Archive for August 2015

Rough going here and there

Presenting The Sixteen Worst Roads in Oklahoma City, from this morning’s Oklahoman, page 2A:

OKC street grid

How they got to be The Worst:

In 2007, Oklahoma City passed a bond issue aimed at improving or replacing parts of the city’s infrastructure, including designating almost a half billion dollars to fix some of the city’s worst streets.

Of the 49 stretches of road designated to be repaired more than seven years ago, 16 have been completed and 17 are in construction.

Work has yet to begin on 16 streets.

Note that it’s stuff around the periphery, not urban streets in the middle of town, that seems to need the most work. And there’s a single four-mile stretch that I can verify is truly terrible: sections 14/13/2/11, Kelley Avenue from Wilshire to Memorial, though when I take this route I turn off at 130th, missing the northernmost half-mile. This stretch of Kelley, long ago, was part of the Route 66 alignment through town; it’s now, if you ask me, merely the less-stressful alternative to the Broadway Distention, albeit with nearly as much patch as actual pavement.

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Discouragingly stationary

The bank with which I do the vast majority of my business — not one of the big chains, but big enough — has been serving up a perfectly legible online-banking interface for the last five years, which fit nicely onto my screens. It apparently did not fit nicely onto people’s phones, though, so they’ve unveiled a new interface aimed directly at those who swipe rather than those who mouse around.

Well, no, I didn’t like it much. On the upside, it’s not so different from what American Express is showing me these days, so at least I didn’t have much of a learning curve, and I suppose eventually I’ll end up with a smartphone, or at least a not-quite-so-dumb phone. I’m not going to try it on my current phone; it will probably work, but carrier charges for Web access on an account with no data plan border on the absurd.

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No judge of length

Most people, upon hearing what I do for a living, assume I sit in a cubicle all day. Not so. I have no cubicle, and I stand a hell of a lot. When last week my feet started complaining more loudly than usual, I dug into the closet and brought out my old but still new-looking New Balance 1122s, which are loud and clunky — which explains why they were far back in the closet — and contain an actual roll bar, useful for those of us with a tendency to pronate.

They’re also white, with trim bits in a couple shades of grey, and as any debutante can tell you, white shoes make your feet look bigger, especially after you’ve been wearing black ones for a while. “Geez,” said I. “Caitlyn freaking Jenner doesn’t have clodhoppers this big.”

I stewed over that for a while, then decided to fact-check my ass. Turns out that Caitlyn freaking Jenner truly doesn’t have clodhoppers this big: the fashion sites agree that she wears a 13, which, assuming this figure is up to date, means that Bruce — remember Bruce? — used to wear a 12.

I wear a 14. Which is a 15 in women’s sizes. (And several iterations of the letter E.)

My apologies to Ms Jenner, and to any wandering debutantes.

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This much and no farther

From Indianapolis, a report that the NBA is considering a rule change:

Proposed changes that would let National Basketball Association teams substantially expand their marketing areas — to encompass their entire home states or television markets — could generate more than $1 million annually for the Indiana Pacers.

But the plans could also bring other teams — especially the Chicago Bulls — crashing into the central Indiana market hunting for fans and sponsors.

The proposals relate to a rule that bans teams from marketing outside a 75-mile radius of their home base — a limit that keeps the Pacers out of nearby cities like Fort Wayne, Louisville and Cincinnati.

If nothing else, this explains why the Thunder play in Tulsa and Wichita during the preseason: it’s the only chance they have to make a pitch to the locals. (The movement of the D-League 66ers Blue out of Tulsa surely didn’t help matters.)

A change requires a vote by the league’s 30 team owners. And while league sources say momentum is building for the proposals, they wouldn’t likely be enacted until the 2016-2017 season at the earliest.

The Oklahoma City TV market includes about half the state, with the rest belonging to Sherman/Denison/Ada/Ardmore, Amarillo, Tulsa, and Fort Smith.

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The long, hot sideshow

How could this Presidential campaign possibly be any worse? Just try to imagine how dull it would be without Donald Trump.

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A vast waistline

“Who in the heck writes whole paragraphs and posts about highways?” asks Joe. “It’s a road.” Well, yeah. But before he said that, he said this:

Windshield time is not conducive to a positive outlook on life. I-70 in particular seems to wear me down and over the decades I have found this true of the roadway no matter what part of the country it traverses, perhaps because it is mostly a straight slash across the center of the nation. The highway seems to be a weird dividing line for weather; above gets snow, below does not or below sees rain, above the road none. It also seems to be an almost modern Mason-Dixon Line dividing cultures and dialects. I know this to be somewhat true in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. I am not sure if the pattern holds sway in other parts of the country. It is also quite likely the whole idea is a figment of my imagination. Anyway, from Harrisburg to Kansas City and beyond the road is boring unattractive and dull. How US 40, which covers pretty much the same exact ground can be so much more interesting is beyond me. Of course the old National Road will take you twice as long to get you where you are going.

