Archive for General Disinterest

Fresh spring scrutiny

I am billed for auto insurance every six months, and every six months I go over the bill with a jaundiced eye. This time I had to look at it twice, because it was exactly the same as last time, and I mean no changes.

Now one could argue that the price has actually gone up, since the amount collision coverage will pay has diminished over the years: this little sled is worth maybe 20 or 25 percent what it was a decade ago. Then again, depreciation isn’t linear: it’s a lot slower now than it was then. (One could also argue that based on that observation, I shouldn’t even carry collision coverage at all; I figure it’s a relatively small percentage of the total premium, and I’d rather get a ridiculously small check after a crash than nothing at all.)

And I’m still unnerved by how much of said premium goes to cover costs inflicted by uninsured motorists, about a quarter of the state’s drivers. (Hint: It’s quite a bit more than collision.)

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How it works

One of the Tour stops this year was the Fitness Center at American Energy Partners, a startlingly modern-looking place which seemed, to us anyway, a cut above the usual gymnasium. I struggled to get a good shot of a wall hanging containing the corporate motto, but camera limitations foiled me: the sign’s in the entrance hall, which isn’t particularly wide, and I could zoom out only so far. Trini to the rescue:

Hard Work Works Here

This also works in video form:

Not the most popular sentiment these days, I grant you, but still valid after all these years.

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The last unicorn?

Well, not as we know them. This isn’t an equine; if anything, the creature in this painting resembles a cross between a horse and a rhinoceros:

Elasmotherium sibiricum by Heinrich Harder

And it’s not as ancient as we thought, either:

For decades, scientists have estimated that the Siberian unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum) — a long-extinct species of mammal that looked more like a rhino than a horse — died out some 350,000 years ago, but a beautifully preserved skull found in Kazakhstan has completely overturned that assumption. Turns out, these incredible creatures were still around as recently as 29,000 years ago.

Not only were they incredible, they were incredibly big:

According to early descriptions, the Siberian unicorn stood at roughly 2 metres tall, was 4.5 metres long, and weighed about 4 tonnes. That’s closer to woolly mammoth-sized than horse-sized. Despite its very impressive stature, the unicorn probably was a grazer that ate mostly grass. So, if you want a correct image in your head, think of a fuzzy rhinoceros with one long, slender horn protruding from its face instead of a short, stubby one like today’s rhinos.

And if you saw something like this, you would not soon forget it — which may explain as well as anything else why stories of unicorns have persisted for so long.

(Via Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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And now, the news for spiders

This creature is not a spider. Once again, this creature is not a spider:

Scientists say a 305 million-year-old fossil is the closest relative to “true spiders” ever discovered — but is not itself a spider.

Easily pre-dating the dinosaurs, the 1.5cm creature lived alongside the oldest known ancestors of modern spiders but its lineage is now extinct.

The specimen was dug up decades ago in France but never identified, because its front half was encased in rock.

Now, researchers have made a detailed reconstruction using CT scans.

Their findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This fossil is the most closely related thing we have to a spider that isn’t a spider,” said first author Russell Garwood from the University of Manchester.

The non-spider, Idmonarachne brasieri, definitely has spider-like legs and jaws, but it is utterly lacking in spinnerets, so — no web.

Still, we’re talking very, very close:

“The earliest known spider is actually from the same fossil deposit — and it definitely has spinnerets. So what we’re actually looking at is an extinct lineage that split off the spider line some time before 305 million years ago, and those two have evolved in parallel.”

Except, you know, for that whole “dying out” thing.

(Via Fark.)

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Rocking world explained

This was all over Facebook yesterday:

Pooh, what makes the world go round? asked Piglet. Fat bottomed girls, replied Pooh

Sorry for the earworm.

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I swear, this stuff is everywhere

There’s a Facebook page called Dihydrogen Monoxide Awareness, and this has something like 12,000 shares already, including one from me. I figured I’d drop a copy of it here, because why not?

