Resetting the Scrutinizer

I almost called this “Totality Achieved,” since I wrecked my car this summer, and Unblinking Insurance declared the ancient Japanese sled a total loss. Unwilling to accept this verdict, I reacquired the vehicle from them and had the appropriate body repairs done.

I puzzled for a while as to what I should do with my existing insurance policy: obviously there’s no point in continuing to pay for collision coverage, but the other coverages are likely to cost more, because — duh! — I’d just had a wreck. And this week, when the renewal arrived, I judged it to be pretty much a wash: for the next six months I’ll pay an extra $60. If this sounds like a lot to you, you probably aren’t carrying the absurd level of coverage I do.

Usually this is the point where I detail how much each component of the policy went up or down. But inasmuch as this event constitutes a major change, the new numbers are, in my view, no longer statistically significant. So I’m declaring a new baseline, and we’ll see what happens in May. For the moment, I’m grateful for not having being dropped entirely.

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For all the milk tea in China

Zhang Zetian, twenty-four today, is the wealthiest woman in all of China, though you might not have guessed that from this early photo:

Zhang Zetian as the original Milk Tea Girl

The origin of this picture:

In 2009, Zhang Zetian was an ordinary high school student. One day, as she was leaving class, a friend snapped a photo of her with a Chinese milk tea drink in her hand, backpack slung over one shoulder. Zhang’s photo was then posted on Renren.com, a popular social networking site. Complete strangers then forwarded the photo hundreds of thousands of times, proclaiming the “Milk Tea Girl” to be “adorable!” and “fresh faced!”

Zhang Zetian does a split

This is not, however, how she piled up $8 billion. That story starts in New York City in 2014, when Zhang spent a year as an exchange student at Barnard, and she met Liu Qiangdong, a fortyish entrepreneur (JD.com, China’s second-largest online retailer) who was studying at Columbia and hoping to arrange an IPO. They hit it off at once, rumors began to fly, and Liu’s IPO was successful; the following year they were wed in Sydney, Australia, and in 2016 Richard and Nancy (maybe you need an English-sounding name if you’re a Chinese billionaire) had a daughter. Their investments overlap to a certain extent, though apparently her 17 percent of Bubs, an Australian baby-food company, is through her company, not Liu’s.

Zhang Zetian crosses the ocean again

While she works diligently to promote JD’s line of luxe goods, she’d just as soon do the sneakers-and-jeans thing:

And yes, you can find her on Instagram.

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When a heart can be broken

This I was not expecting. Serbian “body illusionist” Mirjana Kika Milosevic, whom you’ve maybe seen before seemingly mutilating herself, was apparently commissioned to produce video footage for this song by singer Adil Maksutović:

“Ne kidaj mene od sebe” translates to “Do not bother me,” and there’s a definite Go Away feeling to Adil’s performance.

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On the Richter scale

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A wicked, wicked man

I mean, just look at him:

Donald Trump takes a sip

6100: Present reading of the meter adjacent to the monument to Edward R. Murrow at Glen Arden, New York, in revolutions per minute, if Lindsey Buckingham is to be believed.

(Via American Digest.)

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Not a glacial pace

It got up to 82°F yesterday at Will Rogers World Airport, the warmest it’s ever been in this town on the 17th of November, for certain values of “ever.” There were lawns mowed yesterday, fercryingoutloud. Then again, those of us who have been here for several decades tend to respond to the announcement of a new weather record with yawns: scarcely a month goes by without at least one new record of some sort.

NWS Norman, having heard a lot of those yawns, contributed this observation:

Speaking of the 15th of November, that day in 1976 featured the end of one of the feeblest multi-day snowfall events, um, ever: 0.1 inch on the 13th, 0.2 inch on the 14th, and a trace on the 15th.

And then there was the Weirdest Day Ever, 11 November 1911: high 83, low 17, both still records for the date.

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They knew it wouldn’t last

Of the Elite-Adjacent teams in the NBA, the Thunder have generally had the best luck, or perhaps the least bad luck, against the Spurs. And in San Antonio tonight, OKC ran off an 18-0 run in the first quarter on the way to a 23-point lead; the Spurs diligently chipped away at that lead. The fourth quarter opened to a 78-78 tie, and as they so often do, the Spurs managed to outexecute the competition. It didn’t help that the Thunder got the back of the zebras’ hooves in that fourth quarter; it also didn’t help that Paul George took four free throws in the waning moments and managed to collect only two points. A busted play seemed to bring on the horn that much closer — there’s some of that bad luck, since the Spurs didn’t have to do much beyond watch Russell Westbrook stumble — and San Antonio won it 104-101, starting up OKC’s two-game road trip behind the eight-ball.