I have the opposite view of windshield time, though this is probably because I don’t get enough of it — at least, not in a good way. (Being stuck behind dawdling members of the Anti-Destination League in the middle of the afternoon commute is not a good way.) Still, US 40 is to be preferred over I-70 at least as far west as Topeka, after which the two roads merge for most of the rest of Kansas. I admit to having less experience with the eastern stretch, which ends up in Atlantic City.

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Strange search-engine queries (497)

Comes Monday, and comes once more this weekly feature of the wackiest search strings that got this site up in people’s browsers. We do this because (1) it’s weirdly popular and (2) it’s less effort than actually writing something.

sanrio lawsuits etsy:  Because Hello Kitty belongs to the world — except, of course, for you and your little online store.

explained the deviation from the life cycle model for an 40 year old married male,self employed with:  An active Tinder account and a suspicious spouse.

teen in thongs with cameltoe non nude:  Technically, if she’s wearing that much, she’d have to be “non nude,” doncha think?

knee appalling tan:  You know, you probably shouldn’t have had that stuff sprayed on while you were seated.

how to make viagra at home for men:  You’ll need a can of spray starch and a pair of forceps.

find a company that will deliver a storage unit to my door orinda ca:  Having a storage unit by the door probably violates a town ordinance.

rebecca black high school:  Who would have thought they’d ever name a high school after Rebecca Black?

is oklahoma on a fault line:  Naw. All these earthquakes are caused by guys in $500 cars with $1500 stereos.

jersey barrier mover:  Gonna take more than your feeble F-250 duallie, bucko.

would like to swing on a star:  Here’s a jar. Don’t come back until you’ve crammed it full of moonbeams.

jose had a small bag of marshmallows. the bag contained 5 pink:  Which for no apparent reason he ate last.

the endochronic properties of resublimated thiotimoline:  We already got to that next week.

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Noise disabatement

This nimrod showed up yesterday exhibiting both a lack of taste and a lack of patience:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: five variations on I have a Dodge Ram 1500 2wd regular cab. What can I do to it to make it sound good and loud

If he comes back next week asking for stereo advice, well, God help him. Because I won’t.

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In search of a deal

Having recently escaped the chains of utter penury, which left most of my workwear too close to threadbare for comfort, I wandered into a DXL store Saturday to pick up a couple of T-shirts. The pricing is astute: one of them will run you a stiff $30, but if you buy at least two, the tab for each drops to $19.99. I wound up buying five, and as it happens, this was the Sales Tax Holiday weekend, so the entire tab came to a not-especially-stiff $99.95.

Now you might wonder how anyone could pay $20 for a T-shirt and not flinch. Believe me, when the alternative is $30, $20 looks pretty good. And the best deal currently being offered in my size by the leading catalog vendor catering to such is $24 in quantities of five. (That size, you should know, is 4XL; it used to be 4XLT, but I no longer need the extra two inches of length to pull down over my newly shrunken gut, six inches smaller than it used to be.)

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Land of perversity

A report that Tesla is losing about $4000 on each car it sells drew a dismissive comment to the effect that “people aren’t that stupid,” which prompted this eloquent response:

“Its just a car and people aren’t that stupid.”

THIS IS MURICA!!!

We put 30″ rims on a Chevy Snailblazer.

Our favorite topping for a burger is another burger.

We can’t name even 10 of the people running the country.

I resent your implication that this country is intelligent.

Valerie Jarrett is running the country. Next!

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Irate, you rate

Lead story in the Oklahoman today begins with this anecdote:

When a passing motorist yelled “Road rage sucks” at Oklahoma City police Sgt. Matthew Downing during a January 2014 traffic stop, Downing chased the man down in a convenience store, wrestled him to the ground and arrested him.

A supervisor who soon arrived disagreed with Downing’s use of force and subsequent arrest and released the man.

Police Chief Bill Citty directed the department’s Office of Professional Standards to conduct a criminal investigation into the incident.

In February, Downing pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and was sentenced to 90 days’ probation. That same day, he resigned from the department, where leaders say he was still under administrative investigation for the incident. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Downing’s guilty plea and resignation were part of his plea agreement, which is typical in criminal cases involving police officers.

Not that I at all object to keeping the police on a fairly tight leash — those rogue cops obsessed with their authority (“Trigger-happy policing,” said Marvin Gaye back in the day) need to be pulled back — but I have to wonder: is it the position of the City, or of the OCPD, that road rage does not suck?

