Archive for The Way We Were

He was

Now that I think about it, it was definitely scary for Greg Lake to come up with these lines:

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he lay down and he died

Especially, you know, when he was twelve.

I doff my hat to Keith Emerson, unfortunately not saved at the tender age of seventy-one.

Addendum: Emerson’s death has been ruled a suicide.

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Free to fade away

No visuals here, just the cover art. This is track two from Jimmy Webb’s El Mirage album, turned loose on the world in 1977. Just in case someone asks “What’s your favorite George Martin production, other than Beatles material?” — and someone will — this is it. (It’s also his arrangement.)

George Martin in the studio meme: did more with 4 tracks than most do with Pro Tools

(Meme swiped from Tape Op Magazine.)

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Way back in 286

In 1988, Dell had only just retired the PC’s Limited name, and this was a bid they put in on a complete 80286-based system:

Seven hundred American dollars for a 40-meg hard drive! Then again, this was quite a deal, considering what was on offer not that long before.

Now, which was worse? Windows 2.0, or MS-DOS 4? (I suspect the answer is Yes.)

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Keep your head to the sky

And yet another of the greats ascends to the next level:

Maurice White, the founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire, has died at home in Los Angeles, said his brother Verdine White. He was 74.

A former session drummer, White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in the late 1960s. The group went on to sell more than 90 million albums worldwide, displaying a flashy and eclectic musical style that incorporated his influences from growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, and working at the influential Chicago music labels Chess and Okeh.

EWF was practically everywhere in the 1970s: you couldn’t avoid them if you wanted to, and why in the world would you have wanted to? I got tuned in circa 1973, with the Head to the Sky album, which still delights me today.

But White went back farther than that. From his days as a studio musician, we have here the supersized version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as trilled by the late Billy Stewart, and on the kit off to the right, Maurice White playing like the greatest drummer ever to work out of Chicago.

Head to the Sky led off with a lovely little number called “Evil,” which was in fact a reworking of “Bad Tune,” off EWF’s very first (and eponymous!) album in 1971, the sort of thing that might make you think that this was where Sly might have gone if he could have kept his head together.

Said Verdine of his brother:

“While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”

Amen to that.

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8080 in ’80

Back in the day, few of us could aspire to these heady heights of technology, but oh, how we dreamed:

Advertisement for IMSAI Computer System

Information Management Sciences Associates, Incorporated, founded in 1973, sort of still exists today: Fischer-Freitas, which was actually set up by two former employees to acquire IMSAI after its 1979 bankruptcy, continues to provide parts and support for these Ur-machines.

(“Optional 16-bit”? 8085, maybe?)

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Facing the no longer strange

From almost fifty years ago, or so it seems, David Bowie responds to his first American fan letter:

From just yesterday, or so it seems, David Bowie responds to the world at large:

Rest well, Starman. You have earned your place in history.


From some other time

There were two great eras of rock and roll pseudonyms. The later one was sustained mostly by punk bands, and featured names like Johnny Rotten and Rat Scabies and Poly Styrene and a whole handful of Ramones. The earlier one probably ended with Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, but it featured names like Bobby Day and Bo Diddley and Del Shannon and Frankie Ford and, perhaps the most influential, not so much in music but in sheer nomenclature, was the late Troy Shondell, born Gary Wayne Schelton in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Shondell would have only one big hit, but it was a monster:

Sourced from Shondell’s official YouTube channel, this is (mostly) the original 1961 version, cut for infinitesimal Gaye Records, then issued on Goldcrest, a regional label distributed by Liberty; when it started gaining traction, Liberty reissued it themselves and watched it spend four months on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #6. I say “mostly” because the guitar solo in the middle was clumsily overdubbed long after the fact; the record as released had a piano break and nothing more.

Shondell’s last release for Liberty was “Na-Ne-No,” a Lloyd Price cover produced by Phil Spector, no less; after it went nowhere, he decamped for Nashville, where he cut a few sides for the TRX label, of which only “Let’s Go All the Way” managed to Bubble Under the Hot 100. The money, Shondell decided, was better on the publishing side, though he’d occasionally cut a side for the hell of it. The last one I know of, from 1981, was a cover of John Sebastian’s “Lovin’ You”.

