Quote of the week

Daniel Greenfield, on why utopias don’t exist and can’t exist:

Governments are not religions and no political movement can place its pet philosopher in place of God. No man can demand more of other men. Only God can demand the impossible because He can also grant the impossible. No political system can forgive. It can only amass more guilt and sin, more hatred and self-hatred, more madness and destruction. Human beings cannot exceed themselves.

A healthy idealism aspires to a more human state of living. It does not demand absolutes. An idealism that demands absolutes is a trap. It is easy to tell the difference between the two.

Human ideals feel better about themselves as they improve. Inhuman ones feel worse because the ideal is never meant to be reached. An irreligious absolute offers no redemption. Instead the failure to do the impossible becomes the means of breaking people of their human qualities and making them into monsters.

We can only achieve human terms of existence for nations and peoples by accepting our flaws. Perfection is as impossible for a people as it is for a person. And within our flaws, we create an existence that is not based on the collective impossibilities of an ideal, but on the realizable goodness of our human flaws. Instead of seeking to create a perfect state, we individually become better people. Instead of the tyranny of idealism creating monsters, we give ourselves the freedom to be human beings.

Instead of building suicidal ideal states, we create societies in which we have the freedom to be good while refusing to lapse into a self-hatred borne of frustrated idealism which prevents us from seeing the goodness of our fellow men and the evil of our enemies.

The Founders were acutely aware of this kind of nonsense, which is why they blessed us with what is today derisively called “gridlock,” a means for punching necessary holes in idealistic bubbles.

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Lazarus edition

The announcement came out in 2014: the last model year for Volkswagen’s Eos convertible would be 2015, and VW of America duly readied a loaded Final Edition model to give the model a proper sendoff. I do hope none of the buyers see the new 2016 Eos:

Volkswagen extended production of the Eos from May to November of this year. As part of that, parent Volkswagen shopped the Eos around to all its regional children looking for hand raisers to take a limited run of 2016s.

VWoA accepted, probably because the mothership was willing to give them $4000 off the price of, um, last year’s. (The Canadian branch, however, turned it down.)

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Beyond that early hype

At least some of Yuja Wang’s early fame derived from sartorial as well as musical choices. By now, the flap over what she might be wearing has given way to more serious concerns: what she might be playing. Which is not to say that she shuns the limelight or anything:

Yuja Wang on the cover of Tatler 10-15

This cover photo fascinates me, perhaps because of her enigmatic facial expression: I can’t tell if she’s truly relaxed, or if she’s feigning it just to get the photoshoot over with. (Then again, my ability to read women’s faces and/or body language is decidedly below average.) I’ve always suspected that, for her anyway, periods of relaxation and periods of ferocity tend to be interspersed at irregular intervals:

Yuja Wang kicks back in a Calgary park

Yuja Wang versus the piano

Yuja Wang’s most recent recording, being chased out the door even as we speak, is a pairing of the two piano concertos by Maurice Ravel, the jazzy G Major and the slightly more sombre D Major, written for the left hand only. Deutsche Grammophon is promoting it thusly:

I shall have this recording shortly.

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When things go insufficiently wrong

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” — Niels Bohr

The scene: the New Balance factory store in Edmond, just before Labor Day. As you may remember, I wound up needing a pair of 928s in the unheard-of size of 14 EEEEEE, which is a lot of damn E’s. Not surprisingly, not in stock. She turned to the terminal, asked for a ship date, and then said:

“Officially, it says here the fifth of October. I think it will be more like the end of October.”

The voice of bitter experience. I shrugged, said that would be fine, here’s my number, so call me maybe when they come in.

They arrived at the store on the seventh, which means they probably shipped on the, um, fifth. I chose not to bring this up, inasmuch as the clerk in question had the day off yesterday when I picked them up.

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The deader zone

My office at 42nd and Treadmill, festooned as it is with forty-odd years’ worth of wiring, some of which might not actually connect anything anymore, is utterly immune to T-Mobile’s cell signal, despite being within two and a half miles of an Interstate. The only GSM carrier that gets through is AT&T, and I surmise it’s because there’s a tower only a couple of blocks away that probably belongs to them and them alone. Meanwhile, I lament:

I’d be happy to get a consistent bar and a half from my desk at work, and speed be damned.

Now I’m assuming I’m reading the display correctly: there’s this antenna-shaped thing at the far end, and then one to four bars off to the right to indicate signal strength. Once in a very blue moon I get an actual bar, and I can remember an incident in which I had two bars, simply because it was the only time it ever happened. As a rule, I keep the phone off at work, not so much because I need to look busy, but because when it’s searching for its home network, it uses about three times as much battery. So when I was preparing to leave the shop yesterday, I fished the phone out of my bag and turned it on.

