A cruel and heartless society

Well, actually, no, not so much, if you think about it:

In earlier ages it was a lot more dangerous to be different in any way from the mainstream — you could be put in prison for acts which are now celebrated on television — and yet many of the odd and the deviant went on to do whatever they wanted anyway and even attained fame and fortune. The problem with society today isn’t that we are so gosh-darned mean, it’s that we no longer feel it necessary to instill people with strong characters so they can deal with life’s shit. Instead we told them that shit had been outlawed. But you can’t outlaw shit.

Well, maybe a couple of us are gosh-darned mean.

Still, outlawing shit was the desired solution: it didn’t actually do anything, but it met the basic standard for Making A Statement. In the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn’t have to deal with shit, and everybody loves the best of all possible worlds, because (1) well, it’s the best, dummy, and (2) everything you hate automagically has ceased to exist. You can hear evocations of this sort of utopia from both sides of the political spectrum, and if you’re wise, you believe none of them, because no one has the slightest clue how to make such a place exist. Never had, never will. “I dream things that never were, and ask why not,” said Bobby Kennedy, and shortly thereafter was given an explanation in .22 caliber.

There will always be frail, weak people who can’t take it. There’s not much that we can do about that either, except to not make things even worse by telling them lies and giving them false expectations of a perfect, kindly world where nothing bad will ever happen.

This does not mean, of course, that we are licensed to behave like assholes — but we are, as a matter of intellectual honesty, compelled to point out that the sphincter is pretty damned universal, and that no one is entirely free from its influence.

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We’re allowed one of these, right?

I hesitate to call the Grizzlies “awesome,” but they shot better than 60 percent all night, all five of their starters finished in double figures, and they haven’t lost once in the preseason. And, let’s admit it up front, they pounded the crap out of the Thunder, 116-96, a score which really doesn’t reflect how bad a pounding it was. (Twelve minutes earlier, it was 94-57, which does.)

I have no idea what happened. Maybe somebody parked a retrograde Mercury in the loading zone at the BOk Center. The bigs rolled up lots of fouls: both Byron Mullens and Cole Aldrich fouled out. (Aldrich, in fact, fouled out in nine minutes and nine seconds; that’s a foul every minute and a half.) None of the OKC starters scored in double figures. And Longar Longar got to play.

Still, there’s no denying the reality here. The Griz, if they play like this in the regular season, are going to scare everyone. Meanwhile, Scott Brooks is asking: “How do you guys expect to beat the Russians day after tomorrow?”

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Meanwhile in Ravenswood castle

In memory of Dame Joan Sutherland, here’s the “Mad Scene” from Act III of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, staged in Barcelona with husband Richard Bonynge conducting. Arguably Sutherland’s signature piece, this was reportedly the last time she sang it in public, in the fall of 1988. She was sixty-two at the time, and supposedly had lost some of her vocal prowess. Repeat: “supposedly.”

(Note: About three minutes of ovation at the end.)

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(Re)charge!

I’ve already figured that I’m not a likely early-adopter of electric-car technology, but I know my driving patterns. On the assumption that you may not know yours, Treehugger has been offering what they call a Virtual Electric Car Test Drive:

You just have to use your car’s trip computer. Every time your car is parked long enough in a spot where it could be recharged if it was electric, you note the number on a piece of paper along with the date and you reset the trip computer to zero.

After a while, it should give you a good idea of how often you would need a longer range than what current electric cars offer. So for example, if after a month you realize that on most days you drive less than 20 miles, and your longest trips between “charges” are 50 miles, a car like the Nissan LEAF might work perfectly for you (the LEAF has a range of 100 miles).

Most days I drive 20-25 miles. If I never went anywhere else, this would actually work for me. This is, as you all know, not the case. Still:

This could mean that an electric car fits your needs as long as you have a second vehicle with a longer range.

