1 April 2004
I have always argued that the reason the popular music of the 1960s is still around is not so much that it's better than music from other decades of that century, but that it's infinitely extensible: unlike hits more obviously tethered to their time and place, the best Sixties tunes have a universal quality to them that keep them going, year after year, decade after decade.
A brilliant example of what I mean popped up today on the Dawn Patrol. Riffing on the opening lines to "Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders ("The purpose of a man is to love a woman/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man"), Dawn Eden seizes on a notion and runs with it:
Now that I think about it, this whole gay-marriage debate would be a lot more interesting if the demonstrators at rallies would communicate only in Sixties pop songs. Homosexual couples could sing "Give Us Your Blessing," mayors eager to marry them could sing "I Know a Place," the arrested-but-defiant Unitarian gay-wed ministers in New Paltz could sing "I Fought the Law," distraught citizens wishing to uphold traditional marriage could respond with "Stop in the Name of Love," and President Bush could drown them all out with "When a Man Loves a Woman."
I've tried to tiptoe around this subject myself, although it's mostly due to morose self-absorption: every girl I've ever had breaks my heart and leaves me sad. Still, I have to admire the ingenuity that went into it, and if you're thinking maybe this is a prime example of rhetorical overkill, well, Mama said there'd be days like this.
How now, Dow Jones?
For the first time since 1999, Dow Jones has shuffled the portfolio that makes up their oft-quoted Industrial Average.
AT&T, International Paper and Eastman Kodak, all of which have been part of the DJIA for decades, will be dropped as of the start of trading 8 April. Replacing them will be AIG, Pfizer and Verizon.
The reasoning, from Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul E. Steiger:
[The changes] recognize trends within the U.S. stock market, including the continued growth of the financial and health care sectors and the diminishing relative weight of basic materials stocks.
Adjustment factors are applied to insure that there is no numerical discontinuity when changes are made to the portfolio; it has been many years since the DJIA was determined by simply adding the prices of those thirty stocks.
The one where we break a story, maybe
Someone passed to me what is represented as "internal polling from CHS (Cole Hardgrave [sic] Snodgrass)" regarding the Republican candidates for the Senate seat currently held by the retiring Don Nickles. CHS is a real firm, once headed by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK 4) the other partners are Sharon Hargrave Caldwell and Deby Snodgrass and while I can't think of any reason why anyone from CHS would leak things to me, I'm reprinting it here just to see what happens.
40% - Tom Coburn
CHS is working on the Humphreys campaign, so they can't be particularly happy about these numbers.
(Linda Murphy, in case you've forgotten, was appointed Secretary of Education in the Keating administration Democrats in the legislature refused to confirm her appointment after having run unsuccessfully against Sandy Garrett for State Superintendent.)
Of course, not being a Republican, I can't vote in their primary. I will hazard the following speculations:
(1) I thought Kirk Humphreys was going to shrug off this Bass Pro thing as Mayor of Oklahoma City, he pushed hard for the $18 million city subsidy to the chain to park a store in Bricktown until Bass Pro let it be known that they were building a larger store in Broken Arrow, for which they got no subsidy whatsoever.
(2) Bob Anthony, the maverick of the Corporation Commission, may be too much of an iconoclast for Oklahoma Republicans.
(3) The same might be said of Tom Coburn, who has a tendency to resist suggestions that he "go along to get along."
The primary will be held 27 July; a lot can happen between now and then, and this being Oklahoma, something almost certainly will.
An observation to which I can relate, courtesy of Robb Hibbard (31 March, 5:15 pm):
[R]etrieving one's correspondence au naturel adds a little excitement to the venture, plus someone always comes along and offers to throw a t-shirt or something on you.
In my case, a tarp.
But inasmuch as I now live in an older neighborhood and have an actual mail slot in the door, rather than the much-hated (and, in this particular instance, badly-arranged) cluster boxes provided by the Pitiable Hovel, nobody's delicate sensibilities are affected.
Besides, I have no shortage of Ts.
Her full name was Rosemarie Timotea Aurro, but by the time they squoze it down to fit on the label of a 45, she'd become Timi Yuro.
The small name, however, was attached to a BIG voice. In 1961, not yet twenty-one, she took a humdrum mid-50s R&B pout and turned it into an event.
How powerful, this voice? Elvis himself cut this tune, and it's still Timi's version you remember.
Timi Yuro sang lots of things. We forget, for instance, that she got the pop hit of Hank Cochran's "Make the World Go Away", two whole years before Eddy Arnold conquered Nashville with it; in between hits, she recorded old standards, folk tunes, and anything else she could fit in. (It helped that she was recording for Liberty, a record company which didn't believe in underutilizing their artists.)
But I'm spinning "What's A Matter Baby" right now, her big 1962 hit, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention.
And my hurtin' is just about over
Sung and recorded at the very edge of distortion, then remixed by Phil Spector, this may be Yuro's best: the voice is just as big, and the finger she's pointing is even bigger.
Throat cancer, which wouldn't stay put even after they removed her larynx, ended her career; finally, having migrated to the brain, it ended her life this week.
2 April 2004
Along Southeast 29th Street, north of Tinker Air Force Base, there's a stretch where it looks like something used to be there, but isn't anymore. No mystery, really: development in this area was halted, and existing development actually removed, in an effort to reduce encroachment on Tinker, and to deprive the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) folks of an excuse to close the base. ("You've got houses right along the flight path, fercryingoutloud.")
Apparently even more area is going to be cleared: the Powers Nissan dealership at 8021 SE 29th has been condemned by County Commissioners after Mr Powers balked at their $2.5-million dollar offer for the property. District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth suggests that Powers, who originally had been leasing the property, timed his acquisition to maximize the possible take; he bought the tract two years ago for $2.15 million on the same day as the bond election held to raise money to acquire properties for an expanded clearance zone.
Powers says he'd take the offer right now if he had a place to go, but he's having problems finding a suitable new location. The commissioners want the space cleared off by summer.
Disclosure: I bought a car from Powers' dealership some years ago. Nothing in the transaction suggested to me that there might be weasels in the boardroom; I've always considered them straight shooters.
It's standard operating procedure for public-radio stations, during their semiannual pledge drives, to sound just as mournful and Oliver Twisted "Please, sir, I want some more money" as they possibly can.
Even allowing for this tendency, there seems to be a lot more desperation than usual in the voices at our local NPR station, and I'm wondering: could the listeners be responding to the reassignment of Bob Edwards by cutting back their donations?
I may be imagining things wouldn't be the first time but I have a feeling that NPR management is going to wind up with low-cholesterol free-range egg on their faces when all this is over.
Name that domicile
And, with the ratio of fireplaces to chimneys an inexplicable 3:2, Chimneyhenge hews to a certain perverse sort of logic, don't you think?
The pushing of the Christ
What a visual Donna conjures up here:
Tonight is Audra's play. She plays a leper in Jesus Christ Superstar! She is also in the chorus. I am looking forward to going, mainly because she told me that the guy playing Jesus is somewhat overweight and they struggle to get him up on the cross. The band actually puts down their instruments and helps hoist him up.
Now I'm not a fan of the usual ethereal, wan, almost wussy characterization of Christ that shows up in entirely too much Western art and semi-art, but this adds a whole new, um, dimension to Mark 15:31.
"He saved others, himself he cannot save," indeed.
Addendum: On a scale of 35 to 98, rate the probability that I will burn in hell for this post.
Update, 3 April, 4:20 pm: She went, and she's reevaluated the guy playing the lead:
As it turns out, he was just broad and husky. I had visions of Meat Loaf circa 1976 up on the cross, his big belly obscuring the loincloth. That was not the case. This Jesus was just big-boned.
Still: Meat Loaf? Donna, I'm crazy about you, but you're scaring me.
3 April 2004
Behind closed doors
You follow the news for any length of time, you quickly pick up on Standard Media Qualifiers. Angry Palestinians, for instance, are generally described as "militants," even in circumstances where "terrorists" might be more appropriate. Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation are usually dubbed "right-wing think tanks." (Left-wing think tanks, of course, are hardly ever identified as such.) And homosexuals who aren't closeted are referred to as "openly gay," a term which, says Laura, rings false:
[I]t seems to me a bit like calling someone openly Jewish or openly a lawyer.
It seems to me that the default assumption about homosexuals, sometime in the last ten years, has switched from being in the closet to being out. It's expected that a homosexual will be openly homosexual, espcially when talking about the younger generations. The closet still exists, of course, but it is now the aberration, and is therefore the state that's deserving of special mention openness no longer requires it.
Actually, I think this particular media term is intended mostly as CYA: "We're not the ones who outed this person, so don't blame us." And there still being a thriving business in opening the doors to closets despite the wishes of the occupants thereof, I'm not surprised that its usage has persisted.
Now when we start seeing people described as "openly straight," I'll know the pendulum has completed its swing.
Bread upon the waters
In 1966, H. Richard Lawson graduated from tiny Oklahoma Christian College with a computer-science degree, going on to Purdue for postgraduate work. Lawson Software set up shop in Minnesota in 1975 in the arcane field of enterprise software, and today has grown to 1700 employees worldwide.
And now Lawson and his wife Pat (OC '67) have bestowed upon a much-grown Oklahoma Christian University a gift of 4 million shares of Lawson common stock, presently worth over $30 million, one of the largest gifts in the school's history. OC won't be going on a buying spree, though; most of the money will be allocated to the school's permanent endowment.
Gone in 60 minutes
I didn't have to go to work today, which means that I missed out on one last opportunity to do the 11-mile trek from Surlywood to 42nd and Treadmill in actual daylight; of course, that Spring Forward nonsense kicks in tonight and shoves the clock further out of sync with reality, to the benefit of whom, exactly?
Well, for one brief, shining moment, Erica:
Since we Spring Forward tonight, I only have to work 11 hours, but I still get paid for 12.
Okay. That's a tangible gain. Anyone else?
The OkiePundit has identified code words used by Oklahoma politicians of a certain stripe:
"Second amendment Rights" means I'll make sure you get to buy as many lethal weapons as you want and shoot stuff. "Sunday school teacher" means I'm a Christian and I'll push the infidels to the margins of society and let them know this here is a CHRISTIAN nation by God. "Life long resident" means I ain't never gone nowhere and I'll fight to keep our district jus like it tiss. "Traditional marriage" means I hate gays as much as you do and we ain't lettin those perverts do their fornicatin round Oklahoma, by God.
Well, shooting stuff is actually a pretty good use for those "lethal weapons," but the Sunday-school teachers I've met admittedly a small sample didn't strike me as particularly interested in marginalizing people. Maybe it's different in Senate District 18, a narrow vee in the spirit of Elbridge Gerry which extends from east Tulsa to a corner of Grand Lake, where the Pundit doesn't actually dwell but did find these terms in a mailing.
4 April 2004
The legacy of Laci and Conner
Thursday, the President signed into law something called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes injury to a fetus during an attack on the mother a separate crime.
I don't have a particular problem with this measure, but I don't think it will stand up to scrutiny by the Supreme Court either. Rod Dreher, writing in the blog of The Dallas Morning News (they don't do permalinks see 1 April, 3:50 pm) explains why:
I think that pro-choicers are right to say that this law undermines Roe v. Wade, even though the language of the law permits abortion. It's illogical to say that the mother's preference makes the difference between a form of homicide and a legally permissible act. I think this is probably why SCOTUS will overturn it.
And Dreher sees another controversy, this one local to Dallas, brewing:
We're a pro-choice paper (as far as I know, I'm the only pro-lifer on the editorial board, though I invite others, if they're there, to identify themselves). It's safe to say that I won't be writing this editorial, if we do in fact editorialize on the UVVA. If we come out against the UVVA, I hope y'all have good arguments to explain to the public why when Conner Peterson died, a human being did not die. And if we come out in favor of the UVVA, I hope y'all have good arguments to explain why the personhood of a fetus can only be determined by the decision of its mother. I hope y'all can explain why this is any different, morally, from the 19th-century, when the whims of white people decided the moral personhood of black people. I can see the bumper sticker now: Don't like slavery? Don't own one.
Interestingly, Dreher comments elsewhere (1 April, 3:00 pm) that liberals, at least within earshot of him, complain about how &*%$# right-wing the News' editorial page is. He should hear some of the grumblings about The Oklahoman.
Narrowing the strike zone
It could be argued, I suppose, that California's so-called "Three Strikes" rule is overly expensive, but as Patterico has been pointing out, the price to be paid for letting career criminals back on the street and it will be paid: the current measure seeking to amend "Three Strikes" [link requires Adobe Reader] calls for every single sentence issued under its provisions to be rethought is far higher than can be denominated in mere dollars. Why California would even consider such a thing is beyond me.
And one of Patterico's examples is a sexual predator for whom "repeat offender," as a description, is almost wholly inadequate; you might as well charge Saddam Hussein with littering. This character, whose primary target was girls five to seven, has no business ever getting out of prison. I don't know if I'd go so far as Laura, who recommends as a general policy "Nail their gonads to the ceiling and use 'em as a piñata" for one thing, I don't want to see what pops out of them when they break but any law which makes it possible for him to be sprung is a law I don't want to see enacted, in California or anyplace else.
How much do I hear?
Pittsburgh writer Dave Copeland, meanwhile, has put his 2004 vote up for auction. I reasoned that at the very least, there would be a House contest on Copeland's ballot, and since he's a thoughtful sort of person, he probably puts as much effort into researching a Congressional candidate as he would a Presidential wannabe, so I doubled the $3.68 and entered a bid slightly in excess of $7.36.
Oops: someone has already bid higher than that.
At least Dave Copeland has the satisfaction of knowing that his vote, to someone anyway, is worth more than the votes of the rest of us out here in the Teeming Milieu.
