Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Expensive Hormones

Yet another thing to be blamed on "that time of the month".

In the 10 days before their periods began women were more likely to go on a spending spree, a study found.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Long Time Coming, and Not Coming Back

Donald Pittenger at 2Blowhards remembers the happier times at General Motors.

So let's go back 60 years to 1949. The Japanese car industry hardly existed. European manufacturers had never attained large production volumes in the inter-war period and had yet to reach breakout status (that would happen in the 50s). Around half the U.S automobile market belonged to General Motors and competing companies watched GM's engineering, product packaging and styling carefully, taking care to be different, but not much different from the General.

As I commented there, GM's serious long-term trouble started with the failure to respond adequately to the big changes of the 1970s (oil crises, emissions standards). They then failed to adjust their scale to the reduced market share that resulted when people who had been burned by their various inferior products moved to the fast-improving Japanese cars.

Since then they have acted like those people are just deluded and will see the error of their ways when GM comes out with it's Next Big Thing, thus restoring GM to that position Donald remembers. They have never seemed to recognize that even if their cars are on par now, customers aren't coming back without a reason, and Toyota, etc. aren't likely to give them one. Worse, those customers' children are now in the market, and they only associate GM with the bad experiences of their parents.

GM has been trying to be a 50%-share company with 30% or less of a much more competitive market. This wasn't sustainable in good times; the recent slump merely accelerated the reckoning. Perhaps the looming bankruptcy will result in a leaner GM more in keeping with market reality. But it took GM 40 years to get to this point, so no one should expect a quick turnaround. Whatever the outcome, it will never be the same.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

We'll Be Out There - This Will Tell You Where

The Madville Times pointed me to this from the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, of which the Highway Patrol is a part.

Prevent primitive behavior by signing up for sobriety checkpoint alerts and safe ride reminders delivered to your mobile phone. You'll receive a text message when there's a sobriety checkpoint planned in your county.

Madville said this....

So this would be Big Brother helping me keep track of Big Brother. I'm having a hard time getting my mind fully around that one, and I'm sober!

It does seem a bit odd. I know that checkpoints are controversial; the Supreme Court upheld them for drunk driver detection but not for drug interdiction, and Clarence Thomas has commented that he wouldn't mind a chance to overturn the DUI precedent. Perhaps it's meant to provide some kind of legal cover. I may have to ask around.

More Comfortable But Less Exciting

Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution..... A special-purpose charter flight.

We will take you up to over 5,280 feet above the earth's surface so you have the opportunity to join the exclusive "Mile High Club." For only $379.00 per couple, you and "your significant other" will have a one hour flight in a Piper Cherokee Six designed exclusively for this purpose. Also included is a bottle of champagne, a certificate of your accomplishment and you get to keep your sheet as a souvenir of this special event.

Less risky than the traditional method, I suppose, but somehow it doesn't seem like it would provide the same thrill.

As Long As They Don't Mix Them Up

A Colorado funeral home is diversifying.

The couple will conduct funeral services, cremations and weddings in the 6,000-square-foot building at 12144 Grant Circle in Thornton.

"Weddings and funerals are the two major events in life......You use flowers for both; you use ministers for both; and it's the one time when everybody comes together."

Tabler hopes to perform about 300 funerals a year, and up to 50 weddings. Three weddings have been booked.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Involuntary Redecoration

The proprietors of a pub found a surprise when they came to open up.

"The whole front of the building has been painted in a glorious Barbie pink," a police spokesman said..... Elaine Smith said: "We left.. on Monday evening, and when Les came to open up at 8am the next morning the pub was pink. "

They were professional about it.

The decorators left a receipt for their work, saying "Invoice for works carried out at the Prince of Wales Pub, Ledbury, Herefordshire. Payment received - many thanks".

It is serious in one respect.

It will cost several thousands pounds to correct, said police as they appealed for information.
Mr and Mrs Smith, who have run the pub for six years, are planning to return the pub to its original black and white state as soon as possible.

Getting Away for a While

Remember the Twilight Zone episode that dramatized a test of a man's reaction to the isolation that would be involved in a long space flight? The real thing is about to be tried.

After a news conference and with cameras flashing they will walk to a collection of linked cylindrical containers inside a dreary building in Moscow, open the heavy hatch and disappear inside. All in the name of an unprecedented experiment called Mars 500 which has been talked about for many years and is now finally happening.

Luxury is not involved.

There were a few home comforts, including a large flatscreen TV, a plastic kettle and an empty fridge. But overall it was cramped, airless and without windows. The sleeping quarters are particularly small and apparently not well sound-proofed.

