A sacred golden cup

It is an article of faith in some circles that people gravitate toward the welfare system because it makes more room in the budget for, as the phrase goes, prescriptions available without a prescription.

Or, you know, not:

Last year, the Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature passed a law that requires drug screening of adult applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. The Oklahoma Gazette reported this week that only 29 out of about 1,300 applicants were supposedly caught under the new program from November 2012 to February 2013. That’s a whopping 2.2 percent, and even those who refused to take additional tests weren’t exactly caught doing illegal drugs or didn’t receive money.

Given some of the measures they come up with, I’d be surprised if only 2.2 percent of legislators were doing drugs.

And even if they’d caught twenty, forty, fifty percent, a rule like this sets an extremely bad precedent: it opens the door for all manner of mischief. What’s to stop some petty tyrant of the Michael Jacobson mindset from installing a weigh station at the supermarket checkout and disallowing any purchases he deems inappropriate for your BMI? Legislative Republicans need to put down the bong and rethink this thing.

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Sharply detailed

“The first three weeks are wonderful,” says Doghouse Diaries:

Typical razor blade usage

Do women follow this schedule? (And if so, why?)

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What happens when you’ve been tooling along for years with a hundred visitors a day, and then one day twenty thousand show up?

A few days back, Julie Neidlinger wrote a longish post about her wicked Diet Coke habit, which contained this statement I consider well worth repeating:

Let’s just be honest: people who point out the inadequacies in my eating and health regimen are merely quibbling over the bet they’re placing that I’ll die first. You’re telling me I’m killing myself and it’s my fault. You almost hint that I can take the blame for any physical ailment coming my way. I propose that cellular degeneration and the natural order of things might get some blame, and not just that Snickers I ate yesterday.

Upon reading that, I uncorked — okay, unscrewed — a fresh bottle of Dr Pepper. And not Diet Dr Pepper, either.

The word spread. Over six thousand shared the story on Facebook. It was tweeted more than a hundred times. The Google+ counter doesn’t say anything, but I know there was at least one.

And finally:

Today I was out visiting Fort Abraham Lincoln with friends, and my phone kept beeping and vibrating from tweets and email notifications of comments that awaited moderation as we walked through Gen. Custer’s house and the Mandan village. I finally turned off Twitter notifications, because I can’t even process having more than 100 followers, much less deal with comment moderation.

Comment moderation is a tricky business. You’re damned if you don’t (spammers! d-bags!) and damned if you do (you hate free speech! comment nazi!).

I do as little comment moderation as I can get away with, not so much that I worry about being called a Nazi — believe me, there are creatures far worse than Nazis out there, and rather a lot of them are holed up even now in Mordor-on-the-Potomac — but because I am basically lazy and can expect the automated tools on hand to dispose of 90 percent of the stuff.

Still, twenty thousand visitors in a day, half again as many as I’ve ever gotten in 24 hours, will do things to your head:

And now I’m not sure how to write the next blog post because a bunch of people signed up for my email newsletter and it is inevitable that I’m going to write something someday that makes them unsubscribe or unfollow on Twitter and watching numbers on the wane again and losing hard-earned readers after a decade of blogging in what feels like perpetual obscurity makes it tempting to sort of water down my usual post style to stave off the inevitable.

And now you know why I have never had an email newsletter, though I have several hundred subscribers to the site feed. Besides, the one saving grace of perpetual obscurity is that it’s long-lasting; you never have to worry that you’re getting too big for your britches.

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North side story

East side, west side — who cares? People want to live on the north side:

Most people, knowing nothing else about a city, would rather live in the northern half of town than in the southern, says Brian Meier, associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. People tend to see the north as more desirable and affluent, in turn fueling stereotypes about where the rich and the poor live.

“For some reason, people see the north and south as very different,” Prof. Meier says. “When all else is equal, people have this bias to think that northerly areas are better or more affluent.”

