12 October 2002
Greatest Hits: an introduction

The Daily Log began on 23 June 2000, and it's entirely possible that you might have missed some of my best stuff, especially the stuff that predates the switch to Movable Type in August 2002. Greatest Hits will repost some of the bloggage I thought was, um, least ineffective.

Of course, The Vent began way back in 1996, and all of them are still available at the same old URLs. I am told that at least two people have tried to read every last one of them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:24 PM)
Greatest Hits, volume I

Originally posted 18 March 2001

I'm getting ready to back out of the parking lot at the BBQ place on the edge of town, a sack half-full of cholesterol-ridden delights at my side, when a three-quarter-ton pickup truck rolls into the lot, and pulls up just far enough to avoid blocking my exit. The truck is pulling a trailer, and on board is a vintage (say, 1960 or so) farm tractor, cleaned up if not exactly concours condition, apparently on its way to a new home. Within seconds, a crowd had gathered to see the old relic, and here and there I picked up snatches of conversations along the following lines:

"We used to have one of these back around '64, and we just drove it and drove it until it finally died." "You know, with a rig this big, you really need that shorter axle ratio, just to be able to get away from a stoplight." "I hear they're changing the laws on trailer licenses again."

And it occurred to me as I sped away, if "sped" is the word that applies to a four-cylinder sedan heading up a twelve-percent grade, that there was no way in hell the government and the Greens were going to talk these people into Honda Insights and such. Two-dollar gas, three-dollar gas, five-dollar gas — we'd no more give up our trucks than our guns.

And yes, before you ask, there is a National Motorists Association.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
13 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume II

Originally posted 1 May 2001

The train goes by.

I don't really hear it, even at two in the morning, but just the same, I know the train goes by. There's an east-west freight line that approaches to within 600 yards of my bedroom window, and it crosses section-line roads half a mile from me in either direction, so the train, as a safety measure, will sound its horn. It doesn't sound quite like anything else. The occasional police siren, the storm-warning horns, the yelp of the ambulance — all these things will rouse me from my fitful semi-slumber, not because they're any louder, but because they announce that something is wrong, something must be done quickly, something will never be the same again.

But when the train goes by, even if I hear it, I don't really hear it; it's part of the aural landscape, part of the regular routine, a reassurance that the world has not come to an end, that shipping and business and life go on. "All is well," as the town crier used to say in places like Woodbury, Connecticut, where the clock in the tower of the First Congregational Church sings the hour, in the middle of the day or in the dead of night, stirring up complaints from people who don't understand — or have forgotten — what it means when the train goes by.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
14 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume III

Originally posted 28 May 2001

The sun comes up early in mid-Missouri on the first of April, but we were already awake. Sort of.

It was 5:02 am, cool and damp getting a head start on its way to becoming warm and sticky, and we were standing outside on the gravel wondering what would happen next. Most of us were eighteen or nineteen, but the adolescent bluster that had sustained us for the last few years had vanished with yesterday's sunset and our arrival at Fort Lost-in-the-Woods.

Not all of us wanted to be there. Our company seemed evenly divided among draftees, Reservists and the so-called "Regular Army". "RA, Drill Sergeant!" I recited as I moved up the line to the mess hall. The Drill Sergeant managed to look both scary and unimpressed at the same time.

Very little in that spring of 1972 made a whole lot of sense to me. "Hurry up and wait" was the order of the day. The story goes — I'll probably never know for sure, and maybe I don't want to — that after we finished training, the Army arbitrarily dispatched everyone in the company whose surname began with A through G to Vietnam. My H and I eventually landed in the Middle East, where there was arguably just as much tension but definitely a lot less live ammo.

If there's a lesson in all of this, it's that sometimes, whether we wear the uniform or not, we have to go through things that don't make a whole lot of sense, on the off-chance that it might do some good somewhere down the line. Many men went through the same things I did, and not all of them got to come home. Perhaps their deaths didn't make a whole lot of sense, either.

Their lives, on the other hand, most certainly did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
15 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume IV

Originally posted 2 November 2001

Already there is a flood of complaints from the usual suspects, unhappy with the settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department. As usual, they missed the whole point of the exercise, which is simply this:

People, by and large, are lazy. Nobody buys a Windows machine to learn computer science; Windows machines are bought because they appear to do cool stuff without a whole lot of effort. At least from Windows 3.0 on, Microsoft has done its best to cater to user indolence, throwing in all manner of applications — the Web browser is merely the most obvious — on the reasonable assumption that if the customer already has a suitable application for something, he won't go looking elsewhere. Much is made of how Microsoft steers Windows customers to its own, presumably inferior and cranky, programs, though I'm inclined to believe that none of these complainers have ever gone through, say, a RealPlayer installation.

I have, or at least I think I have, enough computer smarts to choose my own tools for my own Windows box. Some of them come from Microsoft; more of them don't. For me, the status quo prevails: I stand to gain essentially nothing by the settlement. Joe and Susan Sixpack will be faced with choices they weren't willing to make before, so it's hard to see how they will be able to work up any enthusiasm for it. The only winners here are the PC manufacturers, who won't have Redmond breathing down their necks quite so heavily; other software manufacturers, who might sell a few more copies of something now; and, of course, two platoons of lawyers. But it is worth noting that had the megacorporation actually been broken up into a number of, um, kilocorporations, the results would be likely much the same — only the volume of paperwork would change. If someone at Justice indeed figured this out, there is hope for the department yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
16 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume V

Originally posted 26 January 2002

It began, curiously enough, with shoes.

