Archive for May 2007

Not up to speed

A bill before the California Assembly would rewrite all those old statutes that contain the words “idiot,” “imbecile” or “lunatic”.

May I suggest: Decelerated-American.

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The mark of excrement

I’ve spent rather a lot of time over the years prescribing remedies for the ever-ailing General Motors, and most of them boil down to the same thing: develop some cars that are good enough to sell without two grand of incentives sitting on the hood. One thing that’s standing in the way of this goal is the fact that the General is vending vehicles under eight different brands, which can’t possibly be efficient. (Toyota, on its way to ruling the world, has three.) The Timekeeper calls for euthanasia for four GM marques:

Merge Pontiac into Chevrolet. Eliminate the overlapping models and rename the remaining models with Chevrolet-appropriate names if necessary.

Merge GMC into Buick. The two divisions complement each other nicely, with very little overlap in model range or demographics, although both marques appeal to the same income brackets. Getting GMC customers into a dealership that sells Buicks may get them to take a look at what is available and provide a bump to Buick sales.

Merge Hummer into Cadillac. Again, both brands appeal to similar demographics with no overlap in vehicle range at all. Hummer is another niche vehicle that does not need its own division within GM.

Merge Saab into Opel and continue the Opel/Saturn partnership. Since Saab is already selling vehicles based on Opel models (and built in Opel plants in Germany) this won’t have much effect on the company, except for the savings in marketing and management. GM’s Vauxhall division (its UK Marque), which sells rebadged Opels and Holdens, should also be closed down at the same time, resulting in even more savings.

To some extent, GM is already thinking this way: the Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership is becoming increasingly popular. And if Americans won’t embrace Buick, the Chinese have, which suggests that Pontiac is ultimately more expendable: if we’re going to have low-end hot rods, they should be Chevrolets.

Losing Hummer would be a bit more problematic. The brand has two major constituencies — people who drive over rocks for the fun of it, and people who want to tell Al Gore to go pound sand — and while their overall numbers are small, their loyalty is unquestioned. Best of all, they have no unique vehicles (the short-of-milspec H1 has been put out to pasture), yet a crummy H3 commands more cash than its Chevy cousin. This could be GM’s Jeep if they played their cards right. (Yeah, I know: big “if”.)

A Saab/Opel merger, though, makes sense, since they’re basically working the same turf. Frankly, I’d rather see someone buy Saab outright and bring it back to life, but I have no reason to think the General would consider selling it, especially since Volvo is actually making a few bucks for Ford. And the Opel connection is clearly helping Saturn, which now has a nice lineup that (mostly) doesn’t cannibalize Chevy sales.

I still don’t see why they need both Chevrolet and GMC trucks, though: are we supposed to believe that the bowtie boys are, um, amateur grade?

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A poke in the eye of the beholder

The longest losing streak ever in NCAA Division I-A football is 34 games, by Northwestern University, ending in 1982.

In 1983, I started predicting the Playboy Playmate of the Year, and my losing streak is now up to twenty-four years. Any day now I should get a smirking email from Susan Lucci.

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Drought nostalgia

The rain continues to fall, and one unwanted artifact from the Bad Old Days has returned with a vengeance: the outside wall of my office at 42nd and Treadmill has returned to High Porosity once more, and the floor, from the wall to about four feet in, is soaked. (Don’t ask about the carpeting.) This hasn’t happened in over a year, and I have to assume that whatever was done to divert the flow back then has somehow come undone in the interim.

Still, it’s better than this:

Down we go

This bridge on SE 17th near Central is, shall we say, under the weather. (Photo from NewsOK.com; I’m not going out in this stuff.)

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The rain can drain, but mainly it’s a pain

One common theme around these parts is “Timing is everything.” Fred First, a man very much attuned to time — he wrote a wonderful little book called Slow Road Home: A Blue Ridge Book of Days, which I continue to recommend — might have questioned his timing this week:

Well we certainly know how to pick’em. We fly 1200 miles to an alien biome full of places to explore. And South Dakota arranges to get 10% of its annual rainfall (accompanied at various times by pea-soup fog and at all times by 30 mph winds or greater. Until the cloud cover broke (but not the wind) yesterday. (I had to check and see: SD’s annual rainfall is about 17.5″. Do you know what your state’s yearly total is?)

Well, yes, actually I do, but I have at least journeyman weather-geek credentials. (“First on the block to own a VHF weather radio” is just one of them.) And on the next-to-last day of March we got about 10 percent of our annual allotment. (Another six percent fell yesterday morning, mostly while I was trying to sleep.)

Vaguely related to this: a sister of mine once lived in El Paso, Texas, which has a reputation for aridity. The ongoing local shtick goes something like this:

Visitor: How much rain you get here in a year’s time?

Resident: Oh, ’bout 15 inches or so.