(Via The Last Page, who is one of those people who could sell me anything.)
(Well, maybe not turkey bacon.)
Downstairs at the upstairs
It was a lovely sunny day outside: what better time to descend into a dark room in an even darker basement?
Well, actually, it was the last chance to see CityRep's production of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which ran for four weeks to solid reviews and decent attendance. CitySpace, the Rep's 90-seat (more or less) facility, somewhere between five-eighths and four-fifths round, sits under the Music Hall; as a late buyer, I got what might be considered the worst seat in the house, but the sightlines were still good.
By now, the story is out: everyone, or at least everyone likely to buy tickets, knows that 23rd Floor is a just-barely-fictionalized retelling of Simon's experience as a fledgling writer on Sid Caesar's Golden Age variety series Your Show of Shows, the staff of which, when they went their separate ways, would continue to make great comedy. But trying to match up the individual characters with Woody Allen or Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner or Larry Gelbart is really irrelevant; what matters here is the idea, which I endorse wholeheartedly, that trying to be funny will drive you crazy. And Simon's balancing act, just enough pathos to remind you why these people love what they do, is difficult to describe, let alone express, but director Catrin Parker pulls it off deftly. The cast (with two substitutions for "medical reasons") is obviously having a wonderful time, and the only time I felt slightly out of sorts was when I contrasted Simon's words with Dennis Palumbo's (and, rumor has it, some of Mel Brooks') in the 1982 film My Favorite Year, set in, yes, a just-barely-fictionalized version of Sid Caesar's Golden Age variety series Your Show of Shows. Then again, Dick Benjamin's movie didn't have anyone who grabbed at my heart quite as efficiently as Brenda Williams, who plays Carol, the sole female writer on the 23rd Floor staff.
And speaking of grabbing at my heart, I felt a small twinge driving home. High clouds had moved in, but there was still lots of bright. The city had turned on the sprinklers in the parklike center median of Shartel through Crown Heights, and there was a couple, maybe thirtysomething, dashing through the water jets, soaked to the skin, quite possibly having the time of their lives. Alas, I'm short on dash these days.
5 April 2004
Lynn S. heard the big BOOM, and well, let her tell you:
A short time later three police cars and a fire truck came flying up the road in front of our house. If we were betting folks we'd all be betting it was a meth lab. We don't see any suspicious fire or smoke anywhere though.
Might have been. Meth labs are second only to wind in terms of sheer ubiquity in these parts; a couple weeks ago they found one operating out of a hotel room on Route 66, about three-quarters of a mile from me. Nothing was blown up, but the mere presence of the damned thing was disconcerting. For all I know, there may be another one by now.
The state thinks they can curb the industry and let's face it, by now it's big enough to be considered an industry by restricting sales of products containing pseudoephedrine, a common base ingredient in meth. Wishful thinking, say I.
All you need is cash
I've kept my distance from the current Kos célèbre, generally, but I must point out that there really isn't anything particulary surprising about The Remark: according to various leftist pronouncements, doing anything for money is somehow a little bit unseemly, too capitalist to sit well with people who spent all their intellectual capital on Marxist ideology. Halliburton is reviled, partially because it's an American corporation its ties to Vice President Cheney are purely incidental but mostly because it's making money in a war zone.
This notion extends well beyond Iraq, and it's one reason the left is constantly calling for the government to undertake tasks that could just as well be done by the private sector: privatized operations are more interested in the bottom line than in the Good of All Mankind, and the government would never be so tacky as to turn an actual profit. Whether the private firm can do a better job at less expense is irrelevant.
Thus the complaint about "mercenaries." Whether those poor folks met the definition of the word or not, they were working for a private firm, and therefore their deaths should be considered even more meaningless than those of our "real" troops.
Don't get them started on health care. Please.
It's better by half
According to Ford, this campaign and a similar one showing a pigeon smacking into the hood were developed and promptly rejected for reasons of taste; they have no idea how they were leaked to the Net.
Ads for GM's Vauxhall unit have already attacked the Ford spots as "acts of such blatant cruelty in a desperate attempt to sell cars."
Trust the sforzando, Luke
Perhaps the best analogy was one that popped into my head while Joshua Bell was digging vigorously into Ravel's perpetuum mobile, his locks shaking in the light as he jerked his bow and his feet moving intricately as he shifted on stage. He's the classical equivalent of Luke Skywalker in black doing a showdown with Darth Vader. Except he's using the violin instead of the light saber.
Now I'm actually sorry I missed him.
Only one day away
By way of explanation: Rich Appel has a spiffy e-zine called Hz So Good, and for the next, um, cycle, he asked rock critic, liner-note maven and all-around dreamboat Dawn Eden to put together some thoughts about Gene Pitney's 1963 hit "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa." Since I'm somewhere within that radius myself, Dawn offered a copy to me for my own wacky site, and of course I said yes, so here it is.
The first thing I notice about this song is that Billy Joe Royal or his arranger shamelessly lifted its intro for the intro of "Down in the Boondocks." Neither song is a favorite of mine, despite my appreciation of Royal and downright adoration of Pitney a masterful songwriter and one of the greatest performers I've ever seen.
This song gets under my skin from the beginning, with Hal David's lyric, "Dearest... darling..." I realize that, compositionwise, it's a great lyric, because it captures the guilt that the protagonist feels in his situation. But knowing that doesn't make it sound any less cloying.
Bacharach and David understood camp, even before Susan Sontag popularized the term. Indeed, this song has a sense of wicked irony that would do Quentin Tarantino proud. It's all in the lyrics' unusual, twisted perspective.
Usually Brill Building songs sung by men were written in such a way that a female listener could pretend the song was being sung to her. This was true of so many of Pitney's early hits: "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," "Every Breath I Take," "Only Love Can Break a Heart." What Hal David did with this song was put the listener in Pitney's place, imagining the risk and delight of succumbing to temptation. The girl to whom Pitney is singing or, as the lyrics say, writing his letter is a pathetic dupe, robbed of her eternal bliss by some floozy Pitney picked up at a motel just a few hundred miles down the road.
Even the title "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" is camp. To a pair of hack songwriters (and say what you will, Bacharach and David in 1963 were hacks) in an airless cubicle in the Brill Building, Tulsa was truly down in the boondocks. Those young but already hardened Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, probably visualized the recipient of the protagonist's letter as some blonde Southern belle maybe the virgin daughter of a wealthy oilman. How funny to think of her soldier-boy beau, returning from duty on some Texas base (for we know those Southerners are too thick to get a college deferment), falling for a streetwalker outside a Red Roof Inn.
Excuse me while I press "skip."
6 April 2004
That was the year that was
New slogan at Oddly Normal:
Capitalism improving your world since 1783.
Um...okay. Why 1783? The Treaty of Paris?
Here I am, stuck in the middle
[W]e have moonbats here in Oklahoma but, unlike most of the rest of the country they are of the Right-wing variety, not the Left. Now I'm not talking about ordinary Christians here I'm talking about serious moonbattery. According to these people the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and absolutely anything to do with Halloween is not merely harmless, meaningless fun for the kids; it's Evil. Even if the kids have no idea that the Easter Bunny is really a pagan fertility symbol, having fun with the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts and so forth is still a mortal sin. Nothing. But. Evil! Period. (Come to think of it, just about anything fun is a mortal sin).
There was a flap some years back about a Tulsa Union student alleged to be a witch; for the life of me I can't understand why she didn't turn the lot of them into newts.
My theory is that the closer you get to Oral Roberts University the higher the concentration of Right-wing moonbats. ORU is located in Tulsa so there are more RWMb's in Tulsa and the surrounding area. In other words, ORU is to the Right what Berkeley is to the Left.
I remember attending a science-fiction con in Tulsa at a hotel opposite ORU, complete with Society of Creative Anachronism displays on the lawn; passersby, observing the jousting, alternated between appalled and actually frightened. "You'd think," I said, gesturing towards Oral's Prayer Tower, "they'd appreciate the medieval around here."
In Oklahoma City, where I now live, our moonbats work on policy, not on philosophy: the poster child is probably Rep. Bill Graves. Proximity to Graves is probably harmful to one's higher brain functions; fortunately, I don't live in his district, and he'll be term-limited into oblivion soon enough.
It's an honor just to be nauseated
To anyone who was pleased that the Los Angeles Times picked up five Pulitzer Prizes, the second-largest single haul in the award's history I think we can safely say that the cheering section won't include Xrlq or Patterico I remind you:
You can't spell "Pulitzer" without "putz."
Oh, yes, The Oklahoman got one once. In 1939. For editorial cartoons (by the late Charles G. Werner). Don't hold your breath waiting for the second.
The way they did the things they did
Anyone who has heard me sing (you know who you are) will not at all be anxious to repeat the experience; my voice on its best day can make a turnip weep, and it's been a while since I've had a good day, laryngeally speaking. So some might consider it cause for alarm that I've just taken delivery of six CDs of karaoke backgrounds.
But these aren't ordinary backgrounds by any stretch of the imagination: these are actual backing tracks from Motown hits, played by the genuine Funk Brothers, remixed and remastered by studio wizard Suha Gur. Each disc contains eight tunes in two-track mixes, instruments left, vocals right, perhaps for practice. And then, starting at track 9, the same tunes, mixed for stereo, minus the lead vocals.
If you're wondering why anyone would listen to these discs for any other purpose, wonder no more. Motown production techniques were remarkable for their time, and it simply hasn't been possible to observe them at close range up to now: Berry Gordy's primary interest was the mono singles mix, which he intended to knock your socks off, not to impress you with subtlety and detail. Stereo mixes were generally afterthoughts, and sometimes they didn't bother with them at all.
But since Suha Gur had to go back to the session tapes to produce these tracks, generation upon generation of murk and noise and glop and tape slap and God knows what else have simply disappeared. And without the primary distraction of the lead singer, you can delight in the Funk Brothers' instrumental work. I've got "My Guy" cranked up now, and with Mary Wells out of the room, the interplay between lead guitar and organ, nearly inaudible on the 45, has me grinning from here to there, thinking "Damn, but that's beautiful."
Not every tune comes across as perfectly seamless. In some of the sessions, both background and lead vocals were recorded on the same track, so leaving off the lead required leaving off the background as well. And sometimes a lead, usually Smokey Robinson, drifts in and out of the mix. But as a tool for studying the Sound of Young America, these discs, issued through The Singing Machine Company but not available on their Web site I got mine from amazon.com are at least as essential as the Funk Brothers documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. And who hasn't wanted to be Levi Stubbs or Martha Reeves for three minutes?
7 April 2004
Large and discharged
In my neighborhood and a few others, the first Wednesday of the month means Big Junk: this is the day the city makes a separate run to scoop up stuff that won't fit in the standard carts. You're allowed four cubic yards of Big Junk per month; anything over that, they'll pick up, but you'll be billed for the overage.
It's always interesting to see what's been tossed out. In the two blocks east of Surlywood this morning, I spotted flattened cardboard boxes, old furniture, a dishwasher, and about three-quarters of a lawn mower. Some of this stuff may never make it into the truck: scavengers, in between raiding Dumpsters, often make the rounds a few minutes before the city crew. Somehow, though, I doubt any of these, um, informal recyclers would be interested in the tree and a half I dragged out to the curb last night.
Your basic viable energy policy
Bruce grasps something that a lot of our politicians don't:
People are asking what the president is going to do about gas prices. I say, "why should he do anything?" Are we willing to admit that we WANT the U.S. government to create artificial prices in the market. By doing so you only risk prolonging the use of oil for industries that would be better served, long term, by moving to alternatives. Not to mention the consumption of inefficient vehicles based on an unrealistic expectation of fuel prices.
All else being equal, we tend to buy whatever's cheapest, which guarantees that nothing will speed the transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles quite as effectively as high prices for fuel. Your standard statist, claiming to be sympathetic to the plight of the poor or some similar smarm, will pursue policies that, were there one gallon of gas left on planet earth, would require that it be sold for a buck and a half, preferably to someone other than Donald Trump. We don't know for sure how long we will be awash in cheap fuel; the least we can do is enjoy it while we have it, and be prepared to move on when we don't.
Incidentally, prices are off about four cents a gallon in my neck of the woods; the going rate at the name-brand stations is generally $1.599, plus or minus a cent or two. I'm anticipating $1.85 a gallon for the slightly-shorter-than-usual World Tour '04 this summer, which will hurt, but it won't hurt as much as staying home.
Prying open the primary
Oklahoma's primary elections are closed: Democrats vote only for Democrats, Republicans for Republicans. The Oklahoma Libertarian Party, whose membership may be described as "not large," proposed opening their 2000 primary to members of the major parties. The Election Board balked, noting that state law permits them to admit registered Independents, but not members of other recognized parties.
Eventually the Libertarians sued the Election Board; US District Judge Stephen Friot ruled against the party, saying that the law was intended to insure "that the results of a primary election... accurately reflect the voting of the party members." An appeal was filed, and yesterday the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Friot's decision in a 3-0 vote.
Nothing in this ruling mandates that the two major parties have to allow crossover voting, but it's a first step towards opening up the primaries, which I think will prove beneficial to third parties in years to come, especially with the general level of dissatisfaction with the Big Boys.
Doing the 81
At night you will look up at the stars
In 1944, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off from Corsica in a Lockheed Lightning P-38, to photograph southern France in anticipation of an Allied landing, and was never heard from again.
Not until 1998, when a fisherman off Marseilles turned up a bracelet inscribed with the names of Saint-Exupéry and his wife, was there any clue as to the fate of the author of The Little Prince. Two years later, a diver found some P-38 fragments; the French Ministry of Culture organized a salvage team last year, and a plate with the plane's serial number has now been found, verifying that this is indeed where Saint-Exupéry went down, though no trace of his body has yet been located.