And actually, that’s what I see as the usual garage complement for owners of Leafs (Leaves?) and whatnot: a conventional vehicle for the occasional road trip, and an EV for grocery-getting and other around-town errands. My single-car garage, however, is not exactly what you’d call expandable.

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Get this thing off my desk

Not getting any work done? Neil Kramer proposes a solution:

I think someone could develop a whole service out of this. You give access to your social media passwords to some bond-trusted customer service representative in, say India, and when you get too distracted from your work, you text this service, writing, “Cut me off from Twitter and Facebook for three hours, and don’t let me back on, even if I call you crying.”

Actually, that’s rather a long text: presumably you’d send a code word to Mumbai or wherever, with a string of digits appended to indicate the duration of the ban.

Of course, you could save some money by informing your sysadmin directly. He can keep you off for three years if need be.

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Conspiracy Theories R Us

Way back in April, I came out against State Question 744, which is supposed to force state education spending up to the regional average. (The money quote, from Vent #671: “[T]here’s also nothing in the ballot measure that explains how all of this is supposed to be paid for, which is precisely the reason why I’d like to see it fail, and fail spectacularly.”)

It never occurred to me, though, that SQ 744 was actually a Republican plot:

The big lie is that you can keep taxes at the same level (or less for the wealthy and big business) and fund critical services at the same or greater level. SQ 744 is a Republican strategy to shrink the size of state government, including critical public services that are also needed by students and their families.

Who knew that Oklahoma Republicans had strategy? Or even strategery?

The Oklahoma Education Association, primary sponsor of the initiative, must be wondering what the hell it has to do to get credit for something around here.

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Let’s hash this over

You or I might be on Twitter to swap a couple of one-liners and kvetch. However, the dreaded Serious Analysis is going on behind our backs, and I suppose we had better learn the terminology:

There are two types of trending topics on Twitter: endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous TTs happen when a topic has a viral spread. Once it becomes a TT, everyone jumps onto it to spread it even further. So when we see a hashtag like #intenyears we know it didn’t happen naturally. It spread by a group of people until it became a TT and then off it went. Most highly visible teen participation centers on endogenous TTs. Sure, there are lots of tweens who like Justin Bieber but he trends on Twitter because people actively work to make that topic (or a related hashtag) trend. Exogenous TTs happen when everyone is talking about the same thing simultaneously, not really responding to each other or to the trending topic per say but responding to a cultural moment. This often happens when there are major new events or TV shows that are broadcasting something of great interest.

“I did not know that,” @johnnycarson might have said.

And if we’re a little hard on the Bieber night after night, well, he seems to generate something like 3 percent of all Twitter volume, so it’s not like we have the opportunity to pretend he doesn’t exist.

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They don’t make them like they used to

Some of these modern-day vacuum cleaners really suck, and not in a good way either:

If you felt the earth rumble a little bit, that was me voicing my displeasure at the Universe. Not now, not now, NOT NOW! And then I shook my fist at the sky. Real hard. Yeah, I should have figured it was coming, you know, since the plastic attachment braces had begun falling off. Not breaking, really, just … disintegrating and falling off. The Hoover, cleverly, had a lifespan that outlived its warranty by six months to the very day. But compared to not having a vacuum at all, the Hoover was pretty dreamy, even if you did have to empty the canister two or three times per floor just to maintain suction.

To hear Consumer Reports tell it, the closest thing to an indestructible vacuum is the Kirby, but it costs as much as a Caribbean cruise, and not one with an inside stateroom either.

Then again, my own Hoover, which admittedly doesn’t get much of a workout these days, is still functional after thirty-three years. I have no idea when the warranty ran out.

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Roll model

Maggie found this in Japan last fall:

Hello Kitty toilet paper

“It has a slight chestnut scent,” she says. If that seems odd, well, it could have been a whole lot worse.

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Tax the greenies

John Marshall wonders why we’re not taxing the living daylights out of these alternative-whachamacallit vehicles:

[G]overnments and big business have missed out on one particularly easy green revenue scheme, I mean revenue stream — green drivers. Eco-minded drivers will pay pretty much anything (they pay more to get less horsepower than the comparable dinoblood model). And odds are, hybrid and EV drivers are the folks among us who are least averse to taxation.

