Archive for February 2012

Curses on thee, little man

Last year an Oklahoma legislator was pushing a bill to require an actual prescription for anything containing pseudoephedrine, insisting that somehow this would deliver us from the horrid scourge of meth. Which, of course, it wouldn’t; and at the time, I expressed my desire that the pol in question sneeze his goddamn head off.

Always more subtle than I, the Instant Man has his own recommendation for politicians of this mindset:

I think these people should be exposed to toddler snot, then locked in a freezing basement with a bag of ragweed pollen tied over their head until they develop a proper appreciation for the consequences of their policies.

Of course, once they start sneezing, I’m content. And let’s face it, we’re never going to run out of toddler snot.

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Someone to look up to

As I may have mentioned before, I used to date someone four foot nine, maybe a shade taller than that but well within the qualifications for the dwarves’ union. Then again, since I’m only a hair above six feet, and not much hair at that, there was only a 15-inch difference between us: noticeable, but not noteworthy.

Now this would be noteworthy:

Zooey Deschanel with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Behold Zooey Deschanel, five foot six, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, five foot twenty-six. Kareem uploaded this picture himself yesterday; Zooey noted that she was wearing four-inch heels at the time.

And you know, he looks pretty darn good for almost 65, if you ask me.

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Still more items from my Wish List

A lot of wishin’ and hopin’, though perhaps not so much thinkin’ and prayin’.

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Box, sweet box

A Tulsa-area couple is building their new home out of, among other things, old cargo containers:

Their two-story, 2,650-square-foot house will be constructed from almost entirely recycled materials, including five shipping containers — two on bottom and three on top, built upon a 40-by-40-foot slab facing southwest.

They are, of course, blogging the construction. Last week, the second container arrived on site:

The shipping list from its last voyage is still attached to the door. It hauled furniture, 22 chocolate brown sofas, 16 love-seats, 9 chairs, and 6 ottomans, to be exact. That’s more furniture than we will probably have in all five of our containers!

They’re hoping to have the housewarming, or at least the first-story-warming, in December.

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This shot of Sarah Michelle Gellar on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live earlier this week was, I deemed, worth further investigation:

Sarah Michelle Gellar on Bravo

Since it is no particular secret that I’m a sucker for the classic little black dress, even when half of it is actually sort of blue, I went scraping through several dozen sources trying to find a shot where she’s standing. I did find one, but apparently she wasn’t happy about something:

Sarah Michelle Gellar on Bravo

Come to think of it, the dress isn’t all that wonderful either. Maybe the person in the second shot is actually the evil twin from Ringer.

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Meanwhile, Venus still needs fry cooks

I have to admit, I wouldn’t have come up with this:

Suppose Ferris Bueller never actually existed.

Most of your fictional characters didn’t, but okay, we’ll play along.

The parade float. That’s just silly. And Ferris never gets in trouble. He never has any actual plans for staying out of trouble, nor does he show good judgment or skill at staying out of trouble, but the boom is never lowered on him. The reason is, he isn’t there; he lives inside Cameron’s head. Cameron’s just a lonely bored guy with nothing going on, so he imagines everything.

I don’t want to talk about Fight Club here, but that sounds awfully Tyler Durdenesque: see, for instance, this MetaTalk thread.

(You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.)

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I just don’t know what went wrong

You can’t spell “fanatic” without “fan,” and you may be absolutely certain of this: whatever my enthusiasm for any given person, place, thing, or concept, there’s someone out there who makes me look almost indifferent by comparison.

Plush Derpy HoovesThis custom-crafted plush Derpy went on eBay this week, complete with all the pertinent accessories: mailbag, one piece of mail, and a muffin, the latter two items magnetized so she can be posed actually carrying them, upon hoof or in mouth. There’s even a little electronic voice box that plays back the closest thing she has to a catchphrase (see post title). About halfway through the description, I heard the little WANT buzzer going off in the back of my head, so I went off to the auction and crossed my fingers.

Perhaps this was not the best idea I’d ever had. I did, however, keep the Visa sheathed, inasmuch as the Derpster here is eventually going to sell for somewhere upwards of $700, or Luna knows how many pony dollars. Me, I’m just a fan.

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Teachers to be FCCed over

Arizona Senate Bill 1467, in full:

§15-108. Public classrooms; compliance with federal standards for media broadcasts concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity; violations; definition

A. If a person who provides classroom instruction in a public school engages in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio:

1. For the first occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for one week of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

2. For the second occurrence, the school shall suspend the person, at a minimum, for two weeks of employment, and the person shall not receive any compensation for the duration of the suspension. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the second occurrence from suspending the person for a longer duration or terminating the employment of that person.

3. For the third occurrence, the school shall terminate the employment of the person. This paragraph does not prohibit a school after the first or second occurrence from terminating the employment of that person.

B. For the purposes of this section, “public school” means a public preschool program, a public elementary school, a public junior high school, a public middle school, a public high school, a public vocational education program, a public community college or a public university in this state.

They want to outsource state standards to the Federal Communications Commission? Are Mesa kindergartens roiling with wardrobe malfunctions? Are Flagstaff English classes being forced to read some contemporary F-bomb Fitzgerald?

