Nobody rides for free

Oregon, home of some of our most enthusiastic environmentalists, collects a stiff 30 cents on every gallon of gasoline sold in the state. (The Feds are already taking 18.4.) What’s more, several cities and a couple of counties add a tax of their own.

So far, so good: as they said in Econ 102, you want to discourage something, you slap a tax on it. It’s apparently just dawned on them, though, that pure-electric vehicles, which burn no gasoline at all, will contribute nothing to the kitty, and that simply won’t do:

A bill before the Oregon Legislature aims to deal with the government’s potential beefs with a growing fleet of cars and trucks that never stop for fuel at a gas station: that they don’t ever pay the gas tax that helps cover the cost of state and local road construction and maintenance.

Under House Bill 2328, those drivers would pay a “vehicle road usage charge,” starting with model year 2014 electric vehicles and plug-in gas-electric hybrids.

And how will this charge be determined? There was a pilot program conducted in Oregon several years ago, which was intended to determine whether it might be more useful, or more remunerative, or anyway more something, to drop the gas tax entirely and replace it with a per-mile fee. Not everyone was enthusiastic about having their every trip logged and reported via GPS, it turned out.

So no GPS in the new bill. Instead, someone will have to develop a gizmo that can read your odometer and report the details back to Salem — since they’re sure as hell not going to take your word for it.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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Graphic criticism

Old friend Joe Goodwin weighs in on a literary phenomenon:

Times for reading Twilight

“Kryptonite doesn’t bother me, either,” said Edward Cullen.

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Is this a playoff preview?

The Thunder won the season series over the Hornets tonight, three games out of four, in a fairly convincing fashion: New Orleans led 55-49 at the half, but they lacked buzz thereafter and fell to Oklahoma City, 104-93.

Both sides were missing a starter: Emeka Okafor for the Bees, Thabo Sefolosha for the Thunder. Chris Paul apparently sprained his ankle early on, but came back; Trevor Ariza sprained his ankle later in the game, and didn’t. And Nenad Krstić managed only 14 minutes before departing with a then-unspecified ailment. So the body count was higher than usual, but bench players for both sides stepped up.

As usual, though, the big problem for OKC was David West, who rolled up 20 points and reeled in 15 boards. Chris Paul missed about six minutes, but still scored 15; Quincy Pondexter and David Andersen came up with double figures from off the bench. More impressive: eight steals, versus three for the Thunder.

But this was one of those nights when Kid Delicious was in the zone. Kevin Durant picked up 43 points (on 19 shots!) and 10 rebounds. Serge Ibaka, recipient of a few extra minutes, took advantage of the time to grab 12 boards, block six shots, and score 8. And speaking of extra minutes, Eric Maynor got some, mainly because Russell Westbrook was in foul trouble; Maynor led the bench with 9 points. Westbrook still managed 10 points and eight assists, and Jeff Green contributed 12 points and seven boards to the cause. The Thunder owned the boards, 44-32, and shot a creditable 52.9 percent. Weirder yet, they put up two dozen treys, and actually connected on ten of them. (KD had five.)

It’s supposed to be about 0 degrees tonight, so it’s a good time to be going on a road trip. The Thunder head to Phoenix Friday night, and jump up to Utah on Saturday before returning to the Gee, I Hope It’s Warm Arena on Tuesday to host the Grizzlies.

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A classic Astleyan argument

Who knew? (Some of you probably did, since this has been around a while, but I hadn’t seen it.) Apparently it’s possible to Rickroll a term paper.

(Via Miss Cellania, who somehow knows where all this stuff is.)

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After 2012

The thinking around Chicago, reports HillBuzz, is that President Obama will not run for a second term:

They think he will use “family reasons” for not seeking re-election, either making up something about wanting his daughters to grow up outside the limelight of the White House, or even using grandmother Robinson as an excuse, saying she’s sick and Michelle Antoinette wants the family to relocate to Hawaii for their health.

I can believe the bit about the daughters, maybe: the White House can be one hell of a fishbowl, and not every child of a President aspires to being on display.

