entirely sure where that is. I do know this much, though: the possession of Actual Verified Education in my, um, profession of the moment is far more likely to be a liability than an asset.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
12 June 2005
Fish story

His name was Albert Fish, and his story ended in the electric chair at Sing Sing in 1936, a story filled with murder and perversion and cannibalism.

Inevitably, there is, or will be, Wisteria: The Story of Albert Fish, after Wisteria Cottage in Westchester County, New York, where Fish in 1928 killed a young girl and finished her off, probably not with fava beans and a nice Chianti. It's a pure New York story, so naturally it was filmed in central Oklahoma.

Most of the filming was done in and around Guthrie and Pawhuska; scenes requiring a New York City look were shot in Oklahoma City, where the old OPUBCO building at Fourth and Broadway, with a few minor tweaks, passed for the outside of a NYC police station (interior shots were done at the Guthrie Public Library). Local car clubs brought in vintage vehicles. This is not a huge production: budget is around $2 million, which is above shoestring, though not much.

Wisteria: The Albert Fish Story is produced by Wisteria Cottage Productions and is scheduled for release by Ravenwolf Films in 2006. (If you have QuickTime, you can see a teaser here.) The busy Patrick Bauchau stars.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 AM)
Turned with the century

Now here's a scenario just waiting for a story to be told:

In 1880, Vienna was home to a confident bourgeoisie devoted to order, mannered charm and the grandiloquent facades on the Ringstrasse. But turn-of-the-century Vienna was swiftly becoming something quite different, a test of wills began emerging between well-behaved traditionalism and liberated modernism. The capital's population increased more than four-fold during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph, from less than half a million in the 1850s to over two million by 1910. While technical and scientific advances followed one another in bewildering succession, the Habsburg empire clung to ideals of stability and the preservation of existing order — the cultivation of the status quo.

If official Viennese society remained rigid and unchanging, its urban subculture of coffeehouse-and-cabaret cosmopolites united poets, writers and artists aspiring to break through the complacency of intellectual life. Such was the gap between actuality and what was presented as sham that Vienna is often described as the city in which psycho-analysis needed to be invented. The discoveries of science and medicine, to say nothing of the triumphs of the human intellect and the human spirit, were largely met with indifference by the stolid burghers of Vienna. The city at large was quite oblivious to the fact it was one of the intellectual centers of the world.

In short, exactly the sort of place you'd find Peter Keller, young, ambitious lawyer, with a good job, a fiancée from one of the better families, and utterly devoted to that "well-behaved traditionalism" — until one day he wanders into a coffeehouse and gets the first hint that what he really wants is something entirely different:

[W]hat was Schmäh, the Viennese custom of insincere politeness, if not dishonesty? Peter was aware that it was a social lubricant, a means whereby unpleasant truths could be avoided, even disregarded; or else a way to concel the harshness that was so unacceptable in Viennese society. But was that avoidance even necessary? Most change, he knew, arose from inner conflict; by avoiding conflict, what people really did was affirm their acceptance of the status quo.

And so it was that Peter Keller decided that he did not accept the status quo, and resolved to go his own way, a way which, he found out quickly enough, would require him to give up everything he knew and start off in directions not only unfamiliar but perhaps even unheard of.

This is Vienna Days by Kim du Toit, a novel which examines the unraveling of one man against the backdrop of the unraveling of the old order in Vienna, the artistic movement known as Secessionism. It's not an unfamiliar story — we've all seen people seduced by the Quest before — but it's a story that unfolds at exactly the right speed and asks all the right questions, some of which are even answered. Du Toit's writing style is spare and precise: scarcely a word is wasted. It's appropriate, I think, for the story of a man who spent the first part of his life learning to think linearly, and the rest of it trying to find some reason not to.

Du Toit says he's selling about one copy of Vienna Days every day. I hope this piece stimulates at least a week's worth.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:33 PM)
16 June 2005
Sweet vidiocy

I am, of course, a Beta fan, but that won't keep me from appreciating Michele's personal VHS history.

Oh, my first machine? A Sears unit built by Sanyo, with a wired remote, which I bought at the very end of 1981 for a prodigiously-discounted $799.95. (Well, it was $150 off.) I started buying blank tapes in cases of ten for $160, substantial savings over the usual $20 single-tape price. And I signed up for one of those pricey rental plans that was cunningly designed to cost just slightly more than going to the actual movies.

And somehow I don't think there will be comparable nostalgia when DVD gives way to whatever comes next.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
17 June 2005
Stuff distributed at random

Last month, I was adding up all the bucks I spend on media of various sorts, and noted that my $62 figure for subscriptions to magazines "does not include Stuff, which has started appearing in my mailbox despite the fact that I don't remember ever ordering it."

I haven't been inclined to complain — I mean, I wasn't at all ready for photos of a scantily-clad Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar — but three issues have arrived, and I've been puzzling over "Why me?"

Well, it's not just me:

Stuff magazine started arriving each month — no explanation given. If you don't know, Stuff is a lot like Maxim, only dumbed down. Yes, that's possible, although I'd have never believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

Of course, Playboy, godfather to all the lad mags, has sacrificed a few IQ points in the past forty years. (Playboy Interview, April through June 1965: Art Buchwald, Jean-Paul Sartre, Melvin Belli. Playboy Interview, April through June 2005: Les Moonves, James Spader, Lance Armstrong.)

And the perfectly-logical reason for sending out unordered magazines:

Magazines base their ad rates on how many eyes they can promise to deliver. Issues on newsstands barely count — there's no promise anyone will ever buy them. What counts is, how many people get each issue mailed to them. 100,000 paid subscribers are worth a lot more than 1,000,000 issues delivered to Barnes & Noble.

But it would now appear that even unpaid subscribers are considered too valuable to lose.

Considering how little the "official" price matters — has anyone paid more than $12 for a year of Wired since Condé Nast acquired it? — reducing it to zero probably doesn't matter very much at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
19 June 2005
Juneteenth

A reminder from The Glittering Eye that slavery goes on, even today:

The first step is condemning slavery. Let's stop condoning or excusing people who practice slavery. We should be snubbing them not welcoming them into our homes. Even if it costs us a buck or two to take a stand. Let's stand behind our beliefs rather than knuckling under to tyrants. Microsoft and Yahoo, that means you.

Second, let's not make specious equivalences. Low wages isn't slavery. Being chained to your workbench or locked up at night to prevent escape is slavery. And, particularly, working for no wages and being physically and sexually abused is slavery. And it takes place today in Iran and Pakistan and China and Germany and Colorado and Florida and on every continent and in many countries. People who practice slavery may temporarily be our allies but they can't be our friends and we shouldn't put up with it.

There isn't anything I could add to that except a couple of links, and so I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
22 June 2005
Blue on blue

Heartburn on heartburn.

I mean, a live-action Smurfs movie?

This wasn't a good idea even when it was a good idea. In 2006 — assuming they could get it finished by then — it's just another indication that Hollywood is circling the drain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 PM)
23 June 2005
All news is local

Truth, poetry, and a hint of the future, courtesy of Lileks:

If I were king of the forest, and could remake the Daily Paper according to my whims, I'd make two changes. I'd confine the editorials to local matters, because no one cares what the Peoria Gleaner thinks about Sudan. Whereas an intensely local editorial section has a unique power; it's distributed and read by the people who can actually do something about the issues raised. Second, I'd flip the A and B sections. Newspapers can do the local issues like no other medium. Someone gets shot on the north side, and a southside blogger doesn't know it — unless he reads it in the paper.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the Daily Paper has its fingers in too many local pies, but that's a different issue entirely.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 AM)
Sometimes you have to laugh

Can you be cynical and happy at the same time? Bruce says yes, and I'm inclined to agree:

The two states seem at odds with each other. Just how can you assume the worst about everything and still see the good in the world?

It's possible, but not if you remain cynical about everything all the time. I often say that I wouldn't be so cynical if it didn't work so well. I think that's true. People that aren't cynical might never see the absurdity that pervades our lives. And it's that absurdity that can make you happy at unexpected times.

The human condition is indeed fraught with absurdity; if life doesn't make you bust out laughing once in a while, you're not paying attention.

Besides, just because you assume the worst doesn't mean you're invariably going to get it; you've got to allow for the occasional pleasant surprise from things failing to go as badly as you anticipated.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:15 AM)
25 June 2005
Toying with the fabric of the universe

Jacqueline Passey's new philosophy:

Television is to news what bumper stickers are to philosophy.

Bless her, she went out and bought a bumper sticker that says so.

And I know, if I had a television news program, I would absolutely have to report on this.

This is one of the best bits of self-referential whimsy since Noble Clay, Maine-based porcelain potters, put up a sign that read nowedonthaveawebsite.com. (Now, of course, they do. And long-term readers, if I have any left, will remember that I brought this up way back in 1999.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
27 June 2005
Mething around

Oklahoma's efforts to curb meth labs include restrictions on the purchase of products containing pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in homebrew methamphetamine, and Governor Henry has been recommending similar programs be adopted in other states.

Apparently it's working in Tennessee: the Volunteer State, after thirty days of pseudoephedrine restrictions, posted a 39 percent reduction in lab busts from the corresponding month last year. Governor Phil Bredesen says it's gratifying, but cautions that the figures are for only one month.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:10 AM)
11 July 2005
Oh, those crazy Caucasians

Erica was waxing lyrical about the WNBA All-Star Game, and then this happened:

Commentator Mike Jones: "Remember 'Swin' [as in Cash] is short for "Swintayla" which means 'amazing woman' in African." I'm sorry, what language is "African"?

Most of these media types know only one fragment of "African": the chorus of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

Apropos of nothing, but because it sorta fits here, hottie singer/actress (and lately serious evangelist) Lola Falana was doing the Tonight Show one evening and Johnny Carson was speaking the name as she pronounced it to him, trippingly on the tongue. "Lo-la fa-LA-na," he intoned. "What is the origin of that name, anyway?"

With a perfectly straight face, she said, "It's Swahili for 'Debbie'."

The Great Carsoni nearly fell over. (I did fall over.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
18 July 2005
An endless stream of Fockers

If you remember Meet the Fockers — and why should you? — you'll recall that the Ben Stiller and Teri Polo characters wed and were expecting.

Hollywood, already out of ideas, is hot for Meet the Little Focker, which would focus on (I'm guessing) a whole new generation of Fockers.

I think I speak for many of us, or at least for Lawren, when I say that we've had enough Fockers to last a lifetime.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
19 July 2005
"Let's not fight," said von Doom

The advantage of Sue Storm, according to Lileks' beloved Gnat:

[S]he is great fighter because she can turn invisible and sneak up and punch them in the butt.

Grasping the Zeitgeist is never going to be a problem for this young lady.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
20 July 2005
After bathing at the Baxter Building

I already had been warned about the Fantastic Four film by Mister Snitch, who announced a couple months ago that "The FF's original self-mocking, pulp sci-fi wit and sweeping scale were lost on its cast, who treated the project as just another gig."

The reviews have not been particularly kind, either; Roger Ebert complained in his Chicago Sun-Times review that it was "all setup and demonstration," and Doug Bentin sniffed in the Oklahoma Gazette that "you will come away from the theater feeling like you've just spent a couple of hours reading circa 1965 comic books."

Bentin is right, but that's exactly what I wanted from Fantastic Four: by 1965 I'd been reading FF for four years, and I still read it today, five hundred or so issues later. It's not hard to see why, either: while I could relate to Reed Richards' single-minded pursuit of answers at the expense of everything else — "difficulty with forest-spotting due to tree quantity," to borrow a phrase — I had a certain empathy with perennial misfit and occasional grouch Benjamin J. Grimm. (And I was hopelessly in love with Sue Storm, but that's a different matter entirely.)

No, it's not deep, and yes, some of the jokes are a bit too obvious. In today's Ironic At Any Cost context, this might be considered a drawback, but the same was true of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby originals; we didn't care then, and I don't care now. As a 2005 visualization of a 1965 concept, Fantastic Four works better than it deserves to, and while it won't make anyone's list of Best Pictures, it didn't bore me for a second. Besides, there's still Sue, and — well, let's not go there.

Addendum: Lileks has issues with the casting:

Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, while Charlize Theron lives and breathes? Do they not realize that Tim Robbins would be the perfect Reed Richards?

Tim looks the part, but I don't think he could bring out his Inner Dork in the manner required. And Charlize — well, do I really want to see her become invisible? (What am I saying?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:21 PM)
24 July 2005
1164 and all that

I put it off as long as I could, but seeing Bewitched was inevitable: few Sixties artifacts affected me quite as much as the original ABC television series. (A woman who can do just about anything falls for an ordinary doofus? How could I not pay attention to something like this?) But I am wary when archetypes are rejiggered, especially when they're my archetypes.

Nor was I reassured when I read that the plot would be complicated by setting the film on the set of a TV remake of Bewitched, a bit of self-referential meta-silliness that didn't work any better two decades earlier with The French Lieutenant's Woman, but what really worried me, of course, was whether the film would step all over my dreams.

For the most part, it doesn't, although you can see the creaky wheels of any Nora Ephron vehicle without having to look offscreen, and while Will Ferrell plays both kinds of doofus — endearing and annoying — equally well, he doesn't transition between them convincingly. It didn't matter. Nicole Kidman walked away with this one, sensible shoes and all: she was so sweet and so perplexed and so determined that I wanted to take her by the hand and say "Let me take you away from all this." She would, of course, have had someone from the studio dope-slap me for my effrontery, but life is like that for us doofuses.

(If you don't get the title, try this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
25 July 2005
Heavy reading

Yes, I spent $100 at the comic-book shop last week.

This is why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
26 July 2005
And some really swingin' physicists

Latest from the ever-clueless People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Chris Martin of Coldplay has been declared to be the world's sexiest vegetarian.

Now technically, this isn't an oxymoron, and I acknowledge the existence of people who qualify for other jarring juxtapositions — there are, for instance, economics babes, sweet and sassy oilfield grunts, even the occasional dreamy psychometrician — but I have to admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Dave's position:

The words "sexy" and "vegetarian" (of any type) are mutually exclusive.

Even though I have, yes, actually known one such.

(Poached from Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
27 July 2005
Shrinking to a larger size

In about ten weeks, TV Guide will be shorn of its channel-by-channel listings, which supposedly everyone reads on their cable channel or on the Web anyway, and will resurface as a full-sized, glossy-paper competitor to Entertainment Weekly and similar magazines.

I can understand why they'd want to do this — putting out over a hundred regional editions has to cost them a bundle — but frankly, I think I'd be more likely to renew my subscription (which expires in May) if they kept the magazine at digest size, where it's at least distinguishable from the two dozen other mags that wander into my mailbox every month.

At least, that's what I think now. We shall see when that first oversized issue shows up in mid-October. Meanwhile, the company has told The Oklahoman that the 237 TV Guide staffers in Tulsa will not be affected by the change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:48 AM)
29 July 2005
Nothing venturi'd, nothing gained

There has been no small amount of mockery of Dan McKay's 2005 Bulwer-Lytton prize winner, which goes like this:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

Some would argue that this comparison is inapt. I demur. Women and carburetors (or carburettors, in the British manner) have much in common:

  • You always wonder if (and, if so, why) the original specifications have been changed.

  • It's possible to upset them if you toss them from side to side.

  • Some people insist that the amount you can get them to swallow is of primary importance.

  • When they don't flow, you should worry.

  • Replacing them with newer models will not necessarily get you better performance.

[Insert "fuel injection" joke here]

(Suggested by Dan Lovejoy; submitted to Wizbang's Carnival of the Trackbacks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
30 July 2005
Zoning restrictions

In the past 4700 posts (about three years), I have used the term "war zone" seven times, although three of them were quotations from elsewhere and three of them were references to zones where there is actual war.

This leaves only one gratuitous use of "war zone," which is probably one too many for Three & Eight:

I'd like to get through a single year without someone talking about something looking like a war zone. Only folks who have BEEN in war zones, to me, have the moral authority to make such a statement.

Alternatives, please?

It looked like a...
  • teenager's bedroom zone
  • dog vomit zone
  • tornado zone — 'cause it WAS
  • school cafeteria after a food fight zone
  • girl's bathroom on prom night zone
  • moldy refrigerator detritus zone
  • time zone
  • booger zone
  • place Detective Monk would never go zone
  • college town trailer park zone

Some of those are downright scary.

In my defense, I must note that I was talking about a tornado.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:55 PM)
31 July 2005
Yet they laugh at Bowlegs and Slapout

If you think I go through some odd locations on my road trips, consider the township of Germfask, Michigan, way up in the Upper Peninsula, about which Matt Rosenberg writes:

How does a place get named Germfask? The question has been weighing heavily on my mind. Thanks to this new-fangled InterWeb thingmabob, I now have an answer, from ePodunk: "The community was named for the last initials of the eight founders: Grant, Edge, Robinson, Mead, French, Ackley, Shepard and Knaggs."

I guess if the founders had been named Smith, Harper, Ingle, Thomas, Horton, O'Connor, Lewis and Elbert, the namers woulda had to come up with some other brilliant approach, huh?

They could have called it something like "Shoehilt" or "His Hotel".

"Germfask," conversely, could have been "Farm Kegs," which I heartily approve.

Historical note: During World War II, conscientious objectors who were subject to the military draft were given either noncombat duties in the armed services or, less often, duties in Civilian Public Service, a joint venture of the government and churches historically tied to nonviolence, such as the Society of Friends.

But not all the CPS camps had religious connections. One that did not was in Germfask, where about 100 COs were sent, and they were not inclined to shut up and push brooms, judging by this paragraph from their ad hoc newsletter [link requires Adobe Reader]:

A fair degree of public and pacifist attention has recently been focused on Germfask because of "something" that is taking place here. Press representatives, Selective Service officials, and private citizens have variously reported to the public that the men here are saboteurs, sex perverts, irreligious, intellectuals with crackpot theories, drunkards, and communists, who are lacking in humility, crazy, rejecting all discipline, threatening violence, and practicing vandalism. Local citizens reportedly fear for the chastity of their daughters, and that our pernicious ideas will corrupt their youth.

Sounds like my old basic-training company, now that I think about it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:12 PM)
1 August 2005
And then there were ten

Dean Esmay has a thread going for naming that tenth planet beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Feel free to recommend a name in Comments. I am mentioning a few here in the hopes that I won't see them again:

  • Britneya
  • Tendentious
  • ReaganWorld
  • Alderaan
  • Blogistan
  • Googlewhack
  • Smallworldafterall
  • Robert C. Byrd
  • Earth II (or, worse, "Earth ][")
  • Crustbury

Your turn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:23 AM)
Oh, yeah? Use it in a sentence

Senator Jesse Helms, commenting on the Senate's decision not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, circa 1999:

I note your distress at my floccinaucinihilipilification of the CTBT.

For those who have wondered if I ever do a post just to bait someone, the answer is one of the following:

  1. Yes.
  2. Yep.
  3. You betcha.

Sometimes I even link back to the someone in question.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:05 PM)
2 August 2005
Quel fromage!

Behold the power of cheese.

(Courtesy of Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 PM)
4 August 2005
From these mean streets

Fritz Kiersch took a few years off from directing to become professor of film and video at Oklahoma City Community College, but he's back on the set once again, and this time the set is downtown Oklahoma City.

Surveillance, starring Armand Assante, is the story of a security guard with a sackful of secrets. About half the film crew was drawn from OKCC's film/video students.

This is Kiersch's second film this year: The Hunt has just completed post-production and is scheduled for released in 2006. Gray Frederickson's Graymark Productions and distributor Image Entertainment produced both films.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
8 August 2005
Typecasting and then some

James Woods, interviewed by Brantley Bardin in the September issue of Premiere:

[A] cultural problem within our industry is that if you're a white, heterosexual, middle-aged man, there's only one part for you: the asshole villain. You know, I'd really like to think that those of us who also wrote Hamlet and put men on the moon might have something else to contribute in this postfeminist world.

Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Listen to yourself. Why, Hamlet is nothing more than an apologia for domestic violence. (Poor Ophelia is driven to suicide, and it's all Hamlet's fault for being such an asshole. Villain, even.) And don't even mention the Apollo program. Do you realize how much that cost? Imagine all the school lunches we could have bought, all the endangered species we could have saved.

[Geez, this is easy.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
9 August 2005
At least it isn't karaoke

Or, in Farkese, here comes the science.

University of Salford graduate student Amanda Griffiths is doing her doctoral thesis on the fine art of the air guitar, and why there seem to be gender differences in the playing thereof.

Griffiths' work will be overseen by Sheila Whiteley, Salford's Professor of Popular Music.

I must admit to a certain fondness for one of her subtitles: "Celebrating the fakeness of the inauthentic," which could almost be a motto for this Web site.

(Courtesy of Erin O'Connor.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 PM)
10 August 2005
With Andy Dick as Loki

The spawn of a marriage of inconvenience, you may be sure: What if Richard Wagner and Britney Spears had a baby?