This 3-month test is just a baby.

And if all goes well with this experiment, then early next year another "crew" will be locked inside for a total of 520 days.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Official Dirt

Pursuant to this blog's love of trivia......James Lileks at the Star-Tribune.

In 1987, the Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists -- dedicated, no doubt, to combating all the falsehoods and junk science put out by those amateur soil scientists with mail-order degrees -- declared our state soil was Lester Loam. Or Lester Loam was the fellow who sent the press release. Records are sketchy.

Of course I had to make sure South Dakota wasn't behind the curve on this. Quoth the State website.

......the South Dakota Legislature made Houdek (pronounced hoo-deck) the official state soil in 1990.

Why Houdek?

Houdek soil is not found in any other state. It was chosen because it and closely-related soils occur on more than two million acres across South Dakota.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

They Also Preferred Massages To Root Canals

It is heartening to see that times haven't gotten so tough that research like this lost funding.

The university team showed women pictures of the same man sitting in two cars - a £70,000 silver Bentley Continental and a battered Ford Fiesta. The women, who were aged between 21 to 40, picked the man sitting in the Bentley ahead of the same man in the Ford.

Be Stupid On Your Own

Via Dave Barry..... I fail to see the point of this.

Studio has set Sean Penn to play Larry, and negotiations are underway with Jim Carrey to play Curly, with the actor already making plans to gain 40 pounds to approximate the physical dimensions of Jerome "Curly" Howard. The studio is zeroing in on Benicio Del Toro to play Moe.

Sean Penn? But wait, there's less.

The film is not a biopic, but rather a comedy built around the antics of the three characters that Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Howard played in the Columbia Pictures shorts.

So it's just going to be another shallow slapstick comedy distinguished from similar movies by the fact that the characters are named after the original Stooges? If they must do this, change the characters' names, call the movie "Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest" or "Three Idiots with High Pain Tolerance" and let it try to stand on its own. Carrey in particular has enough of a resume in this regard that he doesn't need to sponge from others. I'm not a Three Stooges fan, but they built their legacy and they deserve to have it left alone.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Driving While Idiotic

One man's dilemma: trust his eyes or believe the satellite navigation system? You probably guessed his choice, and the result.

Robert Jones continued to follow the instructions when they told him the narrow, steep path he was driving on in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, was a road. Mr Jones, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, only stopped when his BMW hit a fence above Gauxholme railway bridge on Sunday morning.

Police have charged Mr Jones with driving without due care and attention.

Radioactive Man

I would think this man must have wondered if someone was out to get him.

Japan has certified a man aged 93 as the only known survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki......

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on 6 August 1945 when a US plane dropped the first atomic bomb. He suffered serious burns and spent a night there before returning to his home city of Nagasaki just before it was bombed on 9 August.

Baked Indeed

I agree with James Lileks regarding this Twin Cities crime post; where to begin?

Two employees of Bridge Realty, 102 North Chestnut St., baked brownies laced with marijuana and brought them to work, and they did not tell their co-workers of the ingredients, police said. One co-worker became ill and was transported to the hospital. The men, ages 32 and 35, admitted what they had done and felony charges are pending, police said.

As James said.....

Thirty-two and thirty-five years old. Nice work, boys. Perhaps they're reserving pranks like whoopee cushions for their sedate, settled forties.

Which may about how old they'll be when they get out of jail.

Master of Nothing

Matthew Stewart doesn't think much of the M.B.A. degree.

Isn't it just a little suspicious, after all, that the sector that showed the greatest appetite for MBAs was the most grotesquely mismanaged?

The truth is that the relevance of the technical training allegedly offered by the MBA was always overblown.....The empirical evidence on the contribution of the MBA to individual career performance seems to bear this out—mainly because it doesn't exist.

This brings to mind the fact that George W. Bush has an M.B.A. (from Harvard,no less); the only President so far to have one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Luckily He Didn't Have to Use Spider Webs

Sometimes you just do whatever it takes.

An unusual disguise has helped a Bangkok fireman rescue an eight-year-old boy who had climbed on to a third-floor window ledge, Thai police say. The firefighter dressed up as the comic book superhero Spider-Man in order to coax the boy, who is autistic, from his dangerous perch.

I know what you're wondering......

Mr Somchai normally uses the costume to liven up fire drills in schools.

They Can Share a Room

I agree with Dave Barry; if I'm having surgery I want this guy.

