Twenty items or fewer

About the only place I ever use the self-checkout lane is at the Homeland store at May and Britton, which I hit about every second or third week despite its manifest deficiencies:

[T]he 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.

Contrast and compare with this:

I will say my experience with the self-checkout, once I got to a working stand (more about that in a moment) wasn’t too bad — except the attendant had to come over and tell me, “Don’t push the ‘I’m paying with a credit card’ button before scanning your card even though it tells you to.” (There’s something symbolic about modern technology in that statement).

The machine evidently has a short memory.

The first stand I went to, though, even though its green light was on, it had an error message on the screen. I mentioned it to the attendant and she came over and tried to fix it. And it turned out that someone had scanned a bunch of stuff and not paid. (And while it’s possible they gave up when it wouldn’t accept their credit card and went to a “real” check station, it’s also possible they went through the motions and then walked out with about $25 of groceries. If that keeps up, the self-checkouts may not persist for long.)

I dunno about that last point. $25 will barely pay for a checker for two hours. Then again, you’d think the attendant would have seen someone trying to sneak a couple of bags of stuff off the premises.

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No longer board

School-board elections tend to be placid, even passive, affairs in this part of the world.

Not this time. With Oklahoma City Public Schools in turmoil — the district’s most recent report card was a marginal D, and one of the high-school principals has been accused of fixing grades — there’s more interest than usual in next Tuesday’s election.

The OKC Chamber of Commerce has decided to throw its weight behind Lynne Hardin, who is challenging incumbent chair Angela Monson. To this aim, they sent me a flyer this week, which did not name their favored candidate but which included a link to their school-board subsite. Now flyers I’ve had before, but for the first time in recent memory I got an actual robocall from Hardin.

Monson, you may remember, defeated former OKC mayor Kirk Humphreys last time out, four years after being term-limited out of her state Senate seat. I was generally a Monson supporter when I lived in her district — I moved away in 2003 — and she’s never quite struck me as being exactly a Chamber of Commerce type, which could be a point in her favor. Still, with horrible things happening on her watch, she might well be done for.

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Add to Favorites

Repeat after me: Correlation does not equal causation.

Then go download a new browser:

Comparison, murder rate to Internet Explorer usage

If it saves just one life, isn’t it worth it?

[sound of Firefox crashing]

(Via GraphJam.)

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Arrows to the knee

There are basically only two ways to beat the Golden State Warriors: throw about one and a half times as much defense at them as you usually do, or shoot about ten percentage points above normal. Last time the Thunder played them, they didn’t quite do either of those things, with the expected and unfortunate result. As it turns out, OKC couldn’t do a whole lot against the Warriors’ long ball — the visitors put up twenty and hit ten — but the Thunder executed twelve steals and 16 blocks to leave Golden State in a pile of yellowish dust, 119-98.

Six of those blocks came from Serge Ibaka, when he wasn’t shooting 7-10 for 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He might have gotten more, but there wasn’t any need to bring the starters back for the fourth quarter, even though the Warriors had shaved their 18-point halftime deficit down to 11 after three, which is why you see only 25 from Kevin Durant and 22 from Russell Westbrook: the second (and third) string were doing well enough, thank you very much. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson snagged 12 points, something he’s never done before in the Big Show.

Golden State partisans could argue that Jarrett Jack was ailing and couldn’t play, which may have made some small bit of difference at some point. And I was sort of hoping that Andrew Bogut would show, but they’re not ready to play him on back-to-backs just yet. (The Warriors were trounced in Houston last night, 140-109, by dint of that other tactic: a barrage of treys. The Rockets nailed 23 out of 40, in fact, and without sharpshooter Carlos Delfino, yet.) Still, four Golden State starters finished in double figures, which is nothing to be ashamed of, especially since two of them — Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes — had 19 each.

What’s heartening here, of course, is that the Thunder followed a blowout of a mediocre team (I’m looking at you, Dallas) with a blowout of a good team. With the next two games — a home-and-home — against Phoenix, a team which is perhaps not quite as good as the Mavs, it’s time for a little confidence-building.