Greg Lukianoff in HuffPo:

The law not only hobbles the ability to teach about sexuality and other non-Victorian topics, but it also puts teachers in jeopardy for teaching such mainstays as the Canterbury Tales, The Catcher in the Rye, certainly Ulysses, and probably every work by an obscure English writer named William Shakespeare. These days, such a law could certainly make any professor or teacher think twice about teaching Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut. And how on earth could you possibly teach a class about cinema studies without showing movies like The Godfather, The Graduate, Annie Hall, or for that matter, Pulp Fiction?

English, melonfarmers. Do you teach it?

I can only conclude that the Arizona pols heard about that semi-serious anti-onanism amendment in Oklahoma and thought they’d lose their place at the front of the Idjit Lejislators line.

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Kontemporary klothes

So I’m thumbing through the new InStyle, and there’s a jeans ad featuring some familiar faces and, um, other body parts. It appears that Sears is now vending a line called the Kardashian Kollection. The jeans appear decent enough, and at $46.99 (marked down from $68) they aren’t horrendously expensive.

Still, somebody missed a good bet here. As I tweeted last night: “Um, shouldn’t this stuff be at K mart?”

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Tilt that way

The building is called Power Balance Pavilion, and the balance of power was decidedly with the Kings: what they presumably lacked in clout, they made up for in volume and in execution. Sacramento, for instance, got off 99 shots; you have to figure that even 40 percent of that — which they hit — would produce some serious scoring. The eight-point Thunder lead from the middle of the fourth quarter evaporated in four minutes flat, and the Kings ran them out of the place, 106-101.

Maybe it was the crowd. In the Good Old Days, the old Arco Arena sold out just about every night, and legend has it that you could hear the noise on the far side of Stockton. The Kings were lightly regarded this year: this was the only national TV appearance for which they were scheduled, and attendance was not so great earlier in the season. Did Oklahoma City misunderestimate the one-time Purple Paupers? The Kings grabbed twenty-three Thunder turnovers, had a 46-40 advantage on the glass (17-12 offensive).

Telltale statistic: the Thunder blocked 17 shots — Serge Ibaka had 10 before fouling out — and yet Sacramento rolled up 60 points in the paint. Against something like that, 33 points from Russell Westbrook and 27 from Kevin Durant (which comes to, by coincidence, 60) doesn’t help.

Oh, you wanted to know about Tyreke the Freke? Evans was speedy as ever, thank you very much, and good for 22 points. The only double-double on either side was garnered by Jason Thompson, who had 11 points and 10 boards. And in the Ferocious Big competition, DeMarcus Cousins had it all over Kendrick Perkins, who played only 19 minutes.

So the Thunder have to beat the Jazz Friday night to come back 3-2 from this road trip. We shall see.

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What’s this “uPad”?

CNN has a multi-page story up about counterfeit goods seized by US Customs and Border Protection, and the bulk of the bogus products are electronic gadgets:

When it comes to total dollar value, consumer electronics make up the bulk of counterfeit goods imported into the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection. Among the hottest items: smart phones, tablet computers and DVD or music players.

The following numbers are cited:

Value of counterfeits seized: $39 million
Retail value: $101.2 million
Percentage of total seizures: 22%

So if $101.2 million worth of stuff was faked up, and the fakes are worth $39 million — well, if I peeled off more than a couple of Franklins for a Bloo-Rae™ player worth 101.2/39 = $2.59 38.5 cents on the dollar, I’d probably have a total seizure right then and there.

(Via the Consumerist.)

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As though he’d dodged a bullet

Email received from Philipp Humm, Chief Executive Officer and President, T-Mobile USA:

This is a personal note of thanks for continuing to choose T-Mobile as your wireless provider! And in light of the way customers like you stood by us, we’re eager to continue serving you as T-Mobile. Your loyalty and the outpouring of messages in support of keeping us independent were both gratifying and humbling.

Um, Phil? It’s not so much that we wanted to keep you independent — although that’s nice — as it is that we wanted to avoid That Other Company at all (or at least “any reasonable”) cost.

With the uncertainty of the potential AT&T acquisition removed, we’re rapidly moving ahead with plans to ramp up investments in ways that will benefit YOU. We’re improving the coverage and speed of our 4G network, while bringing you the very latest selection of 4G devices and great 4G plans and services for every budget. We’re also adding convenient retail locations and modernizing our current stores.

What “uncertainty”? We knew what was going to happen: (1) engulf; (2) devour. In that order.

T-Mobile is here, in fighting shape, and we’ll compete aggressively to continue earning your business and meeting your expectations.

And give Carly Foulkes a raise, wouldja please?

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And the badge is spiffy

It’s easy to be cynical about blog awards: imagine the Ouroboros gazing into his own navel. (For that matter, imagine the Ouroboros having a navel in the first place.) I’ve picked up a few over the years — some of them are hanging on the Backdrop — and some of them might even have been deserved.

The Versatile Blogger AwardCertainly Nancy Friedman, the second-smartest woman in the nation — admittedly I’ve never met the first, and I’d probably be afraid to — earned her Versatile Blogger Award, and she was kind enough to pay it forward in the general direction of Your Humble Narrator. Specifically, she said this:

In a typical week, the sole author, C. G. Hill, might cover social media, automobile tires, basketball, My Little Pony, print magazines, transportation in Oklahoma, women’s shoes, and Zooey Deschanel — all with enviable literary skill and brio.

