Quote of the week

Ric Locke, on that “Sputnik” frippery:

The nomenklatura were concerned that the weakness of the Soviet economy not become apparent, so they concentrated on visible achievements — rocket technology as exemplified by ICBMs and, yes, Sputnik, providing aid to their Fraternal Socialist Brethren such as Castro, and building a formidable military presence. Resources devoted to those ends had to be diverted from the weak economy, which weakened it further. The important fact about the American space program was not that it caught up to and exceeded Soviet capability; it was that the Americans did it out of pocket change — expenditures on Mercury, Apollo, etc., were huge in absolute numbers, but never required diversion of significant scarce resources from the consumer economy to support them. The same was true across the board. The United States could build aircraft carriers and ICBMs, deploy hundreds of thousands of troops and their equipment to Viet Nam, and send high-flying planes to take pictures of the Rodina, and suffer at worst some inflation and market distortion. The USSR could achieve much less than that, and that only by prying the last handful of grain from the most miserable peasant.

Certainly the weakness of the American economy is not apparent to the administration: every single piece of bad news is labeled as “unexpected.” Of course, there’s one major difference between the Moscow that was and the Washington that is: today, we have both nomenklatura and czars.

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I refuse to call this “Everybody beats the Wiz”

Herb Stein once said that if something can’t go on forever, it won’t. You have to figure that the Washington Wizards would win a road game eventually, and early in the second overtime (!), it looked like they were going to. Kevin Durant then went into I Don’t Think So mode, running off ten points in five minutes, and the Thunder sent the Wiz away unhappy, 124-117.

The Wizards did bring plenty of offense: JaVale McGee was a no-show, but all five Washington starters rolled up double figures, and both John Wall (13 points, 10 assists) and Trevor Booker (21 points, 12 rebounds) earned double-doubles. Nick Young had a formidable 32 points; Rashard Lewis had twenty. And the Wiz know their ball control: they gave up only seven turnovers in 58 minutes.

But Durant/Westbrook Game Finishers, Inc. were not going to be denied. Russell racked up yet another triple-double (35 points, 13 boards, 13 dimes), and KD finished with 40 points. Jeff Green (remember him?) came up with a double-double (13 points, 12 boards). And Scott Brooks, much to his dismay, had to tweak the rotation: Thabo Sefolosha got banged up at the very end of the Minnesota game Wednesday, and James Harden was drafted to start at the two. This meant minutes for Daequan Cook, especially after Harden fouled out, and Cook came up with nine points (three treys) and five rebounds. The Thunder were not too swift with the long ball otherwise (5-21), and they uncharacteristically bricked ten free throws, but they shot over 49 percent and outrebounded the Wizards 55-43.

So yet another cardiac event for OKC, in front of a sellout crowd (the 20th of the year) at the We’ll Put Up The Sign Later Arena. The Sunday matinee against the Heat, of course, has been sold out since LeBron was in high school, or so it seems. And Herb Stein has to wait a while before we update his accuracy record, which now stands at several zillion to 0.

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Peter, Paul paid

A weird triple-play in the iTunes playlist this morning:

Screenshot from iTunes

Gordon and Mary, alas, are no longer with us.

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410

This week’s Carnival of the Vanities, the 410th in the series, was sensibly dubbed “SoTU.”

Speaking of the State of The Union address, I admit to not having heard it. (I’m one of those “read the transcript later” types.) I did, however, keep one eye on the one tiny section of the Twitterverse that I follow. The more-liberal folk on my lists were at least somewhat enthusiastic; those toward the right tended to be just a hair snarky, and a couple of them opined that it was basically a big bore — as opposed to the .410 bore, which is rather small.

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You have my full attention

Wouldn’t it be spiffy if this caught on?

The metallized fabric apparently blocks the phone signal, making this more than just an empty gesture.

And if I were ever on an actual date, I would hate like hell to put her through “Sorry, I have to take this” — because she doesn’t have to take that.

Order form is here.

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)

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Paging Rhonda Burgundy

If you’re a guy, and there’s a reasonable possibility that you are, the typical News Babe brings you more babe and less news:

[Researchers] created two versions of their own short newscast, both of which featured the same 24-year-old female anchor.