In late 1964, a band from Illinois took the name The Shon-Dels, and self-released one single before changing their name to the Ides of March. An entirely different group of Shondels assembled in Winnipeg about the same time. But neither would be quite as successful as Tommy James’ Shondells from Michigan, originally the Tornadoes (not to be confused with Joe Meek’s British instrumental group), who would not be a factor on the charts until “Hanky Panky” in 1965, by which time they’d broken up. (James went on tour to support the record, and hired a bar band to be the new Shondells.)

As for Troy Shondell himself, he toured in 2001 in a show called “The Masters of Rock and Roll,” featuring some other wonderfully named guys like Ronnie Dove and Jimmy Clanton. He died last week of complications from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, two names that aren’t so wonderful.


Of hippos and homunculi

This song is as old as I am, but it (unlike me) never actually gets old:

She got one, too: a baby hippo named Matilda, who after the presentation went to live in the Oklahoma City Zoo, and made it to the ripe old age of 48; moving Matilda and her younger beau to Walt Disney World in Florida was apparently more than the old(ish) girl could take.

In 1960, Gayla Peevey, under the name “Jamie Horton,” cut this little ditty for a small New York label:

I don’t think she got one of those. (Peevey graduated from San Diego State, taught for several years, then ran an ad agency. She’s still around at 72.)


Twenty-five and counting

Today, it appears, is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web:

If the web were a person, it wouldn’t have trouble renting a car from now on: the world’s first website, Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, went online 25 years ago today. The inaugural page wasn’t truly public when it went live at CERN on December 20th, 1990 (that wouldn’t happen until August 1991), and it wasn’t much more than an explanation of how the hypertext-based project worked. However, it’s safe to say that this plain page laid the groundwork for much of the internet as you know it — even now, you probably know one or two people who still think the web is the internet.

More than one or two. I blame Microsoft, which used to call its Web browser “Internet Explorer.”

It still stuns me a little to think that I’ve had an outpost on the Web for most of its existence. But it’s true: this little site went live on the 9th of April 1996, and has had some form of update every single day since the summer of 2000. Eventually, I suppose, the world will move on to something else. Then again, so must I, and so must we all.


Perhaps on a warmer day

When I was a bicycle-riding fool in the late 1960s, the British-made Raleigh bikes were considered at least as prestigious as the Schwinns I favored. I do not, however, remember any Schwinn advertising like this:

Raleigh Bicycle advertisement from a Greek magazine

You couldn’t run an ad like this today, anyway. For one thing, the young lady isn’t wearing a helmet.

(Via Other Whimsey.)

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Half nuts

Hitler, said the song, “has only got one ball,” and it was assumed that shrapnel — not Henry Shrapnel himself, of course, as he died in 1842 — was responsible for der Führer’s condition. Apparently not:

A German historian claims he has proof that Adolf Hitler had just one testicle, lending credence to a World War II-era song that mocked the maniacal leader’s manhood.

Professor Peter Fleischmann of Erlangen-Nuremberg University said medical records show the tyrant’s right testicle was undescended, according to The Telegraph.

The documents, from a prison exam taken in 1923, after Hitler’s failed attempt to seize power, surfaced during a 2010 auction, but were confiscated by the Bavarian government, and have only now been properly reviewed.

The prison’s physician, Dr. Josef Steiner Brin, noted that “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was “healthy and strong” but suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism,” a condition when a testicle fails to properly descend.

No confirmation is yet available for the song’s assertion that Hermann Göring “has two, but very small.”

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Make that to go

Once upon a time, the time being spring 2006, I took on one of those “Tell us about yourself” memes, and every single answer was a Frank Sinatra record.

For the Chairman’s 100th birthday, I shuffled through the archives, both mine and YouTube’s, in search of a song that nobody else will ever need to try to sing ever again. And this is the one I came up with:

Sinatra himself recorded this song six times, the latest in 1993, but this minimal live track seems to express the mood better than any of them. And if you do want to record this song, well, this is what you’re up against.

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Oldest known d14

Something else we didn’t invent in the last half-century or so:

Pieces from a mysterious board game that hasn’t been played for 1,500 years were discovered in a heavily looted 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in China.

