Archive for December 2006

Sticky situations

A few days back I put up a brief piece about this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award.

It occurs to me, or at least to someone, that the award might actually be superfluous, because “all sex scenes are gratuitous”:

There used to be something of a point to sex scenes in novels. Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The average semi-literate shopkeeper, who learned everything he knew about sexuality from bawdy limericks, and could count his sexual conquests by the number of different genital rashes that appeared in a calendar month, loved to read racy novels written in French and printed on parchment soaked in vinegar to rinse off the ink from Napoleon: I’ll Be Back. It was exciting, back then, to read about having sex on sheets, and to indulge the fantasy of raping the scullery maid without the “comeuppance” of being castrated by her scythe-wielding boyfriend.

By the 20th Century, most people had at least heard of sex, and fictional portrayals began to move on to exotic locales and positions, and introduced the revolutionary concept of having extramarital intercourse without a slow descent into Hell afterwards. In the last quarter-century, the average teenager’s sexual experiences were beginning to outstrip the inventive capacity of wallflower future authors who were in the library salivating over the one dog-eared copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn when their classmates were exploring the seductive powers of pre-mixed vodka and orange.

Now, of course, anyone with Internet access can have any sexual question answered, and any fetish satiated, in 0.13 seconds. So, the only sexual frontier left for fiction to explore is what it might be like if Galadriel, Lois Lane and Ally McBeal gang-banged Professor Snape and the fat guy from Lost.

Such a tease, that Lois.

But the real reason that they’re extraneous is that they never seem to have anything new to say:

Almost all of them could be edited down to “And then they did it,” without losing anything original.

Human anatomy, after all, is pretty well standardized. Once upon a time the characters were portrayed as breaking the laws of North Podunk; today they’re portrayed as breaking the laws of physics.

(Which, of course, may explain why Lois Lane and Superman … um, never mind.)

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Reconnecting the dots

Consumer Reports’ auto-reliability ratings are known nationwide, and while some swear by them, others swear at them. (An example of the latter is here.) While their data for cars I have owned have tracked fairly well with my own experience — and yes, I do fill out the questionnaire every year — obviously anything I could report is too small a sample for any kind of meaningful statement.

I have noticed, though, that they’ve changed some of the methodology. Used to be, there was a definite range for each colored dot: the “white” (“average”) dot meant a failure 5.0 to 9.3 percent of the time, and that was that; half-red and full-red dots were better, half-black and full-black dots were worse. To make this work, you had to compare it to their statistical Average Model, which had dots of various colors in each of the problem areas surveyed.

The new system, detailed in the 2007 Buying Guide, is on a relative scale, and all vehicles of a given model year are considered as a group before the dot is assigned. They’re not giving out the actual percentage ranges anymore, and maybe that’s just as well, since I never found them especially useful. They did state, however, that black dots, full or half, will not be issued unless the actual problem rate is 3 percent or higher, which seems reasonable: if the average for such-and-such a subsystem overall is 1 percent and the same subsystem on Brand X fails 2 percent of the time, you’re still looking at a fairly-negligible risk, even though it’s by definition worse than average.

Under the new system, Gwendolyn and her sisters draw 11 red or half-red dots, three white ones, and one of the dreaded black ones, under the heading “Ignition”. (This is consistent with at least one other survey I’ve seen.) Still, no survey can tell you for sure the one thing you really want to know, which is “Is this going to happen to my car?”

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Barely passable

There’s a scene in Bel Kaufman’s novel Up the Down Staircase in which an obsessed teenager sends a love letter to the English teacher who is the object — the direct object, one assumes — of her fantasies. He grades it and returns it to her; despondent, she throws herself out a window.

This is not to suggest that Lindsay Lohan’s New Manifesto is a plea for self-defenestration or anything like that, but Go Fug Yourself is happy to oblige, just the same.

And if nothing else, this suggests that for all the badmouthing Britney gets, she’s at least a better writer than La Lohan.

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With Owen Wilson as Ron the Baptist

Something I quoted from Premiere’s Libby Gelman-Waxner:

The Da Vinci Code suggests that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene, and that they were very happy and had a child. It’s the Pretty Woman take on the New Testament, with a powerful guy falling for a hooker. This theory of course made me violently jealous of Mary Magdalene, because she could go to cocktail parties or cookouts and just casually say things like “Well, when Jesus and I were in Aruba . . .” or “Can you believe it? I had the baby two weeks ago, and I’m already back in a bikini. It’s like a miracle!”

Let’s face it, Jesus would have been the best husband of all time. He was gorgeous, he was incredibly compassionate, and he was a carpenter, so none of your cabinets would ever stick.

Perhaps Libby was more prescient than she thought:

From Variety, news of a new romantic comedy called Prodigal Son: “Story revolves around a workaholic single woman who is set up on a date by her mother. Her date, a handsome, kind and caring carpenter who works at Ikea, turns out to be Jesus Christ, who’s returned for Armageddon and settled in contemporary Los Angeles. Deal was worth high six-figures.”

Well, you have to figure that Armageddon isn’t going to start in Indianapolis, but apart from that, what’s wrong with this picture?