Still unexplained is what caused the plane to crash in the first place; there was no evidence that the plane had been shot down or otherwise damaged in flight. And it still perhaps stings that Saint-Exupéry's narrator in The Little Prince, published the year before his deadly mission, was a downed pilot.
8 April 2004
Futility is resistible
Lynn thinks there's more to the Collective than we've been given to understand:
In spite of the fact that many episodes of Star Trek were obviously intended to make a point, until fairly recently I had never thought of the Borg as anything other than a typical sci-fi plot device: the apparently undefeatable foe who, nevertheless, must be defeated. But then the world got shook up and a lot of people started shouting and, amoung the many things they started shouting about, one was respect for other cultures. So now, I keep thinking I see a political message in the stories involving the Borg and I'm not sure I like it.
Intelligent dialog is not one of the Borg's strengths. "Resistance is futile," and "You will be assimilated," cover almost every situation. I guess when you're the strongest you don't have to talk to anybody. I'm sure someone out there thinks that the U.S. is the Borg. That can be easily dismissed with a bored yawn. Sorry, we've heard the like too many times in the past two and half years. The fact is, we go out of our way to respect other cultures. If I visited Saudi Arabia I could not walk around bare-faced and with several inches of thigh exposed but a woman from Saudi Arabia is free to cover her face when she is visiting the U.S. So exactly who is doing the assimilating?
Let me go on record here as being in favor of exposing several inches of thigh.
Of course, the most startling development in all of the Federation's interactions, so to speak, with the Borg is the fact that once they assimilated someone from France.
What does assimilation mean? When the Borg "assimilate" another culture that culture disappears completely. They either become Borg, indistinguishable from other Borg, or they are destroyed. But is that really assimilation and is that what we do in America? Or is it just a twisted moonbat fantasy? Does not that which is assimilated become a part of the whole, thus adding to and changing the original?
I vote for "twisted moonbat fantasy." No one is forced to buy clothing at Old Navy or lunch at McDonald's. If people escaping the Third World embrace these American icons, it's because they think it's an improvement over what they're used to. And I suspect they'd bitterly resent being told by some Defender of the Culture in beautiful downtown Berkeley that their choices really aren't freely chosen, that they've been duped into accepting something inferior by the force of the hive mind.
Assimilation American style involves both give and take. Every group that has come to America has added its own bit of spice to the pot. Some people believe that traditional cultures must be preserved intact without any "imperialist" American "corruption." I suppose that makes sense if you're running a museum.
Exactly. Fill the box, seal the edges, open the display for public viewing, and make sure nothing ever changes.
And remember: One's connection to the Borg is through external means. It can be broken. Just ask Seven of Nine. Or, for that matter, Jean-Luc Picard.
Pay to the piper
State Question 676, passed in 1996, limits the increase in assessed value for property-tax purposes to five percent per year.
There are a couple of catches, of course. The actual tax can rise more than five percent, if the tax rate increases. However, since tax increases must be approved by voters, this is less of an issue than it could be.
The other one will hit me this year: if the property is sold or otherwise conveyed, the limitation does not apply, inasmuch as the assessor has to come up with a new set of numbers. Tax bills come out in October. I didn't take possession until the last week of November; at settlement, I paid about one-tenth of the taxes to cover my 36 days of possession for the year. But for 2004, the tax bill will reflect a new, updated, and significantly higher assessment; in subsequent years, the five-percent cap will kick in again.
Assuming the actual rates don't rise, which they haven't in a while and probably won't by October, I'm looking at about a $150 bump in this year's property taxes, which isn't onerous but isn't fun either. The Gods of Escrow will, of course, demand $13 a month to cover the difference.
9 April 2004
"The average eight-year-old," it says here, is "explosive, excitable, dramatic, and inquisitive."
And that's just the beginning. Eight-year-olds tend to be:
All these things you can look for on this very site over the next 365 days: today it's eight years old.
(And looking for them, I hasten to add, doesn't mean you'll find them.)
Update: There's a time line, sort of, in the current Vent.
Horton hears a Ho
It's Warholian: in the future, all conflicts will be Vietnam for 15 minutes.
Vietnam was an anomaly. Vietnam was perhaps the least typical war we've ever fought, but somehow it's become the Gold Standard for wars because, one suspects, it became inextricably bound up with Nixon, that black hole of human perfidy, and it coincided with the golden glory years of so many old boomers who now clog the arteries of the media and academe. A gross overgeneralization, I know. But it's a fatal conceit. If you're always fighting the last war you'll lose the next one. Even worse: Vietnam was several wars ago.
Maybe it's just me, but as a boomer on the cusp of old, I'm inclined to give Nixon a pass, on this matter anyway, and blame this syndrome entirely upon people my age or slightly above who continue to live in the past because they fear they might be irrelevant in the present.
And as fears go and I've gone with lots of them over the years this one is as close to guaranteed self-fulfillment as you can get.
The street from hell
Normally traffic accidents, even fatal traffic accidents, fall outside the purview of this site.
But this one, well, it bothered me, mostly because 26 years ago, I actually lived at SE 29th and Vickie Drive, and that intersection was Crash City even then: there's an elevation difference between the two roadways that makes blind spots almost inevitable, and traffic on 29th is always trying to make all the lights, of which there are an abundance. If you're crossing 29th on Vickie, you basically have to climb out of a hole and hope nothing hits you as you crawl across five lanes.
Come to think of it, all the major intersections on Vickie are hazardous. At SE 15th, you must turn: you have to duck under the I-40 overpass for about 800 feet, and wait out at least one, maybe two lights, before you can continue. At Reno, you have a one-way stop sign and a blind spot, and the northbound extension is barely even visible. And at NE 10th, you're fair game for petroleum tankers. (I got crushed by one once, albeit two miles away.)
Back in October, when I was looking to get out of my old apartment, I actually drove the entire length of this street sizing up possible locations. What was I thinking?
As an occasionally-practicing guy, I do have a stash of Hugh Hefner's legendary publication about twenty years' worth in the next room, and once a year, by tradition, I review the young ladies who used to have staples in their midsections (Playboy switched to another binding method in the middle 80s), and select one of the twelve for Playmate of the Year.
I am not even slightly surprised to announce that for "twenty", you should now read "twenty-one"; my source deep within the Mansion even asked for my World Series picks, with the stated intention of betting on anyone I didn't select. (Red Sox over the Cubs in six, in case you want to do likewise.)
10 April 2004
Bits and pieces
Be that as it may, The Fragments, based in northern Virginia, play that sort of jangly pop that charms those of us who remember antiquities like melody and repels those surly folk who see music as a tool to increase their snarliness. They've made some, um, fragments available for download, and what I hear is solid post-garage stuff, somewhere on the continuum between Carolyne Mas and Rachel Sweet, too sharp for bubblegum but not all that Stiff either, basic 4/4 that sticks because you still believe it after all these years. If I ever outgrow this sort of music, go ahead and nail down the lid.
A long and protracted struggle
From the tattered notebook of Kimberly Swygert:
At New York's Kennedy Airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school math teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.
At a morning press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-Gebra movement. The FBI is charging him with carrying weapons of math instruction.
"Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult," Ashcroft said. "They seek solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of their absolute values. They use secret code names like x and y and refer to themselves as 'unknowns,' but we have determined they have many common denominators with coordinates in every country."
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes. Murky statisticians love to inflict plane on every sphere of influence," the President said, adding: "Under the circumferences, we must differentiate their root, make our point, and draw the line."
President Bush further warned, "These weapons of math instruction have the potential to decimal everything in their math on a scalene never before seen unless we become exponents of a Higher Power."
Attorney General Ashcroft said, "As our Great Leader would say, read my ellipse. Though they continue to multiply, their days are numbered as the hypotenuse tightens around their necks."
Actually, I think what Ashcroft finds most frightening is the possibility that binomials, even (yes!) polynomials, might be accepted as legitimate equations.
Way past Uncle Ben
Apparently not everyone on the Left has hopped on the let's-bash-Condi bandwagon. From The People's Republic of Seabrook:
Rice may have the political instincts of Pee Wee Herman (or Niccolò Machiavelli), but no one with any sense would question her intellect or her ability to hold her own in a debate. I suspect [Thursday's] inquisition did nothing to disprove this. Let's give credit where credit is due.
In the meantime, can we all just lay off the cheap Photoshopping and gratuitous insults directed at Rice? I may not support her politics or the man she works for, but no one deserves to have this sort of thinly-veiled racial vituperation directed at her. It demeans all of us. We can do better than this.
Most of the criticism of Dr Rice I've seen has not been particularly racial in nature, except to the extent that any black American public figure who doesn't toe the Jesse Jackson / Congressional Black Caucus line can expect to be criticized.
But I believe we will do better than this, eventually. In fact, I'm counting on it.
11 April 2004
Reunited (and it feels so good)
No prospect is more daunting, I maintain, than meeting up, thirty-five years later, with your first love and this applies no less when the object of your devotion is purely fictional.
Just over a year ago, I said this:
Next month I have to come to grips with the BBC Films/Independent Distribution Partnership's production of Dodie Smith's late-Forties novel I Capture the Castle, a book I first read in high school and dust off every other year or so just to reacquaint myself with the residents of ruined Castle Godsend and to see if I'm still in love with Cassandra Mortmain. (I tend to be, shall we say, frustratingly constant in my devotion, particularly when it is not returned, which is almost always the case.)
I could boycott the movie on general principle, and there's always the chance that it won't play here at all after all, they may need extra screens for The Matrix Reloaded but even if I can avoid the theatrical release, I'll still have to contend with the eventual DVD. Fortunately, the canned synopsis floating around seems remarkably true to the storyline, and the Samuel Goldwyn company, which is distributing the film in the US, has a reputation for picking up the Good Stuff.
Indeed, the film did not play here in the hinterlands at all, and when the DVD was released in December, I ignored it for two months, contrived somehow to have it back-ordered for two months, and when it finally arrived this week, I stared at it for two days, almost afraid to pop the seal, lest all the connections I've made to the book all these years might be disrupted somehow by the visuals. Finally, late last night, I worked up the nerve and started the disc, promising myself I would not spend four minutes out of every five looking for insignificant yet pickable nits.
I'm not writing a detailed review here for that, I recommend this piece by Seattle's Three Imaginary Girls but I must state for the record that whatever fears I may have had were unfounded. The castle itself is just what I envisioned; the countryside is classically beautiful (Wales and the Isle of Man stand in for Suffolk); and the cast is well-nigh perfect. It's a talky sort of film, but then these are people who have a lot to say. And Romola Garai brings Cassandra to life in a way I wouldn't have thought possible: not a girl, not yet a woman, struggling with both the cerebral and the hormonal but sworn to do the Right Thing come what may, this is the character for whom I fell so hard so many years ago.
Mere nostalgia? Hardly. In the grand scheme of things, one's first love ranks second among the most important romantic relationships of a lifetime one's last love, of course, is the first and Cassandra Mortmain, confused yet resolute, completely fictional yet utterly real to me, contributed as much as anyone to the structure of my life. And in one way, the film version improves on that structure; the book closes with nine words, a triplet spoken thrice, while the film ends with eight: "I love, I have loved, I will love." If the ending is not technically happy, it's not technically the ending, either.
Dodie Smith's book was published in 1948, the same year that C. B. Warr directed the construction of the house which today is mine, a reminder, to me anyway, that what we are doesn't start with when we're born. And life itself is much like I Capture the Castle: even when it's carefully plotted, it's still vaguely out of control. Heady lessons at fifteen; still viable at fifty.
So bright, it's gotta wear shades
There are good and sensible reasons why radio stations quit using cart machines, but like the 8-track decks they superficially resemble, I find them fascinating. (The world today may be digital; some of us remain unrepentantly analog in our thinking.)
You are what you link
From the blog of Congressman Brad Carson (D-OK 2), currently running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Don Nickles:
Today, some of you may have seen the story in the Tulsa World about weblogs (blogs) and some of the controversial things that people say on them. Now, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has sent out a press release bashing me for linking to various sites.
Let me say this: about half the sites I link to are conservative, about half are liberal. They are all interesting reading.
Along this line, I will recommend the following reading material too. For the NRSC's benefit, I will note their political affiliation. Further note to NRSC followers, PLEASE don't read anything that you might disagree with, no matter how brilliantly written.
This might have carried more weight had not the Carson people sent out an email whine about it, which Bill Quick reprinted:
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in an attempt to censor open dialogue amongst 2004 voters, issued an attack release on United States Senate Candidate Congressman Brad Carson of Oklahoma this week.... The NRSC release entitled, "Brad Carson: A-Blogging He Will Go" attacks the Democratic candidate saying:
"On Brad Carson's Campaign Blog, The Candidate Personally Recommends His Supporters Visit The Websites Of Radicals" (Brad DeLong, Daily Kos, Juan Cole)
"CARSON GUIDES GUESTS TO HIS BLOG TO SEARCH OUT BRAD DELONG, A LEFT WING BERKELEY PROFESSOR WHO ADVOCATES THE IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT BUSH"
I certainly never would have guessed, two and a half years ago, when I started Daily Pundit... that in such a short time we would see national political figures and parties slamming each other for the blogs they chose to advertise on, or link on their blogroll. Although I'd submit that a blogroll link is intrinsically more of a recommendation than an advertising buy.
Two and a half years ago, a link didn't have any intrinsic value, really; now that blog advertising is a reality, and a fairly lucrative one for some bloggers, one's blogroll is apparently now fair game.
I may have to start working up a disclaimer of sorts.
Oh, and "LEFT WING BERKELEY PROFESSOR" has been circled and sent to the Department of Redundancy Department.