Me, I want to hear Kevin Federline try to pronounce Götterdämmerung.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:06 PM)
12 August 2005
Night. Dark. Stormy.

I dearly love the Bulwer-Lytton contest, but the entries too often have one glaring flaw besides mere suckiness: they're incredibly freaking long for a single sentence.

If terseness is more your bag, there is now a Lyttle Lytton contest, with basically the same rules plus a 25-word limit.

And something like this deserves some kind of recognition:

John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, "How do you like surfing?"

(Courtesy of Teresa Nielsen Hayden.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
14 August 2005
No chatterbox

Vagina Monologues? Not even, says Aldahlia:

I get that they're for a good cause and all, and that's awesome. And, if I were simply uncomfortable with the word vagina, I wouldn?t be writing this at all. But, I am uncomfortable with Vaginas Telling their Own Stories. Kind of like I dislike the phrase, "Holiest of Holys." Anything that reduces women to flashbags meant for carting around their own reproductive organs gets on my nerves.

And, that includes the Monologues.

I'll let you all in on a secret —

My vagina doesn't have a brain. And, despite any possible Freudian nightmares some males may have had out there, it's got no mouth, either. It's not talking anytime soon, and if it could its story surely isn't anywhere near as interesting as the one my head could tell.

(Note: I read this and came up with two different responses. Unable to pick between them, I'm tossing both of them up here.)

[1] The Monologues, of course, are yet another manifestation of that peculiar contemporary notion that how you feel is every bit as important as how you think, a notion I find somewhere between incomprehensible and indefensible.

[2] There is less restraint on this side of the gender divide: look at all the pricks who have their own blogs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
16 August 2005
The motorcycle diuretics

Lemuel Kolkava makes fun of Che Guevara and draws a complaint from the field:

I don't know where you are from, but if you say what you say about Che, probably you don't see the real world, and probably you would never understand why he thought what he thought, and why he lived the way he did. There's a lot to say about him, but what we cannot say is that he was just a murderer. Napoleon was a murderer too, if you think about it, but History knows him because of his intelligence and because he was very smart. Che Guevara must be seen as a man with ideals, who fought for making them real, and as a person who never corrupted himself. I just dare you to think about a person who has or had ideals and is/was peaceful (besides Gandhi and M.L. King).

He gives this the response it deserves:

Oh, there are millions of peaceful persons with ideals who actually make the world a better place: nameless entrepreneurs, capitalists, workers in private companies, or people in charities and even NGOs, but you don't wear them on t-shirts, or read their biographies, for the simple reason, that they don?t kill anyone. They may not be on first name terms with "History" (why the Capital letter "H", I wonder. Have we read too much Hegel, hmm?), but they sure did more good.

Ah, but we see measurable progress. We are ready to admit that Che Guevara was a murderer. But he wasn't just that! Oh yes, he did kill people, but he did so with wit, idealism, a dash of daring-do, and what's more, he did kill with charm! Can you beat that, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler!?

But surely Che's minor excursion into the field of mass murder — he was decidedly small-time next to Hitler or Stalin — is excused by the way he cared for his people, is it not?

Well, actually, no, it is not:

He was put in charge of the Cuban bank, Cuban industrialization, and Cuban land reform. They were all colossal failures, of course, because they all were true to the utopian daydreams of communism, which is to say they didn't work. Indeed, he destroyed the Cuban economy and impoverished the Cuban people.

Oh, and yes, there were concentration camps, just in case you thought this was something introduced to Cuba by those horrid old Americans.

Leftists like to point out how they're opposed to all forms of discrimination, and I suppose it's true: some of them, at least, are amazingly undiscriminating.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
They used to be "reporters"

"If you are going to be a journalist," says Orville Schell, Dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California, "repayment must come in some other currency than dollars. One of those alternative currencies journalism trades in is 'able to make a difference'."

That "alternative currency" and $4.99, I suspect, will get you Combo Meal #2 at participating locations for a limited time only, tax not included.

Bill Quick doesn't think much of it either:

Saying that journalism is just a job is not to demean journalism. It is as honorable a way to make a living as tallying wodgets or repairing cars or writing computer code. And just as there are great code jocks who do have an impact beyond their own job, and mechanics who are true artists, there are journalists who do manage to have an effect, however transitory, on the larger culture. But that is not a function of journalism, per se. It's a function of individual talent, which, if great enough, will usually surmount all restraints.

Journalists go to work and do their jobs to earn a paycheck and provide the necessities for themselves and their families. The notion that their job is something intrinsically greater than that is, well, silly. If you don't think so, ask all the journalists in the US to work for nothing more than the chance to "make a difference," and see how many you have showing up in the newsroom the next day.

I have no illusions that anything I do at 42nd and Treadmill, a job only dimly related to anything journalistic, has the slightest effect on the Grand Scheme of Things; I put in my hours, deposit almost enough money to pay the bills, and the cycle repeats. The only "difference" I need to make is in the lives of my immediate family.

And if I inadvertently impart some wisdom through this Web site — well, that's just a chance I'll have to take.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
17 August 2005
It's only an acronym

And a German acronym, at that.

But it's absolutely perfect for this business.

(Found at ad-rag.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
19 August 2005
Serendipity do

How true this is:

[W]e all love the internet for its ability to misdirect us to accidental discoveries that end up being more interesting than the stuff we were originally trying to find, don't we?

It probably doesn't make your research more efficient, but it surely makes your research more fun.

Which essay, I mention in passing, was written by, um, me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
Reduced visibility

Apparently three of the Fantastic Four are signed for the sequel — the exception being Jessica Alba.

I think I'm going to cry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:24 PM)
21 August 2005
Eleven again

For the third weekend in a row, I strode into the comic shop, and it occurred to me that for the third weekend in a row I was striding into the comic shop, of all things.

On the off-chance that you might be curious, here's what I got:

And as I was inquiring as to why 4 #21 wasn't in yet, I realized that I'd pulled off a plot complication of my own, turned back time forty years: the comic-buying geek I was is now apparently the comic-buying geek I am. "Adjusted for inflation," I observed, "it works out to about the same." Which, I calculated later, it actually doesn't, but what the hell.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 PM)
22 August 2005
You don't tug on Delaware's cape

Me, from World Tour '03, at Lewes, Delaware:

[W]hat I know about beach towns can be written on the inside of a conch shell.

Fortunately, there was instruction available for those of us who have no clue about such things, for which I am of course grateful, Fritz.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
23 August 2005
There is always Hope

This clip [requires Windows Media Player] is why.

(Snagged from Kim du Toit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
28 August 2005
World changes, film at 11

I would rather see a remake of the remake of Bewitched than this:

Anthony Hopkins is set to star in Bobby, Emilio Estevez's passion project about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Demi Moore is in negotiations to join the cast.

Part fact and part fiction, the ensemble film chronicles the intertwining lives of a grand cast of characters, all of whom are present at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel in the hours leading up to Kennedy's assassination. Hopkins will be the hotel's doorman, and Moore will portray a lounge singer.

The movie hopes to touch upon racial stereotypes, class differences and sexual inequality in its story lines.

"My intention with Bobby is not to make a political picture, although the 1968 California primary figures prominently in the story," Estevez said. "The film is about being at critical mass — critical mass in relationships or between race, and the hotel and the characters under its roof serve as a microcosm for what was happening in the country during that time. The entire country was experiencing critical mass. Culturally, we all unraveled after that tragic night on June 5. And now, 37 years later, our country has reached critical mass once again."

Christ on a crutch! The. Kennedys. Are. Dead. Get over it.

Yes, I know Ted's still there, looking and sounding more like Jabba the Hutt every day, still with his "My Other Car Is Underwater" bumper sticker, way past self-parody and long since descended into blithering irrelevance. Doesn't change a thing: The. Kennedys. Are. Dead. Estevez would have you believe that the killing of RFK was a watershed event in world history; it wasn't even the most important thing that happened in the summer of 1968. (Among other things, James Earl Ray, assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was taken into custody, the French were trying to recover from general strikes that had turned violent, eventually returning Charles de Gaulle to power, and Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae.) "Culturally, we all unraveled after that tragic night on June 5." Yeah, right. Exactly one cultural phenomenon can be attributed to this event: it gave Eric Boucher one hell of a name for a band.

And that isn't the worst of it, says Ian Hamet:

[T]his will be yet another paean to (cue hushed, reverent music) The Sixties, before which civilization can barely be said to have existed (except, possibly, for the Beatniks or — just maybe — Thoreau). And, inevitably, the baby boom generation will be greatly lauded as well (is there anything about them that isn't fascinating, important, and altogether unprecedented in the entire history of Man on Earth — nay, of the universe itself?).

Is it too late to start lying about my age?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
We hold these truths at a great distance

Last year, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of The Bell Curve, John Derbyshire explained why it got such bad press from largely-liberal media:

Much of the negative reaction on the left was a result of the book's explicit repudiation of blank-slate egalitarian principles. The Left's position on human nature is, and always has been, that it is infinitely malleable — that the superstitious peasant can be turned into New Soviet Man; that, as Mao Tse-tung said, the masses are a blank sheet of paper on which beautiful characters can be drawn. The notion that this might not be so — that human beings, either individually or collectively, might be unimprovable by any known arts, or possibly by any arts at all — is intolerable to the left mindset. This way of thinking therefore regards psychometry with loathing, and argues either that we cannot measure the attributes of the human mind, or that, even supposing we can, we ought not.

Charles Murray — co-author Richard Herrnstein died in 1994 — has some present-day thoughts on the matter:

Suppose that a pill exists that, if all women took it, would give them exactly the same mean and variance on every dimension of human functioning as men — including all the ways in which women now surpass men. How many women would want all women to take it? Or suppose that the pill, taken by all blacks, would give them exactly the same mean and variance on every dimension of human functioning as whites — including all the ways in which blacks now surpass whites. How many blacks would want all blacks to take it? To ask such questions is to answer them: hardly anybody. Few want to trade off the unique virtues of their own group for the advantages that another group may enjoy.

Sometimes these preferences for one's own group are rational, sometimes not. I am proud of being Scots-Irish, for example, even though the Scots-Irish group means for violence, drunkenness, and general disagreeableness seem to have been far above those of other immigrant groups. But the Scots-Irish made great pioneers — that's the part of my heritage that I choose to value. A Thai friend gave me an insight into this human characteristic many years ago when I remarked that Thais were completely undefensive about Westerners despite the economic backwardness of Thailand in those days. My friend explained why. America has wealth and technology that Thailand does not have, he acknowledged, just as the elephant is stronger than a human. "But," he said with a shrug, "who wants to be an elephant?" None of us wants to be an elephant and, from the perspective of our own group, every other group has something of the elephant about it. All of us are right, too.

We do no one a service by assuming that everyone is exactly identical. "Equality," wrote Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate, "is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group." The tabula rasa crowd on the Left, wishing not to be an elephant, has instead made of itself a dinosaur.

(Disclosure: Yours truly has Scots-Irish — which, being Scots-Irish of the American South, might well include African influences — Mexican and Syrian/Lebanese ancestry. Make of that what you will; what I've made of it is me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
A less-ambiguously gay duo

Lawyers for DC Comics have objected to an art gallery exhibit displaying Batman and Robin as more than just a man and his youthful ward, although their complaint seems to be more about simple copyright infringement — unauthorized use of DC characters — than about the, um, rewriting of the Batman mythos.

I should point out that it's not like DC never hinted at this sort of thing before, and they apparently never complained about this.

Personally, I blame Catwoman.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:34 PM)
Love is thicker than razors

Separated at birth: Chewbacca and Andy Gibb?

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 PM)
29 August 2005
Remember when patience was a virtue?

But today, there's no need to wait.

And really, "so close you can feel it" has way too much ick factor, if you ask me.

(Snatched from Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:44 PM)
3 September 2005
Form follows functionality

A British secondary school is taking the radical step of grouping students by ability instead of by age, reports the Guardian:

The 1,100 pupils starting the new academic year at Bridgemary community school in Gosport, Hampshire — still regarded by some as the local sink school — were for the first time being taught in mixed-age classes for every subject.

Pupils have been assessed through a series of internal and externally validated tests to determine their entry to one of five levels of ability which match a government-agreed framework, and will be subjected to monitoring.

In some cases extremely able 12-year-olds are beginning GCSE courses alongside pupils two years older — at level two. Each child has been given an individual learning programme attached to a timetable, with the new arrangements designed to cater for different abilities.

"GCSE" expands to "General Certificate of Secondary Education," formerly known familiarly as "O-levels". The student must take a GCSE exam in each core subject, usually after the 11th year of school, before further progress can be made.

Bridgemary has been on the British equivalent of a Needs Improvement list, and the new regimen seems to be helping somewhat:

Four years ago, just four months after Mrs [Cheryl] Heron took over, the school was declared by Ofsted to have serious weaknesses. This year 33% of its youngsters got five or more GCSEs at the top grades of A-C — an 8% improvement on last year's figure of 25% — but below the national average.

And there will be more of this, says Mrs Heron:

Age differences within individual classes — at this stage involving a margin of up to two years — are likely to become more pronounced as the new system becomes more established, Mrs Heron said. GCSEs are typically taken by year 11 pupils at age 16 but at Bridgemary last year they were passed with flying colours by year 9s (in PE) and year 10s (in [Information and Communication Technology]). The school is also keen to encourage youngsters to take the wide range of modular exams now available at any time of year when they are ready for them.

The association for secondary-school heads seems to approve:

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Our education system is too age-related and this is reflected in the way the league tables are about the peformance of 16-year-olds and fail to reflect good results by pupils a year later. Moving away from an age-related system can have benefits. Colleges commonly have mixed age classes and I think more and more schools will be experimenting with with mixed age classes."

Of course, somebody had to object to this sort of thing:

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "There are dangers that social difficulties can arise when you mix 11-year-olds with 15-year-olds. For example, if a 15-year-old was sent down to work with 11-year-olds that could lead to a serious loss of self-esteem and would be seen by peers as a sign of failure."

To which Erin O'Connor replies:

The Guardian does not mention whether Sinnott had anything to say about the damage — not only to one's self-esteem, but also to one's prospects in life — of not placing struggling students in level-appropriate classes where they can acquire the skills and knowledge that they lack.

Aside to Bob Moore, superintendent, Oklahoma City Public Schools: You ban the word "self-esteem" from all school correspondence from this day forward, and I promise faithfully to support any and all millage increases for the district, now and forever, so long as the ban remains in effect.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 PM)
4 September 2005
Helping man's best friends

Reasons to support the American Veterinary Medical Foundation in these trying times:

  • Uncared-for domestic animals (dogs and cats) can pose a significant threat to human health in a natural disaster.

  • Many folks count on their pets ("children in fur coats") for emotional support. Those people are distressed, if not frantic, if their pets are at risk in a disaster.

  • In rural areas, farm animals are in need of care and support, and may be an essential part of a family's survival.

Suggested by Liz Ditz.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
5 September 2005
GFY

I don't watch a lot of porn for the same reason I don't watch a lot of cable-TV news: sound and fury, idiots, you know the drill.

On the other hand, I'd pay to get a look at this it were ever to come to, um, fruition. [Not even slightly safe for work.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:38 PM)
6 September 2005
Not to be confused with the Hokey Pokey

Britney Spears is having a new wedding ring made because, she says:

I want something that's not as pokey-outy. The one I'm getting is a little bit flatter.

And that, presumably, is what it's all about.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
Goodbye, Little Buddy

Bob Denver, the least-clueful of seven stranded castaways on Gilligan's Island, has died at a North Carolina hospital at the age of 70.

His journey to heaven surely will be quite a bit less than a three-hour tour.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:08 PM)
9 September 2005
Hocus pocus

Courtesy of Minneapolis candidate for mayor Marcus Harcus:

Minneapolis must collectively support the achievements of all of its life interested people, regardless of differing physical traits, accents, customs, views, languages, religions, finances, education, ideologies, etc. People who are willing to not only survive, but also strive to thrive deserve realistic, viable opportunities. Is not this the land of opportunity?

Anti-Racism must be integrated into the principles, cultures, practices and policies of Minneapolis people, government, businesses, organizations, schools, parks, public spaces, all institutions and private homes all throughout our beautiful city of lakes.

I'd hazard a guess that almost everyone in Minneapolis, perhaps the whole of Hennepin County, is "life interested."

But this is a bit too Oprahesque, if you ask me. And if you ask Lileks?

I am all for anti-racism, but I am not interested in a Mayor who wants to integrate "it" into the "policies" of "all private homes." Because such a Mayor will spend his days putting together impressive mass-mailed brochures full of stock art and URLs for websites I can use to eliminate racism in my pantry and office stairwell, paid for by property taxes. I'd prefer something like "All the citizens of Minneapolis are equal in the eyes of the law. No ifs ands or buts. End of discussion." But I'm a dreamer.

He can say he's a dreamer, but he's not the only one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
Three parts touchy, two parts feely

The last good monument built in the United States is down the road from me a couple of miles.

We don't do good monuments anymore, partly because we're afraid that some segment of the society might take umbrage, a reasonable fear given the fact that so many segments have hired professional umbrage-takers. Beyond this, there's the belief among some people that a monument must contain within its scope an anti-monument, a statement that "Yes, this happened here, but we want to make sure you hear our side of the story," whether it's relevant or not. (Hint: It's not.)

Still, even allowing for that, I'm damned if I can understand what they're trying to do at the Pennsylvania site where the passengers of Flight 93 took down a plane rather than allow a squad of Muslim hijackers to crash it into a government facility. Maybe Sean Gleeson can figure it out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:51 AM)
11 September 2005
Do you know the way in San José?

Saturday, Jacqueline Passey, quite unintentionally, got her first taste of Costa Rican health care. What did she think? A report from the emergency room:

I saw a nurse (who spoke some English) who took my blood pressure and pulse and then I waited another 15 minutes or so for the doctor. He spoke fluent English, I described my symptoms, and he ordered a urine culture.

At this point I had to pay for the doctor's visit (18,500 colones or about $38) and pre-pay for the lab test (5000 colones or about $10). They told me to come back in one hour, so I went to a bookstore downtown and came back a little less than an hour later. My test was already ready and I was directed to wait to speak to the doctor. About 15 minutes later I saw the doctor, he confirmed that I did indeed have a bladder infection as I'd suspected, and he wrote down what type of antibiotic to take (200mg Floxstat twice a day for three days). It took about 15 minutes and 6,450 colones (about $13) to fill my prescription at the pharmacy attached to the hospital.

Altogether it took me about 2½ hours to get treated for a total cost of about $62. Much less expensive and even quicker than going to an emergency room or most walk in clinics in the US. This was at a private hospital, there are also public hospitals (Costa Rica has socialized medicine, but also allows a private market) where it might have cost less but probably would have taken longer.

But the true joy of the day came afterwards:

I asked Terrence for some Tylenol, and when I tried to line up the child proof tabs the lid popped off in my hand. Because there were no child proof tabs. It didn't have a child proof lid. THE GOVERNMENT OF COSTA RICA TRUSTS ME TO KEEP MY CHILDREN FROM POISONING THEMSELVES. I gleefully popped the lid on and off over and over in front of Terrence, which he found rather perplexing until I explained.

I trust the reader to draw his own conclusions.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
13 September 2005
French moss hanging from a big oak tree

A paragraph from the back pages of Rich Appel's invaluable Hz So Good newsletter (10/05):

[I]s there actually a correct pronunciation for "New Orleans"? Or, has the official pronunciation changed over the years? If you let the music be your guide, it's New Or-LEANS, as sung by Chuck Berry, Labelle, Gary U.S. Bonds, Paul Simon, Freddy Cannon, Harry Connick Jr. and Johnny Horton, among others). Actually, Paul Simon refers to it as "The New Orleans." Arlo Guthrie pronounces it "New OR-leans" in "The City of New Orleans." If you go by the news media, the correct pronunciation is "New OR-lins"; Fats Domino comes closest to that, although it really sounds like he's "Walking to New Or-lun" (which is mighty French of him, since the 's' would indeed be silent). If you have an aircheck of WTIX from 1966, the top-of-the-hour jingle singers pronounce the city of license "New Or-lay-ans" (which is almost as French as you can get with it). And then there's "N'awlins," which I first heard when Fuddrucker's used it as the name of its cajun catfish sandwich. Of course, maybe the idea is that there's no one pronunciation, reflecting the beauty of the true melting pot that is New Orleans (and, will be again).

I've got to say, I like the way this (these?) sound(s).

(Get your own Hz So Good once a month from audiot.savant—at—verizon.net.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 PM)
15 September 2005
Roger, of course, is jolly

Monday, of course, is the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day, and while this presents no particular problem for purely verbal communication, last year I remember wishing that there was some way I could simplify the task of keyboard communication.