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Penalties for compliance

This sounds like a pretty routine announcement out of Sacramento:

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) recently issued FTB Notice 2012-03, stating that the FTB will disallow the exclusion or deferral of gain under California’s qualified small business stock (QSBS) statute for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2008. FTB Notice 2012-03 comes on the heels of the California Court of Appeal’s decision in Cutler v. Franchise Tax Board, 208 Cal. App. 4th 1247 (2012), where the court held that California’s QSBS rules impermissibly favor California corporations in violation of the commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution. Rather than simply striking the particular offending provisions from the California QSBS statute, the FTB has deemed the entire California QSBS statute to be invalid and unenforceable, thereby impacting all California taxpayers who have claimed QSBS exclusion or deferral benefits in recent years. The Cutler decision and FTB Notice 2012-03 impact only the California QSBS rules, and do not affect the availability of federal QSBS benefits under the Internal Revenue Code.

“Impacting”? Well, yeah, kind of:

That may sound like a relatively minor matter, especially if you don’t own startup shares or aren’t an active investor. And in light of California’s financial woes, it would certainly be intellectually understandable if the state had decided to drop the exemption going forward. But the changes don’t stop there. Under the California Franchise Tax Board’s interpretation of a 2012 state Court of Appeals ruling, which found part of the tax law to be unconstitutional, anyone who acted in good faith to claim the now-deceased QSB incentive on their 2011 California return owes the state back taxes on the excluded or deferred income.

And the same goes for 2010. And 2009. And 2008.

And, what’s more, these taxpayers will also be hit with back interest and possible penalties.

“A bad, bad precedent,” says Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog. I have to figure that there are weasels in the District of Columbia facepalming right about now: “Why the hell didn’t we think of that?”

Sooner or later, they will.

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Toll you so

For some inscrutable reason, this press release landed in my inbox:

On February 13th, Tulsa attorney and former Gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson will speak to the Tulsa County Republican Men’s Club about his plan to eliminate the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

“The turnpike is a scam on the people of Oklahoma,” said Richardson. “It was a scam when they proposed it in the 1950s and it is a scam today.”

In Oklahoma there are 10 turnpikes with more of 600 miles of pavement, making the state tied for 1st in the nation for the amount of turnpikes.

Richardson will talk about the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and how the tolls that are collected are actually spent.

“Most people don’t know that the State of Oklahoma does not make one red cent off of the turnpike,” said Richardson.

Well, yes, we did know that, if we were paying attention, and some of us were:

The authority will spend about $73 million on road and other improvements this year [2012]. Of remaining revenue, $66 million will be spent on operations and maintenance, including salaries, and $95 million on the debt service. About $26 million (39 percent) of its operations budget goes toward the cost of collection, including toll booth operators and the Pikepass system.

Then again, it’s not like I expect a road, even a toll road, to turn a profit.

My own viewpoint on toll roads, informed by 25,000 miles worth of World Tours, is simple: I’ll take them if I’m in a hurry. Otherwise, meh. (Trip to Kansas City last December for my daughter’s wedding? $12 for the Kansas Turnpike. Worth it.)

Oh, and if you want to attend, or hang around outside, Richardson’s presentation:

Richardson will speak at the Tulsa County Republican Men’s Club monthly meeting on Wednesday, February 13th, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Hibachi Grill, 74th and Memorial.

Hibachi Grill? Do they have an ATM machine?

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Questionable answers

At exam time, the most valuable commodity to be had, apparently, is someone else’s paper:

I gave a quiz the other day and there was one fellow I kept looking closely at to try to tell if his eyes were on his own paper. But I will solve that issue with Form A and Form B. And I’ve taken to handing out each exam INDIVIDUALLY rather than counting off a stack and having them pass them down — I learned last semester that there are people in the class devious enough to quickly grab two of the same form from the stack and hand the identical form to the patsy (or accomplice) next to them.

Is this disheartening? Totally:

It frustrates me that I have to be such a cop, and that I have to try to think deviously to figure out as many ways as possible that students might cheat (and confer with colleagues at other schools: it seems a current fad is to bring in a bottle of water where you have written notes under the label, and you can read them through the clear bottle).

