And now, the good news

An interesting statistic from Dave Schuler:

In 1950 there were fewer than 100 sovereign countries in the world. Today there are well over 200 and I think that trend is more likely to continue than to reverse itself. I don’t see any prospects for world government in my lifetime.

Live long and prosper, Mr. Schuler. Please.

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Just short of impossible

Those of us with empty dance cards presumably should take heart from the story of Peter Backus:

In 2010, while a tutor at England’s University of Warwick, he wrote a research paper called “Why I Don’t Have A Girlfriend.” Its subtitle will, I know, make several of you swoon: “An application of the Drake Equation to love in the U.K.”

Frank Drake, of course, was looking, not for love, but for a way to jumpstart the discussion of possible extraterrestrial civilizations. Then again, if you’re sure there’s no one on this planet for you — but I’m getting ahead of myself:

As far as he was concerned, though, his chances of finding a loving partner were 1 in 285,000.

Which probability is, by definition, nonzero, but “infinitesimal” comes immediately to mind.

That said, you’ll want to know this:

Peter Backus is getting married. You will be wondering whether he has compromised his principles… “It was just a chance meeting, just a friend of a friend,” he told the Today Show.

So there you have it. As with so many things in life, thinking doesn’t help. Calculating will do nothing for you. The singularity will merely keep you single.

Still: 1/285,000? And to think I was complaining about 1/1238.

(Via this Danica McKellar tweet.)

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This is not about me

But some of it sounds like it could have been, almost:

At some point late in his childhood, he began to tell stories about things in the world he had heard about, and read about, and talked about, particularly the things he had talked with his father about. Current events, history, philosophy, and every sort of idea filled the thousands of stories that he told. Though he had never had a trouble writing essays for a grade, still he was quite bad at telling a good story to begin with. But he enjoyed it, and he kept at it. After more than a decade of such storytelling, he began to find that the number of stories he produced that he was proud of was beginning to exceed the ones he considered duds.

Yet the fact that he never spent any of that energy telling the kinds of stories that excited him as a boy ate at him. He thought, surely, as I have been telling stories all along, it would be a simple matter to switch over and start doing the other sort. But domain dependence turns out to be far narrower than he had thought; writing fiction was hard work, while writing nonfiction came as easily to him as breathing.

Within my tiny niche, I have a reputation that tilts slightly positive; the other day on EqD, one of my Actual Fans praised a story by a new writer by saying that his style reminded her of me, only younger. (As who isn’t?) Still, it’s hard damned work; for every chapter that might spill out of me in an hour or two, there’s a paragraph somewhere that took an entire day to polish up. (And the stuff I spent most of Monday on will be largely rewritten Saturday, because I keep thinking of stuff that should have been put in but wasn’t and/or stuff that shouldn’t have been put in but was.) Once I get five million words of fiction done — I am a little over one percent of the way — perhaps it will be at least as acceptable as the five million words of nonfiction I’ve done here over the past seventeen years.

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Troth unplightable

A decade or so ago, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote a book called Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman, which prompted a discussion here. This topic, of course, is evergreen, and Jennifer’s expertise is at least as extensive as mine, if not more so:

I’ve been out of the dating scene for over 15 years. My insight comes from watching you people fumble through it.

Of course, a fumble inside the five-yard line is different from a fumble on a kickoff return, but the results are suboptimal either way.

Anyway, she has a very good discussion going, with comments ranging from quietly content to deeply bitter — and really, how could it be otherwise?

In lieu of a response from me, a purely fictional (of course) equine version, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sort of bubbly

Singer Colbie Caillat turns 28 today. She wasn’t planning to get into the music business, despite family connections — father Ken is an A-list producer, best known for his work with the late-Seventies version (the one that sold all the records) of Fleetwood Mac — but at eleven decided she wanted to sing. She sold several zillion copies of “Bubbly,” a trifle more soulful than your average sunny California pop.