I hope Ms Gelman-Waxner collects at least a “Suggested by” credit.

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Let’s school these phish

You know, guys, you could be a lot more successful with your phishing if you didn’t come up with stilted, unintelligible crap like this:

You have been chosen by our online department to take part in our quick and easy online departament. In return we will credit $20 to your account — Just for your time! Helping us better understand how our customers feel benefits everyone. With the information collected we can decide to direct a number of changes to improve and expand our online service.

We kindly ask you to spare two minutes of your time in taking part with this unique offer!

I kindly ask you to bite me.

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So this is Christmas

The late John Lennon occasionally seemed like a character out of Dickens, putting aside his possibly-feigned misanthropy just often enough to wish you well. Despite my own discomfort with the season, I figure I can at least act interested for the next few weeks.

One thing that helps is “White Christmas” — not the weather report, but the Irving Berlin megahit — and while it’s forever associated with Bing Crosby, my own favorite version was cut by the Drifters back around 1955. It’s still in print, or whatever the term is for recordings that are still available, but you don’t have to hunt up an old 45 (unless you want to, in which case it’s Atlantic 1048); an old friend/regular reader has kindly passed along the link to a Flash animation set to this classic R&B arrangement, and this seems like a good time to share.

On the other hand, she also sent me some fruitcake, and you’re not getting any of that.

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Hold on to your deposits

Just about two years ago, I made some noise about Malcolm “Yugo Your Way” Bricklin’s plan to bring over Chinese cars for the North American market.

Well, put that on hold for the moment: Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles and China’s Chery Automobile are no longer Best Friends Forever. Instead, Bricklin will cherry-pick (sorry) a variety of Chinese manufacturers, perhaps including Chery, in search of suitable vehicles to sell over here for cheap. A Visionary spokesperson says that Bricklin will select three Chinese partners in the first quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, Chery is talking to DaimlerChrysler about a possible small Mopar-branded car, and Shanghai Automotive, builder of the Roewe, has a tie-up with General Motors. I have to figure that one way or another, we’re eventually going to get Chinese cars here, even if they’re old British cars built in Oklahoma.

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Sonic boomed

In 1999, the then-hapless Los Angeles Clippers scored three points in the second quarter in a game against the Lakers, the second-worst quarter in the history of the NBA. Halfway through the second at Seattle, the Hornets had scored only two. The Bees recovered somewhat in the next six minutes with 13 more points, but they were down 49-33 at the half. In the third, the Sonics faltered, and the Hornets came back to within three, but a 12-point fourth quarter doesn’t beat anyone: Seattle takes this one, 94-74, despite the absence of Ray Allen.

Not a whole lot good happened for the Hornets. Only two players scored in double figures: Chris Paul had 16 points, Desmond Mason 10. Tyson Chandler did rule the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds. But the real problem was turnovers: everyone who played had at least one, and the final total was a frightening 25.

As for the Sonics, they were erratic without Allen, though Chris Wilcox filled in well. The future of the franchise may seem to be in doubt, but I don’t believe that it’s been a factor in the team’s actual play.

The rubber game of the Bees’ road trip is tomorrow night at Golden State. At this point, I’m making no predictions.

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A brace of redheads

Laney, 3 yrs 8 mos

Because everybody just loves gratuitous grandchild photos, here’s a couple of them. First, Laney contemplates that mysterious girl in the mirror; next, Jackson observes from a safe distance. (Bigger versions are just a click away.) Clearly they’ve gotten this hair from their mom: there aren’t any carrot-tops on my branch of the family tree.

Jackson, 9 mos

And speaking of Alicia, she’s been very good about delivering photos to us Distant Relatives, and this seems like as good a time to thank her. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter-in-law. (After all, it takes a remarkable woman to put up with one of us Hill guys. Ask any of us.)

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And I will give to you summer wine

Lee Hazlewood is dying, and that somehow seems wrong: it’s like he’s been here forever. Certainly that voice of his, instantly recognizable yet utterly mysterious, must have originated somewhere in the eternal. Even people who weren’t Lee Hazlewood, which is to say everyone, somehow managed to sound like Lee Hazlewood when they did his songs (cf. Sanford Clark’s “The Fool,” penned by Hazlewood under the nom de disque “Naomi Ford”).

This much you and I know: Hazlewood teamed up with Nancy Sinatra in the middle Sixties and wrote “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” a song so full of attitude not even Jessica Simpson could screw it up. The Nancy and Lee duets are legendary, especially the folk-psych “Some Velvet Morning”, which continues to defy explanation — until you note that Hazlewood has a granddaughter named Phaedra. “And how she gave me life,” indeed. Then again, Phaedra was born in 1998, thirty years after “Some Velvet Morning.”

(Aside: One song that turns up on the soundtrack to Allison Anders’ 1996 Brill Building exegesis Grace of My Heart is “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder,” a lovely duet by Tiffany Anders and Boyd Rice which evokes the dark shimmer of “Some Velvet Morning” as few other recordings have, or can.)