Visitor: Doesn’t sound like a whole lot.

Resident: You oughta be here the day we get it.

Girlfriday has pictures (and more pictures) from South Dakota.

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You take one down and pass it around

Beer puzzleThirty-nine bottles of beer left on this Austrian jigsaw puzzle, assuming of course you can figure out some way to take down and pass around the fortieth. This showed up today on Ben de İstiyorum.com, a storefront in Istanbul patterned (though less so lately) after Woot, for about twenty-four New Lira (about eighteen bucks US) plus shipping. I recognize maybe a third of the bottles represented; feel free to take a guess at any of them. Piatnik, formally Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne, has been making puzzles and games since 1824; they have puzzles with up to six thousand pieces, and, of all things, a deck of playing cards based on The Da Vinci Code.

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I was told there would be no math

Then again, there are times when it really helps:

The other night, a friend and I ordered a pizza at the bar. We were pretty hungry and the pizza was cheap, so we ordered a 12″ round pizza for the two of us. (Pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, and onions, though the toppings are immaterial.) A little while later, the waitress came by with an 8″ round pizza, explaining that another waitress had mistakenly given our pizza to someone else. She said we could have this 8″ pizza now, and she’d have the cook throw another 8″ pizza in the oven for us. She claimed that we’d be getting more total pieces of pizza, so this was a good deal for us.

This does not work. I ordered a small pizza once. They asked me if I’d like it cut into six slices; I requested four, inasmuch as I can’t possibly eat six slices of pizza, even with immaterial toppings.

After doing some quick mental math (area of a circle = pi*radius^2. Two 8″ pizzas = 2*pi*(4)^2 = 32*pi square inches, One 12″ pizza = pi*(6)^2 = 36*pi square inches), I told her we’d be missing out on over 12 square inches of pizza, so we’d rather just have the one 12″ pizza. She complied, and as a nice bonus (probably because she was impressed by my quick geometry skills), she let us have the extra 8″ pizza anyways. Score one for geometry!

What we need next: Statistical analysis of what pieces you’re likely to get when you order a three-piece chicken dinner.

(Via The Consumerist.)

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Sorry I missed it

Ah, the perils of lead time:

The second annual Capitol Water Appreciation Day will be held May 8, 2007, at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will host the event, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Capitol’s 4th floor rotunda. Water Appreciation Day will present a unique opportunity for groups to demonstrate the importance of Oklahoma’s water resources and provide information on their water management, conservation, and educational programs for state legislators and other government officials.

“Organizations have hosted Agriculture Day, GIS Day, Consumer Protection Day, and various other observations at the State Capitol, so it’s only appropriate that Oklahoma has at least one day each year devoted solely to recognizing the importance [of] our water resources,” says Duane Smith, OWRB Executive Director. “This unique celebration of Oklahoma’s diverse water resources will not only help focus the attention of our Governor and Legislative leadership on water issues facing the state, but will also serve to recognize those who strive to protect Oklahoma’s most precious natural resource.”

I have to admit, I’d probably be a bit more appreciative if there didn’t happen to be “diverse water resources” pooling on my office floor to a depth of 3/8 inch right about now.

(Rainfall for yesterday and today has totaled 4.27 inches; today isn’t quite over yet.)

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By Dr. Leonardo of Rodeo Drive

So Mona Lisa goes to L.A., and — well, see for yourself.

(Via Lynn S.)

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You should really just relax

One of the great tragedies of life is that Mystery Science Theater 3000 never got a chance to do Battlefield Earth.

Now they will, sort of. RiffTrax sells downloads (usually $2 to $3) of actual MST3k-style riff sessions keyed to somewhat-contemporary motion pictures, starring Michael J. Nelson (MST3k head writer and latter-day host) and usually either Bill Corbett (Crow T. “I’m different!” Robot) or Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo). Sometimes both of them. The idea: you cue up your (possibly rented) copy of the DVD, and when you hit Start, you turn to your MP3 player and fire up the RiffTrax. You can try some samples here. It’s not quite the same as it ever was — no Robot Roll Call, no Commercial Sign, no “Push the button, Frank” — but if you ever wanted an MSTed version of The Matrix, The Fifth Element, or (yes!) Battlefield Earth, you’re in luck.

Mitt Romney was unavailable for comment.

And if you insist on having your video and audio in the same package, behold: The Film Crew.

(Via David Darlington.)

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242

Electronic Body Music, a hybrid of industrial music and electronic punk, is a term concocted by one of its leading practitioners: the Belgian group Front 242.

Exactly what genetic factors contributed to the Carnival of the Vanities, I can’t say, though I can say that edition #242 is up.

Disclosure: This edition contains something of mine.