Where does this location bias come from? Think “up” and “down”:

Although north and south are abstract concepts, we tend to understand them in spatial terms, with north meaning up and south meaning down. We then take it a step further and tie the two words to emotion, where up means good and down means bad — “feeling up or feeling down, on cloud nine or down in the dumps,” [Meier] explains. Pop culture furthers this idea; think of Billy Joel’s 1983 song about a blue-collar “downtown man” in love with a high-class “uptown girl.”

At some point, this directional metaphor becomes so ingrained in our minds that we can’t separate metaphor from concept, and north becomes good, and south becomes bad.

Gerardus Mercator never heard Billy Joel, but his map projection from the sixteenth century has the effect of making the northern hemisphere look more important than the southern, simply because far northern zones contain more actual land than far southern zones, and the projection exaggerates that disparity. (Greenland, for instance, appears to be larger than Africa, which is actually about 14 times the size of Greenland.)

Tulsans will happily point out that their south side is fine, thank you very much, but this is most likely a residual effect of Jim Crow.

(Via this Costa Tsiokos tweet.)

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Two roads diverged

The writer known to the ponyverse as Bad Horse explains the bifurcation of culture, and why it’s becoming more so:

I’d given up on writing, because I’d convinced myself that you could either write interesting fiction, or entertaining fiction, but not both. Even Shakespeare, who’s famous for writing for both the literati and the pit, did it by alternating between highbrow and lowbrow in a clumsy way that he only played for humorous contrast and that comes across as condescending. Then I read Fallout: Equestria. It proved that you can write fiction that’s interesting and exciting at the same time.

Only later I realized why you never find writers who are both interesting and entertaining, and why it had to be a fan-fiction writer who combined the two again. There’s probably always been a polarization between highbrow / intellectual and lowbrow / commercial. But for the past 100 years, it’s been a war. The highbrow, serious, academic works in every art — literature, poetry, painting, architecture, music — deliberately cut themselves off from the mainstream and forced anyone who wanted to gain admission to their circles to make art that most people hated. I’m not making this up; you can still find manifestos that artists from the 1910s like Ezra Pound churned out like conspiracy-theorist blog posts, explaining why art has to be unpopular to be good. This is why, for example, the great poets of the 20th century, like Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Billy Collins, were insulated from academia or studied other, older traditions. Likewise, kkat [author of Fallout: Equestria] probably didn’t realize she was stepping into the middle of a war and was supposed to choose sides. If you write mass-market paperbacks, you’re pretentious and artsy if you challenge the values of your target audience. If you write for a literary press, writing an exciting adventure would be gauche. It’s not about art; it’s about tribal affiliation.

One need only look downtown to Stage Center to see a shining (if the sun hits it just right) example of a genuine work of art that rather a lot of people can’t stand. The true artiste does not compromise with mere taste; Arnold Schoenberg once said that “if it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.” And Billy Collins, despite having served a term as the Poet Laureate of the US, is not exactly a household word; I have long suspected that he’d have achieved greater fame had he twisted his name into something like “B. Coraghessan Collins.”

I encountered an example of this disjuncture myself, as a high-school student earnestly blabbing away about a Jack Finney novel — no, not the one you’re thinking — and then being shot down by a teacher who wondered why I was bothering with this comparatively “accessible” stuff while dust accumulated on The Vicar of Wakefield. Then again, I suppose this must be taken in context: said high school’s campus was constructed circa 1915, which made it hideously contemporary in a city founded in 1670. For that matter, it wasn’t like Oliver Goldsmith truly aspired to the highest of brow heights; from better habitations spurn’d due to his dissolute lifestyle, he churned out lots of sub-Dickensian prose for hungry London publishers.

And there are times when I give thanks for my own relative insulation from academia, though this reaction may be more political than cultural.

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Tall crib in Deep Deuce

Thunder small forward Kevin Durant continues to live large, but not that large. The County Clerk reports that Durant has closed on the purchase of two adjacent three-story townhomes in The Hill at Bricktown, at 420 and 422 Northeast 2nd. Each of these had been listed in the $900,000 range; Durant peeled off $1,769,000 for the pair, which I assume he’s going to turn into one humongous 7300-square-foot pad.