An Italian doctor completed a brain operation despite having a heart attack after realizing his patient would never recover if he stopped the surgery.

Both doctor and patient are recovering.

Losing Weight

For the vast majority of the world which uses the metric system, this is a cornerstone.

.....the actual International Prototype Kilogram, or IPK, created in 1879 as the official standard of mass.

It's not something you can causally stop by to see in a display window.

It is kept under a triple bell jar inside a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault in a secure room within the Parc de Saint-Cloud enclave of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, or BIPM.

Over the course of its century-plus lifetime, the IPK has emerged only three times to serve “campaigns” of active duty, most recently in 1988–1992, when it participated in a formal verification of all kilogram prototypes belonging to the 51 Meter Convention member states.

Even so, a problem occurred.

On that occasion, however, the IPK itself was found wanting. Despite all the protective protocols and delicate procedures, it had mysteriously changed. No one can say whether the IPK has lost weight (perhaps by the gradual escape of gases trapped inside it from the start) or if most of the prototypes have gained (possibly by accumulating atmospheric contaminants). The difference is approximately 30 micrograms —30 billionths of a kilogram—in a hundred years.

This messes with a lot of things.

In fact, more than mass hangs in the balance, for the kilogram is tied to three other base units of the International System of Units (SI), namely the ampere, the mole, and the candela. Several more quantities—including density, force, and pressure—are in turn derived from the kilogram.

This has led to the suggestion that it be replaced.

One invariant vying to replace the IPK is Planck’s constant, which could be determined via an experimental device called a watt balance. Alternatively, researchers may successfully express mass in terms of Avogadro’s number (which is tied to the unchanging mass of individual atoms), provided they can count the atoms in a crystal of silicon-28.

Not nearly as elegant as a hunk of metal, but reproducible. Whatever happens, it won't be soon.

But neither of these complex, costly endeavors is likely to yield a new standard in time for the next meeting of the General Conference of Weights and Measures, scheduled for 2011.

Put Them Out of Their Misery

This is a bit disheartening, but not surprising.

Large whales that strand themselves should be killed, as any attempts to save them are probably futile and likely to cause more suffering, according to animal welfare specialists.

The reason?

Without the support of the surrounding seawater, their weight damages their muscles, releasing stores of damaging myoglobin into the bloodstream.Myoglobin is a protein essential for oxygen transport while the whales are submerged, but it is also toxic to the kidneys.

According to the autopsy data from the ZSL (Zoological Society of London), once the whales have been stranded for an hour, the renal damage is already irreversible. Attempting to refloat the whales at this point only makes the situation worse, as it allows their blood to circulate more freely, carrying even more myoglobin into the kidneys.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Deathwish Not Granted


A US man who thought he was dying and confessed to having killed a neighbour in 1977 has been charged with murder after making a recovery....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

CYA in Action

Dom Joly has come across some silliness while filming his latest project.

What really irritates me, however, is how "healthandsafety" has taken over everything. I wouldn't mind if it was all for "healthandsafety", but it's actually not. It's all about a pathological fear of litigation veiled behind a feigned concern for the visitor's or worker's wellbeing.

I visited a biscuit factory. At reception I was asked to sign in and declare that I hadn't been abroad recently, didn't have typhoid and wasn't an industrial saboteur. I was then taken into a room and shown a long and very dull DVD, warning me about not going down any stairs without holding the handrail and how, if I dropped anything into the biscuit mix, this would make the consumer very unhappy.

The following day I went to look round a place that made posh mobile phones. The moment I arrived I was made to sign a non-disclosure form that presumably was intended to prevent me from telling you things like the fact that I had to sign a non-disclosure form. It was very unclear what it was that they didn't want me to disclose, especially as we were there filming everything for television. Perhaps, if or when you come to view this show, you will get a letter from the company concerned asking you not to discuss what you have just seen.

Oddly, the Spellchecker Doesn't Like It

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution pointed me to this story of a spineless hedgehog, which of course caught my eye for the wrong reason.

Spud was found wandering in a garden and taken to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Aylesbury, Bucks, last August. Experts are baffled by his condition, which has caused his skin to dry and his spines to fall out. The hospital is asking practitioners of alternative medicine to suggest possible remedies.


Looming Unpleasant Possibilities

Sunday morning, bad weather ahead. Thunderstorms are supposed to develop later today, get worse tomorrow, then turn to snow Tuesday. This after 70 degrees yesterday. Ah well, another reminder of the old state slogan "Land of Infinite Variety", or the less formal "If you don't like the weather, wait a little bit and it'll change".