Still, many of the numbers were close. Item: OKC shot 39-88, 44.3 percent; the Spurs hit 34-78, 43.8. But some were less close. Item: San Antonio made 14 of 35 treys for 40 percent; the Thunder, nine of 23 for 39.1. And some weren’t close at all. Item: The Spurs were 24-28 from the free-throw line, the Thunder 14-23, a good twelve percentage points (and 10 points, not inconsiderable in a three-point game).

LaMarcus Aldridge gave OKC the most trouble, pulling in 26 points and nine rebounds, five off the offensive glass. Danny Green scored 17 and took away four steals; Pau Gasol picked up 14 and a +21 for the night. The usual suspects accounted for most of the OKC scoring, with Carmelo at 20, George at 18, and Westbrook’s line was a curious 15-9-9. Shooting 5-22 will do that to you.

Not that they’re going that particular route, but the Thunder get to head east on old US 90 to New Orleans, where the Pelicans will be waiting on Sunday. The Bad Birds are 8-7 at this writing, a game in front of OKC for the moment. And they’ll have to be in the moment to win that one, because it’s too easy to be distracted by the coming of the Warriors.

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The word is heard

Writers know about prompts: you get a very brief setup, from which you are expected to derive a story.

It may be a little trickier if what you write is the popular song. Rebecca Black asked for a one-word prompt, and this was the result:

While watching one of her weekly videos many moons ago, I caught a glimpse of an actual record player at her digs. As someone who got his first such device before even hitting puberty, I can appreciate this photo from RB’s Facebook page:

Rebecca Black in a record store

Eternal verities, doncha know.

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Slightly less expensive

When the word got out that the Oklahoma legislature, as a reward for screwing up the budget process once more, was getting a pay cut, I knew I had to see what Patrick at The Lost Ogle had to say about it. And he said it, all right:

The inept, hodgepodge collection of right wing ideological assholes, special interest shills, oil industry lemmings, and perverse deviants that we know as Oklahoma lawmakers (some, I assume, are good people) will receive an 8.8% pay reduction effective in November.

Some of those categories overlap.

From the AP wire story:

All of Oklahoma’s 149 state senators and representatives will get a pay cut of 8.8 percent in November 2018 after an independent nine-member panel narrowly voted to approve the reduction.

The Legislative Compensation Board voted 4-3 on Thursday to impose the pay cut effective on the next group of legislators elected next year.

Members of the panel are appointees of the governor, speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate. Several said the decision was a difficult one, but that the total annual compensation for legislators of $62,000 was too generous given the salary of the average Oklahoman or state worker.

Well, this action affects only the salary ($38,400 a year, to be reduced to $35,020). Per diem remains unchanged. (Patrick: “Considering a first year Oklahoma teacher only makes $31,600 a year, that still seems too high.”)

A fraction of those lawmakers will be gone after 2018 because of term limits; they will never have to experience the indignity of a pay cut. It will be interesting to see how many legislators not facing term limits after 2018 decide to move on.

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Chemistry indeed

Hunter Day, off workI remember my days as a chem student, and I’m pretty sure nothing like this ever happened back then:

A Yukon, Oklahoma teacher has been arrested and accused of raping a student.

Hunter Day, 22, was arrested Nov. 15 in Canadian County on a complaint of second degree rape, possession of child pornography and soliciting sex from a minor using technology.

A very minor minor indeed. State law defines two flavors of second-degree rape, and the one that applies here is “consensual sex between a minor who is 14 or 15, and a defendant who is 18 or older.”

Apparently the previous version of the soliciting-sex statute didn’t include anything about smartphones.

The Canadian County Sheriff’s Office reports that they were contacted by the parents of a student who gave them the boy’s phone. On the phone, authorities found text messages and nude photographs. The boy’s parents were concerned that Day had already had sex with their son and that she was his chemistry teacher. The boy’s parents had learned that Day and him had planned to meet Wednesday for sex at her apartment.

Day was hired by Yukon Public Schools on an emergency certification at the beginning of the school year; she is currently under suspension. And she is probably still married.

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Mom’s the word

Sherman, we’re going back to before I was born.

My mother at eighteen

You may be assured, this was an unscheduled trip.

In deepest Austin, Texas, cousin Linda, one of only a few Balagia family members of that generation who never, ever left, was going through boxes of old stuff, or old boxes of stuff, and turned up this tiny 2 x 2½-inch photograph, uneven sepia due to random storage, of a member of the previous generation, stamped JUN 15 1946.

My mom at eighteen, in the yard of the old Balagia house in the ATX. By then, I believe, she’d reached her full height of 5’3¼”, and woe betide you if you ever forgot that quarter inch.

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A good long run

A century and a quarter, and then some, but those days are gone:

In 2007 President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which, among other things, was intended “to move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles.” Americans have been blaming President Obama ever since for taking away their incandescent light bulbs.