And stared in disbelief. Usually there’s a “Searching…” message on the phone until such time as it actually connects, and a three-bar display which I assume is actually AT&T’s network on the same frequency band. This time, no message, and there was one bar — to the left of the antenna-shaped thing.

Ladies and germs, for the first time in my life, I have had Minus One Bar. If it’s possible to have worse coverage than that, it probably requires leaving the troposphere. Still, as always, by the time I made it out to the parking lot, I was up to the usual two-bar minimum.

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The traveling salesman

He said he was trying to put his life back together. I had my doubts. And it turns out, I had good reason to.

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A long way from Constantinople

Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe club, one of the pacesetters in the Euroleague, actually beat an NBA team for the first time this week, defeating the Nets 101-96 in Brooklyn. The Thunder would not be so easy: the Turks played them fairly close for a few minutes, but Oklahoma City simply had too much firepower and too much defense, holding Fenerbahçe well below 40 percent shooting most of the night and collecting a 111-81 win at the ‘Peake. (This is the second time these teams have met: two years ago the Thunder were victorious in Istanbul.) Doesn’t count for anything, being as how it was a preseason game, but the home crowd had some fun, and by the time I tuned in, radio guy Matt Pinto had mastered all the visitors’ pronunciations.

The time I tuned in, incidentally, was midway through the third quarter, and there’s a reason for that: I was watching Invisible Sister on the Disney Channel, and while Disney has no qualms about reruns, the first one on the schedule lands right on top of the next episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I figured nobody would mind a whole lot, being as how it was a preseason game.

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Absence of matriculation

Rebecca Black in the studio

It appears that high-school graduate Rebecca Black has told her mom (and 1.2 million YouTube subscribers) that she’s putting college on hold for now while she tries to grab the brass ring once more. Ordinarily I would shake my head and sigh, but it occurs to me that she might well think her window of opportunity won’t stay open very long, considering that most everyone still thinks of her as the 13-year-old who sang songs about days of the week, even though that’s so five years ago.

So we watch and wait, and watch some more.

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Redmond, destroyer of browsers

Once again, Microsoft is killing off old versions of Internet Explorer:

Beginning January 12, 2016, only the current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical support and security updates. Microsoft recommends that customers running older versions of Internet Explorer upgrade to the most recent version, which is Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.

This does not mean that the last dozen or so Vista users on earth have to upgrade — IE 9 is still supported on Vista if you have Service Pack 2 — but you’re still going to be urged to get Win10 and Edge.

The sysadmin, informed of this, muttered a deep imprecation against those neo-Luddites still using IE 8.

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Hashing it out

The US Geological Survey has a new and unlikely partner in earthquake spotting: Twitter. Yes, really:

Did you first hear about the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan on Twitter? You’d be surprised at how many did, as the social-media platform was actually faster at reporting the earthquake than the US government organization tasked with monitoring such events.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has 2,000 earthquake sensors but the vast majority of these are based in the US. This limits the USGS’ ability to monitor earthquakes in the rest of the world. To cover its blind spots, USGS has teamed up with Twitter.

Millions of people use Twitter to report earthquakes, but the data needs to be fine-tuned for it to be useful. USGS analyzed these tweets and found that those tweeting about earthquakes kept their tweets short. They also realized that those tweeting links were less likely to be users experiencing the earthquake firsthand.

And they’re getting good at it, too:

It only took one minute and 20 seconds — from just 14 tweets — to be alerted of an earthquake aftershock in Chile.

In 2014, the USGS was alerted to the earthquake in Napa, California in 29 seconds using Twitter data.

And I rely on Twitter myself in these instances, since I haven’t actually felt one since the big 5.6 back in 2011.

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Dystargeted marketing

This was waiting for me on TweetDeck yesterday morning:

Follow message from @yawn

I have to admit, they do have a pretty nice product line of nightwear for women, though I really can’t imagine any circumstances under which I’d buy any, being (1) not a woman and (2) disinclined to wear anything to bed for the last half-century or so.

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Sing along with ditch

The Z Man on “realism” as we know and hate it:

When artists, writers, singers, poets and so on were looking up, everyone looked up with them. When they started looking down, everyone’s eyes followed to the point where we search the gutter for the right metaphor to describe our existence.

