Salted away

From last spring:

One bank around town (and most towns in this state, I surmise) offers a forced-savings deal: use your debit card or pay a bill with their online gizmo, and they’ll bump a quarter or two out of your checking account into savings. They’ll even match some of it (all of it for 90 days, then 5 percent). This won’t make anyone rich, but it helps out with the Pay Yourself First premise.

In the first year, those little 50-cent deposits added up to over $100, plus $32 worth of match. This isn’t everything I saved during the year by any means, but it’s nice to have.

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Captain Obvious checks in

The Best Advice I Ever Got by Katie Couric

Presumably it was “Show some leg in the jacket photo.”

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Money for nothing

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been engaging in a war of words of late, with Dimon denouncing Durbin’s amendment to the Dodd-Frank Financial Finagling Act, which calls for a review of debit-card interchange fees, as “price-fixing at its worst.” Durbin has now responded:

For years, card-issuing banks like Chase have agreed to let the Visa and MasterCard duopoly fix the interchange fee rates that banks receive from merchants each time a debit card is swiped. The banks get the fees but they do not set the fees. This system of price-fixing by Visa and MasterCard on behalf of thousands of banks has gone entirely unregulated.

Which is not to say that there’s a set fee regardless of conditions:

Fraud rates are far lower for PIN debit transactions than for signature debit transactions, but Visa and MasterCard set higher interchange fees for signature debit than for PIN ostensibly to cover the higher cost of fraud. Banks now urge cardholders to pay with signature in order to get the higher fees. For example, on April 21, 2010, the American Banker reported that your own bank sent a mailing to your debit customers that strongly suggested they should “always select” signature.

It’s not just Chase, either. I learned rather quickly that my own bank will decline PIN transactions, but will happily approve signature transactions for exactly the same amount.

And there’s this:

I recognize that Chase will likely see decreased revenue from interchange reform, but I urge you to keep some perspective. Last year Chase had $17.4 billion in profits — up 48 percent from the previous year — and a 15 percent profit margin. Your own personal compensation “jumped nearly 1,500 percent to $20.8 million in 2010″ according to Reuters. In contrast, middle-class American families are struggling to get by in a tough economy — an economy that went south because of the banking industry’s unregulated excesses.

And if the idea of a Senate Democrat claiming to be on the side of “middle-class American families” seems to have the same resonance as the idea of fleas soliciting donations to the American Kennel Club, I’d remind you that blind squirrels aren’t exactly starving these days. I’d like to think that this is Durbin’s act of contrition for aiding and abetting the creation of the notion of Too Big To Fail. If so, he’s got lots of penance yet to do.

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Who’s that shoe?

If I seem puzzled by the names applied to some of the shoes mentioned here, it’s because I have no idea where said names came from: it’s as though they just fell out of the sky.

Which, of course, can’t possibly be true, and it isn’t. Nancy Friedman, doing a guest post for the Manolo, explains that some brands have very specific reasons for selecting those names. Ferragamo, for instance:

With Ferragamo, if a shoe doesn’t have a letter-of-the-season name, you know it’s either (a) a perennial, like the ever-popular Audrey (named for Audrey Hepburn), or (b) an item from a previous season that may have a discounted price.

And the letter for spring ’11, she says, is D. This wedge, for instance, is “Domizia”:

Domizia by Ferragamo

Also available in black, it’s a modest 3 cm tall, and has a leather hook gizmo across the upper. While it’s still current, it’s $450.

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And that makes 82

The Milwaukee Bucks, perhaps contrary to the expectations in the Large Round Building tonight, did not exhibit any of that Deer-in-the-headlights meandering one might expect of a team with 47 losses. In fact, they led by three at the half and put together a 9-0 run near the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 96; Scott Brooks, having vowed to play the starters around 20 minutes or so, wasn’t about to put them back in with 23 seconds left, and we had a wholly-unanticipated overtime. The Bucks, despite not being used to scoring this much, did not falter, and they won it 110-106, to the bewilderment of the crowd, locking the Thunder into the #4 seed and setting up the first round of the playoffs against fifth-place Denver.

This was a game where nobody scored a lot, but a lot of people scored: Milwaukee had eight players in double figures, OKC six. (Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 20.) Only one double-double: Nazr Mohammed, with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Thunder were awash in rebounds, collecting 52 while the Bucks could grab only 34. But the Thunder also turned the ball over two dozen times, and Milwaukee was happy to capitalize on those mistakes to the tune of 27 points.

It may not have mattered: the only way the Thunder were going to move up in the seeding would have been if the Mavericks lost to New Orleans, which they didn’t. And there were stats to accumulate: Kevin Durant won the scoring title, and nobody blocked more shots this year than Serge Ibaka. But this is a hell of a way to go into the first round of the post-season.

