I hope there’s no matching hat

Weird boots by PradaI’m the first to admit that I don’t look all that carefully at all the new collections: the sheer volume makes my eyes glaze over. So I paid no attention to this limited-edition Mary Jane from Prada last summer: the color is nice, and I liked the oversized button, but no big deal, and models tend to have slightly weird-looking legs anyway. What’s more, the $1500 price tag seemed more extortionate than usual.

So it was Kim Priestap, not I, who noticed that there was in fact no model in this picture at all: that’s a boot terminating in a Mary Jane, and from a distance (or if you’re in a hurry) it looks for all the world like a prosthetic leg. “Can you get any creepier?” she asks. Trust me: couture houses know creepy like Ettore Boiardi knows canned spaghetti.

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It wasn’t always such a Harry situation

The Senate hasn’t actually passed a budget in over 1000 days, a period of time exceeding 13 Kim Kardashian marriages. There are those who say this indicates a lack of leadership on the part of Harry Reid, but it ain’t necessarily so:

Senator Reid, being a longtime Washington, D.C., fixture, knows that government budgets are meaningless. Spending can be shifted from one budgetary year to the next by simply moving it ahead one day and thus charging it to next year’s budget. It can be moved “off budget” completely and not counted against a year’s expenditures. Senator Reid is simply eliminating the middleman of pretending the government has a plan on how it spends money and going straight to the spending because he knows any claims that the government will spend money the way it says it will spend it are a sham.

Reid, you may remember, is a Democrat, but it’s hard to imagine a Republican in this role doing things much differently. (Well, maybe Rand Paul, but his chances of becoming Majority Leader are not that much greater than mine.)

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And your heart will fly away

This year marks the 100th anniversary of “Melody in A Major” by Chicago banker Charles Gates Dawes, later Vice-President under Calvin Coolidge and co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dawes reportedly was thoroughly sick of the song in his later years: not only was it played during his public appearances, but Fritz Kreisler (!) was using it as his closing number in concert. After Dawes’ death in 1951, lyricist Carl Sigman came up with some words for the tune, and several singers tried it on for size, the most successful being Tommy Edwards, whose recording for MGM crept into the Top Twenty.

In 1958, to cash in on that new “stereo” craze, MGM asked Edwards to recut the song, allegedly so they’d have a proper stereo version to release, which always struck me as odd, since MGM would become one of the most avid vendors of pseudo-stereo in the years to come. Whatever the motivation, Edwards was happy to oblige, and the new arrangement was several steps closer to R&B than the old one, which may or may not explain how it got to be Number One.

And in 1979, Van Morrison covered it on Into the Music; he’s pretty much owned the song ever since, and he still sings it in concert.

I think Vice-President Dawes would have been pleased.

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Low-end speakers

I discovered back in 1969 that I had no discernible talent for oratory, which apparently puts me on par with American political figures of today:

There are no more grand orators in America, and nothing could illustrate that better than the sometimes incoherent, woefully delivered remarks made in the days before and after [Martin Luther] King’s holiday. Attempting to analyze Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent address to the United Nations, writer Russell Shaw quotes a not-untypical muddled passage — one that reads like the first half of the “Barney” song, as explained to lobotomized apes — and writes, “With all due respect, what on earth does [it] mean? The strikingly confused venture into reasoning in this passage would provide rich material for a logician’s intellectual scalpel.”

On the other hand, Madame Secretary is hardly alone in her confusion:

If a recent GOP debate was notable for Newt Gingrich’s populist smackdown of the press, every candidate took a turn at tongue-tumbling and homina-homining his way through a response. Our current president — who, sans teleprompter, is as prone to stumble-stuttering as his predecessor — has not managed a memorable phrase since “yes we can.”

This is evidently a meaning of “homina” I hadn’t previously imagined.

So how far back do we have to go to find brilliance on the podium?

Perhaps the last great American orator was Bobby Kennedy; like King, he (and for that matter his brothers) understood the techniques of oratory: cadence, repetition, alliteration. But RFK also had the ability to extemporaneously pull poetry out at the appropriate moment, and insert it into his remarks in a way that was constructive, instructive, and ultimately bracing.

RFK’s five-minute speech in Indianapolis after the murder of Dr. King demonstrates several of those techniques admirably, and makes me wonder, forty-some-odd years after the fact, who among us would be capable of this much grace under that much pressure.

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Pirates, schmirates

An observation of mine from about eight years ago, when I was a mere lad of, um, fifty:

[A]lmost anyone of any age beyond twenty-five or so believes somewhere in his heart of hearts that everything that’s been inflicted on us by the music industry since he got out of college truly and deeply sucks.