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Paparazzo 101

One of the first things they teach you at Pesky Photographer School, I suspect, is candid shots taken at a time when the subject is actually busy doing something. This explains why we see Kylie Jenner — and happy 18th to you, K — fueling up in deepest, darkest Studio City:

Kylie Jenner fuels up her Mercedes-Benz G63

Wait a minute. What the heck is that she’s driving?

Kylie Jenner fuels up her Mercedes-Benz G63

Because, of course, one needs something like a Geländewagen to negotiate the tough terrain of the San Fernando Valley.

And haven’t I seen those shoes before? Let’s see:

Kylie Jenner in Stuart Weitzman Nudist shoes

Yep. This is Stuart Weitzman’s “Nudist” sandal in black. As shoes worn by this clan tend toward the ridiculously ornate, I’m sort of happy to see something simple — and, at under $400, not overly pricey, except perhaps by the pound — on the youngest of the crew.

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Déjà chew

Did you ever wonder just what mysterious stuff is inside your half of a Kit Kat bar? It’s not exactly chocolate; it’s vaguely crunchy, which eliminates contenders like nougat; and it’s described nowhere in the advertising. And there’s a perfectly good, if perhaps off-putting, reason for that:

You see, not every chocolate bar is created perfectly. When they roll off the production line, Quality Assurance technicians remove the Kit Kats that have too many exterior air bubbles, or off-centre wafers, or any other imperfections right down to those that simply aren’t shiny enough. As far as the manufacturers are concerned, consumers don’t want imperfect chocolate bars.

But rather than being thrown away, those second-class bats are recycled back into the production process. After being ground up into a fine paste, they form the filling you find between the Kit Kat’s wafers. In many ways, it’s a stroke of genius — no edible Kit Kat is wasted!

Um, okay. But knowing this is a long way from answering these questions:

For example, how old is the oldest part of a Kit Kat? If all Kit Kats contain the remains of imperfect Kit Kats, and not all Kit Kats are perfect, then every Kit Kat that gets recycled contains the remains of older Kit Kats, which contained older Kit Kats, which contained older Kit Kats … so how far back does that actually go?!

Chicken and egg are still squabbling over this one.

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Presumably a Solo operation

That “really bad feeling” might be a case of the Kessel runs.

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Spamming with faint praise

This badly tossed word salad showed up in the comment receptacle Sunday bearing a highly dubious Berkeley URL:

What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you’re no longer really much more neatly-favored than you may be right now. You are so intelligent. You know thus significantly with regards to this topic, produced me in my view imagine it from so many numerous angles. Its like men and women aren’t interested unless it is one thing to accomplish with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. All the time maintain it up!

Neatly favored as I am, I wish I could claim to be stuffing excellently, but maintaining it up is harder than it used to be.

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Nor is it a dry heat

This apparently was the display for the Sunday-evening forecast. Hindsight being closer to 20/20, I think we can safely say that at least one of those numbers was way the hell off:

Weather screen from KFOR

(Snagged from Facebook, of course.)

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Shipped plywood

We keep hearing that the music industry is in trouble, but it takes something like this to show you just how much:

The soundtrack for Disney Channel’s Descendants, directed by High School Musical mastermind Kenny Ortega, debuted in the Number One spot thanks to 42,000 total copies. If 42,000 units sounds like a small amount for a Number One album to sell, that’s because it is: Descendants, which only sold 30,000 copies in pure album sales — the additional 12,000 came from a la carte purchases and streams — became the lowest-selling Number One album in charts history, underselling Amos Lee’s LP Mission Bell, which sold 40,000 copies on its way to Number One in 2011.

“How about a song?” Okay:

I picked this one because it was written by the reliable Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who also concocted the Wonders’ wondrous “That Thing You Do!”

Still, this probably hits the hardest:

Thirty-six years after Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door topped the Billboard 200, the band’s eighth studio album was back in the Top 10 this week as the LP’s new reissue reentered the charts at Number Nine. In Through the Out Door sold an additional 24,000 total units in its return to the Billboard 200, where it spent seven weeks at Number One in 1979, Billboard reports.

Not even Adam Schlesinger is gonna compete with Zeppelin, even second-rank Zeppelin like “Fool in the Rain.”

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And there you are, retouching yourself

As the selfie becomes further and further detached from reality, we’re going to see more stuff like this:

Do you ever feel like you need a little more designer shoe action in your life? If the answer is yes then Christian Louboutin’s new app could be for you.

Louboutinize is a free photo editing app that lets users add a dash of luxury to their pictures via three different filters. “Rouge” will wash images in a layer of deep red, the label’s signature sole hue, while “Crystallize” allows users to see their images as though through a diamond, inspired by the label’s nail lacquer bottle design. Finally, “Legs” gives snappers the chance to upload a fun pair of legs to their pictures, choosing between a can-can girl, a football player and three other limb options.

