Quality is Ahmadinejad 1

This Economist piece is tapped by Fausta to explain “socialist production principles” in the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez:

Venirauto’s cars are rehashes of clapped-out 1980s models from the imperialist West. The Turpial, a five-door hatchback, is based on the Ford Festiva, while the Centauro saloon is a clone of the Peugeot 405, though both are fitted with a conversion kit allowing them to run on natural gas. Their capitalist-busting claims are based on price: they undercut rival models by around 50%. If you can get one, that is.

What the Economist doesn’t mention is this: only 49 percent of Venirauto, the ostensible national Venezuelan car company, is actually owned by the Chávez government; the balance is Iranian-owned. And the two models Venirauto is peddling are barely-rebadged versions of Iranian models, the Centauro by Iran Khodro, the Turpial by Saipa (though Saipa is working with the Kia Pride fork of the Festiva line). The price difference? Quite apart from the fact that these are old models, the tooling long since amortized, Caracas has decreed that Venirauto sales are exempt from VAT. In the States, we might call that a subsidy.

You won’t learn this from Venirauto’s Web site, either.

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A slip of the dung

Advertisement by Thomas CrapperBy most accounts, Thomas Crapper did not actually invent the flush toilet, but he did sell rather a lot of them in England, incorporating the latest improvements, which likewise he may or may not have invented.

“Crapper” itself, as a surname, seems to be a variation on “Cropper”; it likely doesn’t have much to do with “crap,” which goes back a long way and can be expected to continue long into the future. (Apparently the first English citation for “crap” in its current definition is traceable to 1846, the year young Crapper turned ten, which would seem to relieve him of any responsibility for it.) Still, there’s some semi-fearful symmetry here, and John Bemelmans Marciano, in his book Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009), advances this intriguing hypothesis:

It does seem fair to question, however, just how a plumbing-fixtures manufacturer came by so serendipitous a surname. Fate? Or was it a case of nominative determinism, in which Thomas’ surname steered him into his life’s work? Or did Thomas choose the name Crapper for professional advantage? That would show some serious dedication to marketing.

Inasmuch as there exists a baptismal record for the infant Thomas Crapper, I think we might be able to overlook that last possibility. Still, the possibility of “nominative determinism” has a certain weird delight to it, although it clearly has its limitations: for example, the late Dr Zoltan Ovary was not actually a gynecologist.

Otto Titzling, meanwhile, was not available for comment.

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Time slices

The question: is that a noun with a descriptive adjective, or a verb with a subject?

From a conversation between Francis W. Porretto and Duyen Ky:

[T]his is the way our minds work: we remember our past, we hope for our future, but we squeeze all our actual living in between them. A healthy person does all three, with emphasis on the present. The people to beware are the part-people, the ones who get so stuck on the past or are so anxious about the future that they simply can’t live in the now. They have a lot in common with any other kind of fanatic you might name: one dimensional lives, obsessive personalities, immunity to reason and reassurance, a resistance to love and joy.

I’m not quite one-dimensional, but lately I feel as though I have a lot more width than I do length or depth.

I think I’m dwelling less on the past than I used to, though I’m inclined to attribute this less to the getting of wisdom than to simple distance: the past seems farther away than it used to. (Then again, I’ve never been this old before.) The phrase that trips me up, though, is “immunity to reassurance”; if you tell me everything’s going to be all right, there’s almost no chance I’m going to believe you. Whatever is going on, I must see it through.

So maybe I’m not living in the now, but in the fifteen minutes ago. I suppose this is all right, so long as I don’t catch a glimpse of Andy Warhol out of the corner of my eye. Unfortunately, my peripheral vision is indifferent at best.

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Quote of the week

Australian Robert Townshend interrupts his study of bamboo for this observation:

On the subject of commercial achievement, one wonders why great corporations, and Hollywood studios amongst them, seem to have such scorn for the extraordinary entrepreneurs who made their corporations and studios possible. If you asked the typical Harvard MBA, CEO or Hollywood boss whom he most admired, it would probably be the charismatic figurehead of a quasi one-party state in Africa or South America, Bono, or a fashionable theocratic figure like the Dalai Lama. Or Al Gore.