Hazlewood’s Sixties solo albums range from collectible to just this side of the Holy Grail; some of them are finally finding their way onto CD. And his presumed last album is titled Cake or Death. Only Lee Hazlewood could capture the human condition in thirteen characters — including spaces.

(Via Donna, who once asked me if I had a copy of the Sinatra/Hazlewood duet “Sand.” I did.)

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Tales of retail

Given my underly-generous budget and known tendencies toward parsimony, some may have wondered why I’d actually spend the long dollar to have my car serviced at the dealership, generally the most expensive option when you have a choice.

But I can’t always be sure I have a choice, since I’ve done no survey of local independent mechanics to see which of them won’t frown (or jump for joy, which is probably worse) when a seven-year-old Infiniti comes through the door. And there are distinct advantages to letting the dealer do the dirty work, not least of which is the fact that he either has the parts on hand or can get them quickly.

What’s more, the timing works for me: I can drop off Gwendolyn at seven-thirty and still manage to stroll into 42nd and Treadmill before anyone notices. And the dealership has a major incentive to get the work done in a hurry, inasmuch as they’ve lent me a G35 in the interim and they’d like to have it back at some point. I might see things differently were the number of persons in this household greater than 1, but since I have to do all this stuff myself, I figure my time makes up for the higher number on the sales slip.

But staff expertise is worth paying for even if you don’t have to pay for it. I pulled up at the New Balance store in Spring Creek Village today and requested, deadpan, a replacement for my old 587s. She didn’t even bat an eye; she suggested three models which had the features of the 587, and recommended the 1122 as being the closest approximation to my out-of-date shoes. On the off-chance that this was being suggested mostly for its marginally-higher price, I pointed to one of the others, and I tried it on. Good enough, but not great. For comparison, I requested the 1122, and it was indeed closer to what I was used to. Sale made. (It is theoretically possible to order discontinued styles, but inasmuch as I take an outlier size — 14 EE — I am not hopeful about the prospects.) And while $120 is a fair chunk of change for what is, after all, a pair of running shoes fercryingoutloud, some stores charge even more than that, and I have qualms about ordering shoes online, even though NB’s 14 EE is usually spot on. (Amazon.com has them for just under $100.)

Not everything went quite so well today; my favorite car wash (it’s in the Village) wasn’t overly busy, and I had traces of last week’s snowstorm to remove, but neither of their change machines would cough up any quarters for any of the $8 worth of bills I tried. I hate when that happens.

Update, 8:30 pm: If you think Infiniti service is pricey — which, by the way, it is — try tending to a Ferrari.

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Borat was here

Obviously I can’t keep track of everything that happens in this town — I have a day job and the occasional need to sleep — but I do regret missing Borat Sagdiyev’s address to Oklahoma City officials.

Yes, really. Carrie Coppernoll reports:

[Sacha Baron] Cohen made a stop here in Oklahoma City under the guise of his character in 2004, and his film crew documented the entire painful display. Early that year, Borat attended, of all things, an Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission meeting. I would bet most of Oklahoma City has never attended an Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission meeting.

During a 17-minute ramble to the commission, Cohen talked about democracy, women and his love interest in one of the female commissioners. He then asked for 10 minutes of silence to remember a Soviet massacre that he’d made up. Cohen also visited the Oklahoma Republican Party Headquarters and learned how to give a speech from Gary Jones, who was then Republican Party chairman.

Sadly, none of his shenanigans were part of the movie.

What did Borat say? For the benefit of those of us in the US and A who missed it, here’s a transcript of his speech before the city fathers, complete with audio — the meeting, as usual, was broadcast live over cable channel 20 — and a brief news clip (audio only) from KWTV which identified Sacha Baron Cohen in the context of Da Ali G Show.

And City Council requests that members of the general public limit their speeches to three minutes. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

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And you thought they only enriched uranium

A week ago I was grumbling about something called “Man XL”, yet another Product of Infinite Bogosity which promises to expand the distance from foreskin (where present) to base. I have continued to receive occasional spams promoting this stuff, but none were noteworthy until today, when one arrived with a link to a surprising-looking URL: mullahs.net.

It is, of course, highly unlikely that anyone in the Iranian inner circle is actually running this operation, but there’s something sort of poetic about the notion of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trying to move bogus wang pills in a desperate attempt to keep the reactors running.

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Warrior-weakened

Both the Hornets and the Warriors started the night at .500, so it probably wasn’t too much of a surprise when the first half ended in a 45-45 tie.

Then Desmond Mason, who had had almost half of those points, didn’t appear for the third quarter, and no one knew why. Eventually the story came out: a dental problem, presumably dating from late in the second. But by then the Warriors were on the move, and when Mason returned near the end of the third, Golden State had piled up an eleven-point lead, which would only grow in the fourth. Mason, bottled up, could manage only two more points, Byron Scott threw in the towel at the four-minute mark, and the final was an uninspiring 101-80.