Words like that from someone who makes a living from words — well, either I’m blushing or I’m having an amoxicillin reaction.

The rules of the game:

  • In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
  • In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
  • In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
  • In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
  • In the same post, include this set of rules.
  • Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs. (Or tweeting.)

Seven random factoids:

  1. The stack of magazines on my breakfast bar is as tall as I am — or would be, were it not subdivided into four substacks.
  2. Given my limited kitchen skills, it’s perhaps a surprise that I eat out maybe once a week at most.
  3. There are books in the back room that I have yet to unpack from the last move in 2003.
  4. I have never owned a television set larger than 20 inches.
  5. While I have made progress, I’m still entirely too susceptible to implausible impulse purchases.
  6. I have an amazing capacity for denial, although it usually takes 12 to 24 hours to kick in once the Bad News is received.
  7. They say the camera adds ten pounds. In that case, I’ve lost seven cameras in the past seven years.

Equally deserving, if not more so:

Notifications to follow.

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As the world turns Black

One year has gone by since “Friday” was first sneaked onto YouTube, eleven months since its transition from Just Another Video to cultural buzzword. Not the least bit in response to the chronology of it all, Virgin Mobile Live sent an interviewer to talk to Rebecca Black, and the following High Truths were revealed:

  • “Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal”: What cereal? She prefers Cocoa Pebbles;
  • She hopes to be in the studio in a couple of weeks to cut the next single.

And oh, she gets tongue-tied, even today, when you bring up the Biebs.

Meanwhile, this week’s nominee for The Next Rebecca Black is Lexi Sullivan, who’s recorded a track for Patrice Wilson, whose name you’ll remember from the credits for “Friday.” “Hot Stuff,” despite its so-Seventies title, isn’t particularly awful, and Lexi can sing, but I don’t see it becoming an anthem.

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The twizzle, fo shizzle

Ira Glass is not particularly impressed with Twizzlers:

Chewing a Twizzler is like chewing wax in the shape of candy. Or the cartilage from inside your ear, if your ear was six inches long and shaped like a fusilli. When you eat the first one in the package, you think, That was ALMOST good; maybe the next one will give me the strawberry satisfaction I was hoping for. So you eat the next one and again, it reminds you of what a good candy would taste like, but it’s like you’re hearing music coming from another room that’s not quite loud enough. And so on until the package is done and you think, What was that about? Now I want some candy.

I wonder what he thinks of Red Vines.

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On a high note

Much was made before this game of the fact that the Thunder had played last night at Sacramento, while the Jazz had had two days of rest. To me, it didn’t look like either team was exactly sleeping on the job, though Raja Bell seemed to fall down a lot. And while Utah jumped out to an early lead, Oklahoma City remembered that word “execution,” which I infer means that they were supposed to run the plays properly, not that Scott Brooks was going to have one or several of them shot. (We won’t even mention here that a win tonight would propel Brooks into the All-Star Game as the West coach.) The five-game road swing ended 3-2 as the Jazz faded late; OKC, up by nine at the end of the third quarter, won it by 14, 101-87.

Interestingly, all five of the starting Jazzmen finished in double figures, led by Al Jefferson with 20. Jefferson and Paul Millsap got 17 rebounds between them, more than the rest of the team combined; OKC won the battle of the boards, 46-32. But give the Jazz credit for moving the ball: 27 assists, while the Thunder managed only 12.

It was not Daequan Cook’s night: he put up nine of his patented long-distance bombers, and only one dropped. (The Thunder went 4-20 from Way Out There; the Jazz were 3-9; both sides shot about 47 percent overall.) But if the long jumpers weren’t falling, running to the rim paid off: Russell Westbrook was good for 28 points, Kevin Durant 19, and the bigs (Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka) both had double-doubles. Perk, in fact, seemed almost buoyant at times. Nobody tell LeBron, okay?

These two teams meet again Tuesday in Oklahoma City, though this time the Thunder will have rested up a bit and the Jazz will be finishing up a back-to-back-to-back. I don’t expect anyone to be sleepwalking through that game either.

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Moroccan role

When Renault bought the Romanian automaker Dacia in 1999, they were thinking low-priced labor, something that couldn’t be had in France, although Dacia’s C-segment Logan and derivatives thereof, the price leaders among small family cars, are built in eight different locations, mostly because it’s not cost-effective to ship something that cheap. You won’t find the Logan in the States, neither Renault nor Dacia having any presence here, though Mexican buyers can get it as the Nissan Aprio, built in Brazil.

Logans for France and Spain are built in Casablanca, not so much for the waters, but because Morocco really, truly wanted an automobile plant of its own, and back in the 1950s the Moroccan government cut a deal with Fiat to build them a plant. Fiat eventually bailed, and Renault now owns 80 percent of the plant.

But now a second plant in Morocco, at the port of Tangier, has been opened, and Renault, nationalized after World War II and still 15-percent owned by the French Republic, is catching flak, mostly because the new Dacia Lodgy, a five- or seven-seat people mover to be built in Tangier, will sell for about half as much as Renault’s own Scénic:

“We see this factory as a dangerous development,” said Fabien Gache, head of French labor union CGT. “These vehicles are basically Loganized Scénics and Kangoos,” Gache said. “They’re bound to hit the Renault brand’s market share.” Even a former cabinet minister for [Nicolas] Sarkozy has accused Renault of “social dumping in Morocco”.

