They can’t lose

Headline from this morning’s Oklahoman:

From page 4A of the Oklahoman 12 August 2012: Republicans hope to win new Senate seat

What are their chances? Pretty close to 100 percent, actually:

Voters in southern Oklahoma County and parts of Pottawatomie County will select their senator on Aug. 28 in the primary runoff between two Republican candidates.

Since no Democrat filed for the newly redistricted seat, the winner of the runoff will take office, replacing the incumbent Sen. Charlie Laster and giving the GOP one more seat in their super majority hold of the Senate.

Laster, a Democrat, did not file for reelection, so this is definitely a pickup for the GOP. (The online version of the story, otherwise identical to the print version, has a less-risible title.)

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Devoid of risk

So this, then, is the new NASA: low-risk, but still high-cost, excursions to Nowheresville. We used to be better than that:

I have nothing against space exploration. In fact, I absolutely love it. I’ve been wearing fake NASA helmets and crashing my head into trees since I was 5. Still do upon occasion. I have Gus Grissom mounted on a crucifix in my bedroom. But these Mars probes are weak tea. We’ll find nothing. Perhaps evidence life might have existed there once. What kind of life? The shoulders in Pasadena shrug in ignorance.

For two and a half billion dollars I want intrepid souls with unstable rockets under their asses, flying into the unknown. I want a man to say “That’s one small step for man, and one curiously parasitic beetle crawling underneath my fingernail.” I want to see brave men in hyperbaric quarantine while we observe mutations.

Not going to happen. What used to be the American culture has been overwritten by underwriters: rather than pursue the incredible, we purchase the insurance. If Star Trek had debuted in this decade instead of five decades ago, General Order 1 would read “Do not send anyone in a red shirt down to the planet’s surface.”

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There is a season

When I visited North Dakota in the summer of ’04, I found the weather delightful. It would not have been so at the other end of the calendar:

I talked to at least half a dozen Fargonians (if that’s the term) today, generally with kind words for the place, and always with the qualifier: “Of course, this is July. Had I arrived in February, I might think different.” All of them understood, but none took umbrage, and the general impression I got was “Yeah, we have horrible winters, but so what else is new?” Not that Oklahoma in February is particularly wonderful.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, writing in The New York Times, analyzes this mindset:

Most people consider the weather in their hometowns to be part of a cosmic bargain, without which we would all lose our minds. In Maine, the bucolic months of June through October are what we trade for the intense winter and the miserable late spring, also known as Mud Season. Likewise, during my D.C. days, the summer was as hot as an acetylene torch, but it still seemed like a fair price to pay for the jaw-dropping beauty of the cherry blossoms in April.

Walking out an Oklahoma front door in the summer of 2011, or for that matter the summer of 2012, has been the equivalent of volunteering to do a barrel roll or three in a Bessemer converter. Still, these things have a way of balancing themselves out:

In that horrible month of February ’11, I broke my snow shovel; after waiting for the spring price break, I bought one of those not quite industrial-strength, but still formidable-looking, pushers, and dared the stuff to occupy my driveway. Total snowfall for the winter of ’11-’12: 1.8 inches. The thing is standing in the garage, still wrapped. If I thought for a moment this would work again, I’d buy another one.

And Boylan just may be right about this:

The same Ruby Tuesdays and Walmarts might be found from Tulsa, Okla., to Bangor, Me., but the temperament of the souls who live in those cities will always be different, as long as Oklahomans have tornadoes and winter wheat and Mainers have blackflies and aurora borealis.

For myself, well, I could stand a lot more summer days like yesterday: low 65, high 96. (Normal high is 95.) It’s not the 100-plus afternoons that bother me so much; it’s the 80-degree sunrises, with the neighborhood runners sweating at 0530 and wondering what they did to deserve this.

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Vintage ’53

Now this is an idea I like:

The concept behind the Year of Your Birth Rally is simple: you must drive a vehicle with a model year the same as your own. Nick Pon, Assistant Perp of the 24 Hours of LeMons, created the idea and swears he’s going to organize such a rally someday.