Now, almost exactly ten years later, John Flannery, the new head of General Electric, has announced that they are out of the bulb business. Many are outraged, blaming Obama and the EPA, writing comments like “another American industry lost, gone to China. The EPA demanded the change from filament to fluorescent to save energy. Now LEDs, invented here, now made in China.”

This is not, incidentally, the first “innovation” to occur on W’s watch for which Obama got the blame: remember when all the car companies in Detroit went down the porcelain facility?

(Via Fark.)

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Harare up

Roberta X ponders a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe:

Too soon to tell if Robert Mugabe’s actually on the outs in Zimbabwe or if the government there will see much change, but one can hope. They’d’ve been better off with an honest commie, too, instead of the crappy strongman socialism that has impoverished and starved a country that used to export food. It’s too much to expect that the government will dip much of a toe in democracy, but if ever a place was ripe for it, Zimbabwe is. It’s about time the people there got a break. Will they? If past history of even freely-voting people is any guide, they will not; they will opt for more of the devil they know. Still, sometimes you flip a coin and it stands on the edge.

Just finding a coin to flip has been tricky at times:

In its 2014 mid-term monetary policy statement, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) said it would import special coins, known as Zimbabwean bond coins, to ease a shortage of change in the economy. Like the original 1980 coins, these special coins would be denominated in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, but would have values at par with US cents. There would also be South African rand coins of 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 rand, 2 rands, and 5 rands. The RBZ’s statement did not specify when or where these coins would be imported from, but a later report on November 26, 2014 clarified that over $40 million worth of these coins were expected to be delivered within the next week from Pretoria. On 18 December 2014, the 1, 5, 10, and 25 US cent denominations were released into circulation. The 50 US cent denomination followed in March 2015. A 1 dollar bond coin was released in November 2016.

If there’s any Zimbabwean paper currency left, they should probably sell it to Venezuela, which sorely needs the paper, as there have been no Sears, Roebuck catalogs for ages.

Meanwhile, this happened last night:

Seems official enough.

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Firefox and friends

I think I reached this point many months ago:

My Firefox browser just “updated” to 57. I promptly backdated it to 56.0.2 and turned off automatic updates.

I have a bunch of add-ons I use with Firefox — one of which is essential for the way I publish this blog — and the browser’s new paradigm has already ruined one of them. 57 broke another and I’ve had enough. The aforementioned extension that enables me to publish the Tally Book conveniently would be one of those I’d lose with 57, so 57 simply had to go.

I grew weary of Firefox’s feeping creaturism about the time they told me I really needed the tabs to be moved, because reasons. I then installed the Pale Moon browser, version 24.4.2, and set it up to look as much like the last Firefox version I could stand. Now at 27.6, it still looks like that long-ago-forgotten Firefox, though most of the code, originally a fork of Mozilla’s, has been rewritten, and a whole new rendering engine has been shoved under the hood. It has a couple of quirks, but so what else is new?

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And the skates are new

And you know the song. Melanie Safka described it this way:

“Brand New Key”, I wrote in about fifteen minutes one night. I thought it was cute; a kind of old thirties tune. I guess a key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols, and pretty obvious ones at that. There was no deep serious expression behind the song, but people read things into it. They made up incredible stories as to what the lyrics said and what the song meant. In some places, it was even banned from the radio.

My idea about songs is that once you write them, you have very little say in their life afterward. It’s a lot like having a baby. You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it’s on its own. People will take it any way they want to take it.

Forty-odd years later, it persists. First, Orange County chanteuse Sabrina Lentini, now 19. She was 14 when she did this take:

Sabrina has a single coming out next month called “Dorothy Gale.”

Katharine McPhee actually released her take on the song in 2010, and it’s an intriguing blend of Melanie and the late George Michael.

Finally, a punky rendition by the Dollyrots:

Never could bring myself to hate this song.

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The most recent Vatican treasure

Pope Francis blesses a Lamborghini

It’s not going to be there long, though:

On Wednesday, Pope Francis became the new owner of a papal-themed Lamborghini Huracán, which was given to him by company executives at the Vatican and will be auctioned off for charity.

The sleek white Huracán with gold lines running along the hood and angles of the car’s body was presented to Francis in front of his residence at the Vatican’s Saint Martha Guesthouse Nov. 15. He blessed and autographed it in the presence of top executives from the luxury Italian sports car brand.

It was probably too early to do up the mighty bull in Advent purple.

The car will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London, and the Pope has decided to give the proceeds to three different charitable causes: the restoration of villages on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq, assisting victims of human trafficking, and missionary work in Africa.

I suspect the selling price will be well in excess of the $267,545 base price. We’ll know on the 12th of May, when the gavel comes down.

(Via The Truth About Cars.)

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