Plutocrats who would rage if their limo broke down on the way to a Darfur benefit would look at you in bewilderment if you suggested that Soichiro Honda was a benefactor of mankind. For the modern corporate man, a titan like Honda is the guy who was dumb enough [to] do all the work and take all the risks. Wouldn’t know an executive bonus if it bit him on the bum.

What studio boss would be willing to make All the Vice President’s Men, story of cover-ups by a major British climate authority to aid in the dispersal of the West’s wealth and dismantling of its industries? Couldn’t happen in real life. Besides, Redford has moved on to corruption in 1950s quiz shows, Hoffman is maybe practising his Venezuelan accent for the definitive Hugo Chavez biopic.

Actually, I think I’d like to see a Soichiro Honda biopic. They could call it Dream.

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Fallen angel?

“I’ve got so much on my plate,” said Anna Nicole Smith in 2003 of her busy work schedule, “that I’m probably gonna die at 37 like Marilyn.”

She was 36 at the time. Anna Nicole, I mean.

Anna Nicole Smith

She would have been 42 today. I have to think she’d still be with us if she were still just plain Vickie Hogan from Texas, although she was never really “just plain.”

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Audi, podner

August Horch founded the car company that bore his name in 1899. He left it ten years later and set up another firm with the same name, only different: the German word horch is the imperative form of hoeren, “to hear.” In Latin: Audi. In 1932, the Auto Union company was formed, a fusion of four smaller firms, including both Horch and Audi. Auto Union’s four-ring logo survives today as the Audi logo.

A firm that’s lasted this long has a lot of history, not all of it easily accessible. Officially, the Horch line ended in 1940; apparently, however, the Ingolstadt works (still used by Audi) apparently turned out a one-off Horch 830 BL in 1953, a copy of Horch’s last big, opulent V8-powered sedan, for Auto Union president Dr Richard Bruhn. Bruhn drove it for a while, then let it get away; an American serviceman stationed in Germany bought it and shipped it home to the States circa 1957, and the story might have ended there.

Except that car collector Al Wilson, outside San Angelo, Texas, bought the thing from a junkyard back in the 1960s, figuring it might be worth something more than scrap metal. It ran, briefly; then it didn’t. Replacement parts were of course out of the question, though Wilson fired off queries to various connections in Europe, and eventually he just let it sit — until someone at Audi, circa 2006, realized what it was that Wilson had.

Negotiations took place, and in 2008 Audi sent a film crew to cover the retrieval of the car; that film has now been released. They plan to restore the old Horch, but for now, visitors to Audi’s museum seem to be fascinated with it as is.

(Spotted at Autoblog.)

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Raff not included

Some web poll purports to list the Top 20 Guitar Riffs, and it’s probably not as arguable as it could have been; I don’t know if I’d put Hendrix’ grinder from “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” at the very top, but then again, most of what Jimi did wasn’t all that riff-driven, “Purple Haze” being the major exception.

As for the rest, well, even those of us who have no business even being in the same room with a guitar have picked out some of them before. A few I’d add, were this my list:

  • The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”
  • The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
  • J. J. Jackson, “But It’s Alright”
  • Jethro Tull, “To Cry You a Song”
  • Rick James, “Super Freak”
  • The Kinks, “All Day and All of the Night”
  • Marvin Gaye, “I’ll Be Doggone” (probably played by Marv Tarplin)
  • The Move (and later, ELO), “Do Ya”

Riffs, of course, predate rock guitar; Bird was thriving on one back in the Forties.

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I blame HGTV

Curb appeal, like sex appeal, can trap the unwary:

Our present shelter was sold to us because Mr Charm liked the the double green doors and the green trim at the front entrance. I liked the big screened in porch adjoining the patio. I could just imagine it filled with charming wicker furniture and charming guests sitting upon the same. A few potted plants, maybe some hanging ones. Laughter and jollity and good will all around.

We forgot to notice that there was a steep flight of stairs leading up to the second floor. Actually, we failed to notice that there was a second floor. The floors were hideous and there were no cupboards. Most of our kitchenware had to be stowed in the basement, where it resides to this day. The porch is nice, however.

It happens, I think, to all of us. Six years ago this week, I took possession of the palatial estate at Surlywood, persuaded by its mostly-undiluted 1940s charm, and by the price, which was about $15,000 less than the maximum the bank would dare lend me. I still love the place, even though I must concede that the bathroom — there’s just the one — is basically a tile-lined penalty box, and that doing the wash in the garage becomes even less enjoyable when the weather is at its intemperate worst. (The garage is decently insulated; I’ve never actually seen it freeze in there, but it’s come close once or twice. And then there’s July.) I do, however, have cupboard space bordering on adequate, and the flooring is lovely, though white tile in the kitchen is probably not the best option for a sloppy cook.