It’s been four decades since I set foot in a college classroom, and maybe I’m behind the times, but it seems to me that if you spend more time working up a scheme to avoid studying than you do actually studying, you’ve pretty much defeated your own purpose.

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Two and away

Term limits, you say? Smitty contemplates the matter:

There is no way, given a 300 million+ population, that the number fit to hold office is that small. We can’t be that hurting for talent.

The problem here is that people who are fit to hold office won’t even try, because they suspect — correctly, as it turns out — that the fix is in. So we get the same parade of maladroits and malefactors, D’s and R’s, year after even-numbered year.

Perhaps we’ll have to draft candidates.

On the other hand, I have no argument with this:

There is no excuse for our system of government to overgrow itself to the point that it takes a professional cadre with a lifetime of knowing where the bodies are buried in order to operate the thing. No. We keep it simple, and we swap out the people in charge at a reasonable frequency so that the playing field stays level.

Though I suspect there may be a few more, or a lot more, burials before that cadre can be sent packing.

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Do not disturb tenants

I have on occasion been amused by the swings in the “Zestimate” of the value of the palatial estate at Surlywood, as issued by the real-estate site Zillow. Of course, pricier places are subject to greater volatility. Consider, for instance, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20006:

According to the latest Zestimate for the president’s home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., the White House has a current value of $294.9 million.

Since President Barack Obama and his family moved into the home in January 2009, its value has risen approximately 7%, from $275.6 million. In Washington, D.C., as a whole, the Zillow Home Value Index rose almost 13.6% — to $397,000, from $349,600 — between January 2009 and November 2012, the most recent month for which data are available.

So the White House is falling behind the comps. Quelle surprise.

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Robin Hoodlums

I have occasionally joked that I have enough tucked away in retirement savings to last me at least until a week from next Tuesday. Rumors persist that the D. C. extortion gang, in its flinty heart of hearts, wants to grab it and replace it with yet another government IOU; Maggie’s got a roundup of various reports on the subject, and the following warning:

When public comment has already been asked for, something is brewing, and it doesn’t matter what we want. They pander and then ignore us.

I’d say “When in doubt, assume the worst,” but who’s in doubt anymore?

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Royally orange

Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, who turns 41 today, is nicely decked out in this orange Marc Jacobs number:

Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark

The occasion: the St. Petersburg Loye Prize and Medals ceremony at the Danish Museum of Art & Design in Copenhagen last summer.

Things you (by which I mean “I”) did not know about Mary:

  • She was born in Tasmania — her parents had emigrated from Scotland to Australia — and briefly attended grade school in Houston, Texas;
  • She was working for Microsoft in 2003 when Queen Margrethe II announced that she would consent to the wedding;
  • She and Crown Prince Frederik have four children: Christian, Isabella, and twins Vincent and Josephine.

And besides, it’s February. We need all the spring-ish looks we can get.

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Satin for the pink sheets

A panel advising the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks it would be really keen to have stock exchanges in both Original and Extra Crispy:

[T]he advisory committee on small and emerging companies … voted to urge the SEC to support the setting up of an exchange for small publicly traded companies that would only be accessible for high-income individuals such as so-called accredited investors, who must have net worths, excluding their homes, of $1 million or more or income of $200,000 or more for at least two years.

The reasoning behind this idea:

Companies listing on an exchange set up for high-net-worth investors may not be required to provide costly prospectuses and other disclosures that are necessary when retail investors are involved. Backers contend that this would drive down costs associated with public offerings and could encourage private companies to take the plunge into becoming almost-public companies.

I suppose, as a “retail” investor, and at the dollar-store level at that, I should resent the very idea, but I don’t. I mean, I don’t get bent out of shape because the bank has a separate division for Private Banking, presumably with more perks. Then again, I have motivations other than envy, so I’m probably disqualified from having any opinions on the financial system, if you call this a “system.”

