Improbable history

I am not at all sanguine about the possibilities here:

As our old friend Rocket J. Squirrel used to say, “But that trick never works!”

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A true rock and roll heart

The Velvet Underground didn’t sell an enormous number of records; but, as the saying goes, everyone who heard them started a band.

This isn’t quite true — I haven’t quite worn out White Light/White Heat yet, and I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a stage — but I knew, even then, that I was always going to pay attention to Lou Reed, even when I couldn’t tell what the heck he was doing at any given moment; the man was simply Out There, and “There” sometimes wasn’t even on the map.

Still, Reed live on stage was something to behold, sometimes a man on fire, sometimes a man on Quaaludes, but always interesting. For an example of the former, see his 1974 (actually recorded the week before Christmas 1973) live set at the Academy of Music (on the Rock N Roll Animal LP), in which “Sweet Jane” turns into an outright anthem.

And what amazed me is that no matter what he did — Metal Machine Music, directing a video for a Susan Boyle (!) cover of “Perfect Day,” singing backup on a Metric single — he never managed to make himself appear irrelevant.

Reed walked to the quiet side yesterday at seventy-one; you may be sure that rock and roll heaven has no idea what to make of him, but they’ll adjust. We always did.

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Strange search-engine queries (404)

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The ’14 Grand Damn

“Maximum Bob” Lutz, presumably at a safe distance, discloses that the Feds ordered the death of Pontiac:

“The Feds basically wanted to get GM down to Cadillac and Chevrolet. They said, ‘you don’t need all these brands. You need one prestige brand, and one mass-market brand.’ And we said ‘well we can’t get rid of Buick because Buick is important in China, and if Buick becomes an orphan in the United States then the Chinese are no longer gonna be interested in it.’ And the Feds said ‘Fair enough, but everything else goes.’ We said well we’d also like to keep GMC. They said ‘well, GMC is basically just like Chevrolet,’ and we said ‘that may be true, there may be a lot of shared components, but GMC has an entirely different image, a different customer base, and people are willing to pay different prices for a GMC, and here’s the profitability,’ and the Feds said ‘whoops, okay, keep GMC.’

“So now we had Buick, GMC, Cadillac, and Chevrolet, and then, I wanted, badly wanted, to keep Pontiac, because Pontiac was on its way back, and it had been mismanaged for a number of years, you know, with ‘rebuild excitement,’ and the excitement was only in the plastic body cladding, mechanically there was nothing about Pontiac in the 90s that would make your heart beat faster. And with the solstice and solstice coupe, and with the Pontiac G8, which was a great car. We were embarked on a strategy of making Pontiac different from the rest of GM in that Pontiac wouldn’t get any front wheel drive cars, they would all be rear-wheel drive, and the next G6, was going to use the architecture of the Cadillac ATS, it was going to be a 3-series sized rear-wheel Pontiac, with basically the Cadillac ATS ‘de-premiumized,’ obviously, a lot of the cost taken out, but still fundamentally that architecture.

That was going to be the next G6, and I think we could’ve moved Pontiac away from every other American volume brand and really started positioning it as attractive US alternative to some of the, and obviously at much lower prices than the European rear-wheel drive cars, but the Feds said ‘yeah, let’s just, how much money have you made on Pontiac in the last 10 years?’ and the answer was ‘nothing.’ So, it goes. And, when the guy who is handing you the check for 53 billion dollars says I don’t want Pontiac, drop Pontiac or you don’t get the money, it doesn’t take you very long to make up your mind.”

Truth be told, I rather liked that original government pitch: you get one mass-market brand, one premium brand, and that ought to be enough for anybody. (Ford, not incidentally, came to this conclusion on its own.) But notice how the Feds are willing to indulge the Chinese with regard to Buick, which at the time was selling roughly half Pontiac’s volume in the States.

Personally, I think they should have ordered GMC to go a bit farther upscale. And if we’re really concerned with GM’s proliferation of brands worldwide, why is Chevrolet trying to get a foothold in Europe, thereby cannibalizing sales of Opel/Vauxhall?

So now the General is repositioning Cadillac as the purveyor of RWD BMW alternatives, the ATS aimed right at the 3-series, the new CTS going after the 5. I’m not sure where the XTS fits in here, unless it’s just to reassure old farts like me who remember the word “Brougham,” and the ELR, let’s face it, is basically a Voltier Chevy Volt. Neither XTS nor ELR, I submit, would have had any business being a Pontiac.

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This is no mantra

Apparently you can’t always believe the label on a music app:

I was searching for some nice, soothing music to type by, and chose an app that has all kinds of music from all over the world. I searched for “meditation.” I got a list of stations and chose one. Ahhh. Soothing music greeted me.