Renault’s current Kangoo is built in France, though the previous version is still being assembled in Casablanca for the Moroccan market.

For his part, Carlos Ghosn, who runs the Renault/Nissan combine, says that he never once considered building any Dacias in France, pretty much for cost reasons. If you thought the UAW was intractable and adamantine, they’re pushovers next to the French (and German) industrial unions.

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One Doak over the line

In my capacity as a person who pays too much attention to typos and such, I might reasonably have been expected to have caught that infamous press release from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Truth be told, I never even saw it. (The Ogles, of course, did.) Then again, John Doak’s Doakings, or whatever the word might be, have been routinely dispatched to the spam filter for a year now, less for content than for, well, maladroit handling of attachments.

And anyway, the ex-underling in Doak’s office who sent the damned thing would probably rather be at the racetrack.

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Overly shovel-ready

An interesting bit from the host’s newsletter:

We’ve tried to give you so much more than the standard, out-of-the-box WordPress experience because we wanted you to understand just how powerful and pretty it could be.

To that end we’ve had our One-Click WordPress installer throw in a bunch of themes from (WordPress’s online parent) as well as some standard plugins to get you up and running with as little legwork required on your part as possible.

And some folks no doubt appreciate that. But then:

Turns out a lot of you just ended up deleting all of those helpful add-ons and grew quite frustrated in the process. That makes total sense because some people prefer cookie dough ice cream with sprinkles, and some people ONLY WANT VANILLA, DAMNIT.

It’s not just the flavoring, either. If you have fifty themes on site and someone manages to sneak some illicit code onto the premises, there are 49 directories it can use where you’re never going to look.

So they’ve modified the installer, and now they shovel out the extra goodies only if you check the Deluxe box. I recommend that you not do so: there’s plenty of time to mess up your site yourself without having to let the robot installer do it for you.

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One of the perks of being a wallflower

Writer-director Stephen Chbosky has completed the film version of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the plot of which goes like this:

Charlie, a high-school freshman, copes with his mental issues while trying to find a place to belong. He is introduced to the world of sex and drugs by senior friends, Sam and Patrick.

Meet Sam:

Emma Watson at a London party

It appears Emma Watson, the new face of Lancôme, has put all that Hogwarts stuff behind her at last.

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When the night falls

The late Whitney Houston at her most exuberant, the way I’d like to remember her.

By the way, the remake of Sparkle, with Whitney as executive producer and mother of the three girls in the fictional nothing-at-all-like-the-Supremes group, has wrapped and is expected to premiere this summer. Whitney hadn’t done a film role since The Preacher’s Wife, and, well, we’re hoping for something wonderful.

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The question of the ages

The ages within a few years of mine, anyway. Terry Teachout muses:

I’m trying to decide how I want to spend the next part (which may, of course, be the last part) of my life. What shall I do once Satchmo at the Waldorf opens in Lenox and the manuscript of Mood Indigo [biography of Duke Ellington] is shipped off to Gotham Books? Should I embark on yet another biography? Ought I to continue working as a critic? Might I want to try my hand at teaching? Is my first venture into playwriting destined to be a one-shot affair? Above all, I long to know the answer to this question: are my energies best spent as a jack-of-all-trades, or has the time come at last for me to direct my fire at a single target?

I’ve never risen to Jack status — at best, I’m the 8 of hearts — but I can appreciate his predicament:

The longer I live, the surer I am that the world was made for specialists, and I’ve always been reluctant to settle into a pigeonhole, however commodious. When I played music, I played many kinds of music on more than one instrument. When I became a critic, I wrote about whatever interested me rather than concentrating on a single medium. When I became a biographer, I jumped from subject to subject (first a journalist, then a choreographer, then a jazzman). No sooner was my first opera libretto produced than I started writing my first play. Yes, it’s been fun, but might I have been better served had I concentrated on one thing? While I don’t think it’s right to call me a dilettante — I’ve aspired to professional standards in everything to which I’ve set my hand — I sometimes wonder whether my reluctance to specialize has kept me from doing as well as I might have done in any of my varied lines of work.

My online persona is the very definition of “reluctance to specialize,” though some people are perfectly happy to characterize it as “versatility,” and who am I to disagree? Then again, this isn’t how I earn my keep, and the day job is specialized to a degree you would not believe. Perhaps I have the best of both worlds — or the worst.

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New Vaishnavas on the block

Meet the new neighbors:

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas. It was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951). Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. This is done by mass motivation and individual attention, through elevating projects for all, irrespective of class, creed, colour or country. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,300 centers has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations. Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind are their five lifetime vows. Such pure morality and spirituality forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.

And they’ve purchased an old Lutheran church at NW 34th and Meridian.

I mention this mostly because there are people out there who think this state is wall-to-wall Baptist. Heck, the Buddhists are just down the street, and there are two masjids — er, mosques — within two miles of me.

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Scientists let their hair down

But they wouldn’t let you down, now, would they?

British scientists said on Friday that a “Rapunzel Number” may have helped them to crack a problem that has perplexed humanity since Leonardo da Vinci pondered it 500 years ago.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Warwick said they had devised a “Ponytail Shape Equation,” which when calculated using the Rapunzel Number and a measure of the curliness of hair can be used to predict the shape of any ponytail.