But then there’s this:

[David] Axelrod was recently on a Chicago Sunday political show and kept dodging all talk of the re-election campaign, which is like Oprah Winfrey turning down a large supreme pizza or a sandwich bigger than her head. It’s unheard of.

Axelrod’s favorite topic in the world is how he got Obama elected president, which means Axelrod’s second favorite topic in the world should be how he is going to re-elect Obama in 2012. He left the White House claiming that’s why he was moving back to Chicago, to focus on the re-election bid, and when given the perfect opportunity to wax on about that, and praise himself and his efforts, he completely dodged the topic, wanting nothing to do with it.

Unless, of course, we’re to believe that Axelrod has actually been thrown under the bus.

There’s a lot more, no individual item even close to being conclusive, but several of which theoretically might make sense. I think it’s safe to say, though, that if Obama does decide not to run for a second term, it won’t be because he’s scared to death of Mitt Romney.

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A world of her own device

Twitter has value as background noise, maybe. On the other hand, I’ve picked up on rather a lot of interesting stuff by occasionally paying attention.

Last fall, a friend mentioned an album he was blasting at the moment, and I decided to ask the details. The artist was unknown to me, and the title was inscrutable: The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), by Janelle Monáe. He sent me a link to a YouTube video of a cut: this one, in fact. “It’s a concept album,” he said, “the sort they don’t do anymore.”

I looked at the video, asked if it was representative of the whole album. “You really have to hear the whole thing,” he said.

Amazon coughed up eighteen MP3s (on sale!), an hour and ten minutes in all, and I sat down to listen. The tags said “R&B,” but The ArchAndroid defied categorization:

On Janelle Monáe’s major-label debut, the 25-year-old, ragingly talented singer and dancer from Atlanta by way of Kansas City synthesizes a wealth of influences — Afro-futurism, glam rock reminiscent of David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars, ’50s easy listening, MGM-style orchestrations, bebop jazz and slickster-hip hop.

Which is only the half of it, maybe. There’s so much going on that I haven’t been able to come up with anything resembling a coherent review; I can just about figure the storyline, which involves a fembot in a Fritz Lang-y world, but that’s about it.

Until, of course, it dawned on me that since this was Suites II and III, there must perforce be a Suite I. Which there is: an EP from 2007, five tracks introducing the character and her milieu. “Many Moons” is track three:

So the next order of business is to buy this EP and consider the whole — unless, of course, she comes out with Suite IV, which I’m told is in the works. Doesn’t matter. If she keeps sounding like this I’m good until Suite XCVI.

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February ’96

Local weather types are trotting out this month, fifteen years ago, as being the last time it was this cold. And indeed, it started out chilly:

  • 1st: low 12, high 20.
  • 2nd: low 8, high 20.
  • 3rd: low 0, high 12.
  • 4th: low -3, high 31.

But here’s the punchline: the average temperature for February 1996 was more than three degrees above average. Two reasons why:

  • 21st: low 43, high 82.
  • 22nd: low 44, high 92.

I’m telling you, after yesterday’s foot of snow and the untimely demise of my snow shovel — cheap sumbitch couldn’t take the strain — I’m ready for some 90s. Or at least 80s.

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Mysteries of General Motors

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten has calculated that possession of a Chevrolet Volt makes you sexier — but not all that much:

I assure her that I am a working journalist and that my question is purely hypothetical. Judging by appearances alone, I ask, what would be my theoretical chance of having sex with her, expressed as a percentage?

“Three,” she says finally.

He then gestures toward the Volt, and says:

“This is my ride,” I say. “Does this new information change the hypothetical answer at all?”

She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.


Hey, it’s a 16.7-percent improvement. Isn’t that worth $35,000 after tax credits?

And speaking of statistics, here’s the Cadillac section of GM’s January sales report, as snipped from The Truth About Cars:

Cadillac sales January 2011

I knew the XLR had been marked for extinction because of low sales, but I had no idea they were this low. Minus one? That’s even below the point where you can make it up in volume.

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Ouroboros 2.0

If only…

USB Laptop Charger

(Via Zoe Brain.)