My sartorial standards are, shall we say, relaxed to the point of being insensate. Indifference accounts for some of this, but the real issue is my inability, for reasons having to do with my failure to conform to the normal size tables, to buy off the rack. (This is less a factor of sheer bulk than you may think; even if I weighed exactly what the anorexiphiles in the insurance industry might desire, I would still be six foot one with a twenty-eight-inch inseam, which is anomalous at any conceivable width.) Confined to catalogs and specialty shops, neither of which is inclined to sell cheaply to their captive customers, I go to as little effort as possible to appear fashionable. The $19.99 pair of shoes, therefore, is an essential ingredient in the wardrobe. However, if you buy these things on a regular basis, you know there are hidden costs beyond twenty dollars and change. There is no real social stigma attached to them except in the snootiest circles, yet somehow you feel as though you have done a disservice to your feet. And three months later, when the shoes seem to be disintegrating with every step, you know it.

Two things you must know about our maintenance guy: he notices things like this and will point them out when no one else is around, and he favors New Balance shoes, not so much for comfort as for their sheer indestructibility. So we had had a discussion earlier this week on the sad state of my sneakers, and unwilling to start the 90-day cycle again with another pair of El Cheapo Grandes, I set out this morning in search of something suitable, and damn the costs. In view of my always-precarious financial situation, this latter was unwise, but damn them anyway.

In general, the farther you get from where I live, the better the shopping — up to a point. And that point is about twenty miles away, at one of several industrial-sized enclosed retail compounds. I have avoided the malls for the last couple of months, what with the holidays and all, but I figured late January would be fairly unstressful.

And somewhere on the second floor of the third mall — or maybe it was the third floor of the second mall, like it matters one way or another — I almost totally went to pieces. It wasn't frustration over the dearth of size 14 EE; I expected that. It was the screaming sensation in the back of my head that I had no business trying to pass myself off as a normal person in shopping mode. I was an impostor, a fraud; I shouldn't be allowed in the same building as Joe and Susan Sixpack and their 2.3 kids churning their way through the pack to the Food Court. I was in tears long before I could get out to the parking lot and blame my condition on the wind.

I've been here before, and I wound up with an ongoing addiction to low-grade tranquilizers in lieu of actual response. And still there is no reasonable response. I was still shaking by the time I made it to the supermarket. (The very gates of hell may be yawning open, but dammit, the chores must be done first.) A sign of creeping agoraphobia? I don't think so. There are symptoms that point elsewhere. For one, I don't sleep well at all; two hours, maybe, and I awake, and the cycle repeats once or twice, three times on weekends. And this pattern exists without the usual bane of the apartment-dweller: the idiot upstairs. It will only get worse when they finish remodeling. There is no comfort zone anywhere, no place where I might find some small semblance of peace.

And I still need a new pair of shoes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 AM)
17 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VI

Originally posted 23 March 2002

Scene: Late Seventies. We're tooling down a very straight, very dull road in rural Oklahoma. Conversation has ground to a halt. What to do? Turn up the radio? No, she hates it loud. Peer down her blouse? Seat angle and fabric arrangement make this difficult, not to mention fairly unsafe. (The same, only more so, for "look up her skirt".) Finally, I glance at this Japanese simulation of a British dashboard and remark, "Why in the hell does the speedo go up to 125 miles per hour? This thing wouldn't do one-twenty-five if you pushed it off the frigging Sears Tower."

She glares — after all, she was the one who picked it out — and says, "And how do you know it wouldn't?"

I pull the stick back into fourth and push the pedal through the floorboard, and we're off: seventy-five, eighty, ninety. Back into fifth, and eventually the needle settles halfway between 100 and 105. The tach flutters just on the far side of 5000 rpm. It is about this point that it occurs to us that the road is becoming both less straight and less rural, and that we're risking a fine of about a week's pay, and I rein in our trusty steed, half grinning, half gasping for breath, mostly the same expression I tend to exhibit after sex, except that I'm not sleepy.

Around noon today, I was on that same road, with the music up loud and the passenger seat occupied by no one, and I wasn't doing anything like 102.5 mph; indeed, there were extended periods of 0 mph while the construction crews repositioned themselves. And it's a good thing that they were there, since this is one of those roads that was apparently originally paved with reclaimed emery boards and then striped randomly with "I Can't Believe It's Not Tar". Forget old memories and such: I was definitely happy to get out of that neck of the woods. The construction zone ended after about ten miles, and a few minutes later I found myself between two Chevy Suburbans, the first of which was making a move to pass up a cement truck doing a modest 58. For some reason, I decided I didn't want the second 'Burb riding me all the way to the city, so I followed the first guy into the left lane. It was only after I'd dropped back into position that I noticed the speedo needle: 94 mph. There must be something about that road.

And one more thing: Why the hell does the speedo go up to 150 miles per hour? This thing wouldn't do one-fifty if you pushed it off the frigging Sears Tower.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
18 October 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VII

Originally posted 22 April 2002

It happens, as reliably as anything that happens in my life, every spring.

So far as I know, she didn't see me. She was about fifteen feet ahead, bearing north by northeast, and she walked with the sort of jauntiness that comes with being fairly young and fairly lovely, and I had no business even being aware of her existence, but it was spring and she was beautiful and I was stupid. And nearing the end of the walkway, she turned to the left, and shamed that my wandering eye might have given me away, I made a quick turn of my own and plowed into an empty kiosk.

And the next day it was a different someone at a different place and I was loaded down with parcels and paying not the slightest attention to where I was going. She spoke, though not to me, and I froze, knowing the game was up, and started off in another direction where I couldn't see a thing, and the thing I couldn't see barked at me with distinct annoyance.