Variables, please?

A short ponytail of springy hair, characterized by a low Rapunzel number, fans outward. A long ponytail with a high Rapunzel number hangs down, as the pull of gravity overwhelms the springiness.

Twilight Sparkle was not available for comment.

Oh, wait: yes, she was.

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Approximately half of this past week’s comment spam, duly sequestered by Akismet, has contained the mysterious word (or nonword) “acelenolysunci,” usually in this context:

long year acer trends show only 001 more acelenolysunci topics now pr[xx] in 2012

where x is an integer from 0 to 9. The subject matter of said spam varies, though both Coach bags and Timberland boots have been mentioned.

On an impulse, I took the word to Google, which shot back:

Did you mean: ace analysis

Rather a lot of these seem to have hit artists’ guestbooks.

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Where there’s no “next door” next door

Most of us know the White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, though there’s no particular significance to the number: it’s right where 16th Street would intersect Pennsylvania, except that it doesn’t. (H Street is the terminus for this segment of 16th.) There’s nothing else of significance on the 1600 block anyway except Blair House, which is 1651. (The adjacent Lee House, at 1653, and two other townhouses have been subsumed by Blair.) And anyway, this is technically Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest; the street extends into the southeast quadrant of Washington. The address itself is not exactly iconic: in conversation or oratory, it’s always “The White House,” never “Sixteen Hundred.”

In Britain, things are different: “Number Ten” invariably refers to 10 Downing Street in the city of Westminster, the traditional residence of the Prime Minister. Over the years, Number Ten has been more fluid than the number suggests; at some point before 1787, 10 was actually 5 (though 6 probably did not turn out to be 9, pace Mr Hendrix). As is my wont, I got to wondering what else was on this street, specifically at 1 through 8.

No such addresses exist anymore: HM Government demolished everything east of Number Ten in the 1820s for the construction of government offices along Whitehall, though the westernmost section of that complex has an entrance along Downing Street and in 2001 was designated 9 Downing Street. It is the office of the Chief Whip, whose official residence remains at 12 Downing Street. (The original 9 shared a wall with 10; this is not the case today.)

Number 11 is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; there’s an access door between 10 and 11, and indeed they can be considered one house with two entrances. In recent years, this has led to some minor dust-ups:

…there is no constitutional rule obliging the PM to move there and no one seems to much enjoy actually living there. The trouble is the upstairs layout, which includes one very nice four-room apartment with a large kitchen and airy dining room. Alas, it is located above No 11 and was the cause of a stand-off when Tony Blair invoked his primus inter pares status (and large family) to swipe it off the then childless Gordon Brown. David Cameron is continuing in the same tradition.

Then again, Cameron wasn’t actually screwing around with George Osborne, who at the time had chosen to remain in his home in Notting Hill, though a year after the 2010 elections Osborne moved to Downing Street — to Number 10.

Beyond 12 lies … nothing. The original 13 is now 12; 14 through 20 have long since been removed, and offices fronting on Whitehall and/or Parliament Street have taken the place of the higher numbers.

Still, wherever David Cameron or his successors may actually dwell, they’ll always be referred to in terms of Number 10. Her Majesty’s Government continues the tradition in cyberspace: the Web site for the PM’s office is, complete with a reproduction of the actual digits on the door, an icon in their own right. (Those digits, in fact, deserve a discussion of their own.) And there’s the inevitable Twitter account @number10gov.

One thing I suppose I’ll never know: whether John Lennon might have been fuming about something that had happened at Number Ten while he was intoning “Number nine… number nine… number nine…”

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Strange search-engine queries (315)

In not quite sixteen years I have tossed not quite five million words onto this particular site; most of them have been indexed to a fare-thee-well by the Giants of Search, and lots of people land here every week, hoping to find something that corresponds to whatever interests them at that given moment. Me, I just hope it’s funny when they do.

lock britney spears how tacking to bad thins and shes life in 2012:  Leave Britney alone. You’ve obviously been hitting the mango juice again.

is fitflop ok in rome:  Maybe for milling around town, but not for an audience with the Pope.

reese witherspoon peanut butter:  Finally, a reason to give up Jif.

why 711 wont carry lottery tickets:  Cuts into their Slim Jim sales.

girl removes bra:  It’s not like she’s gonna let you do it for her, what with the telltale scent of Slim Jims on your breath.

degrees of suckage:  It got down to 18 degrees yesterday morning, which pretty definitely sucked.

which one of these isn’t a type of rock sedimentary igneous or gormless:  I think you’ll find that few rocks of any type have a substantial quantity of gorm.

give god damn suggestion?he scored almost 40 points!  When in doubt, blame the defense.

Banning Role Conspicuous Magazine Wrong Game Live Action Playing Solipsism Park International 1898:  Never mind that. Who scored almost 40 points?

birthday suitable work:  Well, “fry cook” is definitely out.

do male college students go to nude resorts in cancun:  What are the chances this was being asked by a female?

does sierra mist shrink your penis?  What are the chances this was being asked by a female?

should canada annex us:  What are the chances this was being asked by someone in Cancun?

mark twain zooey deschanel:  And I always thought Becky Thatcher was a blonde.