Anti-DHMO poster based on pH

They noted helpfully that “Hydrochloric acid only has a pH of 2!”

Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted and Thomas Martin Lowry were not available for comment.

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Too many quarks for Muster Mark

You say you were reading one of those science-y web sites today? You say there was all this talk about protons and neutrons stuck together for dear life while electrons go whizzing around them at a zillion miles per hour? You say they told you that you were mostly empty space but you still feel like you swallowed an anvil? You say they told you all about strong and weak forces and you just know the weak force is gonna win and the electrons are all going to fall apart and crash into one another and knock your hat in the creek? Is that what’s troubling you, cousin?

Well, forget that:

Scientists at the Borexino detector in Italy experimented to see if they could detect electron decay and predict how long it would take for one to actually break down. Turns out a single electron would take 66,000 “yotta-years” to break down. This comes out to 660,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, or five quintillion times the current age of the universe. In other words, we will probably never see even one electron break down anywhere in the universe for as long as beings exist to detect electrons and see if they are breaking down. So you may strike “death by unexpected subatomic decay” from your list of possible concerns, and Merry Christmas to you!

Phew. That’s a load off my mind.

(Particle Man was not available for comment. The opening paragraph, of course, was inspired by the late Eddie Lawrence; the title was adapted from a line in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.)

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Scrutinizing the inscrutable

Auto insurance for the next six months will be $7.90 pricier than auto insurance for the last six months, as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $3.30.
  • Liability (property): up $3.00.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: no change.
  • Collision: up $1.60.
  • Road service: no change.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Discounts in aggregate are up a buck-forty. Being the defensive person I am, I carry a hell of a lot of insurance, except on myself.

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No more Hassel

The Hoff he has been, and The Hoff he shall remain forevermore:

Actor David Hasselhoff has “dropped the Hassel” from his life, officially changing his name to David Hoff.

The Baywatch and Knight Rider star, whose nickname is The Hoff, made the announcement in a video uploaded to YouTube.

And why the hell not? I mean, it’s less dramatic a change than, say, that undergone by Jack Roy.

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More news for parrots

Apparently the birds don’t trust us anymore, at least in some parts of New York state:

I blame all the ne’er-do-wells who stand there cooing at the cage: “Can you talk? Can you talk?” Just once, I want to hear the bird snap back: “Yes, I can talk. Can you fly?”

“Rotterdam,” incidentally, represents a first-of-November curse: “My sister stole all my Halloween candy, and I hope it’ll Rotterdam teeth out.”

(Via Steve Lackmeyer.)

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This is not a manifesto

Robert Stacy McCain has already indicated that he intends to advise his six kids that they should never, ever write a manifesto.

And nobody’s manifesto ever needs to be longer than this:

My parents didn’t raise me to believe I was helpless, and certainly I would never want my children to believe their lives are a random accident. Our lives have meaning and purpose. The choices we make — our actions as individuals — have consequences for our own lives and for the lives of others. Having lived quite carelessly in my youth, I consider my rather miraculous survival must have served a purpose, if only to equip me to warn young people against careless living.

And this, essentially, is the bottom line:

Winners find a way to win, whatever the challenges may be.

Enduring hardship, overcoming obstacles, the survivor survives, and every day of survival is a victory unto itself. Today I have survived 56 years, and have already lived to see two grandsons born. My children are miracles, not accidents, and today when my daughter Reagan was leaving for school I told her, “Be excellent all day long.”

Don’t just be good. Be excellent. Excellence is expected.

Today is a very happy birthday. Hit the freaking tip jar.

With 62 coming up (next month!) and six grandchildren already out and about, I nod in agreement.

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For all your lunar events

Lynn’s thoughts on the Humongous Moon Thing from earlier this week:

I did watch the lunar eclipse Sunday night. Not quite the whole event though. Eclipses are both exciting and boring at the same time. They’re very slow. Our modern entertainments have conditioned us to expect things to happen quickly. But eclipses are exciting because … well, it’s hard to explain. It’s like I’m more aware of the reality of the solar system. We’ve all seen the diagrams and the models and it’s not that I ever doubted the reality; I didn’t, but when one object in space casts a shadow on another it really feels real. You know what I mean?

