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February 2001


 

Thursday, 1 February 2001, 7:15 pm

Once in a blue moon, that old reprobate Trent Lott actually makes a good call, and by gum, they did vote on John Ashcroft today, just as he predicted, and while 58-42 doesn't sound like much of a win, it counts the same as a hundred to zip. Now that everybody's campaign issues for 2002 are on the table and on the record, maybe the Congress can get around to some actual work.

Parts of this site are undergoing a redesign — that is, if you believe that it had a design to begin with.

Friday, 2 February 2001, 6:10 pm

With apologies to Jerry, Mike and the King:

You ain't nothin' but a groundhog
Sleepin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a groundhog
Sleepin' all the time
Well, you ain't never seen your shadow
And you ain't no friend of mine

Take that, Phil, ya little weasel.

Saturday, 3 February 2001, 2:00 pm

If you're not the sort of person who goes to hardware stores on a regular basis, you probably figure that all they do is, um, sell hardware. Not so. You don't have to be Tim Allen to realize that what you're being sold is a New You, a You that can look at the rows of construction and plumbing arcana and think, "Well, damn, I can do that." And while this particular appeal might seem primarily directed toward the male of the species, women can do that too.

Computers, on the other hand, can't. Once again, I heard from Ford Credit, with a new and improved total of interest paid in calendar-year 2000: not three bucks, not forty thousand bucks, but a nice, comfortable $304.54. Is the third time the charm? And does GMAC muck up this much?

Sunday, 4 February 2001, 4:30 pm

I tossed the magazine onto the table, and it landed face down, which meant that when I finally came to get it, the first thing I saw was the back-cover advertisement. And I stared at it for a long, long time, not quite believing what I was seeing.

A stretch of two-lane deep in the woods. Your basic Catholic schoolgirl — white blouse, plaid skirt floating just above the knee, white socks rolled down — in front of some overheating Seventies automotive relic, perhaps a Ford Maverick in one of those cheesy colors like "Disembowel Mint". On the ground, a basket of goodies; on her head, a red hood. And pulling alongside the damsel in distress, demonstrating the effectiveness of vented front disc brakes and available ABS, a shiny new Toyota Celica, driven by — yep, you guessed it.

There is, however, no truth to the rumor that Hansel and Gretel have signed to do a homeowner's-insurance spot for Allstate, and somehow I don't expect Snow White to do any ads for Apple.

Monday, 5 February 2001, 6:40 pm

The featured pictorial in this month's Playboy is one Kylie Bax, about whom I know next to nothing — a situation turning up more frequently as I get older and farther out of the loop.

I am slightly more up to date on Arnold Bax, who wrote some truly gorgeous music — his symphonic poems Tintagel and The Garden of Fand are among my favorites — but I rather doubt Sir Arnold, who died in 1953, would have been asked to appear in such a, um, layout.

And a tip of the ol' rug to TV Guide sports analyst Phil Mushnick, for this definitive definition of "edgy" programming:

"Edgy programming is generally the kind that TV executives desperately want your kids to watch, but not theirs."

Tuesday, 6 February 2001, 7:00 pm

File this under mirabile dictu.

It was easy to shrug last year when William Clay Ford proclaimed that the family company's mainstay products were hulking, gas-guzzling, and otherwise non-eco-friendly beasts; after all, while Mr Ford did send his regrets, the corporation didn't suddenly abandon SUV and truck production. (Nor should they have; so long as there is a huge demand, they'd be crazy to blow off the supply side.)

Now comes another blue-oval story. Mazda, Ford's Japanese outpost, announced that as partial atonement for reducing their workforce by eight percent, their board of directors would take a ten-percent pay cut. Not an enormous amount of money, really — unlike their American counterparts, Japanese executives are seldom awash in stock options and other gimmicks masquerading as incentives — but what are the chances that your bosses would do such a thing?

Wednesday, 7 February 2001, 7:00 pm

Stiff winds from the south have brought us uncharacteristically warm temperatures the last couple of days, and swept up a bunch of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico in the process. Not that I object to rain, particularly — this is a relatively dry time of year — but the tail end of the approaching storm will run into some unwanted air mass from the Great White North, with the usual undesirable results. Considering we're already twenty percent over our snow quota for the season and it's not even Valentine's Day yet, I see no reason to be thrilled with this development.