Then, for no apparent reason, a loud, fuzzed out guitar began to play heavy metal, or thrash metal. Then the drummer joined in. It sounded like he was rolling around metal garbage cans filled with ricocheting bowling balls while simultaneously pounding the cans with a ball peen hammer. My automatic reaction was to scream in anguish while randomly slapping the screen of my iPad, trying desperately to turn it off. What the hell? Is this some new kind of meditation I haven’t heard about, like Masochism Meditation? Yegods! Count me out.

I’m guessing that the idea here is to overcome that old stress with new stress. Sounds counterproductive to me, but hey, I’m not a streaming-music programmer, this notwithstanding.

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Glitch or no glitch

The Oklahoman reported Saturday [behind paywall] that as of the 18th, at least 74, but not more than 82, residents of Oklahoma had managed to sign up for some sort of health insurance through (The uncertainty, said Mike Rhoads, John Doak’s deputy at the Insurance Department, was due to the fact that two of the five providers were giving out ranges instead of exact numbers.)

The numbers, incidentally, were not obtained from the Feds; OID simply contacted the actual providers and asked them.

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Climate uncontrol

Ask ten people what “room temperature” should be, and you’ll get seven or eight different answers varying over about a 6-degree (Fahrenheit) range. None of them, however, are likely to go along with this sort of thing:

End of October, nights are cold and days becoming increasingly chilly; it has been decidedly freezing in my apartment — I wore warm socks and sweaters and slept under two woolen blankets. Finally super turned on the heat — and how! It is a sauna! I need to buy the room thermometer to see exactly how high it is, but even w/o it I’ll tell you: it’s unbearable. Yesterday I called the super and he came over, installed a control valve on the radiator (which doesn’t help a bit) and told me that “people on 6th floor complain of cold, so I have to turn the heat on”. But why go to such extremes? That’s a rare case when I’d welcome “middle of the road”. I have a glass+aluminum night table placed over radiator in my bedroom: the heat was on at 3am this morning and by 3:30 the table was impossible to touch.

Not that you asked, but the magic number for me is 74 (call it 23 Celsius). A certain amount of slop is allowed, inasmuch as one can expect only so much performance from an HVAC system, especially, as I have been recently reminded, from an old HVAC system. Lows well below freezing or highs on the Death Valley scale require a certain amount of personal adjustment.

(Official coldest low this month: 32, on the 19th. The high next day was 73, and if that sounds odd to you, you don’t live here.)

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Unalloyed delight

Hello Kitty is about to turn a semi-matronly 40, and to celebrate, Mitsubishi is unleashing 400 copies of its Mirage hatchback dedicated to the unfinicky feline. I was drawn to this bit of detail work:

Wheel cover for Mitsubishi Mirage Hello Kitty edition

The bad news — or the good news, depending on your perspective — is that Mitsu is making only those 400, and will mail exactly none of them to the States.

(Previous Kitty cars: smart fortwo; Fiat 500.)

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Imagine the themes

This site has been running WordPress for a little over five years, with about 36 hours of downtime. Not too shabby for a hundred bucks a year, I was thinking as I was looking toward the next yearly renewal; in fact, I mused, those idiots at should have just installed WordPress — it takes a whole five minutes — and gone with that.

I was, as always, being sarcastic. But it appears I’m not the only one who’s thought this:

Of the 14 states running their own health insurance marketplaces, five — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Colorado and Hawaii — decided to use WordPress to power their sites. Other markets, such as Illinois, which selected a federal partnership option, also tapped WordPress. [While] these sites are far from perfect, they’ve performed much better than

To the extent that they’ve performed at all, they’ve performed much better than

Automattic’s Peter Slutsky, who sitteth at the right hand of Matt, saith:

“The government spent $500 (+/-) million on this website — that’s a lot of money to throw at a problem and the problem clearly wasn’t solved. Whoever was in charge of the process — the contractor(s), HHS, the White House, etc. did not properly load test or beta test the website before launch. That probably wasn’t a good idea when you’re rolling out something this large and this important.”

And furthermore:

“WordPress is free, open source and flexible enough to power the majority of the state health care exchanges and upwards of 20% of the top 10 million websites on the planet. With the exception of some small glitches (normal for software), the state health care exchanges function properly.”

Besides, everyone knows how to debug WordPress: the first thing you do is disable all the plugins.

(Via Fark.)

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The Doctor is in

R. Griggs Group, a British shoe manufacturer you know better than you think you do, has just been acquired by European private-equity firm Permira for £300 million.

The Griggs family has been producing shoes since 1959, based on a design by Dr. Klaus Märtens, first sold by Märtens and old friend Dr. Herbert Funck in 1947. The shoes still bear the Dr. Martens name, albeit de-umlauted. Griggs’ first version was designated Model 1460; it’s still sold today, and we see a pair here on Jessica Alba:

Jessica Alba in Dr. Martens

Why 1460? The shoe was introduced in Britain on 1 April 1960.

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Is this the right room for an argument?

