Last fall, I took a rhetorical shot at “all these third-party debt weasels who buy written-off accounts at pennies on the dollar and then robocall everyone in the Western Hemisphere in an effort to find someone stupid enough to pay them.”

Will Truman, far more patient than I, describes his own experience with such:

The message goes something like “This call is for Jane Jones. If this is not Jane Jones, please hang up now. This involves debt collection and if you are not Jane Jones and you do not hang up, you are guilty of violating federal confidentiality laws.”

Of course, my answering machine doesn’t hang up. So, it’s a felon. I guess I am, too, since I have listened to the message all the way through. Oddly, there’s nothing after the stern warning that tells me anything that I didn’t already know from before the warning except for the name of the debt collection agency and the 1-800 number to call in order to pay up. But you know, that would actually be a helpful thing to tell me before the warning, if only so that I can call them back and let them know that Jane Jones can no longer be reached at this number. If I call back, though, they will know that I listened longer than I should have (and that my answering machine and I are both felons).

Jane Jones, of course, was not available for comment.

The catch here, as you may have already discerned, is that if you don’t pick up, they’re not going to assume that Jane Jones isn’t here; they’re going to keep the little autodialer running just as long as they can until someone is insane enough to say “I will pay.” It is, I believe, in our best interest to let these people continue to run up enormous toll charges, thereby reducing their return on their dubious “investment.”

I figure that if I actually owe someone money, they can by God send me a proper bill. If they can’t, screw ‘em.

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Quick and non-dirty

“Less is more,” said Mies, though hardly anyone seemed to believe him.

Jane Pratt apparently believed him. The old Jane magazine had a feature called “Makeunder,” as opposed to the ubiquitous makeover: replace the overdone face with something minimal and fresher-looking. And now we’re seeing the Makeunder on, very much in the same spirit.

The subject of the most recent Makeunder is Sammy “Sweetheart” Giancola of Jersey Shore, who says it takes her two hours to prep, preen, and otherwise primp. Total time for the Makeunder: five minutes flat. Apparently Mies was right after all.

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Strange search-engine queries (309)

Another year, which means another bunch of Mondays, which means this series goes on and on. And on.

“amc” “pacer” “clock radio”:  Nice to see that one of these ancient goldfish bowls is finding a new life on a night stand.

car has transmission problem. can i drivr on freeway:  For about ten, maybe fifteen feet. Suggestion: sell it and buy an AMC Pacer.

deadpool filthy rotted “schroeder” mike seth:  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I figure that if he’s already filthy and rotted, I’m thinking that he’s ineligible for the current dead pool.

i feel like im losing my social skills:  Is this the same guy who’s asked this three times before? In that case, the answer is Yes.

people keep stealing my pens:  You wouldn’t have this problem if you had some social skills.

“second life” “meghan’s” shemales:  So that’s where all your Linden dollars are going.

grease pick up blogs:  Conversely, blogs can and do pick up grease.

HAS BEANS:  And, if he has a blog, grease to fry them in.

girl in bra in jail:  The fetishists are getting ever more specific.

zooey deschanel bun in the oven:  For now, she remains bunless, so to speak.

what is lesley gore’s bra size:  It’s her undies, and she’ll talk if she wants to.

michele bachmann legs:  By now you should have already seen this picture:

Michele Bachmann sitting quietly

(Via The Bachmann Cometh.)

a visual i didn’t need:  Geez, you should have told me that before I posted the picture.

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Overlord of the flies

One of the inherent difficulties in politics as we know it is that one man’s boon is another man’s boondoggle, that “roads to nowhere” might actually go somewhere, possibly even somewhere worth going.

Set the controls for the spring of 2008, and here’s what we find:

A conservative fiscal watchdog group recently gave Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena [CA], the “French Kiss Off Award” for sending $211,000 to France to study an agricultural pest.

The mock honor came from Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste, which publishes an annual compendium of what the group considers pork barrel legislation.

