Tailgated by the Balrog

Hyundai Accent with vanity plate

One does not simply drive into Mordor.

(Via That Will Buff Out.)

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It’s supersized!

Ezra Dyer of Automobile got a piece published in The New York Times, of all places, and while it conforms, vaguely, to the Gray Lady’s Engines Are Evil narrative, it’s still pretty funny, at least if you’ve never owned a heavy-duty pickup of your own. A sample:

Besides the obvious area of fuel economy — good luck coaxing a number that begins with a “2″ — these trucks pose day-to-day challenges. Drive-through automatic-teller machines are a problem, as your cash will probably come out on the same plane as the Power Wagon’s floorboards. Many parking garages will be off limits, the architects having failed to anticipate the citizenry’s taste for two-story transportation. And your trips to the service station will be frequent and painful. You know how gas pumps shut off automatically when your tab reaches $100? No? Well, you’ll find out.

This comment of mine from four years ago may or may not be relevant:

Ford sent over an F-650 (!) to Automobile magazine a few years back, and the female contingent (including then editor-in-chief Jean Jennings) swooned, while the guys shook their heads in disbelief. Jennings even had the temerity to write about dismounting in a skirt, which event apparently drew a crowd in Ann Arbor.

Since then, Jennings has returned to that position — of editor-in-chief, I mean — so Dyer presumably reports to her. If she says anything and I hear about it, I’ll pass it on.

(Spotted at The Truth About Cars.)

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Worst. Cover. Ever.

This weekend, Rolling Stone is looking for the Worst Cover Song of All Time, and given the sheer length of All Time, there are no doubt thousands of nominees, though I wouldn’t include, for instance, No Doubt’s version of “It’s My Life,” which wasn’t half bad, despite the fact that something about Gwen Stefani’s voice grates on me.

For me, the situation is complicated by the fact that Trini was fond of sending me cover versions, most of which were quite good, and by my devotion to Brian Ibbott’s podcast Coverville, where I’ve heard a lot of good ones, and inevitably a few that made my skin crawl.

Since I don’t go out of my way to find really bad remakes, I can’t think of one that truly deserves dishonoring as The Worst, though the following annoy me enough not to play very much, if not enough to move me to delete them from the pile:

  • The Dead Kennedys’ “I Fought the Law” is properly energetic, though Jello Biafra felt compelled to rewrite it to refer to the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, and his narrative is too elliptical to fit in the structure of a traditionally-styled rocker. (On the other hand, the DKs did a bang-up job on “Take This Job and Shove It,” which they manage to finish off in a mere 85 seconds.)
  • Harry Nilsson’s oft-covered “One,” the first substantial hit by Three Dog Night, was turned into a vaguely-industrial screamfest by Richard Patrick, who got it onto the soundtrack of the film The X-Files, credited to Patrick’s band Filter, though apparently no other member of Filter appears on the track.
  • “Big Yellow Taxi” was never my favorite Joni Mitchell song. That said, an ad-hoc aggregation called the Neighborhood put out a cover version based on the dubious premise that the best part of “Taxi” was the bop vocal. (In the “video” you can see the jacket for an old various-artists LP, a copy of which I have.)
  • Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” is technically not a cover, but structurally it’s a mashup of “Werewolves of London” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” neither of which deserved this sort of treatment, which includes a chorus in which “things” is rhymed with, um, “things.”
  • And while I don’t think either of them have put it out on record yet, neither Miley Cyrus nor Hannah Montana have any business singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (I don’t actually have a copy of this.)

Your own suggestions will be appreciated.

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There she was, just a-walkin’ down the street

And you promptly plowed into a light pole, you nitwit:

The scorching heatwave in early July caused road accidents to soar because male drivers were distracted by women’s skimpy outfits, according to insurance claim figures.

The latest statistics show that 29 per cent of men admitted being distracted by short skirts and low-cut tops in the Summer weather, leading to record numbers of accidents on the roads.

The obligatory Psychological Explanation:

Behavioural psychologist Donna Dawson explained: “Research shows that men are far more easily distracted behind the wheel than women.

“Men are more visually orientated and so distractions such as an attractive woman walking down the street can quickly take their attention away from driving and the job in hand.”

