Archive for October 2011

Your basic battery bus

The bane of your existence, should you choose an electric vehicle, is waiting for the wee beastie to charge up already fercrissake. It’s almost enough to get you to take the bus.

And if you’re in Tallahassee, some time next year you’ll get the opportunity to take an electric bus. These big boxes have even less range than your car — about thirty miles — but they have one thing you don’t:

Proterra’s system allows a battery electric bus to pull into a transit center terminal or on-route stop and automatically connect to an overhead system that links the bus to a high capacity charger without driver involvement. The bus is then rapidly charged in 5-10 minutes while passengers load and unload. The charging station technology includes advanced wireless controls that facilitate the docking process and eliminate any intervention from the driver. The driver merely pulls into the transit terminal as they normally would, the wireless controls identify that this is the right type of bus and automatically guides and connects the bus with the charging station.

Says Proterra, you get 92 percent of full charge in six minutes. From the looks of things, the charging unit is guided into place by a couple of roof rails. Simple enough. This probably wouldn’t work for cars without some complicated height adjustment, but then again, the car wash seems to be able to figure out automotive width just fine.

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Somebody thought this was a swell idea

Funeral invoice in an insensitive font

Restraints to prevent the deceased from rotation about his now-horizontal axis, had he learned that his funeral bill was going to be rendered in Comic Sans: priceless.

(From The Daily What, via this JennQPublic tweet.)

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Really, it’s different

Manufacturers of prescription drugs really hate it when those drugs go off-patent and generic competitors spring up. To avoid this, they’ll often change the original product just a hair: for instance, you can get zolpidem tartrate from any of several generic houses, but only Sanofi-Aventis can produce controlled-release Ambien CR. For now, anyway.

Then again, hairs can be split:

Generic versions of Doryx (doxycycline hyclate), an antibiotic used to treat severe acne and produced by Irish company Warner Chilcott, were slated to hit the market at the end of September. But, argues Warner, its recent addition of a second score to the pill — making it easier for users to divide the pill into three pieces — means that generic versions must also have the same number of scores.

Interestingly, Watson, a major maker of generics, has been selling doxycycline hyclate tablets — and capsules — for several years; only they list it as a generic for Vibramycin, originally developed by Pfizer, and approved by the FDA way back in 1967. Warner Chilcott’s Doryx, it turns out, is indeed a delayed-release version, and according to their current Vermont disclosure form [pdf], it wholesales for upwards of $10 per tab, which puts it in a league with the “industrial-strength” antibiotic I took for pneumonia a couple of years ago.

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A ripping yarn

Actually, several of them, it appears:

Pelephone, advises Peter, from whom I poached the link, is an Israeli mobile-phone company.

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Hoping others will follow

I can understand, sort of, why Blogger went to that “follower” model: these days, it’s mandatory to pay obeisance to the Gods of Social Media, and I have to figure that Google wanted to implement something without causing a massive upheaval. (Rival Tumblr is almost entirely follower-based, and can’t be far behind.)

Still, something about the little Followers widget in the Blogger sidebar has always bugged me, and apparently I’m not the only one:

I’ve always disliked that button, because it seriously changed the world of blogging when they added it. What used to be more of a community turned into kind of a popularity contest, and I dragged my feet even putting it up to begin with. But I wanted people to be able to follow if they wanted, so I relented. Now I’m thinking it’s time to get rid of the number.

Which she did. This does not mean I’m considering getting rid of SiteMeter, but there’s a difference, at least to me: the meter merely counts up visitors, and it would take a fair amount of analytical work to associate any entry in the database with a particular reader — and some readers may not want to be identified thusly. Blogger’s widget didn’t give you much choice: if you followed, your icon appeared in the list, and that was that. Worse, if the number fluctuated, you knew about it every time you looked at your front page. I once had the bad idea of installing a desktop widget that monitored SiteMeter in realtime, but killed it once I realized the dire effect it had on my sense of well-being. And the gizmo that counts the feed subscribers tells me only how many there are and which individual posts, if any, have separate subscriptions: no identities or IPs are disclosed, and I can’t necessarily cross-reference with SiteMeter, because SiteMeter can’t pick up feed readers who don’t actually stop in at the site.

And no, I’m not thinking about dropping the meter, even though it would save me a (fairly small) sum each year, simply because it’s essential to compiling the Monday-morning search-engine roundup, and I’d hate to give that up. Besides, there’s something vaguely reassuring about having had 2.18 million visitors, even if it did take a decade and a half.

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Mighty morphing

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Strange search-engine queries (297)

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something…

“Danish Drivers Association”:  Their task is made more difficult by the fact that a lot of the places you’ll stop for your morning coffee don’t have really good Danish.

bud bundy with a tail:  Apparently Al was the first in a series of atavistic genetic throwbacks.

