Splashdown

It really had to end this way: a jump between Kevin Martin and Patrick Beverley with a fraction of a second left, meaning nothing except to show that the chip on Beverley’s shoulder hadn’t shrunk. That’s fine. The kid will have the rest of May to fume, as the Rockets suffered the usual fate of #8 seeds: a first-round exit.

And that fate wasn’t at all certain: once again, Houston got an early lead, and once again, Oklahoma City came out for the third quarter breathing something other than actual air. You can’t blame the kid for being cocky; hell, those crazy Okies were putting Derek Fisher on James Harden, they must be desperate, right? And there’s the Beard, shooting 7-22, and there’s Fish, swiping the ball from him twice. They said Harden wasn’t feeling well, but Harden isn’t the kind of guy who makes excuses for things. Then there’s the Houston bench, which scored 11 points, or just about as many as, um, Derek Fisher. You had to figure that if Martin showed up, the Thunder might just wrap it up. “Remember me?” said K-Mart, knocking down 7-13 and eight consecutive free throws for 25 points. And the Thunder, thus fortified, did indeed wrap it up, 103-94, earning the honor, if such it be, of playing the second round against the much-scarier Memphis Grizzlies. Patrick Beverley wishes he were as badass as the Griz.

Still, the Rockets made a fight of it. Twenty-six points for Harden, 25 for Chandler Parsons, a nicely-balanced double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) for Omer Asik, who just incidentally got to put up 12 foul shots. (He made seven, about his average.) It did not help that stalwart reserve Carlos Delfino had fractured his foot and was not available. And Beverley, while plenty busy, was not so effective this time around, shooting 4-11 and managing not a single assist. (The Rockets had only 16 dimes, and Harden and Francisco Garcia served up most of them.)

But let’s go back to Asik for a moment, who missed those five free throws. His teammates had six more clang away to no avail. That’s 11 points Houston gave away. (The Thunder put up only 16 free throws all night, but hit every last one of them.) When you lose by nine, you think about such things — when you’re not thinking “Wait ’til next year,” anyway.

Scott Brooks, it appears, is apparently capable of learning. Kendrick Perkins disappeared after four minutes, which allowed Nick Collison some actual playing time, which I have to believe helped Kevin Martin out of his slump; those two are downright deadly together. And while Kevin Durant had the game high of 27 points, he didn’t have to go play Hero Ball to get it; for once, everyone was playing at the same level, and it worked. Whether it will work against the Grizzlies — well, we start finding that out Sunday afternoon.

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It didn’t happen Today

I got a smidgen of traffic from the Today show, or at least their Web site, and the referring link didn’t explain what for, so I assumed it was to reproach me for mocking Kathie Lee and/or Hoda. Turned out that someone had wandered into their archives and found this two-year-old piece about World Naked Gardening Day, which quotes my eight-year-old post on the possible disadvantages thereof.

WNGD this year, incidentally, is tomorrow.

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Meanwhile last Tuesday

She’s added about 3800 since then:

Rebecca Black has one million followers on Twitter

I think I was #9200 or something like that.

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Find one good place to spend it

Last month, while mailing the 1040 and 511:

Last year I talked with a candidate for the state House, and let it be known that I was less interested in seeing the income-tax rate cut than I was in seeing the brackets broadened: I’m not so damnably wealthy, yet I’m always at the top marginal rate. (That rate, for 2012, was 5.25 percent; it kicks in at — get this — $8700.)

So much for my bracket:

HB 2032 would reduce the state’s top income tax rate, which most residents pay, to 5 percent from 5.25 percent effective Jan. 1, 2015.

[Rep. Scott] Martin [R-Norman] said about 62 percent of taxpayers would see a benefit by paying less in income taxes; none would see an increase.

Cutting the rate to 5 percent would save the average taxpayer about $88 per year and cost the state an estimated $130 million annually when fully implemented, Martin said.

This is pretty much a done deal — Mary Fallin is hot to sign some sort of tax cut, because hey, tax cut! — but I still question the propriety of having five out of every eight taxpayers in the top tax bracket.

And despite the fact that the State Capitol is now starting to look like the world’s largest abandoned Taco Bell, I’m not the only one who questions the propriety of shoving an appropriation to fix up the joint into a tax-cut measure:

“This bill has two topics in it,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “It is going to the [state] Supreme Court. It is going to get thrown out.”

Is it possible that the Republican majority didn’t think of that?

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C:\Documents and Settings\Utter Despair

Consumer Reports (June ’13) dropped this little factoid into the middle of an article on securing one’s smartphone:

Software infections and scams still ravage home computers. Our survey suggests that 3.4 million users had to replace a computer last year because of infections.

Holy flurking schnitt.

What I want to know is this: How many of those 3.4 million users, after first attempting to disinfect a machine — which admittedly takes time and effort — simply said “Fark it, I’m buying a new one?” And does that truly count as “had to”?

(Note: Yes, it’s a Windows-related string up there. As Apple fanbois will happily inform us all, nobody attacks Macs.)