Me, I work diligently to avoid being orientated if there’s at least a reasonable possibility of being oriented instead.

And this is, of course, a purely-British phenomenon: it doesn’t happen where I live, because whatever scantily-clad women we have on the roads are in their own cars and therefore difficult to ogle. Believe me, I’ve tried.

(Snarfed from Jeffro’s Facebook page.)

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Saint James’ place

Tomorrow, Susan Saint James becomes (theoretically) eligible for Social Security. In recognition of her 65th birthday, here she is in a still from the Seventies TV series McMillan and Wife:

Susan Saint James in McMillan and Wife

And here she is, being honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008:

Susan Saint James on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

She is officially retired, but I have the feeling we haven’t seen the last of her.

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And stay away from those monkey bars

The definition of “medical history” seems to be expanding of late, as Jennifer found out at the pediatrician’s office:

I filled out all the normal, pertinent details. Family history, allergies, etc. Then I get to a section about exposure risks. Alright, I get the whole lead paint concern. And knowing if there are pets can help diagnose allergy problems. Then a question about whether or not I’m concerned about violence in the home. Wha?

Wonder what would happen if you tacked on a footnote: “No, I am not concerned; in fact, I delight in the prospect.”

It gets weirder after that:

[T]here is a section there where they ask “Are there guns in the home?” and gives a “No” or “Yes” check box.

Understand that nowhere on the form does it indicate that you can decline to answer. I declined to answer on the basis of context. Clearly, every box checked “yes” is supposed to raise some kind of red flag. I also declined to fill in whether or not I am concerned about his Tobacco use, Sexual activity, or Aggressive behavior (I’m not), nor did I share his computer hours, video game hours, or TV hours. Honestly, I don’t think any of that is the pediatrician’s business. I didn’t make an issue out of it. I just didn’t fill it out. Personally, I’d like to know what they are doing with that kind of data before I provide it.

Off the top of my head, I’d guess that all this becomes a batch of data points to be used to justify the adoption of even more intrusive questions in years to come, as American medicine mutates into a horrendous hybrid of the Excruciatingly Corporate and the Ruthlessly Political.

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Somehow this seems integernormative

Ron Bailey of Reason turns up an odd — or maybe an even — bit of research:

“Are numbers gendered?”
By Wilkie, James E. B.; Bodenhausen, Galen V.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Jul 18, 2011, No Pagination Specified.

We examined the possibility that nonsocial, highly generic concepts are gendered. Specifically, we investigated the gender connotations of Arabic numerals. Across several experiments, we show that the number 1 and other odd numbers are associated with masculinity, whereas the number 2 and other even numbers are associated with femininity, in ways that influence judgments of stimuli arbitrarily paired with numerical cues; specifically, babies’ faces and foreign names were more likely to be judged as “male” when paired with odd versus even numbers. The power of logically irrelevant numerical stimuli to connote masculinity or femininity reflects the pervasiveness of gender as a social scaffolding for generating understandings of abstract concepts.

The number zero, of course, is associated with [political "leader" of your choice].

“Now if 6 turned out to be 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.” — James Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970)

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It’s how you make it short

Some of you may have noticed the Twitter widget in the sidebar, which lists in reverse-chronological order my last dozen tweets. (I’ve varied it from 10 to 16 at a time, but 12 seems to be the semi-sweet spot.) For a while, I was sending up the “Newly posted:” stuff, which hawks the blogfodder over here, with something resembling the actual URL, but eventually decided I’d start using bit.ly as a URL shortener for these, especially since I was already using it for other links I was posting.

A year and a half ago, I was using a different service entirely: tr.im. I switched after they went to API-only:

TweetDeck used to support tr.im, but dropped it after the alleged coronation of bit.ly as the Sort of Official URL Shortener of Twitter.

As of last month, tr.im is no.mo.re.

But Twitter (which incidentally now owns TweetDeck) eventually decided to run its own shortener, and you’ll notice that the links in the widget go to t.co, even though they were submitted through bit.ly. If you read my tweetstream through twitter.com, the bit.ly links are intact, meaning that they’re translating this just for the widget.

None of this creates any particular problem for the user, except to the extent that it takes longer to bring up those t.co links, which have to be handed back to bit.ly, but it’s still an irritant. Interestingly, TweetDeck allows a choice of shorteners, but t.co isn’t on the list, though presumably you can use it by selecting “Other.”