“Strategic leveragability”:  Contemporary synonym for “We have no farging clue what we’re doing, but we’re doing it just the same.”

marginal enhancement:  Contemporary synonym for “totally new.”

carly foulkes “not pretty”:  None so blind as those who will not see.

proper way to wild open twoddle:  I suspect a twoddle that’s open enough is pretty wild already.

exactly the same but totally different shirt:  Congratulations, you’ve decoded the American Apparel business model.

help valleybrook suspended my license because they say i didn’t pay:  Didn’t pay whom? The cop on the beat? The girl at the titty bar? (Come to think of it, that’s all there is in Valley Brook.)

how expensive was your trench coat:  I had to crawl through two trenches in driving rain to get it.

what does the 1 2 3 by the shifter mean in my car:  It means that you’re probably too dumb to own a car.

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Most. Overused. Ever.

Whiny McWhinerson Gladstone complains at about seeing the same old rhetorical devices all over the Interwebz. Um, thanks for sharing, Gladdy.

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Dyslexia without being dissed

Over the years, the existence of dyslexia has given us much confusion, several bad jokes, and at least one typeface. What we have not been getting is a compelling reason to prevent ourselves, patronizing as we often are, from looking down on those who suffer from it. Yet they have advantages over the rest of us:

Dyslexic brains are organized in a way that maximizes strength in making big picture connections at the expense of weaknesses in processing fine details.

It’s a huge mistake to regard a dyslexic child as if his or her brain is trying to follow the same pathway of development as all the other kids but is simply doing a bad job of it. In reality, the brains of kids with dyslexic processing styles are actually developing in a very different way. They establish a different pattern of connections and circuitry, creating a different kind of problem-solving apparatus. The difference is global, not just in certain areas of the brain.

As Steve Jobs might have said in a non-necessarily-unrelated context: “Think different.”

Most dyslexics tend to remember facts as experiences, examples or stories, rather than abstractions… These kids have a very strong ability to learn from experience. It’s very common for their families to describe these kids as the family elephant. They’ll be the go-to person when someone wants to remember who gave what to sister for her birthday two years ago. They might be the family historian, but they can’t remember the times tables or which direction the three goes.

These individuals excel in fields where telling and understanding stories are important, like sales, counseling, trial law or even teaching. In addition, a large number of professional writers are dyslexic.

This assumes, of course, that we don’t allow them to get trapped on the short bus on the way to those fields. There are times when I wonder if that’s too much to assume.

(Via I Speak of Dreams.)

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Non sum dingleberry

There are times in these pages when I sound like I think of myself as lower than a fish fart in a flash flood, and readers have occasionally (gently) chastised me for saying so. I assure them, though, that I’ve got nothing on Robert Stacy McCain:

When I publicly blame myself for my failures, when I advertise to the world my inglorious humiliation, it is not in a bid for anyone’s pity, nor is it evidence of a “chemical imbalance,” but simply because to do the opposite — to give in to the temptation to seek scapegoats for my own failures — would be more harmful to me than any unfair dishonor that others might heap upon my name.

Not that anyone’s seeking to heap dishonor upon my name of late, but I figure that if anyone is going to mock me, it might as well be me, since I’m demonstrably good at it, even if I flout a law of grammar in so doing.

Given the opportunities I’ve had, and mindful of the unmerited blessings bestowed upon me, if I fall short of achieving any goal within my boundless ambition, no one else is to blame but me. If others do not recommend or praise me, this is my fault and not theirs, and it would be great folly indeed to think that I deserve any more praise — or any less criticism — than I get. Others more praiseworthy have been ignored, and others less blameworthy have been rejected and condemned.

Here is where we diverge. I chose to impose an upper boundary on my ambition, a far-simpler task: it earns about the same number of difficulty points as, say, trying to teach a dog to appreciate steak.

Everyone thinks they deserve more praise, and no one is so truly modest as to mean it when they dismiss as undeserved such praise as they get.

In my own case, it’s not so much modesty as it is suspicion: why would somebody say a thing like that?

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Where ice seems redundant

Now and then things just jump out at you, or at least at me. The opening paragraph here is definitely a grabber:

397 km (247 mi) off the north coast of Norway and 235 km (146 mi) south of Svalbard lies an isolated, lonely 178 km² (68.7 sq mi) chunk of land known in English as Bear Island and in Norwegian as Bjørnøya (we’ll use both terms in this article, as the names are interchangeable in most parlance). Why is such a randomly isolated chunk of land present in this part of the Arctic Ocean and, perhaps more importantly, why is this remote island with a population of nine home to the world’s most northerly skinny-dippers association (one with over 2000 members, at that)?

