The patented Cash Extraction method

Something called “Federal Benefits Authority, L.L.C.” — the obligatory “not affiliated with any government agency” disclaimer is in type too small for many people my age to read — has thrown a one-sheet letter into my box:

Our records indicate that you may be at or approaching retirement eligibility age. In order to receive an updated Federal Benefits Analysis, please complete the questionnaire below. The customized analysis will provide you with critical information you will need to make important decisions regarding your retirement benefits.

Shorter version: “We want to get our hands on your TSP, and we want you to tell us exactly how to do it.”

Not being a civil servant, or either of those words individually, I don’t have a Thrift Savings Plan, and if I did, I probably might not want it to get near any guys with an Edmond post-office box and a questionable nature and a flawed mailing list. (Not only do I not qualify, they got my middle initial wrong.)

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An occasionally forbidden fruit

As fulsome praise for fruit goes, this is right up there with the fulsomest:

Have you eaten a ruby red grapefruit lately? I bought a big bag of them last week and have been enjoying one per day ever since. Each one is massive and almost completely edible, even the white fleshy membranes. So tender. They are juicy beyond belief, like biting into the ocean. But a sweet, tangy ocean. They need neither salt nor brown sugar to temper the powerful flavor, because they are naturally perfect lately. When your teeth grip the pink, webbed meat and fruit juice splashes in your mouth, you can literally hear the vitamins collide with your blood cells (it sounds like sparklers on the Fourth of July), and within minutes your future seems brighter, stronger, more likely to improve. I ate one this morning and my bank account instantly went up by like forty three bucks.*

* No, it didn’t.

Some folks, however, dare not touch Big Citrus like this. I spent several years on a statin, during which time grapefruit was absolutely verboten. About two years ago, I quit taking them and didn’t tell anyone; my cholesterol remains at the same old 165. However, there are other drugs on my daily regimen which will mess me up if they catch me digging into a grapefruit.

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And it all goes south

Very little went right for the Thunder tonight, and the most visible sign of that might have been just inside the 2:00 mark in the third quarter, with San Antonio up 17, when Kevin Durant drew a foul from Manu Ginobili, and missed both free throws. If desperation hadn’t set in before that, it certainly did afterwards: at the end of the third the Spurs were up 20, and things would only get worse. Pop, always experimenting, had started Matt Bonner in the middle in place of Tiago Splitter, and sent Kawhi Leonard out to pester Russell Westbrook. After a 32-32 first quarter, Pop decided none of this was working, posted Boris Diaw at center, and the Spurs could seemingly do no wrong thereafter: five minutes into the fourth quarter, San Antonio was up 30, the Thunder having scored a big two points in those five minutes. The final was 117-89, and the Spurs are within one game of the Finals.

All sorts of anomalies bedeviled the Thunder. Reggie Jackson, who scored 11 in the first quarter, went scoreless thereafter. OKC couldn’t rebound worth a flip: the Spurs owned the boards, 48-35. The Thunder couldn’t hit the long ball, going 6-24. (San Antonio was 13-26.) But take out those failed treys and Oklahoma City is shooting 51 percent, half a percentage point behind the Spurs. Perhaps worst of all, OKC was 13-20 from the stripe. (San Antonio made twice as many: 26 out of 30.) Still, Durant scored 25 and Westbrook 21, though no one else but Jackson hit double figures.) If there’s a moral victory here — hint: there isn’t — it’s that Bonner, vanishing after the first quarter but returning in the fourth, missed all four of his shots.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan proved that he’s not too old to put up a double-double, scoring 22 and gathering 12 rebounds. Ginobili led the bench with 19; Leonard and Danny Green each had 14, Diaw 13 and Tony Parker 12. And if Pop didn’t get everything he wanted, he got the most important thing.

Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Will the Spurs wrap it up there? How many times have they won there recently? Exactly.

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Neither vile nor gossip

It doesn’t exactly take Malcolm Gladwell to predict that when there are four major automotive publications and only two owners, sooner or later there will be two major automotive publications and only two owners.

Two years ago, Road & Track’s southern-California offices were closed, and R&T had to more or less move in with Car and Driver. That was the first shoe. The second one, however, is a serious boot:

There’s been a big shakeup in the world of automotive media today, as Automobile’s parent company, Source Interlink, has shuttered the mag’s Ann Arbor, MI offices. Editor-In-Chief Jean Jennings has been fired, along with most of the publication’s staff. The news was confirmed by Jennings, who called it “business” in a conversation with Jalopnik.