I have the radio tuned to 1970s Casey Kasem again, and he just played a song from John Travolta. Lots of backing vocals and enhanced production, but he did an adequate job. It's interesting to recall his career track then. Singing, dancing, acting - for a while he could do anything. Then suddenly he couldn't get arrested. Classic oversaturation, I suppose. During that latter time he expressed a sentiment no doubt felt by many who went through the same thing, "I wasn't that good then, and I'm not that bad now". Then came Pulp Fiction.

My wife, daughter and Grandbaby went to Huron yesterday to do some shopping; they have three dollar stores there that my wife likes, and a movie/game store that my daughter likes. They met up with my Mom and my youngest uncle, who is living with her until he can get set up somewhere. He's been diagnosed with dementia; he's waiting for results from the VA hospital in Sioux Falls of tests they ran to determine if it's a result of a stroke or the onset of Alzheimer's. if it's the former it may be treatable. Having him associated with diseases like that cuts a bit close; I'm only 11 years younger. He's had a history of health troubles, and his siblings, including my Mom, are healthy, as is my Dad, but it's still a bit disconcerting.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Selling Sex to the Desperate

This letter to Andrew Sullivan caught my eye. It begins.....

I'm a professional dating coach for men (if you've seen the Will Smith movie "Hitch," kind of like that). I take guys out to bars, night clubs, malls, bookstores -- wherever they want -- and show them how to meet women, talk to them and get dates.

The fact that it's possible to make a living that way isn't something to which I want to devote too much thought, but he apparently fills a need.

Business is good. In fact, business is better than ever. And it keeps pouring in......But what surprises me more than the fact that all of these men are turning for help in their love lives, is HOW DESPERATELY they're turning for help. Guys have been paying me with the last remnants of their bank accounts, deferring rent and bill payments, digging deeper into their credit card debt, even asking me to set up monthly payment plans for a single night out -- a night that typically nets a client only a few phone numbers and maybe a date or two.

His theory?

These single men who have become demoralized financially are seeking their solace not in some sort of economic recovery, but in the arms of a woman. The loss of financial security drives them to seek emotional security. And meanwhile, I'm cashing more checks than I even thought possible a year ago.

I asked a female co-worker what her initial impression would be of a guy who would go to this length. Her response - "loser". More specifically, by further damaging his personal situation to hire the service the guy compromises his ability to capitalize on any initial positive results he may see from it. He would be much better advised to use the money to get his life back on track, then make use of this service if he thinks he needs it.

I wonder if the coach ever tells a potential client this. His last sentence doesn't lead me to think so; it would mean fewer checks to cash.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Real Competition

As the NCAA basketball tournaments (don't forget the women) get going, Paula Marantz Cohen
says she saw a true physical test.

I’ve been to lots of sporting events in my life, but the first bi-annual Hot Wing Competition stands apart. Here is a test of the body’s inner resources in the most literal sense — its capacity to ingest what defies the humanly ingestible. Eyes, nose, stomach, heart, lungs, and kidneys are involved, and you can see the toll taken right there in front of you, where the contestants sweat and gag, weep and bleed — all without moving an inch from the table. Take your football and your boxing, take your snowboarding and your Ultimate Fighting. For all the punishment that the athletes in these sports have to endure, the hot wing competitors take more in the way of sheer, concentrated abuse than any of them. This is sport at its most unadulterated: a combination of willpower, practiced technique, and unaccountable, serendipitous prowess. This is sport where a guy in a wheelchair who looks like he might keel over from a heart attack any minute can emerge the winner. This is sport — cleaned down to the bone.

No Honor Indeed

Tough times make everything more competitive.

Two men who held up a jewellery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, were themselves robbed as they made their getaway, US police say. A second pair of robbers pounced on their haul of cash and gems in the street outside, sparking a fight followed by a car chase.

If She Would Just Get Married

Shazia Mirza's parents aren't thrilled with her choice of vocation.

My mum has only ever seen me perform once in her whole life. Even then, she sat behind the ice-cream seller clinging on to the chair in front, in case I didn’t get any laughs. My dad has never seen me perform.

When I go home, it’s like being gay. Like when someone has a disease that everyone’s afraid of and can’t speak about. We all sit around the dinner table talking about everything apart from what I do. The word “comedy” is never mentioned – in my house, it’s the equivalent of “homo”. My parents stick to euphemisms, such as, “So Shaz, how are things in the office? When is half-term?” and “What’s happening with your pension?” Occasionally my dad will put a positive spin on things and use the phrase “show business” – at least half that expression is academically acceptable....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lab or Vault?