I wonder if “fun pair of legs” is ultimately as unfun as “fun size candy bars.”

A more serious app might be able to apply that deep red layer just to the pertinent part of your shoes, crystallize your accessories, and give you legs like [insert appropriate name here], but something like that would cost some serious money, whereas this one is being given away for free.

Addendum: Those initial “fun” legs apparently include the stems of Dita Von Teese. Suddenly this looks, um, more serious.

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No major changes at the Vatican

At least, not to that extent:

I think we can safely say that yes, he is.

That other question has also been resolved.

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Some hosing going on

Pretty much every issue of Car and Driver — and I’ve seen them all since 1978 — contains at least one bit of prose that simply screams “They’re trying to get nasty letters, aren’t they?” In September 2015, it’s this denunciation of a Fiat by Jared Gall:

The 500X will change nobody’s perception of Italian build quality. Many of the plastic interior surfaces feel hard and hollow, and while the gray door-panel pleather feels natural, it’s not the natural leather that it feels like. More like cold, dead skin before it’s turned into leather — and not necessarily cow skin. Maybe dolphin. Or fat Uncle Carl. It puts the lotion squarely in the basket.

I expect several lambs to be speaking up in the December issue.

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Up one point nine

Marcel has survived the arrival of Windows 10:

The upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 went okay. It took a minute or two to go though “custom” settings and select more sensible options than “express” offers. The only thing so far is the mouse pointer often goes into its “working” blue-circle state, and it’s even more pesky and intrusive than 8.1; just now it was bugging me about logging onto their X-box scheme so I could play solitaire.

Then again, this isn’t his only hardware:

On my other machine I have Lubuntu, which has been trouble-free.

Hmmm. I wonder if that would work on Toshi, my ancient XP laptop.

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The yellow ruse of “Tax us”

At any rate, that’s the vibe I pick up from this:

Well, let’s see. The state charges a uniform 4.5 percent. The city of McAlester collects 3.5 percent. And … hmmm. Pittsburg County, which was 1.0 percent, drops to 0.5 percent effective the first of October. What are they asking? The McAlester Chamber of Commerce was circulating this flyer:

Sales tax proposals in McAlester and Pittsburg County, Oklahoma

The measure passed yesterday will bump up the combined sales tax in Pittsburg County to 9.5 percent; should the October bill pass, the tax rate inside McAlester city limits will be 10.25 percent, putting it on par with Chicago but ahead of New York City.

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Just back from the Mediterranean

Historical note, per Wikipedia:

The island was attacked in 88 BC by the troops of Mithridates VI of Pontus, a staunch enemy of Rome, who killed some 20,000 of the resident Romans. Another devastating attack was by pirates in 69 BC. Before the end of the 1st century BC, trade routes had changed; Delos was replaced by Puteoli as the chief focus of Italian trade with the East, and as a cult-centre too it entered a sharp decline.

Due to the above history, Delos — unlike other Greek islands — did not have an indigenous, self-supporting community of its own. As a result, in later times it became uninhabited.

I can well imagine — though clearly not as well as pianist Emily Bear, who’s been there:

As of 2001, Delos had a population of 14. By coincidence, Emily will be 14 this month.

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The bigot on the front line

Roger tells of a spectacularly blatant bit of racial and class prejudice:

It was the early 1980s, and I was moving to a new apartment in Albany. In those days, I had to actually GO to New York Telephone and Niagara Mohawk, the power company at the time, to get my services connected. So, I took my lunch hour from FantaCo, the comic store I worked at the time, to arrange these things.

My New York Tel experience was great. These flirty, attractive women were trying to upsell me for services I didn’t want, or need, and didn’t buy. Still, it put me in quite the good mood.

Then I went to NiMo, and talked with this woman at length about getting my gas and electricity. I filled out the form, and she went over it. A previous ZIP Code I lived in was 12309, with included a well-to-do suburb of Schenectady called Niskayuna, though in fact I was living in the part of Schenectady adjacent to it.

“THAT’S a very expensive neighborhood,” she said, sounding as though she didn’t believe me. I replied, “um-hmm.”

“And who are you to live in a very expensive neighborhood?” Even though he didn’t. Stereotype by ZIP code! (Think “90210.”) Which may explain “um-hmm”: he saw it coming.

Inevitably, of course, it did:

We get to the part of the process where we arrange to have the service started. I was moving only three blocks from work, off Lark Street. I suggested that the service person call me at work, and I could run over and be at my apartment in five minutes.

She countered: “Why don’t you leave the door unlocked? You don’t have anything of value anyway.”

Dayum, girl. Could you possibly be any more hateful?