And now there is. It's even ergonomic, sort of.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
The Spearsling

Preston Michael Spears Federline is the name given to the Britspawn, arrived via C-section yesterday.

The child is reportedly already on a diet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
16 September 2005
Uncomfortably numb

So what do you think about while you're on jury duty, waiting for your name to be called?

If you're Lileks, you think about Pink Floyd The Wall:

It gave us that catchy paean to ignorance, "Another Brick in the Wall (pt. 9,326)" with its schoolboy chorus: We don't need no education. Actually, the presence of a double negative would seem to indicate that you does. But I took away something else from this song, an intellectual puzzle spat out by the headmaster howling in the background. It's a conundrum that has plagued me to this day: How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat? An amusing idea coming from Rock Stars, whose lives consist of pudding in boundless quantities.

I hope this comes up in voir dire. "Sir, do you believe a defendant is entitled to pudding if they haven't had any meat?"

Trick question. I believe it's up to the state to establish that he hasn't had any meat before moving on to the matter of pudding.

John Roberts couldn't have handled it any better.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
You had me at "I do"

Renée Zellweger speaks:

I would personally be very grateful for your support in refraining from drawing derogatory, hurtful, sensationalized or untrue conclusions.... We hope to experience this transition as privately as possible.

She clearly doesn't mean my support, and anyway this doesn't sound much like Bridget Jones to me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:35 PM)
19 September 2005
Avast conspiracy

Today being Talk Like a Pirate Day, I felt the least I could do (and doing the least is something I do well) is to point you to some pirate vernacular which you can use in the process of buckling your swash.

(Suggested by Michele, which is a polite way of saying I, um, pirated it from her.)

Addendum: The Putnam City High School Pirates took to this rather easily.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
20 September 2005
The conscience of the Holocaust

Simon Wiesenthal has died.

A survivor of five of the infamous Nazi death camps, Wiesenthal devoted his subsequent life to tracking down the shadowy figures who controlled them, and to taking on the revisionists who insist that it never really happened.

In a 1999 interview with the Associated Press, Wiesenthal said:

The most important thing I have done is to fight against forgetting and to keep remembrance alive. It is very important to let people know that our enemies are not forgotten.

In an era of short attention spans, Simon Wiesenthal had the longest memory of all. He was ninety-six years old when he died in his sleep at his Vienna home today.

Meryl Yourish has a roundup of news reports and reaction.

(With thanks to Rachel.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
21 September 2005
The sighs of Kahlo youth

Back when I was still trying to pass myself off as a college student, I noticed that entirely too many girls seemed to be obsessed with Sylvia Plath. (And, truth be told, I was fond of "Soliloquy of a Solipsist", but that was my limit.)

Lately, Plath seems to have been displaced by Frida Kahlo. Anthony Perkins notes:

It is, I suspect, for her extra-artistic associations that Frida Kahlo is most appreciated. That she had an artistic talent is undeniable, and many of her pictures are memorable (do you really not remember them once you have seen them?), but it is surely going a little far, from the point of view of artistic considerations alone, to say, as the catalogue [of her exhibition at the Tate Modern, 2005] does, that she is one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. The fact that she can be seriously regarded as such, however, surely tells us quite a lot about our modern sensibility.

No advertising man could have given her a better biographical profile for eliciting a favorable response at the present time. She had polio at the age of six and subsequently walked with a limp; she was severely injured in a crash, aged eighteen, and suffered from the results for the rest of her life (she died aged forty-seven), undergoing twenty-two operations in the meantime. She married a man, Diego Rivera, who was flagrantly unfaithful to her and who even had an affair with her sister; she was probably bisexual and had a couple of lesbian affairs; she had two miscarriages, either of which might have killed her, and was in any case ambivalent about having a child; her father was a German who settled in Mexico and her mother was half-Indian, thus conferring on her the original virtue of hybridity (though in fact she didn't so much live in non-European cultures as visit them or collect their artifacts, and turn them to her artistic use). Her politics were radical; she was anti-American, though in her case America always returned good for evil. She was Stalinist, at a time when all right-thinking people agreed that the killing of millions was the road to utopia, but she also had a fling with Trotsky and towards the end of her life displayed a less than dialectical-materialist attraction to the wisdom of the East, thus later appealing to the New Age, healing-power-of-crystals end of the dissent market. All in all, a pretty good C.V. for the modern age.

Which explains much about her current popularity:

I think that what has happened is that people with no objective right to do so have equated her suffering with their own, and have appropriated her work as a symbolic representation of their own minor dissatisfactions and frustrations, victimhood being the present equivalent of beatitude.

They say, "I too have known a faithless or a worthless man; I too have suffered from persistent headaches, dysmenorrhoea, or sciatica; therefore, Frida Kahlo has understood me, and I have understood Frida Kahlo. After all, I have suffered just like her. Moreover, like me, she was a moral person, which is to say that she had all the right attitudes; she was on the side of the oppressed, at least those who were not in the Gulag; she loved indigenes as a matter of principle; and she took part in the holy work of dissolving boundaries, the boundaries between sexes (or rather, genders) and between cultures."

You can practically hear Tom Lehrer singing: "We all hate poverty, war and injustice / Unlike the rest of you squares." For people who Really Care, and for whom it is vitally important that you know that they Really Care, this is manna from some spiritual but distinctly non-religious place which may or may not lie horizontally above, or parallel to, this plane of existence.

(Aside: Do not write me and tell me about how much I obviously must love poverty, war and injustice. I am not particularly fond of any of them. However, I am persuaded that they are inextricably bound to the human condition, and they will be erased permanently only when the human race is itself erased, a "solution" I consider just a tad too drastic.)

And in this Age of Narcissism, it seems only logical that one of the most revered artistic figures is one whose best work, arguably, was self-portraiture. Had she lived half a century later, she might well have spurned brush for Blogspot.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:54 PM)
22 September 2005
Almost literally tragically hip

Joel Kotkin has been critical of Richard Florida's "creative class" notions, suggesting that catering to hipsters and such, emphasizing cultural amenities and some vague aura of "tolerance" over other attributes, as Florida recommends, is no way to run a contemporary city.

It was certainly no way to run New Orleans:

Perhaps there is no more searing evidence of the limitations of a culture-based economy than New Orleans. Once a great industrial and commercial centre, the city — despite its huge port — has roughly half the US average of jobs in manufacturing and wholesale trade. Other, more business-focused cities, notably Houston, have taken the lead in the high-paid service jobs connected to trade, such as finance, engineering and medical services. The energy industry, once the linchpin of the local economy, also decamped, primarily to Houston. All this happened despite New Orelans being a city that was heavily gay, very cool and extremely hip.

By the time of the flood, tourism and culture, along with a huge social service bureaucracy, was driving the economy. The problem, of course, is that tourism pays poorly; a 2002 study for the AFL-CIO showed that nearly half of all full-time hotel workers could not earn enough to keep a family out of poverty.

Lost in the ghastly images of New Orleans's poor is the fact that the city's whites, about 27 per cent of the population, are wealthier and more educated than their counterparts nationwide. They, of course, welcomed the new nightclubs, coffee shops and galleries that dotted their grander neighbourhoods. New Orleans epitomised the inequality of the hip cool city. While the national gap between black and white per capita income stands at about $9,000, in New Orleans it is almost $20,000.

I hear occasional rumblings from yupsters to the effect that this town is dull, repressive and soul-sucking. (The presumably temporary ascent to "major-league" status won't make the slightest bit of difference, the NBA being bourgeois entertainment for persons of insufficient brow elevation.) There is a common complaint that development in Lower Bricktown, under the aegis of Randy Hogan, is insufficiently brickulous: big-box things like the Bass Pro Shop and Toby Keith's theme eatery, they say, could have been built out in the 'burbs, making more room available for the sort of urban chic they desire. After wandering around the Northeast for a few summers, I'm inclined to think that the single most effective way of creating "urban ambiance" of this sort is to cut the street width by forty percent. Imagine how well that will go over.

There is some evidence, though, that Oklahoma City has some semblance of a clue. After all, they're spending twice the price of MAPS to spruce up an urban school district; it's clear that they're not going to cede the middle class to the second ring of suburbs without a fight. And what kind of a city has an uppercrust, an underclass, and nothing much in between?

Exactly.

(Found at Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
24 September 2005
A true reign of terror

In 2005, the term "Nazi" is tossed about seemingly with abandon: it's the 21st century's all-purpose pejorative. Apart from making Mike Godwin's name a household word, this sort of slander — and it always is intended as such — serves no purpose, and it invariably looks even more foolish in light of the atrocities committed by the real Nazis.

With this in mind, I betook myself today to Untitled (ArtSpace), which is presenting two exhibits pertinent to the stench of Nazism.

In the center of the building is Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945, one of the traveling exhibitions of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Some of this material I knew; some of it was startling but fit into context. The Nazis were devoted to eugenics, and the persecution of gay men was justified as a measure to purify the Aryan bloodlines; what I didn't know was the extent to which they would seek them out. In February 1934, for instance, the Reich ordered police surveillance of men who were thought to be likely violators of Paragraph 175, the law which criminalized male homosexuality and which had been substantially expanded by the Reich, and later that year, the Gestapo demanded lists of gay men from local police departments. The persecution did not extend to lesbians, who were, after all, only women, and therefore of no consequence to the Nazis.

Along the walls is an exhibition called Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, stories and photographs of people who literally risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi extermination program. The exhibition, the work of Gay Block and Rabbi Malka Drucker, looks at these workaday heroes, from all walks of life and all strata of society. What they had in common was the willingness to step forward when most people were afraid even to speak up, and a general resistance to the word "hero": said Johte Vos, of the Netherlands, "This is totally the wrong thing to call us. We did what everyone should have done." And indeed, in the portraits, taken by Block in the late 1980s, you can see both the smile and the shrug: they were proud to do what they did, but they seem slightly embarrassed at being fussed over. (At any rate, this is what I saw: your mileage may vary.)

The Cimarron Alliance Foundation, which arranged for these exhibitions, has a simple objective:

By presenting this historical and scholarly exhibition, and by hosting a series of public, educational events, the Cimarron Alliance Foundation with its community partners hopes to preserve the memory of those who suffered and were lost in the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, and to encourage those who visit the exhibition to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by this unprecedented tragedy as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a free and democratic society.

Two pertinent films were screened at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art last weekend, and there will be public forums as well: Monday at 7 pm, Bill Parsons, chief of staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will speak at the Kerr-McGee Auditorium on the OCU campus, and on the 10th of October, there will be a panel discussion presented by the Norman Human Rights Commission in Norman's Council Chambers.

Why does this matter today? Because the ongoing misuse of the term "Nazi" today tends to trivialize the events of history; but more important, because, as General Eisenhower, after inspecting an actual concentration camp, wrote to General George C. Marshall in 1945, "I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda'." Which there has.

And because each of us, I think, still possesses a conscience.

Untitled (ArtSpace) is a converted warehouse at 1 NE 3rd Street in downtown Oklahoma City. The exhibitions run through 23 October.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:11 PM)
25 September 2005
Concerto for Horn and Hardart

Mister Snitch! remembers the Automat, and already I'm hungry.

The title, of course, is that of P.D.Q. Bach's three-movement concerto (S. 27), written during his Soused Period. The horn you know; the hardart is explained by musicologist Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople as follows:

One of the strangest instruments of the 18th century, the Hardart has a range of two almost chromatic octaves, with each successive tone possessing a different quality or timbre. The sound-producing devices include plucked strings, bottles which are blown and struck, and a cooking timer. Windows in the center section, which can be opened after inserting the necessary coins in the slots, contain the different mallets required to play the percussion devices, as well as sandwiches and pieces of pie which are particularly welcome during long concerts. A spigot on the front serves coffee which is, however, not recommended. The balloons which are burst at the end of the concerto with an ice pick and a shotgun add a festive touch. Due to its unusual length (over nine feet) and the great variety of motions necessary to produce its tones, the Hardart requires of its player a certain amount of athletic as well as musical ability.

(From notes to the first recording of the Concerto, as issued on Vanguard VSD 79195, 1965.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
What they really, really want

I have no particular expertise in contemporary feminist theory, but I believe Shouting Thomas might be oversimplifying matters slightly:

White heterosexual men are the cause of all that is wrong with the world. Oddly ... Marxist feminist women want to be married to or shacked up with a white heterosexual man, unless they are defiantly lesbian. Their partner is expected to strike a pose of abject contrition for his sins ... and still get it up in bed.

Thus, hetero marriage is an abomination that oppresses women, while gay marriage is a sacrament, especially in that it outrages the hated evangelical Christians.

According to this political theory, all the problems of the world would be solved if only all men were sissified homosexuals. (This creates a dilemma for homosexuals who are not sissified ... but they are forgiven because at least they aren't straight.) War, pollution, racism and crime would cease to exist if only all men were sissies. (Whoops! I forgot. Black men alone are entitled to be macho studs. This provides a much deserved kick in the shins to white hetero men.)

This political theory also posits that the great spiritual center of the world is Asia, and all enlightenment ensues from there. Asian religions are brilliant combinations of practice and centuries of wisdom. On the other hand (and it?s hard to tell how to reconcile this), Asian women are backward doormats who don't have the sense to be good feminists. So, the people who created those great spiritual systems are, in fact, stupid, backward and unenlightened.

White women must be allowed to sleep with any man of any race at any time, and white men must suffer in silence, lest they be accused of the most vicious racism. However, white men have an obligation to shack up with or marry a white feminist woman. If they prefer an Asian or Hispanic woman, it is because they are chauvinist pigs intent on oppressing a backward woman.

I have a few problems with this analysis. For one thing, the grandly general "Asia" is way too big to be a spiritual center: were there that many spiritual emanations from the world's largest continent, their influence would presumably be far greater. A spiritual center, I suggest, must be small and densely packed with the appropriate vibes; it seems unlikely that it would be much larger than, say, Columbus, Indiana. (This is, I hasten to add, not necessarily a pitch for Vatican City.)

The notion of Asian women as doormats originates in the legend of the geisha and the reports of Thai brothels; I see no reason to think that it prevails here in the Home of the Whopper, except as urban myth. (It certainly doesn't prevail any place on Classen.)

If all men were gay, the world, if not necessarily a happier place, would presumably at least be cleaner. On the other hand, there's this ongoing propagation-of-the-species business, and while they're certainly equal (I almost said "up") to the task, it seems like a cruel thing to ask.

And while Thomas is apparently surrounded by these "Marxist feminist" women who espouse this particular worldview, they are few and far between in my orbit. Then again, he lives in New York.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
26 September 2005
Separated at death

Then again, only one of them has a dead career.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:23 PM)
The originator of KAOS theory

Don Adams, aka Maxwell Smart, agent of CONTROL, has been eighty-sixed out of existence.

Adams, who had paid dues on the standup-comedy circuit — I have a copy of his LP The Detective (Roulette 25317), recorded live at one of his shows — became a TV spy in the fall of 1965 at the behest of NBC, which had bought a pilot written by Buck Henry and Mel Brooks. Get Smart, which paired Adams' Agent 86 with the implausibly beautiful Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), ran for four years.

You've heard his voice elsewhere, of course: in the Sixties Adams provided the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin who wasn't quite up to the demands of Linux, and two decades later he got back into the action-hero business as the voice of Inspector Gadget.

Adams suffered a lung infection over the weekend, and died Sunday. He was 82. I'll miss him by about this much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:19 PM)
29 September 2005
I thought Pirate Day was last week

Matt Deatherage sees one serious problem with Google Print's Library Project:

Google wants a full, digital copy of a book it did not purchase or license. It wants to keep and use the full text of a book, without any permission from the copyright holder. What Google does with that copy is irrelevant.

This is the same argument as software piracy or music piracy, but now with books. The ability to copy the data doesn't mean it's legal. If this means Google Print can't work, then everyone involved will have to figure out some way to make it work. Google's "we'll do it and you'll like it, trust us" attitude does not trump intellectual property.

As a music collector, I've run up against this myself. Until recently, almost nothing released on the Cameo/Parkway labels was commercially available. I have on my shelf a lot of these old recordings. And even though you couldn't go to the store and buy any of this material, the law permits me only to make copies for myself: it quite clearly does not permit me to distribute them to others.

Google Print could be an invaluable tool for searching old public-domain material; but if they really want to include material under copyright, it's their responsibility to pony up the bucks for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
30 September 2005
Marie of Roumania is invited

Parkerfest 2005 starts this evening in New York at — where else? — the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, presumably around the Algonquin's nearly-new Round Table.

This is the seventh annual celebration of Dorothy Parker, a project of the Dorothy Parker Society of New York.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
4 October 2005
Forget "Unsealed with a Kiss"

Dawn Eden has announced that she's taking a break from blogging to work on her book The Thrill of the Chaste.

Gawker suggests some alternate titles that presumably wouldn't have made it past the editors at Dawn's Christian-oriented publisher:

Chaste Manhattan
Abort, Retry, Ignore
Repressed For Success
You're Going To Hell, Slut

Actually, I kind of like a couple of those.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:25 PM)
Notes on Camp

Actor and occasional singer Hamilton Camp once sang (on Warner Bros. single 7309, never issued on an LP):

I've got to be more than just two lines
In the Oklahoma City Times.

Camp outlived the Times by more than twenty years; he died Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 70.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 PM)
10 October 2005
Tripoli recommended

A better Nobel laureate than IAEA and Mohamed El-Baradei? Debbye Stratigacos makes the case for an alternative Peace Prize winner:

[T]hey should have given the award to Libyan Head of State Omar Muammar al-Ghaddafi. It was through him (albeit indirectly) that the black market of nuclear weapons technology and Dr. Khan were exposed. At least one source was actually shut down, which is more than the IAEA has accomplished.

Me, I'm just grateful they didn't cobble up another award for the late, unlamented Yassir Arafat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 AM)
15 October 2005
Emma Bovary says hi

Phoebe Gleeson noted that T.J.'s curriculum for the month includes Woody Allen's short story The Kugelmass Episode, which of course set me to thinking, and the result is an open thread of sorts:

If you could have yourself transported into any work of fiction, which one would you choose, and why?

As always, be sure to show your work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 AM)
16 October 2005
Skirtwatchers united

Andy Crossett, who runs the Celebrity Legs Gallery (not always SFW), is running his annual Best Legs poll. The rules:

  • Vote for any TEN (10) female celebrities that you feel displayed the best legs during the year 2005. You can vote for less than 10, but if you vote for more than 10 only the first 10 will be counted.
  • Don't vote for any one woman more than once. If you do, only one will count.
  • Please don't send in multiple ballots from different e-mail addresses.
  • Vote only for women who were alive and in the public eye during 2005. This is not a "best legs of all time" contest.
  • Don't bother ranking your votes — they will all count the same.
  • Please put "2005" somewhere in the subject line of your e-mail.

Send your email ballot to andrewcrossett-AT-earthlink.net before midnight 17 December. Winners will go on display, so to speak, shortly thereafter.

(Warning: Britney Spears won last year.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:23 PM)
21 October 2005
File under "Slow News Day"

Polydactylous actresses not entertaining enough? How about modified librarians?

(Found at Lifehacker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:25 PM)
24 October 2005
MILFing it

Says Omar, it's Mrs. Michael Douglas:

Catherine Zeta-Jones has thrown down the gauntlet as the current Queen of the MILFs. If you are an aspiring MILF, you'd better prepare to run a race against Mrs. Jones because she has raised the bar for all of MILFdom. The MILF formula, as it were, has changed and it is no longer enough to be a good-looking woman who has shown resilience from having kids. Now you have to shimmy on stage and wear something see-through and then still look glamourous and posh in a phone commercial where you let people know exactly what idiots they are for not having the right cell phone and/or cell phone plan.

So, potential MILFs get to work. Get on those pilates. Take tap lessons. Because Catherine Zeta-Jones is setting the bar pretty high for all MILFkind.

As if things weren't difficult enough for American women already.

(Disclosure: I have my wireless service through T-Mobile, though I got it before CZJ became their spokesbabe.)

(Second disclosure: I decided I didn't like the original title.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:42 PM)
25 October 2005
A seat in heaven

Rosa Parks, whose refusal to go along with one of Jim Crow's more asinine decrees helped to precipitate the American civil-rights movement in 1955, has died in Detroit at the age of 92.

On 1 December 1955 Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama bus and sat with three other blacks in the fifth row, the first row that blacks could occupy. A few stops later, the front four rows were filled with whites, and one white man was left standing. Under the segregation laws, blacks and whites could not occupy the same row, so the driver asked all four of the blacks seated in the fifth row to move. Three did so; but Parks refused, was arrested, and subsequently fined.

A one-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system was planned in protest, and when almost the entire black community joined in, the boycott was continued; and it didn't end until a year later, when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was a violation of the Constitution.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a small step, but first steps often are — and you don't get anywhere unless you take them.