I just saw (via Brian at Incertus) that South Dakota is coming to Sci Fi, or SyFy as it will soon be known. It's a shame the series - Warehouse 13 - sounds like a loser.

The series, about a secret government facility in South Dakota where all mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs are housed, is emblematic of the channel’s programming direction.

“It is a dramedy and it is set in the here and now. It’s a kind of an Indiana Jones meets ‘Moonlighting’ meets ‘The X-Files,’” Mr. Howe said. “This is a very accessible, relatable, fun show.”

Seems like a merry mess to me, but you never know. It does lead me to wonder about that "research laboratory" being built in the old Homestake mine. It would be great place to stash secret stuff.

I'm Sure God Wouldn't Notice

via Bob Schwartz..... having trouble squeezing in enough prayer? Get computerized help!

Information Age Prayer is a subscription service utilizing a computer with text-to-speech capability to incant your prayers each day. It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget.

As Bob said..... So for as little as $3.95 a month ($1.99 for a Muslim childrens prayer), you can get those extra prayers in that should guarantee your entrance into the afterlife of your choosing. What a deal!

I think if you've reached this point, you should just admit that you really don't care anymore and give up whatever religion you're barely acknowledging.

Quaker or Pagan?

2blowhards pointed me to a Beliefnet quiz that compares your answers to various belief systems. My results....

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Secular Humanism (92%)
3. Liberal Quakers (89%)
4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (82%)
5. Reform Judaism (75%)
6. Theravada Buddhism (74%)
7. Nontheist (71%)
8. Neo-Pagan (65%)
9. Sikhism (58%)
10. Taoism (55%)

I am one odd duck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Still Don't Know What I'm Doing

Another day of laundry, dishes, etc. At least winter seems to be over. There's still time for one last shot,of course; I don't get too comfortable before May. But the forecast is good and the snow is almost entirely gone except for what's left of the large piles that remind you that while driven snow may be pure, plowed and piled snow definitely is not.

A check of this humble blog's history shows that my first post was one year ago today, and it was titled "Now What?". I must say that a year later that sentiment is still prominent; I really don't know what, if any, purpose I should serve here. I guess I'll stick with posting whatever comes to mind or catches my eye, and remember that I started this as a hobby. As Hilzoy said when Norm Geras asked her why she blogs: "Mostly because it's fun: a lot more fun than just reading the newspaper and muttering to myself."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oldies But Not Necessarily Goodies

I occasionally listen to one of the local radio stations play old Casey Kasem Top 40 shows from the 1970s on Sunday morning, and I've noticed that a fair amount of decent music from that era isn't being played on current Classic Rock stations. I suppose it has something to do with acquiring the rights to use it, but it's still a shame. I think they could benefit from a little more variety, even if it means cutting back playing Fat Bottomed Girls to three times a day.

On the other hand, a lot of that music is deservedly forgotten. Ex-Beatles in particular seemed to be able to get away with anything. Had one of them recorded himself reading a telephone book while smashing glassware with a hammer it would have made the top 40. To his credit Ringo Starr seemed to realize this; his solo material of the time had a certain I-can't-believe-I'm-getting-paid-for-this vibe that made him more enjoyable than if he had taken himself too seriously. Paul McCartney has taken plenty of heat for his Wings offenses, which were wildly successful despite sometimes being incredibly shallow (Let 'Em In and Uncle Albert come to mind), but John Lennon was not without guilt. Some of his top-40-charting live recordings sound like he had promised the promoter new music, forgotten about it until he walked on stage, then told the band to play a standard rock beat while he made something up. George Harrison didn't seem to be as big an offender, but he also didn't have as much chart success, at least on the shows I've heard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bernie's Stretch

Based on personal experience, Mansfield Frazier has some interesting ideas on how Bernie Madoff will fare in prison.

To a large degree, the elderly are venerated in prison. The stories you hear about elder abuse in nursing homes are simply not part of American prison culture. The 70-year-old Madoff will have age on his side.

The nature of Madoff’s alleged crimes will help him as well......Why? Because he screwed the type of people whom his future prisonmates feel they’ve been screwed by all their lives.

But perhaps most importantly for Madoff, in an environment such as prison, a dignified bearing is cherished by young men who’ve never encountered anyone who possessed one. All Madoff has to do is project the caring image of a father figure, like Charlie Manson did with his followers. We have young people in America who are so starved for any kind of attention that they’ll literally lay down their lives for a manipulator who offers them a few kind words.