I looked at a map, and came up with the dubious notion that “Maybe it’s not that cold.” Wikipedia bears me out, so to speak:

A branch of the North Atlantic current carries warm water to Svalbard, creating a climate much warmer than that of other regions at similar latitude. Bear Island’s climate is maritime-polar with relatively mild temperatures during the winter. January is the coldest month, with a mean temperature of -8.1°C (17.4°F) (base period 1961-1990). July and August are the warmest months, with mean temperatures of 4.4°C (39.9°F).

So it’s not exactly ice-cold, but certainly cold enough. About those skinny-dippers:

It wasn’t until 1947 that a radio meteorological station was at Herlighanna. It is this 20-building post that hosts the nine permanent residents of the island; a crew that changes over twice per year (and which maintains an entertaining blog). It is these brave (and occasionally bored) souls who inaugurated the Bjørnøya nakenbadeforening — the Bear Island Naked Beach Club. The only way to enter the club and obtain your membership diploma is to take it all off (in the presence of a member of the opposite gender, they’ll remind you) and brave a dip in the cold Arctic water. Thanks to the twice-per-year staff turnover, visits from the occasional Arctic cruise ship en route to Svalbard, and visits from Norwegian cabinet ministers and government personnel, the membership is well over 2100 people at this point. Even at this latitude, water temperatures can reach 10°C (50°F), but that’s only sometimes; when Minster of Justice and Police Knut Storberget was inducted into the club, his dip was taken at a bonechilling 3.8°C (39°F), which is likely more typical. Keep in mind, this was in August at the height of summer.

Go ahead and shiver. I certainly will.

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That mule won’t work

Celine, the Shoe Girl, discovers that one of her idols may have, you should pardon the expression, feet of clay:

EVERY DAY I’ve been checking to see if the latest Miu Miu runway collection had been posted yet. Miu Miu is my current favorite as far as shoes go and I haven’t been disappointed… until… today.

Mule by Miu MiuThere follow pictures of new shoes in the (presumably spring/summer ’12) collection, each one just a little more ghastly than the one before, until finally she just can’t take it anymore:

I’m sorry and I HATE saying negative things about a designer I respect SO much and look up to immensely but I just don’t have any positives here. I don’t like the shape, the colors, the details… I’m so confused!

These ones are the worst! Putty/tan/beige??? A MULE??? Oh say it isn’t so!

Her commenters weren’t particularly impressed either, which suggested that mine would be utterly revolted — or maybe not. We’re an eclectic bunch around here.

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Also, that’s not a knife

If you’re an aspiring tourist, you’re curious about your intended destination: that’s a given.

A Web site promoting Australian tourism apparently took questions from would-be visitors to Down Under, and then gave them wonderfully-snarky answers. A sample:

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV. How do the plants grow? (UK)

A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

This gets a stronger-than-usual Read The Whole Thing recommendation, not least for the map of special attractions.

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Boyle’s law of musical choices

The one thing about Susan Boyle I absolutely adore is that she covered a Lou Reed song. As Track One. For a Christmas album.

Okay, it was “Perfect Day.” She obviously wasn’t going to do, say, “Lady Godiva’s Operation.” Still, she’s never cared a whole lot for genre barriers: her first album contained several hymns, “Daydream Believer” and “Wild Horses.” (I bought both those albums, of course.)

Now (well, the first of November) comes Someone to Watch Over Me, and yes, that Gershwin tune is on it. But the eclecticism continues: covers of Joni Mitchell, Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode. (There exists an authorized audio-only version of “Enjoy the Silence” on YouTube, though the single isn’t out for download yet.)

Incidentally, during the 2010 Grammys, Stephen Colbert reminded the audience: “This year your industry was saved by a 48-year-old Scottish cat lady in sensible shoes.” What Joni once called “the star-making machinery behind the popular song” is now way past its design life, I’m starting to think.

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Kristi Harrison at (what, them again?) apparently suffers from Why Do Guys Fall For This Type When I’m Right Here? Syndrome.

And by This Type, she means, well, this type:

Zooey Deschanel getting out of her car

The plaint:

If “cute” was a commodity Zooey would be the Federal Reserve. Scratch that. She’d be China and the rest of us girls would be used food stamps that once doubled as Clue scorecards. THANK GOD cute is not a commodity is what I’m saying.

Do you remember back when Friends was big, and every girl you knew had Rachel’s haircut? (AC)ZD is the Rachel of girl people right now. If you’re of the female persuasion and you don’t want to dress like syphilis in a tube top, this is who you’re probably getting some fashion cues from. And if you’re a guy, a reasonable facsimile of this girl is who you’re trying to meet, not to have dirty, filthy sex with, but to marry and make babies and dirty, filthy noodle casseroles with.