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Aerial coverage

The back page of Parade yesterday contains a full-page advertisement for something called “Clear-Cast,” a “new razor-thin $47 invention [that] pulls in up to 953 crystal clear over-the-air digital TV shows Free with no monthly bills.”

If your immediate response is “Big deal, I can do that with a TV antenna,” I must point out that your average indoor TV antenna in these digital days costs way less than $47.

Here, though, is where it gets marginally entertaining:

Only callers who beat the 48-hour order deadline and provide the operator with the valid Free TV Claim Code listed above and live in one of the U.S. area zip codes that get Free TV will be permitted to get the Clear-Cast for just $47 and shipping (plus applicable sales tax in OH & FL) to pull in up to 953 crystal clear TV shows each year for Free with no monthly bills.

This gizmo would probably work better in Boston or Los Angeles than it would in Prairie Dog County, Nebraska — more local broadcast signals — except that for some reason (legal, perhaps?) all Massachusetts and California ZIP codes are listed as “Not available.”

And for some reason, this selfsame gizmo was being offered in New York state last year for $38.

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Some very good years

When George Burns was 85 or so, he quipped that if he made it to 100, he had it made: “Very few people die past that age.” (He made it, barely.) And Burns was always dapper: not for him the look of despair and decay and frailty that some of us in our younger days associated with that scary business of Getting Old. I’m learning to get away from that. Perhaps curiously, one of my teachers is a teenage fashionista:

One of my favoritest things in the world is Advanced Style, a street style blog by Ari Seth Cohen of elderly ladies with killer style. Last fashion week, we hosted a party in honor of these women together at the Ace Hotel, and it was really, really inspiring. It was really special to get to hear women with the most interesting style philosophies discuss it together, and guests seemed relieved to be at a non-gross party where people really were just interested in clothing and style and character and celebrating an unabashed enthusiasm for it; the kind of thing that, ironically, often gets lost during a time of year that’s supposed to be about fashion.

And at Advanced Style, I stumbled across the formidable Edith Drake:

Edith Drake in 2011

Mrs Drake is 90. Nine zero. She looks no more fragile than that metal fence.

Oh, yes, there’s a Mr Drake. He’s 92. He writes songs. (Cue Mr Sinatra.)

And as the ostensible Rookie points out:

Wrinkles and scars and imperfections are signs of life, not of being young and naive and sexy and nonthreatening, so if an aging woman doesn’t take measures to erase indications that she’s built character through experience, if she can no longer be viewed as a sex object or as recently discovered and relevant, she may as well just disappear. It’s subversive to age as these women do, making themselves present, because they want to be. I know now that I’d rather keep all my life scars and be erased for doing so than have to erase them myself.

I’ll need to bookmark this for the next time I start whining about 60, fercrissake.

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It’s all those red dots

TTAC commenter “hyundaivirgin” argues that once Japanese automakers built a reputation for reliability, there was no reason for them to pursue any other automotive goals, at least with respect to their American fleets:

Once the Japanese developed a reputation for reliability, it was natural they would attract the laziest, least-interested portion of the car-buying public, those who wanted a reliable car and thought bigger is better. With such a natural audience, it was inevitable that sedans would get bigger quickly and start adding non-driving features to keep up with each other in the highly competitive family car market. I may have wished for the Japanese manufacturers to pay more attention to styling and drivability, but since most people prefer size over nimbleness and gas was cheap until the mid-2000s, market forces inevitably caused the Japanese manufacturers to make their mainstream cars bigger and heavier, and worse to drive. Those who wanted a good drive would have to go to the premium divisions of Lexus, Infiniti or Acura, whose existence also allowed a stylistic split between expensive nice cars and cheap deliberately uglified cars. Not surprisingly, the only manufacturer who didn’t make their cars both big and ugly was Mazda, which didn’t have a premium division. The 626 and first-generation 6 were thus designed to the older Japanese ethic, smaller, lighter, more stylish, and more nimble than the Accord and Camry, but those failed in the market place when Mazda didn’t do the advertising necessary to convince Joe Public smaller could be better. Ironically Mazda seemed to have changed philosophy at precisely the wrong time and introduced a bloated second-generation 6 just when interest in smaller cars and higher mpg was returning.

This chap notes that he owned a ’00 626, which might have been my favorite car ever; it was on the light side (barely 3000 lb with the four-banger and the automatic, even less with a stick), and with decent tires it had an amazing amount of stick, provided you weren’t put off by nautical levels of body roll. It wasn’t especially fast, but it was game for just about anything. Nowadays you can’t sell a mid-sized sedan with 130 hp, because they all weigh 3500 lb or so and people doing “research” on the Internet have discovered that even the lowliest Corolla, one size class down, offers more ponies than that. (Okay, two more ponies. Some people get obsessive about their numbers.) My current ride is on the large side, and I feel every one of those extra 300 lb around a tight curve, but the latest version weighs 200 lb more than that, and most of it seems to be right over the front wheels.

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Not a word was heard from Shirley

John Forster’s “Entering Marion,” a truly classic Demented Disc — Dr Demento his own self said so — is perhaps not the best guide to driving in Massachusetts, but it still breaks me up every time I hear it.

