Way to make friends, guys

Wisconsin firefighter Matt Gorniak is bringing back a locally-famous parade float:

[A] re-enactment of the famous photo of three firefighters raising the American flag amid the rubble of the World Trade Center … created a rush of emotions as it passed through three parade routes in Milwaukee County back in 2002. Crowds spontaneously rose to their feet, offering thunderous applause.

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks coming up later this year, Gorniak and his church’s youth group decided to revive the float in Racine’s upcoming Independence Day parade, one of the biggest in the area.

Conspicuous by their absence will be any of his fellow firefighters:

Gorniak had recently invoked a little-used provision in his union contract and opted out of membership in the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.

Members of the executive board of the Racine firefighters union ultimately decided not to support or march with his float.

How that provision works:

Under state law, public employees can drop out of the union and opt to pay just their “fair share” for the cost the union incurs for negotiating contracts. These nonvoting employees don’t have to foot the bill for the union’s political, social and ideological activities.

Officials say it is highly unusual for Wisconsin firefighters to ask to go fair share. But Gorniak — who describes himself as a born-again Christian who supports conservative politicians, including Gov. Scott Walker — filed his resignation letter and became a fair-share worker in late March or early April. He said he made the move in response to the protests in Madison over Walker’s collective-bargaining plan.

And God forbid your conscience should take precedence over the all-important Ideological Dollars.

(Via Christopher Johnson.)

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This time around, Andrew Ian Dodge is happily (I assume) CoTVing into the 4th, just in time for Independence Day, with the 428th edition of Carnival of the Vanities.

Speaking of 428, it was in that year that Armenia’s newly-minted king, Artaxias IV, was deposed. This did not bring any form of independence to the region, however: Bahram Gur, who ruled the Sassanid Empire, the last of the pre-Islamic Persian empires, annexed eastern Armenia, declared it a province, and installed a governor.

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The view from here down

This startling revelation appeared in the Telegraph:

The formula for a perfect woman’s foot is a size five, wearing three inch heels and red toe nail varnish, according to the study.

A study discovered men find size five feet, such as those belonging to Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian and Sophia Loren, are the most alluring.

Sophia Loren in flatsThat makes sense on this side of the pond only if you apply the conversion factor: size 5 in the UK is a 7 in the States. I question the need for the heel; I mean, really, are you going to turn away Sophia Loren in flats? (At right: Sophia Loren in flats.) And an ill-fitting shoe — lot of those going around these days — never helps matters.

Acidman, of course, would have heartily endorsed the red polish.

More years ago than I’d like to think about, I dated a woman who wore size 4. (To the Brits, that’s a 2.) She could literally stand in my hand, though I definitely preferred that she not wear heels when so doing. And she complained that finding shoes was a difficult proposition, with so many manufacturers sticking to the 5-through-10 scale.

Research by foot plaster company Compeed revealed nearly half of men will look at a woman’s feet on a first date and a third will make a character judgement based on the state of them.

That way, I suggest, lies madness. What sort of character judgment, other than “fastidious” or “not so fastidious,” can be made on that basis?

The poll of 2,000 adults found four out of ten women go to extreme lengths to cover their unkempt feet in the summer by hiding them in boots or shoes… Six out of ten women admit to trying to hide their feet from other people because they are self-conscious.

This must be something in the British temperament, because it doesn’t seem to come close to the reality of an Oklahoma summer.

(Via Fark.)

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Suffering from shrinkage

For the last several years, Formula One racers have used small (no larger than 2.4 liter) V8s, amazingly oversquare, with a rev limit of 18,000 rpm. For 2014, F1 is expected to go to a turbocharged 1.6-liter V6, the blower presumably serving as a replacement for displacement. (Then again, Ferrari’s first racers had a 1.5-liter V12.)

It must be noted, though, that what F1 was originally planning was a four-cylinder engine, apparently for the sake of Perceived Greenness. If that’s the goal, Tim Blair suggests a better way of getting there:

…a simple fuel rule that would give all competitors a fixed amount per race — setting engineers the challenge of extracting the best performance from that amount, by whatever means they choose.

You can’t get a whole lot greener than that, since the penalty for using too much fuel is the worst possible for a racer: a DNF. But F1, like present-day NASCAR, is obsessed with reducing the differences between cars, under the delusion that it will put the audience’s focus squarely on driving skill. Anyone who’s ever been to a “run what you brung” event is probably already laughing.

And speaking of F1, they’re bringing their road show to Austin, Texas, a place I dearly love, but you may be certain that Portland-on-the-Colorado is getting in its Greener Than Thou licks.

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A real Roxanne

You, however, can call her Rocsi:

Rocsi on 106 & Park

Rocsi, born Raquel Roxanne Diaz in Honduras in 1983, is a host of BET’s 106 & Park, a television series that used to be produced at, yes, 106th Street and Park Avenue, until Viacom bought out BET and moved production to an existing CBS facility a few miles to the south.

Rocsi was barely a year old when the Roxanne Wars broke out, so take the title here with several grains of salt.