But you never, ever will. Everevereverever. You have a better chance of meeting a meatball lady and making SpaghettiO babies with her. Here’s why.

There follow various minor issues, but the real one seems to be this:

What made the nerds of the world ever think she was one of them?

At what point did ordinary guys who were maaaaaybe a little too into video games or anime or not-sports look at a girl with perfect skin, a tiny little figure, a face that’s pretty by every measurable standard we’ve got and say, “Yeah, that’s attainable.”

Ben GibbardNow answer me this: What is the color of the sky on that hitherto-undetected planet on which Ben Gibbard, front man of the indie band Death Cab for Cutie, who grew up in the midst of the Pacific Northwest grunge explosion in the Nineties, who has a college degree in Environmental Chemistry fercrissake, is not a nerd? And we know what the Z-girl thinks of him: she married him. For all I know, they’re making filthy casseroles together at this very moment, while Kristin drops another $7 at Panera and sobs into her tea.

(Not surprisingly, a lot of people sent me this link, though Dave was first.)

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High weirdness again

There is no official WordPress file with the name main.css in the wp-includes directory.

I mention this because I found one in my wp-includes directory, and it looks highly suspicious. (It has, of course, been removed.)

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Meanwhile under the smogberry trees

Well, Dementians and Dementites, it’s actually happened: Dr. Demento has started a blog.

I can, of course, sympathize with this:

I never used to enjoy writing. I used to put it off and put it off, until it couldn’t wait any longer, and then I’d rush something out, which I’d invariably have to revise and re-write. Plus, I’m not an accurate typist (I do it mostly with four fingers) so I went through Liquid Paper by the quart.

I can work up to six fingers if I have to, but usually I don’t have to.

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We don’t care if you want fries with that

“France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children,” said Bruno Le Maire, the agriculture and food minister for the French Republic, which has now issued a partial ban on ketchup in school cafeterias.

By “partial,” they mean it’s allowed only on, um, French fries, and only once a week. In general:

The rules call for school officials to cut down on fatty foods and introduce more vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Four or five dishes must be offered each day with a serving of cooked or raw vegetables, preferably seasonal. Pupils can have unlimited amounts of bread and water.

Ah, yes, bread and water. Won’t that be comforting?

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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Patriarchy Cola

Oh, sorry. It’s not a cola, or a root beer. It’s Dr Pepper Ten, and no girls allowed:

[T]hat’s the idea behind Dr Pepper Ten, a 10-calorie soft drink Dr Pepper Snapple Group is rolling out on Monday with a macho ad campaign that proclaims “It’s not for women.” The soft drink was developed after the company’s research found that men shy away from diet drinks that aren’t perceived as “manly” enough.

This promotion can’t lose, says Lynn:

The only women seriously offended will be those in the Perpetually Pissed Off At Men Brigade. The rest of us will either roll our eyes at the silliness of it all or be enticed to try it because we’re told it’s for men only.

Me, I’d use it to wash down a Yorkie bar.

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Hoopla up to one’s knees

“We Built This City” the worst song of the Eighties? Hardly. In fact, Brian J. will argue that it wasn’t even Starship’s worst song of the Eighties.

As for their best song of the Eighties, I have to beg off, since my favorite of the bunch came out in 1979, which, barring unsuspected neutrino activity, was technically before the Eighties, not to mention before the ritual deJeffersonization of the band.

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In which life almost imitates a beer commercial

Roberta X has, if not specifically fond, certainly specific memories of One of the Most Interesting Men in the World:

A ruggedly handsome, supremely self-confident man who’d done fascinating, challenging things and kept right on doing them as he years rolled by. He owned the garage where my MGB got the difficult work done; he’d show up sometimes with a book, an antique range (or something), an unusual car, a stack of photos from vacations in exotic places with fascinating people. He spoke several languages. A terribly interesting man and he was kind of sweet on me. Oh, my blushes!

Which doesn’t sound too different from the character played by Jonathan Goldsmith in those Dos Equis ads:

“He’s a man that has had life experience, and has been there, and done that, and beyond… If you’re not interested, you will not be interesting. If you don’t experience life, you won’t be a participant — you’ll just be a voyeur; you’ll watch it go by like a parade you’re not involved in.”

I briefly tried pitching myself as the Least Interesting Man in the World, until someone helpfully pointed out that being the Least Interesting was itself a distinction, and therefore, well, Interesting. Things wound up in an infinite loop shortly thereafter. Perhaps I should try to send bricks to sleep by hypnosis.

