Bury interesting

One of those pull-apart mailers which says in big letters WASHINGTON, D.C. and in decidedly-smaller letters “not affiliated with any government agency” showed up yesterday with the subtle heading: SENIOR FINAL EXPENSE INFORMATION.

Gee, thanks.

I didn’t bother to rip the thing open, which would be a violation of all I hold sacred, but I did manage to recall this bit from the joke wall on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, from some time in the last century:

“My grandfather’s funeral cost over five thousand dollars so far.”

“So far?”

“Yeah, we buried him in a rented tuxedo.”

“Final expense,” my sweet bippy.

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The Gas Game (redux)

Every fall, ONG offers something called the Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, and the one time I bothered to keep track of it — well, you’ll get the idea:

Last October, with gas prices in flux, Oklahoma Natural Gas Company offered to sell gas to its customers for a Voluntary Fixed Price of $8.393 per dekatherm, which struck me as a fairly crummy deal, inasmuch as gas was selling in the $6.50 range at the time. So I passed, and gas promptly jumped off the farging scale.

It wasn’t until July that the price dropped below $8.393; it peaked in the winter (of course) at over $12.

Now it’s come around again, and the deal is for $5.754. (Yes, gas prices, if you’re a producer anyway, have gone to hell.) Under state law, they can’t turn a profit on actual gas, so they make it up in fees and such, which is how last month’s gas bill was $35 and change though I used less than $4 worth of gas.

I went back through this year’s bills, and the price has been in the $6-$7.50 range since January. Conventional wisdom would say that it’s only going to go up in the winter, due to that supply-and-demand business you’ve heard so little about in the news. But the fly in this particular ointment has always been the timing of ONG’s purchases: there’s no way to tell when they bought any specific dekatherm. So I studied the price for NG on the NYMEX, and it hasn’t been above $6 all year, meaning current gas is being delivered under old contracts still.

But then I looked at the worst of last winter’s bills, which included the Worst. Snowstorm. Ever. and a three-day period where the temperature never got above 22 and dipped as low as 5, and that $135 bill would have shrunk by $20 easily with $5.75 gas. So I may take the plunge and sign up for the Fixed Rate this year, which is defined as November through October. And if ONG is going to be serving up this year’s $4 gas next summer, well, I’m not using much of it.

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The news report

Early in the summer, my ISP killed its NNTP servers, leaving me with basically two options: give up Usenet entirely, or find a provider that won’t break me. I opted for the latter, and signed up for 90 days of trial service from Agent Premium News, the service vended by the manufacturer of the Agent newsreader, which client I have used for over a decade.

I said at the time that I wasn’t getting close to my 12GB-per-month quota, and I’m not: as of this week, my first as an actual paid customer, I used up a whole 0.2GB in a typical weekend half-hour session. Figure nine such a month, and I’ve got 80 percent of my quota left.

The only rough spot came after I’d marked about 25 articles for download, which they did not do: turned out that the exact moment my trial period ended was within a few seconds of the time I’d started the retrieval job. So out came the first’s month’s payment ($2.95), and sure enough, the articles started rolling into queue.

So far, apart from that little contretemps, things have gone well with APN, and I expect I’ll stick with it for a while.

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A working-class blogger is something to see

John Lennon would have been seventy this fall, and in a piece for Goldmine (not yet on their Web site) that speculates on what might have happened had he lived, Gillian G. Gaar proposes that Dr Winston O’Boogie might well be blogging today:

The rise of the Internet would have been perfect for someone like Lennon, who dabbled in writing, but invariably put his efforts aside when he grew bored. But blog entries don’t have to be long or in-depth.

Fortunately for me, anyway.

Lennon could have commented on the news of the day, posted links to stories that caught his eye, and rallied supporters to whatever cause he was currently involved with.

Seems plausible to me, though I can think of one feature that might scare off some folks: YokoCam.

Or maybe not:

[T]hey’d been documenting their own lives on camera for so long they could easily have set up a channel on YouTube showcasing excerpts from their impressive archives.

And to be fair to Yoko, as I try to be, John once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” I’m pretty sure that were there a LenOnoBlog (Gaar’s suggested title, and why not?), we’d know what she does.