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So predictable, these humans

G. K. Chesterton, anticipating 2007, way back in 1920:

For the modern world will accept no dogmas upon any authority; but it will accept any dogmas on no authority. Say that a thing is so, according to the Pope or the Bible, and it will be dismissed as a superstition without examination. But preface your remark merely with “they say” or “don’t you know that?” or try (and fail) to remember the name of some professor mentioned in some newspaper; and the keen rationalism of the modern mind will accept every word you say.

(Via Dawn Eden.)

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Why we’ll never see the last round-up

WiseGeek calculates that the extra 0.9 cent tacked onto the price of a gallon of gas mounts up quickly:

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “prime suppliers” of “motor gasoline” reported sales of 372,833.5 thousand barrels sold in February 2007. Each barrel represents 42 gallons, and to determine the value of 9/10 of a cent for each gallon, we did the following calculation: 372,834 x 1000 x 42 x .009 = $140,931,063.

I think it’s interesting that they rounded up the number of barrels to the next integer, but still, we’re looking at $1.7 billion or so for an entire year, just from that nine-tenths of a cent.

They took it one step further: what if the price were jacked up, not by $0.009, but by $0.0099? Another $14 million for the month, another $170 million for the year, and besides contrarian cranks like me, hardly anyone would even notice.

Personally, I get annoyed when I see prices like $2.999: it’s three dollars, dammit, and you should have the stones to say so.

(Via Outside the Beltway.)

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Three peas in one’s Pod

Picking three songs for a radio (or podcast) set is something of an artform, and the best such are very good indeed. (I have a few tucked away for possible future use, which, if nothing else, will appall my brother, who did actual time as a Radio Guy.)

One criterion for “best” is sheer effrontery — who in the world would have thought of that? — and accordingly, I award props to Monty for her Sammich set last weekend: two Bread tunes, with Meat Loaf in between. Delicious, in a couple of senses of the word.

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New wrinkles in the nomenclature

Remember prunes? Of course you do. Except that they’d rather you called them “dried plums.”

The remarkable success of this top-down attempt to force the language into another direction, whether it wants to go there or not, has inspired many. Why, it’s even made it to television:

Digital rights management (DRM) is the wrong term for technology that secures programmers’ content as it moves to new digital platforms, says HBO Chief Technology Officer Bob Zitter, since it emphasized restrictions instead of opportunities.

Speaking at a panel session at the NCTA show in Las Vegas Tuesday, Zitter suggested that “DCE,” or Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers “to use content in ways they haven’t before,” such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods.

“I don’t want to use the term DRM any longer,” said Zitter, who added that content-protection technology could enable various new applications for cable operators. One example could be “burn-to-own DVDs,” where a consumer would use a set-top box with a built-in DVD burner to record a movie onto an optical disc, thus eliminating the costly current process of pressing DVDs and distributing them physically at retail. Another possibility, says Zitter, is “early window exhibition,” either in the form of making a movie available through video-on-demand (VOD) the same day as the home video release or allowing home theater users to pay extra to see a high-definition version of a theatrical release in the comfort of their home.

The minor detail that none of those vaunted New Technologies actually would require DRM, of course, can be found nowhere in the wild, wonderful world of ZitterSpeak.

Still, if they can sell Simpson’s Individual Water Absorb-A-Tex Stringettes — and let’s face it, we could use some flood preventers here in Soonerland this week — surely they can sell Zitter’s “enablement,” assuming the language mavens don’t hurl at the very sound of the word.

(Via The Consumerist.)

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Quote of the week

Take your hyphen and shove it, says Marko:

There’s plenty of balkanization out in the world, especially since the end of the Cold War. Every village in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia wants to have statehood now, and all that it does is create a multitude of warring little tribes, jealously guarding their little patches of ground against encroachment by “the others”, whether those others are defined by clothing, language, face paint, diet, hygiene habits, or whatever name they choose to call their deity.

We don’t need that kind of petty shit in America. It’s divisive and destructive, and it does nothing but perpetuate neolithic tribal warfare. Here in the United States, most good and decent folks don’t give a hoot whether their neighbor is black, white, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Great Pumpkin worshiper, as long as he minds his own business and keeps his hands to himself. America is not a funny outfit, or a chant, or a collective of ancestors. America isn’t a religion, or a skin color, or a language, or a way of cooking, and anyone who claims such a thing deserves a swift kick in the ass and a ticket to whatever homogeneous country best suits their personal desires for uniformity of pigmentation or religion or diet or what-the-fuck-ever.

(Also applauded by Tam.)

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To the East side

Both high schools in Norman will offer instruction in Chinese this fall, which strikes me as a fairly sensible thing to do (which Chinese? Standard Mandarin?), though I’m not quite sure I buy this rationale:

According to Dr. Jessica Stowell, associate director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Oklahoma and director of the Oklahoma Institute for Teaching East Asia, Norman will be among the 40 Oklahoma schools that will offer Chinese next school year. She said Chinese was important for the next generation of leaders in terms of economics and diplomacy.