Mike Floyd of Source Interlink-owned Motor Trend will reportedly take the helm at Automobile. Deputy Editor Joe DeMatio is expected to move to a Royal Oak, MI-based Source Interlink advertising office. According to Jennings, a few of the remaining employees will be relocating to Los Angeles, to be closer to Motor Trend.

I suspect this does not mean the actual death of Automobile, at least not yet: Source Interlink is rebranding as The Enthusiast Network, and they haven’t thrown Automobile off their brand-spanking-new Web site.

Still, I expect by 2020 there will be only Car and Driver and Motor Trend — and that at least one of them will have gone digital-only.

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Decades of disservice

The current Conventional Wisdom is that the Veterans Administration is about a news item and a half away from complete and utter chaos. Wombat-socho would like you to know that this has been brewing for a long, long time:

CNN points out in this excellent article (apparently they do still have good reporters, they just don’t let them on the air) the VA has been a disastrous pile of fail ever since 1921, when Congress formed the Veterans Bureau only to see it collapse into a slough of corruption so bad that it had to be abolished in 1930 and replaced with the Veterans Administration, which also took over pensions from the Interior Department and the National Home For Disabled Veterans, this last actually comprising a number of Federally operated homes for destitute and disabled veterans.

More recent woes, of course, have more recent causes:

Part of the problem is that while theoretically the VA is supposed to provide care for all veterans, in practice, it triages veterans based on whether their injuries/illnesses are combat-related (this was at the root of the Agent Orange brouhaha) and whether they can afford to pay for their own care. Another part of the problem is that the VA has arguably never had the assets to properly do its job, and while the VA budget has increased since 2008, it hasn’t kept up with the surge of elderly veterans from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom who now comprise most of the patient load. This is also the reason why you’re seeing most of the “dying in line” cases coming out of the VA medical centers in Arizona and Florida — those states are very attractive to retirees, and so retired vets tend to flock there. You don’t hear about problems like this in Minneapolis, Washington DC and Boston, for example, because most retired vets either aren’t interested in living in climatic hellholes or simply can’t afford to live in the latter two areas due to their high costs of living. The number of Iraq/Afghanistan vets trying to fight their way through the paperwork to get their benefits is relatively small by comparison.

My youngest brother was complaining on Facebook earlier this week that the VA had put him on hold for more than half an hour. Someone (not me) explained to him that the ideal time to call is, well, there’s no ideal time, but right after a three-day weekend is about the worst. Still, being kept on the phone for 30 minutes isn’t much compared to what some of these guys have had to endure.

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Here agenda, there agenda

Jack Baruth on that Elliot Rodger thing:

The media wants to use the Elliot Rodger thing to beat up on the manosphere, because they despise the manosphere. Female Twitter users want to use the Elliot Rodger thing to let their friendzone beta orbiter male friends know, in no uncertain terms, that they consider them to be borderline rapists. Nobody’s tagging George Clooney or Channing Tatum in these posts, because most of these woman would welcome whatever attention George Clooney or Channing Tatum threw at them, for the same reason that I wouldn’t be offended by anything Kate Winslet said to me in person, as long as it was Kate Winslet talking to me in person.

Kate: You’re easily the least attractive man I’ve ever met.

Jack: Couldn’t agree more. Why don’t we have dinner and you can tell me what exactly about me is so repulsive. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Then again, from my first post on the subject: “I am George Farking Clooney next to this guy.”

Then again again, Kate Winslet has never said a word to me, and I operate under the assumption that she’s not going to.

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Possibly a legitimate question

I mean, it’s not always obvious:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How do i know if my computer is connected to the internet?

But then I read this:

is there a site I should go to that will tell me i’m online? i want to check the emails.

Remember Netscape Online Help? Fat lot of good it did you if you weren’t online.

I’d spent some time last weekend thinking up gag domains along the lines of willieverownanissanskyline.com, which upon being accessed would present a single word: “NO.” Now I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t put up a “YES” page for, say, amionlineatthisverymoment.com.

Or I could just point that guy to this.

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Just felt right

So Erin Palette was in the shower — no, I wasn’t watching her, get your mind out of the gutter — and this question popped into her head:

Given that humans are primarily a visual species, and that sexual attraction is at least partially based on aesthetics — I have to wonder if bisexuality and/or asexuality is more common among the blind.

I don’t really expect an answer, but I’d be thrilled if someone actually knew something about this.

I don’t know anything about this, to be sure, so I’m tossing it up over here to see what you guys think.

