1 July 2003
Libel by linkage?
Apparently some of that free-speech stuff in the First Amendment does apply to blogs.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that bloggers and listserv operators are not responsible for potentially-libelous material which they reproduce but do not originate, an extension of existing law which insulates ISPs from liability for material which passes through their gateways.
Pertinent to the situation is this statement by EFF legal eagle Cindy Cohn:
One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they're not just selling information they're selling reliability. But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren't necessarily selling anything, they're just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn't exist if you were held liable for every piece of information you cut, paste and forward.
I will resist the temptation to suggest that some of those "one-way" publications are doing a better job of selling reliability than others and that some of us down here in blogland perform the fact-checking function as a matter of course.
Today's shopping tip
Courtesy of Ravenwood:
Best Buy [has] such an inflexible policy toward their customers, I am astonished that they can make any money, long-term.
It's not such a bad place, actually, so long as (1) you're buying something that never, ever has any defects and (2) you don't need the buying advice they don't actually provide.
Opinions in multiplicity
Susanna Cornett, on the sort of diversity we actually need:
I think that I, as a Southern conservative religious woman, bring something different to the table even in researching criminal justice than a Northern liberal atheist male. While naturally I'm going to think my course is best, in the aggregate it's important to have both perspectives because in reality we're neither one likely to hit "the truth", whatever that is, squarely on the head. We are led to new insights others may not have in part because of who we are and what our history is, and that to me is why it's crucial to have liberals and conservatives, all races, male and female, any permutation of potential intellectuals, in our nation's universities. It's not to give minorities a role model although that's not a bad side benefit but to introduce a different way of seeing the questions a certain discipline seeks to address. I personally think the ability to best use that perspective is clouded when the person is caught up in some ideological fervor that seeks to impose personal belief or ethnic or political overlays onto their work. My view of the world is informed by my religious beliefs, but my willingness to listen and consider other perspectives shouldn't be limited by them.
I really don't think that anyone's motivation for diversity is to provide role models for minorities; if anything, it's to provide minority role models for majority (read "white") students. John Rosenberg has written extensively on this phenomenon.
But beyond this quibble, she's absolutely right: the university needs as many viewpoints, left, right and center, as it can possibly get, and weeding out some of them because they might be politically unpopular, or "uncomfortable" for a segment of the student body, or for whatever reasons are invented next week, is counterproductive at best.
The official WT03 FAQ
When does the World Tour actually happen?
It begins on 14 July, and continues through the end of the month, possibly into the first of August.
What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you're not leaving the States or anything?
Two things: it's awfully damned long, and much of it is through unfamiliar territory.
How long is "awfully damned long"?
The first two Tours ran about 4,500 miles each, about the same length as One Lap of America, except that I did no track time and didn't worry about checkpoints.
You've done this twice before. Why do it again?
Because I can. More to the point, it's good for me to get out of town, and it's good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.
Can you actually afford this?
The proposed budget is $2200, which of course I can't afford. But given the very real benefits of the Tour fresh scenery, fast curves, good friends at various stops I can't afford not to.
Will you be blogging every day?
Is there any chance you'll say "Screw it" and not go home?
Ask me next month.
"She's forty-one and her daddy still calls her baby...."
Well, okay, Delta Dawn, what's that Web page you've got on? Why, it's the Carnival of the Vanities, the continuing Quality Assortment from bloggers far and wide, hosted this week by Amish Tech Support.
I think I qualify as "wide".
2 July 2003
New kids on the block
Nice piece in The Daily Oklahoman today about new American citizens. The story focuses on one person Valeria Barrett, born in Argentina, now teaching Spanish in an Oklahoma City school but to me, the most inspiring part of the article is the last paragraph, which lists all the participants in this week's naturalization ceremony. In addition to Mrs Barrett, we welcome:
Quyen Thanh Nguyen
San Dinh Pham
Lisa Amanda Bryant
Dorian Guadalupe Vazquez
Jamie Gustavo Wiesner Ortega
Emily John Richards
Ann John Richards
Milagros Valencia Mayo
Helen Montehermozo Wilkey
Varun Kofi Ronnie Figaro
Marlene Georges Sharp
Tri Huu Vo
Quoc Khanh Nguyen Le
You can't get a whole lot more diverse than that.
Stairway to heinous
One of the more admirable characteristics of Rocksnobs' DragonAttack is her ability to nail down a definition:
In my mind, the word oldies indicates rock and roll that spans the era that begins with Bill Haley (and his Comets!) and ends with Mungo Jerry.
I mention this because last night someone called up KOMA-FM, a formerly-inspiring oldies station, and had the temerity to request a Barry White tune. Now I like Barry White, but Barry White ain't oldies. Yet. So I spun the dial a little further and was treated to Tanya Tucker's "Blood Red and Goin' Down", which ain't oldies either but which can pass for Classic Country.
Of course, DragonAttack is more vexed with her local Classic Rock outlet, which plays too much Zeppelin and too much already-overplayed Zeppelin at that but there's an explanation for that. And not the obvious explanation, either:
Some people would claim that local radio sucks because of a certain evil empire, but that is just because it is currently very much in vogue to hate this particular empire. I would argue that local radio has sucked for years and years already, thanks to a certain evil empire that hides behind a mouse.
Which invites a question: Is there still time to change the road they're on? Or should we just change the station?
(Update, 4 July, 4:50 pm: As noted by commenters, Barry White died this morning at the age of 58. What am I bid for a posting about Fred Durst?)
Or used to, anyway.
(Via Hit & Run)
(Update, 7:30 pm: Bigwig has identified the creature, and it's not as dorky as he thought.)
The parade continues
A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was in town to drum up support for his 2004 Presidential bid; today the state is being visited by Rep. Richard Gephardt, who promises "bold alternatives" to the policies of the Bush administration.
Gephardt finished third in the Oklahoma primary on "Super Tuesday" in 2000, a showing he attributes to running out of money too early; he was here briefly in April to sound out party leaders. Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham is due in the state next week. All this early activity, I surmise, is a result of the state's having changed its primary date from March to the first week in February, one week after New Hampshire. The real race here, of course, is for convention delegates, as it's highly unlikely that any Democrat could pick up the state's seven remaining electoral votes, down from eight in 2000.
The scientific method
Some of us put in a lot of hours of lab time in our day, but Margi grasps this basic truth of research intuitively:
I have always held the belief that if twenty scientists were locked in a room together, eventually, they would say that locking twenty scientists in a room is bad for your kidneys.
Of course, to make it a more representative sample, we should probably get forty scientists. And I won't complain at all if someone wants to extend the study to, say, 535 Congresspersons.
3 July 2003
The once and future Skirvin
Oklahoma City's grandest hotel, closed in the Eighties after the oil boom went bust, is now officially on the way back.
After a brief evaluation period, a city advisory committee has designated a Dallas-based group as the official developer for the remaking of the Skirvin Hotel. The group's plans include affiliation with the Hilton chain and the appointment of Marcus Hotels and Resorts as the operator of the 238-room hotel.
For years, the city's convention business has been stymied by the lack of downtown hotel space, and continued growth in the Bricktown district east of downtown has only exacerbated matters. The two major hotels downtown are booming; with the Skirvin coming back and two more hotels in the works, the Okay City may be able to compete for bigger events than ever before.
The formula for Formula 1
David E. Davis, Jr., founder and something-or-other-emeritus of Automobile magazine, points out in the August '03 issue (not yet online as of this writing) that Formula 1 auto racing has become (horrors!) dull and boring:
The current formula should be junked. It has led to cars that cannot pass each other on the venues chosen for their races, and races that are no longer decided by courage, daring, and mastery of the machine but by pit stop and tire strategies.
And even if F1 Looming Presence Bernie Ecclestone could be persuaded to make these changes, Formula 1 would still be a flop in the States, predicts Davis:
Formula 1 prospers only in countries with socialist governments and a history of soccer riots. The greedy economics of Formula 1 make it a lose-lose proposition for any organization other than a big-spending welfare state.
Our hooligans, of course, prefer NASCAR. And my personal racing fantasies run to time/distance rallying in cars vaguely resembling stock, sort of what you'd have if you turned NASCARmobiles loose on, say, Arkansas 7, though I'd insist on having my incredibly-gorgeous co-pilot (leadfoot up to perfect mid-thigh) at my side, of course, which pretty much eliminates sneaking a car out of Darlington in the dead of night.
4 July 2003
Born on the Fourth of July
My son Russell is twenty-two today, and by now he's found out, as I'd found out at that point back in '75, that the so-called awkward years don't suddenly end just because you're no longer a teenager. He's made more progress than his old man did: he still hasn't nailed down that sense of place yet (nor have I, really), but he's found someone to share it with him, which ultimately may be more important. At twenty-two, maturity and fun seem often to be at odds with one another; striking a balance between the two is difficult, but he'll get the hang of it. (I did, but not until I was nearly forty.)
