District of Clumsier

Robert Stacy McCain had to stay over the night before last in Washington, and getting there was decidedly less than half the fun:

Raining cats, dogs and other small mammals in the D.C. area today. This means traffic was even worse of a mess than usual. Washington is full of people who can’t drive worth crap on a clear sunny day, and a rainstorm is an almost insuperable challenge for these incompetent vehicular menaces. The District of Columbia is the only place in America where they offer the driver’s exam in braille, and the laws against “discrimination” are so stringent in Washington that it’s considered a human-rights violation to deny a license to the mentally handicapped.

Just once in my life, I’d like to hear someone argue that “the drivers where I live are just fine, thank you very much.”

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In a fowl mood

We have here Teija Vesterbacka, wife to Rovio head Peter Vesterbacka, in a dress that commemorates the company’s most popular product:

Teija Vesterbacka in an Angry Birds dress

Which may or may not have something to do with this:

Rovio is about to open the world’s first official Angry Birds retail shop in Helsinki.

Hello Kitty, watch your back.

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet. Photo by Matti Matikainen.)

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There should be a heart on that wall

This is the only Icelandic pop record I’ve ever heard that wasn’t by Björk, and unlike some of Björk’s stuff, this is set to, as Tom Lehrer might say, a possibly recognizable tune. (Still picture throughout.)

How I stumbled across this is yet another particle of the Stuff of Legend; I had eight or nine tabs open, and a reference to it was on the bottom of one of the pages. I wouldn’t have spotted it had I not been so lacking in dexterity, mouse-handling-wise.

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Redesigned for better aerodynamics

Because I needed to do something with it, here’s a shot of tennis star Maria Sharapova at the introduction of — yes, I had to look it up — the 2007 Land Rover Freelander 2:

Maria Sharapova for Land Rover

In the States, this model is known as the LR2, and was not sold here until 2008. Maria, then an “official Land Rover ambassador” in North America, has been a fan of the brand:

“I drive a Land Rover at my home in the USA. Since I was 15 and first saw Land Rovers in the US I have admired their unique design and British-ness.”

I wonder what she thinks of the new Range Rover Evoque, a cute ute with LR guts and Victoria Beckham behind it.

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Dickery, Doc

It gets harder, so to speak, to defend Medicare when stuff like this is going on:

According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare has spent more than $240 million of taxpayer money on penis pumps for elderly men over the past decade, and will surpass a quarter of a billion dollars this year for costs since 2001.

The cost to taxpayers for the pumps more than quadrupled during that period, from a low of $11 million in 2001 to a high of more than $47 million in 2010. And these represent only the costs for external devices, technically classified as “Male Vacuum Erection Systems,” not implantable devices or oral drugs.

Of course, if you’re a judge, you can afford your own.

Approximately half the population can’t ever qualify for this sort of thing for the obvious biological reason. (Actually, more than that, since women tend to live longer than men.) Me, I’m inclined to agree with this woman:

Our government, which couldn’t find a single taxpayer funded program we couldn’t live without, subsequently cut a huge check to a bunch of dudes who feel their penises are too small. Dudes on Medicare. Because, goddam it, if they aren’t entitled to giant junk just for paying into the system for fifty years. But don’t touch the program because, if you do, seniors are going to be thrown off cliffs in droves or something.

I suppose they can always trot out a poster geezer for erectile dysfunction, the sort of guy who’d threaten to throw himself off a cliff if he couldn’t stand at attention. I wish him a nice trip.

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Loser interface

For an alleged communications company, this is not exactly what anyone would call communication:

Clicking on “LOG IN” on your start page really ought to take me to, you know, a login window or summat, instead of doing nothing at all, leaving me to flounder cluelessly until I find a page with specific logins for each and every kind of service and package you offer (Wireless. Home Phone. DSL. TV. Home phone and Internet. Wireless and cable but not Wireless Cable. Wireless and home phone, no Internet, Cable on Sundays only. Wireless Teletext with simultaneous translation to and from Lithuanian.

Been there, wandered through that. It’s as though they commanded the designer: “We want you to make this exactly like our voicemail, only in pictures.”

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If I may bend your ear for just a moment

Nothing too unusual about this: high-school student writes to 150 men and women of letters, with four questions about symbolism and their use (or nonuse) thereof.

Except that it happened in 1963, well before email, and the surveys were mimeographed and mailed out. And this is what Bruce McAllister had in mind:

McAllister had just published his first story, “The Faces Outside,” in both IF magazine and Simon and Schuster’s 1964 roundup of the best science fiction of the year. Confident, if not downright cocky, he thought the surveys could settle a conflict with his English teacher by proving that symbols weren’t lying beneath the texts they read like buried treasure awaiting discovery.