Some nitwit showed up at the White House fence today with a handgun, and was duly taken out by the Secret Service. At first I thought it might be a disaffected Democrat suffering from We Wuz Robbed Syndrome, but then how many Democrats are willing to be seen with firearms in public?

Thursday, 8 February 2001, 7:20 pm

With dot-coms downloading into toilet.org at high speed, what's the small investor to do? According to the estimable Senator Daschle, there's about to be a huge demand for Lexus mufflers.

"Nothing matters very much, and very few things matter at all." I mention this in case some of my coworkers look up from their spates of hyperventilation to do some reading.

Friday, 9 February 2001, 7:00 pm

Do not assume that just because I had kind words for Dubya's tax plan, I'm on the verge of a conversion to GOP-dom. It ain't gonna happen. While I'm happy, or at least not awfully displeased, to endorse Republican notions that actually get the government's claws out of my back, or its hands out of my pocket, I am inherently suspicious of plans that emanate from the authoritarian wing of the party, and since W. owes them big time — sticking by John Ashcroft, while praiseworthy enough in a stand-by-your-man sort of way, is nowhere nearly enough to buy off the refried Jesus wheezers in the GOP — I expect to see all manner of "faith-based" frauds perpetrated upon the populace in the next few years.

Speaking of delusions, somebody seems to be selling "Re-Elect Gore in 2004" bumper stickers. Now that's scarier than anything stuffed into Gary Bauer's job jar.

Saturday, 10 February 2001, 4:50 pm

There is no way, I am convinced, to be successful in direct marketing unless you have a deep, abiding, and utterly unshakable contempt for your potential customers. The moment you start worrying about real people with real needs, you're out of business, and it's time to take up a profession with greater dignity — say, valet parking at a brothel.

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

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

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

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

For I, too, understand contempt, and I'm not alone.

Sunday, 11 February 2001, 6:25 pm

I spent way too many minutes today listening to something radio programmers call "dance top 40", and if the essence of popular music is short shelf life, this stuff has it in spades: most of these songs seemed spoiled before they ended. Then again, I'm old enough to remember when hip-hop was both original and interesting; I can't imagine the audience for this stuff being old enough to remember that we used to have a different President Bush. And the level of sexual innuendo that runs through much of it is just about perfect for third-graders.

Ten steps to the parking lot, and there was a '93 Mazda 626. Green. No, it wasn't Molly — this one had stock wheels, a V6, and a couple fewer indentations from hail — but the sight was startling enough.

Monday, 12 February 2001, 5:15 pm

As Karen Carpenter used to say, "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." The combination of the two is probably four times as bad.

And just in case you missed it: In the wake of the Napster decision, the government has filed suit against the New Jersey Concrete Manufacturers Association, claiming the organization is designed primarily to facilitate the production of overshoes for Mob informants.

Tuesday, 13 February 2001, 5:40 pm

Many things annoy me, but few annoy me quite so much as Certified Mail. In the first place, I work for a living; I can't spend the day hanging around the house on the off-chance that the postman might have something for which I'm supposed to sign. So he leaves his little note, and somehow I have to find time in the middle of my workday — you can be absolutely certain they aren't going to stay open late on my behalf, and the schmucks who send the damned stuff do their best to make sure they send it during periods when I don't have any time to spare — to trudge down to the Post Office, stand in line for twenty minutes, and then sign off on some piece of flotsam that probably could have been handled just as well in e-mail.

I mean, Christ, it's not like anyone on earth is going to send me a freaking valentine or anything. Do I look like some kind of rube?

Wednesday, 14 February 2001, 6:15 pm

It started out warm and drippy, ended cold and full of bluster, and in between, there were lawyers. A marriage, or just another Valentine's Day?

Speaking of which...but never mind. I feel bad enough.

Thursday, 15 February 2001, 4:40 pm

Scarcely a week goes by without one of our clients complaining about something or other. On the other hand, the number of them who have actually defected to the competition can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Personally, whether they leave or not, I'm happy to give them a finger.

This being February, I am making it a point to stay even farther away from local TV news than usual — ratings sweeps virtually guarantee that nothing actually useful will be broadcast. Even the weather guys, whose track record is nowhere nearly as abominable as the news dweebs, aren't coming up with any keepers. Then again, Oklahoma weather defies prediction, and sometimes defies description. For all I know, it may even defy deities. (And if a deity bestowed upon us this last batch of freezing rain, it just goes to show that Lord Acton was right about the corrupting influence of power.)