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Playing the Donny card

With a nod to Lisa, one of the bigger Donny Osmond fans in blogdom, here’s The Donald himself, hoofing it with The Insider host Lara Spencer:

Lara Spencer and Donny Osmond

I mean, the man has done Broadway, fergoshsakes. You should have known he could dance up a storm.

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Bucks stopped here

It was a close one, and then suddenly it wasn’t close anymore. The Thunder had a one-point lead at halftime, 51-50, and then put together a 17-0 run that ate up more than half of the third quarter. The Bucks never got within ten again after that. Oklahoma City 108, Milwaukee 90, in front of the usual 18,203 at the Ford and an unusual national audience on ESPN.

Actually, this one statistic is as telling as any other: Milwaukee Wunderkind point guard Brandon Jennings was held to two points in the first half. He got some traction in the fourth quarter, finishing with 12, but by then it was too late. The Bucks’ frontcourt, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova, were hot from behind the arc in the first half, but by the third quarter the Thunder had figured out something resembling a perimeter defense. Delfino and reserve forward Hakim Warrick managed 15 points each. On the injury front, Andrew Bogut was still gone, but Michael Redd was back. It didn’t seem to make any difference. Ilyasova, though, did record a double-double: 13 points, 12 rebounds.

The Thunder, once again, owned the boards: 52-40 in rebounding. They shot 47.5 percent, versus 37.8 for the Bucks. And OKC had five in double figures, led as usual by KD with 33 points and 12 rebounds. Also in the double-double club: Thabo Sefolosha (13/11). Russell Westbrook checked in with 20, seven assists and only two turnovers; Jeff Green was good for 17. Weirdly, James Harden missed both his foul shots but hit 6 of 7 from the floor, including three treys. And newly-acquired backup guard Mike Wilks got his first ten minutes and two points.

It never hurts to start a homestand with a win, and the Weather Phenomena are now 9-7, while the Bucks drop to 8-6. (Last season, the 9th win came on the 21st of January, after 34 losses.) The Rockets will be here Sunday, followed by the Sixers on Wednesday.

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The audio equivalent of coal

Tweeted this morning by Phil Bacharach:

Dear Santa, thanks for bringing back 105.3 The Spy. Not 2 be an ingrate, but can you improve its reception in OKC? That would be perfect

The elves at the FCC will shoot down that idea in a hurry, and the reason is something called Minimum Distance Spacing, which is intended to keep stations from interfering with one another. To meet full spacing requirements, this station at 105.3 must be at least 31 km away from stations at 104.9 (KKWD Bethany) and 105.7 (KROU Spencer), and at least 72 km away from stations at 105.1 (KBLP Lindsay) and 105.5 (KWCO Chickasha). A cursory check of the map reveals that this is not happening. There is a provision for squeezing in a little closer, but it requires contour protection on all sides: the new guy must reduce tower height and/or power output from the maximum permitted for that class of station to protect existing stations. (All these stations are class A: only KKWD operates at a full 6,000 watts.)

A similar situation prevails with Jack FM at 97.3. And the deal that allowed the Sports Animal (WWLS) to move from 97.9 to 98.1 was somewhat complicated: it required the moving of a Stillwater station (KVRO) from 98.1 to 101.1, and a substantial reduction in power at the KATT (100.5) to reduce interference to the new Stillwater signal. The FCC has overseen swaps much more complex than this, though.

Bottom line: The Spy is what it is, and assuming, as we should, that Ferris isn’t rolling in dough, it’s not going anywhere.

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Let’s go to the hops

Beer snobs get on Stacy McCain’s nerves:

It pains me to see these poseurs pestering a bartender in quest of some obscure imported premium ale — dark as sin, with the flavor and texture of a peat bog — just so their friends won’t see them drinking a Bud.

I don’t find those quasi-exotic brews particularly paludifying myself, but I don’t think it’s entirely a matter of keeping up appearances: it’s highly unlikely that these guys will swill a six-pack of Nasty Light the moment they get home, away from public inspection. It may well be that they don’t want to see themselves drinking a Bud, whether or not anyone is watching.