Seventy-five of the authors queried did reply, and 65 of the replies survive:

The answers to the questionnaire were as varied as the writers themselves. Did Isaac Asimov plant symbolism in his work? “Consciously? Heavens, no! Unconsciously? How can one avoid it?” Iris Murdoch sagely advises that “there is much more symbolism in ordinary life than some critics seem to realize.” Ayn Rand wins the prize for concision; addressing McAllister’s example of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter, she wrote, “This is not a definition, it is not true — and, therefore, your questions do not make sense.” [Jack] Kerouac is a close second; he writes, “Symbolism is alright in ‘Fiction’ but I tell true life stories simply about what happened to people I knew.” The apologies Bruce received from secretaries — including those of John Steinbeck, Muriel Spark, and Ian Fleming— explaining that they were traveling and unable to respond were longer than that.

Oh, and McAllister did make a career of it. His 1987 novelette “Dream Baby,” published in Asimov’s and later expanded into a novel, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards; he’s now a writing coach.

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Gimme a head with hare

Mr. and Mrs. Porretto engage in some conversation:

CSO: She gave a quiz in one of her Earth Sciences classes, and for one of the questions, one student wrote: “I don’t know the answer, but here’s a bunny.”

FWP: And drew a sketch of a bunny?

CSO: Yup.

This of course harks back to the classic Bunny Meme:

I have no idea what you're talking about so here's a bunny with a pancake on its head

Oolong, the original bunny in this meme, passed away in 2003, aged eight and a half, although his memory is honored by younger bunnies, other species, and college professors.

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A formula for mischief

As complaints about the Bowl Championship Series go, this is one of the better ones, based purely upon my opinion:

175 university elitists (the human voters) determine what 100 million consumers have to consume, and do everything possible to insulate themselves from feedback on their decisions. This is close to the ratio of the Politburo of the old Soviet Union versus the population of the USSR. These elitists suffer no consequences if they are caught taking bribes for votes and are thus easily corruptible (much like the Politburo), especially with all the money the SEC and ESPN have available to corrupt those voters.

Now remember what the NCAA says: it’s only corruption if the students get money.

College football is only one of two competitive systems who use opinion to determine a champion. The other? BEAUTY PAGEANTS. Both use little to no objective data to determine a winner, and both are rife with bribery for the “judges” so that power players get to earn and keep undeserved prizes.

Real athletes settle it on the field.

Anyone for a Miss Universe cage match?

Addendum: You know who else isn’t impressed by the BCS?

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Maintaining appeal

Bananas don’t grow around here no matter what the weather’s like, and there’s a lot of work involved in getting five or six of them to me every single week:

[I]n order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.

And then they’re ripened in a controlled environment until they reach whatever state is desired by vendors:

Banana colors by Chiquita

Since my usual routine is to polish off a single banana each day after work, I shop on Saturdays for bananas in the 3-4 range, expecting that Monday’s fruit will have made it nearly to 5. By the end of the week, I’m seeing solid 7s.

Of late, they’re ridiculously cheap: 50 cents a pound or thereabouts. I pay extra for the organics when they’re offered, since they seem to ripen a bit more slowly and carefully.

And because I can’t resist, here’s the late Harry Chapin describing what happened to several tons of them one day in the not-so-distant past.

(From the sidebar at American Digest.)

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Someday this will be a blonde joke

But for now, please note that the perpetrator is in fact described as male:

Screen shot from criggo.com - the sign at the pump said 24 hours pay at pump and he thought he had 24 hours to pay for the gas

Then again, the article doesn’t specify the guy’s hair color.

(Found at Criggo, which has several of these every day.)

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May, meet December

About half a century ago, Gerry Goffin and Carole King came up with “Go Away Little Girl,” a song perhaps as morally complicated as their earlier “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”: the guy is having to say no to jailbait, after all. Which makes Donny Osmond’s version from 1971, when he was all of thirteen, seem a bit off-center, though Donny was utterly unironic in his delivery and managed somehow to pull it off. You won’t see Justin Bieber trying a song like this. (And Donny, to his eternal credit, has never disowned the song.)

The premise would resurface a few times: see, for instance, “Young Girl” by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. I’m not sure how young these girls really are, though Chuck Berry can be heard practically licking his chops at “Sweet Little Sixteen.” (Or, for that matter, “Little Queenie,” who’s “too cute to be a minute over seventeen.”) The Beatles opted for seventeen — you know what I mean? — as did, um, Joan Jett. Steely Dan apparently drew the line at 19. Later on, we’d hear from Weezer (“there’s rules about old goats like me hangin’ ’round with chicks like you”).

