I blame Erasmus B. Dragon

Click and Clack will go out with a clunk:

TOM: And with Car Talk celebrating its 25th anniversary on NPR this fall (35th year overall, including our local years at WBUR)…

RAY: …and my brother turning over the birthday odometer to 75, we’ve decided that it’s time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

TOM: So as of October, we’re not going to be recording any more new shows. That’s right, we’re retiring.

RAY: So, we can finally answer the question, if my brother retired, how would he know?

There are enough old shows, of course, to keep the thing going for another 25 years, and to remind you not to drive like either of them.

(Dragon, you may recall, is the head of their Working Mothers Support Group.)

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Bucking proud

PBS’ Idea Channel floated this semi-defense of the brony community, suggesting that they may be “changing the definition of masculinity,” or something like that:

While I don’t take issue with any of their conclusions — and the brief image of Anaïs Nin riding Rainbow Dash put all sorts of notions in my head — I must point out that there is, in the current MLP television series, one classically (and of course stereotypically) masculine attribute, possessed to at least some extent by all of the Mane Six: they’re prepared to kick ass and take names.

Consider, if you will, the situation just after the midpoint of “A Canterlot Wedding.” The false Princess has been exposed, Celestia is temporarily disabled, the entirety of Equestria is about to be overrun with changelings, and the Elements of Harmony are pretty much inaccessible. Can half a dozen mares save the world as they know it? As it turned out, no; but that didn’t stop them from going full-tilt at the invaders. “A mare’s gotta do what a mare’s gotta do,” I said while watching the battle. There’s a lot to be said for simone-pure guts, even when they’re wrapped up in a pastel-colored package.

(Seen at DerpyHoovesNews.)

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Begun, the cola wars have

Almost any paragraph in James Lileks’ Tuesday Bleat about Nanny Bloomberg’s manifest obsession with the size of your Big Gulp could be celebrated as a Quote of the Week, but I figured that a proper QOTW would have to include the whole thing, and I’d just as soon not copy it all over here. (And I’m sure he’d just as soon I didn’t copy it all over here.) I will, however, reproduce one representative passage:

A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition — localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese — will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.

Besides, the Mickey D Must Die crowd, thinking themselves to be enlightened free-thinkers, would instinctively resist, even resent, being labeled as Puritans, which to me is one more reason why they should be.

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Compensation issues

Payback, they say, is a bitch. In the July Motor Trend, Kim Reynolds checks the papers on one of its puppies:

Every time I observe somebody calculating a hybrid’s “payback miles” — that is, its price premium (if you can figure that out) amortized by its mileage improvement — I cringe. For those who need simple answers, I guess it’s hard to resist, but the tradeoffs embodied by these cars are more complex than simpleminded division. Let me flip the conversation: How many people figure out the payback cost effectiveness of a concert-quality sound system? A bigger engine? Carbon-ceramic brakes? Nobody. But for some reason, the word “hybrid” brings the calculators out.

It’s based, I think, on the assumption that no one would buy these automotive hair shirts were it not for the deep-seated desire to avoid gas stations. But would-be buyers do the same calculations for diesel vs. gas, and nobody does the math for the Toyota Prius line, which sells about 20,000 copies a month, accounting for around half the hybrid market in the States — and which doesn’t have a nonhybrid version for comparison.

Then there are the oddballs like the Infiniti M35h and the late, lamented Honda Accord hybrid, which posted modest fuel-economy gains while being faster than their ordinary brethren. What’s the payback on zero to sixty in under six? Anyone?

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This was easy, sort of

After some uproar over her endorsement of a Mexican presidential candidate, Rebecca Black has been keeping a lower profile this week, taking a trip to Staples and mourning the death of Eduard Khil, the Trololo Man. (She’s admitted several times that she keeps a close watch on viral YouTube stuff.)

Rebecca Black for NOH8On the other hand, she’s apparently not overloaded with free time, since her ostensibly weekly “Ask Rebecca” series on YouTube has gone a whole month without the appearance of a new installment. (There have been three.) She did, however, unearth an outtake from her NOH8 photo session from last fall, in which she had her mouth duct-taped shut. (See, for instance, here.) And she did have a small role in this goofy Funny or Die video. Debbie Gibson’s in it too, which guaranteed my attention.

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He outranks Colonel Sanders

Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said: “Who the hell was General Tso, and why am I eating his chicken?” Now I know:

[It’s] “the most famous Hunanese dish in the world.” That might come as news to chefs in Hunan, who apparently had never heard of it until the opening of China to the West in recent decades. The man generally credited with the idea of putting deep-fried chicken pieces in a hot chili sauce was the Hunan-born chef Peng Chang-kuei, who fled to Taiwan after the Communist revolution in 1949. He named the dish for a 19th-century military commander who led the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, a largely forgotten conflict that claimed upwards of 20 million lives. Peng moved to New York in 1973 to open a restaurant that became a favorite of diplomats and began cooking his signature dish. Over the years it has evolved in response to American tastes to become sweeter, and in a kind of reverse cultural migration has now been adopted as a “traditional” dish by chefs and food writers in Hunan.