Then again, it’s anybody’s guess how many Volts Chevrolet would be able to unload were it not for a $7500 taxpayer contribution sitting on the hood. (The other big debut for this year, Nissan’s Leaf, is ostensibly sold out, but it costs several thousand dollars less and comes with similar Federal incentives.)

As they say in the carbon biz, though, there are offsets. There hasn’t been a tax credit for any of the Toyota/Lexus hybrids for three years. (Law says: credits start getting phased out after a manufacturer has moved 60,000 units.) Prius sales are down a smidgen lately, but this is due to the unexpected failure of gas prices to soar into the stratosphere, not to the absence of incentives.

If you really want to guilt-trip alternative-vehicle buyers into paying more taxes, you’re going to have to give them a reason for it. Like, for instance, compensation for externalities:

Driver A buys a V6 Ford Fusion sedan — a sensible daily driver with a bit of an added kick over the base model. The car burns gas and gas alone, much like 97%+ of the other vehicles on the road today. Driver B pays $5000 more than Driver A to get the Fusion Hybrid, which runs on gas and electricity generated from the brakes and from the main internal combustion powerplant. Driver B’s car weighs considerably more due to the inclusion of 800 pounds of NIMH batteries, and so uses more energy per mile to move its mass than Driver A’s car (not all of that energy comes from burning fuel, true, but seriously, it’s physics!), thus hastening the inevitable heat death of the universe. The fact that hybrid owners are trying to kill us all and bring about Ragnarok aside, Driver B probably got a tax credit, despite the fact that those batteries had to be produced somewhere. That somewhere is almost certainly a toxic mine run by brown people in some godforsaken hellhole where Driver B will never visit.

Mass is also the enemy of fuel consumption, so perhaps the most sensible way to do this is to impose a Mass Tax, something like 10 cents per pound of curb weight, proceeds to go to anything over which Congress has no jurisdiction. Maybe a fund for remediation of toxic mines in godforsaken hellholes.

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Keeping the shadows close at hand

Not even in my own household am I a household word, which bothers me hardly at all; I would hate to be one of those pathetic characters on [insert name of any of a hundred television shows these days] whose sense of self-worth is entirely dependent upon achieving the canonical Warholian quarter of an hour.

How I got to this presumed point of stability is not entirely clear to me, though I suspect Jenny Davidson has happened on a Great Truth here:

When I was little, I too wanted to be famous, partly because I knew I wanted to be a writer and it seemed to me that good writers should be famous (!?!) but also because of an unwarranted assumption that life would only be interesting if I were famous.

“You’ve had such an interesting life,” people tell me, and my eyes do a synchronized roll: Say what? It must be one of the Great American Default Assumptions: that everyone else’s life must be more interesting than yours. I’ve never thought of my life as being particularly interesting, perhaps because my own perspective, that of the Bewildered Insider, isn’t easily available to everyone else. (It might also explain why I’ve been at this soapbox for most of a decade and a half: perhaps it’s an effort to prove that I’m really as dull as I think I am.)

But being comfortable with my obscurity is not something I was born with. It could be simple fatigue, after wave after wave of loud, self-important attention whores, or it could be a manifestation of actual maturity. The case for the latter, again from Jenny Davidson:

In adulthood I realize that it is much more important to me that life should be interesting than anything else (i.e. interestingness and intellectual and artistic stimulation rank considerably higher than fame or fortune); fame or fortune are only incidentally valuable insofar as they increase the opportunity to do interesting things, but in fact fame may undercut that possibility, because many or most people find it hard to converse normally with famous people.

Fame may have a further drawback in my case, since I suspect that what I perceive as humility is somehow hinged to my lack of fame, and I would be extremely displeased to discover that a famous version of me, presented with some trivial cock-up on a vacation trip, might resort to the unforgivable tactic of pulling rank: “Don’t you know who I am?”

