Quote of the week

The late Gore Vidal, interviewed by Playboy in 1969:

Politics today is big money. X can be stupid or a drunk or a religious maniac, but if he has the money for a major political career and enough political flair to make a good public impression, he will automatically attract to himself quite a number of political adventurers, some talented. With luck, he will become the nucleus of a political team that then creates his speeches, his positions, his deeds, if any — Presidential hopefuls seldom do anything — until, finally, X is entirely the team’s creation, manipulated… in much the same way that the queen bee is powerless in relation to the drones and workers.

And while we’re on the subject:

[O]nly in America do we pretend to worship the majority, reverently listening to the herd as it Gallups this way and that.

(I actually posted these quotes ten years ago, but Vidal’s perspicacity in these matters remains undiminished.)

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Rebrand new

Hotmail, owned by Microsoft since the Crimean War, is now mutating into Outlook. Will it be able to snarf up any additional market share? Giz has its doubts:

The Chernobyl Tourism Board has an easier task before it. Hotmail is a cursed word in tech, and, frankly Outlook is probably close behind it, a workplace nightmare most people associate with tedium. The sad fact is that most of us probably wouldn’t switch from Gmail to a better webmail service. Even if it were a much better webmail service. Many of us have been using the same Gmail account since the middle of the Bush administration, and that inertia, combined with the toxic connotations of Hotmail, will make any switch a huge psychological task. Why didn’t Microsoft call it Bing mail? People like Bing. Bing is a decent search engine, and Bing is fun to say.

Disclosure: I do in fact have a Hotmail account, acquired during the Clinton administration. It feeds into Windows Live Mail, which used to be Outlook Express.

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Cameos don’t cost a thing

For those of you who lament the fact that Jennifer Lopez is doing reality shows these days, well, here’s J. Lo doing a walk-on (although she’s not actually walking here, technically) on a reality show, albeit one you probably didn’t see: the Argentine series Soñando por Bailar, which means “Dreaming of Dancing.” I’m reasonably certain no further explanation is required.

Jennifer Lopez on Soñando por Bailar

Weirdly, a victory on Soñando por Bailar earns one a spot on Bailando por un Sueño, “Dancing for a Dream,” in which the stakes are higher. Says Wikipedia of the latter:

From the second season onwards, and unlike the international versions, Bailando por un Sueño has taken a controversial turn due to the constant bickering that often escalates to verbal bashing and personal attacks between the celebrities and the judges. This could be behind the high ratings of the show.

Bickering and verbal bashing? On a reality show? Who knew?

Note: If you thought the obvious title here was “There’s always room for J. Lo,” well, I used that ten years ago.

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Everybody Kurtz-y

Andrea Harris gets around to reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which she apparently considers, to borrow a phrase from Mad, a crock of shit now:

I’m not sure why I should care about the characters: neurotic, coddled white guy leaves “civilization” for the scary jungle, realizes during the journey that he’s out of reach of warm beds, hot baths, and people who care about his feefees to the exclusion of all else, and doesn’t like it one bit. All the other white guys are typical of white guys in a white male supremacist society: they’ve always been on the top so have never had anything really difficult asked of them, and when they find themselves far away from the creature comforts they think they are entitled to they react like big babies and “go native” — that is, become supreme assholes that no actual “native” culture would tolerate from its own.

If it’s any consolation, neurotic, coddled Marlow didn’t much like the other white guys either, at least at first.

I’d love to see her take on The Children of the Sea, which is of course not the real title.

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A round of hemlock for everybody

“Republicans, they thirst for death,” says the banner, which may or may not (I say “may”) trace back to the title of this sidebar piece by Gerard Van der Leun. In any given campaign, the Democrat will enjoy at least one distinct advantage: he’s not employing GOP campaign strategists, here pilloried by Robert Stacy McCain:

Suppose that you are a correspondent who is following around a candidate at considerable expense to your news organization. Your bosses expect that you’re going to provide them with actual news, and hopefully something exclusive. Instead, you go to three events a day at which the candidate gives the same basic stump speech over and over. There’s never a press conference, never a minute of unscripted access to the candidate, and the campaign staffers are under orders never to tell you anything useful in terms of actual news that might distract from the pre-approved Message of the Day.