I must here concede that this has now been proven untrue, kinda sorta:

In Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music Since Napster (NBER Working Paper No. 17503), Joel Waldfogel explores the possibility that technological changes in the music industry “may have altered the balance between technology and copyright law for digital products.” Despite music industry claims that digital piracy harms consumers by undercutting its revenues and reducing the amount of new music that it can bring to market, he constructs indexes of music quality based on critics’ best-of lists, airplay, and sales that show no evidence of a decline in music quality since Napster.

For those of you who missed it, Napster was set up in 1999, set upon in 2000, and set adrift in 2001. (The 2.0 version was a legitimate — i.e. licensed — music service, which was eventually absorbed into Rhapsody.)

What’s declined, of course, is the industry’s market share: it is no longer necessary to sign your life away for up to twenty years to get your music heard. (Lest you think this Never Happens, consider Rick Nelson, who, after a brief stint with Verve, wound up on Imperial for five years, then on US Decca for twenty, though MCA, then the successor to Decca, dropped him after thirteen.) And the buyers, I suspect, don’t care. I just noticed that I have purchased from the Null Corporation, Trent Reznor’s non-label label, pretty much their entire catalog, the last item acquired being the six-track EP by How To Destroy Angels, which I actually bought ($2 in Apple Lossless) while I was writing this.

Which is not to say I never put any coins in the industry’s cup. Susan Boyle is signed to SYCO, a joint venture between Simon Cowell and Sony, and her recordings come out in the States on Columbia. Classical pianist Yuja Wang records for Deutsche Grammophon. And even the odd single I fish out of the iTunes Store is usually part of one of the Big Three catalogs. None of these recordings can be said to deeply and truly suck — at least, not by me.

I will, however, raise an eyebrow at this:

Music is aired on radio less, and sells less, as it gets older; but if a vintage is better, it will receive more sales or airplay after accounting for such depreciation. Using data on the frequency with which songs originally released as early as 1960 were aired on the radio from 2004 to 2008, Waldfogel constructs an airplay-based vintage quality index suggesting that music quality rose from 1960 to 1970, fell until at least 1985, and rose substantially after 1999.

Using radio to judge the quality of music is rather like using toothpicks to judge the quality of furniture.

Aside to Nancy Friedman: I know that title technically should be “Pirates, shmirates,” but force of habit prevailed.

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No cakewalk

You might be forgiven for thinking that this would be another one of those nights when the Thunder starters didn’t have to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter: New Orleans had lost eight straight coming in, and Eric Gordon was still unwell.

Didn’t happen. The stalwart Hornet bench — who knew? — made a game of it early in the fourth; while New Orleans never actually caught up, they pulled to within two, and Scott Brooks wasn’t having any of that. Russell Westbrook, who up to then seemed to be having an off night, turned it on in the fourth, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the last frame, and OKC finished off the Bees, 101-91, going two-up in the three-game season series.

How stalwart? Of those 91 Hornet points, 49 came from the bench; Gustavo Ayón, who’d been playing in Spain before New Orleans bought out his contract, led the reserves with 16, increasing his NBA career points by a third in a single night. Carl Landry, the “official” sixth man, had 15, and Al-Farouq Aminu tacked on 11 more. (The only starter in double figures was Jarrett Jack, with 20.) The Hornets actually had a slight advantage on the boards (32-31) and went 20-21 from the foul line, 11 of them from Landry. I have to wonder what would have happened had Chris Kaman been available; he was inactive for some reason.

Still, this wasn’t enough to beat the Thunder. Kevin Durant turned in a Kevin Durant-like line: 25 points, seven rebounds, 7-7 from the line and 9-13 from the floor. James Harden managed 18 points on a mere five shots. (The Beard made nine of 10 free throws.) And Serge Ibaka was ferocious in the first quarter, albeit a bit less so later on. Glue guy Nick Collison, roughed up a bit in his last outing, didn’t look at all damaged tonight. And long-ball specialist Daequan Cook only took three shots, but he made them all.

A brief West Coast swing now begins: Golden State on Friday, the Clippers on Monday. Oh, joyous late-night roundball.

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On buying Volts

Bill Quick spurns the Chevrolet Volt — they’d have to pay him to take one, he says — which prompted regular commenter Lorenzo to note:

In an earlier age, it would have been a limited production Cadillac for a particular clientele at a high price, introducing technology that would trickle down later to the rest of the GM lineup. Had they done that, GM could have used the car to demonstrate their engineering chops in new tech, with small numbers that could be tended to more closely, as all new tech must be, and explained as “exclusive” service.