There, archaeologists found a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them and a broken tile which was once part of a game board. The tile when reconstructed was “decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns,” wrote the archaeologists in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The skeleton of possibly one of the grave robbers was also discovered in a shaft made within the tomb by looters.

A hint at the actual gameplay:

[A] poem written about 2,200 years ago by a man named Song Yu gives an idea as to what the game was like:

“Then, with bamboo dice and ivory pieces, the game of Liu Bo is begun; sides are taken; they advance together; keenly they threaten each other. Pieces are kinged, and the scoring doubled. Shouts of ‘five white!’ arise” (translation by David Hawkes).

Pictures for your examination, should you so desire.

(Via @BrowncoatPony.)

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Saved by the Bell

Original Taco Bell designThe very first Taco Bell, built in the dear, dead days of 1962, hasn’t served up anything from the mothership in nearly thirty years, and with its little corner lot in Downey worth a lot more than it used to be, corporate has decided to save Numero Uno by moving it:

Taco Bell is saving its first fast-food restaurant from the wrecking ball by relocating the iconic 400-square-foot food stand from Downey to its corporate headquarters in Irvine.

“This is arguably the most important restaurant in our company’s history,” said Taco Bell chief executive Brian Niccol. “When we heard about the chance of it being demolished, we had to step in. We owe that to our fans; we owe that to Glen Bell.”

Earlier this year, new development for the vacant Firestone Boulevard site triggered demolition plans for the nostalgic building, dubbed “Numero Uno.” An uproar in the community followed. Taco Bell remained relatively quiet, though it did encourage the #SaveTacoBell campaign on social media.

This particular design — I worked in one just like it briefly — was eventually abandoned because there was no real way to splice a drive-thru window into it.

The structure’s 45-mile overnight journey begins Thursday at 10:30 p.m. It should garner much attention as it traverses the cities of Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, La Palma, Buena Park, Anaheim, Orange and Tustin. Throughout the four to five hour trip, Taco Bell is encouraging fans to follow the historic relocation via a live webcam.

Eventually, of course, all restaurants will be Taco Bell.

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A 4-A family

In Selective Service parlance, classification 4-A means “registrant who has completed military service.” Not that we’re going to be drafted any time soon, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pass the current physical anyway, but we’re just a bunch of happy veterans around here.

Or were, anyway. My mother was a sailor. My father was a sailor, and he was a soldier before that. Among the five children, you’d find a soldier (me), a soldier’s wife, a sailor, and two actual civilians. We’re pretty much awash in DD Forms 214. I remember those forms well; then again, in my capacity as an Army personnel clerk, I got to type rather a lot of them, including one with my name on it. And while 75C might not have been an aspirational MOS — I went through fairly-mundane clerk-typist (71B) training, despite already being a better typist than required — I’m pretty sure I would have made a rotten 71M (chaplain’s assistant).

Usually it doesn’t occur to me that I am in fact a veteran until Veterans Day rolls around; the very word, in the back of my mind, calls forth the image of someone battered and bruised, but still pushing forward. The Middle East, my final active-duty station, wasn’t much of a war zone in those days, or if it was, nobody knew about it; the mission, or at least a major portion of it, was to keep an eye on the late, unlamented Soviet Union, not enough kilometers to our north. (We were, of course, officially a “logistics” group.) It’s not like I was routinely getting a weapon pointed at me.

Then I remember that for every man in harm’s way, there were several men — and women — behind the scenes, supporting those missions. We’d been through the same basic combat training, and we knew that should the fan be struck by fecal matter, we wouldn’t have to go to the front: the front would come to us. (I got a lot more weapons practice in those days than I’m getting now, a situation I need to correct.)

Still, I’ve never felt as though I’d earned the “hero” badge: as Emerson says, the hero is not necessarily braver, but he’s braver five minutes longer. I’ve always wondered if I had it in me to hold out for those five minutes. (My brother Paul? You damn betcha. You told him he was going to parachute into hell to assassinate Lucifer, he’d have asked for a list of minor demons to take out while he was down there.) But maybe I have more gumption than I let on: historically, it’s the trivialities that have tripped me up, while I’ve more or less breezed through the big stuff. “Courage,” said counterculture scribe Ambrose Redmoon, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.” Even if that’s just another way of putting the “ape” in “apricot,” it’s still pretty accurate.