Lincoln Capri badgeEverybody’s favorite ’53, allegedly, is the Studebaker, what with its ultra-sleek lines breathed upon by design icon Raymond Loewy. But if I’m driving, I won’t be looking at it, so I’d be hunting down a Lincoln Capri, which is about two sizes bigger than I need or than I’m used to but which, as the phrase goes, was Built Ford Tough. In the legendary 2000-mile Carrera Panamericana, Capris finished 1-2-3-4 in the stock-car class two years running. (The winning car, both years, was driven by Chuck Stevenson.) The ’53 had the new 205-hp version of Lincoln’s Y-block V8, fed by a Holley four-barrel. The underpinnings were what you’d call old and proven: tube shocks, leaves out back, worm-and-roller steering, drum brakes all around. I’m guessing that the existing Ford-O-Matic slushbox couldn’t take the gaff of the big Lincoln mill, which is why the Capri came with a GM Hydra-Matic (four speeds!) standard.

And there’s a nostalgia factor here: I remember riding in one of these things, circa 1959. If I’m remembering correctly, my grandfather owned a ’55, the last of that generation before Lincoln went into full-fledged Bloat Mode. The fact that I can remember riding in a Lincoln half a century ago, yet can’t remember much of anything about any current Lincoln, speaks volumes — to me, anyway — about how Ford has bungled its luxury brand in recent years.

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The Rawlsian standard

First, a bit of background:

John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice famously introduced the idea of an “original position,” a hypothetical situation in which citizens would come together behind a “veil of ignorance” to select principles of justice that can regulate their common life. There are different ways of understanding the OP, but one useful way — which Rawls himself favoured later in life — is to imagine that the “contracting parties” in the original position are not the members of society themselves, but rather their representatives. Each of these representatives — modelled as rational negotiators — is then supposed to bargain for the best possible “deal” acceptable to the citizens they represent on the terms of cooperation in society, but without knowing which specific set of citizens they represent. This is supposed to ensure that the negotiating parties will only agree on principles that would be acceptable to all citizens as “free and equal.”

There being no real-life analogue for such scenarios, please allow me to oversimplify by offering a scene from family life. Two children argue over who gets how much pie. Parental unit decrees that Child 1 gets the piece he desires — but that Child 2 will actually cut the pie. The Rawlsian legislator is never quite sure whether he is Child 1 or Child 2, and therefore he has to make his decision, not on behalf of a narrow constituency, but with the interests of all pie consumers in mind.

Implementing such a legislature, of course, is easier said than done:

An example [from New Zealand] may help. Imagine the electors for Wellington Central elect Grant Robertson their MP. At the end of his term, the Electoral Commission randomly assigns him a different constituency. Say he draws Auckland Central, for example. Robertson then has to go to Auckland Central to defend his record in parliament; let’s say he’s given one month to make his case. Auckland Central then holds an “up or down” vote deciding whether or not he can run in the next election. If he’s voted down, he cannot run in that electoral period (though he may run in later periods — no permanent disqualification is envisioned here); otherwise, he gets to run again, if he so wishes, in Wellington Central.

At no time does Mr Robertson’s official constituency change; however, whenever standing for election, he must make his case, not only to them, but to an entirely different district as well.

I don’t envision this happening in the States anytime soon — it would require substantial changes to the Constitution, and apparently no one currently holding national office has so much as read the Constitution — but it’s something to ponder while the politicians pander.

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There is no swoon

Hey girl it's Paul RyanMitt “Mitt” Romney has anointed Wisconsin Congressman and legendary [choose one] dreamboat/douchecanoe Paul “Hey Girl” Ryan as the offical winner of the 2012 Republican Veepstakes, probably not, I suspect, because of the something-less-than-ubiquitous #GiveUsRyan hashtag, but simply because he wanted to balance the ticket with a specific appeal to … um, to whom exactly? It certainly isn’t cheapskates:

While the press paints him as some maverick Ebenezer Scrooge for the budgetary Band-Aid he proposed slapping on our sucking fiscal chest wound, in reality, Ryan’s toes are firmly on the party line: he voted for Medicare Part D, TARP, auto industry bailouts, and the rest of the whole free-spending financial firehose that’s tried to float the ship of state on a fresh tide of fiat currency.