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Thereby proving the rule

So how about that American Exceptionalism? Well, we’re not exceptionally so:

Now, when I talk about the US as being exceptional, one thing I am not willing to argue is that we are exceptional in our exceptionalism. Being the ugly American that I am, there aren’t many countries I actually know enough about to know how alike or different they are than we are. That’s not to say I sink into absolute relativism and decline to make judgments, though I try to be less judgmental of them than I am of US.

Not a problem. Absolute relativists (!) are a dime a dozen over at Almighty State University.

And besides:

In many ways, I don’t worry about when we are out of sync with the rest of the world. I mean, I look at our health care system and the fact that its different than elsewhere nearly isn’t as troublesome as the fact that it’s expensive and inefficient. I oppose the death penalty, but the fact that it is banned elsewhere doesn’t play much of a role, and so on. I have a not-admirable tendency to get irked when internationalists look at how we are out of step and seem to imply that such should be an indication that we are deficient. We are us. Exasperating, chaotic, diverse, gargantuan us. Unique, for better or worse.

Seems perfectly admirable to me. The argument that “But they have it!” is right out of second grade, when Junior discovers that the Joneses up the street have [name of expensive toy].

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Gone in 48 minutes

After two hard-fought overtime Thunder/Mavs battles, you had to figure that it would eventually get easier for one of those teams, and fortunately for the downtown crowd, it was OKC who disposed of Dallas rather handily tonight, running up a 33-point lead at one point and ultimately finishing off the Mavs 112-91.

And it didn’t take a 40-point-plus explosion by Kevin Durant to do it, either; KD had a quiet double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds, and the chance to sit out the fourth quarter). The Good Russell Westbrook showed up tonight, hitting 8-16 for 24 points and serving up seven dimes. Kevin Martin led the bench attack with 17 and a preposterous +31 for the night. And all 13 active players got minutes.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong for the Mavs, unless their X Factor really is Vince Carter, who in the past has been quite effective in OKC, and who sat tonight with the infamous flu-like symptoms. Dirk was present but barely recognizable, shooting an unDirklike 3-11 for 10 points, leaving Shawn Marion to carry the offensive load. Marion did what he could, scoring 23 points and accounting for three of Dallas’ seven steals, and the Thunder obligingly committed three technicals to help out, but after breaking out of a 22-22 tie near the end of the first with a 7-0 run, the Thunder simply crushed any further Dallas resistance. Maybe I should have called this “Gone in 11 minutes.”

So it’s three-up on the Mavs with one to play. Next: the Golden State Warriors, who thrashed the Thunder in Oakland during that distended road trip. On the upside, they have to get through Houston tomorrow before arriving in OKC Wednesday.

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Include/unclued

You can see where this is going a mile away:

The University of Michigan is accused of kicking an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter off campus because the group requires its leaders to be Christians — an apparent violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy.

The nerve! Don’t they know about diversity?

In other news, the Pope is still Catholic, and I’m sure you can find someone in Ann Arbor who’s annoyed about that.

(Via Dyspeptic Mutterings.)

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The rhythms of the heart

The other day, Fillyjonk, in tribute to her high-school French teacher, kindly treated us to the first poem she’d ever memorized for his class: Victor Hugo’s “Demain, dés l’aube.” I’d never memorized it myself, not having progressed far in French, but I did remember reading it, circa 1967.

And then I wondered: Do students memorize poems anymore? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer seems to be No:

As a college professor of writing and literature, I regularly impose memorization assignments, and I’m struck by how burdensome my students typically find them. Give them a full week to memorize any Shakespeare sonnet (“Hey,” I tell them, “pick a really famous one — Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? — and you’ve already got the first line down”), and a number of them will painfully falter. They’re not used to memorizing much of anything.

And what are they missing?

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. [Catherine] Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”

Rhythms. “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks.” The heart picks up the beat, the eyes turn skyward, and something in the soul, however briefly, is satisfied.

But rhythm alone isn’t enough, or we’d all be memorizing pop tunes. “Demain, dés l’aube” carries an emotional wallop, even if you didn’t know that Hugo wrote it for his daughter Léopoldine, married at eighteen and drowned with her husband in a boating accident on the Seine barely six months later.

(With thanks to Joanne Jacobs.)

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