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Some time after sunset

Severian comments at Morgan’s place:

Ever read any big histories of the British Empire? Even the ones specifically designed to make them look awful (i.e. every book on the subject ever written after, say, 1960) show a civilization just brimming with confidence, and they accomplished amazing things. We on the right know, for instance, that the Atlantic slave trade was stopped by the British navy and not, say, transgendered disabled Wiccan performance artists. They decided it was a moral evil, and ended it. Just. Like. That. Was it “imperialism?” Sure. But — no more slavery. Imperialism ain’t all bad.

This is germane because we’re the first unquestionably top-dog civilization to a) deny that it is the top dog, and b) act like it’s not the top dog, and c) actively try to take away its own top-dog status. The left would cheer all three of those things, and it’s true that some aspects of American “cultural imperialism” are rather ugly. But there’s never a situation where nobody’s the top dog; it’s only a choice between this hegemon (to slip into grad-school-speak for a second) and that one. Think America sucks? Oh, you’re gonna love taking orders from the ChiComs.

Thomas L. Friedman’s heart would definitely leap at such an opportunity.

And let’s face it, no one asks “What would Britain do?” anymore; Her Majesty’s Government is more concerned these days with making life easier for the criminal element and propping up the corpse of Global Warming™.

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A dark-brown voice

There are those who’d argue that it’s a mixed-up, shook-up world, based on stories like this:

The president of the first Thai airline to hire transsexuals as flight attendants on Thursday said he was a “pioneer” and predicted other carriers would follow his lead.

Fledgling airline PC Air has already recruited six crew of the “third sex” and boss Peter Chan said recruitment, driven by a belief in equal rights, would continue.

Thanyarat Jiraphatpakorn[Insert "Bangkok" joke here.]

Seriously: “third sex”? They’re not necessarily presenting as Something In Between, Pete. Now I’m aware of the Thai term “kathoey,” which ostensibly translates as such — and the snippy English rendering “ladyboy,” which does likewise — but I suspect at least some of them embrace these terms reluctantly, if at all. And hey, you hired the young lady at right, who won a beauty pageant back in ought-seven. I am not aware of the state of Thanyarat Jiraphatpakorn’s, um, hardware, but I’m reasonably certain that it isn’t particularly relevant to being a flight attendant.

Or, perhaps, even to being a fashion model these days:

Transsexual model Lea T. has taken her first turn on the runway and — surprise! It wasn’t for Givenchy. She walked in a long, black dress with ornate sleeves for designer Alexandre Herchcovitch’s Fall/Winter 2011/2012 show at Sao Paulo Fashion Week, in her native Brazil.

Lea T. in VogueMiss T. is pre-op. (Trust me on this.) I’ve grumbled for years about fashion models having the general shape of twelve-year-old boys, so it’s probably about time we had one who, legally anyway, used to be a twelve-year-old boy.

So what are we to make of this? Is transsexual the new black? I have no idea. It’s been a long time since Boys Don’t Cry, and even good ol’ Chaz Bono has been out of the limelight for a while. Maybe it’s just that, like everyone else of a certain age, I grew up with the idea of gender as strictly binary, and it takes a while to get one’s mind around the notion that 2 might not be a high-precision number.

If your next question is “What brought this up, anyway?” it was the combination of seeing those two stories yesterday and this video, from someone just down the road from me, over the weekend.

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Brow positioning

Class warriors seem to vector in from every section of the spectrum these days, but that’s no real surprise. Apparently sociologist Pierre Bourdieu figured out their trajectories back in the 1960s:

Bourdieu’s Distinction famously unmasked “good” or distinguished, educated taste as so much “cultural capital,” a mere panoply of status markers. To favor a more challenging type of book, a less strictly tonal sort of music, a less representational kind of painting — or, more to the point today, a less completely shitty grade of film product — mostly demonstrated that you came from a higher social class. And many Americans have come to agree. So when Al Gore said his favorite book was Stendhal’s Red and the Black, this could be boiled down to mean, You know what? I’m an upper-class guy who went to Harvard. Of course, everyone with power in America is an upper-class guy who went to Harvard. But this isn’t held to be the problem.