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Where the gripes of Roth are stored

I’ve heard a few variations on this theme lately:

I just wrote the biggest check of my life ever to the IRS. (I converted an IRA from standard to Roth this past year. Now watch as the tax code gets replaced with a national consumption tax the year I decide to retire…)

That latter, I suspect, she may not have to worry about. So long as there are power-mad politicians who wish to hand out favors to some and punish others — so long as there are politicians, in other words — we’ll continue to have what Dave Barry once called a “tax code … the size and weight of the Budweiser Clydesdales.”

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Any color you like

The sheer number of references on this site will tell you in no time flat that “I am a major, and unrepentant, fan of the classic Little Black Dress, and variations thereupon.” Which may seem odd, since I never actually saw one in real life until I was well into my twenties, but then I had probably watched too many old movies up to that point.

For those of you (if any) who are unclear on the concept, a tutorial on the subject:

The “LBD” is a basic, and slightly sexy go-to dress that can easily go from casual to fancy, without too much effort. A good little black dress shouldn’t be too fussy, revealing, slinky, or fragile. Also, a little secret … It doesn’t actually have to be BLACK. These days, a little black dress can get away with being navy or dark grey, and still serve the same purpose. You want something that you can throw on anytime and know that you’ll be ready for any event, without feeling overdressed.

Which is admittedly a lot to ask of a garment. On the other hand, if chosen with proper disdain for That Which Is Trendy Right This Minute, it will serve you well for many seasons.

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Fevered prow

Leadership from the White House? Not supposed to work that way, points out the Curmudgeon Emeritus:

The closest the Constitution comes to such a concept is here [Article II, Section 3]:

“He shall…recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;”

But literally any American citizen has the exact same “power.”

The notion of government “leadership” is appropriate to a parliamentary scheme such as Britain’s, where the chief executive is chosen by the majority coalition in the legislature. Such systems are designed for activist government, wherein the idea is to enable the legislature to move forward, without hindrance, and to have the executive in concert with it ab initio. The American system is diametrically opposed to government activism. It’s founded on the premise that government action ought to be slow and difficult.

So it’s perhaps a blessing in disguise that the White House is so often occupied by persons with some, if not all, of the leadership qualities of a recently-discharged shift supervisor at Taco Bell.

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Bad girl gone worse?

Donald Douglas apparently has some problems with Rihanna’s video for “S&M,” and quotes The Closing of the American Mind author Allan Bloom:

Bloom warned that rock and roll — and the Walkman and MTV commercial culture within which it was embedded by the 1980s — was “life made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.”

I looked at the video, and yeah, it’s a bit raunchy, but on the other hand, it has Perez Hilton on a leash and (briefly) wearing a ball gag. If that’s not redeeming social value, what is?

(See also this earlier ode to the pleasuring of oneself.)

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There’s a zombie on my brain

Back in the fall of ought-nine, I identified the theme music from the videogame Plants vs. Zombies as the Catchiest Tune of the Week; it’s been on my various playlists ever since. And composer Laura Shigihara was kind enough to post the theme in actual stereo, which was even more fun — except that the roar of the undead, a truncated post-Vader “NOOOOO!” at approximately 0:47, was apparently mixed only into the monophonic game version; it did not appear in the stereo mix. Anyone who’s collected records for a ridiculous length of time has encountered this phenomenon before: there’s stuff in the 45 that wasn’t on the LP version. Poster child: “Creeque Alley” by the Mamas and the Papas, the stereo version of which is missing a hell of a lot of overdubs.

I put up with this for about a year and a half, then took action: I took the stereo version of “Zombies on Your Lawn,” then flew in that little section from the mono version and mixed it in, a bit left of center. This will be my official version hereafter. (And for “Creeque Alley,” I play a dub of the 45.)

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Exit 150 at Cornett Place

Mayor Mick Cornett, speaking from the brand-spanking-new Mick Cornett Pavilion on the grounds of Cornett Hall, noted that he had, as Steve Lackmeyer puts it, “a lot of experience on branding,” and after “years of experience and expertise on branding and observing that the city doesn’t do a great job at branding itself,” has decided that the so-far-mostly-theoretical boulevard intended to lead into downtown Oklahoma City ought to be called Mick Cornett Oklahoma City Boulevard.

Former Mayor Ron Norick declined to turn over in his grave, pointing out that he wasn’t actually dead yet and therefore any such action would be premature.

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Moore than we bargained for

Peter Morgan’s 2006 play Frost/Nixon — and, for that matter, the 2008 film version, directed by Ron Howard — starred Michael Sheen, who didn’t look much like David Frost, and Frank Langella, who didn’t look even slightly like Richard Nixon.