This is called “staying on message,” and it doesn’t work for the GOP, which hasn’t in years had anything resembling a unified message other than “Taxes bad!” The Democrats don’t have this problem, since they’ve long since adopted Slade’s advice: “See chameleon lying there in the sun, all things to everyone, run, runaway.” And away they run with the election.

How many times have I explained to my friends — many of whom are in fact Republican operatives — why this approach doesn’t work? Hundreds. Yet the same Ziegler-style policy continues to be Standard Operating Procedure, because you will never meet a Republican operative who doesn’t consider himself an authoritative expert on media relations, and they will heed no advice from actual journalists.

Take another sip, Romneybots.

Bill Quick, meanwhile, thinks it’s not a function of GOP gormlessness at all:

Republicans didn’t alienate the press corps. The (mostly) left-wing press corps hates Republicans, and ever since the Kennedy era, has done everything in its power to destroy Republican candidacies when and wherever it covers them. This sort of thinking is akin to a similar malady that far too many Republicans do believe in — that if they can just get the left to like them a little, they can get the left to compromise on principle with them. Then they are shocked when the left says, “You know, you’re kinda likeable, but this is business, sorry,” and then hands them their heads. Again.

Cut to Charlie Brown about to place-kick faceplant.

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Very well then I contradict myself

On April Fools Day, I tried to talk some poor kid out of his desire to live in another universe. But that was before I went there myself.

(Warning: A whole lot of My Little Pony content.)

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Inversion layer

Bertel Schmitt discloses one aspect of selling cars in China that barely resembles the American model:

People who know the world’s largest car market will tell you that “Chinese want big cars with small engines.” They want roomy cars that signal that the owner has been prosperous; the engine however should be small enough to deliver a miserly consumption of gas, or “oil” as they say in China.

Meanwhile, we cram 650 ponies into a lowly Chevrolet (née Daewoo) Aveo.

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Overfed need not apply

Jersey City has attempted to define that nebulous term “starving artist”:

Artists interested in the affordable housing [set aside for those meeting the following criteria] must be certified by the city Artist Certification board that has certified nearly 500 artists citywide. For more information, call [em][number redacted].

1) Commitment to the fine arts as a career
2) Need for a large loft space
3) An arts education
4) Current body of work
5) Exhibition record
6) References from other artists or art professionals

How many of those “affordable housing” units does Jersey City have for these nearly five hundred artists? Seven.

I’m reasonably certain none of the “artists” from those loud TV commercials who end up painting stuff like geese playing Yahtzee for the benefit of buyers who select their artwork on the basis of whether it can cover both the cracks in the living-room plaster will ever end up in one of these lofts.

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404 from the 212

This nifty little drawing of a newsboyperson appears on the 404 page from nydailynews.com:

404 image from the New York Daily News

Then again, I was a fan of the original Newsies, so make of that what you will.

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Rebuked beneath his eye

Tony at the Lost Ogle finds a particularly egregious example of the Digital Divide:

[A]m I wrong or is the very next thing Congress needs to do is pass a rural broadband bill? Or at least an “Affordable Google For All” Act. What the hell. Can you believe there are people who still have to write in to Walter Scott to ask their celebrity questions, and then wait until Sunday for Parade Magazine so they can get an answer? This should be a national outrage!

It’s hard to believe that there are people who still believe there’s such a person as Walter Scott.

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Say unctuous

The following was left as a comment to this post, which is now close to setting a site record for Most Comment Spam Per Word.

