New Vaishnavas on the block

Meet the new neighbors:

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas. It was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951). Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour or country. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,300 centers has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations. Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind are their five lifetime vows. Such pure morality and spirituality forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.

And they’ve purchased an old Lutheran church at NW 34th and Meridian.

I mention this mostly because there are people out there who think this state is wall-to-wall Baptist. Heck, the Buddhists are just down the street, and there are two masjids — er, mosques — within two miles of me.

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The question of the ages

The ages within a few years of mine, anyway. Terry Teachout muses:

I’m trying to decide how I want to spend the next part (which may, of course, be the last part) of my life. What shall I do once Satchmo at the Waldorf opens in Lenox and the manuscript of Mood Indigo [biography of Duke Ellington] is shipped off to Gotham Books? Should I embark on yet another biography? Ought I to continue working as a critic? Might I want to try my hand at teaching? Is my first venture into playwriting destined to be a one-shot affair? Above all, I long to know the answer to this question: are my energies best spent as a jack-of-all-trades, or has the time come at last for me to direct my fire at a single target?

I’ve never risen to Jack status — at best, I’m the 8 of hearts — but I can appreciate his predicament:

The longer I live, the surer I am that the world was made for specialists, and I’ve always been reluctant to settle into a pigeonhole, however commodious. When I played music, I played many kinds of music on more than one instrument. When I became a critic, I wrote about whatever interested me rather than concentrating on a single medium. When I became a biographer, I jumped from subject to subject (first a journalist, then a choreographer, then a jazzman). No sooner was my first opera libretto produced than I started writing my first play. Yes, it’s been fun, but might I have been better served had I concentrated on one thing? While I don’t think it’s right to call me a dilettante — I’ve aspired to professional standards in everything to which I’ve set my hand — I sometimes wonder whether my reluctance to specialize has kept me from doing as well as I might have done in any of my varied lines of work.

My online persona is the very definition of “reluctance to specialize,” though some people are perfectly happy to characterize it as “versatility,” and who am I to disagree? Then again, this isn’t how I earn my keep, and the day job is specialized to a degree you would not believe. Perhaps I have the best of both worlds — or the worst.

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When the night falls

The late Whitney Houston at her most exuberant, the way I’d like to remember her.

By the way, the remake of Sparkle, with Whitney as executive producer and mother of the three girls in the fictional nothing-at-all-like-the-Supremes group, has wrapped and is expected to premiere this summer. Whitney hadn’t done a film role since The Preacher’s Wife, and, well, we’re hoping for something wonderful.

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One of the perks of being a wallflower

Writer-director Stephen Chbosky has completed the film version of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the plot of which goes like this:

Charlie, a high-school freshman, copes with his mental issues while trying to find a place to belong. He is introduced to the world of sex and drugs by senior friends, Sam and Patrick.

Meet Sam:

Emma Watson at a London party

It appears Emma Watson, the new face of Lancôme, has put all that Hogwarts stuff behind her at last.

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Overly shovel-ready

An interesting bit from the host’s newsletter:

We’ve tried to give you so much more than the standard, out-of-the-box WordPress experience because we wanted you to understand just how powerful and pretty it could be.

To that end we’ve had our One-Click WordPress installer throw in a bunch of themes from (WordPress’s online parent) as well as some standard plugins to get you up and running with as little legwork required on your part as possible.

And some folks no doubt appreciate that. But then:

Turns out a lot of you just ended up deleting all of those helpful add-ons and grew quite frustrated in the process. That makes total sense because some people prefer cookie dough ice cream with sprinkles, and some people ONLY WANT VANILLA, DAMNIT.

It’s not just the flavoring, either. If you have fifty themes on site and someone manages to sneak some illicit code onto the premises, there are 49 directories it can use where you’re never going to look.

So they’ve modified the installer, and now they shovel out the extra goodies only if you check the Deluxe box. I recommend that you not do so: there’s plenty of time to mess up your site yourself without having to let the robot installer do it for you.