I was angry. No, I was livid. I was enraged. Yet, I found the place in my voice to say, “Actually, I DO have things of value.” Eventually, and unhappily, she capitulated to my request.

A couple of days later, Roger recovered his cool enough to send a letter to the utility, which was properly contrite. But suppose he hadn’t?

Now I COULD have lost my cool at the NiMo office. I would have felt totally justified. The problem is that I would have come across as a crazy black man, who just went OFF for no apparent reason.

She’d never have said that to a white guy, and if she had and he’d gone off, managers would be summoned and collars would be cooled, and the word “crazy” would have never been mentioned.

Now this happened thirty-odd years ago. Are things better today? I wouldn’t bet on it: customer service seems to be at a low ebb these days, and anyone who thinks racism is dead is simply not paying attention.

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A dime’s worth of difference

And hey, ten cents isn’t worth a nickel anymore:

Think Bush v. Gore in 2000. I was no big fan of Dubya, but oh God, the thought of Al Gore in the White House gave me the shivers. But now?

I maintain that the only thing left for most people is anger. Hillary, Jeb, Sanders, Rubio, whomever — they’re all on the same team. We could take every single non-Trump candidate and make them all president, collectively, and we’d never know the difference. Did Bobby Jindal just sign that deal offshoring more of our jobs, or was that Sanders? Was that Hillary’s massive subsidy to the college racket, or Fiorina’s? Did Jeb just sign that massive amnesty, or was it Hillary? Or Rubio? Or Sanders? Or Biden? Walker? Jindal? Perry? Let one of them sign things on Tuesday, another when the wind’s north-northwest … could anyone consistently tell the difference?

Only three things are certain, no matter who signs: The fucking borders stay open, the banksters get richer, and the rest of us bleed for it.

Sanders, at least, gives the impression that he believes in something other than his own care and feeding, something that has never been said, and never will be said, of Hillary. Still, almost everybody in this race is vanilla, and artificially flavored vanilla at that. Even your putative Ethnic Candidates — Jindal, Carson — are largely inseparable from the rest, indistinguishable from the collective din.

I am, let us say, not hopeful.

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Whoever has the most balls

Los Angeles, in a good year, gets around 15 inches of rain. (The single rainiest month, generally, is February, which clearly demonstrates the divine sense of humor.) Good years have been few and far between of late, which is why the Department of Water and Power has been doing something, well, ballsy:

Here you see 55,000 little polyurethane balls, filled with water, floated on top of the water in the reservoir at Silver Lake last year. It took 96 million of the plastic spheres to cover the entire reservoir, at a cost of around $35 million; however, reducing evaporation is a must in these droughtful days.

Okay, they’re not festive-looking, exactly, but black resists UV rays from that warm California sun, so the balls should last at least ten years. Let’s hope the drought doesn’t persist that long.

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The beef retains the name

McDonald’s Quarter Pounder has always started with a 4-ounce — 0.25 pound — beef patty, before cooking. It was down to 2.8 ounces once done, but hey, everyone understands beef shrinkage, right?

Well, it’s still going to shrink, but now they’re starting out bigger:

Fast food giant McDonald’s has quietly made a change to one its most popular items: the Quarter Pounder.

The sandwich now defies burger math and includes 4.25 ounces of beef, slightly more than its former size of 4 ounces before cooking.

Assuming the same shrinkage rate, it should end up at 2.975 ounces.

Still unknown: (1) whether the price will be raised; (2) whether they’ll change the name in France.

(Via Consumerist.)

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My kind of research

The judicial system, however, vigorously dissents:

A “doggedly unrepentant” lawyer who billed her wrongful death clients for watching reality crime TV shows has been suspended for a year from law practice.

The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the suspension of Knoxville lawyer Yarboro Sallee, who was accused of billing her clients hourly fees of more than $140,000 for less than three months of work and insisting that they pay a contingency fee as well. The Legal Profession Blog, the Chattanoogan and the Knoxville News Sentinel have stories. The July 23 opinion is here [pdf].

The supreme court said Sallee had engaged in “a prodigious amount of wheel-spinning” during her work on her clients’ case, yet she maintained she had done nothing wrong. “Since when is television not a respectable avenue for research anyway,” she said at one point to a trial judge.

I suppose it’s probably better than Wikipedia, but I suspect that’s not saying much.

The ethics case stems from Sallee’s representation of the parents of a woman who died during a fall down the stairs in October 2009. The death was found to be accidental, but the clients suspected their daughter’s husband caused the death to collect on a $1 million insurance policy. Sallee estimated the entire case would cost $100,000 in legal fees, and the clients orally agreed to pay Sallee $250 an hour, which she held out as her “discounted” rate…

“She had taken no witness statements,” the court said, “prepared no expert statements, taken no depositions, propounded no discovery requests. She had, however, engaged in a prodigious amount of wheel-spinning, spending countless hours, charged at a lawyer rate, in activities such as watching 48 Hours television episodes, waiting in hospitals for medical records, and doing Internet research on strangulation.”