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Take only as directed for heartache

Take what, you ask? Why, Tylenol®, of course:

According to a study published in Psychological Science, scientists have shown that acetaminophen may indeed relieve emotional hurt … particularly the pain associated with social rejection.

A research team lead by Dr. C.N. DeWall conducted two experiments to demonstrate this amazing effect. In the first, sixty-two adult participants took two 500-mg pills every day for three weeks, one in the morning and one at night. Thirty of the individuals took acetaminophen pills, and thirty-two took a placebo. Each night, the participants rated themselves on the Hurt Feelings Scale, wherein they reported how many times and to what extent they experienced social rejection throughout the day. From days nine to twenty-one of the experiment, the people taking acetaminophen reported significantly fewer instances of hurt feelings compared to the people taking the placebo.

Not incorporated into the experiment: whether getting the hell off Facebook would accomplish the same thing with less risk of liver damage.

(Via Asylum.)

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Whenever love knocks

Songbird Clodagh Rodgers, who hailed from Northern Ireland, never scored a US hit, so her fame in the States is almost entirely due to this bit of silliness:

Pither: (voice over) What a strange turn this cycling tour has taken. Mr Gulliver appears to have lost his memory and far from being interested in safer food is now convinced that he is Clodagh Rogers, the young girl singer. I am taking him for medical attention.

Apparently being namechecked on Monty Python’s Flying Circus didn’t rate a mention on Ms Rodgers’ Wikipedia page. That said, I was always fond of her hit song “Jack in the Box,” which is one of those annoyingly-bouncy pop tunes that always seems to place well in the Eurovision song contest. (It came fourth in 1971.)

This, though, I did not know: “She also won the award for ‘The Best Legs’ in British showbusiness and insured her voice for one million pounds.”

Jack in the Box by Clodagh Rodgers on RCA Records

The voice isn’t bad, either.

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One Froggy afternoon

On the Wikipedia page for English author E. Nesbit, you’ll find a photograph of her gravesite, and a fellow crouching, stalker-like, beside the stone.

If F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre is to be believed — and I believed everything he ever told me, which was rather a lot, considering we never actually met — the croucher is MacIntyre himself.

Or, technically, was:

The F also stood for Froggy. That’s what fans in the rabid science-fiction world on the Internet called him: a witty and eloquent man prone to using obscure words and coining new ones, who published numerous books, articles and short stories to great acclaim and spun fantastic tales about his travels.

Both were vaporized June 25. In a dramatic farewell that could have come from Froggy’s pen, Mr. MacIntyre, according to fire officials, methodically set ablaze the contents of the apartment in Bensonhurst where he had lived for a quarter-century. First the flames consumed a lifetime of possessions; then they feasted on his weary flesh, ending his painful 59-year earthly existence. Born in Scotland, raised in Australia — or so he said, in his impeccable British regional accent — he now lies unclaimed in a Brooklyn morgue.

My first encounter with MacIntyre was by way of his 1995 proto-steampunk novel The Woman Between the Worlds, in which a woman identified as Vanessa Steele, though that could not be her real name, shows up at the office of a London tattoo artist. Or, rather, doesn’t show up: she can’t be seen in our, um, dimension, and she has a problem with that. I commented that it was “utterly unfilmable,” an opinion with which MacIntyre was happy to take exception.

We corresponded for a few years after that on various topics: American politics, the Grand Illusion stuff put on by magicians, and, yes, E. Nesbit. “I’d read E. Nesbit’s novels at a young impressionable age,” he said, “and found them enchanting.” But there was occasionally some subtle subtext:

In [The Story of the Amulet, 1906], the children make one time-trip into the future, but — in a high point (or, rather, a low point) of authorial wishful thinking — the future they visit is a Fabian socialist utopia, where HG Wells is the workers’ hero, and men no longer wear trousers.

Nesbit, of course, was a founder of the Fabian Society.

MacIntyre, in some ways, was what I might have aspired to be: he seemed to know everything. I was startled to find his byline on an IMDb article about 1960s cartoon rock duo the Beagles, whose “What More Can I Do?” is an enduring favorite of mine. Eventually we fell out of touch; I had no idea that he’d come to such a horrible end, and wouldn’t find out until Roberta X touched upon the subject a couple of months after his demise.