Sights for a Sunday afternoon
This print ad caught my eye:
ADORABLE DOLL HOUSE
Close to Downtown OKC & I-35 & I-40. 1050 sf, 3bd, 2ba, inside util, kit bar, d/washer, huge corner lot, under const.
There was a price $72,500 and an address, and I knew I had to see this place.
This is, after all, a neighborhood I tend to think of as capital-S Scary, and while it's just off a major thoroughfare, it's cut off from most of the rest of the city the river and a railroad slice through the terrain nearby and while being somewhat insular in character is probably good for gated communities where houses sell routinely in six figures, it strikes me as less good in a place where six figures could buy five or six houses. (I checked realtor.com; the going rate for the smaller boxes in this neighborhood is a startling $14,000.)
So what do you get for five times as much? The lot is indeed on a corner, though its hugeness is arguable; the house itself is at the point where the exterior is complete and the interior is being finished, and I have no doubt that, given some proper care, this place can live up to its description. Still, I suspect that finding someone willing to spend this much money to live here will be difficult until a lot more new homes are built or a lot more old ones are torn down. And I have serious qualms about expropriating an entire neighborhood on the off-chance that it can be gentrified.
I mean, this is not much less than I spent for my own "adorable doll house," roughly the same size, in a neighborhood that presumably doesn't strike fear into anyone's heart. And on the way back to my side of town, I sliced through the western edge of Heritage Hills and caught a glimpse of a standard real-estate agent sign with an attached tag: "Just Beautiful." Same tag you could have seen in my yard, in fact, for the brief period between offering and closing. After what I'd seen earlier, though, I wasn't particularly inclined to be smug.
I did, however, manage a sneer while passing a salon which noted on its sign that "sandel season" had arrived, and they were offering a "foot facial." Now I appreciate sandal season more than most, and indeed I've seen some remarkably nice feet this spring, but I don't think there's any way you can stretch any definition of "facial" to cover the services they offer. Not that I'm going to spend the $45 to find out.
12 April 2004
The grass is browner on the other side
Terry Keith Hammond owns a little 6,000-watt FM in Shamrock, Texas, just over the state line on I-40. MonsterFM is moving over one channel, from 92.7 to 92.9, and jumping to 50,000 watts, but if Hammond can help it, he's not staying in Shamrock. Here's why (his story starts in 2002, when he bought the station):
I was immediately branded an "outsider" and (after a nice memo from the local chamber of commerce director was circulated) virtually every local business stopped advertising on my station, virtually killing it for all practical purposes.
Now, we're ready to go back to full power (after an upgrade) and full service facility as a 50,000 watt class C-2 FM on 92.9. However, as the "Texas reception" hasn't gotten any better (we were even subjected to an armed robbery literally and recorded the entire incident on both video and audio to only be told by local law enforcement that it wasn't a "crime" but was a "mistake"), I'm seriously wondering if I shouldn't consider moving the entire operation into nearby Oklahoma as it's only 14 miles east of our current site and is definitely a minor move in the eyes of the FCC.
Bottom line: Previous station management (under an LMA) had borrowed money from the local Economic Development Board and defaulted. The Economic Development Board is sore because they THOUGHT the station license would be collateral and they'd end up owning a radio station (such as WRR in Dallas). Then, they found out that, not only is a city not allowed to become a broadcast licensee but, the "defaulters" weren't even the licensees (their "attorney" didn't properly research the situation beforehand) and they've loaned money to people who didn't "own" what they'd wanted most to use as collateral. (BIG MESS THAT HAS *NOTHING* TO DO WITH ME!!!)
Their solution: Back out of our negotiations to purchase the building and tower site (by paying off the loan the other folks had defaulted on) and steal our equipment at gunpoint (the other guys emptied the station on their way out). We finally managed (after almost two years and with the help of the local courts) to get our equipment back but, only after we'd built a new studio and transmitter site north of town.
My question: Do I want to build a new 50,000 watt FM facility near this town that is so fast to knowingly STEAL an entire radio station and repeatedly ignore numerous court orders to return what they've stolen? Or, do I want to move my entire operation into neighboring Oklahoma and hope the people there are more friendly?
The FCC will not likely approve a move that removes the signal from Shamrock entirely KBKH is the only station licensed to Shamrock but the station might be able to relocate to, say, Sayre, Oklahoma, just inside the state line; they would still easily reach Shamrock, they'd be far enough from other stations on this frequency to avoid interference, and they might be able to pick up an audience in Elk City, fifteen miles away.
Were I this guy, I'd be sending off an application to modify the station's license this week. Texans tend to be friendly folk, but some Texans (and, for that matter, some Oklahomans) insist that you do bidness their way or else, and sometimes "else" is the better choice.
A logo for the proposed New York City Olympics in 2012:
So, do those two big blocks remind anyone of anything?
Gathered from coincidence?
In a December 1965 Dylan press conference, Allen Ginsburg (from the audience) sneaks in one question with a cheesy grin on his face (it's on the video): "If you were going to sell out to a commercial concern, what would it be?" Dylan retorts straightaway and straight-faced, "Ladies' garments." Ginsburg alone cracks up as the assembled journalists just sit there.
But he was so much older then; he's younger than that now.
Down to Topic Z
Srah has been blogging for almost two and a half years, and she wonders if maybe the well is running dry:
How do I still have things to talk about? How can one person have so many pointless memories and experiences that she doesn't eventually run out of things to talk about or just start telling the same story over and over again?
And more importantly, why are you people still here? The end will come some day, won't it? Is there a limit to memory and human experience? Do you want to be there when it all starts to go downhill?
And miss a train wreck? Never. Why, I might want to blog about it.
Slightly more seriously: I've been known to repeat myself what's more, I've been known to repeat myself but it's always a new day every morning, even if it sucks just as badly as the previous [fill in number of consecutive sucky days]. Besides, think of the nasty mail you'll get if you don't post anything.
13 April 2004
A moment's pleasure
About twice a year, someone has the temerity to ask me why I would think any of the pop songs I grew up with could possibly have any relevance today. And my answer is always the same: I turn to the shelf, pull down Scepter 1211, then start the turntable. An opening perilously close to lounge music, and then Shirley Owens, somewhere between wistful and wanton:
Tonight you're mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?
This was the first composition for Brill Building publisher Don Kirshner by Carole King (music) and Gerry Goffin (lyrics), and as the story goes, it was first offered to Johnny Mathis; Columbia Records boss Mitch Miller is said to have blackballed the song, claiming it was immoral.
Dawn Eden might think ol' Mitch may have been on to something:
Like many songs from that more innocent era, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" expresses feelings that most people would be too embarrassed to verbalize. There's something painful about the way its vulnerable narrator leaves herself wide open. Yet, even though her asking the song's title question implies a certain amount of courage, it's clear that she's ready to accept a positive answer without questioning it which is not surprising, given the lyrics' description of how the evening has progressed. By the time one is worrying about how the other person will feel tomorrow, it is usually too late.
For most unattached single women in New York City, and I would imagine much of the rest of the country as well, casual sex is the norm. It's encouraged by all the women's magazines and television shows from "Oprah" on down, as well as films, music, and the culture in general. And while "love" is celebrated, women are told that they should not demand to be loved tomorrow only respected.
If it's encouraged for women, it's almost mandatory for men; a woman who is not sexually active is pitied, while a man who is not sexually active is mocked and ridiculed. (Which may be one reason why very few men Frankie Valli is one who did ever recorded this song.) "Tell me now, and I won't ask again" turns out to be a variation on a theme by Scarlett O'Hara: "I'll think about that tomorrow."
And, says Dawn, "if you have to ask someone if they'll still love you tomorrow, they don't love you tonight."
I still love this song, and always will. But if you thought it was just an innocuous pop tune from forty years ago, you might want to think again. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" contains the seeds of the sexual revolution and, perhaps inevitably, the counterrevolution as well.
So safe, so sane and so secure
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and who knew we had one of those? reports that one in every ten Oklahomans suffers from some form of mental illness.
Sometimes I think the other nine enjoy it.
Around the mental block
The other day (well, Sunday, actually) I expressed the opinion that an unnamed Oklahoma City neighborhood was capital-S Scary. Over in San Francisco, Bill Quick lives in a neighborhood that some people regard that way, but he's not the least bit fearful:
My neighborhood is about sixty percent black, twenty percent Hispanic, ten percent Asian, and ten white. Some of the worst, most dangerous public housing projects are within five or six blocks of my house. But my neighbors are good people. We are like most other neighbors. We wave at each other, stop and chat, exchange tips on how to encourage the grass on our tiny lawns, bitch about the condo association, worry about our spouses and our kids and our car payments, gripe about the politicians, and in general are indistinguishable from any other group of suburban town-house owning, mortgage carrying, weed-whacker-wielding, backyard-barbecuing denizens you could find anywhere in the U.S.
The "bad part of town," for us, at least, is "over the top of the hill." We don't go there, not if we can help it, none of us black or white, yellow or brown. It's dangerous up there. That's the land of welfare, subsidized housing, entitlement, ghettoization and drug wars and gangs and murder at the drop of a hat. Yet even there, the hard core of the hard core those who do the actual slanging and banging number less than a hundred. The rest are hangers-on and wannabes, but they aren't killers. Not yet. And everybody else pays the price for the reluctance of the government for racist reasons or whatever to pull those hundred off the street, lock them up, and throw away the key.
But we who live here the home-owning, tax-paying citizens who "play by the rules" don't really feel terrorized. We don't live in fear, the way those poor (in so many ways) people do who live at ground zero, in the war zone. But we don't have to. Our soil is not the malign dirt of the welfare state in which so much evil grows so easily. No, that place is over the hill, over that way. Not where I and my neighbors live.
Methinks I doth protest too much, or at the very least too early.
The neighborhood I lived in before the acquisition of Surlywood seemed to be following the same path that leads "over the top of the hill," likely for the very same reasons. Certainly we had no shortage of subsidized tenants, and the crime rate spoke for itself. But I don't have any figures for, um, Scarytown, so it's possible I might be unreasonably maligning the area.
Still, when I mentioned it to some coworkers, most of them visibly shuddered.
Looking out for #2
I think it's just funny that the Democrats' cupboard of leadership is so bare that many of them would kill to put a Republican (and not just any Republican, but one who's more of a war hawk than Bush, and is a firm supporter of school choice and private Social Security accounts and other heresies) on the ticket. I mean, could you imagine anybody in the conservative press or blogosphere agitating to put Bob Kerrey or even Zell Miller on the GOP ticket? The closest we'd come is lifelong liberal Republicans like Powell or Giuliani or Schwarzenegger, and even they'd be viewed with mixed feelings.
Maybe if McCain promised to work for the repeal of McCain-Feingold no, wait, that's not going to happen either.
I have no idea who's the frontrunner in John Kerry's Veepstakes at the moment, but for all the difference it's going to make, he might as well go ahead and pick Dominique de Villepin and hope that the Dithering Classes think he's putting a woman on the ticket: as the Crank notes, "What percentage of America's voting public is aware that Wesley Clark and Richard Clarke are not the same person?"
It's been an instructive day in blogdom. Just today, I've learned:
And they say I'm wasting my time with this blog stuff.
Boi from Troy brings you the Carnival of the Vanities, live from beautiful downtown West Hollywood. Not only do you get a tour of blogdom's finest, but BfT shows you some of the sights of that mysterious land between L.A. and Beverly Hills, where Sunset became the Strip. It's a place of endless fascination, but then, so is the blogosphere. (And I have an entry this week, but read it anyway.)
14 April 2004
In case you were wondering, the President's game plan appeared in his very first sentence after "Good evening":
Before I take your questions, let me speak with the American people about the situation in Iraq.
Translation: "The important stuff first, then it's your turn."
No wonder the media get huffy with Mr Bush; he doesn't treat them with the deference they think they deserve.
The transcript is here.
The Despondex is up two points
Perhaps someone should come up with an index to measure how miserable we will all be until this election is over.
Let's just hope it ends on Election Day.
Under the heading of "wait a few minutes"
As in "If you don't like the weather...."
This morning's low was 34, entirely too close to freezing for me and the irises and the forget-me-nots.
As I write, it is now 72 and "breezy," an Oklahoma term which means "Wear a longer skirt next time, dummy."
(Not that you should, you know.)
Air America grounded
Or worse; MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting, which owns the nascent network's Chicago and Los Angeles outlets, has dropped their programming.
Wonkette (yeah, I know) reports that MultiCultural claims Air America owes them around $1 million, and bounced a check in the process, a story probably leaked to her about ten minutes after Drudge got it.
You'd think Democrats would understand deficits, wouldn't you?
(Update, 4:15 pm: Commenter Mark at Outside the Beltway explains: "They used Dean's campaign people to manage their money...")
Alternative minimum tacky
Sometimes you just shake your head in disbelief. And if you don't, well, I do.
I'm looking at my Visa statement. Now it should be a surprise to no one that credit-card issuers will do almost anything legal some of them have actually gone beyond legal to improve the take. (The fine print on the back of this statement says baldly, "We will allocate your payments and credits in a way that is most favorable to us.") What happened here falls into the category of "legal but kinda silly."
As it happens, I owed no finance charge at my usual rate, the result of careful juggling of promotional schemes, but there was $3.77 remaining on a previous balance transfer, which, charged at 5.99 percent annually, works out to one cent of finance charge.
Except that there is a minimum finance charge of $1 for any month where there is any finance charge at all, so I was duly charged a buck for my $3.77 balance, and the legally-required disclosures pointed out helpfully that this works out to an effective annual percentage rate of 322.72 percent.
Ah, well. Life is like that. Next time I should do the math a month in advance, eh?