At the other extreme, HugeURL seems to have died on the vine, but ReallyHugeURL.com has risen to take its place. The one URL with which I tested it was blown up by a factor of twelve.

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Fark blurb of the week

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You’re supposed to be taking notes

Maxim generally isn’t my first choice for academic reference, but once in a while they drop something into an article (as distinguished from a pictorial) that grabs my attention.

This was part of an ostensible back-to-school (September, after all) piece:

The hottest female professor: According to ratemyprofessor.com, Jean-Marie Dauplaise, associate professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

I made a perfunctory search for pictures, vowing not to hit her Facebook or LinkedIn pages, but really, what was more interesting was UW-Stout. I’ve never lived in Wisconsin, but surely by now I’d have heard of a town called Stout.

Um, no. The school, established in 1891 in Menomonie, is named in honor of founder James Huff Stout. It is the only school in the UW system named for a person.

Dr Dauplaise, incidentally, also serves on the faculty of the Hong Kong campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design. (Something else I wasn’t aware of.)

If nothing else, this little exercise demonstrates that I apparently don’t have the patience to do more than perfunctory girl-watching, Rule 5 and similar goofiness notwithstanding.

And now I’m sorry I missed this event:

Plum Brandy by Manet“Intoxicating Images of Feminine Ambiguity: Zola, Manet and the Brandy Plum” is the title of a Women’s History session to be held from 12:15-1:15 p.m., Friday, April 30 in the White Pine Room of the Memorial Student Center. Jean-Marie Dauplaise, of UW-Stout’s English and philosophy department, will discuss how Manet uses 19th century Parisian ideas concerning feminine identity, sexuality and liquor consumption to engage the viewer/reader of his painting, titled “Plum Brandy,” in playing “narrative games” similar to those found in realist/naturalist fiction of the era.

Keep in mind that my major accomplishment in visual arts was to be able to distinguish between Manet and Monet at least fifty-one percent of the time.

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Not just an Uther name

There’s a letter to Vanity Fair this month taking James Wolcott to task for trotting out the old, deprecated “nudist colony” nomenclature:

The word “colony” is perhaps just a little too bacterial and leprous.

I might not have noticed this — usually the sight of the name “Wolcott” causeth mine eyes to glaze over — but it was signed by someone named Vixii Pendragon, and I have to admit, there’s something to love about a world where someone can be named Vixii Pendragon. (And by the way, Jimbo, it’s “resorts” and/or “communities.”)

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All for gnawed

Oh, damn, the Internet is down again. Is it a denial-of-service attack? A failure of the grid? Did somebody find out Justin Bieber’s secret Twitter account?

Actually, there’s a one-in-six chance that the problem is squirrel-related, says the guy from backbone provider Level 3:

While we can try to reason with humans and publicize our underground cable, there is nothing we can do about our next biggest pain in the rear, and that’s squirrels! Of all the animals in the whole world, almost all of our animal damage comes from this furry little nut eater. Squirrel chews account for a whopping 17% of our damages so far this year! But let me add that it is down from 28% just last year and it continues to decrease since we added cable guards to our plant. Honestly, I don’t understand what the big attraction is or why they feel compelled to gnaw through cables. Our guys in the field have given this some thought and jokingly suspect the cable manufacturers of using peanut oil in the sheathing.

I suspect a squirrel, if hungry enough, will chew on anything up to and including a steel-belted radial.

(Via the Consumerist.)

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And someday comes afterwards

Just when you think you’ve seen Andy Warhol over in the corner peering at his stopwatch, you discover that Rebecca Black has managed to prolong, yet again, her moment.

Rebecca Black at the 2011 Teen Choice AwardsLadies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen between the ages of 13 and 19 inclusive, anyway — meet your Choice Web Star for 2011. Now one can argue about the machinery behind the Teen Choice Awards — I’m inclined to agree with author Jennifer Donnelly that they really need a category for books — but I figure that this proves, once and for all, that Rebecca Black has a fan base. She also has someone fairly astute picking out her wardrobe: that little chiffon-y number in cobalt blue, while apparently not from a big-name couture house, is decidedly slick without being even slightly outré, although I must quote from this Tumblr: “The dress she was wearing is almost identical to the dress I have to wear to my sister’s wedding (bridesmaids dress) minus the design on her shoulder.” And you know, there are worse things in life than buying off the rack at Bloomingdale’s.