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1492 and all that

This being the canonical Columbus Day — a pox on Monday holidays, or at least the ones on which I have to work — it seems like a reasonable time to mention that a century ago, Chris C. himself was not only not thought of as a despoiler of worlds, but was actually being pushed for inclusion in the Calendar of Saints. From The New York Times, 31 October 1909:

Patrick John Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the Knights of Columbus have petitioned the Pope to canonize Christopher Columbus, according to a report from Rome, but “a distinguished prelate of the Congregation of Rites” is quoted as declaring that the petitioners are unlikely to obtain satisfaction. “Too many weaknesses,” he said, “marred the life of Columbus for canonization to be possible.” This view is not shared by all. From Spain and Italy as well as from the United States have come requests that the process be begun here.

Uncertainty about where Columbus was born is a problem, because “the first step in the process of canonization has to be taken by the Bishop of the diocese to which the possible saint belonged.” Many places claim the nativity of Columbus, including Genoa, Savona and Montserrat.

The Times didn’t mention all the “weaknesses” cited, but Columbus’ participation in the encomienda surely didn’t count in his favor.

That said, enough of the movement persists today to support a Facebook page.

(Via Pentimento.)

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If you were planning to order a vanity plate in honor of the late Steve Jobs, you might just want to hang a blank rectangle back there:

For years, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs drove around Silicon Valley in a silver 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG without a license plate.

He apparently didn’t drive it much, though: in August it was reported by Carfax — someone identified as “a blogger” somehow got the VIN — to have 21,800 miles. An executive at R. L. Polk, which owns Carfax, pointed out:

“No personal information can be gleaned from a license-plate number. The best way to remain anonymous would be to keep the plates on. And this, in the end, is the great paradox of the mystery. Not displaying plates made Steve Jobs’ car just as conspicuous and identifiable as a man who, say, always wore jeans, a black turtleneck and New Balance sneakers.”

I’m figuring, though, that he spent enough time in the Benz to justify informing the Apple engineering staff that any future products would have to be less fussy than Mercedes’ then-cumbersome COMAND system.

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Out of the doorway, the bullets rip

Actually, I don’t think this measure mandates a doorway, but there presumably would be bullets:

A bill filed Tuesday by Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, would allow for executions by firing squad. HB 325 would eliminate Florida’s standard method of execution, lethal injection, and allow for executions only by electrocution or firing squad.

He said he filed the bill after overhearing a conversation in his district this past month while [the] U.S. Supreme Court deliberated over the fate of Manuel Valle, convicted in the 1978 murder of a Coral Gables police officer. Valle’s lawyers filed numerous appeals, the last few of which centered around the use of a drug used in lethal injections.

So Rep. Drake prefers high-velocity lead injections. On second thought, no, he doesn’t:

“There shouldn’t be anything controversial about a .45-caliber bullet. If it were up to me we would just throw them off the Sunshine Skyway bridge and be done with it,” Drake said.

It was my great good fortune to arrive at the Sunshine Skyway just a few hours after it plunged into Tampa Bay, and I can assure you, I was pretty much scared spitless coming up the approach. So in one case, at least, that’s a deterrent. Then again, I am not a resident of Florida and plan to commit no capital crimes there.

The only state that currently permits execution via firing squad is, um, Oklahoma, and then only if lethal injection and electrocution are ruled unconstitutional. (O.S.T. §22-1014, if you’re keeping score.) I assume this is okay with Drake, though I’m not inviting him over for Trivial Pursuit:

“In the words of Humphrey Bogart, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ I am so tired of being humane to inhumane people.”

I suspect he’s also tired of having to attribute quotes correctly.

(Via Mike Riggs at H&R.)

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Electric youth takes a seat

Because I have to do something with this picture, here’s former teen dream Debbie Gibson, who turned forty-one this year, showing the proper respect for Professor Rubik:

Debbie Gibson atop Rubik's Cube

The trick, of course, is to solve it without dislodging her.

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Tepid mess

Malk now with Vitamin RAs a schoolboy, I occasionally got to carry a proper metal lunchbox, though my dominant Oaf gene made it inadvisable to carry a Thermos bottle with it. (I fragged at least two, maybe more. So much of that era is a blur.) When I was old enough to earn the right to travel off campus, I walked the seven or eight blocks to Woolworth’s and blew 25 cents on a couple of chicken wings, which I ate on the return trip. (Just one of the slightly-wonderful aspects of going to school downtown, if you ask me.) At my previous school, I spent most lunch periods playing gin rummy, which is of course perfectly acceptable. So I don’t have much personal experience with Ghastly Cafeteria Food, but apparently it’s for real, and you don’t have to ask Principal Skinner for verification:

“The bagel dog (a hot dog encased in soggy dough) came in a plastic package with the words “Barkin’ Bagel” written across the front. Tough on the outside and mushy on the inside, it was like no bagel I had ever tasted. The hot dog was bland, not juicy. The wimpy tater tots (which counted as that day’s federally mandated vegetable) were pale and wilted in my mouth. Instead of a piece of fruit, like the crunchy apple I would have packed if I’d had time that day, I was given a few cubes of pear suspended in bright red jello.”