15 April 2004
Obstacles to democracy
If you saw that title and immediately thought of the US Senate, go to the foot of the class with Richard N. Rosenfeld, who argues in the May Harper's for the abolition of the upper chamber.
Vent #385 takes exception. Several of them, in fact.
An examiner for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System has informed former senator Gene Stipe that the forfeiture of 78 percent of his legislative pension is justified by Stipe's guilty pleas in federal court, which constitute a violation of his oath of office.
The examiner's findings will be passed to the OPERS board for a final ruling.
Taxation: it's everywhere you want to be
A new survey reveals that the majority of American taxpayers are aware that the Internal Revenue Service accepts major credit cards, but few are willing to put their tax balances on plastic because of the fees charged (usually 2 to 3 percent).
This really isn't too surprising: if you're facing a $1200 payment, coming up with an extra thirty bucks isn't going to make you feel any better, even if you've got a twenty-day grace period on your MasterCard. The survey suggests that the IRS, should they want greater use of plastic, should follow the lead of real merchants and pay the cost of card processing themselves, billing the $1200 and then collecting $1170 or so from their card service. I have serious doubts, though, that the Treasury will consider such a thing.
Understatement of the year
Perhaps of the century, at least so far:
I think I've done more good than harm here.
I never doubted it for a moment.
Thank you, Michele.
Dancing in the street
The Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City, which runs Tuesday through Sunday, is, well, pretty darn festive, what with scores of artists (figure 150 or so) plying their wares and four stages for live events.
It is literally in the street: specifically, Hudson Avenue south of Sheridan, between Stage Center and the Crystal Bridge. And there will be dancers, singers, actors, musicians, and every sort of nosh from pork-chop sandwiches to cedar-plank grilled salmon to, um, tequila bread pudding.
About the only question is when (not if) it will rain. This is spring in Oklahoma, after all. But the Festival, even dripping wet, draws around 700,000 people over its five-and-a-half-day run. In recent years there has been some rumbling to the effect that it may have gotten too big, that it draws big-name artists from elsewhere in the country at the expense of the locals, but I suspect the buyers are less concerned with where a given piece comes from than with how it will look in the living room.
I've missed the last couple of Festivals. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
16 April 2004
Q-tip of the day
H. Allen Smith wrote often about writers and their occasional foibles, and one of the writers he memorialized was a chap with the improbable name of Castro Tinklepaugh who was working on a series about Native Americans on the prairie, somehow got sidetracked halfway through, and wound up doing what may be the definitive study of cerumen among the indigenous people of the continent.
Cerumen, in case you missed Grossology, is more commonly known as earwax.
And sometimes, though I admit I hadn't noticed and Dr Tinklepaugh didn't address the issue directly he was more concerned with viscosity and adhesion the stuff comes in different colors.
(Via Swirlspice; Erica must be wondering why she ever brought this up in the first place.)
Go ahead and breathe
In recent years, parts of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas have been on the EPA's nonattainment list, although it wasn't because of increased ozone, but because of tighter standards, proposed in 1997 and adopted in 2001 after court challenges.
People who don't suffer from respiratory ailments will likely notice no significant difference, except for the absence of ozone alerts in the media.
Pedal to the metal
Having been warned by hln, I spun some fairly boisterous tunes on today's commute, with the following results:
"Kick Out the Jams", MC5: 14 mph over speed limit
I'm thinking that on the next road trip, Enya stays home.
If they don't win, it's a shame
Which they didn't, but what the heck.
The Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks dropped their home opener at the Brick in front of about 11,500 fans. Omaha's Royals won 8-3, and the fireworks display promised for the evening was cancelled due to higher-than-usual winds.
Now 6-3, the 'Hawks remain on top of the Pacific Coast League East division, though they can't expect to stay there if they strand ten runners every night.
A New York State Supreme Court justice ruled yesterday that the liberal talk-radio network, Air America Radio, be put back on the air in Chicago, a day after it was dropped there because of a contract dispute. Justice Marylin G. Diamond issued a restraining order that would allow Air America's programs to be switched on today. Air America must post a $156,000 bond, a condition that its chairman, Evan Cohen, said the company would meet.
"Unbelievable," says Matt at Overtaken by Events.
I believe it just fine. Surely this is the same Justice Diamond who reported receiving threatening letters two years ago, which, said an FBI profiler who paid dues as a detective for the NYPD, were likely written by Diamond herself, perhaps in an effort to justify an expanded security detail. I have to think that if she actually did come up with a scheme like that, she can come up with a justification for any injunction imaginable.
17 April 2004
First, let's get the terminology under control, with the help of George Carlin:
If you're looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That's not self-help. That's help. If you did it yourself, you didn't need help.
Not because she needs help or anything, The Girl Formerly Known As Aldahlia has obtained a copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and she is, to put it mildly, not impressed.
Here comes another one
I don't get as many Free AOL! discs as I used to, which I attribute to having moved and therefore having left some mailing lists behind. This is clearly not an option open to most people, but I have tended to shrug off the invasion: how hard is it to toss the offending wheel of polycarbonate into the circular file?
Enter, stage left, Lori Hancock, a member of the California Assembly (of course), a Democrat (natch) from Berkeley (where else?), who has introduced a bill to require that discs from AOL and its rivals include self-addressed, stamped envelopes to return the unused discs to the sender or, alternatively, to a recycling facility.
AOL, desperate for subscribers, will undoubtedly be appalled at this measure; California, perhaps anxious to preserve landfill space, might actually approve it in the name of holy environmentalism. I'm inclined to support the bill, if only because it would annoy AOL; there is poetic justice in the idea that the carpet-bombing marketroids from AOL might be sentenced to 1000 free hours of community service. And really, there's no middle ground here, unless you want to use the discs for skeet.
Oh, Kimberly Anne, where are you when we need you?
Beat around the Bush
In 1964, the Mar-Keys, who had scored one of the first hits for the Satellite (later Stax) label with the ferocious yet laid-back "Last Night", failed to make any chart noise with their single "Bush Bash" (Stax 156).
Forty years later, it occurs to me: In the unlikely event that this record an instrumental, in case you were wondering should be played on the radio, does it qualify as a political statement subject to election laws?
Chris Bopst, no friend of the current Administration, apparently did play this record on his Richmond radio show one day last month. I don't think it's likely he got any negative feedback for so doing I certainly wouldn't have given him any but I'm wondering (since I missed the station stream) just how he introduced the tune.
I may have moved across town, but I still have my hair done (to the extent that you can call it "hair", and to the extent that what happens to it qualifies as "done") at the same old eastside location, so today I had to plunge into the Land of What Used To Be.
And indeed, a lot has changed over there in a matter of weeks: a flea market has moved into the shell of a K mart; the hardware store formerly next to Target has relocated one mile west, perhaps hinting at an expansion of Target itself; the most recent grocer to try to make a go of it at 15th and Vickie has given up; and the parking lot at the mall was 80 percent empty. I am reasonably certain that my absence has affected mall traffic not a whit, but still it's sort of dispiriting, and I dawdled over there as little as possible. (I did, however, gas up, since the Evil Orange Pump indicator was starting to flicker and the price was a penny less than my usual station, saving me one bit.)
On the return trip different route, as per my usual habit I saw this sign posted at a software store offering a seminar on virus infections: "In God We Trust. All Others We Scan."
The cause I would take as my platform if I was suddenly crowned Miss America or somehow found myself First Lady is ending the systematic genital mutilation of newborn males. If I ever marry and multiply, there is no way on this green earth I will let any doctor touch my son's Zauberstücke.
Given her level of determination, we can probably say goodbye to fast-talking, slow-walking, good-looking Mohel Sam.
Of course, I have no interest in having sons, I would much prefer daughters. Hopefully, in 30 years when I am ready for children, it will be possible to choose their sex.
In thirty years, it might even be possible to reassign their sex on the fly, so to speak.
18 April 2004
F for effort
Talk-show host Jay Severin at Boston's FM talker WTKK has been informed that he will no longer be allowed to use the euphemism "effing".
What, if anything, can we do about those corksoaking iceholes at the FCC?
(Via Jeff Jarvis)
The mediocrity is the message
So-called "public-service announcements," says Myria, are "a boil on the ass of society paid for mostly by your tax dollars," and it's not hard to see why:
Has there ever been one of these things that wasn't designed specifically to sing to the choir? The anti-smoking ones particularly get me, probably because they're so omnipresent. Yeah, here's a good idea, we'll tax cigarettes and then give that money to modern-day collectivist Puritans so they can tell smokers how bad smoking is for them. Yeah, uh-huh, that makes sense. For starters, is there anyone in the country, anyone, who is under any illusions the potential health effects of smoking? I mean, seriously, is there someone out there who is going to see one of these adverts and go "Holy shit! I didn't know these things were bad for me!" and throw away their Marlboros or whatever? If nothing else, the fact that collectivists have managed to ban smoking just about anywhere save the peak of Mount Everest (and perhaps even there, dunno) should be a big clue (though, for contrarian types that might actually be an incentive to continue smoking, come to think of it). That smoking is perhaps not the greatest thing for your long-term health is hardly a big secret here, but then PSAs tend to thrive on the terminally obvious. Any day now I'm expecting one where someone says "I thought Twinkies were good for me, now look at what a tub-of-lard I am?" with the tagline "Sugar kills, Homey." Then we can move on to fat, caffeine, salt, then maybe move on to warning people that having sex can result in pregnancy.
Not a chance. If we discourage people from having sex, the terrorists have won.
And have you ever noticed that there always seems to be a supply of people who will testify in court that they smoked for thirty, forty years and never had the slightest inkling that sticking burning leaves in their mouths might not actually be good for them?
The FCC gives Brownie points to stations for running these things, which is yet another indication of their contempt for the media they regulate and the audiences those media halfassedly attempt to serve.
Can this format be saved?
Rich Appel's Hz So Good newsletter for the coming month opens with a seven-point plan to salvage "oldies" radio, and he has correctly identified the major issue: the core audience is way past the age that advertisers are most desperate to reach. (I turn 51 this year, and am therefore presumably of no interest to anyone except AARP and the manufacturers of Fix-O-Dent.) The fix is radical: the emphasis must be shifted away from us Persons of Mature Flatulence and toward building a new audience in the 18-34 demographic. And this means killing the ersatz Bill Drake noises in the background and abandoning the "we're the station you grew up with" imaging. If this music has lasting value, and I think it does, then it can be sold to new generations without having to pay tribute to those of us who fancy ourselves as having been there at the creation; surprisingly many of today's twenty-year-olds may be Beatles fans, as a recent Entertainment Weekly feature suggested, but it's not necessary for them to be exposed to Murray the K for them to grasp the Zeitgeist.
And given the sheer diversity of Top 40 radio in its prime if a record charted high enough in the trade papers, it was a candidate for airplay regardless of its perceived genre there's inevitably going to be conflict in putting together a playlist for the very model of a modern oldies station: some will prefer a heavier marbling of R&B, while others will lean towards whiter, brighter waxings, and what do you do with the country crossovers? One thing, however, is for certain: you can't encapsulate a decade and a half of incredibly diverse music by a mere 200 or 300 songs, as today's stations persist in thinking.
Maybe I shouldn't care about these things. If I have the urge to hear songs from this era, I need only walk into the next room and select stuff from the shelf. But I have just enough semi-enlightened self-interest to believe that if there's an increasing interest in material from the period, the gatekeepers will be more likely to open up the vaults and turn loose some of the things I've forgotten or I've never heard at all. And as John Lennon once said, you know that can't be bad.
19 April 2004
Say it again: Murrah.
It's a mere slip of a word, a syllable and a half, barely enough for a murmur.
And on an April morning in 1995, its innocuousness was forever laced with toxins: number-two diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, shrapnel, the very smell of death.
It is still not entirely certain whether the Oklahoma City bombing was a purely domestic operation, or if there might have been a foreign component to the conspiracy. But either way, the results were the same, and a hundred sixty-eight empty chairs stand downtown to give mute testimony to those results.
Spring in Oklahoma often brings us disasters. On this very date in 1970, the Chikaskia River, after three days of rain, rose three to six feet from its banks and washed away much of the town of Jefferson. In May 1999, tornadoes pushing the limits of the Fujita scale rolled through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. The response is always the same: we take care of business, we mourn, we clean up, and we go on, because well, because that's what we do.
I don't know if this is the stuff of which movies are made, but inevitably someone will try, and chances are there will be a title like Terror in the Heartland attached to it, a title that might attract attention on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster but which ultimately says nothing at all. Besides, if you were here on the 19th of April, 1995, as I was, as Jan was, you already have a name for it.
Now playing in the hearts and minds of a community that will always remember, and will always go on.
Because that's what we do.
Back into the Sac
We know this much:
Kelley read at least 170 blogs to come up with a new edition of the Cul-de-Sac.
Dedication greater than this hath no one at least, no one who claims to have a life.
(And thanks for stopping by.)
How to publish a retraction
Air America should fail because it sucks, not because...some shadowy conservative cabal is pulling strings!
On the same item, later:
UPDATE: Some readers have taken issue with our characterization of Air America as sucking. Some would say it blows. But mainly we've heard from angry liberals who argue that Air America is an important dissenting voice in a media dominated by right-wing rumormongers and conservative mouthpieces. This is an excellent point. So we take it back: Air America should not fail because it sucks. Air America should fail under the weight of its humor-crushing earnestness and mammoth hubris, not because some shadowy conservative cabal is pulling strings.
I don't know whether Air America will fail or not, myself, and I haven't listened to it to determine its level of suckage. (The only radio talk show I check on anything resembling a regular basis is the Diane Rehm Show on NPR.) But "mammoth hubris" is a concept I understand. And Hubris, followers of the Greek gods will recall, tends to be followed at some indeterminate interval by Nemesis.