The General did in fact build a Cadillac version as a concept, under the ungainly name “Converj”; after hemming and hawing for many months, GM decided to add it to the Cadillac line as the “ELR,” not to be confused with ELO, at a price which is supposed to undercut Tesla’s Model S, which starts at $50k before you pick your battery pack.

Had they started with a Cadillac, I suspect they would have sold just as many — or just as few, depending on your perspective. And when this technology filtered down to Chevyland, it would have one built-in selling point: “Hey, this is like that Caddy, only 15 grand cheaper!” But now the Cadillac faithful won’t touch it, because it’s going to be a glitzed-up Chevy. Can you say “Cimarron”? (Said the guy who drives an Infiniti based on a five-grand-cheaper Nissan model.)

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All Googly and everything

More cookies than the Girl Scouts ever dreamed of, and they’re all for you:

For a while I wondered why Google wanted me to sign in. Now I wonder why I ever would. If you have Gmail and a personal YouTube account that simply must store what you watch and recommend new things and broadcast your choices hither and yon, and you use Google calendar and Google Plus and Google Clear and Google Bold (now with chipotle) and Google Whitening Google with Deep-cleansing Foaming Action, then I suppose it’s necessary to stay signed in.

And of course, they will pay you back for your loyalty by letting slip the Dogs of Infernal Memory:

The Web giant announced Tuesday that it plans to follow the activities of users across nearly all of its ubiquitous sites, including YouTube, Gmail and its leading search engine. Consumers won’t be able to opt out of the changes, which take effect March 1.

Le sigh. Remember “Don’t be evil”? Nowadays we’d settle for “Don’t be Facebook.”

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The new sucking sound

Keystone XL vs. wind power:

The Keystone XL pipeline would have provided 900,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly equivalent to 1.53 billion kw-hr per day. A typical wind turbine is 2MW nameplate capacity, but at best actually produces about 30% of this on average. This means that in a day it produces 2,000*.3*24 = 14,400 kw-hr of electricity. This means that the Keystone XL pipeline would have transported an amount of energy to the US equal to the output of 106,250 of those big utility-size wind turbines.

Looked at another way, the entire annual output of the US wind energy sector was about 75 terra-watt-hours per year or about 260 million kw-hr per day. This means that the Keystone XL pipeline would have carried energy equal to over 5 times the total output of wind power in the US.

Of course, converting that oil to electricity would involve losses of efficiency as well, no one in the administration (or on T. Boone Pickens’ speed-dial list) having yet figured out a way to suspend the laws of thermodynamics, but hey — the Chinese won’t be complaining.

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Crossing the mainstreams

Tavi, wise beyond her years (she’ll be sixteen in April), takes on the oft-misused term “hipster”:

[M]ost people who like more obscure music or wear vintage clothes don’t think of themselves as artsy, they’re just exploring and trying to define their taste instead of being someone who likes whatever is handed to them so they’re not mistaken for pretentious. I don’t like the term hipster — I think it’s become so broad as to apply to basically everyone — but the defining quality is that a hipster thinks and cares about what their tastes say about them, instead of just liking what they like. And so there is nothing more hipster than a person who decides that the only reason another person is wearing a colorful dress is that they’re concerned with what that dress means for their image. It’s hipster to give a shit if other people are hipsters or not; this is why people who claim they’re not hipsters are the most hipster of all, because they’re thinking that hard about it, and caring that much about what other people think.

A little meta at the end there, but I suppose it’s a hipster characteristic to use a term like “meta” in this context.

The article, I note, is titled “How to Not Care What Other People Think of You,” which is a useful skill not all of us develop in a timely manner.

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Which side of the lens?

Model decides to become an actress? Not news. Model who became an actress later decides to go into photography? Meet Fiona Xie:

Fiona Xie

That’s the story, anyway:

Singapore actress Fiona Xie has announced that she will leave MediaCorp for Hong Kong to pursue a career in photography.

This revelation quashes rumours that she is leaving because she was pregnant or has become a kept woman.

“The rumours are so ludicrous that I don’t even feel hurt. If I wanted to become a kept woman and leave the business, I would have left eight years ago,” she said, explaining that she had gotten a number of sleazy propositions when she was fresh in the business.

That I don’t doubt.

Koolcampus, from whom I swiped the above photo, is perhaps a bit cynical:

What price security?

FIONA XIE made an exceptional claim that she earned SGD 500,000 annually (of course Miss XIE should also mention that this amount should factually include her collective product endorsements for her best years), that she has found love in a rich boyfriend in Hong Kong, and that she is giving everything up for love and “peace of mind”.

“What is the point of being in a place that brings out the worst in you?” was her bold departing statement.

This spells out a thousand woes for the remaining surviving artistes in the Singapore film factory, as nobody can be that fortunate to find viable alternatives.