You’d think at the very least she’d have watched Criminal Minds.

(With thanks to Nancy Friedman.)

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All bent out of shape

I have to figure that this product name is, let us say, a trifle optimistic:

Maybe if it had an infinite power source. (Repeat: “maybe.”)

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It’s the yeast they can do

People with pain, of which there are an abundance, swear by hydrocodone, an opioid obtained from poppies. Yes, those poppies. But what if you could make the stuff without having to go to the very same plants that support the heroin trade? It’s actually been done, on a small scale:

Over the past several months, scientists from around the world have published bits and pieces of a fascinating feat: In an effort to create pain medication components like hydrocodone — the main ingredient in the pain killer Vicodin — without the help of poppies, scientists have engineered simple baker’s yeast to synthesize these medicinal compounds from sugar. One by one, labs figured out how to get the yeast to turn A into B, and B into C, Y into Z, and so on and so forth.

Now, for the first time, researchers at Stanford University have done it from start to finish. In a paper published Thursday in Science, they report the successful synthesis of hydrocodone from sugar, thanks to genetically engineered yeast.

The abstract:

Opioids are the primary drugs used in Western medicine for pain management and palliative care. Farming of opium poppies remains the sole source of these essential medicines despite diverse market demands and uncertainty in crop yields due to weather, climate change, and pests. Here, we engineered yeast to produce the selected opioid compounds thebaine and hydrocodone starting from sugar. All work was conducted in a laboratory that is permitted and secured for work with controlled substances. We combined enzyme discovery, enzyme engineering, and pathway and strain optimization to realize full opiate biosynthesis in yeast. The resulting opioid biosynthesis strains required expression of 21 (thebaine) and 23 (hydrocodone) enzyme activities from plants, mammals, bacteria, and yeast itself. This is a proof-of-principle, and major hurdles remain before optimization and scale up could be achieved. Open discussions of options for governing this technology are also needed in order to responsibly realize alternative supplies for these medically relevant compounds.

I interpret that last sentence as “Those who wage the War On [Some] Drugs will have a coronary if this technology becomes widespread.” To them, Schedule II is the Voice of God.

Tangential: Apparently all five members of the research team — four are pictured at the WaPo link — are women.

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As though the moment had passed

Possibly the best article ever written about Rebecca Black — I figure my prodigious body of work is tied for third — showed up in, of all places, BuzzFeed. BF’s Reggie Ugwu gets the overview in order, makes a couple of unexpected disclosures, and comes up with paragraphs like this:

Maybe more than any other 18-year-old alive, Black is all of our anxieties about oversharing online made flesh: the fact that more than 350 million photos are shared to Facebook each day and 300-plus hours of video hit YouTube every minute; the nagging sense that kids born into a world where social networking exists are worse off — when it comes to college applications, job prospects, romantic relationships. For most of us, these fears are as vague as they are persistent, a concern filed somewhere in the back of the brain near jury duty and gum disease. But for Black they’re reality. And, as luck would have it, her overexposure came just moments too soon in the history of the viral video industrial complex to translate into anything resembling a sustainable career. When it comes to making traumatic first impressions on the internet, Black is patient zero.

While she did make six figures off “Friday,” her million and odd YouTube subscribers likely bring in enough these days to pay the rent, or at least her half of it anyway.

Besides, music is coming:

The artist Black says she would most like to emulate, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Taylor Swift, whose ability to successfully switch genres — and to be graceful under intense spotlight — she finds inspiring. “She’s the best businesswoman in music right now,” Black gushes. “She’s killing it.” Black’s new songs, based on two nearly complete demos she sent me, sound like Swift — bright and confident with soaring rock drums and dramatic hooks that work best sung at the top of your lungs while cruising down the highway. Her voice is capable and Auto-Tune–free.

We will forget what I said on the release of “In Your Words” back in 2012:

I’m thinking that if Taylor Swift is wanting to be Katy Perry these days, surely Rebecca Black is bidding here for Swift’s niche: songs simultaneously wistful and accusatory.

Still, if she’s cruising down the highway, we now know she prefers the front seat.

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This is their jam

Who will rid us of these bothersome spammers? Lynn proposes a technological solution:

Someone once said that spammers should be crucified alongside the Interstates. Honestly, I don’t want to live in a society that crucifies people but a little part of me thinks that this would not be too harsh a punishment for spammers. And you can put trolls right there with them. Anyone whose behavior makes it necessary to restrict free and open communication. You know what we really need is some kind of device that these people could be sentenced to wear — like a type of ankle bracelet — that would automatically shut down any electronic device when they came within, say, three feet of it. If this sounds like too humane a punishment just imagine for a minute never being able to use a computer or smartphone again. Hey, all of you clever inventor folk, get on that will you?