This called for action:

It wasn’t anything she herself would feed her child, and certainly nothing she’d want to eat. But the number of children eating free and reduced-price lunches in Mrs. Q’s school was “well over 90%” that year. For many, the Barkin’ Bagel and the soggy tots might be the most complete meal they ate all day. The outraged Mrs. Q became a secret activist. She bought her school lunch every day, took a picture, and, in the tradition of Morgan Spurlock, actually ate it. And she blogged about it.

And now it’s a book. You might not want to read it at dinnertime.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

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BS degree

Um, make that “a degree of BS”:

The astonishment that other people don’t actually want to hear you talk for a living goes hand-in-hand with the past fifteen years’ worth of our culture. Being clever at laying on the talk is currency at a lot of immature stages in life: it’s a way for young people to impress their elders, and later to impress their peer group of fellow clevers, and (possibly) effective at getting into the pants of desirable cleverettes.* And this is hardly a surprise. Jocks impress their folks in Little League, each other in high school, and get themselves laid a lot in college. Nerds impress their folks at Science Fair, each other in Chess Club, and… well, the analogy breaks down somewhat here, but eventually the nerds get good jobs and clean up sufficiently to be good catches as adults.

*Lady clevers, feel free to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow on this analogy.

There are, I calculated when I was in college, probably just enough raconteurs to go around, and therefore I shouldn’t try to be one myself. It helped that I had some sort of — well, not a speech impediment, exactly, but more of an irregular cadence, halting when it didn’t need to be and going too fast when it shouldn’t. I eventually learned to slow it down a bit, with the hope that no one would compare me to Shatner on Quaaludes.

I should point out that I had already given up on luring one of the cleverettes, though my own perceptions at the time, at least in that particular realm, likely weren’t worth, to borrow a phrase, “the copper under your fingernail after you scrape it once along the edge of a penny.”

Nerdishness got me through clerical and into operations, which pays the bills today. It perhaps wasn’t what I aspired to, but what the hell: it keeps me from feeling like I have to carry a sign in the park.

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A piece of the sun

I’m starting to think we should give up on this “green jobs” malarkey and turn it all over to the Canadians, who at least have workable ideas on the subject:

Imagine a low-risk bond with a return of 5 percent. Now imagine that bond supporting the development of local solar projects. That’s what TREC Renewable Energy Cooperative did when it created SolarShare Community bonds.

The return rates of the $1,000 (Canadian) bonds are made possible because of Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FiT). The FiT has created a low-risk environment, which means higher payments for photovoltaics and equipment made in the province.

“When you secure a feed-in tariff, it’s a 20-year power-purchase agreement,” said TREC spokesperson Rebecca Black [no, not that Rebecca Black].

The future of the FiT might have been in doubt until last week: provincial elections were being held in Ontario, and the Progressive Conservative party had promised to repeal it if they gained a majority. They failed to do so.

In other news, there’s a Canadian political party called the Progressive Conservatives. Wonder if they’ll take Mitt Romney off our hands?

(For your perusal, the SolarShare FAQs.)

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The Kaiser role

George Kaiser, to Forbes in 2007:

“I agree wholeheartedly that our tax system is insufficiently progressive. I also agree that the estate tax at levels above $10 million should be retained. Higher tax rates for higher levels of income [up to at least 50%, maybe higher] not only are socially responsible but also would encourage more charitable giving.”

Not that he himself plans to pay any of those higher rates, of course:

In one six year period, during which he increased his net worth enough to land him on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, Kaiser reported taxable income to the Internal Revenue Service just once, totaling $11,699 — equivalent to a full-time hourly wage of $5.62.

And it’s not like the Internal Revenue Service has been exactly dogged in their pursuit of Kaiser’s billions. For example:

[I]n 1997, [the IRS] sent him a bill for $48.6 million in back taxes, interest and penalties… After negotiating with the IRS, Kaiser settled for $11,891 in back taxes.