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All for a gigabuck

Oh, how the times have changed. From this week in 2009:

The operative word is “No,” as in “no raises, no new services and no new positions” in the proposed $839.6 million city budget for next year.

With the local economy sucking less these days, OKC will be getting a few more cops on the beat, a few improvements in services, and a few more pounds of asphalt pressed into the lumpy edges of May Avenue. And, of course, it will cost more: the FY 2014 city budget comes to $1.027 billion. Who’d have thought this little burg could spend a billion in a year? Then again, this little burg now has 600,000 people, up twenty thousand from the 2010 Census, and we are a demanding lot. Sometimes.

(The entire 600-plus-page Budget Book, as a PDF.)

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Quote of the week

However chilly it is down here in Baja Kansas, it’s just a hair worse in Minnesota, as James Lileks explains:

[A]ll of these fronts are coming from the south and the west. There isn’t anything sweeping down from Canada. We’re just in the path of this freakish insanity like the rest of the Midwest. The reason it rankles and galls has nothing to do with the length of the previous winter. It’s the fact that it’s consuming our ration of green.

The flowering trees are starting to sprout buds. The temps will not reach 60 until Monday.

Darth Weather has altered the deal, and we’re supposed to pray he does not alter it further.

In other news, it snowed today in Tulsa.

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If you’re looking for whole cloth

You should definitely read this story of Robert Stacy McCain’s, since it’s an incisive look at one example of one of the weirder phenomena of recent times: the imaginary hate crime, invented for inexplicable political reasons. And you should also read it because it’s staggeringly popular, according to Disqus:

Screenshot from The Other McCain

I figure, if this guy can get over a billion reactions to a single story, the very least you can do is hit his freaking tip jar.

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Darkness looms

About 7:20 yesterday evening, I was watching the cold front come in — one of the unalloyed joys of living in this neck of the woods is that you can actually see the fronts arrive, as the winds shift around and the tree limbs alter their trajectories — when the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of electrical equipment exploding, and electrical power on this side of the street was killed stone dead.

Now I’ve seen power outages here before, as recently as last week. But this one was different somehow, and not for any electrical reasons. I’m working on a story, and one of the characters has only just explained that he’s going briefly into seclusion, because he knows a panic attack is coming on, and he doesn’t want his lovely bride to witness him at his worst just yet.

Then all of a sudden I’m at my worst. I didn’t start that way, but when the first crew arrived and announced that they could handle part of the problem, but we’d have to wait for the boys from Dover for the heavy stuff, I became despondent. And when the second crew spent five minutes on the curb, then vanished into the darkness, I was just about ready to tear my hair out. From the inside.

I sent three tweets from my still-charged cell phone, each one a little more despairing. This was the last: “I suppose this is how I will die — alone in the dark and abandoned.”

Which, unfortunately, is very much in character, and not for that fictional character either.

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Pumped-up Kickstarters

Taylor was a backer of that Kickstarter to finance a new Veronica Mars movie, and apparently she’s caught some flak about it:

Are you really going to give Millionaire Kristen Bell thirty-five of your precious dollars over a starving child in Africa?

Okay, first of all, there are children starving on other continents, too. Like, I’m at least 20% sure of that. And secondly, yes. I am giving $35 to Millionaire Kristen Bell, because in exchange for those $35, she’s going to play my favorite character of all time in a movie that doesn’t exist yet. I’m going to get to see that movie, legally, on my laptop as soon as it premieres. And I also get a nifty t-shirt to show the people of the Universe that I like it when snarky teenagers solve crimes.

This is because Kickstarter is not a charity. I’m a Big Fan of these Creators, so I gave them my Money in Exchange for Goods and Services that only they can provide. To me, it was worth $35 to ensure that this movie will exist. Furthermore, if the movie had funded through the traditional model, I still would have probably purchased the movie ticket, the DVD, and the t-shirt — all of which would have added up to more than $35, easily.

For the record, no one has yet put such a question to me, despite the half-dozen Kickstarters (and a couple of projects funded along similar lines) on which I’ve spent Actual Money, but this is the stock response I have prepared:

“Actually, my charity of choice helps the mentally deficient cope with today’s complex society. How much did you say you needed?”

It’s almost as satisfying as “Sphincter says what?”

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Whatever Lola plays

Today we get (1) a decidedly attractive concert pianist (2) who is not Yuja Wang. Sprawled on the Steinway here is Lola Astanova, 28, who hails from Tashkent, and who debuted at Carnegie Hall in 2012:

Lola Astanova

On her YouTube channel, you’ll find this performance of the eleventh of Scriabin’s twelve études, Op. 8.

Australia’s Limelight magazine last year named Astanova one of the Top 10 Style Icons in Classical Music. Whether classical music should have Style Icons in the first place is open for discussion.