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Customer servile

Please allow me to quote myself:

Communications from Infiniti to yours truly have always been somewhat obsequious, the presumption being that an owner of one of these glorified Nissans somehow expects this sort of thing, or at least will respond to the corporate up-suck.

Especially, you know, after a two-page service invoice, which says up in the corner:

note: Infiniti may call and/or send you a C.S.I. survey. If for any reason you can not answer ***Excellent*** on the phone survey or the written survey please contact us!!

LeeAnn, of course, is onto this sort of scheme:

[T]he main thing is, and I learned this from a few In The Know people, unless you give the superlative answer to all questions, it doesn’t count. It goes all null and void and you might as well have accused them of sleeping with livestock or being politicians.

And indeed I have gotten better-than-decent service from this dealer, five years running, but I really dislike the idea that I’m contributing to some form of grade inflation. I’ve already blown off the phone survey; let’s see if they send me a letter.

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Quote of the week

Zombie apocalypse? Nothing so exciting, predicts Tam:

Every year, the shelves of America creak louder under ever-thickening volumes of federal, state and local laws and regulations, codes and ordinances. I’m telling you, while all the worrywarts are handwringing about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, it’s gonna be some law library in New Jersey that collapses into a singularity and destroys the planet…

I figure they’ll blame Chris Christie for not taxing that black hole when he had the chance.

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Fark blurb of the week

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You know what it is

Is Rebecca Black last Friday’s news? ABC’s Good Morning America (where she once sang an “unplugged” version of That Song) and Ark Music Factory (where the original video was produced) held a Los Angeles-area competition to find the next teenage viral-video star, and here’s your, or at least their, winner:

And it’s getting positive response so far on YouTube. Then again, it was negative response that created the Rebecca Black phenomenon. I’ll say only that I like this particular tune, and I wish Lexi St. George all the best. Hope that wasn’t a complete buzzkill.

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Synthetic plastic

After restructuring my finances last year, I no longer have any credit cards, which is a blessing in terms of debt, but a pain in the neck in terms of convenience. My bank gives me a Visa check card, but I am loath to do much online shopping with it, lest some miscreant find a way to tap the whole of my checking account while I’m not looking. Then again, for all I know, they might be using skimmers down at the gas station.

There are always prepaid cards, but they tend to come with a metric buttload of fees:

First up: an activation fee to secure a card. Such fees average $5 but at least one provider, Millennium Advantage, has charged $99.95 according to the nonprofit group Consumers Union. After that, customers typically pay $3 to $10 each time they load the card with cash. Monthly maintenance fees average about $5, but can be double that amount. ATM withdrawals can cost $2.50. Printing an account summary can cost up to $5.95. And some cards even charge to close the account.

From stage right comes the white knight, and it wasn’t whom you expected. American Express (!), not known for its solicitousness toward unbanked folks, has a new prepaid card with exactly two fees:

  • If you refill it with cash, you go through GreenDot, which costs $4.95;
  • Second ATM withdrawal of the month costs $2 (not including any fees imposed by the owner of the ATM).

However, you can refill the card from a bank account or (yeah, right) from an existing Amex account, for which they charge you zip. So it’s not like they’re doing poor folks a favor. Still, many of the same bennies that go with the high-zoot Amex cards also apply to the prepaid.

The ways of Amex, I have learned through personal experience, can be inscrutable. On the other hand, they’re more of a known quantity than the competition in this market, and I’d rather deal with them than with someone who would have the temerity to charge $100 as an activation fee. (If you order from the Amex web site, the fee is $0, right in my price range.)

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Fly like a beagle

Readers of a certain age will likely remember this song, which mentioned a funny-looking dog with a big black nose:

Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more
The bloody Red Baron was rollin’ up the score
Eighty men died tryin’ to end that spree
Of the bloody Red Baron of Germany

Basil begs to differ ever so slightly:

Yes, Baron Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen did shoot down 80 planes. But not everyone on every plane died. Some were single-seat aircraft, but most were 2-seaters. A total of 126 fighters were shot down by Richthofen. 23 were unhurt (or not reported as hurt), 20 were wounded, 1 was of unknown status, and 82 were killed.

Here’s the list of 80 planes. Basil says this has been bothering him for years, which I can believe. And this is probably not the time to mention that near the end of the instrumental break, the Royal Guardsmen shift into a few bars of “Louie, Louie.”

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Expulsion point

You may remember this from a couple of summers ago. The original has gone 404, so the link comes back here:

When I first began working here, only one of the four writers in my department consistently used the serial comma. The other three would accept my edits when I imposed it onto their writing, but they kept sending me drafts in which it was omitted.

So I decided to make evangelizing the serial comma my personal mission. I explained to them why the serial comma was the superior choice for clarity. I wrote the classic “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God” example on their whiteboards to demonstrate why omitting it was confusing. I complained about how I can’t tell how many items are in a list if I’m unfamiliar with the terms and they don’t use the serial comma.