In the next office over, we have a Major Babe celebrating a birthday, though I would never be so churlish as to identify which birthday it is. There's a laugh line or two, and telltale bits of blueness above the backs of her knees, but otherwise her body isn't going to tell you how old she is either; if you see her at the end of the hallway for the very first time, you'll wonder when we started hiring cheerleaders, fercrissake. I once suggested we cut her open and count the rings, which got fewer laughs than I expected. And she's one of those people who seemingly never has an unkind word for anyone, though the one and only person she is known to have told off promptly disappeared from the office and, for all I know, from the face of the earth, which suggests that it is probably not wise to cheese her off.
And on this date we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America, still young at 227, suffering a few growing pains here and there, getting used to the new order of things, waiting for a scar or two to heal. It's kind of an awkward time for the nation: we've exerted ourselves in unexpected directions recently, and we're not exactly sure how it's all going to come out. On the upside, we still look pretty good, and we have suggested that it is probably not wise to cheese us off.
Somebody blew up Baraka
It couldn't happen to a nicer moonbat.
New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka, after coming under fire for a poem which asserted that Jews had advance knowledge of the World Trade Center attacks, had been asked to resign. He refused. In January of this year, the New Jersey Senate considered a bill to abolish the position entirely; it passed 21-0, albeit with 19 abstentions. This week, the Assembly passed that bill on a 69-2 vote, and Governor James McGreevey, one of Baraka's harshest critics, is almost certain to sign it.
I liked the Trenton Times editorial comment:
Somebody blew up the poet laureate's job
Amiri Baraka, as before, remains completely free
To peddle to the gullible his loony history
In characteristic clumsy meter and adolescent rhyme
But no longer in New Jersey's name and on New Jersey's dime.
(Muchas gracias: Timekeeper at Horologium.)
Suitable for framing
"What we really need today," mused J. Random Blogreader, "is a Bill Whittle essay on the Fourth of July."
And we got it, too.
A gesture toward standards
I'm fiddling around with the layout, with the intention of eventually killing the table layout on the front page; it works well enough, I suppose, but sooner or later the W3C is going to whack our peepees for using such antiquated coding, and it's time I got my CSS up to speed. Not that this is exactly speedy, mind you.
If this page looks worse than usual, please advise.
5 July 2003
In this month's The Ethical Spectacle, Jay Verkuilen has an interesting essay called Electoral Arithmetic: Why The Way We Count Votes Makes a Big Difference and Why Third Parties Won?t Go Anywhere in the USA.
It is generally accepted that our current electoral system tends to reinforce the two-party system and to push both of those parties closer to the center while marginalizing groups on the fringe. Verkuilen doesn't challenge these assumptions, but he does offer a thought experiment: What if the US went to proportional representation? His answer:
Would the religious conservatives and business interests that currently make up the cores of the Republican party stick together? Would the coalitions of labor, ethnic minorities, and upper middle class professionals that make up the Democratic party stick together? I think it is highly unlikely.
What Verkuilen sees, under these conditions, is a collection of four parties, much like the four which exist in present-day Germany. I'm not so sure. Both of our major parties are indeed marriages of convenience; but while there may be good reasons for Wall Street and social conservatives to part company, they're not likely to do so as long as they see that the Democratic coalition is united, not for what they believe, but by what they don't believe: a Democratic candidate's major selling point today is "I am not a Republican." The six or seven hundred Democrats running for President in 2004 can be reliably counted upon to issue statements that say no more than that on a regular basis.
And proportional representation, while it may get more Greens and Libertarians and whatnot into the House of Representatives, isn't some kind of panacea for all our electoral ills. (A reminder here: when a state has more than one Representative, as do most of them, a switch to proportional representation will inevitably also mean a switch to at-large voting. No more districts, no more redistricting every ten years, no more gerrymandering.) Verkuilen again:
PR tends to emphasize parties, which in turn tend to represent issues as opposed to regions. One effect is that an individual legislator has little incentive to respond to local concerns, which is, of course, both good and bad. It's good because many requests are from "special interests" who are looking for pork and handouts. It's bad because citizens have no one to hold accountable for actions besides "the party." Finally, legislators are often important interlocutors between citizens and government bureaucracies. When there are no districts, legislators have little incentive to do anything about citizen concerns.
Up to now, there has not been much of a groundswell of popular support for proportional representation, and I don't see it building any time soon, but it does have its enthusiasts. And the Constitution, it should be remembered, specifies how many Congressmen a state can have, not the means by which they are elected; an individual state is presumably free to experiment with proportional representation should its residents so desire.
I am not, however, prepared to argue that proportional representation is some sort of great leap ahead. For one thing, some of the third-party groups which are effectively marginalized by our current system, in my opinion, deserve to be marginalized; further, the prices they will want to exact for participation in a coalition government may well be too high.
And there's one further consideration: if you're persuaded, as I am, that one of the biggest problems with government is that we have too much of it, changing the way we put people in office is window-dressing at best.
The Alfa male
Kim du Toit would love to have a Giulia.
And can you blame him? I can't. Yeah, the engine is ancient the 1.3 DOHC four goes all the way back to the '54 Giulietta and yeah, it's built with all the craftsmanship you expect from Italian cars, which is to say none, and what's more, it's not even gorgeous. (The Duetto convertible version built by Pininfarina is gorgeous, but that's not the one he wants.)
Not that any of that matters when you get it out on the road. The little engine revs like crazy and the suspension keeps you on curves that would throw more mundane vehicles into the guardrail. Or so I'm assuming, anyway; that's been the case with every Italian car I've ever driven, even the bottom-feeder fwd Fiat Strada. There's only 90 hp to play with, but the car weighs barely more than a ton, even a couple hundred pounds lighter than BMW's reborn Mini Cooper, so quickness and litheness are baked into the package.
Alfa is coming back to the States, perhaps by 2007, and they're promising a "full range" of cars, to include something vaguely SUV-like, but the idea will be to position Alfa as a premium Eurobrand, so there's not much chance of a budget buzz bomb in the Giulia tradition, even if they still built one. Which they don't.
A working vacation, sort of
Mark W. Anderson writes The American Sentimentalist, one of the better-written (I think) blogs on the left side of the political spectrum, and he's announced that he won't be writing it quite so often in the future: he's decided to spend more time on his novel Cover Up the Moon.
Judging by the bits and pieces of fiction he's posted in recent months, I'm thinking this could be quite a good story indeed, and I wish him well as he readjusts his schedule.
For myself, I've been curious about what bloggers wrote when they weren't blogging, so I'm looking forward to Mr Anderson's novel. As precedent, I've acquired all of James Lileks' previous books, and I just bought a copy of John Scalzi's online novel Agent to the Stars. As time permits and the budgetary black hole I'm going into for World Tour '03 exerts less gravitational pull I'll be looking at more.
6 July 2003
It came out of the sky
In Jamie Uys' 1980 film, N!xau finds a mysterious item on the ground that can only have been sent by the gods: an empty Coca-Cola bottle. He brings it back to the tribe, observes that it brings only sorrow, and resolves to return it to its creator.
N!xau went on to a film career of sorts, doing a sequel to The Gods in 1989 for Uys and winding up in Pacific Rim features, before returning to the bush. He was believed to be about 59 when he died.
It has now begun to sink in at the office and among family members that yes, I'm hitting the road for three weeks, and yes, I have a number of prescribed stops along the way.
And someone inevitably asks, "Got a hot date, huh?"
Long and arduous practice has made it possible to stretch "Oh, puh-LEEZ" into six, even eight seconds, but the question persists regardless of the scorn quotient exhibited.
I'm toying with a Mellencampy "No, and what if I did?" as an alternate response, mainly because I hate the prospect of having to explain "Basically, I fear that underneath it all I'm just a fribbler at heart."
One never, ever admits to fear.
All the old familiar feces
The top of the blogroll at Quit That reads: "90% Crap Guaranteed".
Of course, some people think this figure is too low.
It's worse than that
No, the next line isn't "He's dead, Jim," but thank you for playing.
What's worrisome here is the potential death of a cliché.
It has long been said that what a woman really wants from a man, even more than sixpack abs and a handful of platinum cards and [this item deleted in a desperate attempt to appear tasteful], is a sense of humor.
What's wrong with this picture? And if, heaven forbid, Frank should fail, what chance have the rest of us?
I'm going to bed. This is too much to take.
7 July 2003
Turning their backs on Langston?
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have been hit with a discrimination charge by alumni from Langston University, an historically-black institution near Guthrie, although the alleged discrimination did not take place at Langston's main campus, but at its Tulsa facility.
The complaint alleges that other state schools, most notably Oklahoma State University, have been allowed to expand their Tulsa branches at the expense of Langston's, and that this action was intended to undercut a previous state effort to bring some measure of racial integration to Langston enrollment: while the main campus is still predominantly black, Langston Tulsa draws a substantial number of white students. The subtext, as I'm seeing it, is that the Regents expanded other schools' offerings in Tulsa in an effort to take those students away from Langston, and indeed Langston's Tulsa enrollment has dropped by half in three years.