Never happen again
I've quoted the Shangri-Las' "Past, Present and Future" a few times in my lifetime, mainly because its words (you can't call them "lyrics," really, since they're not sung) are so odd, yet so apt, that they fit very much into a lifetime as odd as my own.
This is the heart of the matter:
Was I ever in love?
I called it love.
I mean, it felt like love.
There were moments when....
Well, there were moments when.
My first (some may say last) Moment When was thirty-five years ago today.
And quite apart from the heinousness of their crime, I will never forgive Messrs. McVeigh and Nichols, and any of their friends and acquaintances who may have been involved, for displacing a good memory by a horrifying one.
20 April 2004
Maybe it was the humidity, maybe it was the threat of thunderstorms, maybe it was just bad luck, but this morning's jaunt from Surlywood to 42nd and Treadmill was far more complicated than usual, owing to heavy participation by hardcore members of the Anti-Destination League, people who watch their vehicles, their whole vehicles, and nothing but their vehicles. I had to dodge (or, in a couple of cases, chevy) half a dozen of these miscreants over the eleven-mile run, and while the average speed was about the same as usual, the fluctuations were ferocious; I had to come up with a brief 82-mph burst to shake off a cluster of motorized cockleburs, something I don't much enjoy doing when a 40-mph exit is waiting for me a thousand feet ahead.
On the other hand, Sandy, the little blonde sedan who is the other half of this team, seemed happy to open up a can of Zoom Zoom on these people, and I suppose that if it gladdens her two-liter heart, it's probably a Good Thing.
Round up the usual supporting players
A perfectly obvious statement by Tim Cavanaugh:
[T]he incidental stuff is almost always the most enjoyable thing about a movie. Second bananas, supporting parts, cameos, villains, and comic reliefs, being spared the burden of carrying the picture, get more time to pull gags and chew scenery. That's why actors like to play those parts, and why audiences enjoy watching them.
Among other things, Cavanaugh was thinking of Casablanca, where Bogart's Rick is justly revered, but it's Claude Rains' Captain Renault who has proven over the years to be the most quotable.
And when they put together a Caddyshack tribute page, they didn't name it after Ty Webb (the Chevy Chase character); it's CarlSpackler.com, an acknowledgment of the fact that Bill Murray, billed fifth, towers over this movie like the Dalai Lama himself.
Meanwhile at Big Mac
The prosecution in the trial of Terry Nichols has asserted that alleged Secret Service video of the explosion in the Murrah bombing does not actually exist.
Jon Hersley, then the FBI case agent for the bombing probe, testified "There is no such tape.... We would have followed that tremendously if that existed."
Nichols' defense claimed that the government withheld this video from co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh's defense, and had moved for a dismissal.
(Update, 2:30 pm: McGehee has an AP story that describes the tape.)
If you're stymied by NewsOK's registration, use this:
Your two cents' worth
Which would actually cost you two cents, or some other relatively small sum, in this scheme by Roger L. Simon:
I am thinking about adding a nominal two dollars a month or ten dollars a year, something like that charge for the use of comments on here. What I mean is that my initial blog posts would remain open as they are now, but you would have to pay the fee to view or to add to the comments, which I would also participate in, as I do now. This would all be done by a simple (I hope) and anonymous registration process.
My primary reason is obviously to make some money out of something that is now taking a far greater amount of my professional time than I had ever anticipated. But adding this small fee might also (he tells himself) help elevate and preserve the already remarkably high level of discourse in the comments by discouraging trolls, racists, etc. As you might imagine, blocking these people is time-consuming, not to say depressing.
Movable Type 3.0 is expected to have a comments-registration function; it would be no particular trick, I suspect, to add, say, a PayPal button to the template.
Of course, if there were some way to charge trolls, racists, and most especially spammers, and let everyone else be, that might be even better, but this presumably would exceed the capability of a mere Perl script.
And there are a few people who visit here whom I'd gladly pay if I thought it might increase their participation.
(Via Stephen Green, who sensibly observes: "I'd hate to drive off those people who lend some valuable insights into issues where I'm woefully ignorant.")
Before the ice cream gives out
This being the second-busiest day in the site's history thank you, Professor I figured the least I could do was squeeze off one last post for the day.
Andrew Holleran, in the May Out, on the sexuality, or lack thereof, of Henry James:
Some of the most intense erotic feelings in life exist not in the sex we've had but the sex we didn't have with certain people. Yet the idea that James remained celibate till his death seems to call for pity or condescension from many quarters, as if the very thing James lamented about his native land its Anglo-Irish puritanism had defeated him too. As if this puritanism led to a more limited vision of life and a lesser art than, say, Proust.
Some people may believe that a (probably mythical) completely free and unfettered life, lived without regard for societal norms, is the wellspring from which the greatest creativity flows. I don't. Pushing the envelope is one thing; ripping it to shreds is quite another.
Then again, bending the page once in a while can be amusing. In the magazine's summer travel edition, the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corporation makes a pitch for gay visitors with the following tag: "Honoring a guy who wore powdered wigs and tight pants."
Well, I thought it was funny.
Not funny, on the other hand, was the guy in New Haven who left a U-Haul van parked across an intersection from the local FBI headquarters yesterday, on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. Matters were not helped when a dog trained to sniff for explosives somehow came up with a false positive.
For the two or three of you (of 1250 so far) who might just come back again, thank you.
21 April 2004
This takes balls
If the Oklahoma House has its way, some sex offenders would be subjected to castration. The House's amendment to Senate Bill 1413 specifies that the procedure will be used only after conviction of first- or second-degree rape or forcible sodomy, and then only if there are two prior convictions and supporting DNA evidence unless the perp requests it, perhaps as part of a plea bargain.
A similar measure got through the Legislature in 2002, but was vetoed by Frank Keating, then governor, who called it "reckless." Brad Henry, who succeeded Keating, has so far given no indication of how he will respond.
The amended bill also contains a strange provision from Rep. Thad Balkman (R-Norman) which would bar the viewing of sexually-explicit images in a moving vehicle. (Who knew this was a problem?)
The Senate will get one more shot at the bill before it goes to Governor Henry.
(Update: Originally, I had written this with reference to chemical castration; in fact, this measure calls for actual snippage. Thanks to Myria.)
That 70s crap
Humanity's "most pointless decade," says Andrea Harris, was the 1970s, and this pointlessness is reflected, to painful effect, in its popular music:
[O]ther decades had crap songs too, but I won't post them here, because the crappiness of crap songs in the Seventies was a special kind of crappiness, that transcended (or something, perhaps whatever is the opposite of "transcended") the crappiness of, say, "Shiny Shiny" by Haysi Fantayzee or "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners, I'm not sure why. Bad songs in the Seventies had that special je ne sais quoi that no one has been able to reproduce.
I have been known to defend "Seasons in the Sun," even the inappropriately-bouncy Terry Jacks reading I mean, this is Jacques Brel, despite a set of horribly Rod McKuen-esque English lyrics by, well, Rod McKuen, that mostly miss the point but then, I am considered a few degrees off plumb.
My own list of Really Bad Songs is here. By probably no coincidence, of the twenty selections therein, fifteen date from the Seventies.
Fuels rush in where wise men never go
As a person who actually likes cars, as distinguished from the folks who view them as (at best) necessary evils, I tend to take a dim view of the government's Corporate Average Fuel Economy scheme. How dim? I wrote this in December:
CAFE...so far has produced far more pages of regulation than gallons of gas. If it is necessary to, um, persuade consumers to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, a proposition rather difficult to defend without falling back on "Because we said so," the most direct approach is to increase the tax on fuel. This puts the decision into the hands of the individual, where it rightfully belongs.
As an object lesson in how purely arbitrary these so-called "standards" are, the NHTSA announced this week that Nissan will be exempted for the next five years from one of them: the so-called "two-fleet" rule, which specifies that imported models and domestics must meet the standards separately. GM, for instance, can't use the tiny Chevrolet Aveo, produced by what's left of Daewoo in South Korea, to offset an Impala.
In Nissan's case, the small Sentra sedan, assembled in Mexico, has been balancing out Infiniti Q45s and such from Japan. Under the rules of NAFTA, the Sentra will be reclassified as a domestic as of 2005, meaning Nissan's imports will no longer meet CAFE targets. NHTSA's decision, opposed by actual US automakers, means that Nissan can count both imports and domestics in a single fleet.
This is only the second such waiver granted by NHTSA since the beginnings of CAFE. (Volkswagen got the first; it has since expired.) Nissan had threatened to cut production at its two US plants, one in Mississippi, the other in Tennessee, should the waiver not be granted. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) what a surprise! had lobbied NHTSA to cut Nissan some slack.
The two-fleet rule is, of course, rather stupid. So is the rule which counts cars and "light trucks" in separate fleets: to pick just one example of egregiousness, Chrysler's PT Cruiser, which has a removable back seat, is considered a truck except for its convertible version, whose back seat is not removable, which means it's a car.
There's no justification for this program anymore, if indeed there ever was. The government can publish all the fuel-economy numbers it wants, but buyers have the right to ignore them should they so desire, and manufacturers, once basic safety standards are met, shouldn't have to answer to Washington for their design decisions.
Goodness, gracious, great balls of ice
First day of the Festival of the Arts, and that shiny white stuff accumulating on the ground isn't snow; you can name any sports ball, baseball or smaller, and we've had hail that size in the last quarter-hour. Normally I'd be home by now, but I'm not even going to challenge the roads under these conditions.
(Update, 5:45 pm: Back at home. No damage.)
Anastasia (a great name) at Southern Musings (also a great name) hosts the eighty-third version (without a fatality) of Carnival of the Vanities, your weekly guide to the best of the blogs, and so on, and so on, and scooby-dooby-doo, so what are you waiting for?
22 April 2004
In the Spirit of things
By now somewhere you've read about Spirit of America, a nonprofit organization that backs up the efforts of our troops to spread good will in places that are sorely in need of it.
In an effort to make this interesting, three loose (possibly even unraveled) coalitions of bloggers are competing to secure your gift in their name, and promising the moon if only you'll click. So far, however, only the Baseball Crank promises something even more amazing than that.
No, I won't spoil it for you here. And remember, it's for the best of causes.
Body count: 0
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has been saying that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was getting a bad rap from the media, and apparently he was right:
Two months have elapsed since the film was released and no Jew has been killed. Not only have there been no pogroms, there have been no reported beatings, and no reported acts of vandalism associated with the film. This is true not only in the U.S.; it is true all over the world. By now the movie has played in literally scores of countries, all without violence.
Those who predicted that the movie would generate violence need to explain themselves. And in some cases, they need to apologize to Christians. Recall that it was ADL director Abe Foxman who said last January that Mel Gibson is 'hawking it [the film] on a commercial crusade to the churches of this country.' He then concluded, 'That's what makes it so dangerous.' In other words, it's not lax Christians who are a danger to Jews, nor is it the anti-war protesters who carry banners bashing Israel, it's those Catholics and Protestants who go to church on Sundays that Jews have to fear the most. Not only is this radically wrong indeed it's dangerously wrong it's also insulting to practicing Christians.
As the phrase goes, read the whole thing.
("Protestants"? Does anyone outside Catholicism, or maybe the Armed Forces chaplain corps, use that term anymore?)
(Via Hit and Run)
And now it's a referendum
The Oklahoma Senate last week attached an amendment to House Bill 2259, a rewriting of the state's forcible-sodomy laws, which calls for a referendum on gay marriage. Today the House passed the bill.
The amendment, by Senator James Williamson (R-Tulsa), proposes that voters approve a change to the state Constitution that defines marriage in terms of one man and one woman, that declines to recognize marriages from other states that do not meet this definition, and that classifies the issuance of a marriage license to anyone else as a misdemeanor.
Expect a lawsuit to try to keep the question off the ballot.
Now you hear it, now you don't
The on-again-off-again nature of Air America Radio has suggested a plan of action to the Interested-Participant:
[It] might be just the vehicle to portray John Kerry with a consistent message on the campaign issues. If they can just synchronize their on-air times when Kerry speaks on only one side of an issue and then go off-the-air when he waffles and espouses a contrary position, the network would be reporting consistent policies from their candidate. This may help alleviate confusion in some voters' minds.
It may be time to check those control boards for an adequate supply of flip-flop devices.
Google's Gmail isn't even available to the general public yet, and already a California (of course) state senator is calling for it to be banned.
Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) has introduced a bill which, in its current version, would bar an email provider from scanning incoming customer email for content other than spam or viruses.
Google has not made a public response to Figueroa's bill at this writing.
Bosley of the month (again)
I figured I could go a whole month without any Catherine Bosley references, but inasmuch as 136 people showed up here in the last hour Googling the poor woman, the least I can do is fan the flames, right?
So: The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals last month lifted an injunction against distribution of the infamous Bosley footage; this week, a Web site which had licensed the video from the person who shot it won permission from the Court to exhibit it.
And it's not even the 26th yet.
23 April 2004
Life among the redbuds
It looks something like this, at least for a few weeks:
Making the two-TrackBacked beast
It's the final word, not because it's definitive or anything, but because I'd really like to shove these topics back into the footlocker and go on to something else.
Fetch the soft cushions
The University of the Incarnate Word, a Catholic college in San Antonio, is discontinuing its Crusader mascot and team name in the name of, you guessed it, cultural sensitivity. The aggrieved group this time: Muslims. You'd think they were expecting the Spanish Inquisition or something.
(Via Tongue Tied)
Grist for the data mill
For the past ten years or so, I have dutifully filled out the Consumer Reports annual survey and voted in their board election. This year I did the survey online, and it went fairly quickly, though one thing puzzles me: desktop computers are considered separately, while notebook computers are listed under "Electronics."
