Thank heaven it wasn’t Brussels sprouts

In the days of Ronald Reagan, we learned that ketchup is a vegetable. Broccoli, on the other hand, is a lethal weapon:

A federal appellate court ruled Friday that the pepper spraying and beating of a black motorist who did not wear his seat belt constituted excessive force. Mark Anthony Young, 46, was driving to the gym in February 2007 when Los Angeles County, California Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Wells stopped him so he could issue a ticket for failing to buckle up. Wells’ problems began when he was unable to produce his vehicle registration.

While Wells was writing up the ticket, Young got out of his truck and walked over to hand the deputy the vehicle’s paperwork. Wells ordered Young back into his truck, but Young did not feel like doing so. He sat on the curb, eating broccoli. In his legal filing, Wells claimed the broccoli was dangerous and that he “believed that [Young] was about to throw the broccoli at [him] in order to cause a distraction before assaulting him.”

A district-court judge had ruled that Wells was de jure immune from claims of excessive force. Judge Stephen Roy Reinhardt, for the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, said otherwise:

“Whether Wells’s claim that he feared a broccoli-based assault is credible and reasonable presents a genuine question of material fact that must be resolved not by a court ruling on a motion for summary judgment but by a jury in its capacity as the trier of fact.”

The lower court ruling was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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The height of the spiritual

Alex_Pasternack — that’s the way it’s spelled on the page — notes that audio and video of the “I Have a Dream” speech, given by Martin Luther King, Jr. this week 48 years ago, is not so easy to come by on the Web:

The single unabridged video that had been floating around YouTube is now unplayable, thanks to a copyright claim by EMI.

Excerpts from the speech can still be used under “fair use,” of course, like in this analysis of King’s rhetoric and various remixes. (My favorite MLK remix is not of the “I have a dream” speech but of the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. But no one knows what the limits of “fair use” are, at least not until they receive a letter from the King family’s lawyers.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of 1992, when a pair of ambient-plus-dance wiseguys named (Grant) Showbiz and (J. F. T.) Hood, under the name “Moodswings,” unleashed something called Moodfood, a 73-minute tour de force in which the overture comes second and the ending is eight minutes of “Hairy Piano.” Somewhere in the second half of the program is a three-part piece called “Spiritual High,” which springs from a 1981 Jon and Vangelis original called “State of Independence”. Part I is straightforward but catchy; Part II features Chrissie Hynde singing Jon Anderson’s original words; Part III incorporates bits of the “I Have a Dream” speech. All three parts have demonstrated the ability to choke me up, but the 15:24 whole is just this side of overwhelming.

This recording has major historical resonance with me, and not just for the obvious reason: its release marked the very last time I dashed up to the counter of a record store and demanded, “What the hell is that?” Still have it today, in fact.

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Disguised as a favor

I’ve gone to paperless billing for wireless, and I hardly ever look at it, so I suppose it’s a good thing T-Mo sent me this notice:

Using the Web just got easier. Starting on September 30, all T-Mobile customers who don’t currently have data plans will be able to use data for $1.99 per MB. Browse the Internet & use other data services as much or as little as you like, and get charged only for the data you use. At the end of each billing cycle, we’ll round up your total data usage to the nearest megabyte.

My Not-As-Dumb Phone can actually do some limited Web stuff, so I find myself wondering whether this might actually be a boon to me, or whether it’s a scheme to extract two bucks from me every time I hit the wrong button.

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I think this takes more than spliced genes

Then again, I’m not the Brain around here:

I admit it, I LOLed.

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Oops, missed one

There are 2,430 major-league baseball games every season, and each and every one of them requires a minimum of 51 outs. I’d tend to expect that some of those hundred thousand calls will be blown: we’re only human, after all.

So I can see the point being made here:

[I]s instant replay still an absolute, unavoidable, must-have-immediately necessity for baseball to maintain any integrity for its fans? I still question that, and would resist it deeply, if I were in any position to influence it. I bow to the fact that a whole lot of my (me, being baseball) fans are addicted to the 21st century electronic crack of Twitter and Facebook, and these people probably spend a decent amount of money to support my league and its teams.

But do we need to change the fabric of the game, just to satisfy a few shrieking maniacs, who are generally watching at home on a 46″ HD-capable flat-screen with six different camera angles beamed at super-slow-mo right into their laps? I said no, and I still say no.