Not that it'll be a vacation.

The mere fact of having every door locked, with someone telling you when to come, go, eat and shit, is traumatizing. But even stripped of Rolex watches and $6,000 Brioni suits, a prisoner like Madoff can thrive as much as circumstances will allow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Remember,They Make Stuff Up

Day off, wife and daughter at work, college basketball on TV. I don't follow basketball as much as I once did; I pretty much don't pay attention until the NCAA tournament.

The wife has a loaner car while the dealer apparently waits for the ore to be mined to make the part needed to fix her car. For a change the problem was discovered just before the warranty ran out and before Chrysler goes belly up. She would have been happy with an old beater to get her around, but they gave her a 2008 Versa hatchback. It's quite a step up from her 2003 Neon, which has been a good car for her but has Mattel-level fit and finish. The Versa is one of the cars on my list for replacing the old Escort mule when the day comes. I like hatchbacks and small wagons, and would prefer to buy locally, so the options are limited pretty much to the Versa and the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix (same thing).

I'm amused by the apparent CNBC/Daily Show tiff. I'm not sure what CNBC thinks it can accomplish by taking on Jon Stewart, other than some free publicity. It just makes them look even more foolish than they do with their breathless bloviating . It's always entertaining when Stewart has to repeat that his outfit is comedy, and that drawing equivalence between his show and an allegedly serious news program (although from what little I've seen of Jim Cramer he hardly qualifies) does the latter no favors. It says something both about the quality of the Daily Show and the blurring of the news/entertainment line that such a thing happens.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just Different Animals

Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias went to his son's band concert.

....why do school bands play music so different from what the kids, or even their parents, choose in their free time?

As I mentioned there, popular music isn't composed for school bands, and most of it wouldn't translate well to that instrumentation even if someone wanted to try. Mind you,this isn't all bad; would you want to hear a school band version of a U2 or Beyonce song?

I recall in high school playing band arrangements of a few pop songs of the time, and most of them were pretty pale imitations. The lack of vocals was a huge factor, but the difficulty of duplicating or even reasonably simulating guitar sounds was almost as big a problem, especially for small school bands with limited resources. The only time we could come close to having the means to play many songs was when we got together will other schools for "mass band" concerts.

Less Please

Norm Geras hits one out of the park.

In the age of rapid information, of the internet and the blogosphere, people want to know even more than more, and they want to know it at once. But sometimes don't you just want to know less?

Oh, the topics about which I make an effort to know as little as possible....... Paris Hilton..... Fox News...... American Idol...... Almost anything to do with the previous president, unless it leads to legal proceedings...... I could try to think of others, but that would go against the concept of keeping them out of mind.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Beaten Meat

Kim Severson looks into the recent increase in popularity of a maligned cut of beef.

The cube steak is suddenly one of the hottest cuts of beef in the country, according to figures from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The amount of cube steak sold during the last quarter of 2008 was up by almost 10 percent over the same period a year earlier. The overall amount of beef sold went up only 3 percent.

It can be a touchy subject.

But tell people you’re on a little cube-steak jag, and the reactions you get — either pro or con — are surprisingly powerful considering we’re talking about a cutlet.

A little clarification is desirable.

The term “cube” can be a little murky. It doesn’t refer to the shape of the meat, which is usually beef but is sometimes made from pork, elk or other animals. Rather, it refers to both the shape of the dimples that checkerboard the surface of cube steak and the process that puts the dimples there.

I never bought cube steak until I met my current wife, who likes to use it for chicken-fried or Swiss steak. I usually marinate or cook a cheaper cut with lemon juice to tenderize it. If I have the time to plan ahead I use the slow cooker, which can make just about any meat edible.

Were Any Bishops There?

Ah, The Onion......

The 1906 Earthquake Deniers, a group reviled by Californians and scholars alike, held three days of lectures and roundtable discussions over what they call a "century-long hoax" of exaggerated seismic activity in the Bay area, and part of a conspiracy to bring the World's Fair to San Francisco in 1915.

Another One Sees It

via Andrew Sullivan....David Plotz read - and blogged about - the entire Old Testament and came to a familiar conclusion.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

More Mild Than Wild

Jeremy Clarkson has dreamed of partying like a rock star since he was a teenager.

I’d hear tales of Keith Moon fire-axeing his way into Peter Frampton’s bathroom so that he could cut old Goldilocks’s hair with a pair of garden shears. Or of Joe Walsh buying an electric chain saw so that no one would know he was coming until he arrived through their bedroom wall. Or of one notable drummer snorting cocaine off a famous guitarist’s dog.