The scary aspect to this was that if you factor out Mason, who hit 10 of 11 from the field, the Bees shot a miserable 34.4 percent. Despite this, Jannero Pargo managed a double-double off the bench — 15 points, 12 rebounds, and even 8 assists — and Rasual Butler picked up 13 points including three treys. But Golden State had five players in double figures, with Mickael Pietrus scoring 22 to lead the Warriors and Andris Biedrins earning the double-double.

The Hornets are now 1-2 against Golden State, with the final game coming next month. Cleveland comes to the Ford Center on Monday, and your guess is as good as mine as to how they’ll contain LeBron. Two games follow in New Orleans, against the Spurs and the Mavericks.

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Browning the Grey Lady

Venezuela is raising customs taxes by 15 percent on a number of imports, including Scots whisky, razor blades, sailboats — and toilet paper.

Fausta suggests a plan which will benefit both suffering Venezuelan consumers and an ailing US newspaper:

[The New York Times] should give a small grant to the people of Venezuela so they can subscribe to the “All News That’s Fit To Fabricate Print” dead-tree rag, on the condition that the money is used only to pay for the subscription. The NYT will up its paid subscriber numbers — after all, there are 26 million people in Venezuela — and the Venezuelans will save money.

And just how, precisely, will they save money?

[T]he stone-cold sober Venezuelans will let the stubble grow, sit in the dark when the power goes out, and reach for the New York Times “in the loo” when the non-essential tp runs out.

The downside? The Times, so far as I know, is not known for its absorbency.

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Don’t shoot me, I’m only the headline writer

News Item: Liberal man sentenced to more than 20 years for kids’ deaths.

You mean they’re handing out sentences based on someone’s political stances now? Sheesh. You’d think that —

What?

That’s not what that means at all?

Oh. Never mind.

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A minor scrape

Having somewhat depleted my supply of Schick Super Twin disposable razors (as discussed here), I was forced to seek out a fresh bag, and for some reason, they were unusually hard to find at the usual supermarket. Eventually I spotted them on the very bottom shelf, almost all the way into the toothpaste section.

What’s interesting here is that Schick makes an identical (except for color) ST for women, and its vertical location was near the very center. After looking over the entire razor display, I concluded that:

  1. Guys are more likely to spend too much for razors, and therefore the hyperexpensive models are given prime viewing space;
  2. I’m not too proud to shave with something pink.

Price for a bag of 10, either variety: $7.99.

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Do not misunderestimate your spell-checker

LiveJournal’s apparently will suggest “Vulgarians” for “Walgreens”, demonstrating convincingly that somebody once shopped there.

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I’ll meter some day

A comment of mine on the November blizzard:

Both electric and gas meters are usually read on the 29th, so I figure I won’t have to pay for compensating for the cold until early January.

Note to self: You are wrong, dekatherm-breath. The guy didn’t come to read the gas meter until the 4th of December, so I got to pay for 34 days’ worth of service, including those wretchedly-cold days, on this month’s bill, which exceeds last December’s bill by ten percent or so despite a one-third drop in the price of gas.

None of these figures, of course, will include the service charges, delivery fees, and all the other neat stuff they have to increase the take, inasmuch as they’re not allowed to turn a profit on actual sales of gas.

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Bring your stud finder

Burbed.com has a listing for a condo on Male Terrace in Fremont, California. That’s a condo, not a condom.

Then again, I could be wrong:

Shows Well * Great Location within Complex * Near Shop School and Pubic Transit *

For someone’s sake, I hope said transit isn’t, um, rapid.

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Strange search-engine queries (45)

I assure you, I wouldn’t keep going to this particular well were I not absolutely certain I’d find something worth bringing up.

buy roddenberry’s dill pickles:  Sandwiches. The final frontier.

novelty stores for purchasing butt plugs in oklahoma city:  Of course, “novelty stores.” You think people would look for them at Best Buy?

all the things i never said:  Maybe they’re on Google.

mind control tammy wynette illuminati:  Stand by your fnord.

“lou rawls” proctology:  I guess love really is a hurtin’ thing.

jokes about women turning 50:  Bad idea. Trust me on this.

“involuntary celibacy” “support group”:  Nice idea, but I don’t think I’d go there looking for dates.

where have all the children gone:  Gone to my yard, every one. When will they ever learn?

turnstile cromulence:  Embiggens the subway ridership.

when do you change the timing belt infiniti I30:  When you feel like throwing money away, since it doesn’t have one.

tampon wedding dress sheffield:  Waste not, want not.

why does the “soulmate calculator” need my cell phone number?  Read the fine print. It sends all its data via text message, which you get to pay for.

mayonnaise hair news:  You should not have mayonnaise in your hair.

do bats have hair on their wings:  I told you to keep those bats out of the mayonnaise.

why does 2005 grand prix GXP have bad front tire wear?  Front-wheel drive and 295 horsepower? What do you think?

how to make your penis taste better:  Two words: “flavored condoms.”

when to leave kittens alone:  When Little Willie John tells you to.

“six toes” sexy:  I’ll take your word for it, but I’ll bet it’s hard as heck to get her to wear sandals.

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No substitutions

Over at Mystic Chords, John Salmon links to a YouTube video of Alison Balsom performing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24.