About that “largely forgotten conflict”:

The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, who, having received visions, maintained that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. About 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.

The General’s role in same:

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850, Zuo [Pinyin spelling], then 38 years old, was hired as an advisor to Zeng Guofan, the governor of Hunan. In 1856, he was formally offered a position in the provincial government of Hunan. In 1860, Zuo was given command of a force of 5,000 volunteers, the Xiang Army (later known as “Chu Army”), and by September of that year, he drove the Taiping rebels out of Hunan and Guangxi provinces, into coastal Zhejiang. Zuo captured the city of Shaoxing and, from there, pushed south into Fujian and Guangdong provinces, where the revolt had first begun. In 1863, Zuo was appointed Governor of Zhejiang and an Undersecretary of War.

In August 1864, Zuo, together with Zeng Guofan, dethroned the Taiping teenage king, Hong Tianguifu, and brought an end to the rebellion.

The Chinese apparently don’t eat a lot of General Tso’s chicken, having discovered in recent years the wonders of KFC.

(Via Nancy Friedman.)

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Ennui, monsieur

Roger is never — okay, let’s say “hardly ever” — bored:

Trapped in someone else’s time frame WILL bore me silly. In a long meeting that is top down? A yawn; Presbyterians have LOTS of meetings, which I avoid as much as possible. Stuck three hours in Wal-Mart (and it HAS happened)? REALLY boring — it’s shopping, which I dislike, and it’s Wal-Mart, which I’m not fond of. The only way that situation would have been salvageable is if I had had something to read and a place to sit down and read it. IF there’s something to read, AND I have the opportunity to do so, I am NEVER bored.

Reading is good, when you have the opportunity. (In the line at the Walmart Supercenter, where you’re twelfth in line because six checkout lanes are inexplicably closed, you end up reading the nutrition information on your food packages, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes, so is the food.) I have been known to (sort of) sing, wordlessly if I remember to keep my mouth shut, out loud if the coast seems clear. It’s amazing how many songs I know up until that one line I never could figure out.

During this city’s darker days — “What? NBA Finals? Here? Are you kidding me?” — the Oklahoma Gazette had a little filler piece between the ads which said, “If you’re bored in this town, it’s not our fault.” They meant it, too.

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The Service Bay State

Tesla Motors’ model for its company-owned stores — there will be no franchised dealers — is the Apple store, presumably complete with Genius Bar. This does not sit well with other dealers in Natick, Massachusetts, where Tesla is planning a showroom:

An attorney representing the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association along with several Natick dealerships told town officials this week that a license selectmen approved for an electric car company in Natick should be revoked because the company has not met relevant state laws.

Scott Silverman wrote in a letter to the town Monday that Tesla Motors has not proposed to offer service near the site “at any time in the foreseeable future,” as would be required by state law for a license holder.

“We want to ensure that Tesla complies with all the same requirements that our new car dealership members are required to comply with,” Silverman said [Tuesday].

The nearest Tesla service center is in New York, though Tesla will make house calls, at a buck a mile.

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Half a dozen ravens dwell in the Tower of London, and apparently there’s a darn good reason for it:

Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.

It was Charles II, according to the stories, who first insisted that the ravens of the Tower should be protected.

This was against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained that the ravens impeded the business of his observatory in the White Tower.

Mr Flamsteed, of course, was overruled.

A Raven Master is assigned to the birds; each day he feeds them “170g of raw meat a day, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood.” Tourists are advised not to offer them anything.

(Via Nancy’s Baby Names, where you’ll learn the names of the current, um, unkindness. Yes, unkindness. That’s so Raven.)

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Adaptive qualities

Bare Platypus reports on a possibly heartening development:

[T]his week’s story about Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda of Today Show fame is too good to pass up.

If you hadn’t heard, Kathy Lee and Hoda were playing a bit of an on-air game based upon answering questions from a new game show. The show polls an audience about what’s considered “normal” and contestants have to guess what is and isn’t a la the Family Feud show from days gone by. The women were asked, “Is skinny dipping normal?” “Is sleeping naked normal?” To their credit, they answered “YES” to both questions (and we whole-heartily agree with Kathy Lee and Hoda about that).

Me, I’m shocked that anyone would have to ask that in the first place.

Apparently Hoda Kotb has undergone some attitude adjustment; three years ago on Today, when Kathie Lee made an offhand remark about sleeping in her birthday suit, Hoda was utterly flummoxed. Then again, one might not expect a woman born of Egyptian parents (!) in Oklahoma (!!) to be particularly enthusiastic about high levels of déshabillé, or at least to admit it on national television.

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Nun of that

“It’s not like we’re playing the Sisters of the Poor,” Gregg Popovich had said. The first half tonight might have persuaded him otherwise, with the Spurs leading by as many as 18 and by 15 at the half, as the Thunder managed to exhibit almost every one of their bad habits. (“Uncontested,” said radio guy Matt Pinto entirely too often.)