Women, Joan Jett aside, were not usually concerned with this issue, though there were a couple of instances where the younger guy coveted the older woman — see, for example, Paul Anka’s “Diana” (“I’m so young and you’re so old”), or, stretching it a bit, Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.”

Girls crushing on the older guy? Well, yeah, now and then. The most obvious case: the Poni-Tails with “Born Too Late” (“To you, I’m just a kid that you won’t date”). But the most heart-wrenching song of this sort, as least to the extent that my heart is subjected to torque, is right here:

I have, of course, mentioned this before:

“Wait For Me”, a smallish (#37 in Billboard) hit for the Playmates in 1960 — you may remember them for “Beep Beep,” the tale of a Cadillac driver’s scorn for a little Nash Rambler, a couple years earlier — is basically the logical extension of the Poni-Tails’ yearnfest “Born Too Late”, this time told from the guy’s point of view: he looks upon this young girl as mostly a pest, and by the time it dawns on him that maybe she was The One, she’s already spoken for. The song (by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance, whose biggest hit that year was Brian Hyland’s straight-faced reading of “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”) isn’t exactly on par with the saga of Abelard and Heloise, but it left me with a case of the shivers. Not that anything like this has ever happened to me, of course.

What prompted all this: “Wait For Me” coming up in the shuffle, and the death of Lee Pockriss a couple weeks ago. And maybe some other things I’d just as soon not go into.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes

I mentioned yesterday that Google’s available tool for checking malware didn’t find anything here. However, there are tools, and then there are tools, if you know what I mean, and Google has a better one: it allows you to browse a page as though you were the Googlebot, and see what it sees. What it sees, frankly, is not pretty.

So I called for backup — specifically, these guys. While I was deleting several hundred files, most of them innocuous but you can’t be sure, they were attending to the stuff I couldn’t reach very well. (You do not want to see me working phpMyAdmin; it’s like Dane Cook lecturing on quantum mechanics.) They have pronounced the place thoroughly scoured, and will monitor for changes. When Google comes back, which eventually they will, they will be presented with something that doesn’t insult the integrity of their database, or whatever the current explanation is.

We now return you to your semi-regular bloggage.

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Banished from Googledom

You may have already noticed the Yahoo! search box, a piece of pure 1990s code that’s now sitting on the sidebar. Hardly anyone uses a search function from here, except me, for quick and dirty cross-referencing of past posts. WordPress has its own search function, but there are upwards of 8,000 pages here that aren’t in any way connected to WordPress, which will never be seen. So I’ve been relying on Google to serve up my local stuff.

Then this weekend, Google informed me that they were de-indexing the entire site for a minimum of one year, as punishment for not blocking injections of malware quickly enough, or something. (One such event is described here.) Their own malware tool doesn’t find anything here, but the Master Control Program will not be denied.

I filed for reconsideration, which may or may not work. In the meantime, traffic here will drop by a third, which doesn’t bother me a great deal, and search traffic will drop by two thirds, which does, since it means I’ll probably have to suspend the search-query roundup on Monday mornings for lack of material.

Google Reader subscribers should not be affected. People who have ridiculous work filters and get here by typing the name of the domain into the Google search page will no longer be getting here.

Update: On the basis that I can’t assume I found everything myself, I have called in a white-hat guy to look over the site and make recommendations.

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How’s your gorge?

Automobile reports that the two “most overused words in our car reviews” in 2011 were “gorgeous” and “badass.”

The question of whether these two qualities overlap to any great extent is left as an exercise for the student.

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Notes she wrote

When I was very young, I learned how to read with my head tilted at odd angles, the better to comprehend rows and rows of shelved library books. One that caught my eye Saturday was Women Composers of Classical Music, hanging out in 780.922, and I started running down my own internal list: Hildegard of Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach — and then I drew a blank.

So I had to pick up the book, by Mary McVicker [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2011], which has over 300 biographies, sorted by time frame and then by location. Better yet, there’s an LP discography, since many (most?) of these composers are not yet represented on CD. And yes, a few more names I’d known popped up, often of women I’d thought of more as performers than as composers: Wanda Landowska was perhaps the most prominent.

Inevitably, it is mentioned that men had an easier time of gaining acceptance, but as McVicker notes:

“[A]t various times in various countries between 1550 and 1900 good economic times and somewhat better acceptance for their music have coincided, and there have been brief windows of opportunity and sunshine for women composers.”

Whether the window is more open today will likely be judged by the author of a similar collection a hundred years from now.

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