But he knew this Web site very well:

“I haven’t the faintest notion as to what Dustbury is; and even less notion as to what functional purpose Dustbury serves. The words ‘Dustbury’ and ‘psychopathia’ seem invariably conjoined.”

Now how can you argue with something like that?

Farewell, Froggy.

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Such a card

I’ve seen spam claiming to offer presumably-loaded ATM cards before, but the one that showed up yesterday is different: it had the “actual” card number in the subject line.

The ostensible sender is “Senate House®,” which is marginally amusing in its own right, as is the dubious “atm.com” domain. Instructions:

Accredited ATM Card(231) awarded for contract payment of $6.8MILLION USD.with Card Number; 4278xxxxxxxxxxxx has been allocated in your favor, contact Mrs. Linda Hills (mrslindahill@luckymail.com)with the following

And, of course, you’re supposed to supply all manner of biographical detail to the operation, which claims to be in, of all places, Lagos, capital of Nigeria. (Who would have known?) I’ve redacted the last twelve digits, lest someone get a wild hair and try this number on some unsuspecting storefront. I did, however, subject it to the Luhn test, which it passed. Still doesn’t make it a valid number, of course, and you’ll note that they didn’t bother to send the CVV code (which may or may not be required by a merchant) or the expiration date (which definitely will be).

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Fark blurb of the week

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And I shall continue to call him Brian

Whether that’s his name or not:

Tulsan Brian Bates is hoping the Admiral Twin Drive-in, which was destroyed in a recent fire, isn’t gone forever. “I hope it is rebuilt,” Bates writes. “I remember seeing my first PG movie there — Young Frankenstein — making myself nauseous by getting that free refill on the 32 oz. 7up, and I remember Mom saying something to Dad about the risque jokes going over my head. We’ve taken our kids to the Admiral Twin, too … The Admiral Twin was the last Tulsa theater from my childhood and youth still operating. The Continental, Will Rogers, Brook, Delman, Park Lane, Spectrum, Forum, Fox, Fontana, Annex 3/7, Southroads, Plaza 3, Village, Eleventh Street Drive In, 51 Drive In, Boman Twin, Williams Center, Woodland Hills — all closed, many of them demolished.”

Um, the Tulsan in question was Michael Bates. Brian Bates runs JohnTV.com in Oklahoma City. Whoever is running the op-ed page in the Oklahoman needs to get with the program.

(Why, yes, this is a repeat from July — and also from March.)

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It is, after all, after Labor Day

So instead of white, we find grey and black:

Grey and Black Suede Lace-Up Pump by Laura Amat

I have hope for this Laura Amat pump. The grey suede base is quite charming, the black-tie contraption perhaps a little less so, but the overall effect is Extremely Vague Retro, a decade other than your current one, though not necessarily one you’d recognize right off the bat. (1920s, maybe?) The color scheme, for me, makes up for the lack of chronological specificity, and besides, we’re going dancing, right?

The UK’s Large Size Designer Shoes storefront is featuring this pump for €149, a shade under $190. Available in 41-44, which is UK 8-11, which is US 10-13. If you know someone who has been screaming for years while squeezing into someone’s idea of a 9½, this might buy you a brief period of silence.

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Something different at steak

The Homeland store at May and Britton often has a guy in front of the meat department to hawk stuff, and Saturday he was pushing something called the Flat Iron Steak. A sample was proffered, and I pronounced it good; I asked for preparation directions, and he said that he usually just tossed it onto a George Foreman grill. Since George and I go way back, grillwise, that made the sale: I picked up this odd-looking little strip of something too thick to be jerky but seemingly too skinny to be a real steak.

And I tossed it onto the George Foreman grill, and it was good. Which led me to go look for why I hadn’t seen this particular cut before. This much we know:

The flat iron steak — also known as the top blade steak — is cut from deep within the shoulder muscle known as the chuck, traditionally used for roasts or ground beef.

“Although the cut is flavorful and relatively tender, the flat iron steak has a serious flaw in the middle of it. There is a tough piece of connective tissue running through the middle, but it can be removed to create an amazing cut of beef.”

Butchers tending to be a conservative lot, it was probably tricky to persuade them to cut this: it runs against the grain, so to speak. But Wikipedia hints that it’s big at the high-end steakeries:

Especially popular are flat irons from Wagyu beef, as a way for chefs to offer more affordable and profitable dishes featuring Wagyu or Kobe beef.