“We must understand Chinese in order to have a level playing field in business and national security,” Stowell said. “More Chinese people speak English than there are Americans. Over 400 million Chinese speak English; there are 300 million Americans. The Chinese are 1/5 of the world’s population. When Americans allow others to speak English, rather than learning their language, we give away the competitive edge to those who speak our language and understand our culture.”

Stowell also predicts Chinese, through the sheer volume of speakers, will become the leading language of commerce, the Internet and of the elite: “It is simply the language we need to become global citizens on a grand scale, and to reduce the trade deficit with China on a very self-serving scale.”

I am, of course, in favor of being self-serving, but I don’t see English being dethroned as the world’s lingua franca any time soon, population figures notwithstanding.

Still, Asian influence is growing in Oklahoma. While fumbling around the Web, I turned up this application for the school-lunch program in Oklahoma City schools in Vietnamese. [Link to PDF file.] There being about ten thousand folks in town who trace their ancestry to Vietnam, this seems like a reasonable accommodation. (English Language Learner services are offered by the district in Vietnamese, Lao, and Spanish.) The state school with the widest variety of language instruction might be Booker T. Washington High in Tulsa, which offers eight languages: Chinese, Russian, French, German, Latin, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

(Norman story via Tailgate Politics.)

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The way they do the things they do

Usually inscrutable, it is:

Without fail, as soon as I buy a “The Best Of…” compact disc, the artist whose collection of greatest hits I’ve just purchased will invariably release a “The Very Best Of…”

Besides superior re-packaging, these annoying new CD’s usually feature exactly the same track-list as the original, except that ten extra songs will have been included at no extra cost. Sometimes even a whole second disc will be added, often with multi-media elements and a free tee-shirt offer.

Obviously this unhappy situation is rather ironic, since logically you would assume that such an exclusive sounding item as a “The Very Best Of…” should surely contain less music than a plain old, undiscriminating “The Best Of…”, not more.

Indeed. And while we’re on the subject, how exactly does The Best Of differ from Greatest Hits, anyway?

As it happens, my automotive music for yesterday was a C-90 I recorded circa 1992, crammed reasonably full of Temptations tracks. This is not too difficult a task, since the Tempts charted fifty-five titles on Billboard, not counting joint efforts with other Motown acts; the hard part, of course, is cutting all that down to an hour and a half (or even less on a CD). The advantage, just as obvious, is that you get to hear them all again while you make your selections.

To see what might be considered Greatest Hits these days, I consulted iTunes, and lo and behold, the range is even narrower than I feared. (Then again, your local oldies station might play “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” maybe; forget those other 52 tracks.)

And now, needless to say, I’m going to have to work up a Temptations compilation CD, which will, I suppose, be the contents of this tape minus 12 minutes or so. Earlier in the week I was listening to a Marvin Gaye tape, which deserves similar treatment. (Perhaps to follow: Supremes and/or Four Tops packages.)

Update, 13 May: Presenting: Surrounded by Temptations.

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Get smart

Rather a lot of people are going to:

United Auto Group Inc., the auto retailer charged with distributing the Smart fortwo when it arrives on U.S. shores in 2008, is reporting that 12,600 people have plunked down $99 to become a Smart “Insider” and reserve a spot in line to buy DaimlerChrysler’s microcar. That number of people represents about three-fourths of the 16,000 fortwos that will be sold in the car’s first year on sale in the U.S., and there’s enough time before then that the entire allotment could be, in a sense, “sold out” before it actually goes on sale.

(Previous discussion here.)

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Reads great, less suing

Interesting question from Syaffolee:

[W]ould the world be a better place if we had less lawyers and more writers?

I’m not persuaded that it would be. At the very least, we need half our lawyers to keep the other half busy. (According to the old joke, the only lawyer in a one-horse town was almost starving to death — until a second one hung out his shingle.) And do we already have enough writers? “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if the universities stifle writers,” said Flannery O’Connor. “My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”

What we do need, I think, are people skilled with the pen (or the keyboard), but who don’t necessarily think of themselves as writers. (In other words, someone like me, except with talent.) One of the happier byproducts of this whole blogging thing is that people are getting the sort of drill they used to get in English comp. Over the course of twenty-two years online, my style has gone from “well-nigh unreadable” to “not especially sucky,” which is more of an improvement than you’d think. I am not much of a storyteller — I’m certainly not in Sya’s league — but I do have some small facility for the short, pointed sub-essay.

Then again, my eyes glazeth over within mere seconds of cracking a law book.