And so I lurch from incident to incident, playing the voyeur, maybe innocently, definitely ineptly, never quite gaining my footing or my equilibrium, tripped up yet again by a brain which has no right to yearn and a heart which has no choice.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:15 PM)
2 November 2002
Greatest Hits, volume VIII

Originally posted 7 June 2002

Automotive magazines are routinely pilloried these days for such grave breaches of the peace as feature articles on sport-utility vehicles ("Isn't this supposed to be a car magazine?"), payola from advertisers ("The PDQ-10 was two-tenths of a second slower in the quarter but you ranked it first, no doubt in exchange for that two-page spread right after the letters column, didn't you?"), and, perhaps most heinous of all, testing vehicles that mere mortals couldn't possibly afford. The July issue of Automobile exemplifies this latter offense with a cover story featuring five cars of varying degrees of superness (the least-expensive being a Mercedes-Benz), averaging around 489 hp, being driven in Italy fergoshsakes. How are Carl and Lenny in Springfield supposed to relate to that?

The answer, I would argue, is that they're supposed to be motivated to drive, even if it's some disreputable middle-80s rustbucket with no more sporting credentials than Ralph Nader. One of the advantages of living here in the Big PX is that we still have a fair amount of wide-open space that (sometimes) can be traversed at wide-open throttle, and despite the best efforts of twee types who think we should be happy to ride the bus with all the other [fill in vague ethnic or socioeconomic pejorative], Americans, by and large, keep the pedal to the metal. And it actually may be, in some ways, more fun with less car; my innocuous little sedan with its modest 130 hp obviously won't flatten corners of the autostrada at triple-digit speeds, but I can run all day at six or seven-tenths without incurring the wrath of The Man. Provided I don't do anything stupid while running, that is. And many moons ago, I got enough seat time in a Maserati Quattroporte (you gotta love a language that has a word as luscious as that to mean something as mundane as "four-door") to learn a healthy measure of respect for a machine that pays you back for not paying attention by putting you into a ditch. Or worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
13 January 2003
Greatest Hits, volume IX

Originally posted 14 January 2002

It might be possible to describe a rainbow to someone, to explain the order of the colors, to convey some sort of scientific explanation for the reason it exists. For some people, for whatever reason, the description will have to suffice; for others, the rainbow must be seen to be believed. And once seen, it is never forgotten. There are many other phenomena, perhaps more dazzling on the surface, maybe more forceful in their presentation, possibly more complicated in their composition. But the rainbow, having been observed, having left an imprint on the soul as deep as its colors and as wide as its span, is not so easily replaced.

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas," said Pascal: "the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing." My knowledge of reason is questionable, of hearts perhaps more so, but occasionally I know a truth when I see one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 AM)
28 February 2004
Greatest Hits, volume X

Originally posted 5 July 2001

She might have been ten, she might have been twelve; it would never have occurred to me to ask. And she'd chosen the middle swing from the row of three, because there was much more room to swing, not only to and fro and up and down, but also side to side. I smiled at her as I stumbled down the hill towards the "cluster boxes" that the Postal Service finds so endearing and the postal patrons find so annoying.

"Whatever happened to my youthful exuberance?" I muttered to no one in particular while I pulled bill after bill out of its dingy receptacle. I mean, I don't have the urge to clamber onto a swing and get myself airborne or anything; the cruelty of gravity is something I'd just as soon not face. But here she was, a pretty girl on her way to becoming a beautiful woman, seemingly paying no attention whatsoever to the unending pressures from a culture she barely knows. "Grow up! Find romance! Spend money!" Who needs this sort of foolishness? Let her fly while she can, and let her grow up when she's ready.

By the time I'd started back up the hill, she'd moved to the far side of the playground, perhaps because she thought there would be fewer creepy old guys with twisted grins passing by. The twenty-first century refuses to be ignored, even by twelve-year-old girls. Even if they're ten.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 PM)
15 September 2004
Greatest Hits, volume XI

Originally posted 30 June 2001

Justin Hayward would certainly never say so, but a newcomer picking up the Best of the Moody Blues compilation, issued by The Label Formerly Known As PolyGram in 1996, might well conclude that the Moodies were basically Hayward's backup band. For some reason, this air of Justincentricity bugged me. Admittedly, Hayward and/or John Lodge wrote most of the group's hits, but the two-year period before Hayward and Lodge replaced Denny Laine and Clint Warwick produced a bunch of worthy 45s, the second of which — "Go Now!", a cover of Bessie Banks' 1963 American R&B ballad — made the US Top Ten and remains the band's biggest hit in Britain. While the Best of... set does include "Go Now!", and Hayward makes it clear in the liner notes (an interview with John Peel) that he had nothing to do with it, the casual listener could easily assume that nothing happened with the band until the Days of Future Passed LP.

To the rescue, the Dutch label BR Music, which has issued a two-CD set with the unwieldy title the singles + (BS 8123-2), snagged by yours truly today at a Best Buy store for a meager $15. On hand are all the UK singles (including a couple of B-sides) from the 1964-1966 Laine/Warwick era, the two flops that followed (one by Hayward, one by Mike Pinder), and then the Usual Material — with, unexpectedly enough, the 45 version of "Question", which diverges wildly from the version on A Question of Balance. It's not gloriously remastered like the PolyGram set, and the packaging is not entirely cheese-free, but as a representation of the historical record, it's a must.

Speaking of historical records, the August Playboy showed up today, in which Go-Go's stalwart Belinda Carlisle shows up in her birthday suit. I honestly don't know what she expects this to do for her career, or for that of the group, but damn, she does look nice, and since Playmates have generally tended to be about twenty years old or so, I make it a point to applaud, and to appreciate, pictorials of women twice that age. Not that I have any better chance of seeing them in real life, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
1 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 1

As this site approaches the ten-year mark, I have decided to fill up space commemorate its history with excerpts from its semi-glorious past, in a sort of "This Week in Blogorrhea" mode. For example:

Life out here in the Wintel Wonderland has its peculiar aspects, and few are quite as odd as Microsoft's ongoing desire to be all things to all computer owners.

Of course, this isn't something new for Microsoft. Within about thirty seconds of nailing down the contract to produce PC-DOS for IBM back in the Pleistocene era, Microsoft made known its intentions to provide versions of DOS under its own label to anyone with suitable hardware, thereby giving birth — or at least inducing labor — to the PC clone industry.