I'm going to have to start paying closer attention to this.
Once upon a time, the resolutely-fearless Susanna Cornett took a stab at duplicating the styles of some of the Bigger Names in blogdom, and as I recall, she did frighteningly well at it. In between grins, I, a Smaller Name, took comfort in the knowledge that my styleless style was essentially unduplicatable.
And if you've read this site for more than a week, you know the next line is "Of course, I was wrong." But the, um, stylist channeling me isn't a blogger; it's Dan Snierson at Entertainment Weekly, posing a list of Stupid Questions to Carson Daly. (Does this mean I have a future at the house that Jeff Jarvis built? Probably not. But I'm going to watch the referrer logs for <ew.com> just the same.) I swear, this sounds so much like me it's scary, especially since there's no reason to assume that Snierson has ever read so much as a sentence of mine.
Anyway, here's what Dan the Man asked the TRLster:
In "The Real Slim Shady," Eminem raps, "Christina Aguilera better switch me chairs/So I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst," because he wants to hear you two argue over who Christina, um, serviced first. This is kind of an uncomfortable question, but have you ever, you know, sat next to Fred Durst?
Daly, sensibly, declined to answer. And maybe I might have said "whom Christina serviced first," if only because English teachers are known to read this blog. I have no idea whether English teachers read Entertainment Weekly.
Ream the meme
If you read half the stuff on my blogroll (which I try to do on a semi-regular basis), you might think Chris Muir's Day by Day, featured at several of those blogs, is the funniest thing since Mary Matalin gave James Carville a wedgie on Meet the Press. (And if she didn't, well, she should have.)
I'm not quite so enthusiastic myself: okay, it's funnier than Doonesbury, but then the bridge column by Omar Sharif and Tannah Hirsch is funnier than Doonesbury.
SurlyPundit, on the other hand, thinks Day by Day sucks, and is prepared to tell you why.
The world is changing, even as I type. The New TNN, formerly the old TNN, will get to become Spike TV after all (as reported by Tiger). The Last Page is now, she says, a former blogger. New and different error messages are popping up on Blogspot sites. And me, I'm stuck in a rut.
For a few more days, anyway.
Why can't I get some sleep, dammit?
8 July 2003
The parade continues
And now it's Bob Graham's turn. The Senator from Florida dropped by, sounded the usual Democratic themes usual for 2003, anyway and pointed out that he's actually won elections in Florida, important news in case you were suffering nostalgia for 2000.
I haven't really given a whole lot of thought to Senator Graham; so far, his best selling point seems to be that he's not Dennis Kucinich. Still, I am a Democrat and will have to pick somebody in the primary, so I have some research to do, which I will of course postpone until next month.
We make it up in volume
The OkiePundit is displeased with what he finds on the radio dial:
Just as an experiment I scanned the radio spectrum a few minutes ago and before I gave up I found a choice of several hip-hop or "urban" music stations (gag), a couple of country and western music options (ugh), three channels with preachers hollering at me (who listens to this?), two Christian music stations, four very conservative talk show stations, and several stations playing OLD rock and popular music. Only National Public Radio (NPR) had something to interest me. No cutting-edge music available at all. No politically moderate and in-depth talk shows to listen to. Certainly nothing from the political left on talk radio - not that I'd like that much more than the far right stuff.
I guess he must be in Tulsa.
Of course, the prevailing definition of "cutting-edge" music requires that it not be played on the radio; if it were, it wouldn't be "cutting-edge", would it?
Now this is pithy:
If there is one consistent undercurrent in Nineties America, it's the theme of diminished expectations the death of optimism, if you will. People now routinely expect things to get worse before they get better, if they're going to get better at all. In this kind of atmosphere, suicide begins to look like the single most sincere form of self-criticism.
Credited as "found on the internet".
More precisely, it was found here.
The answer is 42
Two questions come immediately to mind. One, of course, was put on indefinite hold while the supercomputer known as Earth was destroyed by a Vogon Constructor Fleet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.
The other is "Which Carnival of the Vanities is it this week?" This week, incidentally, it's being hosted at Winds of Change, and as always, it's the best of the week's bloggage in one handy package, a feat akin to doing six impossible things before breakfast. Don't miss it.
9 July 2003
Beef: it's what's for litigating
It started when three ranchers from South Dakota ranchers and the Livestock Marketing Association other plaintiffs would come on board filed suit against the USDA and the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, complaining that the $1-per-head assessment for beef promotion, which started in 1985, amounted to coercion in violation of the First Amendment: the money was used for promotional campaigns, most notably the "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" campaign swathed in music from Aaron Copland's Rodeo, and you'd think there wouldn't be anything wrong with that, but the plaintiffs contended that such a vague campaign supported beef imports just as much as it did domestic beef, and they felt they shouldn't have to contribute to a program that could undercut their market.
In June of last year, a district judge found for the plaintiffs and ruled the mandatory assessment was unconstitutional; yesterday, his ruling was upheld by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
What happens next is unclear. The present beef promotion has been successful enough to halt a long slide in beef consumption in the US. Did the plaintiffs cut off their horns to spite their faces? I'm thinking they did.
Ink: it's what's for wasting
The nonprofit association Consumentenbond, sort of the Dutch equivalent of Consumer Reports, has taken the unusual step of recommending that its users avoid Epson-branded ink jet printers. According to The Register, the group found that the "smart" chip inside the cartridge signals "empty" when there is enough ink remaining for about 50 pages of text. The chip is used by Epson and other manufacturers to prevent users from refilling the cartridges and reusing them.
Epson questions Consumentenbond's findings and denies any skullduggery, but given my experience with current Hewlett-Packard printers a since-discarded DeskJet 3800 would demand a new cartridge about three days (60 pages, say) before the ink actually gave out, and my current 5500 seems to be no more abstemious I'd say that ink-jet manufacturers are making a really strong case.
Something old, something new
Operation Oklahoma Freedom isn't a blog; what it is, says its anonymous Webmaster, is a "project designed to alert Oklahoma to its overly conservative, backward, oppressive, freedom robbing ways." Um, okay, if you say so.
Meanwhile, Lynn Sislo seems to have untangled herself from the Web Host From Hell and is back at the old stand.
Those snotty Americans
Deb's 5 July Pride post got lots of plaudits, and a catcall or two from your friendly neighborhood multiculturalist. You know the type: it's the person who has been complaining for years that "we think we're better than everyone else." It's not so much that we're better, necessarily; it's just that everyone else is worse.
And it's not even slightly worse, either. From the very first comment, posted by visiting curmudgeon Francis W. Porretto:
[I]f we were to judge the folks who condemn American pride by the standards they'd like to hold us to, we'd decree them beneath all contempt.
No other nation in the history of the world has achieved as much, has learned as much, has extended itself for others' benefit as much, or has tried so very hard not to offend against the insane, irrational, tribal superstitions of others, no matter how richly they deserved it.
Europe: A dying continent, exhausted by centuries of war and consumed with beggar-thy-neighbor politics in which the aim of all the players appears to be who can snatch the last crust of bread from someone else's mouth.
Asia: Squalor to the tenth degree. Great teeming hellholes of starving humanity. Except for Taiwan, not a true democracy in sight, and not a single place where criticizing one's political masters is anything but extremely hazardous. Even Japan and South Korea are more like feudal baronies than modern republics, though at least their people eat regularly.
Russia: Formerly a kleptocracy run by thugs with a theory (Marxism), now a kleptocracy run by thugs without a clue.
The Muslim Middle East: Nuke it all. Now.
South America: Walled fortresses on hills, with armed guards walking the parapets, while peasants in rags scrabble in the dust below. The most popular political idea there is Peronist fascism. Only Chile has learned from its mistakes.
Africa: A continent-sized pool of blood and horror, where the average life expectancy is under fifty and the average income is under $200 per year. Where Muslims slaughter Christians and Jews without compunction, and blacks slaughter whites with equal readiness. Where helpless young women are sliced open with shards of glass, to prevent them from ever feeling sexual pleasure. Where deaths from traffic accidents are put down to AIDS, to milk a little more funding from naive charities in the United States.
Mexico: The only country in the world whose economy depends on illegal immigrants sending money back from America.
This is what has the unmitigated gall to criticize American pride.
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to nuke the entire Muslim Middle East we have friends in Turkey and a blossoming freedom movement in Iran, and I'd hate to see them turned into collateral damage when Allah's useless idiots get the fiery death they deserve but dammit, Peoples of the World, if you're tired of being treated like second-rate nations, you should first quit acting like third-rate nations.
(Thanks, Deb. You too, FWP.)
10 July 2003
A ten-acre parcel of land in Dakota County, NE, leased to a Sioux City, Iowa radio station, has apparently been off the county's property tax rolls since 1947.
KWSL radio, an AM sports-talk station currently owned by Clear Channel, leases the plot from the county for $7400 a year, and pays an assessment of $1153 a year which they thought was the property tax but apparently wasn't.