The serial comma was also referred to as the “Oxford comma,” but even Oxford is disowning it:

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used — especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and': They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.

I suppose it’s better than Spam, egg, sausage and Spam.

The following dialogue took place on the original poster’s Facebook page:

O.P.:  They can have my Oxford/serial comma when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Wiseguy (not I):  You mean cold, dead, hands?

O.P.:  No, it would have to be something like cold, dead, and pedantic hands.

Holy position reversal, Batmanglij!

(Vampire Weekend’s original commentary on the subject.)

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Nancy says hi

Hadn’t heard from her since November, and it’s not like she’s learned any new songs since then, but I suppose there’s something to be said for consistency.

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Adventures in red tape

Saturday I dropped into the local tag agency and paid a ghastly sum for a little rectangle of plastic with a barely-legible 2012 on it, and having finally learned to remember the expiration date on my driver’s license, I decided that 0.5 stone per bird was a more efficient use of my time, and ambled over to the other side of the building to do the renewal.

And HAL balked: “I’m sorry, Dave.”

“Dave’s not here,” I was ready to point out, but my lack of Daveness notwithstanding, HAL refused to yield, and I was directed to the nearest Driver Examination Station under the auspices of the Department of Public Safety. (Any similarity to any other state’s DMV is probably justified.) Which, it being Saturday, was closed.

First chance I got to break away from the salt mine was this afternoon. Now you should know that “nearest” does not necessarily mean “near”: the only station in Oklahoma City proper is on the far southside, which meant a trip to either Yukon or Edmond. I opted for the latter, contriving to arrive 75 minutes before closing. This got me a 50-minute stay on what you’d get if they’d ordered chairs to match the Group W bench, after which I was admitted to the Inner Sanctum. I presented all manner of paperwork, as required; the high priest punched several thousand buttons, issued me a slip of paper, and bade me return to the tag agent, with the promise that HAL would keep his trap shut.

It was at this point that I realized the folly of this whole operation. It was the last day of the month. What was I thinking? Still, in for a penny, in for a euro or three, and after fighting a whole battalion full of ardent members of the Anti-Destination League, I arrived at the tag agent, to find 18 people ahead of me with thirty minutes to go. Collars, as they say, were getting hot under.

Still, I kept some semblance of cool until the transaction was completed and I was safely out the door and I noticed the 107°F on the dashboard.

Now what caused all this brouhaha? You can charge me with contributory stupidity for trying to do this on the 30th of a thirty-day month, but the real culprit was some feckwit of similar name and description who was wanted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for various unspecified high crimes and misdemeanors. Driver’s-license compacts being what they are, the Keystone Kops asked everyone else to keep a lookout for said feckwit, and of course, DPS and HAL were happy to oblige. (Now of course I’ve been to Pennsylvania, but having dinner with the prettiest girl in Philadelphia is not, so far as I know, illegal.) I have no idea what material DPS had to review to persuade them that I wasn’t the drone they were looking for — they’re not about to give away trade secrets — but I do wish to express my desire that the perp be caught and beaten to within an inch of his life.

Come to think of it, make that half an inch.

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Fifty percent smug

Last night, Joan of Argghh! came up with a neologism and dared us to use it in a sentence. I really didn’t expect to find such a perfect opportunity so quickly.

Eric Scheie provides the context for said denunciation:

In Ann Arbor where I live, there are potholes galore, and many people complain about the city doing a piss-poor job of fixing them. As one local analyst puts it, “Ann Arbor Has Third Worst Roads in Michigan and Some Seriously Fed Up Residents.”

Follow that link — or don’t, since it goes to Politico A2Politico (see comments) — and you’ll find this “explanation” of the shoddy state of Ann Arbor streets:

Fourth Ward Council member Margie Teall blamed Ann Arbor potholes on sloppy drivers. “If people would just drive more lightly on the roads, we wouldn’t have such problems with crumbling road beds,” Teall told anyone who would listen to her.

“Drive more lightly?” WTF? I suppose you could put more air in your tires, but that doesn’t change the contact patch until you get into Serious Overinflation — and anyway, air has weight, and weight inevitably is drawn downward. It’s that whole damned gravity thing. Ask Al Gore.

Still, I have no doubt that Ann Arbor’s Fourth Ward thinks this woman is absolutely the bee’s knees: she’s held this seat since 2002, which suggests that it’s highly unlikely this is the only example of smugfuckery on her CV.

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The (fake) taxman cometh

Received in yonder inbox, the following pathetic phishing attempt:

Your federal Tax payment (ID: 843614468293), recently sent from your bank account was canceled by the your financial institution.

Tax Transaction ID:

Return Reason
See details in the report below

FederalTax Transaction Report
tax_report_843614468293.pdf.exe (self-extracting archive, Adobe PDF)

Oh, yeah. Sure. Incidentally, the link under that URL goes to a shortener that I was not aware existed: omf.gd. Nice to know the thief has a sense of humor.

And since said thief claimed to be Donny_Rutledge at irs.gov, I am happy to tell Donny to STFU.

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