Thompson defended his earmark:

“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

And in olive-growing portions of California, Bactrocera oleae is indeed a threat:

From what I’m hearing around the Valley, this past Fall’s crop was particularly hard hit. Ours certainly was. We didn’t have a large crop as it was, since our trees seem to be on an every other year boom and bust cycle. One year we’ll have just enough olives for brining for our own use, the next year we’ll be hauling bin after bin down to the Community Press. Still, what we had this year — apparently every single olive on every single tree — was crawling with Olive Fruit Fly larvae.

Still, they hit on a solution that didn’t require a government grant:

Seems the one thing these little critters like better than olives is torula yeast. Don’t look for this in your local health food store. One article calls it “a questionable taste additive”. Apparently, it’s put in cheaper processed foods and dog chow to enhance the flavor. Although, having smelled it, I’m not sure who would find it palatable unless you like a gamey, meaty, yeasty flavor.

But, as I said, the Olive Fruit Fly loves it. And if you buy a load of $15 ball traps and bait them with the pellets, you can wipe out most, if not all of your invading flies. Or you can save the $15 per tree for the traps and do what John did. Collect as many old plastic water bottles as you can find, punch holes in them, drop in a torula yeast tablet apiece and string one from each of your olive trees.

A wholly admirable, and mostly organic — and I suppose you could recycle those old plastic water bottles — solution to a difficult problem. Whether the USDA, in Paris or otherwise, would have figured this out, I couldn’t tell you; on the other hand, just because a given research project sounds amusing doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious.

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A whole Lada car

This unassuming little notchback is the latest offering from Russia’s AvtoVaz:

2012 Lada Granta

Renault owns a quarter of AvtoVaz, but the Lada Granta shows little or no Frenchmobile influence. To save a few rubles, the Granta was spun off the smaller Kalina platform, so you’ll find little of the latest and putatively greatest technology: the sole engine offered at first is a 1.6-liter SOHC four with about 80 hp, stirred by a five-speed manual. (On the way: a 1.4L DOHC four with 90 hp. Still no automatics.)

Left Lane News reports on pricing and options:

Granta buyers will be able to choose between two trim levels. The first is called “standard” and carries a base price of $7,500, $400 more than Lada was shooting for when it was developing the car. For that price the Granta has to settle with black plastic bumpers, steel wheels and roll up windows.

The second trim is called “classic” and is much better equipped. For $8,500, customers get luxury features such as power steering, electric windows, ABS, a stereo, and power door locks. A GPS system, side curtain airbags and ESP are on the options list.

AvtoVaz hopes to sell 100,000 of these little boxes a year, and reportedly already has orders for 20,000. No word on any export versions, though there’s obviously no way they’d come to the States, and Lada has mostly withdrawn from the Canadian market.

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It’s all yours

I’m declaring an open thread to start out the year. Do your — well, not “worst” exactly, but you know what I mean.

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The end of the world

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Worst titles of 2011

Listed chronologically:

“Play that funky Muzak, white boys” (15 January)
“The plain in Jane is mainly on the brain” (18 January)
“Doody now for the future” (19 January)
“No shake, Sherlock” (7 February)
“It’s worse than that; it’s debt, Jim” (26 February)
“Emulsional rescue” (17 March)
“Celibate, good times, come on” (24 March)
“These boots aren’t made for gawking” (2 April)
“Where the gripes of Roth are stored” (13 April)
“The bulb of Damocles” (22 April)
“Baryon, my wayward son” (26 April)
“Dallas aforethought” (17 May)
“Fees to meet you” (26 May)
“Where is your cod now?” (12 June)
“Pedal to the meddle” (27 June)
“Pawlenty of nothing” (10 July)
“Pentode the wet socket” (10 July)
“Blue screen of defecation” (14 July)
“Little douche coupe” (11 August)
“I shocked the sheriff” (11 August)
“Ignite to remember” (16 August)
“My baby does Bernanke-Panke” (13 September)
“Van hailing” (22 September)
“Domo arigato, mystery motto” (23 September)
“Isthmus shopping” (2 October)
“Post rock, therefore propter rock” (3 October)
“Blather, rinse, repeat” (15 October)
“They can’t be beet” (26 October)
“Syntax evasion” (11 November)
“I am he as you are he as you are me and EMI is shattered” (14 November)
“I was told there would be no polymath” (30 November)
“Dickery, Doc” (7 December)
“District of Clumsier” (8 December)
“Tempest in a B-cup” (15 December)