That was Sunday. This is what came afterwards: a shot on NBC’s America’s Got Talent on Wednesday night, followed by a few minutes on a primetime version of ABC’s Nightline, in which it was revealed that she’s now being homeschooled. (You can see both appearances on EW’s PopWatch.) The Teen Choice Awards were on Fox. Well, CBS, what do you have to say for yourself?

[crickets]

Nothing from the Eyeball. How about you, Katy Perry?

That’s the spirit. (Recorded Friday, 5 August.)

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Quote of the week

Jennifer and family have had to make a few adjustments:

As you all know, my husband was laid off from the regular workforce last year. Rather than join the hordes of ambling zombies unemployed, he started his own business making the finest custom leather holsters that money can buy. That made our household budget … err … complicated for a while. So we switched to a cheap bourbon and ate a lot more chicken instead of fresh fish and steaks. We changed date night from a nice dinner out to a rented movie and take-out. It’s what normal households do when faced with a budget shortfall, you make cuts and sacrifices. We’re about to pay off our car, then 2 small credit card balances, and the loan for the sewing machine (CD secured), and then all we will be left with will be the mortgage. Rather than attempt to spend and borrow our way into prosperity, we buckled down and made some tough choices. What is so wrong with expecting our government to do the same?

It’s a concept utterly beyond their comprehension: you’d have better luck getting a couple of ducks to dance the pas de deux from La fille mal gardée.

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Faster than the speed of dark

The thing you have to remember is that arriving at work at 6:30 in the morning (which, this time of year, is 17 minutes before sunrise, no thanks to DST), as I often do, does not automatically give me my choice of parking spaces: at best, I’m the fourth or fifth person to arrive, and I’m too far down the org chart to rate a reserved spot. (That said, nobody’s fighting me for the spot I usually take, which is the one closest to the septic tank.)

There was a crowd of about eight this morning, and most of them were sitting outside. It didn’t take long to figure out why: the place was deader than a Tim Pawlenty joke book. No electricity in the entire plant. I sent up a tweet to that effect via text message and then called the sysadmin, who was aware of the problem: he’d actually been there before me, taken down the Big Boxen, and gone home to take care of what that same four o’clock thunderstorm had done to his place, whatever that may have been. (It is not like me to press for details at a time like this.) At least one UPS was hors de combat, although it had probably turned to crap some time before and this was its first opportunity to exhibit its crapularity.

I did a brief calculation and decided that the day wouldn’t be a total loss if the juice were restored by nine. At 8:59, up come the lights. Where was this pinpoint accuracy when I was betting on the ponies at Suffolk Downs?

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I shocked the sheriff

Well, actually, that’s a stretch. Mostly, this chap seems to have annoyed the deputies, and before them, one clergyman:

David Ford, a 50-year-old Tennessee man was jailed Tuesday after he was allegedly found naked in a storm drain, hiding from police.

According to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were dispatched after a pastor reported seeing a naked man run across a parking lot and then hide in a storm drain — completely naked.

In Ford’s defense, not everyone can inspire a writer to use the word “naked” three times in two sentences.

Still, he was apparently only charged with burglary, and will likely be extended the sort of leniency that this bonehead won’t get once he’s caught:

My boyfriend of two years isn’t overtly weird; he’s actually a really nice, normal guy, but he has this “hobby” of going for walks totally naked. We live in Vermont, where this is actually legal. I tell him that women find this upsetting, but he is really turned on by being seen naked by them and has no intention of stopping.

Actually, that’s not the problem. (Were it legal here, I’d be tempted to do a couple of laps around the block in my birthday suit, were this not the hottest summer this side of Mercury.) This is:

He says that when he doesn’t have a girlfriend, he masturbates while walking.

I’d say that tilts him way into the “overtly weird” classification; I’m pretty sure those Vermont women have no desire to see him strumming his sitar. Couldn’t he try something a bit less aggressive while walking, like, say, chewing gum?

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