“Someone,” in case you’d forgotten, was Eric Scheie of Classical Values, circa 2003.

And I hate like hell to say so, but there are nimrods out there who would willingly saw off a limb or two in order to perpetuate their perversity.

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Forever 21st

Actually, Australian model Madeline Stuart is only 18, but 21 is the number that rules her life: she has three, rather than two, copies of the 21st chromosome. This is Down syndrome, and as a general rule, women with Down syndrome don’t walk the fashion runways.

Until now:

The fashion industry is often criticized for lacking diversity on runways and in fashion campaigns. But, after years of fighting for equal representation of every type of woman, new headway is being made. This year, Madeline Stuart, the Australian modeling sensation with Down Syndrome, will walk the runway during New York Fashion Week.

Serving as an inspiration to many around the globe, the 18-year-old is on a mission to change the way people think about those with disabilities. According to her website, Stuart sees Down Syndrome as “a blessing” and “something to be celebrated.”

“People will stare,” Harry Winston once said. “Make it worth their while.” Stuart has set this as one of two quotations on the front page of that site.

Madeline Stuart in florals

Madeline Stuart in florals

And you know, just seeing a runway model not scowling is something of a delight.

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The greatest rivalry of them all

Okay, maybe not the greatest. It was certainly, however, one of the longest:

Sixty-three years ago, [Harlem] Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein asked Red Klotz to create an opponent for the Globetrotters. While the guys in the red, white and blue did their tricks and made crowds of all generations laugh and applaud, the Generals just did their thing — try to win.

It didn’t always work. OK, it never worked — except for a night in 1971, in Tennessee, when Klotz himself hit a shot at the end to beat the clowns of basketball.

The Washington Generals, with a lifetime record of 6 and God Only Knows, are still a team; but they’re no longer playing the Globetrotters, who announced earlier this week that they were seeking new opponents.

Still, the Generals will be remembered, perhaps not so much for beating the Globetrotters (in overtime!) in 1971, but as the perfect sports metaphor for half the world: the half that didn’t win, or that thinks it didn’t win.

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Nowhere plans for nobody

The folks at mental_floss suggested this as Watercooler Ammo, and, well, I have the day off so I’m pasting it here:

Next time you feel wracked by stage fright, don’t imagine the audience in underwear–pretend you’re invisible. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recently used virtual reality goggles to trick people into experiencing invisibility. (Participants were asked to look down at their torsos. Thanks to the goggles, it looked as if their bodies had disappeared.) When the researchers brushed the people’s bellies with a paintbrush, the participants saw it brushing thin air. The experience made them feel invisible. When they placed the “invisible” people in front of an audience of strangers, participants reported significantly less social anxiety. No word on whether the goggles will be available for your next job interview.

This seemed crazed enough to check out, and, well, it was apparently a side effect:

In an article in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers describe a perceptual illusion of having an invisible body. The experiment involves the participant standing up and wearing a set of head-mounted displays. The participant is then asked to look down at her body, but instead of her real body she sees empty space. To evoke the feeling of having an invisible body, the scientist touches the participant’s body in various locations with a large paintbrush while, with another paintbrush held in the other hand, exactly imitating the movements in mid-air in full view of the participant.

“Within less than a minute, the majority of the participants started to transfer the sensation of touch to the portion of empty space where they saw the paintbrush move and experienced an invisible body in that position,” says Arvid Guterstam, lead author of the present study. “We showed in a previous study that the same illusion can be created for a single hand. The present study demonstrates that the ‘invisible hand illusion’ can, surprisingly, be extended to an entire invisible body.”

We’re getting awfully close to that Star Trek holodeck.

In another part of the study, the researchers examined whether the feeling of invisibility affects social anxiety by placing the participants in front of an audience of strangers.

“We found that their heart rate and self-reported stress level during the ‘performance’ was lower when they immediately prior had experienced the invisible body illusion compared to when they experienced having a physical body,” says Arvid Guterstam. “These results are interesting because they show that the perceived physical quality of the body can change the way our brain processes social cues.”

If you’d like a look at the report, go here.

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Droning on and on

We were talking drones at lunchtime, and I vouchsafed some conventional wisdom about Amazon delivering stuff via drone. “Not a good idea,” came the reply. “Some people will see them and shoot them down.”

And not only people object to the little flying doomaflatchies:

Said the drone operator:

Do not fly drones near birds of prey, they clearly attack seeing you as a threat or the right sized dinner. This will cost you money and potentially harm to the bird. This one was fine … the drone needed some attention before it could fly again.