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Cruel twists of fate

Do compact fluorescent bulbs present an unreasonable hazard? Maybe, maybe not. (I lean more toward “not,” myself, but that’s just me.) Still, it’s not like we otherwise never have any dealings with dangerous stuff:

[B]enzene — the primary component of gasoline — is a CDC class A carcinogen, yet we are not required to wear a haz-mat suit or use a respirator when we pump gasoline into our cars. Despite its dangers, we have lived with gasoline in our everyday lives for a century. The public outcry against excessive requirements for the handling of gasoline would be enormous, so much so that such requirements would probably be pointless.

Maybe the same thing will happen with all those mercury-containing CFL’s.

Actually, I wouldn’t call it a “primary” component: it makes up maybe one percent of your average tankful, and the EPA proposes to reduce this by 45 percent starting in 2011. Still, gasoline is nasty stuff, quite apart from that highly-flammable vapor, and we’ve learned to deal with it. I have no doubt we can learn to deal with CFLs. If nothing else, they remind us that ultimately everything is a trade-off.

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Drain wreck

Inasmuch as it had rained ten of the last eleven days, I wasn’t at all looking forward to popping open my office door this morning, and my apprehension proved to be eminently justified: the floodwaters, measured previously at a 3/8-inch depth, were now up to a full inch. Friday being my busiest day of the week, I contemplated closing the door and going back home, and let them deal with this crap. Finally I pulled out my Standard Resignation Letter, updated some of the particulars (for those poking around, it’s screwyouguysimgoinghome.odt), and confronted the Prince: “If I have to swim this morning,” I said, “I’ll be walking this afternoon.” At least one four-letter word was used: “Feds.” I didn’t mention that the one room in which you don’t want standing water is the room in which you have six figures’ worth of hardware, but it turned out I didn’t have to.

A plan was hatched: we would hook up a couple of submersible pumps, one of which would empty out the room. The second would be used to drain The Swamp, a stretch of unimproved land along 42nd that presented three problems:

  • It’s infested with all manner of nasty stuff;
  • It’s higher ground, and gravity still works;
  • It’s on the wrong side of the fence.

Still, short of moving the sun a few thousand miles closer to the earth in the hopes of drying things out, which was never seriously considered as an option, what else could we do?

This plan went through several modifications in a hurry, and strips of the by-now-ruined carpet were pulled up to reveal by-now-ruined tile which no one had seen before. (The building is about 50 years old, the firm just short of 40.) El Jefe brought in a fresh new Shop-Vac; later in the day, a dehumidifier showed up. By three o’clock, the de-carpeted floor was pretty dry, the equipment was moved away (except for the dehumidifier, which was still running last time I looked), and the sun had come out.

Of course, half an hour later, as has happened on eleven of the past twelve days, the rain started again.

Still, it was a fine effort, worthy of kudos all around, most of which I delivered in person before the downpour began.

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Minimum overdrive

An idea from Joe O’Rourke:

20-30 years ago, cars would shake a lot while doing 75mph, or they would feel “floaty”. Chassis and suspension engineering and good quality tires have eliminated these sensations, and superior engine technology means the car doesn’t strain to hold the speed.

I think it’s time for our longer highway systems, at the least to begin raising speed limits. When a supermajority of the populace does not obey the law, is that not a mandate for increasing the limit of the law?

Only if you believe speed limits have something to do with traffic flow. Mostly, speed limits have to do with revenue.

It is indeed true that cars are more capable than ever. There has not been, however, a corresponding increase in driver skill, and there are more distractions than ever.

(Aside: Now here’s a brainstorm worthy of the name: a cell phone/emergency flasher interlock. You take a call while driving, and your flashers come on. This will remind you that you’re driving, you nincompoop, and it will warn the rest of us to stay the hell out of your way while you’re incapacitated. I ask only 15 percent of the take.)

The rational way to set speed limits is to observe the actual drivers, then set the limit at the 85th-percentile speed, whatever it may be. There are going to be some roads — rural Interstates, most likely — where 80 or 85 mph would make perfect sense. On the other hand, going faster than 60 or 65 on Oklahoma City’s Crosstown Expressway can be construed as a death wish, if not for yourself, then surely for your car’s suspension parts.

Which brings us back to O’Rourke:

The problem with that is that highways would need to be maintained to a level consistent with high speeds — and, at least in the northeast, no state ever maintains their roads to a level of safety consistent with modern day speed limits…

Neither does Oklahoma. On the other hand, I’d love to do the Kansas Turnpike at 90, at least as far north as Topeka. (Eastbound, where it becomes I-70, is another matter entirely.)

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Motor-noter hardly wrote ‘er

The best automotive writers combine adrenaline and grace; they can transport you to the Brickyard or the Nürburgring or wherever, and make you feel you’re behind the wheel, or at least right next to behind the wheel.