For the first version, the broadcast journalist “was dressed in a tight-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt that accented her waist-to-hip ratio,” they write. “She also wore bright red lipstick and a necklace.” For the alternate version, she was dressed in “a shapeless and loose-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt,” and wore no lipstick or necklace.

Given the same content and the same camera angles:

The researchers found the men recalled “significantly more information watching the unsexualized anchor deliver news than her sexualized version.” For women, the opposite was true, but the effect was far less pronounced.

Looking at the data a different way, when the anchor had a desexualized appearance, men retained more of the information she presented than women. But when she was dolled up, the men’s retention level dropped to the point where the two genders retained the same amount of content.

A pretty good argument for radio — or perhaps for good old-fashioned text.

(From Hot Air via Aaron Worthing.)

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Some thing I did

One of my favorite songs from 1996 was masquerading as a song from 1964. The Wonders’ “That Thing You Do,” from Tom Hanks’ film of almost the same name, is a nifty pastiche of classic Sixties bits, concocted by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, which actually just missed the Billboard Top 40. (In the film, it tops out at #2.) This came up on the shuffle going home, and it occurred to me that it probably sounded too good on the Bose box in the car: it’s clean and well-detailed, characteristics you didn’t necessarily expect from a medium-sized label from that era. And of course it’s in stereo, which singles in the middle 1960s weren’t.

So I decided to concoct the Original 1964 Mono Mix, complete with some random vinyl (or maybe styrene) noise. Here’s most of a verse, to give you some idea of what kind of sick ideas I come up with. Of course, if you’d rather hear the song than the artifacts, we’ve got you covered.

Incidentally, the song which followed “That Thing You Do” on the shuffle was Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again,” which seemed perfect for the moment.

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Thunderous numbers

Once a year, Forbes takes a stab at determining the value of NBA teams, and this year, your Oklahoma City Thunder rank 18th out of 30, worth 329 million ForbesBucks (not to be confused with “Starbucks,” the currency of the previous franchise owner).

The numbers are here, and here’s my own backspin:

  • Revenue was $118 million, $44 million of which came from ticket sales of some sort. (That’s just about a million dollars per game; home and visitors do not split the gate.) Operating income, calculates Forbes, is $22 million.
  • Sort of verifying what ownership was saying about their previous digs: “Although the Thunder do not operate their arena, the team still gets roughly $20 million more in premium seating revenue a season from the Oklahoma City Arena than they took in from Key Arena in Seattle.” Um, yeah.
  • One interesting stat is “player-costs-to-win ratio,” defined thusly: “A score of 120 means that the team achieved 20% more victories per dollar of payroll compared with the league average.” Playoff wins count double. By this metric, OKC pulled a stirring 158 for 2010, though this is likely to drop as core players fall off the rookie salary scale and start getting real money.

For a small-market team, not too shabby. The Thunder fall between the 76ers and the Wizards, neither of which have especially great records this year, but which operate in far larger markets.

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Litter is healthy, isn’t it?

To me, “5320″ is just another Nokia phone I don’t need. To some residents of Oklahoma City, “5320″ is just another nuisance they don’t need.

Steve Lackmeyer kicked off the Grand Reveal yesterday:

At some point, with all the money being spent on this campaign (which employs some of the oldest, most tired tricks in the book), names will come out. And to my readers, I will make this pledge: I will endeavor to not just provide the name and contact info of the client, but I will also provide the name and contact info for the folks who thought [of] placing ILLEGAL paper signs along a public pocket park.

Steve was as good as his word. He fired off a public nastygram to the ad agency in question, to which he got a reply to the effect that “Well, politicians do it.” Now there’s an inspiring role model.

Now when you see “5320,” what do you think?

  1. Fourth-floor balcony in Denver.
  2. The restaurant biz is truly out of names.
  3. Aggregate IQ of the Senate.

As it turns out, the state Department of Health paid for this attempt at viral marketing, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who winces at the juxtaposition of “Department of Health” and “viral.” The number is an estimate, likely of post-duodenal origin, of the number of lives that could be saved were the death rate brought in line with regional and/or national averages, or some such nebulous bushwah.

I’ve got news for ‘em: the death rate here is exactly the same as it is in Texas, in New Hampshire, and in Burundi: 100 percent. Standard for the species, you know. Nothing to discuss. Were there to be a dialogue, though, it might go something like this:

“Well, yeah, but we were talking about premature deaths.” But of course. Everyone’s death is premature, and by “everyone” I mean, well, everyone, with the possible exception of Hugo Chávez.