This particular family is, physically anyway, somewhat diminished these days. But I take heart in the fact that, each in our own way, we came, we saw, and we kicked ass. It’s not something you have to be a veteran to appreciate — but it helps.

(Reposted from five years ago.)

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Expressly yours

How successful was this recruiting poster?

If the conditions sounded scary, the money was good: unskilled labor in that era was lucky to pull down a dollar a day. And, well, “pony” was pretty accurate: the average Express horse — there were about 400 — stood a mere 14.2 hands (58 inches tall). A rider would change horses about every fifteen miles.

The Pony Express ran for only a year and a half before shutting down; the completion of the transcontinental telegraph is usually blamed, though the Express had been losing money all along, and wound up its operations more than $100,000 in the hole.

And while the details on the poster are pretty much in line with the way things happened, the existence of the poster itself has been called into question by at least one historian.


Employee number one

Al Abrams, who died last week at 74, was just a kid, and a white kid at that, when Berry Gordy Jr. hired him for the nascent Motown machine, and the circumstances are so, so Motownish:

A big fan of the R&B records of the day, Abrams pestered Gordy for a job promoting his music before Motown was even formed. Gordy said he would hire him if he could get a record on Zelman, a vanity label that pressed records for anyone who would pay them $100, played on the radio. Abrams took the challenge, taking the record to a remote by station WCHB and pestering the DJ until he relented and played it on his show. Gordy heard the record being played and made good on his word, hiring Abrams.

And WCHB, despite being a 1-kw daytimer in those days, had clout: it was the major black-owned radio outlet in metro Detroit. So Gordy wasn’t about to try to blow the kid off.

Abrams also apparently invented the slogan “The Sound of Young America,” and manufactured a bogus Dylan quote about Smokey Robinson being “America’s greatest living poet.” Even if Dylan didn’t say it, though, Abrams may well have believed it:

During a Motown tour through the Southern United States, [Nancy Abrams] said, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles came to visit Mr. Abrams at a hotel where blacks were not allowed to stay.

The hotel manager was tipped off, came to Mr. Abrams’s door and asked if a black person was in his room, Nancy Abrams recalled. He replied that it wasn’t “a black person,” it was Smokey Robinson, and both men were kicked out.

“Al went back with Smokey and stayed in the black boardinghouse,” she said. “After that, he never stayed in a hotel again.”

Abrams moved on in the late Sixties, working briefly with Motown expats Holland-Dozier-Holland, and setting up his own PR firm. He was diagnosed with cancer in September; by then, unfortunately, it was too late.

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Standing athwart time

I was as flabbergasted as anyone, I suppose, when I heard that John Tyler (1790-1862), 10th President of the United States — he was William Henry Harrison’s Vice-President, and succeeded to the office on Harrison’s death in 1841 — has two grandsons still alive today.

Still, there is always Something More Amazing. Apparently an actual motion picture of someone born in the 1700s exists:

From the YouTube description:

This scene is a part of the very first film shot produced by the Manaki Brothers. Despina, Janaki and Milton Manaki’s grandmother, was recorded weaving in one high-angle shot. For no apparent reason, the first shot made in Macedonia, in the Balkans in fact, made by these two cinematography pioneers, contains peculiar symbolics: at the moment when the grandmother Despina spins the weaving wheel, film starts rolling in our country.

The movie from 1905 is created in standard technique, without sound, in black and white and 35mm.

At the time, according to a Manaki memoir, Despina was 114 years old, making her one year younger than John Tyler.

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A little more than an advisory

By comparison, Hurricane Ike was almost gentle.

Then again, it takes something this forceful to get someone’s attention. You probably know this old joke:

A farmer is in Iowa during a flood. The river is overflowing. Water is surrounding the farmer’s home up to his front porch. As he is standing there, a boat comes up. The man in the boat says, “Jump in, and I’ll take you to safety.”