So I’m not too concerned that HBO has signed Julianne Moore to play Sarah Palin in a film adaptation of Game Change. Moore doesn’t look too much like Palin, but she does look like this:

Julianne Moore in InStyle UK

And far be it from me to complain. (However, see the POH Diaries for an alternative choice.)

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PL/P fiction

Before you can describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like, you’ve got to declare some goddamn variables.

(Via QA Hates Your Ass.)

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Are you sure Abe done it this way?

“Dammit,” says Ford to its remaining Lincoln dealers, “this is a luxury brand, and it’s time we acted like it.” To wit:

According to Automotive News [behind paywall], Ford has issued an ultimatum to its Lincoln dealers: either they agree to meet minimum brand requirements by September 1, or they face losing their franchise. Ford’s demands include that dealers

  • Offer perks such as a free car wash and a Lincoln loaner vehicle to Lincoln service customers
  • Have a dedicated service manager and dedicated sales staff for Lincoln, if the dealership is paired with a Ford store
  • Have only the word “Lincoln,” without “Mercury,” appear on all franchise signage
  • Have at least 30% of used-Lincoln inventory be certified pre-owned

Geez. The local Infiniti store manages three out of four, and they’re paired with Porsche-Audi fercrissake. And Lincoln does about the same annual volume as Infiniti: 100k or thereabouts.

This particular objection, which I find risible, was raised:

[W]hat if a customer wants a full-sized loaner replacement for a vehicle that’s been turned in for service, but the dealer only has MKZs on the lot?

It is bad form, I think, to complain about freebies. The cheapest thing on the Infiniti lot, until recently, was the G35 sedan, and that’s mostly what they lent out; once they sent me off in an FX, probably because that was all they had left. It’s not like they were stashing Nissan Versas on the premises.

(Title swiped from the late Waylon Jennings.)

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Rabbit decline

Hard times, as it were, for Hugh Hefner:

Certainly there is an irony that while pornography is now more plentiful than ever in world history, the rise of the Internet has destroyed Playboy’s profitability. The company lost $48.5 million last year. Hefner recently took Playboy Enterprises off the stock market, offering $6.15 a share for outstanding shares. Exactly what he’ll do with the Playboy “brand” (it’s not just a magazine) remains to be seen. Hef has recently gone back to the idea of “Playboy Clubs,” opening one in Vegas and announcing two others in Sydney and London. But these are not really “clubs,” just Playboy-themed casino/bar/restaurants, a sort of chain operation like the Hard Rock Cafe.

The not-so-big bucks these days come from playboy.com, which has a fairly active pay section — there’s also a Somewhat Safe For Work site which scares up some ad dollars — and from licensing the Rabbit Head symbol, which still has some commercial value. Still:

The value of the Playboy brand isn’t likely long to outlive the man who created the myth on which the brand depends, and of which he is the absurd elderly symbol.

There is, I think, one other contributing factor: Adobe. With Photoshop on every other desktop on the planet, nobody has any faith in anybody’s photographs anymore. The “girl next door” in the centerfold? Not next door to me, you damn betcha. There isn’t a wisp of hair out of place, and often as not there isn’t a wisp of hair in place, so to speak. Furthermore, they’re all apparently nineteen years old these days, and to get me to take up with someone one-third my age would require a hell of a lot of tequila and probably something more.

And anyway, it’s not like Hef and I have similar tastes.

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Good old American oatmeal burgers

The Little Village Academy on the west side of Chicago no longer allows students to bring their own lunches: you eat what they serve, or you do without. E. M. Zanotti finds this curious at best:

This is problematic for a number of reasons, least of which is probably that a one-size-fits all government brainchild is destined to fail at solving a complicated problem. Anyone who’s ever met a kid knows that kids are weird. It’s a full time job, sometimes, for parents, to figure out how to ensure a child gets necessary nutrition while skirting a number of irrational food phobias. My brother once ate nothing but baked potatoes for six months.

And there’s precedent for that failure, too:

The King of replacing school lunches with healthy food, TV chef Jamie Oliver, has seen his health-i-fying plans meet with disaster. Oliver, who claimed to change the eating habits of an entire British town by forcing the local elementary school to adopt a million-dollar school lunch program, actually managed to ensure students received higher-calorie, higher-fat meals than before (most of which were worse than McDonald’s Happy Meals), and having a heavily negative impact on students scores, especially among low-income students. Turns out when kids didn’t like the food they received, they didn’t eat it.

Finding audio to accompany this story was a (probably forbidden) piece of cake. From the Conception Corporation’s infamous “Rock and Roll Classroom,” a 24-second ad [mp3, 567kb] touting the wonders of the school’s in-house eatery; you’ll hear the title of this piece therein.

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