Then again, when I was a serious beer drinker, as distinguished from a drinker of serious beer, I was overly fond of Schaefer, which is, as many of you may remember, the one beer to have when you’re having more than one. You may blame this on the following facts: (1) the drinking age used to be 18; (2) before I was 19, I was relocated — at the behest of Uncle Sam — to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where this stuff was well-nigh ubiquitous.

That said, should Mr McCain find himself chasing a story here in the Big Breezy, I will gladly buy him a beer or [insert relatively small integer here] of his choice, even if it does vaguely resemble a peat bog.

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Between bosons and Bose

Engadget snarks over a new, um, gadget:

The high-end audio market has always been more about marketing than about music, but it’s hard to say if we’ve ever seen a product as phenomenally insane as the LessLoss BlackBody, a $959 block of plastic that designer Louis Motek says “takes advantage of the quantum nature of particle interaction” to improve your stereo’s sound quality by simply being in the same room. How? “Your gear’s radiation is transformed into room-temperature black-body radiation.”

Indisputably the gear radiates. However, you can buy a whole lot of electromagnetic shielding for rather a lot less than $959.

And if this makes more sense to you than it does to me, you might be interested in their $1149 power cord.

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Tranqs for everything

Some time in the last week I came up with what I thought was a reasonable idea: start phasing out the tranquilizers I’ve been taking for the last decade or so, on the not-all-that-arguable basis that I’m taking too many drugs, dammit, and it can’t be good for me. Since the stuff is known to be habituating, going cold turkey, even right after Turkey Day, was not an option; instead, I decided, I would simply cut the dosage in half for thirty days, and that would be the end of it.

First night was an abject failure, filled with nightmares not even Uwe Boll would film. I’m somewhere in the Mid-South, in a chamber filled with ill-tempered mutants; most of them are female, some of them are promiscuous, and one of them, identity yet to be determined, seems to want me dead. Things move slowly at first — there’s something playing on the TV that appears to feature Shel Silverstein’s infamous Stacy Brown — but the sense of dread is pronounced, and when one of the mutants details an escape plan, I am there, Jack. Somehow things get to the point where Volkswagens are being stopped at a border crossing, and there’s Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, appropriating all the classic Beetles for himself. “A gift for the Insta-Wife,” he explains.

We continue in a non-VW vehicle and find ourselves defending what looks like a 1920s grade school, albeit with a lot of unfamiliar equipment. Unfamiliar to me, anyway; she knows exactly what this stuff is for. It’s not enough, though: something sizzles through the electrical lines and zaps both of us with some sort of flesh-burning ray. Doesn’t hit much surface area, but it doesn’t have to: the pain passes, but as it goes, it saps our strength, mine worse than hers. And finally, we’re at the point where they’re coming in through the second-story windows, and the best I can do is lob stuff at them.

Whereupon I force myself out of bed and as quickly as possible ingest the second half of the daily dose, and sleep better until 9 am, when the doorbell actually rings. (The nerve of some people.)

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Frisco: it’s digestible

The new D-League team in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas and affiliated with the Mavericks, is looking for a name.

“14ers,” the name the team had when it was in Broomfield, Colorado, simply would not do here. I thought of “214ers,” which would fit nicely in Dallas, but in point of fact, Frisco is way out there in 972-land. (Or 469, thanks to an overlay.)

So: the Frisco Kids. Or maybe the Frisco Treats, not to be confused with Rice-A-Roni. Frisco Routers? No. At the moment, I’m leaning toward the Dejà Blues, on the basis that the 7000-seat sports arena in Frisco was once named Dejà Blue Arena, after a bottled water sold by Dr Pepper. The arena has since been renamed “Dr Pepper Arena,” but Frisco Peppers? No. The team’s Wikipedia page contains the not-so-cryptic notation “Frisco Trail Runners,” which may or may not mean anything.

The real distinction of this team, though, will not be its name, unless the name turns out to be something completely off the wall, but its coach: Nancy “Lady Magic” Lieberman, a WNBA star for several years, now the first woman to coach NBA-level players. Lieberman wore #10 pretty much through her entire career. The Frisco Tenners? Maybe.

(Via Hardwood Paroxysm.)

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No poseurs, these posies

It’s the 26th of November. Everything in the flower bed should be dormant, if it isn’t actually dead.