Yep. Textbooks, for all their wondrous detail — assuming they have wondrous detail — can only allow you to experience so much. At six or at sixty, your reaction is much the same, even if it’s not phrased this way: “Holy crap, it’s actually doing it!”

This, though, I’m not so sure about:

I was watching it alone and you really need to watch eclipses with someone else. They should be shared. While I was standing in my driveway looking at the moon I could hear the neighbors in their back yard talking and I was a little envious. I thought about how my mother would have enjoyed watching the eclipse and wished she was there. I also thought that people should have eclipse parties. Not us. We don’t really have any close friends, and family are all too far away to come to an event that late at night. But eclipse parties should definitely be a thing.

But aren’t they “slow?”

I do like the idea of shared experiences, but I’m way short on available sharers at the moment. Maybe things will pick up for the solar eclipse in August 2017.

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The real Central Scrutinizer

In my semiannual review of my auto-insurance bill, I have occasionally evoked Frank Zappa’s Central Scrutinizer, ubiquitous yet inaccessible, a decent metaphor for the industry as I’ve seen it.

And, if I may say so myself, a predictive one:

Got a letter from State Farm Insurance yesterday offering me a discount. All I have to do is give up any thought of ever having any privacy. Like I have any privacy in my current digital lifestyle. They call it in-drive, it plugs into the diagnostic port on your car, the same port that DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) uses to see if your car is still spewing the recommended daily allowance of carcinogens. I think I’ll pass. I have enough entangling alliances as it is, I don’t need any more.

State Farm is hardly the only firm offering such a scheme. Still, it seems awfully Zappa-esque:

This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER … it is my responsibility to enforce all the laws that haven’t been passed yet. It is also my responsibility to alert each and every one of you to the potential consequences of various ordinary everyday activities you might be performing which could eventually lead to The Death Penalty (or affect your parents’ credit rating). Our criminal institutions are full of little creeps like you who do wrong things.

We are so screwed.

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Porcine on the dotted line

Sy Montgomery writes in The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood:

I never met a pig I didn’t like. All pigs are intelligent, emotional, and sensitive souls. They all love company. They all crave contact and comfort. Pigs have a delightful sense of mischief; most of them seem to enjoy a good joke and appreciate music. And that is something you would certainly never suspect from your relationship with a pork chop.

And contrary to auto-journalist mythology, they do not understeer.

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Freshly scrutinized

The new auto-insurance policy has arrived, and it’s $24.20 pricier than the previous one, broken down as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $3.10.
  • Liability (property): up $16.20.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: up $3.30.
  • Collision: up $1.70.
  • Road service: up $0.90.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Not quite offsetting this is an extra buck worth of discounts. As before, uninsured-motorist coverage is the single largest expense on the bill, though property liability, which took a big jump, is coming close.

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A slightly flatter planet

The earthquake in Nepal last month evidently realigned some of the bumpier spots on the globe:

New satellite topography of the Himalayas mountain range has revealed that they sank by three feet as tectonic plates reacted to pressure.

The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A radar satellite snapped before-and-after images of the terrain hit by the earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people. The image … reveals how the Eurasian plate shifted, with the land falling in the places marked yellow, and rising in those coloured blue. In the Langtang range, it sank by as much as three feet, while Mount Everest, which was further away from the epicentre, is now one inch shorter.

One should not assume, however, that this realignment is at all permanent:

The Himalayas will eventually regain the height that they lost over a long period of time, as geological forces continue to influence them. The mountain range was formed as a result of the Indian and Eurasian plates pushing into each other, and the constant pressure at the fault line means the mountains are always growing.

Tim Wright, professor of satellite geodesy at the University of Leeds, explains further:

Between earthquake events, Nepal is being squashed and the part (including Kathmandu) nearest the big fault underneath it is being dragged down by the Indian plate, and [areas] further back are being lifted up as you imagine squashing something is going to push things up.