Balsom plays trumpet, not violin, so Salmon offers this caveat:

[F]or those who are pissed off when pieces are transcribed for instruments different from the ones they were originally written for, you needn’t listen.

I’m sure such people exist, but I am not one of them. In fact, I’ve heard this Caprice on piano and guitar — here’s a guitar version — and I assume I’d enjoy hearing it on any instrument with comparable range.

Then again, range (I’m guessing) may be the issue for some people, since transcriptions are often in a key different from the original. If you generally dislike transcriptions, I’d like to hear why.

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Take these chains from us

I once suggested that a Banana Republic store might be a good fit for Bricktown, and people looked at me as though I were proposing to tear down the Acropolis and replace it with a Long John Silver’s. “There’s one in Utica Square,” I argued, but nobody wanted to hear about things that worked in Tulsa; the No Chains sign is up.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing, says Virginia Postrel:

Stores don’t give places their character. Terrain and weather and culture do. Familiar retailers may take some of the discovery out of travel — to the consternation of journalists looking for obvious local color — but by holding some of the commercial background constant, chains make it easier to discern the real differences that define a place: the way, for instance, that people in Chandler [Arizona] come out to enjoy the summer twilight, when the sky glows purple and the dry air cools.

Besides, the idea that America was once filled with wildly varied business establishments is largely a myth. Big cities could, and still can, support more retail niches than small towns. And in a less competitive national market, there was certainly more variation in business efficiency — in prices, service, and merchandise quality. But the range of retailing ideas in any given town was rarely that great. One deli or diner or lunch counter or cafeteria was pretty much like every other one. A hardware store was a hardware store, a pharmacy a pharmacy. Before it became a ubiquitous part of urban life, Starbucks was, in most American cities, a radically new idea.

And yet we want those stores; we just don’t want those names on them.

The contempt for chains represents a brand-obsessed view of place, as if store names were all that mattered to a city’s character. For many critics, the name on the store really is all that matters. The planning consultant Robert Gibbs works with cities that want to revive their downtowns, and he also helps developers find space for retailers. To his frustration, he finds that many cities actually turn away national chains, preferring a moribund downtown that seems authentically local. But, he says, the same local activists who oppose chains “want specialty retail that sells exactly what the chains sell — the same price, the same fit, the same qualities, the same sizes, the same brands, even.” You can show people pictures of a Pottery Barn with nothing but the name changed, he says, and they’ll love the store. So downtown stores stay empty, or sell low-value tourist items like candles and kites, while the chains open on the edge of town. In the name of urbanism, officials and activists in cities like Ann Arbor and Fort Collins, Colorado, are driving business to the suburbs. “If people like shopping at the Banana Republic or the Gap, if that’s your market — or Payless Shoes — why not?” says an exasperated Gibbs. “Why not sell the goods and services people want?”

The argument is always “It would put our local retailers out of business,” even if we have no such local retailers.

Meanwhile, the IHOP in the middle of Bricktown flourishes.

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The G. is for “Glacier”

Beauty, like every other form of currency on the planet, is unequally distributed, and being a fan of going for what you really want, and not being a fan of what passes for egalitarianism these days, I find myself sort of endorsing this manifestly unfair enterprise:

Especially in online dating’s early days, “It wasn’t always the most attractive people — it was the boldest, the bravest, and the most desperate,” says [Jason] Pellegrino, who believes that less than 15 percent of traditional Internet daters are great lookers. “Let’s face it — when you go online, you look at photos and the profiles second. I wanted to create a site for a demographic that was being overlooked on the online market.”

And that demographic, he says, is comprised of the guys and girls gorgeous enough to cause whiplash.

Here’s how HotEnough.org works: Potential members submit three photos, including a full-body shot. If Pellegrino and his silent business partner deem the person “hot enough,” they are moved into the voting arena where the 150 current members check them out. In order to win membership, a prospective hottie needs to be rated at least an “8” on the Hot-O-Meter scale of 10 by at least 25 people.

Inasmuch as it would take plastic surgery, or metallurgy, or cosmic radiation, or something, to bring me up to a 3, I’m obviously not a candidate for this service. On the other hand, it won’t have any effect on my own activities, or lack thereof — those who do qualify are not likely to have been looking my way otherwise — and I persist in believing that if you’re looking for a trophy, the most logical approach is to go to, well, a trophy shop.

(Via Fark.com.)

Addendum, 12 December: Rachel notes that this isn’t exactly a new concept.

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The public is aghast

The last time the Environmental Protection Agency tinkered with their gas-mileage ratings, back in the 1980s, they didn’t do anything about the methodology; instead, they applied a fudge factor “to account for factors not included in the tests”.

Beginning in 2008, they will improve the quality of that fudge factor. From deep within the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers’ new Your Mileage Will Vary site, the nature of the changes:

Currently, EPA relies on data from two laboratory tests to determine the city and highway fuel economy estimates. With new labels, fuel economy estimates will reflect vehicle-specific data from tests designed to replicate three real-world conditions that can significantly affect fuel economy: high speed/rapid acceleration driving, use of air conditioning, and cold temperature operation.