The farmer crosses his arms and says stubbornly, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.” The boat goes away. The water rises to the second story. Another boat comes up. The man says to the farmer, who is now at the second floor window, “Hurry, jump in. I’ll save you.”

The farmer again says, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The boat goes away. Now the water is inching over the roof. As the farmer stands on the roof, a helicopter comes over, and drops a ladder. The pilot yells down to the farmer, “I’ll save you. Climb the ladder.”

The farmer yells back, “Oh no thanks, I put my trust in God.”

The helicopter goes away. The water continues to rise and sweeps the farmer off the roof into the swiftly moving water. Unfortunately, he drowns.

The farmer goes to heaven. God sees him and says, “What are you doing here?”

The farmer says, “I put my trust in you, and you let me down.”

God says, “What do you mean, let you down? I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”

You might take this as an example of By-God Iowa Stubborn; or you might consider that in nearly every natural disaster, there’s someone who won’t budge from the scene. Scaring the heck out of them with a weather forecast seems like a kindness.

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Surely it’s done by now

I mean — shouldn’t it be?

Machines get faster, but files get bigger, and it still takes forever to transfer them. The database that runs this very Web site took nearly 80 minutes to back up on Sunday evening.

Should anyone be curious, cc32e47.exe is the installation file for Netscape Communicator, which includes the Navigator browser (version 4), a newsgroup reader, AOL Instant Messenger, and various other artifacts of a long-departed civilization.

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A girl who once had a dream

Yukiko Okada — call her “Yukko” — always wanted to sing. She’d appear at any audition for anything, hoping to get a break; at sixteen, she finally broke through on one of those TV talent shows and was signed to Japan’s Sun Music Productions.

It didn’t hurt that she had That Look:

Yukiko Okada stretches out

Yukiko Okada in a swimsuit

Her first single, “First Date,” came out early in 1984; her third, “Dreaming Girl,” was enough to win her Best New Artist in the annual Japan Record Awards. It’s — well, listen for yourself:

Why, yes, it is vaguely reminiscent of Tracey Ullman’s cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know.”

Sponsorship and television deals followed, and Yukko was on her way. But something, somewhere, went terribly wrong:

Okada was found with a slashed wrist in her gas-filled Tokyo apartment, crouching in a closet and crying.

And then two hours later:

[S]he committed suicide on April 8th by jumping off from the roof of the Sun Music building. She was only 18 at the time. Her suicide made headlines and sent shockwaves across Japan. To top it off, several fans of hers followed suite. It caused such a commotion that the term “Yukko Syndrome” came into being to connote follow-on [copycat] suicides. That year (1986), the suicide rate in Japan jumped to an all-time high.

In 2002, the song “Believe In You” was rescued from the vaults and given an orchestral overlay, becoming Yukko’s last single. If only she’d believed a little more in herself.

She would have been forty-eight today.

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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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All pink and curvy and everything

There’s a feature in the current Automobile (September) about the pink AMX awarded to Angela Dorian as part of her 1968 Playmate of the Year, um, booty. Dorian, a small-time actress under her real name — Victoria Vetri — got a small career boost from being PMOY, but careers in Hollywood tend to be shortish. (You have to wonder how things might be different had she taken the job of dubbing Natalie Wood’s voice in West Side Story earlier in the decade.) Still, she held onto the car until 2010, by which time it had been repainted several times and was in bad need of some TLC. Arguably, so was Vetri, who was charged with shooting her husband in the back. The attempted-murder charge filed against her was eventually reduced to attempted voluntary manslaughter; she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Meanwhile, a chap named Mark Melvin happened upon the AMX at a lot in Venice Beach; he bought it and restored it, at a cost of somewhere over $50,000. There exists a Web site for the car, which also includes a recap of Vetri’s career and eventual undoing that was actually written by Robert Stacy McCain, its appearance a product of the miracle of cut-and-paste. The car, of course, now looks utterly wonderful; Vetri, now in her seventies, perhaps not so much.