Now, during the earthquake itself what happens is the opposite. The part that was dragged down because it was stuck at the fault — that slips freely and rebounds up, and the part that was being squashed upwards drops down.

Similar events occur in other seismically active regions, such as California and, um, Oklahoma, though Soonerland has yet to experience a quake above magnitude six: the April quake in Nepal was estimated at 7.8, with an aftershock last week at 7.4.

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They grow even louder

There exists a band called Eels, which has cut some nifty tracks in its day — I remember the Beautiful Freak album, nearly 20 years ago — but I never really warmed to them because of their name, which is reminiscent of a creature I will never really warm to:

Personally, I can’t think of a sea creature more horrific than the eel. It has all the negative qualities of a fish (might touch you while swimming, incapable of feeling love), plus all the negative qualities of a snake (has no limbs at all yet somehow manages to move around) — plus, in some cases, all the negative qualities of a poorly-grounded home appliance. In fact, if I were choosing something to encounter in open water, I’d rank only one fish lower than an eel: an eel that’s been marinating in cocaine. Unfortunately for me, a team of Italian scientists has been exposing European eels to low doses of cocaine to monitor the effect of the drug.

I’m hearing shrieks, and not just from the eels, either:

As it turns out, giving cocaine to eels is a bad idea for reasons beyond my phobias. Aside from the coke-exposed eels appearing “hyperactive compared to the other groups,” cocaine exposure thickened the eels’ skin and intestinal linings, reduced the amount of mucus in their skin, and increased their production of hormones like prolactin and cortisol — chemicals important for eels’ endocrine functioning…

Messing with an eel’s skin is serious stuff. Cocaine’s effects could hamper the eel’s ability to protect itself against disease and injury, recognize sexual partners, or secrete alarm pheromones.

So: not at all novocaine for the soul. Still, where’s a non-self-respecting eel supposed to find cocaine?

A 2014 study, also by Italian researchers, found 13 nanograms of cocaine per liter of water in Italy’s Sarno River, meaning that almost 15 grams of cocaine flow through the river every day.

I think I’d better leave it at that.

(Via Eric Siegmund.)

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With bluebonnets on it

You may wish to grow Lupinus texensis, the Texas bluebonnet, yourself. You may even be in Texas. But you will probably not succeed:

You want a yard full of them? Good luck with that.

You see, bluebonnets prefer well-drained places that are untouched, unmowed, un-stepped-on, un-anything. Texans want to grow them in their yards, and they are consistently foiled in this endeavor. These rascally little plants want to bloom in places nobody messes with.

And I’ll just ‘fess up right here — my mother is the only human on this earth who has successfully gotten bluebonnets to grow in her yard — at least, the only human I know personally.

But it was only in flowerbeds that she LEFT ALONE.

Bluebonnets do not like to be messed with. EVER.

And you can’t get a whole lot more Texan than that, right?

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Big enough for two lodges

Will Truman, discussing the One Pharmacy problem — what if you have to go way out of town to get your prescription filled because the local pharmacist refuses on moral grounds? — makes a side reference that triggered something in the back of my head:

The population of Twin Peaks was originally only supposed to be 5,120. However, there was a backlash against rural-themed shows at the time, as networks were fearful that the burgeoning urban and suburban population of America would not be able to sympathize with shows set in small farming or industrial towns, so ABC requested that the sign read 51,201. In a Visitor’s Guide to Twin Peaks tie-in book authorized by creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, a note tells readers that the population was indeed 5,120, but that the sign had a “typo.”

Certainly Twin Peaks seemed a whole lot smaller than Eerie, Indiana (population 16,661).

And then something else hit me: Haven’t I brought up something like this before? Of course I have. Twice, even.

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There’s always one

If you look hard enough, you can find fans of just about anything, including, in this specific case, Daylight Saving Time:

Since I am an extreme evening person, getting much of my work done after most of the English-speaking world has gone to bed, I’m a big fan of Daylight Savings Time because spring and summer afternoons allow me to get out and enjoy the sunlight.