More successful photos by the operator here.)

(The Friar caught this before I did.)

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Nothing of glass, probably

Our New Jersey friend Cripes Suzette spotted this while visiting Orange County, California:

Cinderella of Boston

Of course, I had to follow up:

For over 70 years we have been the leader in women’s petite fashion footwear. Sizes range from 2 to 5½ Medium or Wide and are specially crafted for a woman’s foot. Regardless of your age or lifestyle, you will find styles to fit your fashion needs. Casual to sophisticated, low heel to high heel, Cinderella of Boston has a shoe to satisfy all your petite footwear needs.

Many years ago, I had a girlfriend who wore a 4, maybe 4½. I think she’d have liked some of these. (I saw her in flats maybe twice.)

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Bigger than big game

One thing I hadn’t noticed about the great outcry over the dentist who killed that lion in Zimbabwe: pretty much all of the outcryers were your white middle-class types. And perhaps there’s a reason for that:

What was done to Cecil was barbaric. I have not seen people show anywhere near the interest in the conditions suffered by millions of Zimbabwean people that they have in one Zimbabwean lion, though. My heart finds it difficult to process this.

Out of sight, out of mind? No. Worse than that:

There is a reason why the aforementioned view seems to exist so much more predominantly in Caucasian people — a deep-seated and resonant reason. And it is one that you simply cannot understand if you walk through this world with fair skin, because it has never applied to you.

Black people, from the moment they were first encountered in Africa until this very day in 2015, have been compared to animals.

This is not something that has happened occasionally. It is not a rarity. It is something that has happened for hundreds of years. Every attempt by black people to stand up for their rights, to raise their voices, to show basic human frustration at a system that was designed to ensure their subjugation, to simply live their lives — has been met with “They’re a bunch of animals!” This justification was used to whip slaves in 1815, and it is used to shoot blacks in 2015.

And furthermore, most of those bleeding-heart middle-class whites are women:

In our society there is no life considered more precious than that of a white woman or girl. That isn’t my opinion. That is fact. Black men were lynched for even looking at one for too long. If you want to know who is valued most, look at 99% of the persons who become the 24-hour news cycle when they go missing or fall victim to violent crime. A white female disappears and it becomes a natural story. Meanwhile, black and brown women and girls vanish year after year while devastated loved ones sit and watch their disappearances garner nary a fraction of the media attention.

Black girls are not peaches-and-cream. They’re not considered the everydaughter. They’re not the girl-next-door.

On my block, at least, they’re the girl across the street.

But I can see some of this. And in some of the bewailings over Cecil’s death, I picked up a vibe resonating with noblesse oblige: it is our duty, as the favored ones, to take a stand on behalf of the less favored. Rather a lot of American political activity operates on that same frequency — and several of its odd harmonics.

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Toss up some more word salad

This item came into the spam trap yesterday, and it came this close to making some sort of sense:

One of the nice things about Trash the Dress photography shoots is that most shoots are done outdoors, allowing the natural light to become another element in the photo shoot. Scientists believe that if nothing is done to stop global warming, by the year 2100 the earth’s temperature will increase by 3.

Tax Assistance by your leading governance in addition to the company-pilot provinces but cities bankruptcy responsibility. A bright scarf or jacket in a color that looks good on you can be worn with a white dress. That means having at least a jean jacket and a cotton one available. Full sleeves, narrow sleeves, sleeveless styles have come and gone and come again. In the study, the researchers had a number of women from two groups, the frequent high heel wearer and the women that typically steered clear of the dangerous footwear.

Later, more stuff of this sort came in, linking to the same 404ed Web site. If nothing else, this indicates that you can teach a bot only so much.

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Good reasons to really like her

Carly Rae Jepsen’s album E-MO-TION drops this Friday, though it’s more of a seepage than an actual drop: I’d bought “All That” and “I Really Like You” as singles, and the iTunes Store, in acknowledgment of my pre-order, has delivered five other tracks to me. Entertainment Weekly gives it an A-minus.

And speaking of EW, they sent someone to ply Jepsen with wine and ask her questions. I found these two amusing:

EW: Americans have some preconceived notions of Canadians. But what stereotypes do Canadians have about Americans?

CRJ: That’s a dangerous question. I don’t think you got me drunk enough for that one.

EW: Have you ever denied to someone that you’re Carly Rae Jepsen?

CRJ: I did it once at a Starbucks. The girl was checking me out too much, and I was in a mood. She said, “So, what’s your name?” I said, “Erica.” And she put Carly on the cup anyways.

I may have to hunt down her pre-“Call Me Maybe” folkie album, just because.

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