This will, of course, cut down his commuting time substantially, at least on game days; however, he’s not that much closer to the Thunder practice facility out on the Broadway Distention.

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We wish her luck

Turkish actress Melisa Sözen was born on this date in 1985 in Istanbul (no, not that other place). Her first film role was in Çağan Irmak’s Bana şans dile — “Wish me luck” — which apparently is a (very) thinly disguised rewrite of Richard Bachman’s Rage. (Bachman, you may remember, is a very thinly disguised Stephen King.) Sözen plays a character named Tuba.

Melisa Sözen

Filmed in 2001, Bana şans dile did not see wide distribution for six years. Irmak apparently did not like it much. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t Melisa’s fault.

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Twelve tones, no weighting

Arnold Schoenberg wasn’t the first composer to use elements of serialism, but he was the first to impose a structure this rigid: all twelve notes in the chromatic scale receive (more or less) equal attention, and key signatures as we know them are essentially irrelevant.

Not that I could explain it beyond that point. Fortunately, there is someone who can:

After seeing this for the first time, I mentioned on Twitter that I’d learned more from this half-hour of unconventional pedagogy than from a whole semester of theory. (And it is half an hour, so pour yourself a tall one and settle back.)

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Now, about those minutes

Who has standing to sue to enforce the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act? Apparently I do:

Oklahomans can sue to enforce the state Open Meeting Act without having to prove they were individually injured by the alleged violation, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Civil Appeals has ruled.

The Open Meeting Act “was specifically and especially enacted for the benefit of the public,” meaning the “general public,” said Judges Jerry L. Goodman, P. Thomas Thornbrugh and W. Keith Rapp.

Judge Goodman wrote for the Court:

[A] criminal action subject only to prosecutorial discretion of a district attorney is likely to result only in a fine, and does not “right the wrong” of an OOMA violation. Whereas, making public the minutes of an improperly-held executive session and invalidating action take at same does “right the wrong” of the violation.

If the wrong is keeping secret information that should be publicly known, then the logical remedy is to disclose the secret to the public. Such remedies are meaningful and vigorously uphold the purpose of the OOMA.

So there.

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They’re very hard to smoke

Screenshot from KCTV Kansas City: Finding The Right Kitten Barbecue Recipes

And you may need extra sauce.

(Found on Lisa Nicole’s Facebook page; thanks to Dan B.)

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Sticking it to the girls

Conventional wisdom has it that mechanics, assuming women don’t know any better, will routinely overcharge them for auto repair. I don’t have any anecdotal data one way or the other, but I do know of instances where women were actually cut out of the purchasing loop because the salescreature would talk only to their husbands, so it seems at least plausible to me.

Now comes actual data:

A new study by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University finds that when it comes to auto repairs, women who don’t appear knowledgeable about cost may end up paying more than men. However, gender differences disappear when customers mention an expected price for the repair.

Not that anyone knows how much it costs to fix anything on a car these days, right?

The researchers set up field experiments to test the effects of men and women calling auto repair shops to ask for quotes on a 2003 Toyota Camry radiator replacement. The callers either appeared well-informed of the market price ($365), misinformed with expectations of a higher-than-average price ($510), or completely uninformed, with no price expectation.

Among those who appeared uninformed, women fared worse and were consistently quoted higher prices. Women who called and expressed knowledge of the market price received quotes in line with that expectation. Men, on the other hand, were quoted the same price whether they said, “I have no idea what this costs,” or “I know the average cost is $365.” As expected, both men and women were quoted significantly higher-than-average prices when they said their expected price was $510.

These presumably were independent shops. I can tell you that replacement of a radiator on a 2000 I30 at the Infiniti store, per Alldata, runs $515 plus an hour and a half labor, somewhere around $700 in all; when I took the car to an independent shop, I made a point of mentioning that figure. (They brought it in for $525, including replacement of both upper and lower hoses, which would have added $250 to the tab at the dealership.)