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One Doak over the line

In my capacity as a person who pays too much attention to typos and such, I might reasonably have been expected to have caught that infamous press release from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Truth be told, I never even saw it. (The Ogles, of course, did.) Then again, John Doak’s Doakings, or whatever the word might be, have been routinely dispatched to the spam filter for a year now, less for content than for, well, maladroit handling of attachments.

And anyway, the ex-underling in Doak’s office who sent the damned thing would probably rather be at the racetrack.

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Moroccan role

When Renault bought the Romanian automaker Dacia in 1999, they were thinking low-priced labor, something that couldn’t be had in France, although Dacia’s C-segment Logan and derivatives thereof, the price leaders among small family cars, are built in eight different locations, mostly because it’s not cost-effective to ship something that cheap. You won’t find the Logan in the States, neither Renault nor Dacia having any presence here, though Mexican buyers can get it as the Nissan Aprio, built in Brazil.

Logans for France and Spain are built in Casablanca, not so much for the waters, but because Morocco really, truly wanted an automobile plant of its own, and back in the 1950s the Moroccan government cut a deal with Fiat to build them a plant. Fiat eventually bailed, and Renault now owns 80 percent of the plant.

But now a second plant in Morocco, at the port of Tangier, has been opened, and Renault, nationalized after World War II and still 15-percent owned by the French Republic, is catching flak, mostly because the new Dacia Lodgy, a five- or seven-seat people mover to be built in Tangier, will sell for about half as much as Renault’s own Scénic:

“We see this factory as a dangerous development,” said Fabien Gache, head of French labor union CGT. “These vehicles are basically Loganized Scénics and Kangoos,” Gache said. “They’re bound to hit the Renault brand’s market share.” Even a former cabinet minister for [Nicolas] Sarkozy has accused Renault of “social dumping in Morocco”.

Renault’s current Kangoo is built in France, though the previous version is still being assembled in Casablanca for the Moroccan market.

For his part, Carlos Ghosn, who runs the Renault/Nissan combine, says that he never once considered building any Dacias in France, pretty much for cost reasons. If you thought the UAW was intractable and adamantine, they’re pushovers next to the French (and German) industrial unions.

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On a high note

Much was made before this game of the fact that the Thunder had played last night at Sacramento, while the Jazz had had two days of rest. To me, it didn’t look like either team was exactly sleeping on the job, though Raja Bell seemed to fall down a lot. And while Utah jumped out to an early lead, Oklahoma City remembered that word “execution,” which I infer means that they were supposed to run the plays properly, not that Scott Brooks was going to have one or several of them shot. (We won’t even mention here that a win tonight would propel Brooks into the All-Star Game as the West coach.) The five-game road swing ended 3-2 as the Jazz faded late; OKC, up by nine at the end of the third quarter, won it by 14, 101-87.

Interestingly, all five of the starting Jazzmen finished in double figures, led by Al Jefferson with 20. Jefferson and Paul Millsap got 17 rebounds between them, more than the rest of the team combined; OKC won the battle of the boards, 46-32. But give the Jazz credit for moving the ball: 27 assists, while the Thunder managed only 12.

It was not Daequan Cook’s night: he put up nine of his patented long-distance bombers, and only one dropped. (The Thunder went 4-20 from Way Out There; the Jazz were 3-9; both sides shot about 47 percent overall.) But if the long jumpers weren’t falling, running to the rim paid off: Russell Westbrook was good for 28 points, Kevin Durant 19, and the bigs (Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka) both had double-doubles. Perk, in fact, seemed almost buoyant at times. Nobody tell LeBron, okay?

These two teams meet again Tuesday in Oklahoma City, though this time the Thunder will have rested up a bit and the Jazz will be finishing up a back-to-back-to-back. I don’t expect anyone to be sleepwalking through that game either.

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The twizzle, fo shizzle

Ira Glass is not particularly impressed with Twizzlers:

Chewing a Twizzler is like chewing wax in the shape of candy. Or the cartilage from inside your ear, if your ear was six inches long and shaped like a fusilli. When you eat the first one in the package, you think, That was ALMOST good; maybe the next one will give me the strawberry satisfaction I was hoping for. So you eat the next one and again, it reminds you of what a good candy would taste like, but it’s like you’re hearing music coming from another room that’s not quite loud enough. And so on until the package is done and you think, What was that about? Now I want some candy.