(Total number of 2011 posts: 1,978. Also: Worst Titles of 2010; Worst Titles of 2009; Worst Titles of 2008; Worst Titles of 2007; Worst Titles of 2006.)

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Suns bring no heat

The Phoenix Suns demonstrated some serious tenacity midway through the first quarter, coming back from ten points down, and then started falling behind again. And kept falling. They were down 5 after the first quarter, 14 at the half, 22 after three, and both benches were emptied in the fourth, the Thunder relaxing the pressure a bit and pocketing a 107-97 win.

Nobody on either side played even 27 minutes or scored even 20 points: Russell Westbrook, mojo recovery well underway, was good for 18, and four other Thundermen (yes, including Kevin Durant) kicked in 12 each. Deadeye Daequan Cook got his 12 by hitting four of five from beyond the arc; he might have gotten more, but exited after ten minutes with what were described as “flu-like symptoms.” Even Lazar Hayward and Reggie Jackson, who between them had logged zero minutes this season, got onto the scoreboard. The Suns were led by two of their reserves: Markieff Morris and Hakim Warrick, each with 15. (Steve Nash, who played only 22 minutes, checked in with 8.)

As is becoming typical for OKC, they shot well — 53 percent from the floor, 41 on the long ball — and fumbled the rock entirely too often. Scott Brooks can’t possibly be happy with 21 turnovers. Then again, the Suns didn’t profit much from Thunder errors, and shot less than 40 percent on the night, though Morris proved himself pretty efficient in transition. And anyway, it will be March before we have to deal with Phoenix again.

After a Sunday off, the Thunder have to head back to Dallas. The Mavs by now must be sick of seeing them. We can only hope that the illness is protracted.

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Why, it’s almost decadent

Exactly ten years ago today, this scruffy bunch began serving up this wacky domain. (An explanation of sorts is here.)

And no, I’m not planning to move again. No way. The experience of this year’s malware attack, the cleaning of which required me to move several thousand files and even then having to call in the cavalry, would discourage any thoughts I might have had about moving, if I had had any, which I haven’t. Besides, the price has dropped by 50 percent in ten years.

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It’s certainly somebody’s store

“It’s your store,” said the tagline in Albertsons advertising. But Albertsons bailed out of this market in 2007, leaving me with no store; I’ve since divided up my purchases among Crest, Homeland, and the newly-arrived Sunflower Farmers Market. (Unlike seemingly everyone else in this part of town, I’m not all gaga over Whole Foods.)

This week, though, Homeland employees can honestly say “It’s our store”:

Homeland Acquisition Corp., consisting of Homeland, United Supermarkets of Oklahoma, Country Mart stores in Oklahoma and Super Save stores in north central Texas, on Tuesday completed an employee buyout transaction with Associated Wholesale Grocers, a retail-owned cooperative.

HAC operates 76 retail stores, the bulk of which were purchased out of bankruptcy by Associated Wholesale Grocers in September 2002.

And when I dropped in yesterday, there was a large “Employee Owned” decal on the door.

HAC, last I looked, had around 2300 employees represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers. I have to wonder what they’ve been talking about at Local 1000 this week.