From Kaiser’s home base in Tulsa, Michael Bates observes:

Solyndra is just the latest episode in a long-running drama that includes — on the negative side of the ledger — Great Plains Airlines (and the taxpayers’ ultimate payback of money we didn’t owe to Kaiser’s Bank of Oklahoma), the downtown baseball stadium (and the heavy-handed approach to its surrounding development), the mediocre candidates Kaiser has backed for public office in Tulsa, the county river tax, and — on the positive side — RiverParks trails improvements, supplemental funds for beautification for new public construction, financial support for the comprehensive plan process and the city government efficiency study, purchase and preservation of the Blair Mansion and grounds, support for the Tulsa Fab Lab, and financial support for countless worthy projects and programs.

On one level, I’d question the judgment of anyone who didn’t work diligently to minimize his tax liability:

“Anyone may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.” — Judge Learned Hand in Helvering v. Gregory, 1934.

Then again, that 0.02-cent-on-the-dollar deal Kaiser struck for his 1997 tax bill might strike some of us as just a hair too sweet. I know I would have greatly enjoyed getting last year’s $6000-plus income-tax liability cut down to a buck and a quarter. But I shrug: this is what has to happen when government becomes big enough to hand out favors, and it’s not like anyone is threatening to cut it down to size. (There are the usual noises from the GOP; I’ll start believing them the moment I see the Department of [your choice of any beyond the original four] relocated to an ice floe.)

There are some, of course, who believe that there shouldn’t be any billionaires at all. I figure, wait long enough, and we’ll all be billionaires — and a Big Mac will be around $400.

(Suggested by Glenn Reynolds.)

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Fark blurb of the week

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The Friday get-down

File this under “No, really, you’re not the only one”:

Dorks Rule by Rebecca Black

Although it’s worse when the urge comes over you in a car. Under those circumstances, it’s probably better to be sitting in the back seat than kicking in the front seat.

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Occupying a carton near you

I Am The 2%

(Swiped from Christina Hopper’s Facebook page; it traces back at least this far.)

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Maybe I don’t need an aisle seat after all

Christina Ricci in Pan AmIt’s been rather a long time since flight attendants looked like Christina Ricci on Pan Am. (Then again, inasmuch as The Actress Formerly Known As Wednesday is barely over four foot twelve, they’d never have hired her in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.) Megan McArdle, somewhere around four foot twenty-six herself, explains the general decline in picturesqueness aboard Flight N:

Stewardesses used to be subject to all sorts of extremely strict rules: they couldn’t be married, couldn’t gain weight, couldn’t get pregnant, couldn’t be much over 30. If you fire everyone who violates those rules, then yes, you will select for a much “hotter” group of women than the current crop.

You could probably still get a large group of young, hot women to take a job that involves free flights all around the world. But those jobs are no longer open, because airlines stopped firing all the old, fat parents. Thanks to a combination of feminist shaming, union demands, and anti-discrimination laws. Moreover, once they no longer fired people over a certain age, union seniority rules immediately started selecting for older workers, in two ways: layoffs are usually last hired first fired, and older people have a lot of sunk costs in terms of pension accrual and seniority, so they’re less likely to leave. If you fly a major airline, you’ll notice very few stewardesses in their twenties.

Of course, no one is claiming that life on Pan Am the series is anything like life on Pan Am the airline, which died in 1991, about a month after The Addams Family was released. Coincidence? Uncle Fester wouldn’t hear of it.

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Yupward mobility

This question came into TTAC’s Piston Slap department:

I have the misfortune of working with a bunch of aspiring Yuppies. You know the types. The ones who believe that all American car companies make crap and the only true luxury cars come from Germany and Japan. Never mind the $1300 maintenance charge on their Audi or the fact that the Lexus ES is about as exciting as wilted corn flakes.

Long story short, I am sick and tired of hearing their crap. I want to buy the type of American car that will take these pompous, sniveling wussy boys and blow their stuck-upityness right out of their ass.

Actually, there’s a second rung: they spurn the Japanese entirely in favor of the products of der Vaterland. And if they had to judge by the ES, a Camry — not even an Avalon — oversprayed with Carnation Instant Glitz, I can’t say as I’d blame them. (From the “Like you have room to talk” files: yes, I drive an Infiniti I30, which is basically a Nissan Maxima in a prom dress.)

Putting myself into the role of yupster, if I had the same $40k this guy says he has to spend, I probably couldn’t get much in the way of Teutonic sleds unless BMW is planning a ¾-series, and while I could get a decent G37 for that kind of money, it’s not at all what he wants.

So I’m thinking Chrysler 300, which can be had for forty large in the C trim — yes, it’s got a Hemi — if you avoid checking every last box on the order form. It’s one of the few cars that gives off the impression that you’ll drive it onto your lawn, if necessary, to keep certain individuals off. Barack Obama used to have one, until he figured out that much of his base resented the hell out of big American cars, whereupon he switched to a meek hybrid.