We are now up to DOS 7 and Windows 95, and Microsoft, even while basking in its position as undisputed ruler of the desktop, must still be wondering how long a wait it's going to be before it's safe to refuse to support cranky pieces of antediluvian junk like my late-Eighties pre-HP Colorado QIC-40 tape drive, or any program that requires an entry in the SETVER table. (If anyone was wondering, the Jumbo 120 does work under Win95, with the current version of Colorado Backup, but don't even think about doing a full system backup with 40-megabyte tapes.) Being out on the cutting edge is wonderful, but having to deal with us throwbacks on the dull side must give Redmond's programmers fits.

(From Vent #71, 1 October 1997.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:54 PM)
8 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 2

From back when "MoveOn" actually meant something:

[M]ass-market Schadenfreude has given us such ineffable delights as Monster Truck competitions, the Jerry Springer show, and, you guessed it, the House impeachment hearings. Of course, the putative gravity of the situation doesn't make it any less of a farce; the spectacle of the Keystone Kongress scurrying about pretending to be statesmen is far more embarrassing to the rest of the world than anything "inappropriate" the President admits to having done. Still, the news vendors dare not turn their attention elsewhere; while the public piously claims not to be interested in the sordid details, the moment your favorite news source switches to something comparatively important, the public responds by switching to the Olsen Twins. Rubbernecking by remote control! Only in America.

(From Vent #120, 9 October 1998.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:33 AM)
15 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 3

The return of Beetlemania:

The New Beetle, I suspect, will arouse mixed emotions. It is, of course, terminally cute, and will likely supplant VW's Cabriolet as the national Chick Car. And retro everything (except maybe MS-DOS) seems to be in vogue. But one of the original Bug's strongest selling points was its utter simplicity; even if perhaps you couldn't fix it with the contents of the average teenage girl's purse, you always thought you could, and, thus emboldened, you pressed on with confidence. Modern-day cars, on the other hand, would baffle even MacGyver, and the New Beetle, despite its blast-from-the-past fittings, is still essentially an up-to-the-minute German sedan that, like its brethren from VW and others, will be costly to repair if anything ever goes wrong — and something inevitably will. The guys at Volkswagen may have captured the proper Bug attitude, but it remains to be seen how well they have dealt with the substance.

(From Vent #73, 18 October 1997.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
22 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 4

"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, but who can wait that long?

To my knowledge, no one on earth who has given me grief in the last fifteen years has ever coughed up so much as a perfunctory apology, let alone any reasonable form of compensation. Hanlon's Razor, as least as sharp as Occam's, says "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity," and I am not one to impute malice where it does not exist — admittedly, some people's repetitive failures at clue acquisition make me wonder — but extenuating circumstances won't reduce the workload one bit, and I resent bitterly the notion that I should be forgiving while I sweat.

Some of this, I think, has spilled over into my reactions to the events of the 11th of September. The direct effects on me have been fairly close to nil, but the voice within me is still screaming, "Why isn't someone being roasted on a goddamn spit for this?" Of course, roasting the appropriate someone(s) is not a goal easily attained, as Donald Rumsfeld will happily (or at least serenely) remind you, and then there's all that due-process business in the Constitution that we take seriously, except in the case of people who are believed to possess hemp and/or sidearms, which for some reason annoy the government. And while I'd like to believe I have dovish tendencies — for one thing, it makes it a lot easier to peruse Utne Reader — lately I'm much more of a porcupine than a dove. Coworkers and relatives who consider me to be a prick anyway will be less than surprised.

(From Vent #266, 24 October 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:14 AM)
29 October 2005
Fatuous Flashback 5

Before there was bird flu, there was cockfighting:

Only 1.73 other states (Louisiana, and 24 of 33 counties in New Mexico) permit this sort of thing, so the curiosity value is high and the news coverage typically smarmy. Under [State Question] 687, you can't stage a fight between game fowl, period; it's a felony to take part, and it's a misdemeanor just to watch. The 7000-member Oklahoma Game Fowl Breeders Association says the, um, industry brings in close to $100 million a year in the state. I've never seen an actual cockfight, despite having lived here for nearly thirty years and another decade in South Carolina, where the SC athletic teams have long been styled "Gamecocks", and I don't particularly want to see one; the descriptions I've seen are rather, well, icky. Then again, mere ickiness is not sufficient reason to ban something — if it were, we could deport Richard Simmons — so I am voting against 687. The fighting pit may be a horrible place for a chicken to end up, but so is Colonel Sanders' bucket, and I don't see any serious maneuvering to ban KFC. And while I'm at it, I am also voting against 687's evil twin, State Question 698, hatched by friends of the fowl and other folk, which would nearly double the number of petitioners required to get measures like 687 on the ballot in the first place, an idea anti-democratic to its very core.

(From Vent #315, 1 November 2002.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 AM)
5 November 2005
Fatuous Flashback 6

What did I know? I was just turning forty-eight:

The half-a-century mark obviously means different things to different people, but it always seems to be some kind of threshold, something that must be traversed in order to get to whatever is on the other side. According to the standard stereotype, women are supposed to take fifty badly, what with the threat of menopause and the presumed deterioration of one's appearance, as though some cosmic force notes the time and date, throws a hidden switch, and suddenly they go from looking like Mariah Carey to looking like Marvin Kalb. This is, of course, palpably untrue. (Two words: Sophia Loren.) More to the point, women I've talked to — contrary to popular belief, I have actually talked to women at some point in my life — are just as likely to be relieved when all that tedious menstrual business is over and done with, and I don't know anyone who's had a hysterectomy and says she regrets it.