Colbie Caillat

In the last-aired episode of NBC’s short-lived The Playboy Club series, Colbie played Lesley Gore and sang “It’s My Party,” which strikes me as a trifle odd, if only because the series was set in 1961 and “Party” didn’t come out until 1963. (British singer Helen Shapiro cut the first version of the song in Nashville — with Grady Martin and the Jordanaires, yet! — and Phil Spector, having heard the original demo, was keen to cut a version with the Crystals, or with someone he could pass off as the Crystals, but we’re still talking ’63.) For a California girl, Colbie does a decent job replicating East Coast girl-group sounds.

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Wandering eyes

Cue Del Reeves and his song about the girl wearing nothing but a smile and a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big ol’ highway:

That was 1965. This is 2013:

In many public schools, there are dress codes that prohibit students from wearing tank-tops, tube tops, and shorts that are deemed “too short,” as these could distract male students.

If men can be this easily distracted by women’s bodies, then this raises a variety of safety concerns.

Many busy highways have billboards that use sexually suggestive imagery of women’s bodies.

Women also often go about their everyday lives near roadways wearing tanktops and short shorts.

If straight men (and men of other sexual orientations who are attracted to women) can be distracted by the mere sight of a woman’s thigh, then it is a public safety hazard to allow them to operate vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds at up to 75mph past these inevitable distractions.

This has, at this writing, nearly 10,000 signatures at

(Via Joanna Blackhart.)

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Really old tech

I mentioned last week that I still had a fax machine, which in no way prompted Yahoo!’s Rob Walker to ask tech writers what antediluvian tech might be hanging around their premises. A couple of them struck a chord with me:

Alexis Madrigal: “We have one of those magical devices that lets you play an iPod through the tape deck (how do those work?) — but it makes a horrible screeching noise when it gets hot.” That leaves the CD player and terrestrial radio: “We seem to rotate between the same three CDs we burned or borrowed some time ago, and the local NPR affiliate.”

I have one of those magical devices myself. I’ve never heard it make a horrible screeching noise. (Yet.)

Nicholas Carr: “The ‘device’ that feels most outdated to me is my blog,” says Carr. “When I started the thing, in 2005, the personal blog was the iconic expression of ‘new media’; having one put you in the oxymoronic category of journalist-hipster. But the action has moved away from blogs, to the more conversational social networks like Twitter and their bite-sized bulletins. To be a blogger today makes you feel a little like Norma Desmond after silent movies were replaced by talkies: ‘I’m still big; it’s the internet that got small!'”

Hmpf. I was new media before new media was new media.

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A kick in the aspirations

Various and sundry corporate finagling has resulted in the four major auto mags being owned by two publishers: Motor Trend and Automobile by Source Interlink, Car and Driver and Road & Track by Hearst. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to see the merger and/or consolidation possibilities, and indeed an outfit called 24/7 Wall Street is predicting the imminent demise of R&T.

Thoughts by TTAC commenter CJinSD:

All of these magazines write their reviews to the benefit of their advertisers instead of their readers. The only other recurring theme is expensive cars as porn. Why do they have fresh specs for every engine offering and trim level of every $60K and up car and occasionally run a one page “drive” review of models that outsell them all? Do they think their readers are all looking for clues how to spend their $300 a month option budget on their new Porsche Boxsters? Is that the dream demographic they want to present to their advertisers? The classiest products advertized with any regularity are cargo liners for CUVs, discounted tires, and radar detectors. Chinese collectibles and male inadequacy products may appeal to German car buyers, but there aren’t enough of them to justify expensive ads.

The readers don’t want to know about cars they see three abreast on the freeway every day: they want to know about dream cars, cars they can buy if they win the lotto, cars that will serve as their delayed reward for having suffered all those years with a ’99 Corolla. It’s all about the Higher Level. It’s why Cosmo’s cover story is never “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your sex life.” And Lamborghini doesn’t have to advertise in these mags because hey, they’re freaking Lamborghini, anything they do gets covered automatically as a matter of editorial judgment, based on the fact that the readers want to know about dream cars.