But here’s the catch:

When it came to negotiating for a lower price, many shops were unwilling to budge. However, when they did, it was more likely to happen for women than men. In fact, 35 percent of women were able to get their requested price met, compared to 25 percent of men.

“It’s kind of an ironic twist,” says Florian Zettelmeyer, the Nancy L. Ertle Professor of Marketing. “The same kind of cultural expectations that cause repair shops to overcharge women are probably also responsible for showing preference toward women in negotiations.”

I am not much of a haggler, this incident notwithstanding, and I would not be surprised to hear that a woman could do it better than I: shopping is in their genome, after all, or so conventional wisdom has it.

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Hitting the ‘Deck

TweetDeck pushed out a new version this week (3.0.5), and while the improvement is useful, there are a few items from the old 0.38.2 that I’d like to see reinstated if at all possible:

  • Spearchucker Spellchecker, that is. Time being of the essence in the Twitterverse, I don’t have time to do my usual ¾-assed (half again as good as halfassed) editing job.
  • The ability to toggle one’s URL shortener. I send out lots of links via bit.ly; however, there are people who will not touch a shortened URL, and I’d just as soon not have to reassure them that no, this is not a one-way trip to Virus City.
  • The shortened-URL preview feature, which enables one to see where that bit.ly (or otherwise) stuff was really going to go.

Surely these can be tacked on without adding more than a few feathers’ worth of program bloat.

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Not a ngrmad condition

This presumably follows the Blue Screen of Apoplexy:

Scrambled Windows reboot screen

(Seen at Miss Cellania’s.)

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Um, yay

Fluttershy sports bra by Hot TopicGiven my fondness for three-word combinations, I am surprised to find myself flabbergasted by this one, which I must admit I never expected: “Fluttershy sports bra.” This can actually be had from Hot Topic, at a price that doesn’t exactly soar, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. At the very least, it’s an acknowledgement, perhaps long overdue, that not all the MLP:FiM adult audience is guys with neckbeards, or guys trying desperately to grow neckbeards, who live in Mom’s basement.

There is, of course, only one way to top that: “Also: Derpy version.”

(Via Equestria Daily.)

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Not stopping

Once again, Rebecca Black teams up with a Cute Guy, and the results are delightfully sonorous:

This is slightly more sanitary than Miley Cyrus’ sort-of-raucous original, which should surprise no one familiar with the awful truth about Hannah Montana.

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Quote of the week

Heather Havrilesky in Aeon, on the crisis usually described as “mid-life”:

Dear sweet merciful lord, deliver me from these deliriously happy parents, frolicking in paradise, publishing books, competing in triathlons, crafting jewellery, speaking to at-risk youth, painting bird houses, and raving about the new cardio ballet place that gives you an ass like a basketball. Keep me safe from these serene, positive-thinking hipster moms, with their fucking handmade recycled crafts and their mid-century modern furniture and their glowing skin and their optimism and their happy-go-lucky posts about their family’s next trip to a delightful boutique hotel in Bali.

I am not physically capable of being that effective or that effusive. I can’t knit and do yoga and smile at strangers and apply mascara every morning. These people remind me that I’ll never magically become the kind of person who shows up on time, looks fabulous, launches a multimillion-dollar business, and travels the world. When I was younger, I thought I might wake up one day and be different: more sophisticated, more ambitious, more organised. Back then, my ambivalence, my odd shoes, my bad hair seemed more like a style choice. When you’re young, being sloppy and cynical and spaced-out looks good on you.

But my flaws are no longer excusable. I need to fix everything, a voice inside keeps telling me. It’s time to be an efficient professional human, at long last, and a great mother and an adoring wife. It’s time to shower on a predictable schedule.

Which seems at odds with the advice she gives — under her old Suck.com nom de screed “Polly Esther” — at The Awl; but not quite resolving those contradictions is what middle age is all about.

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