Men, of course, don't get old and crone-like; we become, um, "distinguished-looking". Well, maybe. I figure seven times out of ten I can be distinguished from an abandoned Taliban tent, but that would hardly seem to qualify. And the stereotype that plays here is that at fifty, we suddenly become irresistible to women of twenty-five who find men of their age shallow and callow and blah. This also is a crock, and not just because women have found me highly resistible at any age; one of the essential male drives, it is said, is to preserve adolescence past all understanding, and not everyone who has turned 50 has quite given up on this quest. (Two words: Corvette Z06.) Women (as distinguished from girls) are likely to find sixteen-year-olds of any age dislikable. And personally, I found my adolescence so generally excruciating, a few notable exceptions notwithstanding, that I didn't want it to last as long as it did.

(From Vent #268, 9 November 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:34 AM)
12 November 2005
Fatuous Flashback 7

One of Victoria's worst-kept secrets:

I looked [in the catalog], and there it was: the Heavenly Star, created by Mouawad exclusively for VS, which appears to be a bra made up entirely of precious stones: about thirty-five hundred of them, set in platinum (of course), with an enormous emerald-cut diamond at the center clasp (does it even clasp?), priced at $12.5 million. No typo: twelve and a half million American dollars. (The matching panty is $750,000, which seems almost like an afterthought.)

Now I belong to the school of thought that says that expensive lingerie is good for show, not so good in actual use: Harvey, caught up in the sheer passion of it all, suddenly rips off Sheila's antique lace, and Sheila, instead of thinking, "Oh, yes, take me, take me now," is thinking "You miserable son of a bitch, I paid eighty-nine fifty for that." To say the least, this is not the sort of thing that strengthens a relationship. I don't even want to imagine Sheila's response to a garment that costs as much as Bill Gates' guest house.

And a few other things bothered me. I mean, surely a 100-percent-mineral panty can't be particularly hygienic. It shouldn't turn your skin green or anything, but still, there's something disconcerting about it, especially if for some reason you have to sit down. Everything you ever hated about thongs will be multiplied, oh, seven hundred fifty thousand times or so.

(From Vent #269, 17 November 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 AM)
19 November 2005
Fatuous Flashback 8

Why buy a house? Tax advantages? Equity-building? Well, yes, but there's this too:

I've lived for fifteen of the past twenty years in essentially the same set of quasi-suburban flats. It's always been what the demographers call a "racially-mixed" neighborhood, though the mix has shifted slightly over the years: in the 80s, it was about 60 percent white, 40 percent black, while today, it's more like 40-60. The impact of that shift is difficult to quantify, but the difference in terms of Quality of Life, whatever that may mean, is probably inconsequential; most people, regardless of racial background, don't go out of their way to be boorish louts. Just the same, it only takes a handful of boorish louts to make life miserable for everyone else, and it is of course unlawful to discriminate against boorish louts. Were I a proper New Urbanist, I presumably would be expected to embrace lowlifes of this sort as part of life's generous cornucopia of diversity. As a normal person who would like to get some sleep once in a while, I'm going to considerable trouble and prodigious expense to get the hell out of here.

(From Vent #365, 17 November 2003 — nine days before I closed on Surlywood.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:03 AM)
26 November 2005
Fatuous Flashback 9

Winter and I have never gotten along well:

There are few things in life quite as annoying as a storm that refuses to get the bloody hell out of the way. The little patch of atmospheric disturbance that was supposed to have cleared out by noon was still dropping flurries at four, and it's not done yet. The official total at the airport was four inches, but those of us who moved on up to the east side got six or seven. And, of course, with all this snow cover, the warming trend we were promised will be delayed two or three days. Insurance companies and other members of the family Mustelidae call events like this "acts of God", which at least puts the blame where it belongs. People in New Jersey must be laughing their heads off.

(From this untitled entry, 28 November 2001. The previously-rotted link has been replaced with a fresh one.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 AM)
3 December 2005
Fatuous Flashback 10

Recession? Well, it's not, polls notwithstanding, but if there were, I suppose they could try to blame me:

[T]he one person you cannot escape is the marketer. So long as you are perceived as having cash, or exploitable amounts of credit, you're a target. What you have is never good enough. You've got to keep up with the Joneses.

Personally, I always thought it would be much more fun, not to mention a lot less expensive, to drag the Joneses down to my level. Of course, they don't want to go. It flies in the face of everything they've been taught. Those who don't do their part to keep the economic machine humming are viewed as cranks or curmudgeons or communists.

(From Vent #80, 7 December 1997.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
10 December 2005
Fatuous Flashback 11

In the midst of the second-coldest December on record:

This morning about a quarter to seven, I stood outside and tried to pay attention.

It was 45 minutes before dawn. Traffic was conspicuous by its absence — schools were closed for a second day — and a blanket of white covered everything in sight. It was eerily quiet; even the ubiquitous Oklahoma wind was taking it easy for once. Shapes too familiar to notice at other times had acquired seemingly-random new contours.

And I thought about a similar time, almost a quarter-century ago, a time when the snow was piled up past my heart, and I didn't care because I'd just given it away for what I had thought would be eternity.

And I thought about how hope dissolves into failure, how the pure white of snow disappears under the dirty grey of our tires and our shoes and our disappointment.

And then, of course, I went inside and complained about this damn winter.

(From this untitled entry, 14 December 2000.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
17 December 2005
Fatuous Flashback 12

Santa Claus is a monopoly, says a federal judge:

1.  While nothing in existing antitrust law specifically forbids Santa Claus to give away gifts at no cost to the recipient, the sheer volume of gifts emanating from Claus' North Pole compound simply overwhelms all other sources; consumers are forced to accept that the vast majority of gifts they receive will come either from Santa Claus, or from subordinate Clauses acting as surrogates under license.

2.  Though Chanukah and Kwanzaa survive and even thrive in the current marketplace, their partisans are subjected to considerable pressure by the Claus operation. Further, while no one questions the viability of Chanukah, which has a long history of its own, or of Kwanzaa, which is newer but which has the backing of an enthusiastic minority of consumers, relatively few of Santa Claus' customers can be expected to convert to these alternatives, which have substantially different system requirements. Santa Claus thus retains market share by reason of sheer inertia.