I wonder what he thinks of Red Vines.

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As the world turns Black

One year has gone by since “Friday” was first sneaked onto YouTube, eleven months since its transition from Just Another Video to cultural buzzword. Not the least bit in response to the chronology of it all, Virgin Mobile Live sent an interviewer to talk to Rebecca Black, and the following High Truths were revealed:

  • “Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal”: What cereal? She prefers Cocoa Pebbles;
  • She hopes to be in the studio in a couple of weeks to cut the next single.

And oh, she gets tongue-tied, even today, when you bring up the Biebs.

Meanwhile, this week’s nominee for The Next Rebecca Black is Lexi Sullivan, who’s recorded a track for Patrice Wilson, whose name you’ll remember from the credits for “Friday.” “Hot Stuff,” despite its so-Seventies title, isn’t particularly awful, and Lexi can sing, but I don’t see it becoming an anthem.

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And the badge is spiffy

It’s easy to be cynical about blog awards: imagine the Ouroboros gazing into his own navel. (For that matter, imagine the Ouroboros having a navel in the first place.) I’ve picked up a few over the years — some of them are hanging on the Backdrop — and some of them might even have been deserved.

The Versatile Blogger AwardCertainly Nancy Friedman, the second-smartest woman in the nation — admittedly I’ve never met the first, and I’d probably be afraid to — earned her Versatile Blogger Award, and she was kind enough to pay it forward in the general direction of Your Humble Narrator. Specifically, she said this:

In a typical week, the sole author, C. G. Hill, might cover social media, automobile tires, basketball, My Little Pony, print magazines, transportation in Oklahoma, women’s shoes, and Zooey Deschanel — all with enviable literary skill and brio.

Words like that from someone who makes a living from words — well, either I’m blushing or I’m having an amoxicillin reaction.

The rules of the game:

  • In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
  • In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
  • In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
  • In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
  • In the same post, include this set of rules.
  • Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs. (Or tweeting.)

Seven random factoids:

  1. The stack of magazines on my breakfast bar is as tall as I am — or would be, were it not subdivided into four substacks.
  2. Given my limited kitchen skills, it’s perhaps a surprise that I eat out maybe once a week at most.
  3. There are books in the back room that I have yet to unpack from the last move in 2003.
  4. I have never owned a television set larger than 20 inches.
  5. While I have made progress, I’m still entirely too susceptible to implausible impulse purchases.
  6. I have an amazing capacity for denial, although it usually takes 12 to 24 hours to kick in once the Bad News is received.
  7. They say the camera adds ten pounds. In that case, I’ve lost seven cameras in the past seven years.

Equally deserving, if not more so:

Notifications to follow.

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As though he’d dodged a bullet

Email received from Philipp Humm, Chief Executive Officer and President, T-Mobile USA:

This is a personal note of thanks for continuing to choose T-Mobile as your wireless provider! And in light of the way customers like you stood by us, we’re eager to continue serving you as T-Mobile. Your loyalty and the outpouring of messages in support of keeping us independent were both gratifying and humbling.

Um, Phil? It’s not so much that we wanted to keep you independent — although that’s nice — as it is that we wanted to avoid That Other Company at all (or at least “any reasonable”) cost.

With the uncertainty of the potential AT&T acquisition removed, we’re rapidly moving ahead with plans to ramp up investments in ways that will benefit YOU. We’re improving the coverage and speed of our 4G network, while bringing you the very latest selection of 4G devices and great 4G plans and services for every budget. We’re also adding convenient retail locations and modernizing our current stores.

What “uncertainty”? We knew what was going to happen: (1) engulf; (2) devour. In that order.

T-Mobile is here, in fighting shape, and we’ll compete aggressively to continue earning your business and meeting your expectations.

And give Carly Foulkes a raise, wouldja please?

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What’s this “uPad”?

CNN has a multi-page story up about counterfeit goods seized by US Customs and Border Protection, and the bulk of the bogus products are electronic gadgets:

When it comes to total dollar value, consumer electronics make up the bulk of counterfeit goods imported into the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection. Among the hottest items: smart phones, tablet computers and DVD or music players.