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Quote of the week

People are just ruining Julie’s attempts to enjoy Terra Nova:

This stupid world. Because we’re all jockeying for position to be taken seriously, we just have to litmus test everything, lay a standard “artistic and intellectual integrity grid as is accepted by current zeitgeist” over everything, and then start comparing from there.

You have quasi-science types quibbling over a certain grass that was in an episode which wouldn’t have been there, or the position of the moon being off by X degrees and how it should be obvious to everyone and how could the writers have been so scientifically stupid. You have people griping about the main character (a family consisting of a mom, dad, and three kids) being too Brady-Bunch, too perfect, too close, too tight-knit, too lovey-dovey. You have multitudes protesting because there’s not enough “gritty reality” and where are the gay characters and we should see this family fighting and nearly splitting up and where’s the social justice and are economic inequalities addressed and is this socialism that the colony is using because the monetary system and sustainability is doubtful and how dare humans go back in time and wreak havoc on evolution and how stupid to have such a blatantly noble set of heroes instead of angst-ridden deceptive anti-heroes because no one is that noble and on and on and on.

As Puck was wont to say:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.

Or, in a translation from the not-so-distant future: “It’s just a show, I should really just relax.”

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Synthetic sentiment

Note to spammers: While a line like “I’m a long time watcher and I just believed I’d drop by and say hello there for your very first time” seems innocent enough, and might actually get approved by unwary admins, dropping that same message eleven times in less than two hours pretty much gives the game away, don’t you think? (Hint: no, you don’t.)

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Not available at retail

The Yardbirds used to say that “cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age,” and while this doesn’t match my own personal experience, well, hey, I’m not a rock star either.

With that in mind, here’s a car and a girl you can’t have: Canadian model Jessica Stam in a Mercedes-Benz concept car.

Jessica Stam in the Concept A-Class by Mercedes-Benz

Actually, you might have a shot at the car: this particular Mercedes is supposed to indicate the design direction for the new A-Class, which up to now has been a rather dowdy sort of vanlet at the bottom of the line. (It’s even front-wheel-drive, fercrissake.) And when you get right down to it, there are worse things in life than you and the girl next door hitting the road with a CD full of Jeff Beck tunes.

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I write the songs that make the whole world (yawn)

When songwriter Lee Pockriss died, I made mention of it with a link to a New York Times story, about which a contributor to the Spectropop mailing list says:

It’s not normal for the New York Times to write about the passing of a songwriter. In order for it to happen, the songwriter either had to have had a boatload of big hits OR only one hit that had a HUGE impact on popular culture.

This article about Pockriss would not be there if it weren’t for “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Just like the recent article on Paul Leka wouldn’t have appeared if it weren’t for “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye).”

I remember being surprised to see Irwin Levine, one of my favorite songwriters, get an obituary in the New York Times, but realized that with all the great songs he had written, he was ONLY in there because he co-wrote “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree”.

With that in mind, let me drop a few titles on behalf of these guys: “Johnny Angel,” “Calcutta” (Pockriss); “Green Tambourine”, “Will You Be Staying After Sunday” [production only] (Leka); “This Diamond Ring” [with Al Kooper], “Knock Three Times” (Levine).

And this, alas, is true:

I guess we should be grateful when songwriters get any recognition at all. I would say that 99% of people think that songs fall out of the sky, but the truth is that 99% of people don’t even think at all about where songs come from. Nor do they care. This is stunning to people like us, but it’s the truth. Try asking the average person what the little names in parentheses under the song titles are, on CDs or records. Seriously, if you haven’t tried this, do it. You’ll be amazed.

I was gratified to see a one-percenter show up in the search logs last week looking for the appropriate credits for Rebecca Black’s “Person of Interest,” which, having never been released on a CD, doesn’t even have the little names in parentheses.

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Dimly seen

This, of course, was one of the finer moments in the too-short life of Jimi Hendrix:

Under a proposed new Indiana law, this would be illegal.

As is usually the case with legislation today, this measure, as Francis Scott Key used to say, “fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses.”

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