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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The ants crawl up

If I remember correctly, the ants also crawl down. And sometimes they just stare back at you and sneer:

I cannot find where they are coming from. There is no trail or run, they are just there on the cabinet or on the wall. Where we keep finding them is by a cabinet that stores dishes, there is no food nearby.

These bastards are hard to kill. They swim in bug spray then build sand castles in the Sevin dust. They strap on bibs and feast on ant bait. If you wash them down the sink, they come back up the drain arms held high like they just completed some made-for-TV obstacle course. These ants do the backstroke and frolic in the toilet as if it were a municipal pool.

I have long believed that many of our common indoor pests have evolved a form of immunity to our trusty poisons and treatments. (Simple Darwinism: the ones least affected lived the longest and got to reproduce the most.)

There aren’t a lot of ants in any one place, which leads to this conclusion:

It is my theory these we find are the lookout ants, watching for “The Man” while their evil cohorts do drug deals and sugar buys with the spiders and pill bugs in hidden nooks and crannies.

Of course, the spiders, omnivores that they are, will happily turn on their ant benefactors given an opportunity, but hey, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

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Executive rotation

Last time we heard from Audi North America boss Johan de Nysschen, he was telling everyone that the Chevrolet Volt was “a car for idiots.”

Friday he abruptly quit his job at Audi, and now we know why: Carlos Ghosn has lured him to Hong Kong to take over worldwide operations at Infiniti.

I’m not sure what I think about this. Audi has been one of the most focused of automakers in recent years, though de Nysschen, stationed at the US outpost, presumably didn’t have a whole lot to do with that. (Peter Schreyer, Audi’s esteemed designer, did; he has since decamped for Kia.) I’m guessing that de Nysschen, who does deserve credit for nursing Audi sales back to health after the unintended-acceleration debacle of the middle 1980s, will be expected to come up with big numbers for Infiniti, which has been trailing Audi — and worse, Acura — in the US market.

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Memorize, then destroy

Kottke.org has reprinted what is described as “the world’s worst password requirements list,” and it is indeed pretty dire, what with its demand for eight characters — not more, not less, but exactly eight, or approximately 2.67 Holy Hand Grenades — and no adjacent repeating characters, which would eliminate something useful like “geekcr@p.”

I’ve mentioned only two of the rules. There are eight more. Overall, it might even be worse than this one.

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)

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Overcooked copypasta

If you don’t want to lug around War and Peace — and if you don’t routinely bench 240, you probably don’t — there’s always the trusty e-book reader, which will not fail you, mostly:

Although I am committed to supporting my neighborhood independent book store (Books to be Red), and enjoying honest-to-goodness books, the .99 Nook edition was so lightweight that it has made reading War and Peace a genuine pleasure. For those of you who have not tackled this tome as yet, it is a page-turner.

As I was reading, I came across this sentence: “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern…” Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again.

The third time prompted the unearthing of the hard copy, and the following discovery:

For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: “It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern…”

Someone at Barnes and Noble (a twenty year old employee? or maybe the CEO?) had substituted every incidence of “kindled” with “Nookd!”

Smooth move, B&N. What do you do with, say, Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest?

And it gets better:

What this reader should really be outraged about is the fact that he spent $.99 on an e-book when there are other editions — most likely with the exact same text, sans the “Nookd” goof — available for absolutely nothing.

And now I’m hearing Edwin Starr in the back of my head: “War and Peace! Unnnh! Good God, y’all! What does it sell for? Absolutely nothing!

Were Starr still alive, he’d walk twenty-five miles to kick my behind for that.

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And the fortress is showing strain

Pop had this one figured out before tipoff: start Manu Ginobili, and make the Thunder sweat the matchups. And Manu, you may be sure, was up to the task. (Downside: Danny Green, reasonably effective when he was a starter, came up empty as a reserve.) With 5:17 left, the Thunder were up by 13; over the next four minutes, the Spurs gradually eroded that lead to two. With OKC up 103-101 at the 29-second mark, James Harden lofted a trey right over Kawhi Leonard’s head. The Spurs weren’t dead; Ginobili duly bagged a layup, and then a bad pass gave them the ball back with 15 seconds left. Manu was in position, but his attempted trey clanked, and at the 0.8 mark, Kevin Durant sank two free throws to ice it. San Antonio got a perfectly useless trey at the horn, which was eventually waved off: Thunder 108, Spurs 103, and what was an 0-2 series is now 3-2.