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Disaffiliated

Aristophanes, in The Frogs, circa 405 BC:

The course our city runs is the same towards men and money.
She has true and worthy sons.
She has fine new gold and ancient silver,
Coins untouched with alloys, gold or silver,
Each well minted, tested each and ringing clear.
Yet we never use them!
Others pass from hand to hand,
Sorry brass just struck last week and branded with a wretched brand.
So with men we know for upright, blameless lives and noble names.
These we spurn for men of brass…

This anticipates both Gresham’s Law and Francis W. Porretto’s extension thereto:

A group that equally values its most civilized members and its most vitriolic members will soon possess a preponderance of the latter. The good, self-respecting members will disdain to remain among persons who hurl insults and epithets at them, leaving the group populated by only the insult-hurlers, plus a smattering of generally decent persons with inadequate self-respect.

The progression won’t stop there. Such a group, now dominated by “the worst of the worst,” will gradually fail to return an adequate “profit” — in money, volunteer labor, prestige, fellowship, or anything else one might value — to its members, most especially those who’ve taken control of it. The typical response to such enervation is for the leaders to strive to whip up the enthusiasm of the group by artificial means; i.e., to “keep the hate alive.”

So far, none of the four organizations to which I belong have degenerated in such a manner, though I suppose it’s possible. (One of them, by all accounts, is hemorrhaging members, though the only precursor I’ve so far seen is a dearth of candidates for their offices.) Still, twenty years ago I paid dues to no one, and what’s more, these days I have several, um, unofficial affiliations.

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Cheap chicks

Earlier this week, on the subject of fried chicken:

[A]ll else being equal, I’d just as soon grab an eight-piece bag from one of the local supermarkets, which will serve just as well (and just as many) for well under ten bucks.

Last such bag I got was $8.49. Under the counter, though, were whole birds that had gone through the rotisserie, for a mere $5. Surely it doesn’t cost that much to piece them out.

Of course, I missed the most obvious explanation:

[M]uch like hunters who strive to use every part of the animal, grocery stores attempt to sell every modicum of fresh food they stock. Produce past its prime is chopped up for the salad bar; meat that’s overdue for sale is cooked up and sold hot. Some mega-grocers like Costco have dedicated rotisserie chicken programs, but employees report that standard supermarkets routinely pop unsold chickens from the butcher into the ol’ rotisserie oven.

Not that I’m complaining. And neither is Will Truman:

We’ve become big fans. I bring home one more than half of the time I go to Walmart, in part because theirs are better than the other place I shop at. It provides for at least a couple of meals, just you can tear it up and put it in other things to add a little more meat.

And “tear it up” is literal: the stuff practically falls off the bone.

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Invasive species

Dennis the Tech Guy leaves a note at The Other McCain:

If you experienced any intermittent issues with the site over the last 30 or so minutes, I apologize. I was busy drop-kicking 56,000 spam user accounts so stacy and team can stop moderating garbage and get back to writing about stuff we’re all way more interested in.

This reminds me of the time when Stacy was getting thousands upon thousands of bogus Twitter followers, an obvious effort to incapacitate his account and deflect his attention. I would not be surprised to discover that the same malingerers are behind this scheme.

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Top-down vaporware

Way back in 2006, there was chatter to the effect that MG, having been acquired by the Chinese, were looking for a US assembly plant, and they were looking very hard at southern Oklahoma.

Nothing came of that scheme, under which MG TF (no, not this TF) coupes would be built in the States, and roadsters in China. But you can’t keep an ex-British carmaker down forever:

Edmunds reports exploratory design work for a sports car under the MG name has been placed on the 2014 schedule book in SAIC’s Shanghai design studio, with one of the possibly proposals being a roadster such as those in the brand’s history, as well as the spiritual successor found in the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The starting point for whatever is drawn up is the 2012 MG Icon concept.

In the meantime, MG Motor is looking to design and produce a wider mainstream collection, with design and engineering split between Shanghai and Birmingham, England. Eventually, this could lead to a return to the U.S. market, which is considered a long-term goal for the brand and its owner.

One could argue, I suppose, that the existence of the MX-5 makes any new MG roadster irrelevant, but hey, the Brits could use the jobs.

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With a Texas record at steak

I might have been able to pull this off when I was younger. I certainly can’t today.

Meal consists of: Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Potato, Salad, with Roll, Butter, and of course the 72 oz. Steak

Entire meal must be completed in one hour. If any of the meal is not consumed (swallowed) … YOU LOSE!

A Nebraska woman laughs at this puny threat:

Molly Schuyler, weighing in at 120 pounds, ate not one but two 72 oz. steaks at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch.