“We just want people to take better care of themselves.” And what better way to inspire them than to litter their neighborhoods?

What’s most galling, of course, is that taxpayers are shelling out both to have these signs put in place and to have them removed. There’s got to be something in the Big Book Of Health Advisories about excessive levels of indiscriminate screwing.

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Hands on

The cloud may be a nice place to work, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there:

I think a lot of people do so much “virtual” work, where there’s nothing to be able to point to at the end of the day and say “I made that” (and that’s part of my periodical career frustration, I am sure. I need tangibility) that people want to do stuff like play instruments, or write poetry, or, heck, write blogs … so that the time they passed becomes visible, or at least can be experienced for a time (as with music, but then the tangible part is the learning, the improvement). And so they feel some sense of control in the world: putting THIS precise word exactly HERE. Building a dollhouse to your own exact architectural specifications. Going old-school photography and using film and a darkroom. We are made to use tools, and I think maybe we get a little sad when we feel too cut off from tools.

It’s even more so, I think, for those of us who are reluctant to define themselves in terms of their paid work; we feel the need to validate ourselves with something that’s ours alone. My poetry is lousy, and I haven’t made a serious attempt to play an instrument in nearly half a century — but I do have these three million (or so) words, and something resembling a reputation. Steve Lackmeyer of the Oklahoman tweeted so:

I do hope you know you’re partially to blame for how I’ve developed my side gig as a NewsOK blogger. You’re a bad influence.

Which beats the hell out of having no influence at all.

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Stupor Tuesday

The lead editorial in the Oklahoman yesterday suggested that the state might be better served by giving up its Presidential primary, inasmuch as all the attention goes to (1) big states with lots of delegates and (2) small states sworn to be first on the calendar no matter what.

Alternatively, says the paper, convention delegates could be chosen in caucuses, à la Iowa. Independent voters presumably would like this, since they have no voice in Oklahoma’s closed primaries anyway. There’s not a chance of the state adopting a caucus in place of a primary, though, since there will be anguished letters to various editors about how so many people have been disenfranchised by this cold, calculated maneuver, and at least one aggrieved writer will notice that word “caucus” and blame those evil Caucasians.

Half an answer comes from Rep. Charles Key’s HB 1057, which would require the parties themselves to foot the bill for their Presidential primaries. This action would take care of the tab, though picking a date is still going to be problematic: even if we go all the way back to the first week of January, New Hampshire and Iowa will simply move to December. Primary Christmas, everyone.

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PRNDL WTF

The Car and Driver guys, having rented four cars for a sort-of-comparison test (3/11) at the North Carolina Center for Automotive Reseach, boldly go where no one without really good insurance has gone before: they decide to lap NCCAR’s test track. In reverse.

It appears that if you want to do this sort of thing, the sort of thing you want to do it in is the venerable Lincoln Town Car, which can apparently top out at 63 mph in reverse; in fact, zero to sixty backwards runs a mere 9.2 seconds, which is faster than rather a lot of cars can do zero to sixty forward. (Headed in the, um, canonical direction, the Town Car does 8.1.)

Incidentally, the magazine article gives a URL whereby one can “witness the fruity massacre” — later on, they smashed a few watermelons — but as of this writing, it’s hosed.

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Not authorized by the Byrds

Frozen-pizza maker DiGiorno is catching some flak from the Eat Healthy And Die Anyway crowd for its combo box containing both a pizza and a slab of chocolate-chip cookie dough. (And not just any chocolate-chip cookie dough, either: this is the genuine Nestlé Toll House product, Nestlé by sheerest coincidence having recently acquired the DiGiorno line.)

I was more interested in DiGiorno’s other announcement: there will also be a pizza/”wygnz” combo, which is closer to something I might actually buy. Still, the idea of “wyngz,” which presumably look sort of like wings but aren’t, is a bit off-putting. Turns out, though, there’s a Federal definition of “wyngz”:

[USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service] has a standard of identity in Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Section 381.170(b)(7) that defines a poultry “wing.” The use of the term “wing” cannot be used on any poultry product unless it complies with this standard of identity. In comparison, FSIS allows the use of the term “wyngz” to denote a product that is in the shape of a wing or a bite-size appetizer type product.