And yet:

Stubborn roses, again

You do not mess with Rosa recalcitransia. These buds showed up last week, right after the first fall freeze, and they survived another one this morning.

This bush, admittedly, is favorably positioned: it’s on the west end of the flower bed and catches more sun than any of the others. (There are two more in this bed, and another one in the back yard.) Still: less than a week from December, and there are fresh roses. Yet another reason to be thankful, don’t you think?

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If the piece is split, you must refit

The bane of my existence for the last couple of days has been Nissan part number 76922-2Y920, which is a long stretch of occasionally-reinforced rubber against which the driver’s-side door closes. After ten years, the original door welt was starting to split; I had actually patched it up with duct tape — yes, I admit it, and it was done well enough that you’d have to stare at it for a couple of seconds to see it — but in anticipation of the usual spa day, I ordered a replacement part through the dealership.

I was told to expect that for the first couple of days after installation, it might take a tad more force to close the door all the way, which seemed reasonable enough. And leaving work yesterday, I got in, closed the door — and got hit on the head by a piece of door trim.

It was now 4:50 on the day before Thanksgiving. Somewhere north of peeved, I drove back to the shop, which unsurprisingly had largely emptied out. My usual service advisor was still there, though, and I explained the situation.

He didn’t even bat an eye. “I’ll fix it. Hand me the keys.”

It was almost scary to watch. The problem was subtle, and it took the removal of the welt to discover: one of the reinforcements in that rubber belt had been placed too close to the corner of the door. Laws of physics: additional force to close the door plus unexpected area of lower-than-average compressibility — well, it had to go somewhere, and where it went was the plastic post where the seat belt height adjuster is mounted, knocking it out of its friction fit at the ceiling.

So that was that. Elapsed time: maybe half an hour. Lesson learned: there are worse things in life than dealing with an organization that makes a public show of obsequiousness.

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The bells remain the same, though

Some Salvation Army bellringers now take plastic:

Last year, the Salvation Army experimented with new buckets that were equipped with wireless credit card readers. In Colorado Springs, Colo., one of the two cities where they tried out the buckets, donations rose by $64,000, an 11% increase over the previous year. While only $5,000 of this came directly from credit cards, it seems likely that some of the increase in cash donations may also be a result of the machines. After all, with shoppers unable to fall back on the no-cash excuse, it’s harder to walk away.

This year, the Salvation Army has expanded the card reading bucket program to thirty cities. The machines, which take Visa, MasterCard and American Express, also allow no-fee debit card transactions. According to the charity, the machines tend to inspire larger donations; this may be partially due to the fact that they issue a receipt, which tax-savvy givers could apply to their deductions.

The current system dates to 1891.

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On the verge of getting it on

Not Funkadelic, but Fox News:

To share a key quote from today’s meeting: “It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on.” We may then build up again slowly as deadlines and workloads allow so that we can be sure we can quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again.

The person who actually put “we never having” in this memo ought to be one of the first ones up against the wall when the evolution comes.

Not that this is exactly an isolated incident, notes Jenn:

I like Fox’s actual news programming and Special Report but a great deal of what is broadcast there is just embarrassing.

For instance, Fox and Friends: “what a bunch of bumbling nincompoops.”

Then again, there are mitigating factors.

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Maybe the Lord will buy you one

Scam mail allegedly from Mercedes-Benz, received by me:

Dear Sir/Madam, In a bid to ease the living conditions of our fans/customers all over the world in this dark period of economic crunch. Where many companies are closing and families have lost their homes and means of livelihood.

Mercedes-Benz.de sends you this mail with the aim of giving you the opportunity of becoming a proud owner of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class GL550 and EUR300,000:00 (Three Hundred Thousand Euros) by being part of our online quiz competition.

One of the three questions:

Emil Jellinek named a special car made for him after the name of his 10 year old daughter, what was her name?

  1. FIONA
  2. BENZ
  3. MERCEDES

This of course set me to wondering what a 2010 model Fiona might look like. My instinct is to consult Renault, which already has cars named Clio and Mégane and Zoé, to the apparent dismay of young French couples.

Anyway, if you’d like to give away all your personal information in the vain hope of owning a, um, Benz, the contact person named is one Mr. Wolfenstein Schultz. Why he uses a mail server in Japan is beyond me.

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