No, they can't go back and demand the station pay up for the past 56 years; the county can collect at most three years' worth. It's a minor snafu at worst, but people who hate Clear Channel will probably automatically assume that the giant radio chain engineered this whole scheme in an effort to pinch pennies, which of course they didn't; Clear Channel didn't even own the station at the time the property fell off the tax rolls.
Down on Maines' street
Look for [them] to show up on stage during the Democrat Convention next year, hanging out with whoever the party picks to run for prez. They're now officially members of The Axis Of Victims, the strongest coalition in the Democratic party.
Maybe they can get Viacom to name a network after them.
But I'm just so upset
Words of wisdom from Geoffrey's Dog Snot Diaries:
If you get SO emotionally distraught over what happens on your blog that you feel you must shut your blog down, then blogging is definately not for you. You need to get outside more and experience real life. Shutting down your blog is the best thing you could do for yourself.
I would definitely agree. I mean, if you're going to stand here emotionally naked for months at a time, it's kind of pointless to complain when somebody actually sees something.
World War II demanded sacrifices from everyone it was a world war, after all and as irreplaceable materials were diverted to the war effort, we learned to do without. Silk and nylon stockings were a lot less essential than, say, parachutes, and they promptly disappeared from the shelves. Hosiery mills rushed out substitutes such as Kayser's "Victoray" rayons, which weren't particularly strong or especially popular; cosmetics firms brought out coverup makeup. (Truffaut's The Last Metro, set during the Occupation, contains a scene in which the latter is used to, um, interesting effect.)
Then the war ended and shortages were filled with actual supplies and this sort of stuff was forgotten. These days, even hosiery seems to be forgotten; fashion magazines are full of implausibly (and possibly artificially-enhanced) perfect bare legs, and in the real world, legs are less perfect but no less bare.
Enter the Japanese, with a product called Air Stocking. For around $12, you get twenty applications of a spray-on powder that supposedly does a fair imitation of the real thing. It's an enormous commercial success, and while I'd hesitate to speculate as to whether this product could be a hit in the States, Venomous Kate seems to like the idea, and as She Who Is Not To Be Named can but probably won't testify, I tend not to argue with women with legs to die for.
11 July 2003
The price of popularity
Andrea Harris is getting hit hard by the
I just got a notification from my web administrator that this site is pulling 1 GB of bandwidth per day. My account allows 3 GB per month I can't afford this sort of thing. I will probably be moving the site soon, but even the plan I found only allows a little under 15 GB of bandwidth usage a month.
The plan I'm on allows 25 GB, but it's pricey, at least compared to the deals wangled by those bloggers who are not Glenn Reynolds. And it seems more so in view of the fact that most days I pull 50 MB or thereabouts, which means it takes about three weeks to suck a gigabyte through the Dustbury pipe.
There ought to be some sort of Bandwidth Exchange, whereby those of us with (perhaps temporary) surplus capacity can pass it on to those in a bind. It would make life easier for a lot of people.
The only livid boy in New York
Velcrometer's M. Giant fisks Simon and Garfunkel's worst song.
What's that? You didn't think anything could be worse than "A Simple Desultory Philippic"? Go back to your vodka and lime.
On the greebling edge
Everybody (well, everybody who uses Movable Type, anyway) talks about TypePad.
But only Dave, pivot man of the Axis of Greeblie, actually does something about it.
No bucks, son, you gotta work late
Both Rust (Conservatives Suck) and Bruce (This Is Class Warfare) have reported on the changes in Federal overtime regulations proposed by the Bush administration. Neither of them is particularly happy about the plan. Said Bruce, apparently admonishing middle-management types:
Once the hounddogs have dug up the working/blue collar stiffs and wrung them out to dry did you honestly think they wouldn't sniff your bloated paychecks a mile away and not think "fresh meat".
And Rust observed:
While I do agree that certain high-paying jobs are high paying for a reason that reason being that you're expected to work long, hard hours, such as executive work I am disappointed that Bush pushed for, and the House backed down on, laws that limit how much overtime compensation a worker receives.
I'm not especially thrilled with the proposal myself, although it's unlikely to affect me personally. Certainly the categories established for overtime exemption by the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act ("executive", "administrative" and "professional") are vague, and vagueness opens the door to abuse. But I do wonder why the ceiling for guaranteed overtime pay was set where it was ($22,100 per year). And some of the new qualifications are a bit perplexing: for instance, admin types, currently required to "exercise discretion and independent judgment" to be exempt, would merely have to occupy "a position of responsibility," doing work of ''substantial importance" or requiring "a high level of skill or training.''
I put in about 49 hours a week on average. My skill level is somewhere between tremendous and immeasurable; on the other hand, I'm even lower on the organizational chart than the Litho in U.S.A. label, and what I do seems to be important only if I don't actually do it.
12 July 2003
Dreams you'd like to sell
I wouldn't get a dime for last night's production, in which I get to meet Sharon Stone, download an entire issue of Time via Wi-Fi, and encounter the last of the Sixties burnouts, a chap who looks like the portrait in an R. Crumb version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and who, somehow motivated by this encounter, arranges for the detonation of a small explosive device in the parking lot of a southside grocery, killing none of the cheerleaders doing calisthenics in an upstairs gym.
I am beginning to think I'm not drinking enough.
Looking out for #3
What these towering intellects purport when they say "the third way" is that there is  a way on the right which is evil,  a way on the left which is unelectable and  right down the glinting middle of these errors is found
Bill Clinton spoke at the Blair summit, warning of a "fourth way", which came across (to me, anyway) as the Bleeding Brain definition, verbatim, except with "right" and "left" swapped.
Now I'm fond of glinting middles, generally, but the rebranding of "liberal" as "progressive", declaring its opposite an instant pejorative, strikes me as a triumph of style over substance rather like the Third Way itself, come to think of it.
Virginity has never done a thing for me, so to speak; while a case can be made that too many people are having sex too early, you'll never convince me that I derived any benefit from waiting until I was [actual age suppressed due to acute embarrassment].
Still, I'm not quite ready to embrace Mark Morford's call for lubricity:
We have no true sexual role models in this nation. We have no delicious icons of healthy vice and open-thighed attitude and responsible divine lust and intelligent sexuality to thwart the bitter ass-clenched proto-Christian conservative agenda. Nina Hartley needs a national TV show. This is all I'm saying. But that's another column.
What we do have, however, is a BushCo that actually has the appalling gall to set aside $135 mil to force kids to learn all about the joys of repressing all sexual desire and bliss and bodily exploration and sensual spiritual power in favor of abstinence until they get married and then half of them get divorced because they were so goddamn lousy in bed.
I hasten to point out that this is not why I got divorced. (And even in Oklahoma, it's possible to obtain Nina Hartley videos.)
But do we really need national sexual role models? Do we need any kind of national sexual policy at all? Should there be a Cabinet-level Department of Screwing? (And will the IRS move out of Treasury when there is?) The less the Feds have to say about the subject, the better I like it, even if Morford is correct about our level of dissemblage:
We are perplexed. We are hypocritical and hilarious and two faced and upside down back-asswards. We are confounded and ridiculous and hypocritical and shy. Europeans laugh at us. We are terrified of our sexuality and horrified and/or weirdly shocked when presidents do it or teenagers do it or anyone at all does it unless it's us and then it's a fun little dirty secret but we don't talk about it shhh.
I admit to being perplexed, and barring divine intervention, I've probably had all the sex I'm ever going to have, but I suspect that Morford's concept of sex in the, um, hinterlands is somewhat skewed; okay, people in Des Moines probably don't have the sort of access to glory holes that's available in San Francisco, but I don't think that this necessarily means that Iowa is some sort of hotbed (or coldbed) of repression.
As to those "bitter ass-clenched proto-Christian" conservative types, well, I'd like to see the research that found a correlation between political stance and sphincter diameter.
Say it in subtitles
Unlike the foreign-film buffs that Donna always seems to encounter:
As much as I love to see foreign films, I hate the audience. There is always a group of people who feel the need to demonstrate their grasp of "culture" by laughing a little too loud and a little too long at mildly amusing situations within the movie. The laughs are forced and desperate. HO HO HA HA I GET IT! SEE, I AM SMART AND WORDLY, THIS IS HYSTERICAL HA HA HA!
Donna's Philadelphia is evidently farther from Fritz's Sussex County than I thought.
13 July 2003
Insuring against insurers
It's called the Oklahoma Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association, it's financed by an assessment on insurance companies doing business in the state, and one of its functions is to pay claims by injured workers when the firm who wrote their worker's-comp insurance fails.
What if the Association fails? And it could happen; general manager Howard Howell has reported that the Association's worker's-comp fund will run out of money some time next year, the result of more than a dozen insurance-company insolvencies since 2000 and still more on the way.
The assessment is limited to 2 percent of net premiums; rather than seek a bailout from the state's General Fund, which doesn't have a whole lot of money either, Howell is looking for an increase in the assessment, though this might make marginal insurers more so.