There are few newspaper slots for the best automotive writers, though, which means that there’s room for syndicators. The Oklahoman buys a package from Wheelbase Communications, mostly written by Malcolm Gunn. Generally, Gunn’s historical stories come off better than his new-car reviews, generally because there’s no sense of immediacy — the star on a Gullwing Mercedes is in no danger of tarnish — and therefore no compulsion to come up with ghastly sentences like this:

The car that singlehandedly helped revive the once-floundering Cadillac marque will arrive, redesigned, in a few months with even more ground-breaking content between its svelte skin.

Now “ground-breaking content” suggests there’s a backhoe blog out there somewhere. Weirder is the description of Cadillac’s revival: did the CTS pull this off “singlehandedly,” or did it merely help? You can’t have it both ways.

Verbiage such as this doesn’t transport me to the Brickyard or the Nürburgring; it doesn’t even transport me to the Cadillac dealership (which, conveniently, is next door to the Infiniti store).

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A smaller Lake

There have been times in recent history when “Ricki Lake is doing a magazine cover in a swimsuit” might have been a cause for alarm in some circles. Still, here she is on Us Weekly wearing a size four.

A couple of things perplex me about this incident. For one thing, there’s the cover subheadline “It’s a time of self-acceptance right now.” Because, of course, you can’t possibly accept yourself if you weigh 250 lb. (Disclosure: If I weighed 250 lb, the first good Oklahoma windstorm — you never have to wait very long — would pick me up and drop me somewhere in [fill in name of remote location based on wind direction]. If you don’t believe me, ask McGehee.) Besides, the next Administration is busily planning the new Federal Bureau of Body Mass Index Enforcement, so we can probably assume The Artist Formerly Known As Tracy Turnblad is less fearful these days.

Then there’s this, from the magazine article:

“For the longest time, when I was very heavy, I couldn’t cross my legs. I couldn’t physically do it. Love that I can cross my legs now.”

Which, it is reputed, is actually bad for your health, though I’ve long suspected that one reason it fell into disfavor in some circles was its tendency to draw attention from random males of the species. Personally, I blame Sharon Stone.

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Saturday spottings (limited range)

By which is meant that I didn’t go much of anywhere today, but today still demands some sort of accounting, beginning at about 9:15, when I finally forced myself out of bed, mostly because I had to leave a bag of food for the postman. Local letter carriers were helping in a food drive for the Regional Food Bank; the usual person on this route comes by on Saturday between 9:30 and 10, and given the number of strays that wander about at night, I wasn’t about to put it out the night before, even though very few cats carry can openers and such.

In retrospect, I probably could have waited another hour before firing up the lawn mower: there was still a noticeable quantity of dew after 10. Then again, it had been twelve days since the back yard had been mowed, and it rained eleven of those days. I pondered briefly the possibility of getting some sort of Urban Wilderness designation, then remembered that I’d probably be spending the rest of my life getting permits for this or that. And it took 65 minutes instead of the usual 40 or so, mostly because I kept sinking into the ground.

The postman did pick up the sack, and one of the things he left me was a nice little card telling me about an Alaskan cruise this summer, aboard Holland America’s Amsterdam. I know from nothing about cruises, but I figured that if I wanted to go to Alaska, July was probably a good time to do it, especially in view of the fact that this cruise had been arranged by those wonderful folks at Bare Necessities. (Decision: Wait until I can talk someone into going with me. May take a while.)

I wandered over to the Post Office, where the Regional Food Bank’s trailer was picking up what the carriers were dropping off. I also splurged for some of those Forever Stamps, which were more impressive-looking than I had anticipated — or maybe it was just that I liked the idea of a stamp that says USA FIRST CLASS FOREVER.

I went on to the grocery — they, too, were taking donations for the food drive — and by the time I got back home, most everyone on the street had mowed out front. In keeping with my Rule of Lawns (never have the best, or the worst, lawn on the block), I wheeled out the mower again and knocked out the front yard, which proved to be marginally drier. I believe this is only the second time I have ever done both lawns in a single day, and I’d just as soon not have to do it again.

A few days ago on this post, McGehee had said this:

[Chicken] wings are so popular when sold separately (a compelling example of marketing if ever there was one).

And sure enough, in the grocer’s case, prepackaged wings were going for $1.99 a pound, thirty cents more than for thighs.

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Guano loco

We open with See-Dubya of JunkYardBlog quoting Dawn Eden:

As you know, being Republicans in New York City, there is the so-called counterculture — the feminists, global-warming fanatics, gay-marriage proponents, abortion activists, and so on — and then there is the real counterculture. The real counterculture are those who are working to preserve the moral values that are at the foundation of western civilization. As a longtime rebel, I was attracted to chastity because where the real counterculture lies, chastity is pretty close to ground zero.