Then the roof fell in. OKC outscored San Antonio 32-18 in the third and opened the fourth with an 11-6 run. With 24 seconds left, Kendrick Perkins, who’d not had a great night, dunked to put OKC up by six; the Spurs got a second chance, a third, a fourth, and finally James Harden took it away. The Spurs had to foul, the Beard nailed both free throws, and it was an eight-point game — and it stayed that way, with Kevin Durant clearing the last Spurs miss and dribbling it out. Oklahoma City 107, San Antonio 99, and that’s how the West was won.

What happened? Answered prayers, maybe; change of pace, definitely. Tony Parker, who had gone 8-14 and snagged a double-double in the first half, was held to 4-13 in the second. Manu Ginobili, who started again, had to sit for much of the fourth with five fouls, most of which he actually committed in the fourth. Tim Duncan worked hard for his double-double (25 points, 14 rebounds), and Parker still made a good showing (29 points, 12 assists); Stephen Jackson, seventh man, carried most of the load for the bench and delivered three-pointers practically on demand. But here’s the key: the Spurs got 34 points in the first twelve minutes — and 36 in the last twenty-four. Were they tired, or just damned?

Still, we must have a telltale statistic, and here’s tonight’s: Durant played the entire game, every second. (He once said that he’d play two games a day if they asked him to.) During those 48 minutes, he rolled up 34 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished up five dimes, and took away the ball on the last play of the game. I’m surprised he’s not offering to clean up the arena after hours. Russell Westbrook — remember him? — was fast as always, and more accurate than usual, finishing with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Beard ended up with 16 and a big smile. But it was Derek Fisher, the Old Man of the Mountain, who perhaps best exemplified this team, this series: yes, he shot a creditable 4-7 in 23 minutes tonight, but more important, he knew it was actually possible to climb out of a 2-0 hole and still win a series. He’s been there, perhaps more often than anyone else.

To the Finals, where it will be — aw, who cares? We’ll beat them too.

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Well, well

A tidbit from inside State Treasurer Ken Miller’s monthly Gross Receipts Report:

Rig counts last week were set at 192 total, 22 higher than at the same time last year. However, active natural gas rigs have dropped from 122 last year to 53 this year. Active oil rigs have climbed from 48 last year to 139 this year.

Which of course is due to the fact that the price of natural gas has been tanking, dropping as low as $2 per thousand cubic feet before rebounding to about $2.50/Mcf last month, while oil prices, while down slightly of late, are still on the high side.

If nothing else, this demonstrates the occasional wisdom of outgoing Chesapeake chairman Aubrey McClendon, who started moving the company out of gas and into oil last year.

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More of the same, but less of it

One proposal to salvage what’s left of the Eurozone calls for the issuance of “Eurobills,” short-term (one year or less) debt instruments backed by all 17 member nations, which will buy some time for the countries farthest in the hole. Daily Pundit’s nemo paradise is downright optimistic about the prospects:

I have to admit that, after years of scoffing at the idea that the Greeks and the Germans could live in the same house, I now think it’s inevitable. They’ll just live on different floors, with the Greeks in the basement and the Germans in the penthouse.

The solution of a common fund for shaky sovereign debt is brilliant, because, if it’s done right (a big “if,” admittedly) it solves in one stroke the capital flight issues of Spain and Italy without granting the Greeks a free pass for their outright hold-up of German taxpayers.

How this might work out:

[I]f Spain, Belgium or Italy were to use their entire quota of Eurobills (10% of GDP), this would cover about half of their refinancing needs for 2012. Thus financial markets would remain an important mechanism to provide price signals and incentives for fiscal discipline on longer dated debt. But at the same time, Eurobills would give them time to implement credible fiscal reforms. In Le Monde, the authors write that a fund of 100 to 200 billion euros would be enough to guarantee the safety [of] Eurobills. Eurobills would allow a country like Italy to save 5 billion a year directly (by lowering short rates), and at least as much indirectly through its stabilizing impact on long rates.

Emphasis in the original.

I’m just wondering how blissful life in these United States would be if saving €5 or €10 billion a year would actually make a difference in our balance sheet.

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Now that’s some asymmetrical information

Mary Katrantzou has a variant version of this dress that’s cut straight across at the hemline, and it’s very nice, but that’s just not enough for Detective Sexy McBadass. Here’s Angie Harmon at the Gracies, displaying just a hint of asymmetry:

Angie Harmon at the Gracies

Okay, more than a hint. The shoes appear to be the same Louboutins we could barely see on Beyoncé a few weeks earlier, in pretty much the same orange. And we can hardly see that clutch she’s carrying against that background.

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Fark blurb of the week

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Just a quiet little ocean drive

Or, you know, not:

It took nearly six years to build this 8-km road, and it’s not hard to see why.

Lots of stuff to do along the way, assuming you survive.


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