Part of the problem is that companies wanting a piece of Oklahoma business have a tendency to lowball introductory rates as an incentive, and then when they start losing money at those rates, they immediately jack them up, which usually encourages the policyholder to look elsewhere. This is the main reason we have had four health-insurance carriers at 42nd and Treadmill in six years. And it's not a phenomenon peculiar to Oklahoma, either; Howell says that ten, maybe twelve states, are in similarly dire straits.
It's anchors aweigh once more
I was plotting a course this morning with the aid of Messrs. Rand and McNally, when an email came in to remind me that it was the birthday of Renee Diane Kushner, and of course I couldn't let that go by without some mention here.
She was sixteen in 1962 when she cut her first record for Atco, "Little White Lies", with Pete DeAngelis at the helm, a truncated version of her own name for the nom de disque. According to legend, it was supposed to be "Renay Diane," but somebody at Atlantic goofed, and the 45 came out credited to "Diane Renay". So Diane Renay she became.
Another happy accident took place a couple years later. Producer Bob Crewe had gotten her a recording contract with 20th Century-Fox, and together they waxed a ballad called "Unbelievable Guy". It was a flop, but deejays flipped the disk to find a goofy throwaway with spectacular levels of bounciness. "Navy Blue", the tale of a girl whose boyfriend's shore leave can't come soon enough, bounced all the way into the Top Ten, and Renay and Crewe quickly worked up a sequel, "Kiss Me Sailor", which also hit.
Diane Renay wouldn't get close to the Top 40 again, though she continued to record through the Sixties, and resumed in the Eighties after discovering that she hadn't been entirely forgotten after all; in 1987, she cut a new version of "Navy Blue", produced by David Lasley.
Pop music, like any other mass-market commodity, is dominated by the big names; one of its saving graces is that the smaller names, over the years, have made just as many great records. It's why I still remember the little blonde from South Philadelphia after all these years.
Blairing from the housetops
I've avoided saying anything about the Blair Hornstine caper, mainly because every time I got my rhetorical ducks in a row, some new development moved the pond. Now that Harvard has decided not to accept her at all, not exactly a coda but certainly the last repeat, what the heck got into that girl?
I think that Blair is bright enough but not a genius and when her true abilities became apparent, Mom and Dad formulated a plan to ensure that Blair would follow in her bro's footsteps. Thus, her "disability" was cooked up, Mom did her social service work, and Dad handled the school district. Blair went along with it, beacause they're the 'rents, but also because she's not going to be Adam's dorky little sister forever. Her dad's teeth fit her shoulder perfectly.
It makes perfect sense. And it probably would have worked, too, until they started complaining about the tie for valedictorian, and suddenly there was a reason to check her papers.
Good judgment, they say, comes from experience, which in turn comes from bad judgment. Score this one under Experience, and see if Miss Hornstine ultimately turns it to her advantage but don't bet more than the spread.
For lo, Spoons hath returned
And with good reason:
Well, I reckon I still have a lot to say, and stopping people on the street to listen to my rants is just not efficient.
That's Spoons, always cutting, or slicing, or whatever, to the heart of the matter.
Leveling the playing field
A proposal from Hooblog to take care of all that "gun violence":
Instead of asking your Congressmen, Senators and President to clutter-up the rule books with ineffective legislation, how about asking them to issue an M-16, two cases of ammo and two weeks of yearly firearms instruction to every American over 21 years of age. If that doesn't make the bad guys think twice, nothing will.
I'm not sure some of the bad guys can even think once, and I wasn't so great with an M-16 the last time they gave me one to use, but otherwise, this seems fairly sane, if a tad expensive. (Then again, for a government program, "a tad expensive" is probably a comparative bargain.)
"An armed society," said Robert A. Heinlein, "is a polite society." And we definitely could use an extra dollop of civility these days.
14 July 2003
Start me up
The World Tour, such as it is, begins here.
Over the next seventeen (more or less) days, I will be exploring American roads both major and minor, seeing sights, occasionally seeing friends, and in general doing most of the things that fall under the general heading of "road trip".
For the first few days, I will be accompanied by my children, who haven't really had a chance to do the "Are we there yet?" bit in quite some time. After that starting this Friday I'm on my own.
My best guesstimate right now is 4,800 miles, slightly longer than the previous Tours but not at all out of reach; in fact, only on one day do I have to travel as far as 500 miles, way below my personal best (personal farthest, anyway) of 806.
Assuming I can find a place to connect my trusty Toshiba notebook, I will be posting updates each day. The statistics and such will be compiled at the end, as usual. Entries will be in reverse order on the front page, of course, but you can read them first to last in the World Tour '03 category archive (link under "Archives" to your left).
But that's just bloggage. Right now, I have a road to hit.
The heat is on
Independence, Missouri - 386.8 miles
Isn't it supposed to get cooler when you travel north? I mean, obviously it doesn't do that in Australia, but then again, it's not like I'm headed to the equator or anything.
No matter. This is why God made R-134a. (Why He took away R-12 is a topic for another time.)
Anyway, I'm basking, or something, at my daughter's new place this evening. We just absorbed way too much of a Chinese buffet, something that doesn't happen often enough. Tomorrow she and her brother will fight over the front seat and we'll head north.
That's away from the equator.
15 July 2003
Everyone is above average
Bloomington, Minnesota - 889.6 miles
Conventional wisdom has it that NAFTA traffic has made Interstate 35, a major north-south route (Laredo to Duluth), utterly impassable for mere car traffic. Maybe it's even true sometimes. But today, the shot straight up I-35 from Kansas City to Minneapolis-St. Paul was quiet so quiet, in fact, that my two children took turns falling asleep while I took my turn with what traffic there was.
And better yet, it's not so darn hot up here. I actually had to back off the car's A/C from the maximum.
Northern Iowa and southern Minnesota seem to be all of a piece, and a peaceful piece it is. I could see spending a lot of time up here during months which have no R in them. My daughter seems fond of the place, though she really says she wants to live in Nova Scotia. Overall, the Twin Cities are not easy to navigate first time out, but it's a nice place to get lost. I'm starting to appreciate some of the finer points brought out by Lileks in his Bleats.
To Bonnie at Famous Dave's: Will you marry me? (Sorry, that just slipped out.)
And I apologize for the lateness of this entry: I had some minor difficulties getting the Wi-Fi connection at the hotel up to speed.
16 July 2003
Oh, for confusion
Still in Bloomington
We attacked the Mall of America today, with slightly wacky results. As enclosed retail compounds go, it's pretty impressive, and not just because it's huge; it's downright intimidating at first glance. We spent little, walked a lot.
Afterwards, we did a tour of central Minneapolis, including a drive up the parkway (or something like that) along the west bank of the Mississippi. Gorgeous. I hope our canal development in Oklahoma City ages this well.
17 July 2003
Phase I completed
Independence, Missouri - 1363.0 miles
Robert Benchley once declared, "There are two classes of travel: first class, and with children." Never before have I had such a deep appreciation of this observation.
Actually, they behaved fairly well, for a couple of ten-year-olds. Unfortunately, they're both in their twenties. I have to assume that it was a lot of pent-up sibling-rivalry goofiness that they didn't get a chance to discharge circa 1990. On the other hand, they did buy most of the food and all the gasoline. :)
I have had no time to look at the rest of the Blogosphere this week, though I would like to acknowledge this week's Carnival of the Vanities, hosted by Caerdroia. I'll get a chance to read it eventually.
And a couple of days from now, I should be over this temporary Minnesota accent. Maybe. Tomorrow, I leave (alone) for Indianapolis; 'twill be a long haul, but not heinously so.
18 July 2003
Stuck here in 46201
Fishers, Indiana - 1840.6 miles
Seemed like every ZIP code in greater Indianapolis was sticky in some way today; there's something going on called Hyperfix, in which they (presumably the Indiana Department of Asphalt, or whatever) are supposed to be fixing the entire Inner Loop all at once, which will be wonderful once they get it done apparently a couple of hours from now but for now it's misery to the max.
On the upside, my suite in this anonymous suburb (46038) is not at all sour.
Still, it's been a rough 500 or so miles since KC. My daughter's pride-and-joy tree spewed something hideously sticky onto my car, and five bucks at the car wash didn't quite clean it all up. I-70 through Missouri is just as drab as I remembered it; for the sake of variety I decided to take the downtown St. Louis route instead of the canonical bypass (Missouri 370 to I-270 across the river and back to 70). By the time I got to St. Louis County, there was a curt note that 70 would be closed somewhere downtown, and the last time I was in downtown St. Louis I was about 2.6 sheets to the wind and couldn't possibly remember how to get through the maze of streets in the shadow of the Arch, so I reluctantly pointed myself to 270.
Which, from that onramp, has a blind spot the size of well, exactly the size of a Dodge Grand Caravan. If nothing else, this gave me the opportunity to demonstrate, to myself if to no one else, the reason why I scorn ABS brakes and don't have them on my car. ("Sometimes I want to lock the wheels, dammit.") Nothing was hit, I never got out of my lane, and my blood pressure rose only slightly, but this put me in a rather glum mood.