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Triumphantly so

In 1959, the US found itself awash in foreign cars. Volkswagen, which had set up shop in 1949, dominated the market with its Beetles, but France was selling a fair number of Renaults, Toyota had tentatively dipped a toe into the Stateside milieu with the Toyopet Crown, and the British seemed to be everywhere: my father, in fact, put up some presumably modest sum for a Ford Anglia from beautiful downtown Dagenham. In general, economy was the name of the game, and this Triumph advertisement from 1959 makes darn sure you know that:

Print ad for '59 Triumph

There were no real fuel-economy rules in those days, but 40 mpg doesn’t seem too far out of reach, providing you weren’t doing things like climbing hills in San Francisco. The engine was dinky by American standards: a 948-cc (58 cubic inches, wow!) overhead-valve inline four, pumping out 37 hp, competitive with the Beetle’s flat four. I was amused by this bit: “It will travel up to 60,000 miles without a major overhaul — often 100,000.” Today, needing an overhaul at 60k is the sign of Heavy Citrus, but back then, things wore out a whole lot faster.

Still, the funniest part, at least to me, is that it’s not really a Triumph. This is actually a ’59 Standard Ten sedan, given a Triumph badge because those Yanks know the name, having bought several Triumph TR-series sports cars in the decade. And if you saw “Triumph” and thought “sports-car engine,” who could blame you? The TR3A of that era had an engine twice as big with nearly three times the ponies.

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How little things change

Just an historical note, or a point in the cycle we’re bound to repeat?

The Whigs collapsed in 1856, and the Democrats in 1860, because neither represented the views of the majority of Americans. American politics had been all about slavery since at least the 1830s, but both parties studiously avoided it. You could vote for the Whigs, who stood for nothing but not being Democrats, or you could vote for the Democrats, who were pro-slavery but wouldn’t admit it under torture. The Dems were better at coalition building — some things never change — and were able to cobble together the “Hard Shell,” “Soft Shell,” “Barnburner,” etc. factions together for one election longer than the Whigs were, but when faced with a legitimate protest party, they too collapsed. Their vote split several different ways, Lincoln won the White House, and I forget what happened next.

Today’s Republican leadership, in case you hadn’t noticed, stands for nothing but not being Democrats. And anyone paying attention knows the Democrats’ poster child: it’s a nonwhite female college student who will do anything to not get pregnant, but she won’t do that. (Or rather, she won’t not do that.) I can’t wait for the grownups to start running the playground again.

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Where’s the pound sign?

For those below a certain age, this diagram is utterly incomprehensible:

Old-style phone dial

There is, or at least was, an app for that.

(Via Vintage Los Angeles.)

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Stepping out

Caroline Cossey is a fairly normal Southern housewife with a trace of England in her voice; she’s sixty, she’s tall (6′), and since she lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, she owns a gun. But once in a while someone stumbles across the memory hole, and in this month’s Playboy there’s a repeat of a 1991 pictorial of Cossey under her nom de model Tula, and a new interview with the woman once known as Barry Cossey.

Tula in styleMinor anatomical detail: Cossey was born in 1954 with a variation on Klinefelter’s syndrome; instead of XX or XY, she was XXXY. She transitioned in her late teens, had The Surgery at twenty-one, and began a not-so-low-key modeling career, perhaps peaking with her appearance as an extra in For Your Eyes Only, which led to her first appearance in Playboy, in her capacity as one of several anonymous Bond girls. Things might have leveled off there, except that one of the more odious British tabloids, the News of the World, put her on the front page with the headline “James Bond Girl Was a Boy.”

Playboy asked her: “Has the growing acceptance of LGBT people made life easier?” She replied:

“I don’t know if I’ll ever stop feeling like a second-class citizen. It’s embedded and instilled from birth. You grow up, you don’t fit in, you don’t belong, you’re bullied. That doesn’t go away in five minutes. I don’t think it ever goes away. When I look back at it all, what I went through was tragic. But how do you deal with pain? You shrug it off. That’s the British way of doing it, at least.”

Would she do another James Bond film, if asked?

“I would never say no to something that’s tastefully done, but I’m not expecting to grace any covers anytime soon.”

Her 1991 pictorial was tastefully done, but, if you don’t mind my saying so, surgical techniques may have improved since then.