3.  Constant advertising by Santa Claus and by Claus affiliates, concentrated in the last five weeks of the year when retail sales are the highest, serves to create artificial demand for the very gifts which Santa Claus distributes. Chanukah and Kwanzaa, in an effort to remain visible during these periods, have staked out positions near the edges of the Claus campaigns — Chanukah's peak period, while it fluctuates somewhat, is often near the beginning of the Claus blitz, as it was in 1999, while Kwanzaa opts for positioning itself toward the end — but in between, consumers are deluged with wave after wave of Santa Claus material.

(From Vent #177, 18 December 1999.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 AM)
24 December 2005
Fatuous Flashback 13

Close encounter of the historical kind:

[O]ut in Albertson's parking lot this morning, I had a nice little talk with your basic cute redhead (if one's definition of "cute redhead" is sufficiently extensible to include a birthdate before the World War, and I mean the first one) in a humongous early-80s Buick. Very spunky, for all you Lou Grant fans, and to belie the stereotype of older drivers in ancient American iron, she had demonstrably better visual acuity than I. I doubt I'll live that long, but if it should be so decreed by the powers that be, I hope I have as much energy as she does. (Cripes, I wish I had that much now.)

(From this untitled entry, 23 December 2000.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 AM)
31 December 2005
Fatuous Flashback 14

Why customer-service people cry:

If you run a business, you presumably already know this: twenty percent of the clients generate eighty percent of the work. This wouldn't be such a big deal if they also produced 80 percent of the revenue, but seldom (if ever) does it work out that way. Some things, no matter how you rationalize them, are simply not worth the time and/or effort. This is a notion I have cherished for many years; until the late 90s, there was even a vestigial hint of it floating around 42nd and Treadmill.

No more. What passes itself off as "customer empowerment" these days is mostly an excuse for people to let their Inner Asshole grow and develop. When they say "Jump!" it's not enough to reply "How high?" anymore; you must come up with something like "So long as we're up here, feel free to beat us about the gonads with a sharp stick." God forbid anyone in a position to write a check should be treated with anything other than the most excruciating obsequiousness. Undoubtedly this contributes to my lowly status on various corporate ladders over the years, since I continue to believe that a schmuck is a schmuck is a schmuck, and I don't give a flying fish how many dollars he's prepared to spend to prove it.

(From this untitled entry, 28 December 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:43 AM)
4 January 2006
Best of '05?

This seems to be a new trend at New Year's: picking one's best post of the previous year.

I don't know if I really want to reread all 2,161 posts I made last year — geez, that's almost six a day — but I'm willing to listen to recommendations.

For now, though, the one I'm perhaps most proud of, or anyway least embarrassed by, is this one, which came out in the very first week of the year, suggesting it's been downhill ever since.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
7 January 2006
Fatuous Flashback 15

How conservative is George W. Bush? Well before he got into his present job, the answer appeared to be "Not very":

[T]he more I look at him, the more I think the Republicans have figured that the only possible replacement for Bill Clinton is, yes, Bill Clinton. Bush has the same lack of commitment to issues, the same semi-clouded past, the same urge to procure cash. About the only thing the Shrub's Clinton impression seems to lack is a girlfriend on the side. For the sake of all of us, let's hope he doesn't go there.

(From Vent #180, 9 January 2000.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
14 January 2006
Fatuous Flashback 16

As close as I ever got to Scott Ott-style reporting:

Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich today lashed out at the Bush administration's space-exploration proposals, calling them "ill-advised" and "unnecessarily bellicose."

"The very idea of going to Mars," said the former Ohio Congressman, "encapsulates everything that's wrong with George Bush. In the first place, it's a red planet. This is yet another example of the Bush administration's schemes to reward its friends and punish its enemies. There is no evidence that Karl Rove, or any of Bush's advisers, made the slightest effort to locate a blue planet for exploration."

Another problem, said Kucinich, is the nature of Mars itself. "It's the planet of war. How many times must we go through this? War, war, war. It's the only thing George Bush knows."

The Kucinich campaign has yet to release formally any alternative plan for space exploration, but the candidate hinted at some of the ideas he'd like to see in such a plan. "We're looking towards Venus, which is, after all, a planet of women, who have been cruelly underrepresented in the space program up to now, and then, perhaps in our second term, Vulcan, where war and hatred have been replaced by reason and logic. As Americans, we deserve no less."

(From "Dennis gazes skyward", 9 January 2004.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:29 AM)
21 January 2006
Fatuous Flashback 17

An early-morning encounter with a member of the Anti-Destination League:

I'm pretty sure the Dwight David Eisenhower National Defense Interstate Highway System and Cobalt Testing Range, or whatever the hell it's officially called, was never intended for commuters; the very word "Interstate" would seem to make that clear. Still, if a road is there, you tend to use it, and I don't have any particular qualms about using it for the bulk of my newly-tripled commute.

On the other hand, I've got to wonder about that character in the purple Dodge with no license plate (he had a cardboard placard in the rear window indicating the number of the plate he presumably had lost) this morning. It was bad enough that he was in the right lane of the Northwest Distressway signaling left; eventually he figured out that he was wearing out his blinker and followed the lane up the approach to the Belle Isle Bridge and I-44, a ramp cutting the tightest possible curve to match the curvature of the bridge itself. Once in place on the freeway, he promptly exited at Western Avenue, having driven barely half a mile on I-44. Why did he bother? Admittedly, surface streets in this area border on the incomprehensible, but we're talking a few blocks at most. This can't be what General Eisenhower had in mind.