The dynamic, as it plays out, will veer away from those financial matters rather quickly, leaving a scenario worthy of an old UPN sitcom: a couple of colorless organization men versus a petulant child and his demented but lovable uncle. Bring on 2016 already.

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We’ve heard it all before

Excuse me while I borrow a tweet or three from Megan McArdle:

As @terryteachout pointed out to me, Google fragments of your own writing and by seven words, you get only one hit.

True “accidental” plagiarism, in other words, does not exist. An example she provides is slightly startling:

It’s actually kind of amazing: even a phrase as banal as “I attracted a lot of angry comments last October” is apparently unique.

I had to test this for myself, of course. My best-known seven-word phrase, which is actually only six words long if you count that hyphenated thing as one, is my description of the Grim Reaper as “that scythe-wielding son of a bitch,” which shows up four times in Google, all by me.

But that’s fairly distinctive. I pulled up an eight-word phrase from Vent #750 — “No two people have exactly the same schedule” — which produced three sources, of which I was the third.

“You’re never too old to yearn” (from Vent #341) brought me first and third place, the second being occupied by a Florida newspaper. And the third was from a comment I made to that now-infamous bit of fanfiction I wrote, which undeservedly still gets 20-30 readers a day. Amused by this, I keyed in the five-word phrase that ushers in the ending. It landed second.

Still, the best comment on plagiarism — all this, of course, was prompted by Time columnist Fareed Zakaria’s suspension — came from James Lileks: “You realize that Tom Lehrer totally copied ‘Lobachevsky’ from someone else.” Then again, Lileks was meta before meta was meta.

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50-love

Some enterprising paparazzo got this shot of Heather Locklear taking tennis lessons in Malibu earlier this month:

Heather Locklear with a tennis racket

If you like, there are more shots from that day. Heather turns 51 next month.

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More red ink for green tech

You may have read last month about the cash-flow problem at battery maker A123 Systems, to the effect that they would burn through their remaining cash in five months or so.

Well, they now have some cash, but they no longer have their autonomy:

Auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group will take a controlling interest and invest $450 million in the Massachusetts-based battery maker.

Nor is A123 the only “green” manufacturer recently bailed out by foreign investment:

Earlier this year, Ener1 Inc, another battery maker that received a government green technology grant, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the control of Russian investor Boris Zingarevich. New York-based Ener1 is also a joint-venture partner in China with a Wanxiang subsidiary.

The lesson seems clear: what the Obama administration can’t do, Lu Guanqiu can and apparently will.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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And in other non-news

I was timing this week’s Rebecca Black report to come out more or less simultaneously with the weekly Q&A video, but there’s not going to be a weekly Q&A video this time around:

so so so sorry but there won’t be another q&a posted today :( i’ve been super busy with rehearsals for Wildwood and I’m trying to make it the absolute best it can be for you all. the next q&a will be up next friday :)

I just hope someone records the Wildwood concert.

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Somebody that I plan to ignore

Given my tendency to wander off in weird musical directions, I’d totally managed to avoid hearing Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” until encountering a cover by Gavin Mikhail (thank you, Brian Ibbott) that turned out to be an improvement on the original.

Sonic Charmer, who has not been so fortunate as I, explains its popularity:

People, while this is not a terrible song, it is also not a good song. It’s like something you’d find on side 2 of a below-average Peter Gabriel album. A Robert Smith side solo project between Cure albums. A Howard Jones B-side.

Yet the SWPL class of ’12 has made it their favorite song ever. This indicates a few things, but mainly this: they are so utterly deprived of actual good pop-rock music that they think this tripe is just great.

Point of comparison: Tweaker’s “Truth Is,” which has enough Robert Smith input to qualify as a side project.

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Have another look at the world

Must be purty awful out there in Arizona, having to deal with all them iggnernt, uneddicated furriners:

Recently, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office alleged Briseira Torres, a shy, 31-year-old single mom from Glendale, was here illegally and that Briseira Torres was not her real name.