Friday, 16 February 2001, 7:50 pm

"Against stupidity," wrote Schiller, "the gods themselves contend in vain." Of course, Schiller left this world in 1805; had he been able to hang around, he likely would have noticed that in my line of work, and no doubt plenty of others, the gods don't even bother to contend anymore — occasionally, they even defect to the other side.

The sun finally showed up today, after a week's absence. Not that I noticed, mind you; I was busy trying to slide my way down a mountain of evidence for the previous paragraph. Guess where it hurts.

Saturday, 17 February 2001, 2:05 pm

I feel better now. A little. Unfortunately, I still have to face the daunting task of dispatching a total of $265 to the Eternal Revenue Service and its state counterpart. I'm pretty sure I figured it correctly, even though obviously I'm a total idiot for doing it myself, but mere accuracy doesn't assuage the pain of having to write a check. Or, more precisely, two checks.

An odd question hit me this morning: "Should I get my hair cut before or after I go to the comic-book shop?" The reasoning behind this has to be something along the lines of "How dorky do I wish to appear?" Since I resemble Springfield's Comic Book Guy far more than does the proprietor of this particular shop, this is obviously no small matter.

Sunday, 18 February 2001, 11:50 am

To hear Zeldman tell it, there are people out there who actually resist the idea of browser upgrades. Now I'm a firm believer in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but these things didn't work to begin with. From the standpoint of code-crunching, Netscape Navigator 4.x is the single biggest thorn in my side, and while its use is definitely on the decline, roughly 15 to 20 percent of traffic to this site is still surfing with Old Mozilla, which is about twenty or thirty people a day.

But the fact is, except in limited instances, backwards-compatibility stinks. Even crummy Wintel boxes would be performing excellently were it not for the fact that they might be called upon to dredge up some old fossil like WordPerfect 5.1. (Disclosure: I still have a copy of same.) I'd like to get better at this, but it's never going to happen so long as I have to write six or seven versions of everything just to make sure it looks "correct" in your grandmother's 2.0 browser. And if you have no sympathy for me — and why should you? — consider how much extra you're going to have to pay a designer to throw in all the workarounds and fudge factors to make one simple page (mostly) work for (mostly) everyone. If you don't have (and can't afford) the hardware to support the new stuff, that's one thing. If you do, you're out of excuses.

Monday, 19 February 2001, 7:00 pm

Few expect President Bush to achieve astonishing levels of rhetorical eloquence, but today at the Oklahoma City Memorial, he didn't have to. There are times when simplicity is exactly what you need, and this was one of them.

As for the late Dale Earnhardt, well, as Henry Cabot Henhouse III was wont to say, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it." If it weren't dangerous, it wouldn't be NASCAR, and it wouldn't be half as interesting. The usual covey of professional hand-wringers, even now, is trying to come up with some way to create the appearance of reducing the risk. Had he survived, I bet Dale, bless his ornery old soul, would have told them to go to hell.

Tuesday, 20 February 2001, 7:20 pm

The rule of thumb when driving in fog is "Don't overdrive your lights" — in other words, keep the speed down far enough so you can stop within the limits of visibility. Based on this rule, the correct speed this morning was about 0.2 mph; the atmosphere was thick enough to ladle over fettuccine. Contributing in some small way to the discomfort, and parked way too close to my bedroom window to boot, was a ghastly Oldsmobile Gutless Extreme from the disco era, complete with two-tone Sears Weatherbeater paint job and imitation fake fur upholstery — real fake fur obviously would not do — left idling for an hour or so, spewing a mixture of unburned hydrocarbons and melting dashboard plastic into the horrid airborne stew.

Once I was breathing again, I remembered that Sandy's first service was due, so I wheeled her into the shop, walked across the street, and picked up the key to a 2001 Ford Taurus with a beyond-charcoal-grey interior so utterly devoid of lightness I half expected Chopin's Funeral March to have been left in the CD player. This particular specimen of blue-oval blandness bore the cryptic designation "SES", which presumably means something like "Somehow Evokes Sterility". The car corners decently enough, but the steering has an eerie dead spot right in the middle, and the tired old Vulcan V6 isn't capable of commanding the transmission to do its bidding — a two-gear downshift requires 24-hour notice. And this boring oldfartmobile outsells the entire Mazda line? Now I am depressed.

Wednesday, 21 February 2001, 6:15 pm

Score me one notch below Blanche DuBois. While she has always depended upon the kindness of strangers, my livelihood apparently is dependent upon their density, and I don't mean how closely they're packed in, either. This would be dispiriting, had I any spirit.