CAFE is poised to set us back to 1978. People are going to need auto journalism with a consumerist bent, much as we had from these dinosaurs thirty years ago. They were far from perfect then in their unwillingness to condemn technologies that bit buyers, but they were far better at reviewing mass market cars than they are now. Consumer Reports is probably better positioned to hire some people that can write than the buff books are to start writing about the realities of their advertisers’ products.

Then again, CR originally positioned itself as the oracle to the Automobile As Appliance submarket, and while we have since learned that not only do they not hate cars, they drive the living whee out of them, their target reader is still the person whose greatest fear is “Will this break down on me?” That person won’t care whether Sedan X garnered more points than Crossover Y in testing: he’s peering into long lines of red — or, yes, black — dots. Which is as reasonable a criterion for selecting a car as any other; but it’s not a place the buff books, which get extended experience with only a handful of cars, have any reason to be.

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Juice box

This is the sort of thing for which Glenn Reynolds would say “Faster, please”:

In my new book, I have a storyline involving one of those Edison-level geniuses who pops up every once in a while and remakes some major aspect of human life. In this case, the character invents a package that involves photovoltaic paint and a lightweight battery capable of storing up to 20 kiloamphours of power, a package that weighs less then 40 pounds including batteries and the PV paint. The notion is that you could spray your roof — or your entire house — with the stuff, hook up the battery storage system, and remove yourself from the electrical grid entirely.

That’s a heck of a charge. Assuming you need 100-amp electrical service, a battery this size could run things for a week or so without any input from the solar grid at all, assuming temperatures more like San Diego than Saskatchewan. (At least, this is how I remember the math: 20,000 Ah/100 A = 200 hours.)

This, of course, assumes they’d actually let you do that:

I hadn’t considered it for the book — the wrinkle doesn’t really fit into this part of the story, although it might figure into the sequel — but that sort of development would likely be violently opposed by the powers who control the grid in all its manifestations. It moves the command Let there be light from the hands of all the various collectives that make up the current lines of supply into the hands of the individual. As such, it would be a deadly threat to those who wield those reins of power and control today.

Faster, please.

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Even the scars have a soundtrack

First we’ll start the music:

This is the story. There are times when I believe that the only way to avoid making the same mistake twice is to avoid making it once. But that’s not going to happen, is it?

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Now get dressed and move along

Said I when the Fawlty Towers motel in Cocoa Beach went clothing-optional last year: “If this won’t work in Florida, it won’t work anywhere.”

Perhaps it won’t work anywhere after all:

The bare-fleshed idea’s flaws were exposed by chilly weather, said Paul Hodge, the owner. “That really didn’t work out too well. All those cold spells during the winter: Who wants to go naked when it’s cold?” Hodge asked.

After revenues continued to flounder, Fawlty Towers reverted last week to a traditional, clothed resort. And the hotel is up for sale for $2.9 million.

Which seems like a lot for 32 rooms, but hey, it’s Florida. Even when it’s cold outside.

(Via Nudiarist.)

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Strange search-engine queries (382)

Perhaps you have today off. (This is probably why.) But duty goes ever on, as it must, and here are today’s wacky search strings.

nudism foto 1980god.:  I mean, God hardly needs pictures of skinny-dippers, amirite?

defective rate:  This is what you’ll probably really get from Rachel from Card Services.

dallas december2002 picketline bookstore plano picket dallas:  In other news, Plano has at least one bookstore.

The stoplight had just changed and a 1900 Cadillac has entered the intersection, heading north at 3.8, when it was struck by a 800 eastbound Volkswagen. The cars stuck together and slide to:  The front door of a bookstore in Plano.

can you add distronic cruise:  See your nearest authorized Mercedes-Benz retailer. There’s one in Plano.

miserabilist guide:  If you want to be miserable, all you have to do is read the news.

african woman huge naked big sexy ass shaking date /startpage/n:   I’m sure there’s something in the iTunes Store EULA about this sort of thing.

disengagement vent:  There’s almost got to be a Jefferies Tube joke here somewhere.

two dollars bills plastic cold:  Hence the phrase “cold cash.”