On the other hand, art is a reflection of the culture that produces it so the decline of the West preceded the decline in the arts. 150 years ago there was no audience for talking about your bowel movements whilst smearing yourself with pudding. People had more dignity. They also had a reason to look up, at least they thought they did. Now all they see is nothing so I suppose it makes sense to look down. At least there’s something to look at, even if [it’s] just their reflection.

You can’t go around looking up these days. People will think you’re weird — or worse, praying, and we can’t have that sort of thing going on in public.

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Not much to overextend

I can’t say I’m too awfully surprised by this:

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning.

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com. “It’s worrisome that such a large percentage of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

Me, I’d like to know what kind of emergency manages to cost only $1000.

That said, I’m not one of the 62 percent — but I’m not so far away that I can justify bragging about it. I am, however, over 59½, which means that if something Dreadfully Terrible comes up, I can tap the 401(k) without the early-withdrawal penalty, though this is not something I particularly want to do, and besides it takes a couple of weeks for Girls Just Want To Have Funds (not its real name) to cut a check.

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It’ll never catch on

I am indebted to Rob O’Hara for this traffic-law update:

Just a reminder that as of last Friday, a new Oklahoma City ordinance says you must signal 100 feet before changing lanes or turning. The old law stated that you had to signal prior to changing lanes but did not officially state the distance.

We have major scofflaws in this town: just about every other day you can spot someone who’s come to a complete stop in the left lane and only then turned on the blinker. Must be trying to save fluid or something. I figure, if they ignored the old rule, they’ll go on ignoring the new one, despite the $172 fine.

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How much is that in bits?

There’s plenty of disagreement among fanfic writers in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe as to how much a bit “really” is. Better we should ask the basis for those bits, inasmuch as our own humanoid currency is sort of questionable these days:

[W]hen you hold cash, it’s supposed to lead back into something tangible. Whatever someone has assigned value to and can’t readily be carried, portable money substitutes for. Precious metals, for whatever reason someone decided they were worth something. Jewels, perhaps. (Humans have a certain weakness for shiny objects. Ravens with slightly improved grasping digits and lower impulse control.) You can’t ask the government for that backing material any more, at least locally. There are still silver certificate bills in circulation — they were supposed to be pulled, but collectors and dusty rainy-day stashes occasionally release a bill or two — but unless they’re crisp enough to resell as that collectible, they can only be used for their face value. The value we’re all basically lying to each other about because as long as we all lie, the system remains more or less intact.

Once upon a time, the United States ran on silver. Then gold. (Today, possibly debt.) The currency must lead back to something, even if that thing doesn’t exist.

And what might that thing be in Equestria? Think power. Herewith, a possible basis:

If the name “bits” hadn’t been assigned to us, I would count Equestrian currency in sols (or lunes). Because there are times when currency leads back to labor. You clear my fields for eight hours and I’ll give you four chickens. However, I really don’t feel like keeping those clucking menaces around, so here’s a piece of paper which you can present to a man in town, and he’ll give you the chickens for me … on such small things do economies grow.

And the ultimate labor is that which makes Sun and Moon keep working.

What’s Equestria’s ultimate promise to the world? We will keep the cycle going. And that’s about as strong a backing for a monetary system as you can ask for.

So if I was working on this, I would have the money powered by pony labor, with the sisters at the top of that scale. Ultimately, money is traded out to the other nations with the understanding that the palace will maintain the orbits. Oh, there are other forms of ponyhours being traded out: send us these goods and we’ll dispatch pegasi to adjust your weather system. Access to magic — especially that which the other species don’t have — gives a nation some powerful leverage in the world economy, although some of that is countered by what said other species can bring to the table. But at the far end of the chain … there is a simple promise. What backs Equestria’s economy is the most fundamental labor to exist in that world, performed four times per cycle — or there is no cycle at all.

If this doesn’t make sense, imagine trying to explain currencies in this world, most of which have value only because large institutions with stores of arms say they do.

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Sit on it and swipe

This doesn’t even sound good:

What’s an emergency management department to do when 9-1-1 calls are spiking, but there aren’t enough workers to cover all those calls? San Francisco turned to researchers in an effort to understand a recent surge in emergency calls, which has been putting a strain on its emergency resources, and found that butts are to blame. Specifically, when someone’s backside accidentally makes a 9-1-1 call.

While it’s good for personal safety that mobile phones can call 9-1-1 without being unlocked, it’s creating a headache for call centers: San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management turned to Google to help identify what’s been going on, after call volumes increased 28% between 2011 and 2014, reports the BBC.

That said, I’m not sure this is exactly the headline one wants to see on a story of this sort:

That must have been some, um, report.

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