Most who attempt the challenge cannot finish one steak but in less than 20 minutes Molly put away two 72 oz. steaks.

And if you want to watch this spectacle:

This is someone I’d be afraid to ask out, if only for the potential threat to my wallet.

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Something resembling even

Gregg Popovich, we may assume, was not a happy man tonight. Just before the first half ended, he drew a technical; halfway through the third quarter, with the Spurs down twenty, he pulled his starters and turned the bench loose. If the Thunder read this as a white flag, they were sadly mistaken: over the next couple of minutes, OKC ran their lead to 27, but San Antonio cut that to 13 before the quarter was over, and attempts by the Thunder to leave the Spurs in the dust were at best marginally successful. Pop didn’t bring back any starters until halfway through the fourth. Was this a strategic move, or just an effort to “glare at some starters on the bench for a moment”? Pop isn’t talking. The Spurs pulled within twelve several times, but never got any closer: the Thunder won it 105-92, and it’s a 2-2 series.

Reggie Jackson, again starting at the two, sprained his ankle after three and a half minutes and was seen only sporadically the rest of the night. Russell Westbrook took up the slack. In fact, Westbrook took up just about everything, playing 45 minutes, scoring 40 points (12-24, 14-14 at the stripe), serving up 10 assists and executing five steals. And where he wasn’t, Kevin Durant usually was; KD knocked down 31 points in 41 minutes and collected five boards. (OKC had a narrow rebounding edge, 42-41; Kendrick Perkins snagged ten of ‘em.) The reserves didn’t score much, but they kept up the defensive pressure, and that was probably enough.

With the starting Spurs on the pine, Boris Diaw ended up with 30 minutes and 14 points, tied with Tony Parker for team-high, plus ten rebounds. Kawhi Leonard, assigned to hit the midrange jumpers and keep Durant at bay, wound up with 10 points (3-9) and Westbrook more or less constantly on his tail, freeing up KD. Tim Duncan finished with nine. But it may not be so much what the Spurs didn’t do but what the Thunder didn’t do: OKC turned the ball over a mere seven times, versus 22 assists. (SA had 17 dimes and 13 turnovers.) And Pop, as noted, was not happy.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Alamoland. It will be loud and boisterous. And loud.

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A very large number indeed

Infinity by Against the CurrentThe reason I know of this band is because I pay way more attention than average — the average for people aged 60-up, anyway — to current pop and indie stuff, and one of the regular readers, having long noted this tendency of mine, pointed me towards girl singer Chrissy Costanza, who fronted a band out of Poughkeepsie, New York called Against the Current, which at the time included a relative of his. Costanza proved to be a worthy (and prolific!) Twitter read, and when they announced an EP to be released today, I hung out beside the iTunes Store with Amex in hand.

It was a wise move. The five tracks of Infinity have a freshness to them, the sort that manages to elude most of the stuff on the radio, and Costanza has enough of a voice to eschew most of the usual processing. “Infinity,” the single, and “Another You (Another Way)” are the stronger tracks, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. In American Bandstand parlance, I’d give it an 88: it’s got plenty of beat, it’s highly danceable, and the songs aren’t instantly forgettable. I have no idea how many of you listen to this kind of thing, but if you do, I’m happy to recommend it. (If you’d like a preview, there’s a lyric video of “Infinity” that’s gotten over 200,000 views this month.)

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Budding geniuses, every one

About a week and a half ago, I tossed up a link to a study which purported to claim that most Americans think themselves smarter than the norm. The norm being what it is, or what it seems to be, well, I keep wondering: how could they not? Razorbacker comes up with an explanation of how this might actually work:

I suspect this: the average American looks about himself (oh, alright, or herself) and sees so damned much touted as actual fact that he knows from personal experience to be a damnable lie, and he knows it to be a lie but one that is now unable to be mentioned in polite society. He looks at this and says, “There is either a fucking liar or a damned fool, and anyone but a dumbass knows it. Nobody else sees it, though. I must be smarter than the average bear.”

Once upon a time, I thought that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but facts belong to all. Now I understand that facts are not hard-and-fast, but shift like a river sand bar, moving this way and that, growing and shrinking, never the same from one day to the next.

Today, facts that don’t serve the desired narrative are not considered to be “facts” at all, which by no coincidence makes life much easier for those who desire power and are willing to say any damned thing that might prop up their position. Actual, verifiable truth is an obstacle at best. Fortunately for them, an appallingly large percentage of the population is willing to believe any damned thing.

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