La Shawn Barber has links to lots of blog reaction.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
26 October 2005
Slipping into the future

Matt Rosenberg waxes lyrical about Savoy Brown's Street Corner Talking, and notes that "this is a 60s album, as the 60s didn't end until Dec. 31, 1971. I assume, perhaps blithely, that everyone knows that."

I don't expect Michele to go along with that particular date, but I suspect that most of us define our decades by something other than strict calendar entries. For the record, here's where my decades begin:

1950s:  25 June 1950
1960s:  22 November 1963
1970s:  4 May 1970
1980s:  20 January 1981

It is a measure of something, I'm sure, that I've given no thought to where the 80s shift into the 90s. The double-oughts, though, surely must begin on 1 January 2000.

Where are the markers on your timelines?

(Addendum, 9 am, 27 October: Lynn S. specifies hers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
27 October 2005
Left in the mailbox

A new catalog from Syracuse Cultural Workers under the title Tools for Change has arrived here, and it looks pretty much like the one I saw two years ago: the Alternative Alphabet Poster for Little and Big People is still featured, and there's the usual panoply of buttons and stickers.

As usual with a grab-bag of progressive schwag, there's a small number of interesting items — I thought the soybean-based crayons ($5.95 for a box of 64) were kinda neat — an enormous amount of stuff you've seen before, and, inevitably, one outrage to sense and/or sensibility: a really absurd poster claiming STICKS & STONES CAN BREAK MY BONES BUT NAMES WILL REALLY HURT ME. Only if you let them, child; once you grow up, you learn otherwise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Metalaw alert

Kevin Aylward proclaims "Gilliard's Corollary to Godwin's Law":

As the discussion of black Republicans grows, the probability of a racist slur involving some form of the "house Negro" analogy approaches 1.

So noted. The Gilliard in question wrote this; I don't believe he intended it as a bid for net.fame, but things happen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
28 October 2005
It's not how long you make it

For those of us who can't even dream of writing a full-fledged (or even semi-fledged) novel in a month, there's WriAShorStorWe, for which you have to write a short story in a week.

When they get down to a sentence in half an hour, wake me up.

(Found at 50 Books.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
31 October 2005
Right above the remainders

In this morning's Big Box from Amazon.com, I found one item with a little green sticker, which reads as follows:

Enclosed is the product you ordered which is the last or best available item currently in stock in our warehouse. It may be a hard to find title or no longer in print. Although this item does not meet the physical condition quality standards of Ingram Book Company, we have decided to allow you to make the determination as to whether or not this product meets your needs. If the product does not meet your needs, please accept our apologies and return this item through our Hassle Free Return System.

So speaks the Quality Control Department of Ingram Book Company, the wholesaler from whom Amazon.com got this title. I looked over the book for not quite half a minute, and determined that the deficiencies — a slightly-bent (we're talking about 4 degrees) front cover, and a small tear in the back of the dust jacket — were not sufficient to justify returning the book. (I read these things; I don't seal them up in plastic and wait for the price to go up.) And really, I'd rather have the book in slightly-less-than-mint condition than not have the book at all.

(This is the title in question. Considering its presumed rarity, and the fact that Amazon.com sold it to me for ten bucks off the preprinted jacket price, I'm not even complaining.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:36 PM)
7 November 2005
Tales from the dung eon

Andrea Harris asks:

Has there ever been a generation in the history of the earth more full of preening regard for the wonderful beings that composed it than the Baby Boomers?

The answer:

  1. No.
  2. Hell, no.
  3. No es posible, Señora.
  4. All of the above.

No penalty for guessing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
Shelf treatment

Our man at The Clog Almanac is soliciting suggestions for reading material while we're quarantined with the bird flu.

First recommendation: Camus' La peste (The Plague).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
8 November 2005
Words we can no longer use

Three this month, says Lileks:

"Illegal aliens" is doubleplus ungood; the new term is "undocumented worker" or ?undocumented resident." Which slyly suggests that residency is the value that trumps legality. "Gyp" is forbidden, and I understand why; it's derived from "gypsy," and means "to cheat." Fine. But now "codger" is forbidden, as an "offensive term referring to a senior citizen.?

Codger! "Offensive." No word strikes more fear into the heart of modern journalists. "Offensive" could mean meetings and memos and warning notes and angry emails. Some journos love it; so I offend. Fine. It?s in the job description. Others fold up like a card table, horrified — but only if the offended person hails from a designated victim group; they don't lose a lot of sleep if they've offended some nutball right-winger. That is merely a sign you're doing something right.

On the spectrum, I'm presumably closer to nutball right-winger than designated victim; on the other hand, I've always prided myself on being an equal-opportunity offender. (Political correctness? If it's political at all, it ain't correct.)

Still, if anyone happens to be setting up a foundation to lobby for the banning of the phrase "speak[ing] truth to power" from now until two days past eternity, I've got a check right here. Call it the whimsy of an old codger.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
How to spot a lie

The volume of lies is increasing at somewhere between twice and 4.5 times the rate of inflation, depending on your choice of information sources; in fact, the volume is growing so quickly that sometimes you might wind up with something that isn't a lie at all.

As a public service, Sean Gleeson provides a handy flow chart to enable you to check these things directly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 AM)
10 November 2005
Where has all the selectivity gone?

Jessica Alba, last unseen (here, anyway) as the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman, seems to think she's being typecast:

The scripts I get are always for the whore, or the motorcycle chick in leather, or the horny maid. I get all those screenplays that start, "Tawnya is in the shower. The water streams down her naked, perky breasts." Somehow, I don't think this is happening to Natalie Portman.

Well, okay, but would it be a bad thing if it were happening to Natalie Portman?

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 AM)
11 November 2005
Thugs on parade

Matt Rosenberg, proprietor of the fine Rosenblog and an ongoing friend of this screwy little site, has a commentary at City Journal, in which he asks, "Why do white liberals accept the 'gangsta' persona as a perfectly legitimate expression of black culture?"

I think David "Clubbeaux" Sims had a substantive point:

White Americans have proven, over time, to be the most fair-minded, open-minded, culturally sensitive people on the face of the earth in world history, but never has any identifiable cultural demographic been more vilified for being culturally insensitive. Nobody ever — ever — criticizes blacks for not listening to bluegrass, but whites are routinely criticized for not listening to the rap stool pounding out at offensive volume from the car next to you at the stoplight, where your three-year old has to listen to "F-word my ho'" this and "F-word" that. That's the end result of "multiculturalism," being forced to endure absolute garbage just because a non-WASP is perpetrating it.

Well, maybe relative garbage.

My comment at the time:

I'm not suggesting that we pluck kids from the inner city and give them a daily dose of Debussy or anything, but letting them grow up with the descendants of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown as role models isn't doing them one damn bit of good, either.

This was, of course, nearly three years ago; since then, people have taken pains to remind me that most of that stuff is in fact bought by white boys.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
12 November 2005
Gonna party like it's 1709

Which, according to Dr Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, is next year.

The Phantom Time Hypothesis [link requires Adobe Reader] by Dr Niemitz and various associates asserts that 297 nonexistent years have been inserted into the calendar, all during the early Middle Ages, where documentation is always sparse and often forged, and where there are many unexplained gaps in the historical record.

What gaps, you ask?

[A] gap in the history of building in Constantinople (558 AD ? 908 AD); a gap in the doctrine of faith, especially the gap in the evolution of theory and meaning of purgatory (600 AD until ca. 1100); a 300-year-long reluctant introduction of farming techniques (three-acre-system, horse with cummet) and of war techniques (stirrup); a gap in the mosaic art (565 AD ? 1018 AD).

And there are other clues as well:

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII started the so-called "Gregorian calendar", which is basically a corrected version of the old Julian calendar of Julius Caesar. The Julian calendar, after being used for a long time, no longer corresponded with the astronomical situation. The difference, according to calculations by Pope Gregory, amounted to 10 days. Now please calculate: how many Julian years does it take to produce an error of 10 days? The answer is 1257 years.

Count back 1257 years from 1582, and Caesar apparently promulgated his calendar in 325, a neat trick for someone who died in 44 BC. If the years were correct, the calendar should have been off 13 days by 1582, not ten.

I'm not sure what to make of this. It seems at least reasonably possible that we might have lost an accurate count over the years, though I think more likely it's a year or two here and there, rather than a sudden jump of two or three centuries. And it's generally believed that "1 AD" is off a couple of ticks; the sixth-century calculations by Dionysius Exiguus set the birth of Jesus Christ one to four years after the death of Herod the Great, which conflicts with chapter 2 of Matthew's Gospel, in which Herod plays a pivotal role. (The usual date given for Herod's death is 4 BC.)

I'm waiting to see if anyone does a detailed comparison to the Hebrew calendar. (The Muslim calendar, presumably by coincidence, seems to kick in during the period in question.)

Alan Bellows has a good, if skeptical, piece on this at Damn Interesting, which I caught by way of serotoninrain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
13 November 2005
Four years and counting

It's the fourth anniversary of MAPS for Kids, a massive upgrading of Oklahoma City schools funded by a seven-year, one-cent sales tax. The price tag for everything on the want list was close to $700 million; 70 percent will go to the Oklahoma City Public Schools, and 30 percent to suburban districts which extend into the city limits.

So what have we gotten for this incredible number of dollars? The Oklahoman dug up some numbers:

Before: Average age of a district school bus, 20 years.
Now: 2-3.

Before: Average odometer reading on buses, 300,000 miles.
Now: 25,000-30,000.

Before: Consistently got unqualified audit opinions.
Now: Two consecutive clean audits.

Before: Poor bond rating.
Now: Improved.

Before: Percentage of schools making adequate yearly progress on state-mandated tests: 54 percent of elementaries; 20 percent of middle schools; 20 percent of high schools.
Now: 96 percent of elementaries; 80 percent of middle schools; 67 percent of high schools.

It is of course true that spending a lot of money does not necessarily result in good schools. But this strikes me as a heck of a lot of progress in just four years from what was by all accounts a fairly horrid operation.

Some thoughts outside the box, from a principal who shall remain nameless:

Unfortunately, to think in a divergent way is not really supported in traditional public education.

In fact, it can make you downright unpopular with the status quo (or anyone who is commanding the direction in an educational enterprise). It is so much easier to educate as it has always been done with a "working harder, longer or better" mentality. For to think and act in a divergent way that challenges the status quo can cause one to be labelled as a problematic person (me).

I just thought I would throw that in ... just in case there is someone else out there who is thinking divergently. Divergent thinking and practices do not get supported (except at your own school with your own folks who see the simplistic beauty of practicing so that every child succeeds). And, there are no overnight answers ... it's one step at a time (and sometimes side-stepping to avoid the bureaucratic sludge in the middle of the road). I would be really worried about writing this if I thought anyone but my loyal faculty and staff might read this post; luckily, I think I am safe.

Let's hope some of that $700 million got spent for sludge removal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:35 AM)
14 November 2005
Town squares

It's been two years since I decided I'd had enough of sort-of-inner-ring suburbia and moved back into the city, and while I occasionally cry when I look at my checkbook, I have no regrets.

The big difference, of course, is that I own this place, subject to a mortgage the size of a small farm animal. But there are other factors in play, as the Warrior Monk notes:

[T]he bottom line is pretty simple, and it's what I suspect is the bottom line for most people: aesthetics. I just like the look and feel of our Minneapolis neighborhood better than I like most of what's in the suburbs. And I'm sure that most inhabitants of the suburbs feel the same way in reverse. The other factors — crime, taxes, schools, commuting times, etc. — are not negligible, but for me they are decidedly second-order. They work to push me toward or away from my aesthetic preference, but they don't determine that preference.

Of course, the definition of "suburbs" has changed over the years:

I realize that when 21st Century Twin Citians speak of the suburbs, they typically have newer, sprawling places like Eden Prairie and Lakeville and Woodbury, not older, distinct-from-the city-in-name-only places like Edina and St. Louis Park and Mendota Heights, in mind. Still, it's worth remembering that today's "inner city" neighborhood was yesterday's bucolic enclave.

I remind myself occasionally that in 1948, when this neighborhood was developed, it was way out in the sticks: 50th and May? It might as well have been 150th and May. (Of course, 150th and May is now just another intersection in town.)

Still, it doesn't look all that urban outside my door, and apparently the same goes for the Monk:

When our law school friends who now live in New York City or Chicago visit us, they don't see our neighborhood as urban at all. That's because they live in places that really are urban: bustling, high-density, apartment- and condo-dominated, and so on. Very little of Minneapolis and St. Paul is like that.

The working definition of "urban" around this neck of the woods seems to be "no parking except in assigned spaces." High-rise residences are few and far between, though the demand for them is starting to accelerate.

Finally, this question is perplexing:

Does anyone else find it odd that conservatives — the staunch upholders of history and tradition — typically live in and defend decidedly newfangled suburbs, while liberals — the bold advocates of progressive change — typically live in and defend decidedly old-fashioned neighborhoods? I've never been able to figure that one out.

Johnny Carson once boiled it down to this:

Democracy is people of all races, colors, and creeds united by a single dream: to get rich and move to the suburbs away from people of all races, colors, and creeds.

Tell me just what it is that conservatives conserve, and I suspect the answer lurks within. Me, I'll happily defend the 'burbs, but I have no intention of ever living in them again.

Addendum: It doesn't work quite that way in central Florida, apparently:

Okay, test, just how many dumb ideas are packed into that little rhetorical question? For the record, the yards of the homes in the rather older former suburb (as opposed to the "newfangled" ones) that I live in, which is now actually very near to the city centers of Orlando and Winter Park, mostly sported "Bush/Cheney" signs during the most recent presidential election. I did see a Kerry/Edwards sign — torn into three pieces by the side of the road. And there are a lot of Jewish people in the neighborhood too. One of the homes I walk past on my way to work had a Sukkot shelter in its yard during the week of that festival.

Here in the Big Breezy, you don't get into solid Republican territory until you get out of the city school district, which may say something in itself.

Additional addendum: The Monk strikes back:

[W]hat makes it more odd to me is that during this whole city vs. suburbs debate we've been having in our little network of blogs here, and that was the backdrop for my post, no one has argued along the lines of "you know, as a conservative I'd love to live in one of those older, traditional neighborhoods in Minneapolis or St. Paul, because it seems like it would fit well with my basic philosophical and tempermental outlook, but I can't because [fill in the blank]" — because it costs too much, or because there's too much crime, or because the schools suck, or because it's run by DFL weenies, or because whatever. That I would understand. What I don't understand is why a desire to live in an older neighborhood doesn't seem to have entered into anyone's calculus at all. It seems to have been a complete non-factor.

Why was it a factor for me? Because home sizes have been getting larger and larger over the years, and I didn't want anything more than about 1300 square feet — and very few new homes these days are that small.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:53 PM)
16 November 2005
From a nation within

One pertinent quote:

Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent. Today with an information "superhighway" now looming on the horizon, we are told that a lack of access to information will doom people to a life of meaninglessness — and poverty. As we look around and observe modern industrial society, however, there is no question that information, in and of itself, is useless and that as more data is generated, ethical and moral decisions are taking on a fantasy dimension in which a "lack of evidence to indict" is the moral equivalent of the good deed.

Vine Deloria, Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux, author of a score of books including Custer Died for Your Sins and We Talk, You Listen, died Sunday at the age of seventy-two.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
17 November 2005
Stretching a point

Fox will release the Fantastic 4 DVD on the 6th of December, which of course I will circle on the nearest calendar.

But this item from Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch concerns me:

It came in a box by itself, without a letter of explanation — or anything else. All that was inside was this bra, emblazoned with the phrase ''On December 6, seeing is believing.''

Well, and that little tag with Sue Storm's picture on it.

Was this Jessica Alba's bra? Were panties supposed to come with it? And why, when we went to photograph it for this page, did it suddenly disappear? Had Invisible Girl actually put it on and walked off with it? One office wag claimed to be missing a thong from the Batman Begins DVD; had the two superheroic undergarments flown off together? Finally, the bra turned up, but with nothing to say about any feats of heroism it might have performed while it was away. I'm just glad the publicists were promoting Alba's presence in the film and not that of Chris Evans, or they might have sent us a flaming Speedo.

I think it's those Yancy Streeters acting up again. (What would they have sent for Michael Chiklis as the ever-lovin' Thing? A box of orange rocks?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
18 November 2005
Because, you know, it's for the children

And, after all, that's all that matters, right?

In the great green room, there is a telephone, and a red balloon, but no ashtray. Goodnight Moon, the children's classic by Margaret Wise Brown, has gone smoke free.

In a newly revised edition of the book, which has lulled children to sleep for nearly 60 years, the publisher, HarperCollins, has digitally altered the photograph of Clement Hurd, the illustrator, to remove a cigarette from his hand.

"Photoshop: Threat or Menace?"

The photograph of Mr. Hurd cheerily grasping a cigarette between the fingers of his right hand has been on the book for at least two decades. Kate Jackson, the editor in chief of HarperCollins Children's Books, said it only recently came to her attention, at a meeting to discuss how to publicize the book's 60th anniversary in 2007.

"We had a lot of copies out on a table, and all of a sudden we realized that in the photo on the back of the jacket he was holding a cigarette," Ms. Jackson said. The company was about to reprint the hardcover and paperback editions, so "as a quick fix, we adjusted the photograph" to eliminate it.

The text and the illustrations inside the book are unchanged, but it's just a matter of time before other children's stories are reprinted and updated:

  • Hansel and Gretel, lured by the witch to a house made of whole wheat toast, save themselves by tricking the witch into getting stuck in a wok.

  • Old Mother Hubbard goes on food stamps.

  • Becky Thatcher warns Tom Sawyer that she doesn't consent to anything further.

  • All three bears will have equal bedding and meal temperatures; this is not only egalitarian, but it will simplify matters for Goldilocks.

  • When Cinderella flees the ball, she leaves behind a sensible shoe.

  • Tom, Tom, the piper's son, will now steal tofu.

(Via Lindsay Beyerstein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
19 November 2005
Buckley revisited

In 1983, University of Chicago student David Brooks (yes, that David Brooks) wrote a gently-mocking hagiography of conservative icon William F. Buckley for the Chicago Maroon. Buckley thought it was hilarious, and so do I. Sean Gleeson, with the permission of the Maroon, has reprinted the tale; I wanted to bring it to your attention because (1) it really is funny and (2) I wanted to get the jump on those sleepyheads at The Corner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:33 AM)
21 November 2005
Hundred best, my eye

Steph Mineart has read 41 of Time's 100 Best Novels, and she has some issues with the list:

When I read the list I was disappointed at what was missing and some of the crap they included. These people can't tell me they actually read Infinite Jest. I don't believe it. And what the hell is Are you there God, It's me Margaret doing on this list? If they needed to pick a teen novel, there are 30 better than that.

I tried to read Infinite Jest. Really, I did. Eventually I decided to perform an experiment: climb a ladder, drop Infinite Jest and Pynchon's V. into a tub, and decide which of them I would miss less when they hit the water.

Tie goes to the shorter title.

She also didn't like The French Lieutenant's Woman ("TOTAL SUCKAGE!") and Portnoy's Complaint ("SUCKED!"). (Me, I sort of liked Portnoy, but it's hardly a great novel, and it's a lousy after-dinner read.)

So we're not completely on the same page. Not a problem. This question, however, I can resolve:

I also wonder why they picked the year 1923 as the starting point. What's significant about that year?

One of the great moments of the 20th century, according to Time's reckoning: the first issue of Time (third of March, to be exact).

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 AM)
22 November 2005
What about those approval ratings?

Andrea Harris sees it as a spiritual thing:

[A]t heart liberals are old-time fundamentalists whose God is social approval, and they've noticed that strong, confident people tend to make enemies of weak, envious people. Being weak and envious themselves, they fear the responsibilities of being citizens of a strong, confident nation with enemies, and they identify more with weak, envious nations who want to see us broken in the dirt. It's a vicious circle.

If nothing else, this explains why I became much more content with my lot in life after I quit giving a damn. (I suppose the next step is to cancel SiteMeter, but then I've already paid for next year.)

"I just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?" It's not enough, Harvey, old friend, it's not enough. You don't ever want to put yourself in the position of having to grovel for that love.

Me, I tend to think that this is the best idea Lyndon Johnson ever had: get them by the 'nads, and their hearts and minds surely will follow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
25 November 2005
Recurving the Crescent

Fritz Schranck says that merely returning the evacuees is not the be-all and end-all of the New Orleans recovery project:

I respectfully suggest that the impetus for restoring the City of New Orleans should not be centered upon bringing back to the city the folks who were forced to abandon it.

I hasten to add that if those folks want to return, great for them, and great for the city. Nonetheless, the point of all the billions of Federal dollars in aid should not be simply to bring 'em all back. The goal should be far more broadly defined.