Of course, no two people drive exactly the same way, so you still may not reach the numbers on the label.

The following minor bits of historical data may be of interest:

  • Sandy: EPA 22 city, 28 highway; actual over 55k miles 23 city, 29 highway.
  • Gwendolyn: EPA 20 city, 28 highway; actual over 5k miles 21 city, 28 highway.

Of course, I drive when it’s cold, with the A/C on, and with the pedal in close proximity to the metal.

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Rocking Cleveland

Maybe we should just play those stronger teams; we seem to do so much better.

It was close all night: tied at the half, Hornets down only one after the third. But in the fourth, the Bees played D, and played it tenaciously; LeBron James managed no points in the quarter, and the Hornets dropped the Cavaliers, 95-89.

And get this: Byron Scott only played eight, and all three of the bench personnel scored in double figures: Jannero Pargo with 15, Marc Jackson with 14, Hilton Armstrong with 12. Chalk up another double-double for Chris Paul, who scored 30 points and served up 11 dimes; Tyson Chandler got his usual 10 rebounds and blocked four shots; Desmond Mason, who kept King James bottled up all night, got 12 points.

The Cavs played hard — four players, including James, in double digits, and Anderson Varejao bettered his career high with 17 — but tonight, it wasn’t quite hard enough. And the memory of that last game with Cleveland, in which LeBron sank the game-winner in the last second, will be allowed to fade away.

The next two games are in the Big Easy: the Spurs on Thursday, the Mavericks on Saturday. After that, Florida beckons.

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He prayed, she prayed

If there’s a religious gender gap, what’s behind it? Bryan Caplan takes a stab at it:

1. Men and women have different cognitive orientations — a difference that is in large part genetic. As the Myers-Briggs personality test powerfully confirms, men are more Thinking, and women are more Feeling. (Or if you prefer the Five Factor Model, men are less Agreeable).

On a deep level, then, men are more inclined to want some hard proof that religious claims are true, while women are more willing to take religious teachings on faith because they sound nice. Burn me at the stake if you must, but it’s true.

2. As the great Timur Kuran persuasively argues, social pressure leads to “preference falsification.” If other people hassle you for lacking piety — as they do in traditional societies — people will pretend to be pious even if they aren’t. The weaker the social pressure, the more sincere people become.

In traditional societies, then, men keep their irreligion to themselves and pretend to be as religious as women. (As Kuran emphasizes, preference falsification also inhibits communication, so men who would be open to irreligious arguments are less likely to ever hear and adopt them).

As traditional mores break down, however, men feel freer to be themselves — and share their doubts with others. In contrast, since their piety was relatively sincere from the start, women don’t respond much to the fall in social pressure.

I’m not inclined to go hunt down a stake and a bag of Kingsford just yet, but something about this seems a little disquieting, despite the distant echo of the ring of truth.

(Via Michael Katsimbris.)

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Cars with benefits

I don’t think I’m in the target market for a plug-in electric car: I can see owning one as a second vehicle for short jaunts around town, but my garage accommodates only a single car, and it’s got to cover most of my conceivable needs.

That said, I think they’ll sell fairly well eventually, and while I have my doubts about them, at least they’re not going to kill the power grid.

They’re not going to save any money, either, but that’s not the issue:

The Wall Street Journal reported that these plug-ins will probably cost an extra $6,000 to $10,000 more than our current crop of non-hybrid vehicles, even when mass produced. Batteries are a big part of that premium, so advances in that technology may make the differences smaller in coming years, but as most people already realize, hybrids aren’t likely to pay for themselves for at least several years of ownership. Critics often say that hybrids will never pay for themselves on reduced fuel use alone, which is usually true. What most people fail to factor into that equation, however, is that consumers often value the “greenness” of their cars above dollars and cents. The feel-good factor is a big part of the ownership experience. Just like most people don’t recycle their cans, bottles and papers for the money, as much as for the notion that they are doing something positive for the planet and cleaning up after themselves.

I’ve always suspected that the main reason the Toyota Prius dominates hybrid sales is its unquestioned hybridness (hybridity?): there is no non-hybrid version to dilute the branding. Previously in these pages:

Toyota’s genius, I think, was building the Prius on its own platform, so it couldn’t be directly compared to the Corolla or the Echo/Yaris or the Camry or anything else they sell over here. Honda’s Insight was similarly dissimilar, but its penalty-box-on-wheels nature probably discouraged as many buyers as its alleged 55-mpg fuel economy attracted, and the car was dropped from Honda’s US line for 2007.

Honda will happily sell you a hybrid Civic or Accord, but apart from the smallish Hybrid badge, it’s indistinguishable from its gas-powered brethren. People want to be identified with this sort of thing, and inasmuch as I have an OG&E Wind Power placard in my front window, I’m hardly in a position to make fun of them. If what you want is the cheapest possible personal transport, you ignore all of this and buy something like a Scion xB, which hauls tons (well, kilograms) of stuff, sips fuel abstemiously, and costs thousands less than a Prius, but you won’t get that warm green feeling inside.

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Presented by Save the Kittens

It is generally accepted that when you masturbate, God kills a kitten.