So I content myself with my position on the D-list. If the rewards seem few, they still outnumber the disappointments.

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Strange search-engine queries (245)

What we do here, if you’re new around these parts, is to sort through a week’s worth of server logs, take note of the search strings used by Googlers and Bingers and such, and then make an effort to squeeze a few cheap laffs out of them. It’s a nasty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

bosomyactresses:  “There you go, honey. Push ‘em together and make one good one.”

priority club credit card ripping screwing bank one chase:  Bank One, of course, has disappeared due to merger: it takes a really large bank to do both ripping and screwing.

barberousness:  “So, Conan, who does your hair?”

what is the prison time for mailing lortabs by usps:  Depends. If you’re Aetna or Blue Cross, probably nothing. If you’re some guy with a meth lab, expect the book to be thrown at you. (A “book,” for you guys with meth labs, is a collection of pieces of paper with words on them.)

She can purchase 20 pounds of chemicals for $95.  Great. Now let’s see her mail them.

“haughty yacht”:  It occurs to me that I seldom see any really humble yachts.

“I wear Fruit of the Looms”:  May they serve you well, next time you’re invited aboard a humble yacht.

we learn that rephrasing a statement as a question, a command, or even an exclamation can improve the variety of a paragraph:  After which we immediately forget the whole idea and fall back into routine copy-and-paste.

Why are engagements less formal than in previous generations?  Because previous generations did not have Facebook, and therefore there was at least a reasonable possibility of the wedding actually coming to pass.

spendophobia:  What we’re looking for in our political candidates this year.

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King Solomon

Growing up as I did in a musical milieu steeped in rhythm and blues, I of course had to deal with Solomon Burke, though it took longer to grasp what he was about than it would have with, say, Sam and Dave.

Burke’s spot in the R&B hierarchy — respected by all, but why didn’t he ever get a break on the pop chart? — meant that he’d likely be the top of the bill over the likes of Garnet Mimms, rather than the underside of a Wilson Pickett card, so eventually I started thinking of Burke as primarily a touring act rather than a hit machine; and though he continued to make records — through 1969 he charted twenty-nine singles — his reputation as a performer always seemed to exceed his stature as a recording artist. Which on the James Brown scale, I suppose, made Solomon Burke the second-hardest-working man in show business.

Part of that hard work, inevitably, meant going beyond recycling The Hits and recording new stuff of the same quality, which brings us to “Don’t Give Up on Me,” a song by Southern-soul stalwarts Dan Penn and Carson Whitsett, which Burke recorded in 2002. As with almost everything Solomon Burke recorded, you’re probably better off hearing him sing it live:

Which he might well have sung on Tuesday in Amsterdam, had he survived the flight from L.A.

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That increasy kid stuff

Dick Stanley doesn’t think “embiggen” is all that cromulent:

Seems the lexicographers are all aflutter that “embiggen” is seeping into mainstream usage. It should be “biggerize,” I tell you.

And there is one distinct advantage to “biggerize”:

[It’s] the natural opposite of “minimize.” “Embiggen” is completely out of left field.

I would have thought the natural opposite of “minimize” would be “Maximize,” as in “Dania Ramirez Maximized her visibility in the August 2010 issue.”

I detect a lexicographical debate of prodigious largeosity on the horizon. In the meantime, here’s a gratuitous photo of Dania Ramirez:

Dania Ramirez

Click to, um, biggerize.

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Point of no contact

Occasionally you may see an example of what would otherwise be a high-heeled shoe, except for one minor detail: there is no heel. I reported on a blatant example of same in early 2008, and based on the response thereto, I figure there may not be all that many takers for a how-to page describing exactly how to produce the same look at home for less money. Which of course isn’t going to keep me from posting the link, since I figure by now I’ve pushed your curiosity, if not to 11, at least to seven and a half.

(With thanks to MissElle.)

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Lateral buckpass

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