I'm sure my particular survey was fairly boring: I had a reasonable array of products, none of which have ever required extraordinary service. (Except for the car, which gets a reasonable facsimile of the periodic maintenance recommended by the manufacturer, they haven't required any service at all.)
And in the board election, all else being equal, I vote against anyone I've ever heard of, on the basis that if the individual managed to get into the news, it was likely for something I would be inclined to oppose.
Ask me about my vow of silence
Somebody planted this sign complete with a color scheme redolent of Valentine's Day in the grass adjoining a prodigiously busy intersection:
Are you single? Free info: 405-607-xxxx.
I'm pretty sure I'm single; I have a copy of my divorce decree. How much additional info do I need?
(And it damned sure wasn't free, either.)
24 April 2004
(Some of) the kids are alright
From an email sent to, and posted at, Fraters Libertas:
John Kerry recently dismissed his post-Vietnam service slander of his countrymen as murderers, rapists, etc, by saying he was just "a 27 year old kid" when he said those malicious things.
Pat Tillman, at 27 years old, sacrificed a professional football career, millions of dollars, a life of luxury, and his life, to defend his country.
A 27 year old kid.
And now at 60, presumably wiser, John Kerry doesn't even know what's in his garage.
We will always need more Pat Tillmans.
And we will never need even one John Kerry.
How now, brown thumb?
Up to now, I have never had much luck with plants; I've always suspected that once aware of my presence, they shut themselves down rather than endure it.
The flora at Surlywood, however, are anything but suicidal, and they're utterly indifferent to me. I expected, based on what I found in the November inventory, one small clump of irises this spring, but got three. (This is the first, which is all white; the second is a mixture of white and yellow; the third, in the back yard under the cottonwood tree, is purple.) I'm starting to envision having the entire back fence lined with these things. Of course, if I actually plan for this, I may be pushing my luck.
It's a shame these slugs ain't real
"In the space of twenty years," writes Christopher Knight, "I've watched America go from a bright shining city on a hill, to a cellblock of an island prison 'ruled' by petty crooks and thugs."
Sooner or later, something's going to snap, and for when it does, Knight has readied his list of People Who Should Be Shot When The Revolution Comes. The list is not partisan, but it's not non-partisan either; both Democratic and Republican shoes have been lining up to kick the keisters of We The People.
With regard to item #3, however: My house, at least where the bricks aren't, is a loud shade of puce. Officers of the Neighborhood Association profess to like it.
Looking for the next boom
On the per capita income scale, Oklahoma generally ranks fairly low in 2002, we placed forty-third among the states, same as in 1998. Some of this is offset by housing costs, which are actually bearable in these parts, but by no means are we rolling in it.
The Ackerman McQueen ad agency took out a full-page ad in tomorrow's Oklahoman to recommend a solution. And they're not the first to suggest that we seem to come up with around 1200 bushels for every thousand points of light, either:
Clearly, we lack the gene that makes Texans believe that if it's theirs, it's the best anywhere. Instead, we tend to underestimate ourselves. So we're less annoying, but also less successful.
But let's say the revitalization in our midst fortifies our psyche into doing a statewide about-face. And starts a movement based on admitting how good we are.
No doubt we're doing some serious rebuilding. And how hard is it to be less annoying than (some) Texans?
But, says the agency, we have to start relying on our own resources, rather than looking elsewhere:
Imagine the impact if all purchasing agents, CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and other decision makers in Oklahoma would unite behind one simple goal: to Buy Oklahoma First.
Overnight, it would become the driving force of our economy. We'd enrich our tax base, school systems, public infrastructure and generally elevate our quality of life. We'd gain the sought-after Creative Class jobs our city needs to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.
Dr Richard Florida, guru of the Creative Class movement, was here this spring, and if I'm reading him properly, we can't really buy ourselves a Creative Class: we have to attract one, and that requires not only sprucing up the locations but the local attitudes as well. This doesn't mean we have to do a political 180, necessarily, but it does mean we have to come to grips with diversity in its truest sense: not something imposed from on high, but something that grows from the ground up.
Still, we can't, indeed we shouldn't, try to be the next Austin; we don't have to adopt a manifesto that proclaims to the world how open and free and cool we are. For all of Dr Florida's vaunted research, his favored cities aren't exactly setting economic records. I suspect no city in America has a higher percentage of people who see themselves as creative than does San Francisco, but there isn't anything in the way Baghdad-by-the-Bay is run that I'd want to see replicated in Oklahoma City.
Mostly, we're doing the right things. We spent a whole lot of money on downtown, but it brought in much more from the private sector. Tulsa is getting ready to try a similar formula. As we get used to small tastes of success, the bigger ones won't seem so far away. As Ackerman McQueen says:
All we have to do is have faith in ourselves and back it up with action.
We'll probably never be as wealthy as, say, Connecticut, the next state up on the population list. On the other hand, we'll probably never have Connecticut levels of taxation, either.
Some day my prints will come
"Art for art's sake," argued W. Somerset Maugham, "makes no more sense than gin for gin's sake." Which is true as far as it goes, but until they decide to have a Gin Festival downtown, there's always a good reason to go to the Festival of the Arts, especially since the clouds that had been dampening things all week unexpectedly lifted late this afternoon.
It doesn't cost anything to get into the Festival, though you'll be hard-pressed to find a place to park your car for under five bucks. (I opted for the usual parking garage on the edge of the Arts District, which cost exactly five bucks, though the poor anxious fellow at the gate gave me back $15 in change for my ten-spot, presumably thinking it was a twenty. He was most happy to be corrected.)
And once within the periphery, it's wall-to-wall people, or would be were there any walls: take these photos at Awe Contraire, shot Thursday, and double the number of bodies. Saturdays, especially suddenly sunny Saturdays, are like that. And it's sort of democratic, in a way: you can't immediately distinguish the people who always show up for these things from the people who popped in on a day trip from Wichita. Some find it stale; I find it stirring.
Knowing my propensity for sampling every last food vendor, I figured it would be safer for both my metabolism and my wallet to have dinner before going. A wise move, generally, though a lighter meal probably would have translated to more energetic movement; by the time I got back to my car, I was pretty well shot for the day.
I really hadn't been expecting any individual artwork to call out my name, but a monotype by Gillian Kemper caught my eye; we conversed on some level, I put it back down, walked around for ten more minutes, sang two verses of "Some Kind of Wonderful" (the Drifters hit, not the one by the Soul Brothers Six) along with one of the performers, walked back to Kemper's tent, resumed the conversation with the piece, and finally bought it.
I also had an extended chat with an Arts Council volunteer who was happy to tell me how much the Festival had changed in the last twenty or so years, which presumably was learned from a script since she couldn't have been much over twenty herself, and if she was, I want some of whatever probably not gin she was drinking.
It was good to be back.
25 April 2004
50 ways to scare a woman
Now I happen to think that Queen Latifah is a Major Babe, and there's no reason why she shouldn't be on the cover of Glamour.
And I suspect that Friedrich von Blowhard might agree with me on that point, but apart from the photo, much of what's on that cover and what's beneath it, he says, is worthy of the 2004 Nobel "General Rottenness To Humanity" Prize.
Of course, this cover conforms to the recent rule which says you must have something with an enormous number attached to it: in this case, "We tried on 1,300 swimsuits!" But digits are the least of your worries, young lady. As Blowhard notes:
"The 31 SEX & LOVE thrills no woman should miss." Since you can't instantly rattle off 31 sex and love thrills you've ever had, your sex life is clearly inadequate. But we knew that.
The conventional wisdom has it that everyone's sex life is inadequate, and something should be done about it. (Well, mine is, but I'm stuck with it. So there.) And you have to figure that magazines like Glamour are bought largely by women just barely out of their teens, which strikes me as a hell of an age to decide that your sex life is inadequate; what frame of reference do you have at twenty-two? (And if you're not out of your teens, you can get much the same harangues from, of all places, Planned Parenthood, which I suspect is a plot to insure continuing demand for their more, um, visible services.)
What you see in men's magazines, we are told on a regular basis, is transparently, flagrantly unreal, fantasies polished to a high gloss and airbrushed to perfection, utterly disconnected from any semblance of Real Life. It may even be so. But it's hard to imagine that the dreck that clutters up the lad mags is any worse than the toxins that routinely course through material aimed at women; reading that stuff, says Friedrich von Blowhard, constitutes "masochistic abuse."
There doesn't seem to be anyone around
Ritchie Cordell, pop producer and songwriter extraordinaire, died 13 April, a victim of cancer of the pancreas.
Cordell, born Richard Joel Rosenblatt in New York City in 1943, paid dues with the Kasenetz/Katz machine he produced a couple of 1910 Fruitgum Co. singles, and cowrote their wonderfully-insensitive "Indian Giver" and hit his stride working with Tommy James and the Shondells, for whom he cowrote and produced "I Think We're Along Now" and "Mirage" (the latter being "I Think We're Alone Now" played backwards!), following up with "Mony Mony". His influence extended into the 80s: he produced the first solo sessions by ex-Runaways guitarist Joan Jett, which yielded up the monster hit "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" and a cover of James' "Crimson and Clover". In 1987, two Cordell songs traded places at the top of the charts: Tiffany's remake of "I Think We're Alone Now", and a live Billy Idol version of "Mony Mony". In 2003, he was one of the first recipients of the Bubblegum Achievement Awards.
A superstar Ritchie Cordell wasn't, really, but you almost certainly know some of his work, and in pop music, it's hard to find higher accolades than that.
(Via Joan Jett)
This widely misunderstood teaching does not guarantee that the Pope will always be correct in his pronouncements; the horrible crimes of the Renaissance popes would refute that idea all by themselves. What it does is to indemnify the faithful against any errors they might commit by following papal teaching. If the Pope can be wrong, he is nevertheless Christ's designated vicar on Earth; one cannot be held to account for taking his statements as morally authoritative.
This is not, so far as I know, what spurred Tom Lehrer to intone, "Do whatever steps you want if / You have cleared them with the Pontiff." And I'm reasonably certain Sister Mary Discipline never explained it quite this way.
Although actual pronouncements which were claimed to be infallible, says Porretto, have only been issued twice in two thousand years, certain aspects of the doctrine still provoke controversy. As a practical matter, though, if you ever have a run-in with an individual who is Never, Ever Wrong, it's far more likely to be someone at work than someone in the Vatican.
Not nobody, not nohow
An undergraduate tour guide at Dartmouth was overheard telling a crowd of prospective students and their parental units that one thing the school didn't have was graduate students.
The guide was apparently off message, as they say these days, since in fact, Dartmouth readily admits to having graduate students.
26 April 2004
On the slow side
It's a whole new server farm, which means I'll actually have to bring out the digital combines and stuff, which won't leave me an enormous amount of time to fill up space here today.
You have been warned.
(Update: Mirabile dictu, most of this stuff seems to be working, and the stuff that isn't working is stuff someone else has to fix. Life is good.)
Left on green
Why is that? Nobody, in fact, wants to preserve nature more than rural conservatives: We fish, hunt, camp, and hike, and we want our children to be able to do the same. We are, however, reasonable about it, while urban liberals seem hell-bent on controlling something they know nothing about.
For an answer to "Why is that?" he points to this Michael Crichton speech:
[T]he romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.
The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking. Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does. It's all talk and as the years go on, and the world population grows increasingly urban, it's uninformed talk. Farmers know what they're talking about. City people don't. It's all fantasy.
It's one big Yellowstone out there, they think. God forbid they should ever actually see how the rest of the world lives.
(Courtesy of Spoons)
I tell you, it's a talent
As though the World's Smallest Instalanche wasn't tribute enough, today I get traffic from Lileks without actually being linked by Lileks. (No, I won't explain it; it's pretty clear once you read the Bleat in question. This is the page referenced by reference, so to speak.)
Now if I could just draw some unwarranted attention from [fill in name of female blogger] but no, let's not get silly here.
(With thanks to Dan Lovejoy, who tipped me off.)
Headline of the year
Okay, the calendar still says April, but it's gonna be hard to top this one.
A clerk in the Brooklyn Family Court claims he suffered herniated discs in his back after a courthouse toilet shattered under him.
The New York Post reports: Hurt in Line of Doody.
No, there's no chance the person who wrote that headline will be canned.
All frame, no picture
Phil Lucas, executive editor of the News Herald in Panama City, Florida, on creeping (and sometimes leaping) bias:
Four weeks ago the Israelis killed Ahmed Yassin, the Islamic religious leader who founded Hamas, one of the purposes of which is to kill Israelis. Some news reports called him "revered spiritual leader." Revered by whom? Israelis? Americans? Palestinians? Is there any doubt as to the reporters? opinion?
Virtually all news reports said he was "assassinated," which means murder, an illegal act. From the Israeli point of view, is it illegal to chop the head off a snake trying to strike you? Reporters could have written "executed," a word loaded in the other direction, implying legality and favoring the Israelis. Or they could have just written "killed" and let readers and viewers decide what is right and what is wrong.
Here's a line from an Associated Press story about the president's press conference last week. "Bush sidestepped at least two opportunities to say he wanted to apologize or take personal responsibility."
"Sidestepped?" "Opportunities?" Nobody sidesteps opportunities. You sidestep duck droppings on the sidewalk. Think this reporter has an opinion he wants to share? If he reveals this kind of blatant bias in any part of a news story, it casts a shadow over every word he writes.
USA Today wrote this: "Offered numerous chances to second-guess his approach to Iraq, he rejected them all."
Nobody "rejects" any "chances" worth taking. It defies human nature. As for "second-guessing," we don?t need to guess whose opinion that is. The reporters' two names are in the byline. Assuming perhaps that their readers were too stupid to get it, the reporters used these words a few paragraphs down: "denied," "argued" and "conceded." All referred to Bush. These are words for the opinion pages, like the one you are on now, unless you draw no distinction between news and opinion, unless you believe your opinion is the news.