Which drew this comment from presumed JYB reader “ck”:

Now chastity may be fine for women who don’t really like men. But, as a man of 53, I’ve never seen a man do 10 years without going absolutely batshit crazy.

Michael Bates weighed in with this response:

If someone is just gritting his teeth and forcing himself to do without what he believes he really deserves, he might very well go guano loco as ck suggests, but if he puts abstinence [in] the context of learning to love and value others for their intrinsic worth, rather than what they are worth toward the fulfillment of his appetites and ambitions, he would find himself filled with contentment instead of frustration.

This thread, of course, is of maximum interest to yours truly, being as how I am fifty-three years old, and during the last twenty years there has been only one brief entry on my, um, dance card, which mathematically guarantees a ten-year dry spell.

In other words, my mental state right about now, were I to accept ck’s assertion, should be positively reeking of Chiroptera residue. It’s not. In fairness, though, he’s never seen me, and even if he had, he might not know that I have no particular sense of entitlement anyway.

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Meanwhile O.J. looks for a real dinner

News Item: Zimbabwe has been elected to head the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) despite strong objections from Western diplomats. They had said Zimbabwe was unsuitable because of its human rights record and economic problems. It is suffering food shortages and rampant inflation. But Zimbabwe has dismissed such criticism, calling it an insult.

Columbia University announced today that Dr. Sanjaya Shekar Malakar of Seattle, Washington will be named Professor of Ethnomusicology within Columbia’s Department of Music, a position originally created for the distinguished Dr. Willard Rhodes, who died in 1992. Dr. Malakar’s multi-ethnic background and long record of persistence in the face of hardship should serve him well in his post at Columbia.

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The Ice Box Man knows

George Carlin turned 70 this weekend, and I suspect his influence has only grown since he was DJing for Wonderful WINO Radio forty years ago.

Way back in the early 1980s, for instance, he anticipated this:

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know. Could be meat … could be cake. Maybe it’s … MEATCAKE!

(Via Fillyjonk.)

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A land less strange

Sunset on Mars

I yield the floor to Tamara K., who says it better than I ever could:

A sunset. On Mars.

We took this picture. We did this. We did. Us humans. It’s going to happen; maybe not in my lifetime, but soon. For every mouth-breathing idiot who wants to kill his neighbor because of their race, religion, or choice of dandruff shampoos, there are a dozen brilliant, dedicated people toiling away to make the future happen.

You can’t stop this train.

I think she might be underestimating the number of mouth-breathing idiots, but otherwise, this is spot on.

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Please return this section with payment

So I sat down this afternoon and paid all the bills that had come in since last weekend, dropped the to-be-mailed stuff in my briefcase (clearly a stretch of the term) for the morrow, filed away the copies of those bills that were paid online, and now looking over to the side of the desk, I find that my Large Stack of Paper now consists of the following:

  • One Target 10-percent discount coupon, earned as a reward for using my Red Card.

  • One window envelope which presumably belonged to one of the bills, but I can’t tell which one.

I was sufficiently panicked to go pop open the case and make sure that the actual envelopes being used seemed at least somewhat appropriate. (In other words: does the return address show, and is there a stray bar code on the actual envelope that will cause it to be mailed to some place in Delaware?) I will, of course, eventually throw it away, but for at least a few more minutes, I will be wondering just where the system failed.

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Strange search-engine queries (67)

This is actually the 68th in the series; the very first of these compendiums was titled “Do I look like freaking Jeeves?” What’s more, rather a long time passed before this became a weekly feature. Still, that first intro is worth remembering:

Today’s log is even more full of questions than usual, and being the generous soul I am, I figured the least I could do is tackle some of them head-on. Every last one of these was a search-engine request that, reports SiteMeter, led to a page at this very domain.

dora the explorer smoking a weed joint:  I bet she got it from Swiper.

the pleasures of love are always in proportion to the fear:  Geez, you’d think I’d be having serious fun.

chickenshit fertilizer:  If that actually worked, Washington, D.C. would be the greenest spot on earth.

why teller wear pantyhose:  Evidently Penn is kinda kinky.

Greg Kihn sucked:  Now that’s a Kihntemptible thing to say.

with a lovely naked unclothed typist (6):  And I am not known for lengthy dictation.

how to measure the iq of a human being:  Start with 100. If he at any time says “Oh, that’s just the guy from the federal government, he’s here to help,” subtract 12.

visualizing dream girl:  I tried that, and a hand materialized from out of nowhere and slapped me silly.

King Kaufman salon transexual:  I think you’ve confused him with some other sportswriter.

divine sapphic lifetime hookups:  Aren’t they, though?

sagittarius women give great blowjobs:  I suppose I’ll have to take your word for it.

does the local option sales tax unfairly target the poor:  No more than any other sales tax.

are narcissists cruel to animals:  Only if they can find the time.