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Blather, rinse, repeat

I don’t, as a rule, get surveys from the Republican National Committee, which undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that I am not a Republican. I do occasionally get stuff from my fellow Democrats, but I generally don’t mention it here unless it’s unintentionally hilarious; the last Democrat I could count on to be intentionally hilarious was the late Molly Ivins.

Then again, I’m probably not missing much. Apparently the current RNC “survey” is barely distinguishable from previous RNC “surveys”:

Here it is two years since the RNC presented us with the last “Obama Agenda Survey”, and it appears they either took little note of what a large chunk of their base was saying, or their survey was little more than window dressing … adding a bit of feel good “personal constituent involvement in party politics” before being asked to fork over the cash. If this was not the case, than why are so many of the questions the same?

(Title swiped from, um, me.)

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Training wheels

An automobile-related meme, picked up from Jennifer:

  1. What was your first car? Model, year, color, condition?
  2. What adventures did you have in it, good or bad?
  3. What happened to it, what’s the end of the story?

“Susannah” was a 1966 Chevy II, just barely up from bottom of the line and therefore deemed worthy of the Nova badge. It was, I was told, destined for the scrapyard, but for one minor detail: turn the key, and it actually started. Making it drivable, however, looked like it was going to require, at the very least, replacement of the caved-in front right corner. The budget didn’t allow for such. Plan B: hammering on the back side of the fender until the wheel would actually turn. This worked, sort of, for a while.

The powertrain, however, was in pretty good shape: 230 straight six and Powerglide. After tooling around in the family VW Microbus, which required endless stick work, I was ready for the machine to do all the work, even with only half as many speeds. And I managed not to kill it for nearly ten thousand miles. (The rebuild ran about $170. I don’t even want to think about what it costs to fix one of today’s hypercomplex slushboxes.)

Apart from blowing up the transmission, and an unfortunate experience with an aftermarket stereo that caused a temporary failure of the wipers, only two horrible things happened to this car. One of them was a consequence of cheaping out on the front-end repair; one day, I noticed that the camber on the right front wheel had increased to something like 30 percent. Inspection revealed a rather large gap between two metal bits that were supposed to be connected. (A welder took care of this.) The other was a rude rear-end intrusion on a rainy day, which dented the decklid enough to render the lock theoretical at best. The car that hit me, having barely slowed down during the impact, quickly sped off into the storm.

In early 1978, I got married, and the young lady in question decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest if I got rid of this heap. We bought another Nova — a 1976 with the 305 V8 — and I passed the ’66 on to younger sister, who said she was going to take it to a demolition derby. I have no idea whether she actually did that or not, but at the time, it made perfect sense. Incidentally, the ’76 became the family hauler, and I took over her old car, a ’75 Toyota Celica. I was still driving it in 1995, eight years after the divorce.

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Meanwhile in Port Vila

In an effort to get ahead of the curve, I’m putting up a few not-entirely-random factoids about the Republic of Vanuatu, before Robert Stacy McCain takes over as the United States Ambassador thereto.

You’re welcome.

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A marvel of design

London’s Design Museum is relocating from an old produce warehouse on the Thames to more spacious quarters at the former home of the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, which of course requires a gala event of the sort where wearing something like this is not unheard of:

Rosario Dawson at Design Museum - photo by Getty Images

We will ignore, for the moment, the Daily Mail’s snickering commentary about Rosario Dawson; I’m not even going to replace it with some of my own.

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The antisocial network

An aside from Advice Goddess Amy Alkon:

[M]y boyfriend, who’s not exactly a people person, claims he’s starting a nihilistic social network called “Quitter.” (Posts are zero characters, and you’re asked not to join.)

Sign me up. Or, rather, don’t sign me up.

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Quote of the week

User “Just the facts” at OKCTalk predicts that the Deep Deuce apartments will go condo within five years or so:

By then they will have made back most of the construction cost and by selling them they can escape the long-term maintenance costs. The buyers then pick up a unit with a great location at a reasonable price. This is how it works in an urban environment. The reason it doesn’t work out on Penn and 150th is because the location sucks. That is why apartments and subdivision built on the outer fringe look like bombs went off after 15 to 20 years. The whole concept of sprawl is nothing more than operation Rolling Ghetto. When you build towards the center you run out of expansion room so properties don’t fall into disrepair.

I’m not so sure about that last sentence, but nothing guarantees that a “good” neighborhood will stay that way: if you flee to Point B because Point A was going down the tubes, odds are you’ll be packing up and heading for Point C before too long. (In the context of Oklahoma City, Penn and 150th is about Point D-point-five.)

This is perhaps another manifestation of the Urban Donut Hypothesis, as discussed here a couple of years ago.

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