Then the rain hit. It had been sprinkling ever since Columbia, but once I crossed into Illinois, the clouds opened up with torrents of rain, just enough to make visibility optional but not enough to loosen up the tree sap. And when it stopped, the bugs, which had been hiding during the storm, attacked with a vengeance.
Which brings me into Indiana, but you know about that.
19 July 2003
On the edge of the Motor City
Romulus, Michigan - 2161.9 miles
No matter what I did today, I'd still be behind: Indiana is (mostly) on Eastern time, but ignores DST, so crossing over into Michigan cost an hour.
But before that, there was a side trip to make: to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, located in the old Auburn production facility in Auburn, Indiana. Classic American iron in every sense of the word. (Oh, yes, there were a couple of imports in the back: a Mercedes-Benz Gullwing, a Jaguar E-type but you get the idea.) It was almost a shame to have to get back into a contemporary vehicle to continue the trip. You have to go deep into downtown Auburn to get to the museum it's nowhere near I-69 but it stands to reason: the big bucks go out to the highway, while the traditions are tended elsewhere. It's a situation that exists a lot of places besides Indiana.
Two of the four major automotive magazines are based in Ann Arbor, and they complain routinely about the Third World quality of Michigan roads. I didn't cover a whole lot of Washtenaw County, where I-94 is quite acceptable, but I-69 just south of 94 is somewhere between wretched and horrible; I kept looking around for Ba'ath Party members with remote-control devices.
The Detroit Blog Bash
Still in Romulus
Well, okay, it wasn't billed as such, but rather a lot of us turned out for Dean Esmay's birthday party, and a fine time was had by all, with topics as diverse as Stax/Volt vs. Motown, the historical importance of Desi Arnaz, and why police radar doesn't work on a particular stretch of I-94.
My thanks to Dean and Rosemary, who put together one heck of a party. I have already been warned that they will post Actual Pictures; being old and slow, I had no opportunity to duck.
Update, Monday, 3:45 pm: No pictorial evidence yet, which is a shame since all the women attending were, as they say back in Minnesota, above average, but Dean's posted his thoughts on the matter.
20 July 2003
1st prize: a night in Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio - 2386.1 miles
Not a whole lot of driving today, but a lot of sightseeing, some of it deliberate, some of it due to my inability to follow directions.
First stop was Flat Rock, Michigan, where my
Things I didn't expect to find between there and Cleveland:
· A really big mosque;
· A nuclear power plant;
· A segment of US 6 that is co-signed with Ohio 2 for a whole 900 yards. (This latter is near Huron.)
Tonight, I'm on the edge of the Quadrangle district of Cleveland, overlooking (just barely) the Theatre district. It's 78 degrees, there's a hot tub, and pizza will be delivered presently.
Life is (sorta) good.
21 July 2003
2nd prize: two nights in Cleveland
Still in Cleveland
To the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum at the crack of, well, 10 am, considerably in advance of the rest of las turistas. Now I have a basic issue with the very concept of this institution despite ample evidence to the contrary, rock and roll likes to think of itself as way outside the mainstream, and what could be more Establishment than a museum, fercrissakes? but given the limitations imposed by this particular flavor of schizophrenia (quadrophenia?), the Hall works wonderfully well. The exhibits, for the most part, make some sort of demented sense; attention is paid to contemporary acts, reminding us that it didn't all end when Buddy Holly died/the Beatles broke up/Bruce split from the E Street Band/Britney Spears got a #1 hit [choose one]; and the deadpan is utterly perfect: even the goofiest of exhibits (this would be, I think, the Teen Idols section) is treated with reverence. (As a Debbie Gibson fan of long standing, I would be otherwise incensed.)
The food is slightly overpriced but good, the schwag is slightly underpriced but good, and the staff is incredibly overburdened but willing to help with almost anything this side of an Actual Crisis. And while there is a reasonable argument to be made that the Hall's location in Cleveland is due more to heavy lobbying by the city fathers than to any overwhelming importance the city may have in the grand sweep of rock history in fact, I could swear that Eric Olsen, who lives here, has made that argument once or twice well, hell, where else would they put it? Duluth?
Oh, before you ask: I blew $111 on schwag, including a wholly-unnecessary couple of bucks for a poly bag of 45-rpm spindle adapters. Yeah, those little yellow spidery things. I figure it's the least I can do for a place that still stocks 45s.
And if you didn't see that title coming: what's wrong with you?
Riding the storm out
Still in Cleveland
I couldn't tell you whether I was in Hough or Fairfax, but one of those districts is where I went for dinner last night in an effort to avoid the usual downtown-hotel eateries with overprix fixe. All I know about either is that Randy Newman singled out Hough in his song "Rednecks" as being on par with such urban hellholes as East St. Louis, but it didn't seem so to me.
Tonight I decided I'd drop in on a downtown watering hole, and since it was only about a block and a half away, I figured I'd walk. It had been raining most of the day, and I figured I could do the distance without getting soaked. Which I did.
Nothing spectacular on the inside: a 40ish buppie couple on their first meet-and-greet, and a handful of guys watching Sportscenter as though the Second Coming was being announced. And me, wondering how long it's been since I've even set foot in a watering hole.
The food was good, the drinks were cold, and the rain started in earnest about twenty steps from the door. I was fairly well drowning by the time I got back to the hotel, although I was still sufficiently functional to ask no one in particular, "Don't they have any drainage in this town?"
Oh, well. Into each life a little rain must fall. It certainly hasn't been falling back home. And the sun, even as I type, is trying to make some sort of cameo appearance in the midst of all this thunder.
22 July 2003
We got your mountains right here
Beckley, West Virginia - 2688.1 miles
Recipe for sheer panic: Take one winding road through southern Ohio and northern West Virginia. Add three or four construction crews. Marinate in an inch and a half of rain over a period of twenty minutes. Garnish with tearful old Brenda Lee records. It's a wonder I got this far today.
And speaking of old records, a tip of the ol' sombrero to Muzak (!), which is offering a Sixties package of some sort to its subscribers that is three or four orders of magnitude better than three-fourths of the ostensible "oldies" stations out there. Digging up Jan Bradley's lovely and unjustly-forgotten "Mama Didn't Lie" deserves credit all by itself, but playing a James Brown song that isn't "I Got You (I Feel Good)" or "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"? That's the most unheard-of thing I ever heard of. And the fact that this is being heard, not on your radio or mine, but in a seafood place in Ripley, West Virginia, should embarrass the entire broadcast industry, were it capable of embarrassment, which it obviously isn't.
But enough of this rant. Tomorrow, it's off to Floyd County, Virginia, and Fred is down at the gen'l store picking up some hatches so he can have them battened down by noon.
Musings in the mountains
Still in Beckley
West Virginia is one of those few states whose population peaked years ago and has never quite rebounded, and I'm really not sure why. Admittedly, mining isn't what it used to be, if it ever was, and some people are convinced for no good reason that the place is full of slack-jawed yokels. The state's balance sheet, though, doesn't seem all that negative:
Plus: Incredibly gorgeous, almost every conceivable type of climate, located near almost everything east of the Mississippi, devoted to friends and family, scary roads.
Minus: Desperately poor, dependent on fluctuating tourist dollars, the aforementioned yokel image, scary roads.
West Virginians are, I must point out, proud of their own: when PFC Jessica Lynch returned home today, every radio station I could pick up south of Charleston was carrying the ceremonies live, and it was the lead story on all the TV newscasts I was able to check. And I don't blame them one bit for that response.
But they resent the sort of stereotyping that prevails in ostensibly more sophisticated areas. From an editorial in today's Beckley Register-Herald complaining about the proposed CBS "reality-show" version of The Beverly Hillbillies:
City slickers would search our neck of the woods for a family to send to Beverly Hills for a year, to live in the big-city lap of luxury while the cameras roll.
Ideally, the casting crew is looking for a mother and father known in these here parts as Maw and Paw in their 40s with at least two children. Grandma and Grandpa are welcome too. Must be willing to load up the truck and move to Beverly. Hills, that is.
"We're looking for people who have country smarts, but maybe not so much sophistication," a casting agent, Wendy Cassileth, said last year while on the hunt in Logan County.
Barefoot and toothless should only help the resume, we presume.
It's an idea that's pure, bubblin' crude.
And I don't blame them one bit for that response, either. Of course, I live in a state that is often similarly mocked.
One feature you haven't seen this year is the Toll Report, mainly because up through yesterday, I hadn't paid any tolls. This afternoon, though, I forked over $2.50 to the collectors on the West Virginia Turnpike, which, perhaps surprisingly, is not named after Robert C. Byrd. (Well, you can't have everything, not even in West Virginia.)