“mary fallin” “nice rack”:  You should see her Cabinet.

mozilla anal:  Yes, I admit it, Firefox can be a pain in the ass.

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Decoration Day

Spring 1868. General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a support organization founded by veterans for veterans, issues the following as General Order No. 11:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

This wasn’t the first Memorial Day, technically; the townspeople of Waterloo, New York had inaugurated just such an observance two years earlier. But General Logan’s call to honor fallen soldiers resounded nationally, and five thousand turned out at Arlington National Cemetery on the thirtieth of May, placing flowers and placards and gifts on the resting places of twenty thousand.

Two years later, General Logan spoke at Arlington, and this is part of what he said:

This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims… Let us, then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us…

I come from a family with strong ties to the military. Both my parents were sailors, and my father had served in the Army before joining the Navy. A brother served in the Navy; a sister took on the duties of a soldier’s wife. But it took me rather a long time to understand the “noble dead”; I knew nothing of death except that it was a scary prospect, and I didn’t see nobility as being part of the package.

The first inkling of what it meant came during Basic Combat Training in 1972. I was eighteen, grossly immature, and generally scared spitless. The guys with the funny hats who dragged us out of bed at 0500, well, they were just an obstacle, to be endured and then to be forgotten.

Except that they knew things. They weren’t scholars issuing position papers from ivory towers; they were men who had Been There, who had faced real enemies, and who had come back to show us pathetic slobs how to face real enemies ourselves. There were things you did, and there were things you did not do, if you expected to come back yourself. And since we were all green as hell and totally lacking in life experience, what we wanted more than anything else was to be able to come back.

So we learned. We fired (just as important, we cleaned) our weapons, we studied simple tactics, we got used to sleeping with the rocks and the ticks, we got to the point where we weren’t as embarrassingly bad as we had been a couple of months earlier. And the NCOs, who up to then had never been satisfied with our performance, pronounced themselves satisfied: we were going to be all right.

Most of us did come back. But some did not, and we found ourselves grieving for them and for their families, because we knew that it could just have easily have been us. Their sacrifice was received and found worthy. Noble, even.

I thought about this during the dedication of the World War II Memorial this week, especially when that old soldier Bob Dole explained why it was happening:

What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.

I hope, as I slide into old-soldier status myself, that I’ve done my best to live up to those ideals.

(Originally posted 30 May 2004.)

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Down here on the ground

Have you ever wanted to scream “You’re not helping!” at someone? It’s like that.

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Unneeded assistance

Just landed in the spam trap:

I discovered your [post identification redacted] page and noticed you could have a lot more traffic. I have found that the key to running a website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your subject matter. There is a company that you can get traffic from and they let you try it for free. I managed to get over 300 targetted visitors to day to my website.

I get 300 visitors a day without having to target a damned thing. Why should I fork out to some vendor of Digital Snake Oil (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.)?

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Today’s numbers racket

Everything you ever hated about the Financial Industry in one brief anecdote:

The check was for $6,000, an amount this sow never saw in her life. She was always overdrawn on her accounts, had well over $1,000 in fees, and was just a miserable, pathetic, excuse for a human being. But what made this great was just how obvious it was she had printed this check off of a cheap ink-jet printer.

My solution was simple — call the cops and get this vermin arrested for passing fake checks.

But oh, no. Not for the staff nor my boss. How did we know it was fake? How did we know she purposely printed this off? Besides (and pay attention to this) we needed her late and overdraft fees because those (despite never being paid) made this a profitable account.

Yep. Meets the technical definition of an asset, even if for all intents and purposes it is clearly anything but. Somewhere in the ether are a couple of quadrillions worth of complicated derivatives with all the tangible value of unicorn farts — believe me, I know from unicorn farts — that are, for the moment, being carried as assets. How long can this go on? So long as everyone agrees that these are actually assets and doesn’t try anything foolish like, oh, trying to cash them out.

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