My ideal day would be Alaska in early July. My wife and I made a driving/camping tour of Alaska in early July 1988 and the length of the day fit our schedules well. About 10pm we’d be tooling along, and it would occur to us that we ought to look for a campground in order to pull over pretty soon to cook dinner and set up the tent before it got dark and the grizzlies came out.

Alaska in July is also good for golfing. I teed off at the Elmendorf AFB course at 6:20 pm on a cloudy day. The sun finally came out and provided us a glorious sunset as we were coming up the 18th fairway around 11pm. (Sunset in Anchorage on the 4th of July is at 11:35 p.m.)

I’m guessing this would probably not work so well in Ecuador.

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Try the impossible

A tidbit of semi-wisdom from six years ago:

The mere fact that you’ve worn the same wristwatch for a quarter of a century does not mean that you know what size battery it takes.

361.

Yesterday, I faced down one of life’s minor unpleasant tasks: replacing that battery. It’s not that the process is difficult — pry off the back, drop in the new button, replace the back — but it’s a pain in the neck, or in the finger anyway, to reset all those little digits. Still, the LCDs had grown dim, so I fetched my one remaining spare, pried off the back, dropped in the new button, and replaced the back.

And the time was within 18 seconds of correct. Evidently I managed to swap the batteries under the mechanism’s little electronic nose before it realized that there’d been an interruption in the current.

I don’t recall this ever happening before, and, as noted, I’ve owned this watch for over thirty years.

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Welcome to Batman

Street scene in Batman, Turkey

This is beautiful downtown Batman, Turkey, population 350,000, so named for its location on the Batman River, a major tributary of the fabled Tigris. It’s an oil town: the Batı Raman oil field, Turkey’s largest, is located just outside of city limits, and there’s a pipeline to the Mediterranean. In 1986 carbon-dioxide injection was introduced, later supplemented by polymer gel flooding, maintaining Batı Raman’s production level at around 7,000 barrels a day through 2007 or so.

There is some dispute as to the origin of the name “Batman,” which may be derived from an old Ottoman Empire unit of weight (approximately 16.5 lb), or from the Batı Raman — not the oil field, but a nearby mountain, height 1200 meters.

In 2008, Batman mayor Huseyin Kalkan made noises to the effect that he was suing Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan over The Dark Knight: trademark infringement, doncha know. Nothing came of the suit; presumably someone showed Mr Kalkan a copy of Detective Comics.

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We got scrutiny

The twice-yearly examination of the auto-insurance bill discloses a premium increase of $4.50, broken down as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $1.60.
  • Liability (property): up $1.30.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: no change.
  • Collision: up $1.60.
  • Road service: no change.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Total discounts were up a buck.

Once again, the single largest item on the bill is the uninsured-motorist coverage, which approximately 75 percent of drivers in this state carry. (The other 25 percent don’t carry any coverage at all.)

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If I may horn in for a moment

Miss Swift’s experience as a unicorn being somewhat limited, I must point out that it really depends on what you’re used to and what shape your head is in:

DJ Pon3 wearing a headset: I'm all about that bass cannon

(Original by ezoisum.)

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44 down, six to go

This is a little gizmo to create a map of the states in which you’ve spent time, color-coded by the nature of that time:

  • red for states where you’ve not spent much time or seen very much.
  • amber for states where you’ve at least slept and seen some sights.
  • blue for states you’ve spent a lot of time in or seen a fair amount of.
  • green for states you’ve spent a great deal of time in on multiple visits.

Some of these criteria are highly subjective; however, I did the best I could, reserving green only for the states where I had something resembling a legal residence or a very long stay.

Places I have been

For the record: “Alaska and Hawaii are only included in the produced map if you give them a color.” Which I didn’t.

Update: Clarified, or obfuscated, the green stuff.

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Why the long face?