The noxious thing about the cultural elite is supposed to be its bad faith. Everyone else in America more or less forthrightly confesses that they’re trying to grab as much money as they can, and if somebody has meanwhile forced a liberal education on them, that doesn’t mean they’ve had to like it. Upon making their money, real Americans are furthermore honest enough to spend it on those things that evolution or God have programmed humans to sincerely enjoy. In winter recreation, this might be snowmobiling — genuine petroleum-burning fun! — as opposed to cross-country skiing, a tedious trial of aerobic virtue. In wintry Scandinavian literature, it might be Stieg Larsson rather than Knut Hamsun. Oppositions of the same kind — between untutored enjoyment and the acquired taste — can be generated endlessly, and are. Half the idea is that genuine, honest people differ not so much in their tastes as in their economic ability to indulge those tastes; there exists an oligarchy of money but no aristocracy of spirit. The other half is that less sincere people — elitists — lie to themselves and everybody else about what’s really in their red-meat hearts. Instead of saying I’m pleased with my superior class background, they pretend to like boring books, films, and sports.

There is plenty of bad faith to go around, you may be sure. We might amble our scruffy selves up to the counter at B&N with a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in tow, and often as not there’s one person nearby who imagines a disconnect between reader and reading material. Of course, we’re only reading this because it’s been mentioned in the popular press, while he read it on the day of release. In Latvian translation, yet.

Which, of course, is consistent with Bourdieu, who argued that whatever working-class aesthetic exists is more or less forced to define itself in terms of the dominant — middle-brow and higher — aesthetic; in general, any popular A is at best some dumbed-down knockoff of some more literary, more desirable B. Pity the poor hipster who finds his favorite band on the radio: if everybody can hear them, they must have sold out, and therefore they suck.

I’m tempted to boil this down to an aphorism: Nobody eats arugula for the taste. It’s a status indicator, pure and simple. If you could get it in a salad at Wendy’s, no one would pay however many dollars a pound for it.

Advice Goddess Amy Alkon, who pointed me to this article, says:

When I got to New York (little rube me from a suburb in Michigan), I was determined to partake of Important Culture, and did I ever…going to all sorts of things, including the Joyce Theatre, to see modern dance. At some point, in my early 20s, I realized that I’d rather lie down in traffic on 18th Street than EVER see another modern dance piece. And I hate John Cage with a huge passion and think they should play his music for prisoners at Guantanamo to get them to talk.

I’ve actually been in a modern dance piece, a bit of experimental theatre when I was a young and impressionable college student with time to kill and electives to take. Ability to dance, you may be sure, was not a criterion for inclusion. Then again, it’s not like I went to Harvard or anything.

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That time of year

The trouble with those little candy hearts is that there’s no room to print DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH.

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Monologue box

No One Loves You

I’d hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete, if I weren’t shivering so.

(Via Go Cry Emo Kid.)

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Parade forecast: rain

Andrea Harris will personally seed the clouds herself, if need be:

In fact, most parades are stupid — the only reason to have a parade is to welcome home your military men and women from a successful war. This bullshit of parades every year for everything (eating turkey, drinking crappy beer with green dye in it, the 47th anniversary of the formation of the local garden club, buttsex) is something that should have gone out of style with fake wood-grain toasters and television sets with “vertical hold” buttons. Parades are just a pointless exercise in seeing how much traffic you can tie up; all they do is piss people off. When I am dictatrix of the world one of the things I will abolish is parades — except for military parades after a successful war (I assume there will be a few of these until I have managed to subdue all of Earth to my will), and Shriner parades. Because old men in fezzes driving around in tiny clown cars will never not be awesome.

Don’t make them do it without the fez on.

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Busy, busy, Busy

Billy De Wolfe, who died in 1974, never met Busy Philipps, who was born in 1979, but I suspect he wouldn’t be able to avoid the catchphrase that became associated with his name, had he ever seen her:

Busy Philipps

Incidentally, Busy has a daughter named Birdie, who’s two and a half.

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