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Beyond escape velocity

Reportedly, Westboro Baptist Church sent some of their traveling dillholes to picket in Thunder Alley. (I didn’t see any of them, but then I was sitting in the dark most of the night, a piece of electrical hardware on the next block having given out with an earth-shattering kaboom.) I console myself with the following notions: the Postal Service, in its infinite wisdom, has assigned Westboro a ZIP code beginning with 666, and whatever the lackeys of Fred Phelps could do, they couldn’t possibly do any more damage than the minions of Kevin McHale, who, after forcing a Game 5, now have forced a Game 6 by thrashing the Thunder in front of the home crowd. It got so bad in the fourth quarter, in fact, that Foreman Scotty (thank you, Berry Tramel) actually was desperate enough to call for the repeated fouling of Omer Asik, hoping that the tall Turk would toss up some bricks. Asik obliged with a 13-18 performance, several percentage points above his usual. Rockets 107, Thunder 100, and I’m surprised it was that close. (In fact, OKC was down 10, but Derek Fisher synchronized a trey with the horn.)

This happened, I believe, by the confluence of two events: Kevin Martin had a lousy night, and James Harden didn’t. In fact, Harden had about as unlousy a night as I’ve seen this year, hitting his first seven treys for 31 points. And K-Mart rates a Telltale Statistic: he shot a genuinely terrible 1-10 and still wound up +2 for the night. Speaking of guys named Kevin, Durant had 36 points through three quarters, and didn’t score in the fourth, though he did pick up a technical.

So what to do? Reggie Jackson’s baptism by fire doesn’t seem to have burned him out, and Serge Ibaka does seem to be stepping up his offensive game. But OKC’s perimeter defense was apparently guarding Deep Deuce; the Rockets made 14 of 35 treys. (The Thunder went an embarrassing 8-33.) All five Houston starters landed in double figures, and so did second point guard Aaron Brooks.

We are advised that nobody ever comes back from a 3-0 playoff deficit. Then again, nobody could run a mile in four minutes either.

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Don’t even look outside

An operation called NeighborhoodScout has issued a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation, and the Top Three are all in Detroit:

The study by NeighborhoodScout.com analyzed FBI statistics from 17,000 local law enforcement agencies to pinpoint neighborhoods across the country with the highest predicted rates of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Researchers drilled down deep into cities and towns to find specific census tract areas that had the highest rates of homicide, forcible rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

According to the study, the area east of the Barton-McFarland community in zip code 48204 is the most dangerous neighborhood in America.

The study said the chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in this west side community over the course of a year are one in seven.

In fact, Michigan dominates the list, with one more Detroit neighborhood, plus one each in Flint and Saginaw. Second place belongs to Memphis, which placed two on the list, plus one across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas. Also with multiple entries: St. Louis, Chicago, Houston and Indianapolis. And yes, there’s one in Tulsa: #24, bound by Peoria, US 75, and East 26th Street North. Your odds: one in fifteen.

Census tracts, used in the survey, do not necessarily correspond to neighborhood boundaries as locally defined. Here’s the complete Top 25.

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Sweeter than all the roses

In 1882, Joseph Emmet wrote a musical play called Fritz Among the Gypsies, which contained a lovely little song in waltz time, titled “Sweet Violets.” While the chorus survives, the original verses have long since been replaced by, um, other things. Here’s a relatively tame 1936 recording by the Sons of the Pioneers:

If you’ve reached a certain age, you remember this high-school cheer:

Rah, rah, ree,
Kick ‘em in the knee!
Rah, rah, rass,
Kick ‘em in the other knee!

The technical term for this is “mind rhyme”: you’re pretty sure you know what’s coming, and then they throw something else at you instead. In 1946, songwriter Benny Bell put together a variation on the “Sweet Violets” theme, which he called “Shaving Cream”:

By the 1970s, nobody remembered Benny Bell, or vocalist Paul Wynn, except for a West Coast musicologist named Barret Eugene Hansen. Fortunately, Hansen had access to the nation’s airwaves, and “Shaving Cream” was very much appropriate for Hansen’s radio program, which aired until 2010 as the Dr. Demento Show. (An online version continues.) Vanguard Records, then not yet the property of Lawrence Welk, reissued “Shaving Cream” on a 45 in early 1975; it made #30 in Billboard.

This particular musical style is far from dead, if not far from Montreal, whence hail Bowser and Blue, who recorded the scurrilous “Polka Dot Undies” in 1986. A live version follows:

“Vague innuendo,” indeed.

(Suggested by Fillyjonk, and she’s so, so sorry.)

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Sort of centered

“Computer, define the universe.”

“The universe is a circle approximately 800 miles in diameter.”

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WaterCon 5

This April was among the wettest in history, but one damp month doth not a drought dispel, so the city has announced some new water-usage restrictions, which are not yet in effect but which may be imposed should lake levels — six lakes, three in the city itself, constitute the local water supply — drop alarmingly.

The current condition, hereafter dubbed Stage 1, calls for odd/even watering restrictions, which we’ve had since mid-January and which will continue until further notice.

Stage 2 kicks in when the lakes are half-full or less: you get two days a week to water. If lake levels drop to 45 percent, you get only one day; at 40 percent, hand watering only; at 35 percent, not even that.

The details are here. I am not surprised that action is being taken at this time, though I figured they might want some sort of economic disincentive other than mere fines — say, a progressive (in the literal sense) pricing scheme, similar to the one adopted in Austin in 2011.

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