This is, I suspect, more of an issue at the actual ball park, where you have one angle, based on where you sit, and they may or may not put up the replay on the Jumbotron or whatever.

Still, they’ve been messing with the fabric ever since American League pitchers were told they didn’t have to bat anymore, and I can’t imagine them stopping now.

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Ballsier than thou

Alas, she came in second in that primary:

Judy Schmirler campaign ad 2004

After all, some of the best decisions involve the nads.

(Via Criggo.)

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Exactly whose environment did we save?

We’ve been hearing so long about how electric cars are going to save us from a horrible environmental fate that we may have overlooked one minor detail. Stephen Smith of Market Urbanism, however, didn’t:

I’m not going to lay out a long case against electric cars right now, but suffice it to say I think they’re just another subsidy to the auto-based system, and that the true environmental harm in cars is not their actual emissions, but the land use patterns that they necessitate, and an electric battery doesn’t change this one bit.

Imagine this little scenario at breakfast:

Spouse 1: So this little Nissan Leaf can do 70 miles on a single charge?

Spouse 2: I’d bet more like 55 or 60 if the weather’s nasty, but nobody really knows for sure.

Spouse 1: Still, even with a 55-mile range, we could buy that house out there on 220th Street and still be within commuting distance.

For those who insist that we need to bring people back to the urban core, this has all the makings of a Step Backwards.

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Approved by the FAA

Which is the yet-unpassed Fugly Americans Act:

In addition to whatever personal pleasure it gives you, being attractive also helps you earn more money, find a higher-earning spouse (and one who looks better, too!) and get better deals on mortgages. Each of these facts has been demonstrated over the past 20 years by many economists and other researchers. The effects are not small: one study showed that an American worker who was among the bottom one-seventh in looks, as assessed by randomly chosen observers, earned 10 to 15 percent less per year than a similar worker whose looks were assessed in the top one-third — a lifetime difference, in a typical case, of about $230,000.

This is, of course, screamingly unfair. What can we do about it? What do you think?

[W]hy not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

Prediction: by the year 2020, it will be illegal to discriminate against anyone in this country except me.

And then, of course, I’ll have to sue.

(Tweeted by Joshua Treviño, who swears it’s serious.)

Addendum: Robert Stacy McCain, in his capacity as a Media Person, calculates the bottom line:

We cannot resent the world for being the way it is. Or if we do, we are no better than liberals chasing after the ridiculous illusion of “social justice.” So unless we wish to see a lot of ugly people on TV — think of The View, minus Elisabeth Hasselbeck — there is no point complaining that the medium prefers pretty people.

On a more personal note:

I’ve long ceased to expect anything except insults from anyone, and those expectations are seldom disappointed. So I’m not planning to sue anybody for my ugliness, which isn’t anyone’s fault.

I figure roughly 50 percent of us are afflicted with at least some degree of Cute Underload.

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Future pedestrians

The automobile dealership is reviled by all and sundry, largely because the process of acquiring an automobile is, by any reasonable standards, far more complicated and nerve-wracking than it needs to be.

However, if we stipulate the above, in good conscience we must also concede that rather a lot of the customers are just barely able to pick up Slim Jims at the C-store, let alone negotiate a vehicle purchase. A few recent examples from Yahoo! Answers, which is just loaded with such folks:

I have no plans to make this a regular feature, but it’s not like I’m ever going to run out of these either.

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Thinking about Marie-Claire

Not the magazine, no.

In 1969, Peter Sarstedt released a tune called “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely),” the tale of a female jet-setter who sprang seemingly from nowhere, her childhood as a street urchin never revealed. It was an enormous hit in England, not so much in the States, perhaps because we’re an ocean removed from the various Continental references in the song. “Remember just who you are,” the narrator says to the young lady — “then go and forget me forever.” He knows; he was there.

Sarstedt, sensibly enough, left her story open: better you should imagine it for yourself. In 1997, though, he came up with “The Last of the Breed,” subtitled “Lovely 2,” in which it is implied that Marie-Claire’s retirement was as sudden as her rise was inexplicable. “No one’s interested in hearing the truth,” shrugs the narrator, “but they’ll always believe in a lie.”

In the course of this ten-minute tale, Sarstedt drops several names: apparently she knew the Aga Khan personally, which seems plausible enough for a member of the Sixties smart set. (JFK met with the Aga Khan in 1961.) For many decades, I didn’t have any particular reason to think about the Aga Khan outside the context of the song, until Pamela Geller came up with this Rick Perry fact:

He is a friend of the Aga Khan, the multimillionaire head of the Ismailis, a Shi’ite sect of Islam that today proclaims its nonviolence but in ages past was the sect that gave rise to the Assassins.