She was accused of three counts of forgery, in part because her driver’s license had her real name on it, which the MCAO thought was bogus. Following her arrest, she was held without bond in Estrella Jail for 4½ months.

Seems that Torres, as a teenager, had briefly lived with her father in Mexico, and left just enough of a paper trail to confuse the hell out of — well, apparently anyone who’s inclined to be suspicious of someone for having the name “Torres.”

(Via Fark.)

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Must have been a big lunchbox

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

A Clark County, Kentucky man has been arrested for stealing more than $56,000 in auto parts while he was briefly employed at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, KY.

According to an arrest warrant, Michael G. Kenny, 66, of Winchester, was a temporary employee of the plant between March 19 and May 15 of this year. Authorities said over the two month period, Kenny, at various times, took a total of 160 engine cylinder heads from the plant floor. Once out of the plant, Kenny would place items outside a fence on the property only to return later to load the stolen merchandise into his pickup truck and leave.

Johnny Cash, you’ll remember, predicted this kind of thing decades ago. “Well, I left Kentucky back in ’49 / And went to Detroit workin’ on an assembly line.” Only he snuck those parts out — the larger ones, anyway — in his buddy’s mobile home.

Now they don’t have cars in Ponyville — just as well, given the lack of pavement — but if somepony were to try a stunt like this, the result would be banishment by Princess Celestia herself.

(The preceding has been an effort to link to two entirely different pieces by Cameron Miquelon in the same post, and why not?)

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Whose fault is this?

This sounds really, really impressive:

The pair of quakes that hit near Yorba Linda Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were detected by a new earthquake warning system that was showcased at Cal Tech.

A 4.5-magnitude temblor struck one mile northeast from Yorba Linda at 11:23 p.m. Tuesday. Less than 10 hours later, a 4.5-magnitude quake struck two miles from the same location.

Having sat (uneasily) through a 5.6 in recent memory, I’m not about to mock a 4.5 in southern California. But this isn’t quite as reassuring as it’s supposed to be:

“In the case of the first event (Tuesday) night, here in Pasadena, we got about nine seconds warning before the strongest shaking was felt here,” said Douglas Given from the U.S. Geological Survey. “In the case of the second quake, it was a little bit less … about four seconds warning.” Experts said this prototype system is the first to ever pick up quakes before the ground started shaking.

Out here in Tornado Alley, where the warnings come 10 to 30 minutes before the actual funnels, we’re not likely to be impressed by 4 to 9 seconds — until the ground starts shaking, of course.

“I can’t see any practical use for it in the real world,” declares Bill Quick. Maybe he’s right. Where are our storm shelters? Mostly underground.

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True do-it-yourself music

Beck’s later-this-year album Beck Hansen’s Song Reader will be released in one format only: sheet music.

An explanation of sorts:

Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012 — an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that’s as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together. The songs here are as unfailingly exciting as you’d expect from their author, but if you want to hear “Do We? We Do,” or “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard,” bringing them to life depends on you.

I’m waiting on the inevitable remix album.

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Quote of the week

Sarah Palin stumping for the Sarah Steelman campaignThe very first post I did about Sarah Palin was in early 2007, when she was so far under the radar she’d practically have to wear ridiculous shoes to be seen. The GOP attempted to buy her some sartorial splendor, evidently to negligible effect, since she seems to be transitioning to completely ridiculous outfits:

I’m not sure which thought bothers me more: that she chose to wear this outfit all by her lonesome, or that someone picked the outfit for her and she willingly consented to wearing it. This is not okay. This is not even close to okay. This is not even a trailer in the wilderness on the outskirts of the county of okay. This is somewhere between falling into the laundry pile in your fifteen-year-old daughter’s bedroom and the public speaking component of a VH1 reality show about alcoholic motorcycle cougars with social anxiety disorder.

Of course, in Alaska they dress in the dark six months out of the year, or something like that. As Allison Iraheta might say, “Don’t waste the pretty.”

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