After 402 issues, Mad magazine has bowed to the inevitable and begun accepting advertising. Then again, being Mad, they had to do it differently: instead of 48 pages and no ads, it's 56 pages with 8 pages of ads. No real decrease in editorial content at all, although I will miss the parodies that used to decorate the back page. And maybe, with this new revenue stream, or rivulet, or whatever, they'll be able to hold the cover price at $2.95 (cheap!).

Thursday, 22 February 2001, 6:40 pm

Once the British — and their colonists — finally bit the bullet and adopted Gregory XIII's calendar revisions, George Washington began celebrating this date as his birthday. Parson Weems probably made up that yarn about "I cannot tell a lie", but even had it been true, it obviously didn't set much of a precedent for Presidents. Dubya seems to have more of a grasp on the concept than his predecessor, but how hard is that? So did Tommy Flanagan, who was married to Morgan Fairchild, with whom he had slept. Yeah. That's the ticket.

Friday, 23 February 2001, 7:25 pm

These days, Katrina and the Waves are breaking on different beaches, but their Eighties hit "Walking on Sunshine" does a pretty decent job of making the trudge to 42nd and Treadmill on a rainy, foggy, dismal morning like this almost sort of bearable.

On the other hand, I don't think even Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde is enough to deal with the turmoil once I get there.

Saturday, 24 February 2001, 3:45 pm

Do I look stupid? (Don't answer that.) Today I got a mailing from something called Central Publishers Services (no, not the guys with the vaunted Prize Patrol), containing a "Notice of Renewal/New Order" for my subscription to Car and Driver. For a mere two installments of $33.00 — plus a $10.00 processing and handling charge, which is disclosed only on the back of the form — I can have three whole years of the magazine. Given the $3.99 cover price, this might look like a heck of a deal at $76.00: buying 36 issues at the newsstand would cost a stiff $143.64, and this is, the form says up front, "one of the lowest available rates we can offer."

As it happens, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, the publisher of C/D, is happy to publish its subscription rate in every issue. One year costs $21.94. Three years at full rate — no discount whatsoever — comes to $65.82. Taking advantage of Central Publishers Services' "service", therefore, is the equivalent of flushing a minimum of ten bucks and change down the toilet. I suppose it could be worse: at least they're not sending poor deluded college students to sell this sort of scheme door to door.

Sunday, 25 February 2001, 3:35 pm

There are plenty of people out there who really, really hate cars, and admittedly, in some places on earth — Manhattan and Venice come to mind — one can do without cars with comparative ease. Where I live, though, it's about as plausible as your average Clinton denial; there will be routine visitations by holy Zarquon's singing fish before anyone talks me out of my car.

Monday, 26 February 2001, 7:10 pm

Maybe they're running out of ideas, maybe I'm just getting older, maybe my vision is deteriorating faster than I thought, or maybe I've just given up hope, but for the first time in a couple of decades, I found myself wondering why I'd bothered to spend the bucks (six of them) for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Whether this is scary or merely annoying remains to be seen.

Speaking of deteriorating, the Forces of Nature who gave us sunny and 65 on a Monday are about to drown us (when they aren't freezing us, and sometimes when they are) for the rest of the week. My office is already flooded, a result of an unfortunate combination of heavy Friday-night rains and bad drainage. As always, things go from bad to worse, and then the cycle repeats.

Tuesday, 27 February 2001, 6:05 pm

This is the time of year when I tend to say unkind things about organized religion, and inevitably someone wants to know why. Two words: freezing drizzle. Any ostensibly-divine plan that countenances that horrible stuff is a plan I refuse, as a matter of conscience, to endorse.

Wednesday, 28 February 2001, 5:20 pm

Generally, the end of February around this desk is marked by crappy weather (we certainly have that), incredible overwork (ditto), and a sense of foreboding doom. Amid all this dreariness, my erstwhile synthetic doppelgänger, Jessica Stults-Ashton, celebrates her forty-eighth birthday today, which, for an imaginary playmate, is awful damned old. Then again, she doesn't look it.

Oh, you wanted something good about February? How about "Seventy-five percent of the time it's over and gone in a mere four weeks"? Hail to thee, great Caesars, for truncating this tedious little month; thirty (or, worse, thirty-one) days of February would be more than anyone should have to endure.

 


 | Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill

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