Now comes this:

Did you know that every time you “vote” for someone in the so-called Weblog Awards God kills a kitten???

Putting this all together:

  1. Jacking and/or jilling off = kitten dies.
  2. Voting in the Weblog Awards = kitten dies.
  3. Therefore voting in the Weblog Awards = jacking and/or jilling off.

Excuse me while I sponge off my mouse, so to speak.

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Snitches of the future

Fayetteville, Arkansas is enlisting children to look for city code violations:

An educational program to teach kids how to spot building and property code violations — complete with colorful characters such as “Willie Weeds” and “Trashy Tina” — will be in the hot little hands of local children soon, thanks to Fayetteville city officials. The program is funded by a federal Community Development Block Grant and corporate sponsors.

The centerpiece of the idea is an activity book listing “Fayetteville’s Dirty Dozen.” Don’t expect Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson to make an appearance, though. Instead, officials expect kids to take their cues from characters like “Willie Weeds,” a peace-sign-flashing, Birkenstock-wearing collector of crabgrass and other filthy foliage.

Yolanda Fields, community resources director for the city, said the activity book is intended to educate future homeowners before they develop bad habits. The other benefit, she added, is children can inform their parents.

Or, inevitably, inform on their parents.

They deny it, of course:

The books, aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders, are part of a larger effort. No, Fields said, it’s not to get kids to rat out their parents for yard violations.

“It’s a full-blown interactive education program,” she said.

The operative term here is “blown.”

Remember, children: your first duty is to the government. You are pwned from the day you are born.

Then again, this is a town that doles out specific quantities of trash bags per year, and should you need more than that, it will cost you.

(Via Hit & Run.)

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Because you still haven’t found a PS3

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An ounce of image, etc.

Belhoste found this on craigslist:

Phone chat operators wanted. Work from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Fantasy phone line. Female sounding voices wanted for primarily male clients.

Which implies, at least to some extent, that they don’t have to be actual female voices, so long as they sound female.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

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These tunes are downright Qwerty

“Hip-Hop Is Dead,” says Nas, but there will always be rhythm, and for a while, anyway, there will be the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, which plays music sorta like Leroy Anderson but without all those pesky traditional musical instruments in the background.

Having paid some dues in my time as a typist and occasional 10-key operator, I can understand the urge to produce some serious syncopations from the Smith-Coronas, undulations from the Underwoods, rhythmic rolls from Remington Rands, and that’s what BTO (not to be confused with other musical operations with similar initials) does. There’s even a CD, The Revolution Will Be Typewritten.

Me, I learned on one of these, though I never did seem to display any real talent.

(Via Rocketboom )

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Survival mechanisms

Worried that you didn’t have enough to worry about? We should now start sweating public-health disasters:

Half of all U.S. states would run out of hospital beds within the first two weeks of a moderate flu pandemic and 47 states would run out if a bad one hit, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The report from the Trust for America’s Health shows the United States is still poorly prepared for a pandemic, biological attack or similar disaster, despite five years of government warnings and emphasis on the issue.

“I think the public believes that more is being done and that we are better prepared than we are,” the group’s executive director, Jeffrey Levi, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Well, we are better prepared, at least in this neck of the woods. On the Trust’s ten criteria, only Oklahoma got passing grades for all ten. Kansas got 9; the lowest scores were 4’s and 5’s.

Dr. Mike Crutcher, commissioner of the Department of Health, cautions that this year’s commendable showing is but “a snapshot in time”; there is always work to be done.

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221

Sherlock Holmes, of course, lived at 221-B Baker Street, which logically implies the existence of a 221-A. So far as I can tell, since Holmes was upstairs, 221-A was downstairs, and I suspect this was the residence of Mrs Hudson, who was Holmes’ landlady.

Carnival of the Vanities #221 is up, and Kehaar says that this week he concentrated on the “A” material.

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Murthafarkin’ mnemonics

If you want someone to remember what you said, throw in a friggin’ vulgarism or three:

Kensinger and Corkin hypothesized that emotionally negative words would be remembered better than neutral words (in general, people remember negative things better than neutral things, so the prediction wasn’t that much of a stretch), and in six experiments, they confirmed this prediction. Negative words were consistently remembered better than neutral words. But in four of the experiments (3-6), another type of words was remembered better than negative words: taboo words.

Kensinger and Corkin used taboo words (words for sexual body parts and swear words), starting in Experiment 3, to test whether the memory benefit of negative emotional valence was separable from arousal. The taboo words they picked had higher emotional valences (i.e., they were less negative) than the negative words, and their valences were only slightly lower (i.e., more negative) than the neutral words. The arousal scores (how arousing they were) for taboo words were much higher than either the neutral words or the negative words (which were less arousing than the neutral words).

The lesson Kensinger and Corkin take away from this is booooooring: the effects of negative emotional valence and arousal on memory are separable. Yawn! The cool lesson is that we remember words for sexual body parts and swear words really well, and the memory benefit extends to the context in which they were presented! So, next time you’re having a conversation with someone, and you really want them to remember what you’re saying, use as many swear words and words for sexual body parts as you can.