("From the days when TG&Y issued licenses", 21 January 2004.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:02 AM)
28 January 2006
Fatuous Flashback 18

Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is a keen grasp of the obvious:

In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft made the following startling declaration:

"To the extent the open-source model gains increasing market acceptance, sales of the company's products may decline, the company may have to reduce the prices it charges for its products, and revenues and operating margins may consequently decline."

In a footnote, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates noted that rainfall is sporadic at best in the Mojave Desert, and that children under six should not drink bleach.

(From "And bullet holes may affect respiration", 5 February 2003.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 AM)
4 February 2006
Fatuous Flashback 19

When it's cold enough, the mind plays tricks on you:

From the onset of the howl to the last decaying harmonics, the sound of the 6:15 freight took about twice as long as usual this morning. I don't know whether this was a trick of the atmosphere or a problem with the track — I do know that railroad men have been working on the bed just west of the Air Depot crossing — but the call of the horn was so long and so mournful that I wondered if Junior Parker's Mystery Train, sixteen coaches long, was the train actually making the run. And given the fourfold increase in minor (and maybe not so minor) physical issues I've faced this year, I've got to wonder if next time the train is coming for me.

(Aside to Elvis: Yeah, I know, you'd have hopped that freight and dared them to take your baby away. That's why you're Elvis and the rest of us aren't.)

(From Fahrenheit 4.51, 7 February 2003. The temperature that morning was actually a balmy 14.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
11 February 2006
Fatuous Flashback 20

There is junk mail, and there is mail for which "junk" is wholly inadequate as a description:

The big red envelope that arrived today was liberally festooned with "Overnite Letter" and "Priority Express", neither of which means anything to the Postal Service; the fine print, of course, revealed that it's plain old presorted first-class, the sort of thing you throw away every day. What's more, it contained, per Big Blue Arrow #2, "Urgent Information For Addressee", and Big Blue Arrow #3, partially hidden below the envelope window, proclaimed, "Notice to Recipient: Dated material requiring your immediate attention." (Before you ask: Yes, there was a Big Blue Arrow #1, but it was concealed behind a Post-It, upon which was written "This is perfect for you!", signed by one "BG", whoever that may be.)

Once opened — hey, I gave them better than they deserved — the envelope yields up the following Important Notice:

"If you have received this time sensitive notice, you only have a short time left. You have been pre-selected to receive a free cellular phone with rates as low as 6.6 cents a minute. This offer may be cancelled if you fail to respond. Please do not allow this to happen."

Well, gee, Paradigm Wireless LLC, here's how I respond: Take your cell phone and propel it at high speed into the same dark space where your head resides. I don't care if you can get me 6.6 cents per week; I don't care if you give me an entire box of free phones; I don't care if you eliminate roaming charges anywhere in the whole goddamn Alpha Quadrant. So go right ahead and cancel this offer, if you're so inclined; I wouldn't buy your service if you promised me a Lexus with a spare muffler and two weeks with Nicole Kidman at a clothing-optional resort.

(From this untitled entry, 10 February 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
18 February 2006
Fatuous Flashback 21

Could there ever be a single legislative package that will deal with abortion to the satisfaction of all the Interested Parties? Certainly not this one:

The United States Department of Pregnancy would be created, and its Secretary would be given Cabinet rank. The Department would assume control over all American citizens of age zero or below. The exact nature of the Department's charter is still being debated, but it is expected to combine the best features of the Selective Service System and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Upon reaching menses — typically, age 10 through 13 — a girl would register with the Department through one of its many local offices, and record the date of first menstruation. For the next forty years or so, until a physician certifies that the woman is past childbearing years or, in presumably rare instances, has suffered medical problems which required the termination of the woman's childbearing capacity, the woman will submit to the Department on Form 28 (or 30; the nomenclature has not yet been finalized) her certification that menstruation has taken place on schedule, or will advise the Department that conception has taken place instead. At this time, it is not considered necessary that the woman submit evidence of menstruation, though all Department offices will be fitted for collection and disposal of related biohazardous materials, if at the discretion of the Secretary it is necessary to do so in order to enforce the charter of the Department. (A proposal to cut costs by administering the registration process through the United States Postal Service, as has been done over the years with Selective Service, was blocked by opposition from the various postal unions, which objected to handling such materials without payment of both postage and insurance.)

Upon pregnancy certification, a woman would be required to post $20,000 bond with the local Department office. (In the case of multiple births, the bond would be increased accordingly, once it is determined that twins — or more — have been conceived.) This bond is subject to forfeiture if she miscarries, or if, in the judgment of the Department, she has not exerted "maximum effort" to bring the pregnancy to term. "Maximum effort" has not yet been fixed in the United States Code, but certain activities — drug use, too many Bud Lights, failure to avoid an automobile accident in which airbags are deployed — would presumably be considered prima facie evidence of less-than-maximum effort. The Department will provide pre-natal care as appropriate, and the cost of such care will be deducted from the face amount of the bond.

(From Vent #186, 20 February 2000.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 AM)
25 February 2006
Fatuous Flashback 22

Child of the Sixties? The calendar says yes, but the reality says no:

[W]e traded one form of conformity for another: you can't tell me that a tie-dyed T-shirt is qualitatively any different from, say, a late-Eighties power tie. My connection to the counterculture, such as it was, turned out to be tenuous at best. The sort of sexual freedom espoused by the likes of Stephen Stills never came within a hundred miles of me. I paid no more than lip service to the era's unfettered (and largely unreasoning) leftishness. And "All you need is love" was never more than a Beatles single to me — and not as good a single as "Lady Madonna", either.

Part of this disjuncture was a matter of personal chronology. There was some questionable belief that I was some sort of smart kid, a notion I hadn't done anything to dispel by finishing six years of grade school in three years. Bad mistake. And, of course, it could only get worse. Being on the younger end of this particular cohort anyway, I was permanently out of step with my ostensible peer group, and they had better things to do than to waste time trying to bring me up to speed. After a few years of this, the dull olive drab of the Army didn't look so bad, and at least I would fit in, however clumsily.