Still, Manu remains Manu, and there is still no consistent way to shut him down. Ginobili bagged a game-high 34 points on 11-21 shooting, including five treys, and the ancient Tim Duncan merely hit 7-10 and pulled in 12 rebounds. His mere presence gives hope to us classmates of Methuselah. Tony Parker was a bit more himself, with 20 points. With Ginobili starting, though, the bench had to fight for scraps: only 22 among them, with Stephen Jackson getting 13. The Spurs seriously outrebounded the Thunder, 42-34, and shot a decent 46 percent.

But the Thunder shot 50 percent, forced 21 Spur turnovers while giving up only 16, and somehow got Russell Westbrook out of his three-game funk. He didn’t shoot all that well — 9-24 — but 12 assists to go with 23 points is worthy. Durant, a slow starter in the first half, ended up with 27; Harden, just as slow, still found his way to 20. I suspect a tracking device in the beard. Kendrick Perkins drew a tech early on, and then fouled out inside the two-minute mark; he hadn’t done much offensively, but he pulled down ten rebounds.

This is the first game of the semifinals that was not won by the home team. This means — well, damned if I know what it means, except that Game 6 will be back in the OKC on Wednesday, and the Thunder will have every incentive to make sure they don’t have to go back to San Antonio.

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It will not rent pigs

Or maybe it will, depending on your vendor. A Russian bank will be issuing Angry Birds MasterCards:

Angry Birds MasterCard from Promsvyazbank Bank

Russian fans of the videogame Angry Birds will soon be able to get special debit cards — or “Angry Cards” — giving them discounts on the game’s products.

Moscow-based Promsvyazbank said it will start issuing the new MasterCards on June 4. They will be printed with images of the various characters and will give users a 10 percent discount on all Angry Birds-branded products.

Besides debit cards, the bank will also issue Angry Bird cash cards, which users top up with money. The bank will pay a 4 percent annual interest rate on the card’s balance.

Which frankly is a better deal than you’re going to get from Too Big To Fail Bank (Member FDIC).

(Swiped from Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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In case we run out of meaningless numbers

There are always the monthly job reports, and they set the bar for worthlessness:

I hate to be a cynical contrarian (actually, who am I kidding) but headlines like Jobs report upends 2012 race just strike me as dumb.

Why should a ‘jobs report’ have any effect on anything? I’m pretty sure people know whether they have jobs. If they were disgruntled before some statistic was released, they should be equally disgruntled after. If they were happy, they should stay happy. These statistics have no reality unto themselves; they’re not even correct for crying out loud. They are literally always revised later. They represent some economist’s best guess after throwing some numbers into a spreadsheet. It’s not nothing, but we need to stop treating them with such reverence and reacting like trained seals.

I demur; I think they really are nothing. If these little snapshots of unreality were of any actual value, somebody else would be compiling them and turning a profit on them. The Feds are mandated by the Constitution to gather exactly one set of statistics: the population, every ten years, for purposes of Congressional reapportionment. Everything else is mission creep.

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The beehive gets buzzier

Utah has raised the speed limit on some highways to 80 mph, and Will Truman was there to check them out:

The signs all let us know that it’s experimental. They’re also heavily enforced. I’m not sure if that’s because of concern that drivers will take that as a license to go over 100 or because drivers already have. The end result is that on the way back, when the speed limit was 75 I drove 80 and when the speed limit was 80 I drove 80. Still, it’s a start.

In my circuit of (some of) Texas in 2008, I encountered a few stretches where the speed limit was 80; the Highway Patrol was very much in evidence, and traffic generally kept to 80 or slightly above, though I didn’t see any sudden brake lights in front of me when the limit dropped to 75 or lower.

On the other hand, on old US 90 west of Marfa, which was mostly deserted the day I drove it — well, never mind. No sense in self-incrimination, after all. And by now, Texans are contemplating life at 85.

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