I’d like to think Forster made enough money off that song to be able to move his life savings away from one of these questionable institutions:

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Sharkskin to dye for

If GM’s Bill Mitchell had never designed anything but the ’63 Buick Riviera, he’d still be famous. In classic Detroit style, though, he was also what you’d call something of a character. This month (March) Automobile has a feature on Blaine Jenkins, who worked for the General under Mitchell, and in it is recounted a possibly apocryphal story from the days of the original Mako Shark concept Corvette, which I feel compelled to pass on here:

On a Caribbean fishing trip Mitchell caught a mako shark and then had it stuffed and mounted on his office wall. He then ordered the in-process concept car painted to exactly match his trophy fish.

Every attempt made to shade the paint on the car as subtly as the natural gradation on the shark was furiously rejected, which was a problem for Jenkins because he was considered the “color guy” for Chevrolet. As the story goes, the fish was taken down to the paint shop after-hours, the car was made to look as close to the taxidermist’s masterpiece as possible, and then the fish was sprayed with the same paint from the same gun so that it was identical.

Or, you know, not:

The car’s designer, Larry Shinoda, helped perpetuate the story, but the paint man in charge, Ed Ketterer, tells us that they never actually painted the fish.

Still, this is one of those stories of which they say, if it didn’t happen, well, dammit, it should have.

Interestingly, the Mako Shark article at Wikipedia recounts the story, with an interview with Larry Shinoda as its source.

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Picture me (or don’t)

There was a brief period when I was swapping out avatars on Twitter on what seemed to be a daily basis. The one I finally settled on is one I’d used earlier, with just a hint of — yes, I admit it — ‘shoppery.

Of course, what I look like doesn’t matter a whole lot. Get into the public eye, and suddenly it’s a Matter of Colossal Import. Here are three shots of author Virginia Postrel, a favorite in these parts, each intended for a different audience:

Three photos of Virginia Postrel

Her own discussion of the matter:

In real life, I look more or less like the photo on the left, which is a candid of me accepting the Bastiat Prize. (I’m well lit and well coiffed.) The middle photo is the one I use most of the time as my “official” portrait and is, except for reversing the hands, a characteristic post. (My hair no longer has those post-chemo curls.) The one on the right is my Bloomberg photo, for which I had professional hair and makeup and unknown amounts of retouching. But, most important, the photographer refused to let me smile. No “smirking Girls” at Bloomberg View! (For another contrast, check out Amity Shlaes at Bloomberg View, in a candid lecture shot, and on her own website.) The expression isn’t my resting or serious face either; it’s more attractive. So the picture looks like I’m an actress playing someone else — the same physiognomy but a different personality.

In the past, I have suggested that the ideal photo of me is one in which I do not actually appear, or in which I am generally unrecognizable. (“Who the hell is that?“) After a few hours of enduring a 1978 picture of myself, I decided to install The Bird (see sidebar) as the official Gravatar, which represents me fairly well without actually showing me. Then again, I’m not a particularly public person, and no one is going to ask me for an Official Photo anytime soon. (What, isn’t the passport shot good enough?) In the unlikely event that I become semi-famous, I reserve the right to modify this stance.

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Now with eukaryotes!

Most of what I know about makeup, which is not a whole lot, was derived from following up magazine pieces. The problem with this is that much of what you see is beyond the budget of mere mortals, but they know you’re still going to look. Jessica Stone Levy certainly does:

Those of us too busy with things like kid-shlepping to luxuriate at spas for the perfect glow find ourselves going the Target or Walgreen’s route. And a quick magazine immersion provided me with some new and interesting names.

One such name is “Algenist,” billed as “Biotechnology from San Francisco.” One presumes biotechnology from Des Moines would not be impressive. Jessica hasn’t tried the stuff, but she did try the name out for size:

Pro: Sounds like alchemist, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Con: Sounds like algae, and I don’t think I want that near my face.

I almost hate to tell her about the active ingredient therein:

Alguronic Acid is a group of complex polysaccharides, produced by specific strains of microalgae that function to protect and regenerate the microalgae cell. Algenist’s team developed a highly advanced process that allows us to grow microalgae and extract the highly functional Alguronic Acid compound.

So the name says it straight. And the compound in question was in fact discovered in San Francisco. You guys in Des Moines, try to keep up, okay?

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Find me a find

Number One (chronologically) granddaughter addressed her father’s utter lack of Valentines on this day as follows:

Dad, when you get a girlfriend make sure she is nice, cute, smart, good with kids, rich, and her name should be Kristine.

Just remember: if you thought you were picky, you’ve got nothing on this almost-nine-year-old girl.

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A tale of even more woe

The phrase “star-crossed lovers” dates back to Shakespeare, circa 1597; he applied it to Juliet and her Romeo, whose every action seemed somehow to be thwarted by forces beyond their control. Personally, I always thought that the fault, dear readers, was not in their stars, but in themselves, that they were underage; but your mileage may vary.

Anyway, “star-crossed,” over the centuries, seems to have lost whatever direness it had. Nancy Friedman cites several examples, including this one:

A Boston restaurant, Tryst, is running a Valentine’s Day promotion that includes “the romantic Star Crossed Lovers” cocktail, meant to be enjoyed by two smitten people.

Were the promoters true to the term’s origin, it would be the last drink the lovers ever take; but “the ingredients do not include a vial of poison.”

Then again, it’s a restaurant called “Tryst.” Who is their intended clientele? Me and Mrs Jones?