Can I just say what a relief to seek out somebody who really is aware of what theyre speaking about on the internet. You undoubtedly know methods to carry a problem to light and make it important. More people must read this and perceive this aspect of the story. I cant believe youre not more well-liked since you undoubtedly have the gift.

I can’t believe it’s not buttering me up.

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Pattern detected

Yeah, it’s pretty much like this:

Gun Legislation demotivational poster

(Snagged from American Specialty Ammo’s Facebook page. With thanks to Jeffro.)

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Scan this, pal

You already know what I think of supermarket self-checkout:

I am not fond of this particular implementation anyway: the scanning zone seems to be wildly variable, and it may refuse your can of tomato sauce right in front of its frickin’ laser beam because it’s worried about something it thinks you tried to sneak into a bag without scanning at all. After that, finding out it’s running on some form of Windows merely elicits a “That figures.”

Still, apparently they’re popular enough to merit a Consumerist survey:

Are they intended to be used for small purchases of just a few items — or is it perfectly fine to get in line with a full week’s worth of groceries?

At the only places I’d be likely to use them, there’s no room for a whole Cart Full O’ Stuff: there are only three bagging stations, and if you’re lucky two of them will be cooperating. The Homeland store I patronize on occasion has a flat 20-item limit. Does the machine cut off at 20? Um, no. Don’t ask me why I know that.

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Take that, Ralph

You gotta love this:

1964 Corvair Monza rear view

A sight to see at the Corvair Society of America’s convention, last weekend in Sturbridge, Massachusetts: a shot across Ralph Nader’s bow. The caption thereupon:

Kevin Willson of Juneau, Alaska, sports a license plate meant to mock the quirky car’s reputation for being deadly.

Willson’s car appears to be a ’64, which also sported some rear-suspension improvements over the original: Chevy softened up the rear coils and added a Corvette-like transverse leaf spring, which did wonders to tame the tail-happiness that so disturbed Nader. (In ’65, a new independent rear suspension, arguably better than Corvette’s, eliminated it completely.) If you told me I could have any late-Sixties sled I wanted, I’d probably ask for a second-generation Corvair.

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Where’s my stuff?

Contents magazine has proposed “standards for the care and feeding of user-generated content,” something which matters if, for instance, you had to rescue a site from GeoCities before Yahoo! turned it into a ghost town. One of those standards, as recounted by Jeffrey Zeldman:

If you close a system, support data rescue. Provide one financial quarter’s notice between announcing the shutdown and destroying any user-contributed content, public or private, and offer data export during this period. And beyond that three months? Make user-contributed content available for media-cost purchase for one year after shutdown.

The only time I’ve really had to deal with this myself was the closing of Photoworks, which sent me an email to warn me to retrieve my stuff within two weeks, though technically they’d been closed for nearly a year. The export system, fortunately, was the same one they’d had all along.

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Ask me again in fifty years

“Do people with fall birthdays live longer?” asks The Week, and, as you’d expect from an article with a question mark in the title, the answer given is at best a qualified Maybe:

[R]esearchers studied the lives of more than 1,500 people who were born between 1880 and 1895 who lived to be 100 or older. They found that most of the people who enjoyed extraordinarily long lives had birthdays in September, October, or November. By contrast, a slight majority of people in the non-centenarian population were born in the first half of the year. In fact, three birth months — March, May, and July — had 40 percent fewer centenarians.

I might be more persuaded by this were it not for the fact that both my siblings with fall birthdays are gone.

As to why this should be so at all:

“Childhood living conditions may have long-lasting consequences for health in later life and longevity,” says Leonid Gavrilov, one of the study authors. For example, in the late 19th century, when these men and women were born, their mothers might have had access to better nutrition at different times of the year. Similarly, seasonal infections might have affected fetuses in the womb, hitting those conceived in different months at significantly different points in their development. Also, the milder fall weather might have helped babies born then to grow up stronger by protecting them from extra stress.

Of course, by the time they have all the numbers for those of us born within a few ticks of 1950, I’ll be in no position to post an update.

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