"The stories we tell," says Lucas, "define the nation." Some of our storytellers are manifestly intent upon defining us in the most negative terms they can manage.
27 April 2004
Our single-payer future
Health-insurance operations, I am convinced, rely on the unwillingness of most of their customers to read the thousands of words that constitute the average group policy.
Unfortunately, I read the damned things, and today someone is going to have to come up with an acceptable explanation for refusing to cover to any extent a standard name-brand drug that is listed on the copy of the formulary that was provided, a drug prescribed according to their rules and requested through a participating pharmacy as defined in said rules.
In a more rational world, I'd pay the entire tab for the drug and confine my insurance claims to seeking partial reimbursement for really expensive treatments which, of course, would cut my insurance premiums substantially. But this is the world we have, and this is the policy I have, and if they're not going to honor its provisions, they're damned well going to explain why.
Oh, no, don't worry, we're not about to enact Hillary® brand Hyperexpensive National Health Care. At least, not yet. But it's difficult for me to support the private sector when the private sector is busy looking for ways to stick it to me.
(Update, 1:30 pm: After spending entirely too much time with an annoying automated voice-responder system I have no objections to disembodied voices per se, and actually came this close to developing an insane crush on one many years ago, but "Margaret," as she was identified, seems to be one part Stepford, two parts Windows, and I kept hoping for a BSoD I got to the heart of the matter, which is this: before they can fill this prescription which, incidentally, is a condition either not specified in the contract or mentioned at a point far removed from any conceivable context they wish to speak to the prescribing physician, presumably so they can talk him into a cheaper drug. After six years with the doctor in question, I think it's a safe bet he'll tell them to jump a stump and fill as prescribed, you farging busybodies.)
Radical plastic surgery
Last time we heard from Carte Blanche, owner Citigroup had essentially merged it into Diner's Club, but the two travel/entertainment cards, even combined, continued to lose ground (and market share) against the American Express juggernaut.
Citigroup has now decided to give Carte Blanche a boost by making its acceptance ubiquitous: the Carte Blanche card will now bear a MasterCard logo, which means that any place which honors MasterCard (which is just about any place that hasn't struck an exclusive deal with some other card) will be happy to take Carte Blanche.
This action could spur demand for Carte Blanche cards, and it should solidify Citigroup's position at the top of the MasterCard food chain. (Citigroup, after a court battle with Visa over branding, no longer offers new Visa cards, though existing Visa accounts are still serviced.)
Still to be determined: what, if anything, will happen when JP Morgan Chase, the third-largest issuer in the MasterCard universe, completes its merger with Bank One, at the top of the Visa heap.
Florida wants a lot from you
A measure pending in the Florida legislature would redefine the "public use" restriction in the taking of private land under eminent-domain laws. Proponents say it's necessary for the survival of small cities who have plenty of residential lots but no place for business expansion; opponents see it as a license to grab land for any reason whatsoever.
Given the generally sorry track record of state and local governments in matters of this sort, there's no way I'm going to say anything nice about this bill. Senator Mike Bennett assures us the additional powers given to the state won't be abused; allow me to point out that condemning privately-held land for the benefit of some other private owner, even in the name of "economic development," is about as abusive as you can get.
(Via Hit & Run)
Thinking inside the box
It's the Schroedinger's Candidate. He's an undefined state. You don't know where he stands until you put him in office.
He is subject to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as well you can either know his momentum or his position. As a candidate, he is trying to gain momentum in his Presidential bid. Therefore, we cannot know his position on anything.
And you change it by trying to measure it.
As good a description as you're likely to hear this year, I'd say.
No anchovies? You've got the wrong man
If you were the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator and you wanted to catch someone who'd skipped out on court costs, where would you look?
ACS, a Dallas-based company hired by OSCA to find the state's scofflaws, has one unexpected and perhaps unexpectedly effective source: the pizza place. "When you call to order a pizza," says OSCA's David Coplen, "you usually give them your correct name, your correct address and your correct phone number."
Neither ACS nor OSCA will say exactly which pizza joints are willing to sell this information to them, though Domino's says it doesn't traffic in customer identities.
The question, of course, is whether people will start giving out bogus names when they order, thinking Papa John or someone will fink on them and how many people named Dick Hertz are there in this town, anyway?
28 April 2004
General Motors today unwraps a limited-edition (500 copies) Oldsmobile Alero to mark the end of America's oldest automotive nameplate. I have to wonder: why bother? The Alero, a relentlessly-average compact sedan, is the very antithesis of what Oldsmobile was in its glory days: the General's skunkworks, its experimental division, the place where high tech was put to the test before it filtered down to the rest of the GM brands. (Think "Rocket 88" or "Toronado".)
After GM decided to save a few bucks by pooling the engineering teams, rather than assigning engineers to individual marques, Oldsmobiles ceased to be distinctive and became Buicks with different trim packages. One wag posited that "Oldsmobile" was in fact an acronym: "Old, Leisurely-Driven Sedan Made Of Buick's Inferior Leftover Equipment." And when the General's attention was drawn away by the Saturn experiment, a painfully-obvious attempt to see if it was possible to sell ordinary cars with extraordinary dealer service, Olds was doomed: the only surprise is that some other GM marque, Buick or Pontiac, didn't go with it. (And Pontiac, with a lineup notably devoid of "excitement" only the new GTO, a rebadged Holden Monaro from Australia, has any appeal to the driving enthusiast has perhaps even less reason to live than Oldsmobile.)
This isn't the first time GM has shed brands. In the Twenties, companion makes were introduced for every division except Chevrolet. Buick's Marquette and Oldsmobile's Viking died at the beginning of the Great Depression; Cadillac's LaSalle held out until 1940. Pontiac survived, but its parent Oakland was put to sleep.
If there's still an Oldsmobile dealer near you, he has Aleros and Bravadas. The Bravada is a truck, a sport-utility vehicle that is shared with other GM divisions. Ransom Eli Olds died in 1950; I wouldn't be surprised to hear that deep within his crypt at Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan, the town that Oldsmobile built, Mr Olds is doing about 600 rpm.
He's our dear old weatherman
Fields, who was most recently the weatherman at KPSP, CBS-2 in Palm Springs, California, is the show's third announcer in its 32-year history on the CBS Television Network.
Weather, of course, is trivial in southern California, where it never rains L.A. Story's weatherman Harris K. Telemacher (Steve Martin) actually prerecorded his forecasts for weeks at a time but peppy TV-personality types won't last six minutes doing the weather in Oklahoma. Says Deatherage:
[P]eople here will not accept a "weatherman" who is not a meteorologist. Weather, and particularly severe weather, are way too important to leave to entertainers. The concept of a weatherman becoming a game show announcer (Fields), or host (Pat Sajak), or talk show host (David Letterman) just makes us wonder what the hell is wrong with you people that you'd let comedians interpret the weather good grief don't you have any common sense at all????
On the other hand, God forbid Gary England should try to crack a joke.
Mister Ranger, SIR!
Now I knew that when you're with the Flintstones, you'll have a yabba-dabba-doo time, a dabb-a-doo time, you'll have a gay old time, but I never knew anyone else was locked away in Hanna-Barbera's closet.
Well, except for Velma.
(Update, 6:50 pm: I wonder if ol' Yogi has tried these?)
No lumber. Really.
29 April 2004
Downtown renaissance (the sequel)
Lileks is talking about Minneapolis, of course, but some of this I'm seeing at my end of I-35:
I lament the loss of the old great hotels as well, and I wish they were still around but if the Nicollet and Andrews were still here, they'd be gutted and turned into condos with incredible views and nosebleed tax assessments. That's what market forces would require. In the past, the government leveled Skid Row on behalf of new urban theories, and it did so with the full approval of the technocrats not despite its effect on transients and day laborers, but because of its effect. The old flophouses were stinking lice-ridden hellholes with naught but chicken wire and cardboard to segregate the occupants; demolishing these places was seen as a great civic good. Be done with them, and let shiny white Corbu towers rise in their place. (Note: they didn't.) But no matter who drives the car government or the market prosperity will push some people out of downtown housing.
I. M. Pei's urban-renewal plan for Oklahoma City, hatched back in the go-go Sixties, had much the same effect, and there was never enough money to follow through on the more grandiose plans: the end result was rows of empty buildings occasionally broken up by vacant lots. The downtown core has recovered, for the most part, and Bricktown, on the other side of the tracks, is booming, but west of the Arts District is still pretty much a ghost town, and residential and industrial areas between Reno and the river are about to be liquidated in the name of I-40 expansion.
On the other hand, the Skirvin Hotel isn't going condo. Assuming the financing gaps can be filled, the city, which presently owns the structure, expects the hotel to reopen in a couple of years with Hilton branding. But with the marginal stuff swept away, housing close to downtown is about to get very expensive indeed.
Here's your license
A reasonable question from I Speak of Dreams:
In California, you have to take 30 hours of classroom instruction and have 55 hours behind the wheel before you can get a driver's license. Shouldn't we require at least 85 hours in communications and how to stay married before granting a marriage license?
Then again, will anyone vouch for the superiority of California drivers?
Oh, and a Diet Pepsi, please
The first Saturday of May in El Reno marks the return of the World's Largest Onion-Fried Burger.
For a century or so, there's always been someone in El Reno vending sandwiches of this sort, and for the last fifteen years, the city has been capitalizing on this small-scale fame by putting together each year an onion burger to end all onion burgers. The Burgerzilla is about 8½ feet in diameter and, including buns and (of course) onions, weighs around 750 lb; mere Quarter-Pounders don't stand a chance.
Lots of events accompany the unveiling (and consumption) of the Big Burger, and if the weather is even slightly cooperative, about 25,000 folks will get a piece of the, um, action.
(Update, 1 May, 4:30 pm: This is one of those days they call "breezy," which means that the wind will blow your car door shut about half a second before you've actually cleared the sill, but there was a smidgen of sunshine, and it was possible to get a whiff of the
What were they expecting?
Something Greg Hlatky said last month came to mind this afternoon:
Now no one is going to doubt that for a role like Salome, Miss [Deborah] Voigt's bulk might be a bit hard on the eyes. But what kind of state have we reached when costumes are considered more important in an opera than voices?
Voigt had been engaged for a Covent Garden production of Ariadne auf Naxos. What happened? Peter Katona, casting director of the Royal Opera, offered by way of explanation:
Normally Ariadne is presented on a stylized Greek island with the singers wearing toga-type clothes, but we wanted to present it in an elegant, modern evening dress.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the classic "little black dress," but it's obviously not for everyone, and it's apparent that Covent Garden was more interested in making a style statement than in presenting a credible performance of the Strauss opera.
I bring this up now because Deborah Voigt, who has one of those voices I would heedlessly follow into a dark wood with no thought to the consequences, is talking to Robert Siegel on All Things Considered, and while she's so over the dust-up with Covent Garden, she's not inclined to be forgiving either.
It boils down to this, she says:
More people look like me than they do like Britney Spears. The day Britney can sing Isolde, I've got a problem.
I don't think she needs to worry. And should Deborah Voigt come to the Tulsa Opera to sing Salome, I am there.
30 April 2004
No symmetry here, folks
When I sign for a loan the bank hands me 3,000 pages of fine print covering everything they can do to me, with me and regarding me should I fail to fulfill my end of the deal. Meanwhile, they look at me cross-eyed if I ask them to sign 1 piece of paper guaranteeing I will be able to speak to a live human when I call and that they won't sell my loan to another company that I know nothing about.
It's a bank, fercryingoutloud. The chances that there are live humans on the premises at all are something less than fifty-fifty.
(I asked Soothing Mortgage Company about that last bit. They said that no, there weren't any ironclad guarantees, but they'd never actually sold any such loans, and offered to produce evidence some sort of Fannie Mae report, I assume to this effect.)
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce likes to refer to this place as "a shining urban jewel", a claim which might carry more weight if there weren't so many rough edges.
One example of roughness is the generally crummy condition of local roads; the Road Information Program research group has figured that Oklahoma City has the 11th worst roads in the country among metropolitan areas of half a million population or more, with fully 40 percent of the thoroughfares rated "poor," even worse than "mediocre." Tulsa came in 9th from the bottom; Los Angeles, with two-thirds of its roads in the "poor" category, was the worst.
Residents of central Oklahoma are likely to greet this news with a resounding "Well, duh!"
The list [requires Adobe Reader] is here. If you're wondering who fared best in the survey, it's Atlanta: 84 percent of their roads are rated "good" and none of them "poor"; if there's a downside, it's that 23 percent of them are named "Peachtree."
Rene Gonzalez, the UMass graduate student who belittled the memory of fallen US soldier Pat Tillman, arousing all manner of backlash in blogdom "It takes a special kind of selfishness to have his mentality," said Michele is apparently recanting: he has reportedly sent an apology to Tillman's family "for all the pain that my article has brought them."
Jack Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts, had characterized Gonzalez' article as a "disgusting, arrogant and intellectually immature attack on a human being who died in service to his country."
In the matter of Abu Ghraib
Finally, something both left and right can agree on: this is truly horrendous.
The people who did this ceased being U.S. soldiers when they did it. They're punks and sociopaths who somehow managed to get into the military.
Try 'em, fair and square, and then send them up the river for 20 years. The damage they've done is incalculable, especially to the valor and sacrifice of those who've gone by the rules, fought and even died, honorably.
Please, apply no political angle to this never mind about Rather, Bush, Kerry or whoever. This is a matter of right and wrong, and anyone with two functioning brain cells and an ounce of decency will get it right.
So mote it be.
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