NOLA had more than its share of longstanding problems before Katrina. Among other issues, the crushing poverty, persistent violent crime, and the constant, low grade fever of official corruption combined to discourage old businesses to stay and new businesses to locate there. Newspaper stories from cities and towns where Katrina refugees relocated show that many of these folks are discovering how much better their lives could be if they stayed where they are now. Having now seen that the Big Easy's problems are not the norm everywhere else, most of these former residents are going to demand far more than levee repairs in order to be convinced to go back.

With the exception of certain members of the parasite class, I don't think anyone wants New Orleans to go back to being basically Haiti with better restaurants. And I don't think everyone will go home: the population has been declining for years anyway — a net loss of twenty thousand people between 2000 and 2004, if the Census Bureau is figuring correctly — and it's reasonable to assume, based on this trend, that at least a few folks displaced by Katrina were getting ready to bail out of the Big Easy anyway.

However awful the devastation that hit New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast, I'd be more comfortable with the recovery effort if the folks in charge openly recognized the situation for the opportunity it presents to clear up some of these systemic issues. If their plans and actions showed that they are making a genuine effort to improve the schools, the criminal justice system, and the business climate beyond the tourism industries, then plenty of Katrina's victims will be encouraged to return — and a lot of other hopeful people would join them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there were no second acts in American life, a piece of disinformation so profoundly at odds with the reality of American existence it's a wonder it hasn't been picked up as a campaign slogan. The scene is new, the old set has been struck. People want to see New New Orleans. If it's to succeed, there has to be some assurance that the new boss doesn't turn out to be the same as the old boss. And if that assurance isn't forthcoming, you may as well ring down the curtain and move the Mardi Gras to Topeka.

(Mr. Schranck, a friend of long standing who turns 52 this week, also covers trivial matters.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
26 November 2005
Otherwise known as "Buy Not Much Day"

I don't think Phoebe is all that worried, but she asks anyway:

Sean went to the grocery store and bought spaghetti sauce.... Is one permitted to buy food on Buy Nothing Day? Hmm.

When they say Nothing, they mean Nothing. (So I got a haircut and blew $16 on dinner.)

Personally, I think they ought to move National Ammo Day to coincide with Buy Nothing Day, since the people who are most likely to support the one are also the most likely to guffaw at the other.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
28 November 2005
In a new old-fashioned way

There are logistical issues involved in rocking around the Christmas tree, says Lileks:

How this rocking is done I am unsure, since the tree is usually in the corner; thus it would be difficult to rock around the Christmas tree. You would have to rock in a semi-circular pattern. The people on the end would either have to circle around the others, which would mean they were rocking around the persons rocking, or the entire line would have to shift back and forth, permitting the occupant of the center position no more than a few feet of rocking. It is also unclear what sort of rocking we are talking about here; most rocking doesn't take you around anything. From the Bruce Springsteen grin-and-thrust-and-pump-hip dance to the Foghat-stoner stand-in-place-and-bob-head style, most rocking is done in place. So the whole song falls apart under analysis. Note: it is possible to rock around the clock, this being an expression of rocking performed in time, not space.

"I'm sorry," sobs Brenda Lee.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
Amsterdam phone, will ya?

St. Petersburg Times columnist Robert Friedman apologizes for overdoing it, for violating the "newspaper industry's voluntary two-puns-per-section quota for headlines."

I do hope no one has trumpeted that "voluntary" business to Dawn Eden. But Friedman has extenuating circumstances:

As a young man, I entered a magazine contest — The Trygve Lee Memorial Pun Toss and Yokohama Throw — that offered prizes for the best puns involving geographical locations.

In case you saw this and thought Friedman was pulling your chain, let me assure you that the T.L.M.P.T./Y.T. was a real competition, and entries spilled over four pages of an early-Seventies issue of National Lampoon. My favorite was, and is:

My sister stole all my Halloween candy, and I hope it'll Rotterdam teeth out.

Of course, this site never stoops to such things; it's not like anyone is likely to hire me for a Punjab.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
29 November 2005
Tales of 90265

I've been to Malibu a couple of times, though not since 1988 or so; but I have no reason to think it's changed much in the intervening years, and the QC Report confirms:

Malibu is a place with absolutely no sense of proportion. The scenery isn't just lovely; it's perfect — except during the fires and mudslides, which are biblical in their scope. The discretionary income isn't merely large; it could fund malaria treatments in up to twenty developing nations — which is something best not to dwell on as you window shop on the Coast Highway. The people aren't lovely; half of them are the physical definition of beauty — the other half are the definition of what kind of bank statement it requires to breed with the physical definition of beauty.

During my brief stint as a Legal Californian, I almost always felt like a fish out of water, and not a particularly attractive fish at that, and it didn't help that the few people I actually knew out there apparently derived their entire awareness of Oklahoma from The Grapes of Wrath.

Still, I had to appreciate the place for its sheer gorgeous insanity:

Malibu is proudly inconvenient; it seems to derive perverse pleasure in having only two major routes of entry, both of which have been known to close due to the aforementioned fires or mudslides.

Me, I spent a lot of time farther down the coast, lost in the labyrinthine streets and coves of Palos Verdes. (This is one of the few times in my life when I actually bought lottery tickets on a semi-regular basis, perhaps hoping I could buy my way into California — not the state, which had already issued me the appropriate identification, but the sheer idea of it.)

And I have no doubt I could relate to this:

[T]his is small-town parochialism at its worst. Small-town insularity wearing a six-carat yellow diamond for a Sunday afternoon soy latte.

I suppose I could have grown to hate the place. But someday I'll go back for a while, secure in the knowledge that I won't have to stay there. For now, my old California license plate (expired 5-90) has a place of honor — which means, basically, that nothing else is hanging in front of it — on my garage wall.

(Via The Happy Homemaker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:58 AM)
Today's business-writing tip

By way of Mister Language Person:

In writing proposals to prospective clients, be sure to clearly state the benefits they will receive:

WRONG:  "I sincerely believe that it is to your advantage to accept this proposal."

RIGHT:  "I have photographs of you naked with a squirrel."

Precision is truly its own reward.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 PM)
2 December 2005
Mrs Frisby nods from the corner

Lindsay Beyerstein defends one of the less-highly-regarded species:

[A]s a New Yorker, I know that affection for rats is an important step towards accepting the world as it is. These little guys kick ass. They're smart and they're tough and nobody wants to eat them. We should all be so lucky.

For some reason, this kicked off an earworm: "Rats in My Room," a bizarre little number made famous by Leona Anderson on Ernie Kovacs' TV show and subsequently recorded by outfits ranging from NRBQ to King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicz-Tones.

(Actually, the reason was probably as simple as this: how often do I get to mention King Uszniewicz and His Uszniewicz-Tones?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
5 December 2005
Testing my Flux capacitor

Before I look into the future, though, I must reconcile two conflicting visions thereof, both of which emanate from legitimate visionaries. (Placement is by time posted, earlier first.)

There's this one:

Aeon Flux, starring Charlize Theron and Marton Csokas, based on the dark, chaotic animated fantasies of Peter Chung, is a great movie.

And there's this one:

If nothing else (and there won't be) Aeon Flux will have the distinction of being the worst movie this year to star two Best Actress Academy Award winners.

Theoretically, I suppose, these two possibilities need not be mutually exclusive, but in the Real World™, in which Sturgeon's Law governs all sort-of-artistic endeavors, I suspect that at least one of these observations may be, if not incorrect, certainly inconsistent with my own findings.

Which I will eventually have to find, of course, if only out of an excessive fondness for Charlize Theron.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Let there be talking points

Virginia Postrel muses on her book sales:

Lately, I've been fretting over The Substance of Style's respectable but unspectacular sales (roughly 18,000 copies in hardback, now out of print, and 12,000 copies so far in paperback). One problem seems to be that, while the book has enthusiastic fans, it has gotten minimal word of mouth. Why? Professor Postrel's cheery explanation: "The people who like your stuff don't have any friends."

Maybe my friends don't read the stuff I do. I did mention the book here a couple of years ago, though as an arbiter of contemporary culture I rank somewhere below Heckle and/or Jeckle and presumably don't have a whole lot of clout in the marketplace.

Then again, it could be a simpler issue. From the very same paragraph I quoted in that 2003 post:

People have always decorated their homes. But the aesthetic quality and variety of home interiors have increased dramatically. Furnishings once reserved for rich aficionados are now the stuff of middle-class life.

Given present-day Big Media insistence that the gap between rich and poor is an ever-widening chasm, and that we're teetering on the brink of economic collapse, it's likely not in their best interest to acknowledge that the lifestyles of the nonrich and unfamous not only don't actually suck but might conceivably be improving.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
9 December 2005
What were once vices are now habits

About two years ago, Lyric Theatre, having done mainstream musicals since the dawn of time, put a tentative toe into some different waters. The "Second Stage" project, as it was known then, was dedicated to the possibility that the alleged archconservative theatrical audience of Oklahoma City was neither all that conservative nor particularly arch.

Accordingly, Second Stage put on Pageant: The Musical Comedy Beauty Contest, a wickedly funny and deeply bitchy send-up of all such competitions, featuring six beautiful women and, yes, an all-male cast. (I saw that production, and wrote about it here.) Pageant was a definite hit, and it was just a matter of time before they brought it back.

Not that Lyric is giving up on the likes of Beauty and the Beast, of course. But clearly someone on 16th Street realizes that you can get an audience without having to show them corn as high as an elephant's eye.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
10 December 2005
And it's deep, too

A moment of, well, laughter, because he would have insisted: Richard Pryor has died at sixty-five, and who among us ever would have imagined that he'd live to sixty-five? The man was so much larger than life you just knew that life wouldn't put up with that sort of insolence for long.

And the best thing is, it wasn't that damned multiple sclerosis that got him: it was a good old-fashioned heart attack. (Which puts him ahead of George Carlin, four to three.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:45 PM)
11 December 2005
A general dearth of wise men

Goldie Hawn, way back in the days of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In:

Why don't they move Christmas to July, when the stores aren't so crowded?

Why, indeed?

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the holidays, though, make sure you're blaming the right person:

Our current holiday problem started when Constantine decided that a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus would be just the thing to make himself look good on The O'Reilly Factor. There was, however, one small problem: no one knew when Jesus was born. The Gospels simply say that the birth occurred when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. This might have been enough information in the hands of a competent archivist to pinpoint a likely date, but competent archivists were hard to find in ancient Rome due to the Roman mob's insatiable appetite for watching overweight, middle-aged clerical types with 2.7 kids and a mortgage try to stab each other to death with quill pens in the Coliseum.

Constantine, having no solid information to work with, asked the Senate and the people of Rome what they thought of July 15th as the date for Christmas. The Senate and the people of Rome, mindful of the fact that Constantine had the bad habit of feeding people who disagreed with him to lions and tigers and bears, oh my, for the entertainment of the people in the cheap seats, told Constantine that July 15th was a wonderful idea. Roman retailers, on the other hand, mindful of losing the 4th of July and Bastille Day sales, told him that while his idea was wonderful, it would be even more wonderful at some other time of the year. One clever gent who owned a shoe store on the Appian Way suggested, after giving the matter some thought, that the Emperor make December 25th the date for his new holiday.

Then someone, possibly the shoemaker who first suggested the idea of the 25th, or maybe his brother — no one could really tell them apart — told the Emperor something that emperors, as a class, love to hear: he was emperor, therefore he could put the holiday anywhere he felt like putting it. And so he did, on the 25th day of December, the high burden of historical and theological proof bending slightly in deference to Constantine's need for campaign contributions.

On the positive side of the ledger, this account doesn't put all the blame on Hallmark, which need only claim responsibility for those other 129 days a year when we're supposed to spend money we don't have on things we don't need for people we can't stand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:47 PM)
12 December 2005
No doormat, she

Christine Craft was a news anchor at KMBC-TV in Kansas City in 1981, when the station decided to fill her spot with someone else, reasoning that she was, in their words, "too unattractive, too old and not deferential [enough] to men." She was thirty-six years old, and I don't remember her being unattractive; I mentioned her briefly in Vent #38, back in early 1997.

Today I got a note from Ms Craft, who is inevitably older, utterly unconcerned with her appearance, and still not deferential to men. One of the men she doesn't defer to is Arnold Schwarzenegger; Craft, from her perch at the Sacramento affiliate of Air America, is happy to tweak the Governator when she can. Since she left KC, she got her law degree, decided she preferred radio to television — among other things, less makeup — and, she says, she discovered Rush Limbaugh. Since strains of "Where are they now?" run through my head on a regular basis, I was happy to hear from her; if you're curious, this story from this past summer fills you in on what she's all about these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 PM)
14 December 2005
Thirty and holding

David Kent's third Department Thirty book, The Blackjack Conspiracy, is out now, and the author will sign copies Saturday afternoon at 1 at Best of Books in Edmond (1313 E. Danforth, west of Bryant). I may have to slip up that way myself, since I unaccountably haven't picked up this title yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 PM)
15 December 2005
Advent? They make speakers, right?

At least in my neck of the woods, the so-called War on Christmas has been a bit oversold, probably because (1) there is an abundance of actual Christians, some of whom qualify as "practicing," and (2) there is a general recognition that the, um, "holiday season" is as inclusive a cultural event as exists in Western civilization.

Even the atheists can join in:

While Christians celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas time, the holiday has developed into a Western tradition with many aspects — as faithful Christians lament — utterly devoid of religious content. Many devout Christians — some sport bumper stickers of Santa Claus crossed out with a big X — feel that for large segments of society, the meaning of Christmas has become watered down to a godless excess of presents, food, and glittery lights.

It has. Isn't it wonderful?

Atheists like me can go to church concerts to rejoice in the glorious music of the season, delight in picking out special gifts for family and friends, and wish everyone a "Merry Christmas."

But it's much more than a gorgefest with angel decorations. Just because atheists don't believe in a God in Heaven doesn't mean we can't embrace the Christmas message of brotherhood and peace on earth. While we don?t believe in the supernatural, we can recognize Christianity's invaluable contribution to human love. That is worthy of celebration every year.

Of course, if you're one of those folks to whom the very mention of Christianity evokes either Pat "I control hurricanes" Robertson or the Spanish Inquisition*, you've probably already gotten your stockings in a wad. Fear of coal, I guess.

I'm as much of a Scrooge as the next guy. However, what differentiates me from that next guy is the fact that I don't consider it a moral imperative to tear down something that appeals to a lot of people in the hopes of currying favor with a few. (First person who says "multiculturalism" is penalized five points for signs of incipient brain death: if we're all in this together, as the It Takes a Village types insist, we do not benefit by going out of our way to emphasize the differences.)

Here's just some of what's going on around town this December. And trust me, no one is going to ask you for a baptismal certificate at any of these locations.

(With thanks to Alan Sullivan.)

* Nobody expected this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
17 December 2005
Where the brows are

The yawning chasm between "literary" and "genre" or "popular" fiction — certainly it makes me yawn — has prompted this spirited commentary from Lynn:

[I]t seems to me that the problem with today's artsy-fartsy academics in general, whether the subject is literature, music or visual art, is that they are trying to control history in a way that past masters never would have dreamed of. They want absolute control of what ends up in The Canon instead of just letting history follow its natural course.

Of course, they won't get it: the audience and the pundits are ever at odds.

In a way, the scorn for popular literature and other popular entertainment is understandable. There is a lot of popular trash being created and thanks to modern technology we have the means to broadly distribute all of it and to preserve it for future generations regardless of whether or not it is worthy of preservation. A vast majority of people have no concept of quality and no patience for works that do not make an immediate impression. But the academics have gone too far. They do not only scorn trash; they broadly dismiss everything popular or even known at all by ordinary people. Meanwhile they are creating trash of their own and demanding that we all simply accept it as superior merely because they say so.

I don't think it's necessarily that the vast majority has no concept of quality; more likely, it's simply that they haven't gotten around to expanding their horizons beyond the lowest-common-denominator stuff that the most massive of mass media prefer to shovel in their direction. And even providers of pop culture have been known to aspire to something better, or at least less ephemeral:

The Sony Classical issue (CK 85397) of piano solos by American composer William Joel (1949-    ), performed by the British/Korean pianist Richard Hyung-Ki Joo, is, unlike almost every other Sony title sold at or near full price, utterly bereft of liner notes, and the cover art is a bland reproduction of one of those old G. Schirmer music books, right down to the quotation from Horace ("Laborum dulce lenimen"). Music should speak for itself, but this is ridiculous. Fortunately for those of us who are new to Mr Joel's oeuvre, he is fairly easily categorized: he's an unabashed romantic. And he has thoughtfully added explanations to titles otherwise undescriptive; for example, the three-part Suite, Op. 8, is billed as "Star-Crossed". What appeals most, I think, is the sheer ebullience of the music, which makes perfect sense for a composer born into a New York state of mind. And Mr Joo gives these pieces the shimmer they deserve, though it would be interesting to hear the composer (also under contract to Sony, I understand) play them himself.

It's not the first time the uptown girl wound up as Muse to a downtown man.

For this and other reasons, I am wary of assuming too much of an anti-elitist posture, as Donald Pittenger explains:

I don't like the reflexive negative reaction of the Art Establishment to popular, financially-successful artists such as [Thomas] Kinkade, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell.

So far as I'm concerned, nearly all Establishment-anointed Post-Modern art is pretentious or silly, if it can be called art at all (more on this in future posts). This means I don't take Establishment criticism seriously. But I also have to guard against being reflexive myself, trying to like what they hate.

He's not a Kinkade fan, though there's this:

On the personal level, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart and fathered four daughters. He is deeply religious and has used his art for charitable fund-raising. For artsy-intellectoids, what's not to hate?

It should be remembered, moreover, that this particular elite isn't especially monolithic: there are schools and sub-schools and squabbling groups who ultimately agree on only two things: artists don't get enough respect, and geez, how can anyone pay actual money for a freaking Kinkade print?

I hesitate to say that culture is becoming democratized, because it's always been democratized: the audience votes with its checkbook. And though popularity is no guarantor of quality, neither is obscurity.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
21 December 2005
Totally bananas

Skippy reviews King Kong:

it's a poorly-written, over-long, terribly miscast plagiaristic remake. but other than that, it's fantastic!

Maybe that's why it's doing such indifferent box-office business: the multiplexes of late are awash in poorly-written, over-long, terribly miscast plagiaristic remakes, and this one just doesn't stand out.

I'd rather believe that than this, anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:07 AM)
22 December 2005
Can't we all just get in line?

The People's Republic of Boulder, like the rest of Colorado, has open enrollment in its public schools, and apparently it's preventing the materialization of a perfectly-integrated multiracial utopia:

School segregation has been a subject of discussion — and embarrassment — for the past five years in Boulder, a community that considers itself the most progressive in the state.

"For a liberal community, we aren't looking so liberal in the white flight we've experienced from some schools in the last 10 years," says [outgoing School Board President Julie] Phillips, who was barred by term limits from seeking a third term on the school board.

The increasing segregation of Boulder schools was highlighted in a 2000 study by University of Colorado education school professors Kenneth Howe and Margaret Eisenhart.

"Whites are disproportionately requesting open enrollment in schools with high test scores; Latinos are disproportionately requesting open enrollment in bilingual schools," Howe and Eisenhart wrote.

The nerve. How dare they request things disproportionately?

But Boulder isn't taking this lying down:

[Superintendent George] Garcia says the district can't do anything about the state's open enrollment law, but a citizen task force in June suggested several strategies to disperse the district's students more equitably.

That could include enrollment targets for minorities and economically disadvantaged students at Boulder schools. The targets would be achieved through enrollment caps and preferences.

La Shawn Barber calls this song exactly what it is:

So, 50 years beyond government-mandated segregation, we've come full circle. The government is still in the illegal business of categorizing citizens by race and coercing people to conform to their hare-brained scheme of racial balance, an empty and scandalous policy that will cause resentment among all races and force whites (and other groups) to send their kids to private or parochial schools.

Good luck with all that.

Not particularly apropos of this, I have been reading Joanne Jacobs' book Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds, the history of a charter high school in San Jose, California that takes the least-promising ninth-graders in town, yet sends all its graduates to four-year colleges. Not everyone makes it through, but those that do, do well. When you have a mission like this, considerations like "racial balance" fade into insignificance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 AM)
This is just so wrong

Then again, it's not like I've never poached anything from somebody else's comment section before.

The Top Ten Rejected Titles for Brokeback Mountain:

  1. Bone on the Range
  2. Mamas, Don't Let Your Boys Grow Up to Be Boys
  3. Two Sausages and a Side of Country Gravy
  4. The Yellow Pink Rosebud of Texas
  5. A Fistful of Manmeat
  6. The Fabulous Seven
  7. Hang 'em Low
  8. A Mullet for Sister Sarah
  9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundress Kid
  10. The Shootist

Thanks to Tom, Bart and Ace.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:24 PM)
24 December 2005
The last surviving stereotype

In some far-flung future, no one expects gay men to lisp and/or mince, evangelical Christians to get bent out of shape about s*x, men to scratch themselves with whichever hand is free, or women to swear off oral sex once married.