The following numbers are cited:

Value of counterfeits seized: $39 million
Retail value: $101.2 million
Percentage of total seizures: 22%

So if $101.2 million worth of stuff was faked up, and the fakes are worth $39 million — well, if I peeled off more than a couple of Franklins for a Bloo-Rae™ player worth 101.2/39 = $2.59 38.5 cents on the dollar, I’d probably have a total seizure right then and there.

(Via the Consumerist.)

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Tilt that way

The building is called Power Balance Pavilion, and the balance of power was decidedly with the Kings: what they presumably lacked in clout, they made up for in volume and in execution. Sacramento, for instance, got off 99 shots; you have to figure that even 40 percent of that — which they hit — would produce some serious scoring. The eight-point Thunder lead from the middle of the fourth quarter evaporated in four minutes flat, and the Kings ran them out of the place, 106-101.

Maybe it was the crowd. In the Good Old Days, the old Arco Arena sold out just about every night, and legend has it that you could hear the noise on the far side of Stockton. The Kings were lightly regarded this year: this was the only national TV appearance for which they were scheduled, and attendance was not so great earlier in the season. Did Oklahoma City misunderestimate the one-time Purple Paupers? The Kings grabbed twenty-three Thunder turnovers, had a 46-40 advantage on the glass (17-12 offensive).

Telltale statistic: the Thunder blocked 17 shots — Serge Ibaka had 10 before fouling out — and yet Sacramento rolled up 60 points in the paint. Against something like that, 33 points from Russell Westbrook and 27 from Kevin Durant (which comes to, by coincidence, 60) doesn’t help.

Oh, you wanted to know about Tyreke the Freke? Evans was speedy as ever, thank you very much, and good for 22 points. The only double-double on either side was garnered by Jason Thompson, who had 11 points and 10 boards. And in the Ferocious Big competition, DeMarcus Cousins had it all over Kendrick Perkins, who played only 19 minutes.

So the Thunder have to beat the Jazz Friday night to come back 3-2 from this road trip. We shall see.

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Kontemporary klothes

So I’m thumbing through the new InStyle, and there’s a jeans ad featuring some familiar faces and, um, other body parts. It appears that Sears is now vending a line called the Kardashian Kollection. The jeans appear decent enough, and at $46.99 (marked down from $68) they aren’t horrendously expensive.

Still, somebody missed a good bet here. As I tweeted last night: “Um, shouldn’t this stuff be at K mart?”

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Teachers to be FCCed over

Arizona Senate Bill 1467, in full:

§15-108. Public classrooms; compliance with federal standards for media broadcasts concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity; violations; definition

A. If a person who provides classroom instruction in a public school engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio:

1. For the first occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for one week of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

2. For the second occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for two weeks of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the second occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

3. For the third occurrence, the school shall terminate the employment of the person. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first or second occurrence from terminating the employment of that person.

B. For the purposes of this section, “public school” means a public preschool program, a public elementary school, a public junior high school, a public middle school, a public high school, a public vocational education program, a public community college or a public university in this state.

They want to outsource state standards to the Federal Communications Commission? Are Mesa kindergartens roiling with wardrobe malfunctions? Are Flagstaff English classes being forced to read some contemporary F-bomb Fitzgerald?

Greg Lukianoff in HuffPo:

The law not only hobbles the ability to teach about sexuality and other non-Victorian topics, but it also puts teachers in jeopardy for teaching such mainstays as the Canterbury Tales, The Catcher in the Rye, certainly Ulysses, and probably every work by an obscure English writer named William Shakespeare. These days, such a law could certainly make any professor or teacher think twice about teaching Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut. And how on earth could you possibly teach a class about cinema studies without showing movies like The Godfather, The Graduate, Annie Hall, or for that matter, Pulp Fiction?

English, melonfarmers. Do you teach it?

I can only conclude that the Arizona pols heard about that semi-serious anti-onanism amendment in Oklahoma and thought they’d lose their place at the front of the Idjit Lejislators line.

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