(Via Hawthorn Mineart, who says “No shit. I’ve said this for years.”)

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I bet this guy got lots of responses

Seen on the Savannah craigslist by Just D:

I am a big jerk who is totally self absorbed. I would tell you about my job but who really cares. I would tell you about some of my previous life experiences but I think you couldn’t handle most of it. I don’t fit in, in any situation, and do not enjoy staying at home. I also despise going out for a “night on the town”. Laughing is for losers and I see the humor in no situations. I am extremely outgoing at first but then get very shy once I get to know you.

I bring a total lack of respect into any relationship and believe that playing games and deceitful tactics are the bedrock cornerstones of any successful encounter with the opposite sex. When you find out I have been cheating on you the only comment I expect to hear is “Well Played”.

I am looking for a woman without any goals in life who is not very smart and would enjoy being in a relationship that is full of lies, cheating and stealing (please bring a large bank account to the relationship or at least a home I could leverage behind your back). It would also help if you have absolutely no expectations of me. And of course hygiene is completely optional.

At this point I was thinking that maybe this was posted under this guy’s email address by a former girlfriend as a minor act of vengeance, but the last paragraph doesn’t fit well with that scenario:

If you “get” this profile then feel free to contact me. If the words “holler at your girl” with at least one misspelled word (i.e. holla, atcha or gurl) are anywhere in your profile, then please remove the statement before contacting me. I won’t tolerate jackasses and the inclusion of this phrase ensures this is what you are.

Then again, this could be just my lack of imagination.

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The Iverson chronicles

The Hornets have already indicated that they have no particular interest in soon-to-be-ex-Sixer Allen Iverson, but anything short of Isiah Thomas buying a clue is possible in the NBA, so Hoopsmack examines the ramifications of an Iverson trade from Philadelphia to any other team:

Dallas Mavericks — Mark Cuban suffers multiple strokes, but maintains his ability to jump up and down and hoot wildly.

Golden State Warriors — Golden State wins their first game with Iverson, so GM Chris Mullin immediately signs him to a 10 year, 300 million dollar contract extension, locking up Iverson well into his 40s.

Minnesota Timberwolves — The Timberwolves could sign Jesus and trade for God, and they’d still lose in the first round of the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs — The Spurs are not interested in Iverson, because he was born in this country.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets — Iverson mistakenly reports to New Orleans, where he is immediately arrested for looting after buying a new HDTV.

Prediction from this corner: A.I. winds up a Celtic.

Update, 19 December: Which was wrong. The Sixers traded A.I. and rookie forward Ivan McFarlin to Denver for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two first-round draft picks.

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Next: hybrid hedge trimmers

The Environmental Protection Agency will propose a new national emissions standard for lawn and garden equipment, following approval of new California standards.

This has actually been in the works for some time, but Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) has been trying to block the move. Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines for lawn equipment, has two plants in Missouri, and has said that major engine redesigns could result in the closing of those plants.

Bond finally signed off on a measure which would prohibit other states from copying the California standard, as usually permitted by the Clean Air Act, but which required the EPA to introduce a national standard, which might be weaker than California’s.

The Autoextremist reports that California-bound mowers will have catalytic converters — an EPA study, demanded by Bond, determined that the smog gear introduced no additional safety risk — and that the California Air Resources Board expects the price of a push mower to rise between $37 and $52.

And, California being California, I assume they will come up with some way to appear to mitigate these costs on behalf of the undocumented workers who actually cut the grass.

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Barking up the wrong tree

Some of this might be plausible, but I have reasons to be suspicious:

The color of a dog’s fur may seem to be just a whim of nature and genetics that reveals little about the dog. But a new study claims that coat color for at least one breed, the English cocker spaniel, reflects a pooch’s personality.

Prior research has suggested that fur color is also linked to behavior in labrador retrievers, while the type of fur — in this case, wiry or long — may indicate temperament in miniature dachshunds. Wiry-haired mini dachshunds are often more feisty than their mellower, long-haired cousins.

Well, duh. Anybody who knows anything about dachshunds, which these guys manifestly don’t, will patiently explain that the original dachshund was the classic smooth-coated wiener dog. The wirehaired variety was developed by careful crossbreeding with terriers, particularly the Dandie Dinmont, which has the same low-slung carriage. And terriers, while they didn’t invent canine attitude, act like they own the trademark. Longhaired dachs come from ancient dachshund/spaniel mixes; it’s the spaniel contribution, not the coat itself, that produces their relative mellowness.

What’s more, Labs don’t necessarily breed true to color; it’s not all that unusual to have a puppy a different color from its parents, unless both of them are yellow.

But let us continue:

The latest study, recently published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, determined that golden/red English cocker spaniels exhibit the most dominant and aggressive behavior. Black dogs in this breed were found to be the second most aggressive, while particolor (white with patches of color) were discovered to be more mild-mannered.

And all the other variations fall somewhere in between?

Helpful hint, guys: You want to perform a service to all of dogkind? Figure out a way to keep a Dalmatian from sulking.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

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