For “ages past,” read “tenth through thirteenth centuries.” Now I did know that “Aga Khan” is a title, held by one man at a time, so the next order of business was to find out which Aga Khan is being talked about.

Turns out, it’s the same Aga Khan, the fourth, born in 1936, who succeeded his grandfather in 1957. I mention purely in passing that he married a model in 1969; they separated in 1995. If Peter Sarstedt knew about this, he didn’t say a word.

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New brand, new dreams

We haven’t checked in all that much lately with Celine, the Shoe Girl — you may remember seeing her in this dress with a firearms pattern, or hearing about her experimentation with fluorescent underwear — but she’s about to introduce her own line of shoes under the brand “Cece L’amour.” Who will buy these shoes? Her mood board reveals the target audience:

  • She’s girly and feminine
  • She’s fashion conscious but not a fashion victim
  • She’s got her own unique sense of style
  • She’s ageless — she’s every woman who wants to show off her girly side

This sounds reasonable enough, though I suspect it probably describes the aspirations of every designer this side of Ed Hardy. Having seen some of the line, which will be showing up shortly in time for spring ’12, I’m naming this one (dubbed “Wendy,” in honor of jeweler Wendy Brandes) my preliminary favorite:

Wendy by Cece L'amour

The press release announcing the line:

Cece L’amour footwear collection will launch spring 2012 with approximately 40 styles. The collection is adorned with fun fabric patterns and ornamental details. Making neutrals pop with splashes of colored patterns, patent leathers and bright ornaments is what makes the collection stand out. This combination gives the shoes in the collection a seductive and playful mood, whether in an embellished flat, a fun playful wedge or a sexy high-heeled platform.

The footwear collection will range from $89 to $165. Cece L’amour Footwear will be distributed nationwide in major department stores as well as specialty stores and online.

And of course, we wish Celine well, and hope that everybody buys some of her shoes.

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Strange search-engine queries (291)

In the face of disaster, humanity puts on its bravest face, makes sure that necessary precautions have been taken — and then goes surfing the Net. Here’s some of what they were looking for:

ford contour disconnect odometer:  “Actual Miles Unknown,” surprisingly, is not more of a selling point than having run up 189,203 miles.

tranny oh tranny:  The song of a man about to try to sell his old Ford Contour.

Girls have sex in the school en massemove:  Oh, those wacky girls, always trying to get you to leave.

who is paying for all of the conflicts:  Check your mirror, and you’ll know.

ray gun makes clothes disappear off women:  And you didn’t send me a prototype? Geez.

how to make a real working shrink ray with reverse switch:  You might want to start with something simpler: for example, a ray that makes women’s clothing disappear.

ann coulter towers over me:  It’s an attitudinal thing: she carries herself well, she doesn’t slouch, and she’s not about to lower herself to your level, Ezra.

is asian men datable:  I don’t know. I’ve never been out with one.

instant flats:  Just add roofing nails, then back out of the driveway.

new balance chicken biscuit:  Which prompted KFC to bring out a line of athletic shoes.

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David says the slingshot isn’t enough

My current Not-So-Smartphone lists for something like $199.99, though Big Pink was happy to chop $130 off the price in exchange for a two-year contract extension. Were I in Massachusetts making this same deal, the store would have been obliged to charge me sales tax on the full two hundred simoleons:

State Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield) plans to file a bill next week to overturn a July 1 Department of Revenue directive ordering retailers to charge sales tax on a discounted cell phone’s wholesale value instead of its retail price.

The rule boosts taxes on products such as the Apple iPhone 4 that Verizon normally sells for $749.99, but marks down to $299.99 when customers sign two-year service contracts.

Lest you think this was a backdoor effort by the Commonwealth of Taxachusetts to sneak more money out of residents’ pockets, apparently this wasn’t their idea at all:

The DOR [had] changed its rules at the request of independent cell-phone shops, who considered the previous system unfair.

Independent sellers argued that their customers paid taxes on phones’ full prices while consumers at carrier-owned stores cut their tax bills by getting package deals.

“So if we can’t compete, we’ll petition the government to hamstring the competition.” The indie shops may be small, but they’ve learned to think like the big boys. Not a good sign.