23 July 2003
Up the creek
Floyd County, Virginia - 2887.0 miles
The estimable Fred First, proprietor of Fragments from Floyd, and the lovely Mrs. First have graciously consented to put up with my presence for a period not to exceed twenty-five hours. And if you haven't seen Floyd, as 99 point something percent of you haven't, you're missing something: on the edge of the Blue Ridge, Floyd looks like all your best dreams of getting away from it all, rolled into one. And I mean "it all", too; there isn't a Starbucks or a Mickey D's or a Wal-Mart for miles, and just getting to Fred's, if you're not prepared, is easier than the Bataan Death March, but only just.
Still, it's worth it; Fred is one of my favorite folks in the Blogosphere, and besides, it's not every day I get to park myself at a place with a "Susanna Cornett slept here" plaque.
(Incidentally, Fred says we're actually down the creek. City slicker that I am, I wouldn't have known.)
24 July 2003
The immediate post-Floyd era
Cockeysville, Maryland - 3178.5 miles
I think. Half the paperwork for this hotel reads "Cockeysville", the other half reads "Hunt Valley". Neither of them being actual cities or townships or anything they're just part of the endless suburban jungle of Baltimore County it's kind of hard to be sure. I am sure, however, that Floyd County, Virginia will never look like this.
Speaking of Floyd, I managed not to get lost on the outward section of the journey, although things got interesting briefly when a humongous motor home with Florida plates showed up at the exact spot where the blacktop south of Shawsville narrows to 0.75 lane for construction. (Fred, of course, will opine that it could have been worse; had the behemoth lumbered onto one of those single-lane, so to speak, gravelloid pathways such as the one he lives beside, which are barely wide enough for my modest little sedan, surely it would have tumbled over the edge and into the meadow/creek/abandoned pickup [choose one] waiting patiently for just such a source of amusement.)
Virginia, incidentally, is hard to leave. After following a trail of rubber tire shards back to I-81, I drove all the way up to Winchester, exited east to US 340, which re-entered West Virginia long enough for me to take note of Charles Town (which has nothing to do with Charleston) and Harpers Ferry (which has everything to do with John Brown), then put me back into Virginia for a couple of miles between the Shenandoah and the Potomac before finally dumping me into Maryland.
I-70 east of Frederick, incidentally, is posted 65. Anyone actually driving 65 is presumed to be suffering imminent transmission failure; I hit the Tour's peak speed of 92 mph while trying to open a bottleneck.
Toll report: West Virginia Turnpike (from yesterday but forgotten), $1.25; total $3.75.
(Thanks, Fred. It was a blast. A quiet sort of blast, but still a blast.)
25 July 2003
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
Jamesburg, New Jersey - 3345.7 miles
Only two hours of driving today, and of course I took five hours to do it.
Leaving Baltimore on US 1, I drove over the top of a dam, something unusual for me, ventured into southeast Pennsylvania, and promptly got sidetracked. I took Pennsylvania 82 into the old town of Kennett Square, and on the far side of downtown it turns into one of those slow, winding roads through what seems to be the middle of a forest. Exactly the sort of thing I find irresistible; it should surprise no one that I didn't notice when it mutated into Delaware 82. (Thank you, Mr. Dixon, and you too, Mr. Mason.) Coming back north on Delaware (later Pennsylvania) 52, I headed east, wandered into downtown Philadelphia via the Schuylkill ("Sure-Kill") Expressway, crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge (two lanes out of a possible four were closed), and against the advice of well-meaning friends, cruised through the city of Camden, eventually jumping on the infamous New Jersey Turnpike, where speeds were running between 70 mph and 7 mph, depending on one's proximity to an exit that handles beach traffic.
Time now for some serious partying, so to speak.
Toll report: New Jersey Turnpike, $1.40; total $5.15. (The Ben Franklin Bridge is free coming out of Philly; there's a toll only if you start in New Jersey. Obviously they're trying to tell us something.)
26 July 2003
Live and in person
Still in Jamesburg
Back in the middle 90s, Prodigy (may it rest in peace) was still a viable online service, and a number of regular chat rooms had coalesced outside the structure dictated by the corporate masters. One of those rooms was sufficiently off-center enough to accommodate the likes of me, and I became a regular some time around 1997.
When the service committed suicide in 1999, claiming Y2k issues as the reason for its demise, we were left temporarily distraught, and an effort by Prodigy's successor service to buy us off with an IRC server proved to be more boondoggle than boon. Eventually, several of the regulars set up shop in AOL, and a reduced version of the room continues to this day; it is their party our party which I am attending this weekend.
As always, these events are learning experiences, and today I learned that I will never sing "I've Told Every Little Star" in public again.
While I was vocalizing (I really can't call it "singing"), I was gazing off into space and pretending not to look at She Who Is Not To Be Named, who is, as expected, every bit as bright and brilliant and beautiful as ever.
And, of course, every bit as far out of reach as ever, but I expected that too.
Tonight: not sure yet. These things have a way of developing in unexpected ways.
For some reason I think is probably unrelated to the World Tour, I am having a great deal of problems getting through to weblogs.com with update pings. If you're relying on them to let you know when I've posted something new, you're probably missing something.
I go to pieces
After two weeks of up, up, UP! it was inevitable that I should crash and burn, though I really didn't expect it under this particular set of circumstances. I should have known I was in trouble when I heard myself saying "I need a drink"; I never say that. But that was about six hours ago.
Now jump ahead four hours. We were about an hour and a half into a reasonable karaoke set I kept my mouth shut, which was one of the factors contributing to its reasonableness when suddenly I was seized with the urge to throw myself at the nearest bridge abutment.
Anxiety attacks, as regular readers know, are nothing new with me. I'd managed to go for a while without upsetting the demons, but this time they would not be denied. And there's no explanation for it: the music was good, the company was upbeat, SWINTBN was as gorgeous as I've ever seen her, and yet something inside of me wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Maybe it's the knowledge that the Tour is almost over. Maybe it's the knowledge that it will be two years, maybe longer, before I see her again (if I ever see her again). Maybe it's just the fact that it had been 27 hours since my last tranquilizer. But whatever the reason, I totally lost it, and the only good thing about the experience is that not everyone got to see it.
I hope to have better news on tomorrow's Tour report. But I'm not counting on it.
27 July 2003
Finding a beachhead
Lewes, Delaware - 3527.6 miles
In Delaware, they do things a little bit differently. The mall near Christiana is located away from major highways on its own little asphalt island despite this, shoppers from all over seek it out, largely because Delaware has no state sales tax and gas stations are conspicuous by their absence, a situation I tend to notice more readily when I've gone 400 miles on a tank and am wondering just when the last few drops will disappear.
Fritz Schranck, who was kind enough to schlep me around the Lewes area upon my arrival this afternoon, explained the latter phenomenon this way: "We're a state you drive through on the way to someplace else. You don't buy gas here, so we don't sell it." They do things differently in Delaware, dammit.
Lewes itself, while billed as a beach town, seems to be atypical of the breed; while some people come here to bask in the sun, more come to cast a line or a net, and we watched the return of a couple of commercial fishing boats from a vantage point inside a waterside restaurant. (Fritz, bless him, bought.) Still, what I know about beach towns can be written on the inside of a conch shell, so take this with a grain of sea salt.
I am not fully recovered from last night's incident for one thing, my unerring (ha!) sense of direction seems to be more impaired than usual but at least I'm not falling apart at the slightest sidewise glance. Not that anyone gives me a second look anyway.
Toll report: Delaware 1, $2.00; total $7.15.
28 July 2003
Look upon my garden gate
Charleston, West Virginia - 3982.5 miles
"First, there is a mountain," observed Donovan, "then there is no mountain, then there is." It's a safe bet he wasn't thinking about West Virginia, but he could have been; there's always another mountain.
I wouldn't even bring this up except that I did the math last night, figured out I was about 1520 miles from home, and divided the distance into thirds. And not precisely equal thirds at that: the Delaware-to-West Virginia segment worked out to be slighly longer than the other two, which led me to reject the mapper's route recommendation (all the way up to Hagerstown, Maryland? I don't think so) and hack out my own route, which required a trip halfway around the Capital Beltway, the traversal of Interstate 66, and about 150 miles of mountain roads.
Virginia 55 jumps over the state line to become West Virginia 55 after about ten miles, and by then the rain was already coming down by the bucketful. (How come every time I'm in West Virginia, it rains?) The neat thing about 55 is that in about twenty years, if Robert C. Byrd lasts long enough, it will be a serious four-lane semi-expressway, but for now, eighty-five percent of it is the sort of overwound two-lane that is absolutely glorious when it's dry and genuinely scarifying when it's wet. Okay, I volunteered for this, but still, it was frightening in spots, and when I finally got to I-79, I was paid back by a shower twice as heavy.
Still, there was sunshine towards the end, and nothing compares to the southern stretch of I-79 when you can actually see it. Mountain people are legendarily unpretentious, and I believe it has something to do with living amidst all this natural beauty: you know there's always something out there that will likely outshine you and definitely outlast you, so you instinctively avoid hogging the spotlight.