Roger on the dodgy subject of avoiding conflict:

Then there’s the uncertainty thing, sign of a good humanities student. I certainly don’t pretend that I know all the answers — others may think so, but it’s not true — and I put forth the possibility, in SOME topics, that I could be at least partially mistaken. I don’t have the need to badger others about those things.

I was not a particularly good humanities student. (Short version: “voracious reader” did not necessarily equal “scintillating writer.”) However, I wound up with the following conviction: even in the subjects I know best, there is likely to be someone who knows something I don’t.

This doesn’t mean I won’t defend my position if I’m correct. But I’d darned well better make sure I am correct before going too far out on that limb.

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Now there’s a defense

Terry Simonson, on the local crime rate, in Urban Tulsa Weekly:

[A]t the end of the day, when you take out the drug killings, gang killings, alcohol-related killings and home invasion killings, for a city of almost 400,000 people, our homicide rate is one of the lowest in the nation.

Marion Barry called, and he wants his assessment back:

Outside of the killings, DC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

(Via Michael Bates’ Facebook page.)

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A fire waiting to happen

How about “no”? Does “no” work for you?

Can I use a 150w car inverter to power a 700w microwave?

Someone has already called this person a “brain dead wack job,” which was awfully generous of him.

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Death Star flubs again

I got a friendly (well, it wasn’t in any way surly) little notice from the landline provider last night, advising me of the amount of my current bill and the due date, the latter being next Tuesday.

This is generally the same notice I usually get from them on the 16th or 17th; why it showed up last night, I had no idea. And anyway, it was paid on the 18th. Their online account-management system even says so: balance $0.00.

So I went back through the last three weeks’ worth of email, and no, they hadn’t sent it this month: in its place, they sent something they called a “newsletter,” which as you might expect was mostly offers to sell me more stuff. (As if the knucklehead from Texas who calls here every evening trying to sell me more stuff wasn’t annoying enough.) I delete those things on sight. The only other possible explanation is that this thing was sitting in the mail server for a week or so before being disgorged — but how often does that happen? The mail headers don’t indicate any such thing.

Incidentally, my arrival on their Web site was interrupted by a banner, 800 pixels wide, wanting me to sign up for paperless billing — on the very day when they gave me the best possible reason not to.

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Some dazzling albedo there

Last time out, I had occasion to mention a late-Eighties advertising campaign by Hanes — the ever-popular magpie functionality, you’ll be pleased to note, is running flat out — and after looking at a few of the articles in question, this one, I decided, was the silliest:

Hanes Silk Reflections advertisement circa 1987

I’m not entirely certain that this beachlike setting is the ideal place to show off one’s hosiery, but then, she’s been up the Nile and down the Mississippi and around the world and across the nation and up your street, so Claire, who seems vaguely manic-pixie-dream-girl-ish here, can pretty much do as she darn well pleases.

Oh, and the bird with the short attention span reported, as I was typing that last paragraph, that “Claire” is Zooey Deschanel’s middle name.

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Quote of the week

Over the years, the maker of the number-two erectile-dysfunction product has changed its approach to television advertising somewhat, but, says Pejman Yousefzadeh, the new version is no improvement over the old one.

That was then:

You would expect them to walk upstairs, steal a few smoldering glances at one another, and then tastefully but suggestively close the door in order to pay homage to Aphrodite.

This never happened. Instead, the man and the woman would leave the house, fully dressed, and retrace the voyage of Vasco da Gama whilst entirely on foot. And then some. They would traverse large rocks, hills, valleys, deserts, snowy tundras, and climb K2 just for kicks. Needless to say, none of these activities are euphemisms for “they had sex.” Then, to top things off, they would lug two single bathtubs into the realm of Rivendell, place them next to each other, climb into each of them, and gaze at the horizon together while holding hands, apparently waiting for Frodo Baggins to return from Mordor and report that the One Ring had at last been destroyed.

This is now:

The new ones are a somewhat different kind of awful. Various couples are still shown engaging in quasi-let’s-find-the-Ark-of-the-Covenant-and-put-it-in-the-hands-of-top-men activities, but the Choose Your Own Adventure theme is not as pronounced as it used to be back when couples were supposed to pretend that they were the Justice League on galactic patrol duty. What’s bad is the writing for the voiceover.

The conceit for the new … commercials is that the man sees the lady doing something that only she does. Something that is unique to her personality and habits. Something incredibly cute and adorable. Something that would make any heterosexual male reach for a particular pharmaceutical product.

And then, the voiceover annihilates the kinda-sorta romantic moment with words very much like the following:

“You’ve always loved her for her childlike delight when in the presence of a truly terrific Jackson Pollock painting. But your erectile dysfunction could be the result of a loss of blood flow …”

On the other, um, hand, if you’re bleeding all over the place, you could probably produce your own mock-Pollock in, oh, four hours or so.

Truth be told, this reminds me a bit of a series of Hanes Silk Reflections print ads which invariably included three factoids about the wearer, the last being the superior appearance of her legs. I shall have to dig one of those out of the archives.

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