It seemed he would finally get his chance.

Last year, however, someone came up with the bright idea of making a Top Gear stage show and taking it round the world. We’d have to charter 747s for all the props. There would be roadies. Special effects. An endless parade of hotel rooms. Maybe even some groupies. It would be rock’n’roll, except I didn’t need any talent. I signed up like a shot.

....we arrived on Waiheke Island midway through the tour.....we were taking a couple of days off in a rented house.

It didn't go quite as anticipated.

.....we decided to see who could throw a girl the furthest down the swimming pool. I picked the lightest but sadly, on my first attempt, I felt my back go. So I left the others to it and went to bed with some class A cocoa. The next day I was stung by a wasp.

He was forced to a draw a depressing conclusion.

When you are 48 you just don’t have the stamina to push the outside of the envelope.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Send the Kids Far Off to School?

Typing the post about my old middle school reminded me that I was part of a big change that went on at many schools at that time and is still going on; the Big Shrink.

When I started school in the Iroquois district in January 1968 (half-year kindergarten then) there were elementary schools in Iroquois and Cavour, a middle school in Yale, and a high school in Iroquois. We lived in Iroquois so I went there. When the old high school building was condemned the elementary schools were combined in Cavour, so I went there for 5th grade. Just after I finished 8th grade in Yale that building was also condemned (I still recall being outside between classes and watching it shake from the kids changing rooms); 6th grade went to Cavour, 7th and 8th to Iroquois. (This was a bit of a downer to us at the time; moving up to High School didn't seem the same with the younger kids tagging along.) Later the Cavour was closed and torn down, and now all the grades are in Iroquois.

I didn't really think too much about the reason behind this until I got to high school, specifically the lunchroom. Pictures of past graduating classes hung in there, and I noticed that for several years the classes had been getting smaller, and it was continuing; the senior class was the biggest, followed by juniors, sophomores, then us. My graduating class had 30 kids; 3 years later, my brother's class had 20. A check of current numbers is really depressing - 13 each in the senior and sophomore classes, 10 each in junior and freshman, with single digits in some of the lower grades.

This had been going on for long before I started noticing,of course. Those buildings in Cavour and Yale had been independent schools at one time, when every town could support one. Now school districts outside the main towns are getting so sparsely populated that the logistics are becoming impossible. Sometimes I think the only way residents of some areas will be able to have children will be to either home school them or revive the old boarding school and send the kids to stay with someone in town.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

False Pretenses

The mention of getting a t-shirt from an event in which you didn't participate led me to try to recall the various t-shirts, etc. that I've had that had messages of some type and how many named items I actually used. I've had a fair amount of such material, although nothing like what kids have today; the concept was just starting to get going when I was young. I had Budweiser-themed items when I was far too young to legally partake of that product (and long before I actually did); I just liked the look of the logo. This one, to be exact.

It still looks classier than most modern logos. I had bedding, t-shirts, and a couple of hats. I don't know what my parents thought of this, because they never said anything, nor did anyone else. Today I'd probably be put on some high-risk list for teen alcohol abuse.

The only other shirt I can recall that fits this thought was a Yale University T-shirt, and there was a story behind that. I attended Yale from 1974-76; Yale Middle School in Yale SD, part of my hometown Iroquois school district. I was a member of the last graduating class before it was closed and the building torn down. This being before the days when middle schools had their own clothing (compared to my daughter's and granddaughter's elementary schools having their own t-shirts) that was the closest thing available, especially since it didn't have the word University on it. As I recall it looked similar to this.....

although I think the large Yale was above the seal. It made a nice conversation starter with kids from other schools, at least for a shy geek like me.

It's Done With Pixie Dust

James Lileks said something that hit home with me.

Radio requires an entirely different set of skills, and the people who think you can do radio by just talking are as mistaken as those who think you can do TV news by just reading.

As someone who has been in and around broadcasting - both radio and television - my whole working life, I can confirm the different skills needed for success. Radio seems easier to many because it’s just aural, but that’s also what makes it hard; you don’t have visuals to help fill the show. On the other hand, television - or any medium with pictures,such as the webcast of which James is a part - is more technically complex to produce and requires more of a team effort. It’s also harder to just wing it the way a radio host with a gift of gab can do if necessary.

I recall a saying we had at one TV station: While broadcasting may seem complex to casual observers, to those of us in the business it seems almost magical that it works.