I once said something to the effect that I'd like to retire in a place where the ZIP code starts with 0, 1, or a very low 2. Let's amend that to read "26999 or below". (Not to knock the Carolinas, which run 27000-up, but I've been there and I've done that.)
Oh, and my little shortcut saved a whole 30 miles and probably only took 15 minutes longer than the recommended route, not counting the 10 minutes in queue outside of Moorefield where one of the three consecutive 9-percent grades was hiding a wrecked truck and it took them time to clear off the roads. That smell of burned brake pad, I eventually determined, was actually the fragrance from Moorefield's poultry-processing plants. I don't care. West Virginia is like that; I can forgive them almost anything.
Except, of course, Robert C. Byrd.
The first name in monologues
That would be Bob, as in Bob "Who are you calling a legend?" Hope, who died yesterday, and Susanna Cornett, one of those unpretentious mountain-type persons I was talking about, has a lovely tribute to the man who invented stand-up comedy.
29 July 2003
Full speed behind
St Louis County, Missouri - 4504.0 miles
(I think I'm in Crestwood, but identifying the individual communities in St Louis County [not to mention the city of St Louis, which is not in St Louis County] is a job for someone with greater expertise than I.)
After yesterday's jaunt through the mountains in the rain, it was time for a sunny session on the superslab: I-64 out of West Virginia and across Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, then across the Mississippi River and into Missouri. And apart from spates of construction here and there (mostly there), it ran pretty quickly; I was averaging a solid 60 mph, without deducting for lunch and/or toilet breaks, until I entered St Louis, where traffic moves at the whim of the gods, if at all.
At this rate, I might actually be home tomorrow night.
Update, 31 July, 11:15 am: I have decided that, barring some sudden influx of contrary information, Crestwood is the place. If you'd like to contradict me, please be prepared to tell me precisely which municipality, if any, contains the southeast corner of Lindbergh Blvd. and East Watson Road.
The ad text itself was nothing especially remarkable:
Be a part of the St Louis Blogging Community · Join in forum discussions · Meet new friends at the blogger get-togethers · Become part of the ever-growing blogger community
What makes this ad for stlbloggers.com unusual is that it appeared, not online somewhere, but in print: specifically, in last Wednesday's edition of the Riverfront Times, the St Louis alt-weekly. There's also an ad by their hosting firm, bloghorn.com, which describes the experience as "hot and exciting like frying bacon in the nude," a situation sort of familiar to some of us.
30 July 2003
It's a wrap
Dustbury, Oklahoma - 4990.0 miles
Note to the Missouri Department of Transportation: Whatever you're doing to Interstate 44, it isn't enough. At best, it's marginally acceptable; in spots, it's an insult to the fellow who invented pavement.
Speaking of I-44, it becomes a series of three turnpikes in Oklahoma, breaking into free status in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I usually don't bother with them it's a running gag, albeit true, that I pay more in tolls to New Jersey, fercryingoutloud, than I do to my home state but I figured I'd sample them today, reasoning that (1) the speed limit is posted 75 mph, which might be interesting and (2) surely Oklahoma's maintenance can't be as haphazard as Missouri's.
Yes, and yes, sort of. We're doing a better job on 44, at least the parts I saw, but not enough for us to yell "We rule!" from the roof of the world's largest McDonald's (near Vinita). And traffic moves at 75-80 mph, though the big rigs struggle to make it up the long (though not so steep) grades in the eastern sections of the state, at which time a blip to 88 or 90 will get past them without enraging the gendarmes. (I saw five troopers in 150 miles, which must be a record, but only one person was actually busted for something.) And to add some symmetry to the Tour, I exited at Vinita to have my last lunch at the same place I had my first lunch: the Braum's on 66.
One weird aspect of these roads: the toll plaza is in the middle. If you exit before then, they catch you for a smaller sum on the offramp; if you arrive at the toll plaza, you pay the full toll for the entire distance, and if you exit before the end of the road, you are entitled to a partial refund. This strikes me as a desperate attempt to get people to use the electronic toll system.
Final toll report: Will Rogers Turnpike, $1.50; Turner Turnpike, $3.50; total $5.00; grand total $12.15.
And yes, I blew my budget, though not by much: the tentative expense report, subject to minor adjustments, declares $2390, 8.6 percent above what I had planned but not enough to make me tear out my hair in despair. A little over 10 percent of that total went for gas. The pertinent statistics:
Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 168.4
The three worst tanks, all below 27.5 mpg, were the ones in which I schlepped along the kids. In fairness, they picked up the tab for those tanks.
Shout-outs to the following:
So we end on an up note. Almost.
I am most distressed to announce the passing of my sister Joni, of complications of cirrhosis, in Dallas, Texas, about the same time I was getting started on the Tour.
No family members knew she was even ill; she has been out of touch in recent years. Word reached my father through the Texas authorities. He reports that no service was held, that her remains were cremated, and that there was a discussion as to whether I should be notified, what with vacation and all, and they decided to save it until I got home.
Immediate reaction: who would have thought the boys would be the ones who survived? The girls had all the common sense.
Joni was forty-one. Right now I feel well enough to type. Tomorrow may be another matter entirely.
One more for the Mystery Train
Sam Phillips, somewhere around the 1950 opening of his Memphis Recording Service, mused:
If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.
Well, maybe not a billion he sold Elvis Presley's contract to RCA Victor for what now seems a piddling $35,000 but Sam's influence on early rock and its country cousin is incalculable. One candidate for "first rock and roll record", "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Rhythm Kings (that is, with Ike Turner and his band), was recorded by Sam in 1951 and leased to the Chess label; Sun Records, Sam's own record company, was the first major stop, not just for Elvis, but for Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins as well. And Sam's original studio gear, from which he coaxed a sound still renowned for its liquidity, is now on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Sam himself was inducted in 1986, and was admitted into Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
The runout groove came for Sam Phillips today in Memphis. He was eighty years old. And while he didn't wind up with a billion dollars, he did earn many millions, and not just from his recordings either. Sam, as it happens, had taken some of his Sun receipts and invested early on in another Memphis institution that's going strong today: Holiday Inn.
A tribute? Play any Sun 45. Or let John Sebastian wax lyrical about some of those Nashville cats:
Well, I was just thirteen, you might say I was a musical proverbial knee-high When I heard a couple new-soundin' tunes on the tubes and they blasted me sky-high And the record man said every one was a yellow Sun record from Nashville And up North here ain't nobody buys them, and I said "But I will"
And I did, and so did you. And that puts us in pretty good company, alongside those 1352 guitar pickers.
31 July 2003
It's a Jersey thing
While wandering around New Jersey last week, I spied a couple of signs that didn't make a whole lot of sense. "Keep New Jersey moving," they said, signed by Governor McGreevey. From the wording, this could be anything from a traffic-calming pitch to an ad for Metamucil, so I figured it was just McGreevey's way of reminding you that he's the governor on an otherwise useless sign.
Jeff Jarvis, however, finds them somewhat worse than useless:
What the F does that mean? Go faster? Rear-end the guy in front of you? Get out of town? Eat fiber?
The pinhead who decided to spend tax dollars to buy and install those signs should be strung up from any of the signs he installed. Actually, I'm sure it's a committee of pinheads.
I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for this.
So we're gathered in the Hostility er, Hospitality Room, and one of the guys (not me) has gotten himself into a position where one pant leg is rolled up to about here, and one woman grumbles something to the effect that "Will you look at this? Doesn't even grow on him, and we have to fight with the razor every day. Is this fair?"
In an effort to create a diversion, I revealed my own sparse shin growth, thereby providing myself with an excuse to check out the collection of female gams on display, which ranged from not bad at all to jaw-droppingly incredible.
Of course, this complaint is far from uncommon. Meryl Yourish, who by all accounts has a fabulous set of stems herself, has gone so far as to call for genetic engineering; by proper tweakage of the human female genome, she hopes, women of the future will not have to contend with the tedious, occasionally painful, process of depilation. I, of course, endorse this plan, if only because I have to have something to live for.
A wild blue hair
Vincent Ferrari of Insignificant Thoughts links to this Massachusetts story about a seventyish woman who plowed her Benz into a grocery store, and comments:
Sure... We wouldn't want to hurt her independence by making her prove she can actually operate a car...
Hmmm. Now this suggests a plan.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans, anxious to rack up votes from the AARP crowd, are pushing hard for some sort of prescription drug entitlement for seniors; the only argument seems to be the extent to which means testing is mandated.
So: why not make this entitlement contingent upon driver's-license retesting? You want us to pay for your Synthroid, we're entitled to know whether you're likely to go sliding a Buick LeSabre into the side of a circus tent. Of course, if you realize that you have no farging business behind the wheel and voluntarily give up your license, you won't be subject to this cruel and heartless piece of legislation.
Mr Ferrari once said, in effect, "I'll take my security over their independence any day." To put it slightly less bluntly: if I'm endangering other drivers on a regular basis, the state has a compelling reason perhaps even a moral obligation to get my ass off the road. And it doesn't matter how old I am, either.
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