But we'll still have letters to Glamour like this one in the January '06 issue:

I want a sexy, un-librarian updo for New Year's Eve. Help!

(Why is he reading Glamour, you ask? Well, they had an article on "Women Who Blog." The article about Salma Hayek wasn't even noticed. Not even the picture where she's half-wearing a DKNY sweater.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 PM)
25 December 2005
I draw the line at plaid

On the off-chance that someone out there is annoyed because Santa wears that red suit — the North Pole wasn't a red state, last I looked, but you never can tell with some people — here's Santa in blue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:10 PM)
26 December 2005
Donor party

Here are two guys with a commitment of sorts to charity:

We, James Hong and Josh Blumenstock, hereby make a personal promise to you that we will give 10% of whatever we make over $100,000 each year to charity.

We're making this commitment because we think it will help make the world a better place, and we're encouraging people to make the same promise to themselves and to their friends.

A laudable idea, though Erica asks:

Yay for grassroots effort and all, but if you make $100k can't you already afford to give a good 10% out of that?

Jacqueline seems to think so, and at the moment she makes quite a bit below $100k:

Christians give 10% of their income to their church, and they seem to be doing pretty well in the world domination department. Which got me thinking, what if we ALL gave 10% of our incomes to support our favorite causes or charity? What would the world look like then?

Well, not all Christians do that, and I don't think it's required, but it certainly strikes me as praiseworthy.

The Tax History Project has copies of recent Presidential tax returns; on impulse, I took a peek at the 2004 numbers. George W. and Laura W. Bush reported an adjusted gross income of $784,219, and deducted charitable contributions of $77,785, which is 9.92 percent. Close enough to 10 percent, I'd say. (Closer than I got, I admit.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:14 AM)
27 December 2005
"I wrote this," he said

Herewith, a bit of instruction by Stephen Koch: it's from his The Modern Library Writer's Workshop.

As for the claim that the reader can?t follow multiple or shifting points of view, it is simply false on its face. The whole history of the novel is testimony to the contrary, from Jane Austen to Thomas Pynchon. In masterpiece after masterpiece, the narrative point of view readily changes from page to page, or even from sentence to sentence and only delights as it does so. In fact, one of prose fiction?s grandest strengths, which it exercises for once in effortless superiority over all other narrative media, including the movies, is its ability to dart in and out of any character?s mind at will. To forgo this splendid artistic advantage in the name of some pallid academic theory is really madness.

Chapter to chapter, of course, is no big deal; page to page can be followed if you're paying attention, and certainly you should be; but sentence to sentence? Maybe it's just me, but I don't think I should have to keep a scorecard along the edge of my bookmark. Then again, my own talent for writing fiction is extremely limited, and perhaps this limitation somehow creeps into my reading capacity — though I must admit that I seldom have trouble following Charlie Kaufman movies, which are about as linear as a Klein bottle.

(Via Deeanne Gist at Romancing the Blog.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
Tales of the Demon Eel

Bill Peschel singles out some of the worst descriptions of oral sex in contemporary fiction, leading me to the inevitable conclusion that sometimes it's better to keep one's mouth shut.

Or something like that.

(No pictures, but probably not especially safe for work either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
28 December 2005
Take this yolk from me

Diane asks:

Where in the nursery rhyme does it say Humpty Dumpty is an egg?

Actually, I'm inclined to blame this on Lewis Carroll, though Carroll's description sounds like Dumpty is less than happy with the characterization:

"And how exactly like an egg he is!" she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.

"It's very provoking," Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, "to be called an egg — very!"

Of course, there's always a story behind a nursery rhyme, and sometimes it's even true.

Not relevant but thrown in anyway: Sylvan N. Goldman (1898-1984), who headed the Standard Foods/Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma City, invented the shopping cart in 1937.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
30 December 2005
When Vin Diesel just won't do

While Oklahoma City isn't the cultural wasteland you've been told, there's a definite dearth of art-house motion-picture fare here: only the AMC at Quail Springs and the Harkins in Bricktown even bother with smaller films, which means that if they pass on something, you have to hope that it's picked up for a couple nights by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, or that it plays in Tulsa.

The Oklahoma Gazette reports that the new Warren Theatre planned for Moore will devote two of its 20 screens to art films, which, if it comes off, will alleviate this problem.

And if it doesn't, here's an idea from Delaware:

[In an] arrangement between the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and The Movies at Midway, the 14-screen multiplex that is the premier movie location for Delaware's Cape Region .... beginning January 6, 2006, Theater 14 will be the home of the RBFS' Art House Theater. The RBFS will handle the programming for this screen, with a mission to bring to the Cape Region the best of independent, foreign, and other worthy films that might not otherwise be available around here.

Now that's ingenious. (Our thanks to Fritz Schranck, who serves as a member of the RBFS board.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 PM)
31 December 2005
Speaking of independent film

The Oklahoma City chapter of Amnesty International has put together a package of seven films which will be screened the weekend of 14/15 January at the Norick Downtown Library. No admission will be charged; AI hopes to attract some new members and do the classic awareness-raising thing.

Here's the schedule:

Saturday, 14 January:

Sunday, 15 January:

* Democratic Republic of Congo.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 AM)
Some lube for that slippery slope

Andrea Harris predicts Drumstick Mountain:

If I were gay I'd be insulted by the schmaltzy strings and gloppy voiceovers emitting ridiculously fulsome praise of this film (Heath Ledger is better — at everything — than Jesus!, and it's going to get every prize in the universe including the Nobel Peace Prize and the Proxima Centauri Gamma Irridium Star of Intra-Galactic Excellence). Then again, I still think of gay people as examples of wit, charm, and fashion, but that apparently hasn't been true since Noel Coward died. Gays are now Just Folks, and are expected to tear up and reach for the hanky when one male movie actor makes googoo eyes at another male movie actor as the violins swell, just the way 99% of my sex does when they watch pinky goo crap like Bridges of Madison County. The only thing keeping pedophiles from getting this treatment is the Catholic priest scandal; when the church gets rid of the teen-altar-boy robe-lifters in its ranks I wouldn't be surprised if the next Hollywood "art" blockbuster will feature the doomed romance of a middle-aged adult with a preteen (or younger?) child. Or maybe they?ll tackle incest first, who knows? We're running out of things to do with our genitals, so I can only hope they'll stop before they get to the insertion of inanimate objects, or man-chicken relations. Don't believe me? Then you haven?t been paying attention for the last thirty years.

This particularly fowl act has already been filmed, by John Waters in Pink Flamingos way back in 1972. (The poor bird is subsequently killed and eaten.)

Come to think of it, there's also an incest scene: son gets hummer from mom. (This is well after he's done the chicken.)

This leaves February/December romances. (Nicole Kidman insists that there was nothing sexual about that bathtub scene with a 10-year-old boy in Birth.) Oh, and "inanimate objects," though there's been enough wooden acting in the last couple of decades to make that moot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 PM)
2 January 2006
Beyond "Brokeback"

Keystone Lake-based Start Pictures is working on The Buckle: Gays in the Bible Belt, a documentary by producer/director Todd Roberts and writer Tim Cornman.

The filmmakers are looking for stories:

Start Pictures seeks the personal stories of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people that live or have lived in the state.

"We are not taking a one-sided approach, though," Roberts said. "We also want to represent the families and friends of gays, clergy, elected officials and the Oklahoma population at large."

Cornman and Roberts being straight guys, it will be interesting to see how they sort things out. I honestly don't know how I'd handle such an assignment.

File this under "Support your local indie filmmakers."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
3 January 2006
Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson

Campus LadiesThat '70s ShowTo the left, an ad in this week's TV Guide. To the right, an ad in next week's TV Guide. I yield to no one in my admiration for this pose, but there is such a thing as overkill, and this is it. At least Maureen Dowd hasn't decided to make use of this particular pop-culture reference — yet. (Click either to embiggen.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
8 January 2006
And so we turn to escapism

Meanwhile at the Baxter Building, Reed and Sue Richards are facing a formidable foe: the government, which considers that they, in their capacity as half the Fantastic Four, are endangering their children (Franklin and Valeria), placing them in potentially life-threatening situations — this saving-the-world business clearly has its difficult aspects — and which will confiscate the youngsters pending a formal hearing.

(Through issue #533, in which Torch and the Thing, meanwhile, are going to engage Bruce "Hulk" Banner, and not during a period of Bruceness either. This is, after all, a comic book.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
Forces of nature

The third of May, nineteen ninety-nine. Some of the strongest winds ever measured on planet Earth are passing literally within a few hundred yards of my door. Everything I've been taught tells me to stay inside, batten down the hatches, and wait. And yet I'm standing outside, watching what I can through clouds that go beyond grey, beyond black, to some non-color that surely exists only at the end of the world, because I can't look away: this is one of two primal forces of nature, and, I realize, the only one I will ever experience.

Brokeback Mountain is about the other. No one, I suspect, can prepare for passion at this level: it simply is, and everything you've been taught is pushed to the background, biding its time for an inopportune moment to remind you of its presence. And yet this particular primal force doesn't demand either Sturm or Drang, something director Ang Lee well knows. Sweeping and sumptuous visuals aside, this is a deliberately small film: it keeps its focus on the two leads and the different ways they come to grips with the same fact, and in more than one scene, the words that go unspoken cut closer to the heart than the words you hear out loud.

Which is why this isn't one of those tedious "message" pictures that go out of their way to beat you over the head with whatever bit of philosophy is au courant for the moment: every scene, every line, every offhand gesture is bent to the service of the story of these two men. And in that specificity, paradoxically, lies its universality: denied easy access to the stereotypes we might desire, we are forced to look at these characters in comparison, not to a pattern, but to ourselves. Brokeback Mountain speaks to everyone who's ever had to cover up the most important facts of his life.

Or her life; the audience when I attended was about sixty percent women. For this is, when you think about it, a "chick flick," a classic Hollywood weeper, gender considerations notwithstanding. I can understand why some men might shy away from it; I found the sex scenes between the two guys a bit gruesome. But then, I found their sex scenes with the women they married to be just as gruesome: any points they scored for "normal," they lost for "obviously going through the motions." Ennis did love Alma; Jack might even have loved Lureen; but those relationships would inevitably have to take second place behind what happened up on that damnable mountain back in '63.

Manipulation of the audience? Certainly. That's why we go to the movies in the first place. Moralists will no doubt point out that there is a price for giving into one's desires; I would remind them that there is also a price for suppressing them. Brokeback Mountain tallies them both, side by side.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
9 January 2006
In search of Rose

For some inscrutable reason, about five dozen folks wandered into this site over the past couple of days looking for quotes from Dame Rose Macaulay (1881-1958), who wrote twenty-odd novels; a paragraph from one of them (The Towers of Trebizond, 1956) is reproduced here.

Since it's fairly certain that Dame Rose is still dead, and since most of the requests came from MSN Search, I have to assume that something on MSN referred to Macaulay for some reason. If you happened to see it, I'd appreciate knowing just what was going on.

In the meantime, here's another Macaulay quote, because I can:

Work is a dull thing; you cannot get away from that. The only agreeable existence is one of idleness, and that is not, unfortunately, always compatible with continuing to exist at all.

Yea, verily.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
Rut-roh

For at least twenty years, there have been rumors of a live-action film version of the Sixties animated TV series The Jetsons, and now it appears they might actually pull it off. So far, we know they've gotten the family cast:

  • Steve Martin:  George Jetson
  • Jonathan Lipnicki:  His boy Elroy
  • Lindsay Lohan:  Daughter Judy
  • Diane Lane:  Jane, his wife

So: Jason Alexander or Danny DeVito as Mr. Spacely?

Something about this project disturbs me greatly (memories of Rosie and the originals, no doubt). On the other hand, I'd love to see how they make George's car fold up into a briefcase.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
12 January 2006
Let's see Clarissa explain this

Melissa Joan Hart and hubby Mark Wilkerson are celebrating the arrival of their first child, Mason Walker Wilkerson, all nine pounds of him.

At least she won't be calling him Fergface.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:57 AM)
13 January 2006
The Jack and Ennis Show

If you were wondering if anyone in this state (besides me) would go to see Brokeback Mountain, hear this from GayOKC.com's Rob Abiera:

Jackie Faubus at Harkins Theatres tells me that Brokeback Mountain made $40,000 in its opening weekend here in OKC, and that $15,000 of that was at the Harkins Bricktown. The other $25,000 was split between the AMC Quail Springs and the Spotlight 14 in Norman.

Compared to nationwide per-screen averages for any movie, that's still pretty spectacular — even the biggest blockbuster opening at 3000 screens on its first weekend tends to make less than $10,000 per screen.

AMC was also impressed:

According to AMC Entertainment's Melanie Bell, "Brokeback Mountain is playing well at AMC Theatres in Oklahoma. In fact, last week AMC Southroads 20 (in Tulsa) and AMC Quail Springs 24 (in Oklahoma City) ranked in the top ten in terms of grosses for this film in the AMC circuit."

The obvious point, says Abiera:

The movie has to be pulling in more than just Gay people in order to get numbers like that.

Which doesn't surprise me in the least.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
They don't even eat animal crackers

Lemuel Kolkava has seen the handwriting on the wall:

[T]oday I was scared, nay, shocked by reading on one wall the following highly disturbing message: "Vegan Jihad!"

The image of some anaemic hordes of frail, weakly, wild-eyed hippies in Birkenstocks impaling common citizenry with broccoli, throwing melon bombs and committing terror attacks with lemon curry (in accordance with Vegan Cook Book secret chapters, suras 11-19) scared the carnivore in me quite a bit.

"Lemon curry?"

Now which is worse: a Vegan book of recipes, or a Vogon book of verse? Choose your answer carefully.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
14 January 2006
Worst. Seder. Ever.

Some people argue that all families, no matter how loving, are dysfunctional. It could even be true: nothing in life runs quite as smoothly as we might hope.

Salvador Litvak's When Do We Eat? amplifies this concept, as it examines a family seemingly more in bondage than bonded to one another. Michael Lerner is Ira Stuckman, who prides himself on conducting the World's Fastest Seder; this year he will be foiled by wife Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren), who is in one of those Back to Tradition modes, and the fact that none of his children seem to be on his good side.

Things start out badly and deteriorate from there, and it doesn't help when Ira's stoner son slips a tab of Ecstasy into his dad's antacid — except, somehow, that it does help. And before this night, so different from all other nights, is over, every single member of this family — including Jack Klugman, as Ira's father — will find release from that bondage.

When Do We Eat? played here last summer; in fact, it won Best Narrative Feature at the deadCENTER Film Festival, though I somehow managed to miss it. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art screened it this weekend as part of a "New Jewish Cinema" series. The small but vocal crowd loved it, and I did one actual spit take. And you'll get your chance to see it: ThinkFilm has picked up distribution, and plans to release it on the 7th of April.

Just in time for Passover, of course.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:53 PM)
16 January 2006
Now this is a legacy

Joe Goodwin on MLK:

To my parents' generation, Martin Luther King Jr. was either an impassioned visionary or a pain-in-the-butt rabble rouser, depending on what side of the civil rights issue you stood. To my generation, he was a man before his time, without whom the civil rights movement would barely have registered on the political scales of the South. To my son's generation, he's "that guy who made the 'I Have a Dream' speech." Kind of like how Lincoln is "that guy who wrote the Gettysburg Address" and Washington is "that guy on the one dollar bill." While my son's historical knowledge needs some shoring up, I'm encouraged by the fact that he doesn't see Dr. King as anything unusual — he's just another famous guy who did what needed to be done. In the same manner, his friends aren't black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic, or anything else; they're just "the guys."

Which is, of course, exactly the desideratum of "I Have a Dream."

My parents grew up with racism. I grew up dreaming of the death of racism. Perhaps his is the first generation that will grow up wondering what all the fuss was about.

If we give them a chance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 AM)
19 January 2006
Gargoyles in heels

How much plastic surgery is too much? Peppermint Patty has examples, starting with Melanie Griffith:

I'm getting older, I have wrinkles and things settling in places I didn't know they were able to go, and I really don't have a fundamental objection to plastic surgery for those who really want it. I've seen good surgery that has made people feel great about themselves, but their goal wasn't to stay looking like they were 22 forever. But, Melanie, sweet Mother of God, you were and are a beautiful woman without the size 14 lips and the skin pulled so far back that you probably have a banana hairclip on the back of your head holding it that tight. How could you think this is an improvement?

And then there's Jessica Lange:

For the love of all that is good and beautiful about women, please stop committing this violence on your face! Eyebrows do not belong halfway up your forehead, seemingly held up by invisible wires, looking like they belong to the person behind you. Many years ago I read an interview you gave, and this was when you had wrinkles starting. You looked like a woman should look, and you were still incredibly smoldering. In that interview, you stated you would not do plastic surgery, that wrinkles were a part of you and your life. Apparently you changed your mind ... the one that is tucked and sucked behind those overarched, way-too-high caterpillars masquerading as eyebrows.

I was never all that fond of Melanie, but Jessica Lange? You might as well paint a Porsche with a roller.

(Scary photographs at the link.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
21 January 2006
In the far-too-distant past

Ian Hamet remembers Mystery Science Theater 3000:

Whenever I list what I think are the Best TV Shows Ever, it never occurs to me to even consider MST3K. Not because the show wasn't good, but because it's simply incomparable to anything else. It is and was one of the unlikeliest TV shows ever made, it was never wildly successful in the ratings, it had cancellation hovering over its head for at least half of its ten years (and was, in fact, cancelled on one channel, only to be reborn on another between seasons seven and eight). It was long and unwieldy, running two hours. It demanded concentration on multiple levels from its viewers.

Oh, and the worst movie ever riffed upon? Monster-A-Go-Go (421):

No monster. Twenty seconds of pseudo-Go-Go. Ninety [CENSORED!] minutes of disconnected shots of feet walking down halls, washed out stock footage, and ponderous narration that fails to make any of it make sense.

In other words, just marginally worse than Laserblast.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
22 January 2006
Going floral

The mockumentary form didn't originate with This Is Spinal Tap, but Tap gave it its marching orders: show us something we wouldn't have seen otherwise, and make it funny.

Last night I got to see a picture called Making Arrangements, written and directed by Melissa Scaramucci, produced by her and Peter Austin Hermes (also director of photography), and it takes orders very well: it blows the lid off the allegedly-placid world of the commercial florist, and it's funny as hell.

Shot in 2002 in Oklahoma City, standing in as a mid-America Anytown — the COMMERCIAL VEHICLE decal on the shop's van bumper gives it away, and there's a brief glance of a Braum's bag — Making Arrangements is set in an upscale flower shop called "Flowers By Design," which is going through a fairly hectic period already (two weddings, a couple of parties) when one of the biggest names in town suddenly drops dead and the demand for flowers — really good flowers, not the mundane stuff indulged in by hoi polloi — goes completely off the scale. And of course, the staff of Flowers By Design work in perfect harmony to make sure everything happens exactly the way it should.

Yeah, right.

There might have been an instance or two when the ostensible documentary crew seemed a bit too omniscient for maximum plausibility, but this is a quibble: the characters are strongly detailed and intelligently developed, a neat trick considering how much of the film was actually improvised on the spot, and while you can see the conflicts coming, you can't predict more than a shot or two ahead. And what makes this story work is the Us vs. Them dynamic: yes, the customer is always right, but more often than not, the customer is a tremendous pain in the ass. (Hint: do not order black roses, even if you're dating a Goth girl.)

Making Arrangements is not being screened locally at the moment; I snagged a copy on DVD by way of IndieFlix.com, where it is selling well, and deservedly so. I laughed a lot, and so will you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:28 AM)
23 January 2006
Golden slumbers

George Orwell may or may not have said "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." (It sounds like Orwell, but it hasn't turned up in his known writings.)

Gagdad Bob provides a corollary:

"Evil people sleep peaceably in their beds at night because tenured wackademics and left-wing media sheep stand ready to make excuses on their behalf."

Bob, to his credit, doesn't mention Orwell.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
25 January 2006
Loath and vicious

Buffalo's The Beast has issued its annual list of the 50 most loathsome people in America, which is always fun, not necessarily because I agree with every last selection, but because it's jam-packed with seriously deranged venom, a major source of delight here in post-civil America. Republicans outnumber Democrats on the list, but Republicans are ostensibly running things, so their potential for loathsomeness presumably gets kicked up a notch. This pattern, interestingly, did not hold for Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37); I think this is because Goldberg overstates the importance of Hollywood liberals, to the extent that it's possible to overstate the importance of Hollywood liberals.

Numero Uno on the Beast's list, to everyone's relief, is Pat Robertson; #4, to no one's surprise, is you. Or maybe me.