In No Shape To Exercise

Dom Joly is suspicious of hardcore triathletes.

It's really all about machismo and bragging rights – something I totally understand – just don't have access to... people who do Iron Man and suchlike are always the annoying types who wander into a situation when you are trying to impress a woman and you suddenly find yourself sitting alone in the corner munching on a large consolatory cheeseburger.

Anyway, why would I need to do it for real when I can fake it and get the same result? This photograph of me jogging through Death Valley in the Mojave Desert was enough when attached to an e-mail to my brother-in-law to persuade him that I was in the club. The only problem is that he's now invited me over to do the Ultimate Iron Man...

A commenter has a proposal.

I have always wanted to start a "Poseur's Club" of running whereby you enter each event in order to get the t-shirt and then purposefully don't show up for the event. Anyone interested can contact me through this on-line paper. You must have at least 3 t-shirts of races not run in order to qualify.Good luck and may the couch be with you.

Sadly I don't think that will work; usually you have to at least show up to get the shirt.

Solons for Suds

I came across another reason to be a fan of Britain.

When the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group sits down with government ministers tomorrow morning it won't be very long, one assumes, before the conversation turns to Scottish beer.

The All Party Parliamentary Beer Group? That demands further googling.....apparently it comprises 400 members of Parliament of all political persuasions - hence the term All Party, which is just wonderful in this context - and concerns itself with beer-related government matters. It holds regular meetings, which I'm sure are well-attended and not lacking in beverages.

I bet members of Congress would injure each other in the stampede to join a Beer Caucus if it was formed (Google does find mentions of a Small Beer Caucus, but it doesn't seem to be the same thing) .

Monday, March 2, 2009

Assessing Dihydrogen Monoxide

Anne Janette Johnson had an interesting task; judge water.

Every year the town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia hosts an international water tasting competition......The brainchild of city boosters, it has been held annually in February for the last 18 years. While failing to attract throngs of eager out-of-towners, the competition has been a roaring success for Berkeley Springs. Jay Leno and Keith Olbermann have poked fun at it on their shows, increasing brand recognition for the town. More important, this water tasting competition — the largest of its kind held anywhere — affords bragging rights to its winners, and that can translate into increased sales. Many gold and silver medal-winning waters incorporate the competition logo onto their packaging, as if they have received some sort of Olympic-caliber cachet.

The overall assessment?

Municipal tap water is judged in one flight, bottled spring water in another. I’ll be candid: The very best municipal water just cannot compete with spring water, or even purified tap water like Aquafina, when taste is the only criterion. People who say they can’t taste the difference between bottled water and tap water are lucky indeed. There is a difference, and usually it’s not even subtle.

The water in my hometown - from an artesian well - was so mineral-laden that it was hard on metal plumbing; I remember Dad having to replace the bathtub faucet after a relatively short time because it corroded away. I think it provided extra motivation (or perhaps another excuse) for local beer drinking.

Water in Pierre isn't a great deal better; One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was the devotion of significant shelf space at local hardware stores to Iron Out. Water softeners are a thriving business here, almost a necessity if you want to avoid rust buildup in your water-using appliances. Quite a few houses develop rust stains on siding from casually aimed sprinklers.

Chef For Hire

While reading an article about cooking goose, I came across this little tidbit.

A professional chef with a great resume that includes restaurants like San Francisco’s late, great Rubicon, Tapawingo in Michigan, and the cover of Food + and Wine magazine, Stuart is currently unaffiliated, choosing instead to travel and cook (with his wife, Nicole, an outstanding baker and pastry chef) for private clients. (my emphasis)

I must say I didn't know there are people who do that for a living. I suppose it's a form of really high-end catering, and another way for wealthy people to show off (look at who I got to cook for us tonight!). I would think that his business is down in these times, although many people who could afford that before probably still can.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Ship Has Already Hit the Iceberg

Paul Smalera thinks we need to change our perspective on the current economic troubles.

It might sound like mere semantics, but granted hindsight, the "lost decade" already happened: It was the "last decade." Yet we talk as if we're on the cusp of the precipice, not over it.

Job creation over the past decade has mostly occurred in the service industries that catered to our consumption driven economy, not in the creation or rebirth of any major industry. That's what makes this a lost decade—and makes an accurate name important. Nearly every institution the average American leans on to build equity and wealth has already evaporated. Prevention is no longer possible.

By nearly every measure then—stocks, mortgages, credit, retirement, salaries, employment, GDP, trade—we have just lived the lost decade.