So perhaps I am not a true child of the Sixties. There are no faded posters from the Fillmore on the wall, no sheets of blotter acid hidden in the desk, no vague memories of the rear compartment of a VW Microbus. (I learned to drive in a Microbus, but I was sitting in the front at the time.) Still, I didn't come away emptyhanded. I continue to believe in questioning authority, especially if there's a possibility that authority is going to question me. I continue to listen to the music of the Sixties, the one artifact of the Sixties with demonstrable staying power. (Probably because it was the first to sell out to the Establishment, I suspect.)

(From Vent #281, 15 February 2002.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
4 March 2006
Fatuous Flashback 23

Before there was Bling, there was — well, this:

Here on the Edge of Gangland, strange and horrid automotive excrescences dot the landscape like so many chrome-plated cowflops, and the latest trend seems to be fake wire wheels so unconvincing you couldn't even sneak them past Manny, Moe and Jack, about two sizes too wide and two sizes too short, leaving enough room in the fender wells for an entire family of squirrels. Usually these will be misfitted to a late-Seventies or early-Eighties piece of Detroit iron with glass tinted darker than anthracite, which runs just well enough to keep the battery charged so that the ostensible owners (and anyone for 150 yards in any direction) can listen to their collection of godawful indistinguishable nontunes. Of course, I am old and crotchety, and I persist in believing silly things like "Automotive modifications, first and foremost, should enhance performance," and adding a bunch of unsprung (though shiny) weight enhances performance about as much as concrete enhances galoshes, but hey, it's your money.

(From this untitled post, 8 March 2001.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
11 March 2006
Fatuous Flashback 24

"Rock is dead," said Dean Esmay, which prompted this postmortem:

[A]s one of those hated Baby Boomers, I run the risk that anything I say on the subject will be interpreted as an expression of proprietary interest, yet another example of how, um, my generation still thinks it rules the goddamn world even as it teeters on its walkers on the way to the grave.

Still, almost anyone of any age beyond twenty-five or so believes somewhere in his heart of hearts that everything that's been inflicted on us by the music industry since he got out of college truly and deeply sucks, and neither Dean nor I is immune to this notion. My own thinking is that when we're younger, the music isn't just the soundtrack to our existence: it's woven into the fabric of our selves, and cannot be separated without unraveling everything that we know, everything that we are. As we get older, more settled, maybe less emotional, the music recedes somewhat into the background: we take note of it, we may even be fond of it, but it isn't part of us anymore.

The music industry has aided and abetted this situation by fragmenting itself beyond all understanding. In the Sixties, there were maybe half a dozen music formats on the radio. Today, there are genres, subgenres, even sub-subgenres — does anyone other than a radio consultant know the exact point where CHR/Pop ends and CHR/Rhythmic begins? — all motivated by desperation in the guise of "research." Inevitably, this rush toward differentiation ultimately repels the audience; except for a few 12-year-olds of varying ages, people's musical tastes span a range far wider than anything you'll hear on any single radio station, commercial or otherwise. And so we push another button, and another consultant is hired to explain why, and the cycle repeats. (Not even classical stations are immune to this, as anyone who has heard me grumble, "Jeez, Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again?" can testify.)

(From "Two days burying the cat", 14 March 2004.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 AM)
18 March 2006
Fatuous Flashback 25

"International community"? Only in the broadest possible sense:

I've thought this over, and the more I think about it, the more I think that it's not a community at all.

Seriously. Each of the nations in the United Nations, as you might reasonably expect, is basically looking out for its own interests. If there's any sense of "community" at all, it's found in the temporary alliances among nations who seek to curry favor with, or extort money from, larger nations. The archetype for the leader of this type of community is Tony Soprano. At best, we're in an International Trailer Park: we're stuck next to one another and those damn people around the corner won't pick up their yard and someone else is trying to tap into our utilities. Under the circumstances, it's hard to blame the Bush administration for making noises about packing up and moving out.

"But they're our neighbors!" I hear you cry. Fine. Let them act like it for once.

(From "The international trailer park", 17 March 2003.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
25 March 2006
Fatuous Flashback 26

Some warhorses have been beaten to death by now:

Even among the pieces we think of as Basic Repertoire, there's plenty of room for argument. Thirty-odd years ago, there was a panel discussion during halftime — um, between the acts — of the Saturday Met radio broadcasts in which Tony Randall, a frequent participant in such panels, was hit with the question: "Is there a masterpiece you really can't stand?" A two-edged sword, this, since you have to admit to the work's exalted status even as you rip it to shreds. Randall thought about it, then 'fessed up: he really didn't like The Magic Flute.

I've thought about this on and off, and there are a few pieces that are legitimately regarded as great that nevertheless set my teeth on edge, perhaps due to extreme overexposure: I can probably go the rest of my life without hearing Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony again, and I can certainly make it to 2012 without another hearing of Tchaikovsky's 1812. Still, there's a reason these works made it into the Basic Repertoire in the first place, and if a young person approached me and expressed a desire to become more familiar with classical music, it's probably not too likely I'd start the process with [Schönberg's] Pierrot lunaire — even though I do have it on hand.

(From "The drones of academe", 30 April 2004.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 AM)
1 April 2006
Fatuous Flashback 27

Sometimes an error message is just an error message:

It is, I think, a measure of the cynicism extant in IT departments that when our Big Blue Box (it's black, actually, but that's beside the point) signaled that it was in distress, the sysadmin thought it could conceivably be a prank woven into IBM's microcode, set to trigger on the first of April. Instead, it turned out to be a disk drive gone troppo. We lost nothing datawise, but there will be extra laundry this week.

(From this untitled entry, 1 April 2002.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:34 AM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

Click the Permalink on an individual entry to read comments and TrackBacks if any