This might be the best line in the bunch. Regarding #15:

Rove is decidedly not a genius; he is simply missing the part of his soul that prevents the rest of us from kicking elderly women in the face.

(Via Michelle Malkin, #49, who has her own nominee.)

Addendum: There ought to be room for the person who dropped by this morning with the following search string: WHERE IS THE CLOSEST WALMART TO FORD FIELD IN DETROIT WHERE I CAN PARK A MOTORHOME OVERNIGHT.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:32 AM)
27 January 2006
A million litigation cases

Here's the first third:

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Seattle Attorney Mike Myers lists as plaintiffs two Seattle residents, Shera Paglinawan and Stuart Oswald, who each received or purchased [James Frey's A Million Little Pieces] "before news of the book's falsity was disseminated."

The suit, apparently the third of its kind to be filed across the nation, seeks class-action status against Frey and the publisher.

Myers distinguished his suit from actions filed in Illinois and California by saying only his seeks compensation on behalf of consumers for "the lost value of the readers' time."

Myers alleges several legal causes for the suit, including breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation and violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Remember, you can't spell "class action" without "ass."

(Via Lachlan.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
31 January 2006
Fake but inaccurate

Mark Steyn explains why so much BS enhancement shows up in so many memoirs:

The trouble with the memoir racket is that most folks who lead interesting lives don't want to write and most folks who do want to write have lives that consist of sitting around in their underwear staring at the keyboard and getting up to refill the coffee mug every 20 minutes. Hard to work that up into anything "brave" and "inspirational."

Um, I don't drink coffee.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:50 PM)
1 February 2006
Open Subchannel D

I never thought about this, but now that it's come up:

If you're recording an audiobook, how do you handle the footnotes? What if the character falls down a well? Should the your voice change? And are you true to the punctuation, breathing, pausing, lifting your voice as originally heard in the author's head? These are some of the little dilemmas facing the people who put a voice to a book.

I do know that when I'm called upon to read out loud — mercifully, these days this is for the benefit of a child or occasionally two, not for a grade which goes on my Permanent Record — I do my best to provide the inflections I think are indicated by the material, and try not to sound too much like a dork. (Exception: when I'm reading something that's supposed to be dorky.)

It's been suggested to me once or twice that I should put out some of this here drivel in book form, and I've always fended off the idea with "What would I do with the links?"

Actually, this question has already been answered. In 1997, Wired Books (then related to the magazine) put out a compilation of articles from my favorite Webzine under the title Suck: Worst Case Scenarios in Media, Culture, Advertising, and the Internet, edited by Joey Anuff (who used the Suckronym "The Duke of URL") and Ana Marie Cox (then "Ann O. Tate," more recently "Wonkette"). The articles were printed with the links highlighted; a line was drawn from the link to a sidebar, which contained the pertinent section of the linked material and its URL, in a wholly-different font so you wouldn't be confused by all this linear digression. At the time, it seemed freaking ingenious; today, it seems, well, freaking ingenious, even if you can click on a link in a PDF file these days.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
2 February 2006
No similarity otherwise

Oh, what wondrous things you find in your referral logs.

In the context of Oklahoma City, David Stanley Ford is an automobile dealership at 39th and May.

Elsewhere, David Stanley Ford is a playwright, who has written an American historical drama I'd love to see: The Interrogation of Nathan Hale, in which the man who regretted having but one life to lose for his country reveals the last secrets of that life.

Is it too much to hope that one of our local theatrical troupes might consider staging this work?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
6 February 2006
Opening up the archives

The secret to success for a newspaper on the Web? Same as it ever was, says Doc Searls:

Charge for the news, recycle the olds. That's the same business we've always had in the daily print news business, and I think it will leverage just fine on the Web.

The only problem with that is having no live Web presence, right? So, a suggestion: take everything but breaking news off the home page (which is way too crapped up with clutter anyway). Make it clear that subscribers get to see the rest of today's news today. Make links to today's news work tomorrow, even if only subscribers see those links today.

That way the paywall for each story or column is up only for 24 hours, and down for the rest of time. That way the paper gets plenty of authority and influence from having its full archives on the Web in searchable and linkable form. News customers get to pay for what they've always paid for. And hey, maybe once the high value of fresh news gets full respect from its producers, the papers will start making customers out of its consumers.

I like this, generally, but how "full" are "full archives"? It will cost you a few coins of the realm, but you can get everything that's been in The Oklahoman since 1901, when E. K. Gaylord was only twenty-eight years old and two years away from entering the newspaper racket in Oklahoma City. I'm not prepared to tell them that they should be giving that stuff away, especially since it's not really formatted for indexing. But last week's business briefs? Hardly anyone's paying for them now, I suspect.

(Aside: Is it proper to cite a reference in Wikipedia if it's one I wrote?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
First, sell the product

Although this seems a bit roundabout, given the nature of the product in question.

(Possibly not safe for work)

Addendum: Alternate link here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
We'll always have Dolly

One of the wondrous things about Dolly Parton, I've always felt, is that she has a splendid pair of legs which are almost always on display, yet which no one has ever seen: this is magical misdirection worthy of Penn and Teller.

If you, like me, can't even imagine a world without Dolly, you might appreciate this premise:

I'm developing a new theory: that Dolly Parton is an enterprise run almost identically to that of the Dread Pirate Roberts. So when the Dolly Parton we know grows weary and decides to retire, she identifies a replacement who will seamlessly merge into the life of Dolly Parton and carry on the Dolly Parton name and brand, as if nothing had ever happened. That way, Dolly is ageless and lives forever, and people will never have to know what a dark and woeful place the world would be without her and that hair, and the breasts that unwittingly prepared a nation to cope better with Anna Nicole Smith.

No one ever so brilliantly blended art and artifice; surely there must be some way to keep her around for a few more centuries, and if ripping off a theme from The Princess Bride will do the trick, I approve.

(Warning: Link also contains a photo of Pamela Anderson, who in an emergency may be used as a flotation device.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
7 February 2006
What is hip?

That which is embraced by the hipsters, of course. And who are the hipsters? For the answer, I turn to cultural historian and/or surly crank James Lileks:

A hipster is someone who is aware of something six months before people who work primarily in the insurance industry find out about it. What they are aware of has to be fun but useless, something like "innovations in Danish halogen lighting" or "trends in indie thrash-pop ska/metal Nashville country-punk underground." I know, I know, that genre's gotten so broad it includes almost anyone. But it's still hip. [Editor's note: It was when the author wrote this yesterday, but he killed its hipness by writing about it here. We apologize.]

And if, like me, you have an occasional need to know what will be so five minutes ago ten minutes from now, these are the people whose friendship, such as it is, you must cultivate. No wonder I'm behind on all the trends. I'm not hip. I'm not even hep.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
10 February 2006
DVDprived

If you were wondering if it's possible for a beautiful young woman to channel a grizzled old man, here's Donna in Andy Rooney mode:

Are there any other Netflix users out there? Have you also noticed the strange coincidence that your Netflix queue always hovers around the same number as your weight is in pounds? No matter how many movies I watch, the number of movies in my queue is always pretty much equal to what my scale reads in the mornings.

I think she just talked me out of Netflix: if my queue matches my weight, I won't live long enough to see all those films.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:01 PM)
12 February 2006
The goddess from the machine

It's horribly unromantic to say so, but art depends for its very existence on artifice: things we think are wondrous tend to originate with things that are decidedly prosaic — or worse.

Alan Ayckbourn's play Comic Potential, which I saw today at the University of Central Oklahoma, is about the worse, and how its line of separation from the better becomes obscured, even erased. Chandler Tate, once a comic director who worked with the Big Names, is reduced in his later years to directing a television soap opera, one for which the expectations are so low that there is no actual cast: rather, there are "actoids," androids designed to a physical type and then programmed with their lines. This, of course, requires software, and software always has glitches, and in the very first scene, the pretentious physician is mixing up his vowel sounds. The technicians can fix that, sort of, but the nurse is actually busting out laughing on stage, and no one quite knows why.

It doesn't help when Adam Trainsmith, nephew of the network owner and (though he doesn't realize it) boy toy of a female network executive, shows up at the studio, thoroughly awed by Tate's oeuvre and fancying himself to be a writer of comedy. Tate brushes him off, of course, but there's a brief period when Adam finds himself left alone with one of the actoids — the presumably-defective Juvenile Character, Female unit who played the nurse — and discovers that somewhere in her dubious microcode there might just be a sense of comic timing.

No problem with that, until they redo the medical scene and instead of laughing, the JCF unit does a double-take worthy of James Finlayson. Tate is impressed in spite of himself, and Adam prevails upon Tate to let him work up scenes with the mechanical starlet, whom he now calls "Jacie."

And this might have come off, except that old Mr Trainsmith, sort of Rupert Murdoch without the charisma, sees Jacie as a threat and wants her sent back to the factory to be "melted down" — her accumulated memory erased and her microcode reinstalled. Adam, horrified, smuggles her out of the network facilities and into a hotel room, while he tries to figure out just how to save the poor girl, inasmuch as he's fallen in love with her and all.

Unfortunately, Jacie has problems adapting to life outside the studio: while she picks up cues quickly enough, all she knows is the thousands of lines of script she's had impressed upon her. And even more unfortunately, with all this new information having to be processed by her electronic brain, she seems to be achieving some sort of sentience.

Yeah, yeah: The Stepford Actors. But it's not so simple as that. For one thing, Adam, young and callow, has barely more concept of love than Jacie; for another, he can't bring himself to treat her like a machine, and she has no experience with anything else. And Sir Alan has no trouble blurring the lines between them: the ability to fall in love and the ability to laugh, quintessentially human characteristics, are inherently "grossly illogical," he says, and there's some question whether we handle them any more deftly than poor Jacie.

The three leads here all have difficult roles to play. Chandler Tate (Robert Keitch) drowns his depression in drink, but it never affects his critical judgment when the tape is rolling: well past his prime, he still won't compromise on the basics. Adam (David Schroeder) is so intoxicated by the sheer delight his artificial girlfriend finds in the mundane moments of life that he's willing to overlook the very real problems inherent in the relationship. (What happens when she drinks too much — never mind, I won't spoil it for you.)

None of this would work, of course, if you don't believe Jacie, and Courtney Drumm is a wonder: she absolutely nails this character, this mechanical creature being forced to respond to stimuli for which no programming exists, sometimes having to shift among various preset playbacks literally in mid-sentence; yet all the while she's fulfilling the Asimovian expectations of her species model number, she has to somehow contend with the possibility that she may be turning into something else — someone else — entirely. How could Adam not fall for her? Under the circumstances, I think I could have.

Regrets? Just one: that I caught the last performance, which means that I can't tell you to dash up to Edmond and see it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 PM)
13 February 2006
Beyond Kugelmass

Kugelmass, you'll remember, appears in a 1977 Woody Allen short story; his life, especially his married life, seems drab and unappealing, and magician friend the Great Persky contrives to have him inserted into Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary, right between Emma Bovary's affairs with Leon and Rodolphe.

Last fall, I asked Kugelmass wannabes into which books of fiction they'd like to find themselves, with interesting results.

Of course, this concept can be taken in many different directions. Perhaps motivated by a vision of Atticus Finch, a fictional character I too would have liked to meet, Jennifer poses a similar question:

If you could suddenly find out that one work of fiction was actually true, what book would you hope it would be? And why?

My immediate thought was Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, but it occurred to me that Lazarus Long himself might well chastise me for the selection, simply because I was being presumptuous, something Long likely wouldn't countenance.

So I'll give it a little more thought, and I'll throw the question open to you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 AM)
17 February 2006
Gut instincts

Oklahoman sportswriter Berry Tramel today characterized Charles Barkley as a "man who speaks first, thinks second and then repeats what he said the first time," which may sound like damning with faint praise but which strikes me as something almost worthy of emulation: you follow your gut, even when it's making untoward, Barkleyesque noises.

Which, as it happens, might be the best advice for most of us anyway:

''It is much better to follow your gut," said Ap Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who led the research.

For relatively simple decisions, he said, it is better to use the rational approach. But the conscious mind can consider only a few facts at a time. And so with complex decisions, he said, the unconscious appears to do a better job of weighing the factors and arriving at a sound conclusion.

The finding, published today in the journal Science, would have practical implications if borne out by further research.

In years gone by, I'd been known to waffle on such insignificant matters as "Paper or plastic?" I can't legitimately claim to be a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy, but I have learned that the consequences of jumping into a decision need not be heinous: I spent barely fifteen minutes inside this very house before I decided that this was the one I wanted.

Then again, it was the eleventh house I'd looked at.

Matt Rosenberg would like to see this sort of speedy decision-making enforced at the governmental level:

I'm thinking mandatory cloture within 72 hours of commencement for all state and federal legislative debates, and especially federal judicial confirmation hearings, unless the legislative body can summon a five-sixths majority to extend debate another 48 hours.

I'm just shooting from the hip here, of course, but wouldn't that force these gassy buzzards we elect to actually focus their thinking?

This I couldn't say. In the case of pending legislation, it's hard enough to get them to read the damn bills; if you take away the pontification periods, you're going to wind up with, say, Joe Biden learning how to talk fast enough to do FedEx commercials, which would not be much of a gain.

Still, if someone wants to base a campaign on the theme of "Screw nuance," I'm listening.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 PM)
19 February 2006
Cultural mavens, all of us

Darla has identified what she calls the Fantasy of the Good Life, and it goes like this:

This mostly applies to romance novels, chick lit, and women's fiction. I haven't seen this phenomenon in any other genre. Obviously, it doesn't apply in sf/f.

It seems that an inordinate number of characters, regardless of their personalities or how they grew up, know all about:

  • fashion (a bricklayer can distinguish Armani from another designer from across a crowded room)
  • wine
  • flowers (even self-professed black thumbs know the names of every flower they encounter)
  • classical music (a woman who grew up in a slum can name a Vivaldi concerto in 6 notes or less)
  • perfume (every man and most of the women can identify a woman's brand of perfume at 20 paces)

My theory is that the authors who do this are trying to portray the characters as living The Good Life, and that these details aren't necessarily things that the authors themselves are all that familiar with, but they're things they imagine would be important to living The Good Life. It kind of goes along with the stereotype of women being into shopping and fashion, and looking for status in a mate as opposed to physical attributes (stereotype! I said stereotype!).

Which may explain why you don't see this in science fiction/fantasy, since the author's concept of The Good Life therein is likely worlds away, so to speak, of what we might aspire to in the land of Manic Mundane.

But I'd rather have the stereotyping, such as it is, than some vapid attempt to impose some sort of cultural "authenticity," itself a stereotype, on the characters: it's not useful to have someone drawl just because he grew up in Lubbock, nor to have him fighting said drawl just because he grew up in Lubbock. The object lesson for me came about 15 years ago, when I met a young black woman, maybe not incredibly gorgeous but certainly credibly gorgeous, who worked in the medical field and who was a major Elton John fan; for some reason it took me quite a while to adjust to this particular reality, as though African ancestry would somehow prevent someone from listening to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." I'm incoherent enough in the presence of beauty, so this bit of silliness made matters much, much worse, and I truly hope that she's forgotten my existence. (Inasmuch as we never had an actual date, I think this is likely; on the other hand, really blatant stupidity is hard to erase from the memory banks.)

On a scale of 0-10, this is how I'd estimate my expertise on the cultural indicators given:

  • fashion: 3
  • wine: 2
  • flowers: 4
  • classical music: 5
  • perfume: 1

Then again, were someone like me to appear in a romance novel or in "chick lit" (surely there ought to be a better name for it than that), he would almost certainly be the guy the heroine avoids at all cost.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:04 AM)
20 February 2006
Holy mackerel, dere

CBS-TV canceled Amos 'n' Andy, the television spinoff of the successful radio series, in 1953 after a two-year, 78-episode run. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white guys who had played the roles in the radio version, produced the TV edition. It was the first network series with an all-black cast, and it was a substantial hit: in its first year on the air, it ranked 13th among network shows, drawing nearly 39 percent of the audience in its time slot (Thursday, 8:30 Eastern). CBS's syndication arm kept the show in circulation into the 1960s.

But the NAACP was never happy with Amos 'n' Andy, or, perhaps more precisely, they were never happy with the character of George "Kingfish" Stevens, a conniving character always out to make a fast buck. Stereotyping, they said. In 1963, CBS had somehow sold the show in Kenya; shortly thereafter, the Kenyan government announced a ban on it. By 1966, with Bill Cosby lined up against the series alongside the NAACP, CBS pulled it from syndication, and it's not been aired since. (Gosden and Correll got the next-to-last laugh: they redid the show as an animated cartoon called Calvin and the Colonel, which debuted on ABC in 1961 and lasted one season, with Gosden and Correll doing the same old voices with new names and species — Calvin was a slightly slow bear, the Colonel a sly fox — with Paul Frees doing the Kingfish a weasel.)

Correll died in 1972, Gosden in 1982, so they won't see the last laugh: a revival of the series on stage under the title Kingfish, Amos and Andy, now playing in Jamaica, New York. Carl Clay, director of Black Spectrum Theatre, explains why he brought these characters back to life:

In the '60s, there was nothing else to compare Amos 'n' Andy to. Today, we've had so many black sitcoms that play up black stereotypes that Amos 'n' Andy seems tame. It was a groundbreaking show that had a universal appeal.

It just so happened that it was the first TV show with an all-black cast, and because of that, well-intentioned people like Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, who loved the show on radio, and later black stars like Bill Cosby, maybe put too much weight on the shoulders of the show, asking it to be representative of an entire race.

And Amos 'n' Andy was unabashedly working-class, which might have embarrassed a few people who fancied themselves highbrow, who thought that in the best of all possible worlds, people like Amos and Andy and especially the Kingfish would no longer exist. But actor Gil T. says:

It wasn't about welfare families, dope pushers or gangbangers. It was about working- and middle-class black people in New York. One character was a lawyer, another owned a cab company, a teacher, a cop. Everybody worked, and everybody struggled.

Real life, in other words. No wonder it had to be suppressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:57 AM)
Bombs, bursting in air

Good advice from Baldilocks:

If you?re a professional singer and you're asked to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game or at one of the games in the NBA Finals, the NHL Finals or the World Series, do yourself and your audience's ears a favor: rehearse. Many times.

The temporarily-reunited Destiny?s Child sang the song at [the] NBA All-Star Game and, aside from wowing all of the male on-lookers by looking good (you go, girls), they sang a harmony-laden and excellent version of the Banner — they didn't just rely on the fact they are very good singers; it was obvious that they practiced, over and over again.

This would seem even more imperative for singers farther down on the food chain performing at smaller events, but I wonder sometimes.

The Hornets radio broadcast times its pre-tipoff features in such a way as to miss whoever is doing the National Anthem: generally, you catch the last four or six bars, after which Sean Kelley does his salute to the Armed Forces. One game this month, the timing was off somewhere, and we got to hear almost the entire anthem, and my thoughts at the time were running along the lines of "So this is what Mariah Carey would sound like if a coyote were chewing her foot off."

There are only so many notes in "The Star-Spangled Banner." Unless you know you can sing as well as Destiny's Child — and you probably can't — you probably shouldn't try to triple that number for the sake of melisma. It will not work, and people's ears will hurt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
Bats don't wear short shorts

"Them bats is smart," said David Letterman: "they use radar."

Well, actually, they use a form of sonar called "echolocation," but apparently they also fly by feel: receptors on bats' wings, sensitive to touch, help them maintain their flight paths and detect prey.

Dr. John Zook of Ohio University tested this latter premise:

Zook removed the delicate hairs from bats' wings with a hair removal cream. Then he let them fly. The bats appeared to fly normally when following a straight path, but when they?d try to take a sharp turn, such as at the corner of a room, they would drop or even jump in altitude, sometimes erratically. When the hairs grew back, the bats resumed making turns normally.

"It was obvious they had trouble maintaining elevation on a turn," he said. "Without the hairs, the bats were increasing the curve of their wings too much or not enough."

The bats' flight behavior also changed based on the area of the wing where the hairs were removed. For example, when Zook removed hairs along the trailing edge of the wings and on the membrane between the legs, the bats were able to fly and turn effectively, but they tended to pitch forward because they couldn?t control their in-flight balance.

So if you have a pet bat — perhaps a fruitbat named Eric — you would be doing it a kindness by keeping the Nair away from its wings.

(Courtesy of Finestkind Clinic and Fish Market.)

(Gratuitous disclosure: The pre-AOL QuantumLink service once had a chat room called QFRUITBAT, which was devised by, um, me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:15 PM)
21 February 2006
A book I definitely want to read

The story is here.

Yeah, I know: how could I not? (Actually, it's been on my Amazon.com wish list for about four months, but I don't do anything quickly when it's cold outside; the lack of sun saps my will to live, or something.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
23 February 2006
Barflier than thou

Have you ever looked at a film and wonder "Who the hell came up with this title?"