John Cleese does the Proust Questionnaire in the November Vanity Fair, and this is the question that (briefly) made my eyes roll:

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Dolichocephaly.

And I thought I was picky. Then again, there’s this:

On what occasion do you lie?

Most.

Now I feel better.

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A day never to remember

Mondays have a tendency to suck anyway, but this one was decidedly worse than usual, and far beyond my capacity to cope.

It started about an hour before sunrise, when I got approximately a quarter of a conversation emailed to me. What I needed to know, of course, was the other three-quarters, which was not forthcoming; I wound up going to a third party to get the scoop. Now I expect bad communication at this level, but usually not this bad.

First order of business when I got home was to replace a failed CFL in the garage. (It was one of my original six, so I am not even complaining about the lifespan.) I replaced it with an LED bulb I had sitting on the shelf, hung up the stepladder, brought the car into the garage, and pressed the little doohickey on the remote to close the door.

It wouldn’t. Nor would it work any of its other functions. I sought technical support: what used to take 45-60 seconds now requires 24 hours.

Oh, and while I was on the phone, I lost my Net connection, approximately the same way it dropped a dozen times last night. It took Cox 24 hours to respond to a pained tweet. Since I had to reset both modem and router, I’m guessing the problem could be in either, or in neither. Black bile just pours out of me at such moments.

And damn, but it seemed warm at dinnertime. The A/C — and why is it still on in farging October? — didn’t seem to help. This, at least, was fixable by a counterclockwise twist to the old Honeywell Eye. Still, they’re promising us 92°F tomorrow, a couple of degrees short of the record but ridiculously warm just the same.

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Legends of Slobbovia

Not the classic postal game, but the mythical land of disorder and clutter:

I’ve decided I just have to accept the fact that I am a SLOB and own that. I’m a slob about my office; I get written up by Safety for having too many papers stacked up on my desk. I’m a slob about my yard; I can’t keep the flower beds weeded. And my house is a mess now too. And my hair is usually a mess and my makeup is never quite right and my shirts come untucked and and and. So I’m a quadruple slob and I feel like I fail at being an adult. Fat loser messy slob who probably should be sent to re-education to try to learn how not to be such a slob. Really, what it would take is giving up all my hobbies and staying over an extra hour per day in my office to sort and file, and taking an hour at home to clean or do yardwork. And devoting my entire weekends to cleaning and yardwork. I think the hair is a lost cause short of having a regular hairdresser.)

This self-criticism ignores one of the basic facts of life: people who routinely complain about one’s lack of neatness inevitably prove to be anal all the way to the peritoneum, and maybe beyond. These are not people you are bound to respect; the fact that they have been installed in the seats of power means nothing more than that the contemporary power structure, with its emphasis on collective “responsibility” at individual expense, needs to be burned to the ground and the ground subsequently covered with sodium chloride. But we already know that, right?

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If only I knew

Usually I can snap off an answer to these Yahoo! questioners in nothing flat. This one left me baffled:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: What is Twilight Sparkle's cell phone number?

I mean, I figure she’d have enough trouble with a landline.

But no, there’s a reason for this:

you know how you can call a phone number and it will be an automated message? I wanted to call the number for my little sister cause she loves My Little Pony, its not half bad actually, so if anyone knows anything, please answer, thanks in advanced.

This I hadn’t heard. And all this time I’d believed her policy was “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

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New morning at Dawn

Dawn Eden and I go back many years, and by “many years” I mean a duration long enough for us to have gotten out of touch for several, somewhere in the midst of it. I can tell you, based on personal experience, that she’s an inveterate punster and a wonderful dinner companion. But for the rest of what she’s been up to, you’re going to have to read this piece at GetReligion, which explains not only how she got it but what she did with it.

And this, she says, is the bottom line:

[H]aving put in years in New York City newsrooms, not to mention decades as a rock music historian, I know the value of a free press, and I want to see mainstream journalists produce accurate, fair, balanced reporting on faith issues. That’s why I am here at GetReligion.

Her blog continues at The Dawn Patrol.

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