Not that I have any experience with that hyperpricey stuff, but the flat iron at the supermarket was $6.99 a pound, on a day when ribeyes and New York strips were selling for more than $10. And the same beef wouldn’t have brought more than $3.50 or $4 as a chuck roast, or $3 as ground chuck. No wonder they were happy to push it as a steak.

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The girl with something extra

This is apparently the new spokesfigure for an electronics retailer in Russia:

Media Markt indicia

MediaMarkt, based in Germany, has a talent for coming up with stuff like this: their German Web storefront bears the slogan “Ich bin doch nicht blöd” — “I am not stupid.”

Not being all that dumb myself, I totally recall at least one character like this before. And Copyranter, who turned up several images from this campaign, offers this translation, for which I am unable to vouch: “You will find more than you expect.” I figure that corrections and/or emendations are just a matter of time.

Eccentrica Gallumbits, meanwhile, was not available for comment.

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Architecture as date bait

We’ve already tackled this from one angle, the desirability (if any) of dating actual architects. Now famed human-relations expert Steve Sailer proposes that guys develop, or at least feign, an interest in the local buildings:

Architecture is aesthetic, yet manly. Not that many girls know much about architecture relative to their other aesthetic interests, but they are naggingly aware that they should know more. (Obviously, if you live in Chicago, you will have more to talk about than if you live in Palmdale, so your mileage may vary.) For example, the recent indie romantic-drama hit, 500 Days of Summer, uses architectural fandom, with LA’s rather spotty downtown carefully framed to look like downtown Chicago, as the basis for a rather nerdy young man’s appeal to Zooey Deschanel.

An interest in architecture also provides a high-minded excuse to talk about what every 20 or 30 something is actually fascinated by: real estate. What neighborhoods will go up in value, which ones down? Architecture appreciation provides an excuse to stroll around gentrifying but still slightly edgy neighborhoods on cheap dates.

In support of this premise, I note that one of the few social events to earn a permanent spot on my calendar is the local AIA’s annual Architecture Tour, and that Trini enjoys it greatly: between the two of us, we seem to ask the right questions and peer into the most interesting corners. Not that either of us think of it as a “cheap date,” necessarily.

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Pineapple Princess is pissed

And Tall Paul better watch his ass, too:

Annette with a gun

Bonus: Aaaand now: heeeeeeere’s Annette!

(Poster from Historic LOLs.)

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Toward a post-moral world

A question often posed to atheists: “In the absence of God, what is your basis for morality?” Joel Marks, having thought it over, has decided that he doesn’t need one:

I was struck by salient parallels between religion and morality, especially that both avail themselves of imperatives or commands, which are intended to apply universally. In the case of religion, and most obviously theism, these commands emanate from a Commander; “and this all people call God,” as Aquinas might have put it. The problem with theism is of course the shaky grounds for believing in God. But the problem with morality, I now maintain, is that it is in even worse shape than religion in this regard; for if there were a God, His issuing commands would make some kind of sense. But if there is no God, as of course atheists assert, then what sense could be made of there being commands of this sort? In sum, while theists take the obvious existence of moral commands to be a kind of proof of the existence of a Commander, i.e., God, I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality.

Which is not to say that he can’t, or won’t, argue in favor of certain things and against others; but he has to rely on other factors to sell the deal:

[I]f I were conversing with another amoralist, how would I convince her of the rightness of my desires? Well, of course, I wouldn’t even try, since neither of us believes in right, or wrong. What I could do is take her through the same considerations that have moved me to my position and hope that her heartstrings were tuned in harmony with mine.

Dick Cleary at Viewpoint points out that Marks at least is being internally consistent:

[T]he atheists that Marks refers to as soft atheists live in an unsustainable tension. They want to hold on to moral judgment while also holding on to their atheism. As Marks has realized, it can’t be done. Unfortunately, of the two solutions available to him — reject atheism or reject morality — Marks has chosen the latter which, although consistent, strikes me as almost perverse.

As most of you know, I’m definitely — occasionally even defiantly — theist. On the other hand, I am not particularly disposed toward looking down my nose at atheists, who have presumably wrestled with the same questions as I have and yet have come to different conclusions.

This will get either no comments, or several dozen. (Consider that a matter of faith.)

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