My penis aches with desire on the mountaintop of nudism:  You sure it’s desire and not, say, mosquitoes?

Charles Hill arrested:  This might make sense if the next word had been “development.”

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Superior Kraftsmanship

Triticale, a whole grain if ever there was one, presents the Carnival of Macaroni and Cheese.

I just love the sound of that.

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The oncoming title waive

Terry Hull asks: “Do Your Headlines Draw Readers In Or Drive Them Away?”

No, really:

Many bloggers labor to write an intelligent, well-crafted article, only to top it off with an awful headline. If you wrote a book, would you spend only a few seconds developing the title? Likewise, if you have spent several minutes or more writing a good blog post, take a little extra time to give it a decent headline. A headline that says something. A headline that draws the reader in. A headline that tells your prospective visitor what your article is about and why he should take the time to read it.

Sometimes I have a title, and sometimes I have an article, and once in a very blue moon I have both at the very same time. And I don’t deny that there have been times that I wrote an article only because I had a title. (I blame this on the Beatles, who, after their first album was completed, recorded LPs and singles as wholly separate units, though you’d never know it by looking at their US releases.)

Anyway, here’s a list of memorable titles from last year. Decide for yourself if I’m in the wrong business.

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OMGDWT

Washington state, in the process of banning cell-phone use in cars without a hands-free device, has also banned text messaging while driving, imposing a fine of $101 (or, as we used to say on our old typewriters, l0l) on violators. The ban on texting goes into effect at the beginning of 2008; the hands-free law will kick in the following July.

I suppose someone has been observed Driving While Texting, but evidently my imagination is insufficient to call up an image thereof.

(Via Autoblog.)

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A million little pieces of files

The only thing close to a Metalaw of Computing I’ve ever come up with is “There’s always a reason to put off defragmenting,” and you can be sure I practice what I preach: it’s been nearly thirteen months since I bought this desktop box, and I’ve managed to run the standard-issue Windows Defrag exactly zero times.

Until today, when I got the preposterous idea that the time I spent soaking up the sun, fixing dinner, and taking out the trash might somehow equal the time it would take to move around the 400,000 or so files on this box. And if you count washing the dishes, it did: the defrag (I have a single SATA 250GB drive, 27 percent full) took 64 minutes. Not as scary as I thought it might be. I suppose I should do this more often, but then there are a lot of things I should do more often.

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Bananas fostered

In their own little basket, surrounded by the ordinary 49-cents-a-pound stuff, sat a few bunches of “Organic Bananas,” priced at 66 cents. They looked a little better, I thought, and I took home half a dozen of them. (I eat one a day, mostly to keep up my potassium levels without having to rely on Nasty Chemicals.) In place of the usual agribusiness sticker, these bore the mark of Garaycoa Farms, a producer in Ecuador; I’m guessing that Dole, which has an extensive organic-banana program, bought these from Garaycoa directly and shipped them Stateside.

It was worth the effort, I think; these do seem to be a smidgen more flavorful and a lot less irregular than the usual banana-republican product, and after two days in my fruit bowl, none of them have acquired the sort of leopard-like dotting I find on the cheaper stuff. I went back to the register tape, mostly to see how much this bundle weighed, and discovered that the clerk had rang it up at the 49-cent rate, saving me 40 cents and probably screwing with their automated inventory. If they have these next week, I’ll get some more.

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Leaving the frying pan behind

Governor Henry has named Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth to the Corporation Commission, to fill the seat being vacated by Denise Bode, and while I have no doubt Roth, a genuine penny-pinching Democrat, will do a bang-up job at the Corp Comm, I worry about what’s going to happen to Oklahoma County now that there’s one fewer pair of eyeballs keeping watch on Brent “I Will Not Bend” Rinehart, who I have to figure is even now trying to come up with a way to thank the Guv without actually saying anything kindly about him. Mike McCarville is reporting that Forrest Claunch, formerly Representative for House District 101, is hoping to take over District 1 when Roth leaves for the Capitol; good luck with that. (Claunch evidently needs a day job; last year he ran an unsuccessful campaign for state GOP chair.) Governor Henry will have to call a special election sometime between now and November to fill the county vacancy.

Roth will presumably have to run for the Corp Comm in his own right in 2008; it will be almost amusing to see the opposition fall all over itself trying to come up with ways Roth has allegedly been “advancing the homosexual agenda” in the context of regulating utilities and oil producers and such. Because you know they will.

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Not to be confused with Don Quixote

The Fugs, somehow having been signed in the late 1960s to Reprise Records, home of Frank Sinatra, disgorged a number of inexplicable bits, one of which contained the inscrutable phrase “donkey scrotum in Saran Wrap.”

Said nutsack still sets the gold standard for pack-animal genitalia-related verbiage, though this comes close.

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