This being an actual Federal regulation, there are five subparagraphs to further nail things down.

And to think we used to agonize over McNuggets.

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It’s the Kevin Show!

Thunder at Timberwolves, somewhere in the second half, turned into Kevin vs. Kevin: both the Wolves’ Kevin Love and OKC’s Kevin Durant put on a heck of a show in the fourth quarter, and the lead went back and forth, back and forth, right up until the very end of regulation, which ended with a 110-110 tie. At this point, Love had 31 points and 19 rebounds; Durant had 43 points and 16 rebounds.

The five minutes of what radio guy Matt Pinto calls “bonus basketball” proved to be just as wild and woolly. It was 118-116 Thunder at the 7.6-second mark when Corey Brewer drew a foul; Brewer sank one of the two free throws, there was a mad scramble for the miss, and OKC came up with it at the horn to escape with a one-point win.

Love went scoreless in the extra frame, though he hauled in two more rebounds. Durant also picked up two more boards, giving him a career high of 18, and four more points, for a total of 47, which ties his career high.

Numbers were mostly pretty even, though Minnesota went plus-10 on the boards; both teams shot in the mid-40s, in the high 30s from beyond the arc. The Thunder’s charity-stripe prowess paid off: OKC hit 26 of 27, while the Wolves managed 18 of 25. Which leaves one other not-exactly-intangible: how was Jeff Green? Uncle Jeff was just fine, with 19 points and eight rebounds. But here’s the clincher on how close this game really was: Durant/Westbrook had 63 points; Love/Beasley had 61.

John Wall and the Wizards will show up at At Least It’s Not The 5320 Arena Friday night, followed by a Sunday matinee against Miami’s Wynken, Blynken and Bosh.

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I could swear I’ve heard this already

The play-count function in iTunes is sort of useful to me. My default Smart Playlist extracts the 500 tracks (of 6,001) that haven’t come up lately, and I impose a ceiling on play count (currently 25) so the numbers eventually create the illusion of evening out.

For Lileks? Not so much:

I know if I’ve listened to the songs. It is not important if the program knows it. This is the sort of anal-retentive nonsense computers force on us, a clear violation of what we know to be true and what the machine knows. Right? I mean, why is it important for the machine to validate what I know to be a fact? Does it matter that I know I’ve listened to Eddie Cochran’s “Sittin’ in the Balcony” at least three times in my life, but the machine — its memory and experiences born anew when I did a clean install and a fresh import of the songs — stubbornly believes the tune has never once been summoned? Who the hell is this computer to tell me I’ve never listened to “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello?

My current count on “Oliver’s Army”: twenty-four. You can score that as anal-retentive nonsense.

Just for the hell of it, here are eight tracks — not to be confused with 8-tracks — that as of this morning had never been played on this box:

  • Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
  • Alex Band, “Without You”
  • Arcade Fire, “Modern Man”
  • Lee DeWyze, “Sweet Serendipity”
  • Fierce Bad Rabbit, “All I Have Is You”
  • Finger Eleven, “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me”
  • Ingrid Michaelson, “Soldier”
  • Train, “Marry Me”

As Eddie Cochran never said, there ain’t no cure for the shuffle-track blues.

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Without even mentioning flying cars

Glenn Reynolds’ #4 bit of shtick, following “Heh,” “Indeed” and “Today at Amazon,” is “Faster, please,” intended to encourage the developers of that which is incredibly cool and/or incredibly useful. It’s an idea Lynn can get behind:

Scientific breakthroughs are one of my biggest pet peeves. You read about some amazing breakthrough that is going to change everything and you wait and wait … and nothing really changes. I’m ready for change. I want to see this wonderful new world they keep promising me and I want it now and I want it to be cheap enough that I can afford it. I don’t have an infinite number of years left to enjoy all this new stuff so come on! Let’s have it!

Just for the historical record, I once rigged up a Commodore 64 — I forget the program I used, but it ate a whole lot of RAM — to render what was then a full-screen (320 x 240, 16 colors) GIF file, which didn’t look at all like this:

Keyboard Cat is scowling

It took all night with that antediluvian hardware to pop up a picture that size.

Now if everything else in life advanced as quickly as graphic display, I’d be a little more content.

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