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The price of speed

I was going back through that 60th Anniversary issue of Car and DriverTam’s been reading it as long as I have, and probably with better comprehension — when I lasered in on the data sheet from a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. Some of the important stuff:

Engine: SOHC 12-valve inline-six, 183 cu in (2996 cc)
Power: 220 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 203 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
Quarter mile: 15.9 seconds (no trap speed given)

Damned impressive for the times. I then dialed forward 43 years and change for this data sheet:

Engine: DOHC 24-valve V6, 182 cu in (2988 cc)
Power: 227 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 217 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.3 seconds
Quarter mile: 16.4 seconds @ 87 mph

This latter buggy, of course, is my current daily driver, now about to turn Sweet Sixteen. The numbers are not so different, though C/D complained at the time that in their opinion, their tester with 890 miles on the clock was not making full power. Having done zero-to-sixty in the high sevens with a lot more miles, I tend to agree. (This chap did it in 7.1 with the malf light on, which is perhaps more impressive.)

If you’re wondering how much progress had been made in lo, those many years, consider the following. The sticker on the Benz was $8897, or about four Chevrolets of the time; Infiniti asked $31,700 for my car, about two ’00 Chevy Impalas after the usual incentives. And in the decade and a half since my I30 left Japan, those specs have become, well, mundane: today’s V6 Accord will roast my chestnuts without even breathing hard. I conclude that we have some truly marvelous machines to come, assuming the government doesn’t fark things up any worse than they already have.

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Ken Layne hits the road

Ken Layne once described his career path this way:

Local newspapers, domestic and foreign radio stations, consumer computer guides, television newsrooms, glossy progressive magazines, the cartoon page of college newspapers, Washington wire service desks, expatriate post-Iron Curtain tabloids, sporadic appearances in respectable media, occasional musical endeavors, a few forays into traditional book publishing and a long chain of oddball news and satire websites — that’s how I’ve barely earned a living over the decades.

He did get some coin of the realm from me, for a CD titled Fought Down by Ken Layne and the Corvids. From my review in January 2004:

Ken Layne’s voice [is] sort of what you’d get if you transposed Neil Young down a fifth and purged his every last whining overtone, then overlaid him with Tom Waits-level world-weariness. Fought Down tells stories of people who’ve probably downed a few fifths of their own, and it’s a measure of Layne’s skill that it’s almost impossible to hear these tales without wondering if Layne himself might have left Sacramento on an eastbound freight, or wound up in some broad’s Lincoln Town Car, or heard angry voices that not even a case of Two-Buck Chuck can silence. Lesser hands would have taken these raw materials and forged a few minutes of bathos; Ken Layne makes you think, “Hey, I know that poor son of a bitch.”

A couple of years after that, he took over the Wonkette blog, and enjoyed the not-entirely-unique distinction of being named “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann.

And when he wearied of that bloggy stuff, he went on to something as unlike it as possible:

“I wanted my work to be about the desert,” he says.

He considered doing a radio show like “A Prairie Home Companion” that focused on the American Southwest. Then, last summer, his new off-line venture appeared to him almost fully formed in the midst of a solo four-week drive through Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra. (“It’s what I do instead of go to a psychiatrist,” he says.)

It would be a quarterly regional magazine about the Southwest. The look would be inspired by old desert guides from the ’60s and ’70s like Owens Valley Jeep Trails and Mines of the Mojave, but it would pay homage to the weirdness of the desert with stories about strange desert animals and even stranger desert characters. He called it the Desert Oracle.

“I saw it pretty clearly,” he says. “It was going to be small, it was going to be yellow, and inside it was going to be all black and white. No color, no GIFs, no apps, no content on the Internet.”

So far, it’s not yet as well known as his early blog declaration: “It’s 2001, and we can fact-check your ass.” Fourteen years later, lots of asses are claiming to be in the fact-check business; I can’t blame Layne for wanting to get away from all this.

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Apply Miskatonic as needed has a little slideshow called “The Weird and Wonderful Past of the Hair Dryer,” from which I have plucked this one item for your dining and dancing pleasure:

1936 hair dryer

Of this particular model, they say:

Alien abduction, or hair styling session? This model, showcased at the 1936 Hair and Beauty Fair in London, featured a series of heat-radiating rods to completely cover the head.

If your stylist should resemble Ithaqua the Wind Walker, you perhaps should try another salon.

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