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How big a blowout was this? Ryan Reid, who’s been toiling in the D-League, was not only on hand but active, and he got to play. Four whole minutes. Within that first minute he got off a 14-foot jumper, and it went. You want weirder than that? Kendrick Perkins had six assists, more than Russell Westbrook — but fewer than Reggie Jackson. Of course, if all you want is a W, you got it: 111-85, the widest margin of victory the Thunder have come up with all season.

The Jazz didn’t look tired, particularly, despite being on the trailing edge of a back-to-back-to-back. But of their first sixteen shots, exactly one went through the net, and you have to figure that this didn’t encourage them much. Al Jefferson did manage 15 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there. Utah was fairly effective on the offensive glass — 19 rebounds therefrom, including six by rookie center Enes Kanter — but second chances didn’t translate into second-chance points: the Jazz got off 13 more shots but came up with ten fewer makes.

And speaking of Reggie Jackson, the new kid on the point had a career-high eight assists in 24 minutes, at least partially because Westbrook was stuck on the sidelines with four fouls early in the third. (Nobody on the floor played more than 30.) The Thunder bench was good for 49 points, 22 of which were contributed by James Harden, one more than Kevin Durant. OKC shot a sterling 54.5 percent, holding Utah to less than 36. And you have to figure Serge Ibaka’s place at the top of this year’s shot blockers won’t be jeopardized: he swatted half a dozen tonight and still rolled up 16 points.

So now we know what this team can do with three days’ rest. Not that they’ll have that luxury again for a couple of weeks: tomorrow night the Thunder are in Houston; Friday they start a five-game home stand that contains two back-to-backs, finishing with the Lakers — and who doesn’t want to finish with the Lakers? — before the next demi-vacation.

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Special weather statement

Motown, by and large, was not your one-stop shop for Really Depressing Records: as Smokey Robinson once said (albeit in an HDH composition), “I Gotta Dance to Keep From Crying,” and even some downright mournful songs — think “7 Rooms of Gloom” — still have that Funk Brothers rhythmic kick.

Which is not to say that Motown couldn’t break your heart. Jimmy Ruffin came close with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” about which I said many years ago:

Ruffin’s bad dream, if you take the lyrics at face value, is about nothing more than the consequences of a failed love affair: pretty horrible stuff, yes, but not enough to cause ongoing paralysis of the spirit. With some notable exceptions (can you say “Ophelia”?), most people survive this sort of thing.

The operative word here is “most.”

The Temptations did two really good songs on the subject of romantic desolation. “Since I Lost My Baby,” a Smokey confection, contains some excellent wordplay — “Fun is a bore / And with money I’m poor” — but our narrator is still, um, inclined to find her, which suggests hope, however faint.

That leaves the crown (of thorns) to “I Wish It Would Rain,” with a gorgeous Barrett Strong piano figure that telegraphs purest despair from the opening bar. The lyrics are by Roger Penzabene, based on a theme by Dee Clark: it’s not really tears you’re seeing. But while Clark is, for lack of a better term, generically sad, Penzabene’s words well up from the very depths of his soul. As it turns out, poor Roger was spinning out an autobiography: his wife had been unfaithful, yet he couldn’t let her go to save his life.

Norman Whitfield finished up the production in August 1967; Motown scheduled the release for the 30th of December. The next day — New Year’s Eve — Roger Penzabene killed himself. And in case you missed his point, the next Tempts single was called “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You),” and it contained Roger’s very last lyric. Motown itself demonstrated its own ability to miss the point by subsequently shoving both these songs into a superfluous compilation series called The Good-Feeling Music of the Big Chill Generation.

(Disclosure: This has been kicking around in the back of my head literally for months. It didn’t quite force itself to the foreground until yesterday, when the song came pouring into the car on the way home; but I was damned if I was going to post this on Valentine’s Day.)

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Mitt sounds off

Mitt Romney, in an op-ed in The Detroit News:

The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position in GM. The shares need to be sold in a responsible fashion and the proceeds turned over to the nation’s taxpayers.

We should not be back on a road like the one that brought us Freddie Mac and the housing crisis. It is a road with endless hazards. It is not the American way of making cars.

The dream of the Motor City is and always has been one of ideas, innovation, enterprise, and opportunity. It started with Henry Ford and continued with visionaries like William Durant, Walter Chrysler, and the Dodge Brothers. These giants never envisioned a role for government in their business, but relied on the hard work and commitment of private individuals.

Two observations:

  • The President could respond to Romney’s call for divestiture by pointing out that GM shares have been tanking of late, and that selling off at this point would result in even greater losses to the taxpayers;
  • Willard is probably the only person ever associated with the auto industry who referred to Billy Durant as “William.”

And you’ll note that Romney’s choice of “visionaries” includes all three Detroit automakers, lest he appear to be playing favorites.

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Someone like her

No, actually, it’s really her. Sort of. Adele, photographed for Vogue:

Adele in 3/12 Vogue

Rather a lot of people are complaining that the cover was Photoshopped — Google News offered seven pages to this effect almost immediately upon the magazine’s appearance on newsstands — but this shot from elsewhere in the pictorial might be, um, more so.

I’m going to assume that this was done without her knowledge, and when she sees the pictures, she’s gonna hit the roof.

For comparison, here’s a shot from the Grammy Awards:

Adele at the Grammy Awards

You make the call.

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