Not at all related to the photo: Fiona Xie’s first film appearance was in the soccer comedy One Leg Kicking in 2001, though she’d done some television the year before. Oh, and she just turned 29.

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Beater preservation

The Consumerist had a piece yesterday on keeping “that old, embarrassing car chugging along,” noting that “from the frugal perspective, you’re always better off investing in your current car’s well-being rather than dumping payments into its replacement.”

A commenter took exception:

Completely not true. There are many scenarios where the cost of maintenance and repair is so high they are not worth doing because replacing the car with an equivalent used one is less expensive.

This might be true if you drive around in $1000 beaters. I have no idea what KBB thinks my car is worth, but I’m reasonably certain it’s more than, say, the cost of rebuilding a Jatco transmission. (I’m not actually needing a transmission rebuild, but given the hard-to-kill nature of the Nissan VQ engine, I figure that would be the costliest repair job I could face.)

And another commenter offers numbers:

Considering car payments can be $400/mo easy, it’s rare that a car breaks down so often that you’ll spend $4800/yr on repairs.

And if you own something that can reasonably be expected to require $4800 worth of maintenance and repairs in each of several successive years — well, you’re not going to find much of an “equivalent” [seriously expensive brand name] for $400 a month.

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Threadbare essentials

I probably shouldn’t admit to being familiar with this situation:

I think these trousers are ready for the dust bin. The backs of the cuffs are frayed and front pockets both have holes in them. I could have duct taped the cuffs and the pockets. Duct tape carefully applied to the cuffs might have started a new fashion trend, at least among unemployed seniors. Of course, if my wife found out she would kill me. However, fixing the button would have meant getting out a needle and thread. Actual sewing, that’s beyond the pale.

However, I do keep needles — and several colors of thread — on hand for just such an emergency.

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Challenge accepted, as it were

The opening volley went like this:

Why, yes, I did hang a picture of #DerpyHooves on my corkboard at work.

This drew an almost-immediate “Pictures or it didn’t happen.”

Um, it happened:

Corkboard with photo of Derpy

It’s a position I’d often like to assume at that time of day.

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Onsite viewtician

Something I hadn’t noticed until now: if I go into the Comments section and hover over the URL proffered by the commenter, WordPress goes out and fetches a screenshot of what’s there at the moment — provided, of course, there’s something there; various alphabet-soup URLs showing up in the spam trap produce nothing at all.

I tell you, there’s nothing quite as hazardous to your train of thought as the sudden appearance of a window in the middle of the screen which displays, oh, let’s say, urinarytractinfectionhomeremedies.info, a site which sought to glom a single-line blurb onto a piece about funny Wi-Fi names. And it occurs to me that “Urinary Tract Infection Home Remedies” might actually make a good name for a Wi-Fi network, if only because you’d expect something like that about as much as you’d expect the Spanish Inquisition, which of course nobody does.

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Compression test

Remember when the Detroit Pistons were a smoothly running, highly efficient machine? Sure you can. You may have to go back a few years, but you can do it. Now, the jalopy that showed up in Oklahoma City tonight — well, there’s a reason they call it a “rebuilding” year; it’s almost pointless to imagine them getting a new set of rings. At one point in the second quarter, the Pistons were down 32; they fought back, so to speak, to within 27 at the half, and lost it by 20, 99-79.

Which is not to belittle the Thunder’s accomplishment, but this is one of those games that they were supposed to win. (Then again, they were supposed to win against the Wizards last Wednesday, and we know how that worked out.) Still, the numbers were good: 53.2 percent shooting (7-16 on the long ball), 51-38 rebounding edge, and ten blocked shots (half by Serge Ibaka). That’s good enough to offset a startling 19 turnovers. (Detroit took better care of the ball, when they could get their hands on it.) Both Russell Westbrook and James Harden contributed 24 points to the cause, and Kevin Durant kicked in 20 more. I won’t even mention that Kendrick Perkins is on pace to record 1,329 technicals this season, for which he will be fined a sum equal to the sovereign debt of Greece.

Props must be given, though, to Pistons rookie guard Brandon Knight, who led all Detroit scorers with 13. He’s had better nights — his average was 12-ish coming in — but he managed to look a lot less confused than some of his teammates. (What happened to Rodney Stuckey? He rolled up six points in three minutes, and took twenty minutes to get six more. Blame Thabo.) Then again, the Pistons did beat the Trail Blazers this season, something the Thunder have yet to do.

Nick Collison may be out for a while, or he may not: all we know is that he exited after about nine minutes with an apparent ankle problem, and did not return. I hope he’s well for the arrival of the Hornets on Wednesday, since he normally makes life difficult for them.

Update: Collison is now listed as day-to-day.

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