Me too. And so has Anne Billson:

The Quay brothers have called their new film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Big mistake. It may well be a masterpiece but I'm sorry, that title is pretentious and whimsical and goes straight into my sin bin, next to The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

Let there be simplicity:

My ideal title is short, sharp and memorable. You know where you are with Jaws and The Godfather, while Barfly works unexpectedly well as an adverb. But my current favourite is a Samuel L. Jackson thriller, now in post-production, called Snakes on a Plane. How's that for a title! Let us just pray it doesn't turn out to be a metaphor.

Would Samuel L. Jackson lead you astray? Snakes on a Plane, believe it, is about a plane. With snakes on it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
It's all in how you turn the page

I'm sure somebody needed to know this.

Fairchild's DNR magazine has put out a list of, it says here, the "magazines most likely to attract gay male readers," and for the inevitable counterpoint, the magazines with the straightest readership. (I shudder to imagine the questionnaire they used.)

For the record, I take four of the gayest and one of the straightest. (Are there any numbers on how many straight people read Out?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:24 PM)
25 February 2006
On the street where you live

I've never driven on Psycho Path in Traverse City, Michigan, but I have to admit, it is definitely a wacky street name.

Some of the ones I've encountered over the years:

  • Wasbee Range, Charleston, SC: A little cul-de-sac off Ashley Avenue south of Calhoun; legend has it that the streetlet was originally called Bee Range, but the name was changed after confusion with nowhere-nearby Bee Street.

  • East 38½ Street, Austin, TX: Exactly where you think it is, between 38th and 39th. Austin has quite a few "half" streets, but this is the only one which rates an exit off Interstate 35.

  • Edbillellis Road, North Charleston, SC: Presumably named for Ed and Bill Ellis.

  • Intersection of Antonio Parkway and Avenida de las Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: I just like the idea of the corner of "Antonio" and "Banderas."

  • Triple XXX Road, Oklahoma City, OK: That's what the signs say, though everyone calls it "Triple X". It's a mile east of the Indian Meridian, which may or may not have something to do with its name. (Previously discussed here.)

  • Charles Hill Road, Orinda, CA: Not named for me. There's also a Circle. (I plan to snag photos on a future World Tour.)

A few other streets around town:

  • Federal Court: A cul-de-sac a couple blocks east of 5100 S. Sunnylane on Lunow Drive.

  • Rohan Road and Lorien Way: In the Rivendell subdivision between SW 119th and SW 134th east of May.

  • W. P. Bill Atkinson Quail Something-or-Other Parkway: Near 14700 N. Pennsylvania; the street sign gives up after the Q.

  • Buffalo Wallow Avenue: Off Highway 105, east of the Guthrie Golf and Country Club.

  • ITIO Boulevard: Acronym for "Indian Territory Illuminating Oil" Company, which started in 1901 in Osage country; owner H. V. Foster was the first to drill successfully in the Oklahoma City oil patch southeast of downtown. (The legendary Wild Mary Sudik was one of ITIO's wells.) ITIO eventually disappeared by merger into something called Cities Service, but that's another story.

  • Lois Lane: There are actually two of these, one a rural road off 15100 SW 59th, and another (designated East Lois Lane on my map) which sits between SE 29th and I-40 west of Post Road.

  • Abbey Road: Non-continuous residential street in The Village; once considered for my househunting. (Previously discussed here.)

And this will have to do for a Spottings for today; I'm sneezing so much I wouldn't be able to see through the windshield.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:39 PM)
27 February 2006
But we're making a statement

Honda makes hybrid versions of its popular Civic and Accord sedans, and given Honda's engineering priorities, it should surprise no one that the hybridized cars are very much like their conventionally-engineered brethren; there are differences in weight and quickness, but they're nothing special on the outside.

Which is why they're being outsold by Toyota's Prius, which doesn't have a nonhybrid cousin: everyone knows the Prius on sight, and everyone knows it's a hybrid. Enter the selling point:

"The Prius is a fashion statement," said Art Spinella, a consultant with CNW Marketing Research who surveys car-buying trends. "It looks different. Other people know the driver is driving a hybrid vehicle. It clearly makes a bigger statement about the person than does the Civic, which basically looks like a Civic."

Forget the fact that for the money you spend on a Prius, you could get Toyota's own five-speed Scion xB, with just about the same real-world gas mileage, twice the cargo space, and seven thousand dollars' worth of something else you might have wanted. But the Scion doesn't make a statement, unless "I'm willing to drive something that looks like a refrigerator" counts as a statement.

You might conclude from this that I probably won't be embracing Rod Dreher's "crunchy conservative" shtick, and you would be correct; while much of the movement's manifesto appeals to me, it's simply not that important to me to be making a big-S Statement with my purchases or my appearance or my "lifestyle," whatever the hell that is. Part of this is age and/or crankiness, both of which I have in abundance; but most of it is simple indifference. It doesn't matter to me if you grind your own peanut butter and throw your own earthenware jars to store it; it doesn't matter to me if you buy trans fats from Frito-Lay's back door and inject them directly into an artery; and I can't understand why anyone would give a flying fish whether I do either of these things, or neither of them. Maybe it's just me, but I refuse to check the Official Guidebook before I do something more complex than popping something into the oven.

On the other hand, it's not generally useful to be doctrinaire about this sort of thing, so here's the obligatory joke:

Q. How many Crunchy Cons does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. By asking the question, the asker shows he doesn't understand what Crunchy Conservatism teaches us about community. The emphasis on the number of individuals is misplaced. We should be asking whether the light bulb is made by the most environmentally friendly process available, sold by a store that is involved in the local community, and casts light on an area that truly needs illumination, not someplace traditionally left dark. Quantifying and categorizing people as mere light-bulb changers is characteristic of a modernistic, big-business/big-government worldview, not crunchy conservatism.

I've switched, where conditions permit, to compact fluorescents. Fewer bulb changes; then again, more difficult disposal. Everything in life involves tradeoffs of some sort, another reason to avoid getting caught up in Movements that expect you to make Statements.

(Suggested, perhaps to his dismay, by Sean Gleeson.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:00 AM)
The whisper of the Fife

Don Knotts had more impact on American Culture than we think, or so suggests Danny Carlton:

[D]uring the seventies, when the 60s generation moved into positions of influence and power, we saw the rise of the perfect people. Movies and television shows reflected the new mind set that reality was whatever you defined it as, and regardless how many ugly, clumsy people there were out there, as long as we filled the airwaves with beautiful, witty people, we could simply believe that that's the way things really were.

And thus the real Americans, the Don Knotts, were quietly pushed to out of view and the incestuous bubble of the Hollywood culture took on a life of its own, and began redefining who we are.

When Don Knotts was cast as Ralph Furley in Three's Company, he became the same character, but was portrayed as someone to avoid, to shun, to laugh at when he wasn't looking. The reality that Don Knotts still portrayed the average American was truth the Hollywood glitterati didn't want to face, and we went along with them. We still do to this day.

And now Barney is gone. The man we loved so much because in him we saw a glimpse of ourselves, but would never dare mention that to anyone. In him we saw the truth that one could like, admire and enjoy someone regardless of their flaws, simply because of who they were down deep. Don Knotts gave us hope that no matter how we felt we were the Barney Fifes of the world, there was always an Andy Taylor or two there to like us and stand by us, even though those same Andy Taylors more likely than not saw themselves as Barney Fifes as well. Hollywood may have tossed him aside as a relic of an age they wanted to forget, but I'm thankful for what he gave us, and will continue to give us in the reruns we can watch. Maybe one day we'll return to the honesty that Don Knotts portrayed and represented.

The mention of Andy Taylor is not at all gratuitous: while Andy was clearly the alpha male in this pack, he was as dependent on Barney as Barney was on Andy. This sort of thing isn't allowed in contemporary stories unless there's some sort of pseudo-ironic overlay, or there's some sort of overt race-baiting (this goes back at least as far as Lethal Weapon), or they're trying to make Brokeback Mayberry.

Then again, we've developed a tendency to celebrate our failings, rather than keep them under wraps. Probably why Don Knotts' TV repairman in Pleasantville was inclined to snap at Tobey and Reese: he knew what was coming.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
1 March 2006
Aggravated mopery

"Mopery," said H. Allen Smith in Low Man on a Totem Pole, is the "old English misdemeanor of exposing one's self in front of a blind man on a public highway."

The Word Detective once was threatened with a more contemporary version:

I ... was threatened with arrest for "mopery" back in 1970 by a gendarme in the employ of the Columbus, Ohio police department. As I knew I was guilty of no crime beyond a bad attitude and a subversive haircut, I presumed he was joking and simply walked away. But several days later I heard that a friend had actually been arrested, booked and jailed for "mopery," so I guess the relevant law really existed on the books (and, knowing Columbus, I'd guess that it probably still does).

The Detective's interpretation:

"Mopery," at least in Columbus, Ohio, consists of "walking down the street with no clear destination or purpose." "Mopery" is thus essentially "loitering while walking," and, like laws against loitering and vagrancy, functions as a sort of legal wildcard, a one-size-fits-all charge that can easily be applied to annoying people by irritable authorities.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee, reports Triticale, has "approved an ordinance calling for fines against persons who 'loiter in a menacing fashion'." I wonder if this is like Oklahoma City's "aggressive panhandling" minus the actual request for spare change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:17 AM)
Skyborne tubes of venom

I don't think I can say it any better than this:

Whether or not Snakes on a Plane receives critical acclaim on the level of Brokeback Mountain is a moot point. Brokeback Mountain may have gay cowboys, but Snakes on a Plane has snakes. And a plane. It's such a natural combination; I can't help but wonder if the Wright Brothers had snakes in mind from the start. Regardless of their intentions, it has become obvious to me that planes were meant for snakes, and vice versa. Think of it like Romeo and Juliet, but with reptiles and aircraft.

In conclusion, everyone needs to see Snakes on a Plane. There's no way this movie can fail. The hype for this film has been building like crazy; there's even a Facebook group for it, and we all know what that means. To sum it all up: This film has Samuel L. Jackson, Kenan, snakes and a plane. So jump on the bandwagon before it's too late, because movies don't get any better than this. Unless, of course, there are boobs in it.

Coming in 2007: Boobs on a Plane! (Well, maybe.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:50 PM)
4 March 2006
Welcome to Ave Maria, Florida

You have to admit that this sounds pretty cool:

The Town of Ave Maria is believed to be the first modern town to be developed in conjunction with a University. Located on what was once largely agricultural land, it has been designed to be a compact, walkable, self-sustaining town that reflects the community's rural roots while offering a full range of residential options and commercial services to its residents.

Importantly, Ave Maria has been designed to human scale. Street networks, distinctive character, and environmental sustainability are integral to its planning. It is to be a true community, where neighbors care about neighbors, friendships span generations, and a sense of pride is felt by every resident, student, and worker.

The Ave Maria community totals about 5,000 acres, of which nearly 20% has been designated as the University campus. Connecting the University and the Town is a Town Core anchored by the landmark Oratory and incorporating retail and commercial space as well as residential condominiums.

It's a Catholic university, and to the extent that it's integrated into the community, you might well expect that the community plays mostly by the same rules.

And you might expect headlines like "New Florida town would restrict abortion":

If Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan has his way, a new town being built in Florida will be governed according to strict Roman Catholic principles, with no place to get an abortion, pornography or birth control.

Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and [developer] Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.

This doesn't mean that they're going to, necessarily, but the reaction is predictable:

Frances Kissling, president of the liberal Washington-based Catholics for a Free Choice, likened Monaghan's concept to Islamic fundamentalism.

"This is un-American," Kissling said. "I don't think in a democratic society you can have a legally organized township that will seek to have any kind of public service whatsoever and try to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens."

The proper response, by Joanna of Fey Accompli:

contrary to Kissling's confusion of socialism with democracy (a common mistake made by veterans of government schools), this is exactly what a liberal society is about! ya know why? cause it's an entirely voluntary association!

*gasp!*

chorus: you mean that the people living there won't be shopping for condoms and titty magazines anyway? and they'll be there entirely of their own volition, fully aware of their abdication of certain rights, and can leave anytime they want?

yes! that's what i mean! which makes it the exact OPPOSITE of Islamic fundamentalism elsewhere.

Now if Monaghan were forcing people at gunpoint to live in his company university town, that's another matter. But he's not. Joanna continues:

lefties HATE IT when people enter into voluntary agreements that oppose lefty values of forced secularization and imposed diversity. they HATE it that a fact of humanity they can't indoctrinate out is our inherent tribalism — that people cluster in communities of like-minded others. but a liberal society that we ALL should defend would allow for a variety of these voluntary clusters of people to exercise their cultural preferences.

I'm sure that our stuck-in-the-Sixties socialists would have raised hell, assuming such a place as "hell" actually existed of course, had some Republican type in a grey suit tried to move into one of their precious communes back in the day. So it's not that they don't like voluntary associations: it's that they don't like voluntary associations that they don't control, either by decree or by sheer numbers.

Besides, this is my favorite kind of social experiment: privately funded.

(Submitted to Wizbang's Carnival of the Trackbacks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
9 March 2006
Dispatch from the Land O'Darkness

This morning at Pratie Place: excerpts from Cab Calloway's Hepster's Dictionary, a 1940s guide to the language of jive.

What is most remarkable, to me anyway, is how few of the entries reproduced seem quaint and outdated; many "jive" terms are still considered more or less contemporary. You won't hear "hincty" (adj. conceited, snooty) too often anymore, but the 21st century is rife with people seeking to "hype" (v., n. build up for a loan, wooing a girl, persuasive talk, cajole) something or someone.

(This post is dedicated to Barbara Billingsley.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:40 AM)
15 March 2006
Difficulty rating: bling

Is it really all that hard out there for a pimp?

Steph Mineart runs the numbers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
19 March 2006
Off the carousel

Last year, Peter Wood, provost of The King's College, a small Christian college in New York City, shut down the undergraduate program in childhood education. One reason, he says, was that state regulations had made it irrelevant:

[W]hile New York (and many other states) sets all manner of requirements for undergraduate education degree programs, New York (and many other states) has also rendered these programs redundant by requiring every teacher to earn a master's degree in education to be eligible for "professional certification." (A student who graduates with an undergraduate degree in education may receive "initial certification," which confers permission by the state to teach in public schools for no more than five years, during which time he must earn a master's degree or leave the field.)

But don't the undergraduate courses provide the necessary fundamentals, a base for graduate study? Dr Wood says no:

Schools of education mis-prepare would-be teachers in many ways. They deprive those would-be teachers of the opportunity to learn more important, substantive things during their undergraduate years; they require students to take hugely time-consuming courses of dubious intellectual value; and they inculcate would-be teachers in the educrats' pernicious ideology. It's an ideology that insists that virtually all of America's social problems derive from institutionalized prejudices; that most knowledge is "socially constructed"; and that children are best taught by allowing their natural creativity to flourish, rather than by actually trying to teach the habits of self-discipline and mindfulness. Substantive knowledge and real skill in areas like mathematics, reading, and writing are clearly tertiary concerns at best for most teachers, because they are less than tertiary concerns for SOEs.

I've got nothing in the world against natural creativity — indeed, there are times when I wish I had some of my own — but there's a lot to be said for being able to balance one's checkbook.

C. S. Lewis saw this coming:

The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be "undemocratic." These differences between the pupils — for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences — must be disguised. This can be done on various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modeling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.

(From Screwtape Proposes a Toast, 1959.)

Hang down your head, John Dewey.

(Via Joanne Jacobs, whose book I highly recommend.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
21 March 2006
Play one as TV

In She's the Man, which reimagines Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for teenagers — no big deal if you saw Clueless and noticed Jane Austen lurking in the wings — Amanda Bynes is, well, the Man, which prompted this observation from Donna:

There are two laws that govern characters that cross-dress.

1. If a guy dresses like a girl, almost immediately some strong football player-type appears and falls in love with him. Hijinks ensue!

2. If a girl dresses as a boy, almost immediately another guy will fall for "him." The fellow in love questions his sexuality but then breathes a sign of relief when he realizes that the man he loves is really a woman.

What these two scenarios have in common, of course, is that in neither of them are any of the females fooled. (I learned this from Jessi years ago.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
31 March 2006
Plus the animated Napoleon Dinosaur

Snakes on a Plane is almost certain to be a hit — if everyone who mentioned it on a blog bought one ticket, the first weekend's gross would be well over a hundred bucks — which got me to thinking about possible rip-off films to follow.

Fortunately, Fametracker beat me to it, and you can expect some combinations or variations of these to show up, if not necessarily at the multiplex, certainly on the rental shelf at Lackluster Video:

  • Boa Constrictor in a Bus Station
  • Tarantulas on a Ferris Wheel
  • Hyena in an Elevator
  • Stingrays in the Toilet Bowl
  • Wolverines at a Church Bake Sale
  • Velociraptors at the Prom
  • Piranhas at the Y
  • Wolf on the Staten Island Ferry
  • Scorpions in a Starbucks

And they say Hollywood is out of ideas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:04 AM)
5 April 2006
Reality intrudes

"Hello, American Airlines? Can I bring snakes on a plane?"

(Via CBS News Blogophile, which inexplicably also linked to this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:05 AM)
12 April 2006
The post-Brendan era

The new editor of Out, reports Andrew Sullivan, is straight:

Money quote from the hetero:

"The gay community has always been at the forefront of defining pop culture and fashion, and never more so than today. While magazines like Details are gay only when it suits them, we are unequivocally gay and forward-looking."

What you mean "we", white man? Seriously, I think it's great that a straight guy is now heading up a gay magazine. Integration is now the baseline from which many of us operate. Good for Out for being unafraid to pick talent over identity.

Me, I buy it for the travel guide, and occasionally to wonder about the relative dearth of lesbian fashion coverage.

Update, 4:30 pm, 13 April: Sullivan recants.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
15 April 2006
Send queries to Pax Vobiscum

Author Jasper Fforde has been polling visitors to his Web site, and they pronounce Moby Dick the most boring classic.

Ivanhoe was tenth, which I expect Joe Goodwin to dispute.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:45 AM)
16 April 2006
House of the rising gorge

I was headed east on Wilshire from May yesterday afternoon when I spotted a vacant lot: a teardown. One of the more modest homes on the western edge of Nichols Hills was gone, presumably to be replaced with something, well, less modest. It seemed unlikely to me, though, that one of the faux châteaux you see in newer suburban communities would be appearing on top of this lot. While houses along this stretch varied substantially in size, their setbacks were more or less identical; I assume that Nichols Hills regulates this sort of thing rather tightly, and there simply isn't room to plop a McMansion on a lot this size and still have the prescribed amount of front yard. (In fact, where I live, there is a setback ordinance, part of the Urban Conservation District zoning rules, which does exactly that.)

James Joyner doesn't object to zoning rules of this sort, but he wonders about their motivation:

While I understand the desire to preserve the historic character of truly old neighborhoods, as well as the interest of homeowners in not having multi-family or much lower value properties built in their neighborhood, I can?t see why anyone would be opposed to nicer homes.

My wife and I live in a subdivision that was once part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. The homes were built in the early and mid-1960s and have what for this area are considered large yards. Slowly, the older, smaller, less attractive homes are being bought by developers and replaced by much nicer, more expensive new homes. We're delighted, as it not only improves the aesthetic quality of the area but increases our own property value. It also encourages others, including those like us who plan to stay put, to invest money in renovating their own homes since the fear that they will not be able to recoup the investment on resale because of the value of other homes in the community is diminished. This strikes me as a win all the way around.

Not having seen Dr Joyner's neighborhood, I can't address this idea directly, but at least around my part of the world, suburban homes built in the early 1960s tend to be something less than distinctive unless they're seriously high-buck; this was an era of cookie-cutter architecture. (I owned one such circa 1980, and it was fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the block.) I don't think it's a property-value issue so much as an aesthetic one: your own car looks older when your neighbor shows up with a brand-new one. And in the estimation of some of our cultural arbiters, the McMansion is to a house what a sport-utility vehicle is to a car: the very idea is an affront to their sensibilities.

Molly is an art/architectural historian, and she has her own qualms:

[W]hile I would always support reasonable efforts to preserve historical structures, I am troubled by efforts like those in Arlington County, VA to dictate how people build anew ("... limits on home sizes ... in most cases ... [mean] a house alone can occupy just 30 percent of a lot"). And I think that the distinction between these two plans rests on a question of motives. We should preserve because we value evidence of our past, not because we find it beautiful. For if we saved (and built) only that which someone defined as beautiful, we would miss many works of great value; beauty and value are not the same thing.

[This CNN] article also raises bogus arguments against McMansions, like that they destroy community. Green spaces and quirky homes don't make friends; the people who live there do. While I am a huge believer in the power of architecture, there's a lot more to a loss of community over a much longer period o