There are instances where a tax can legitimately be charged on a price other than that actually paid: in Oklahoma, if you sell your $30,000 car to your brother-in-law for fifty bucks, he’s still going to have to pony up for the tax on something resembling the full amount. Then again, that’s an excise tax, not a sales tax. I’m guessing that the logic here was “Let’s call it a really big rebate.”

(Via Fark.)

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The Russians are coming

It may take fifteen years or more to build, but they say they’re definitely going to build it. Moscow has approved a tunnel under the Bering Strait:

It was first mooted as long ago 1905 by Tsar Nicholas II, but this [past] week the Kremlin finally gave the green light for a 65 mile (106 km) [railway] tunnel linking Asia and North America, taking the epic project a step nearer reality.

And the ramifications of such a project are huge:

Experts forecast that the completed service could carry 3% of the world’s freight and earn £7 billion per year. Engineers have said the project could reach break-even in seven years.

This particular scheme has been under development for four years, with a price tag somewhere around $65 billion.

One problem I assume will be taken care of is railroad gauge: the Russians use a 1.52-meter gauge, the Americans 1.435 meters.

No mention of any passenger trains on this route, so I’m assuming it’s strictly for freight.

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What is this, um, stuff?

Hapi Foods Group produces two breakfast cereals in British Columbia, which contain:

[Y]ummy super foods like Salvia Hispanica L. (Chia), hulled hemp hearts, organic buckwheat, organic cranberries, organic raisins, organic apple bits and organic cinnamon.

Says co-founder Corin Mullins: “The keys to success are the eye-catching and humorous product names which draw people in to taste our cereals.”

For instance, consider their signature product:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Of lab and love

Jane McAuliffe, president of Bryn Mawr College, on her school’s recognized success in turning out graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics:

Bryn Mawr College is in the top 10 among all colleges and universities in terms of the percentage of female graduates pursuing doctorates in the STEM fields. Our students are six times more likely to graduate with a degree in chemistry than college students nationwide and nine times more likely to do so in math. In fact, Bryn Mawr is second in the nation in the percentage of female students receiving degrees in math, beating out such science-oriented universities as the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has 18 times the national average of female students graduating in physics.

Which is impressive by any measure. But what’s their secret?

When we ask our STEM majors what it is about Bryn Mawr that encourages them to pursue these male-dominated fields we consistently hear two things — being exposed to role models among our faculty, alumnae, and their fellow students, and the positive effect of being in a classroom in which they aren’t the lone woman.

(Emphasis added.)

This makes sense to John Rosenberg:

President McAuliffe’s explanation of Bryn Mawr’s success sounds remarkably similar to the answer Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, gave to a House committee two years ago when asked about the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields, except Biology. There are more women in Biology, Leshner explained, because there are more women in Biology: “In biological sciences, one reason that the majority of degrees are now granted to women is because the number of female role models in that field far outnumbers the other STEM fields.”

Of course, if you’re the lone woman in the class, you’re surrounded by men, and for some, that may be a distraction:

Researchers at the University of Buffalo have published a study finding that when women are “pursuing romantic goals” they tend to shy away from academic work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In two experiments, subjects were exposed to images and conversations that primed them to think about dating, and then completed questionnaires regarding their interest in pursuing STEM versus other majors. Women who thought about dating and not intelligence or friendship reported less interest in STEM fields. A third component of the study asked women to keep track of their feelings of romance and their interest in math, and found that the two were at odds.

John Rosenberg follows up:

Whether or not it is true that girls more than boys are lured away from STEM classes by romance, the success of Bryn Mawr and other women’s colleges in producing women scientists does suggest women do better without men around to distract them.

Hard to pursue both PhD and “Mrs” degrees at the same time, I suppose.

And lastly, a comment from Rosenberg’s daughter Jessie (BS Bryn Mawr ’04, PhD Caltech ’10):

[I]f a little bit of recruiting effort can induce women to go into science who were initially interested but were turned off by the environment, then I consider that a net plus (for both the women, and for science). But not to the point of misleading women about what working in the sciences is like: it’s difficult work, takes long hours, and is often cutthroat. I don’t see a problem with undergraduate environments mimicking that at least a little bit, even if it does turn away the softhearted — male or female.

All this tells me that the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields is temporary: eventually, the other disciplines will reach the same critical mass that the biological sciences did, although it is not likely to happen quickly enough to satisfy the people whose job it is to get upset by concepts like “underrepresentation.”

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