Friday, August 31, 2007

Beijing Olympics: "No Engrish Spoken Here"

A lot of preparation is underway for next year's Olympic Games in Beijing. Among the projects being undertaken by the Chinese authorities is an effort to rid restaurant menus of mangled English translations:
Hungry visitors to next summer's Beijing Olympics won't have to choose between "steamed crap" and "virgin chicken" if Chinese authorities succeed in ridding restaurant menus of mangled English translations.

The Beijing Tourism Bureau has released a list with 2,753 proposed names for dishes and drinks, designed to replace bizarre and sometimes ridiculous translations on menus, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

Foreigners are often stumped by dish names such as "virgin chicken" (a young chicken dish) or "burnt lion's head" (Chinese-style pork meatballs). Other garbled names include "The temple explodes the chicken cube" (kung pao chicken) or "steamed crap" (steamed carp).

"These translations either scare or embarrass foreign customers and may cause misunderstanding on China's diet habits," Xinhua said.

It's the latest effort by Beijing Olympics organizers to clean up the city and ensure that the best image is presented to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected next summer.

Etiquette campaigns are afoot to stamp out bad manners such as jumping ahead in line, spitting, littering and reckless driving. The revised menu names are part of an effort to ban unintelligible English, known as "Chinglish," that abounds on signs everywhere.
Part of me is disappointed to hear that news, because this phenomenon, also known as Engrish, has provided hours of entertainment for me and my friends. Sure, not everyone is brave enough to try a dish named "Salty egg king steams the vegetable sponge," but others might be intrigued enough to at least inquire about it. (That dish, mentioned at the bottom of this post, came from a menu posted here; also included are such delicacies as "Cowboy leg beautiful pole," " The carbon roasts the sheep sparerib" and "Big bowl flower immerses pork kidney." Read it and be prepared to laugh.)

Another Made in China story: A Japanese man claimed on an Internet posting that China's famed Shaolin monks were beaten in combat by an unarmed ninja. The monks are demanding a retraction.

The compasionate criminal: A guy in New York state robbed another man at knifepoint, but he only needed four dollars, so he waited patiently as his victim got change for a ten before taking the money.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Fun Police Strike Again

A school in Colorado has banned tag on its playground:
An elementary school has banned tag on its playground after some children complained they were harassed or chased against their will.

"It causes a lot of conflict on the playground," said Cindy Fesgen, assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus school.
Running games are still allowed as long as students don't chase each other, she said.
Oh, no--we couldn't have kids chasing each other. Someone might have fun...or even get exercise!

If this story sounds familiar, it's because you may have seen it before; I included an account of another school district doing so in this post. That district was even more chicken-hearted, in my opinion, because they did so out of fear of liability for injuries.

And yet people wonder why we're raising a nation of overweight wimps. So many things that were the bedrock of childhood have either been squelched by overprotective parents or outright legislated out of existence by schools and municipalities running scared of lawyers all the time. We're past due for a return to sanity; who's going to step up to the plate and lead us there?

Cool gadget of the week: The Mac G3 Beer Server.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my old buddy Fletch, serving our country in parts unknown.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Give This Guy an A in Entrepreneurship 101

When George Hotz starts classes this fall at Rochester Institute of Technology, he might have to write a "what I did this summer" essay for an English class. If so, he'll have some ready-made material that might well outshine the efforts of anyone else in the class. Besides the usual hanging-with-friends stories, Hotz has a unique one: He hacked the iPhone in order to untether it from the AT&T network.

Hotz announced the news on his blog last week and then provided step-by-step instructions which, if followed, should allow the phone to be used with any SIM card. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the phone on eBay (where fraudulent bids pushed the price of the phone into the stratosphere), Hotz ended up trading it to a Louisville-based cell phone repair company this week for a "sweet Nissan 350Z" and three iPhones.

(There could, however, be a snag in the works for anyone with commercial designs for the unlocking procedure, as word comes today that Apple might consider legal action against anyone who plans to make money from the hacked phones. The Louisville-based company, Certicell, has stated that it currently has no desire to commercialize the unlocking procedure.)

So Hotz has moved into his college dorm now, and will probably start blending in with all his fellow students. But he has a very noteworthy accomplishment under his belt, and a well-documented blog by which to remember it. (And he also has his own Wikipedia page, as well as a very quotable way to describe his major, neuroscience: "hacking the brain.")

Do not Despair, the blog is there: Despair, Inc. has started a blog, which is bound to be hilarious. Here's a paragraph from the opening post: "Yes, at the moment, the much hyped and already once delayed blog is rather sparsely populated with videos already available (in lower-resolution format) in our Corporate Spin section. Is there any better way to kick off the Despair, Inc. blog than with a dollop of disappointment, sprinkled with annoyance?" Check it out on a regular basis. (And yes, as always, in the spirit of full disclosure, this company is run by a family member, but I'd buy their stuff no matter what.)

Happy anniversary, not-so-happy anniversary: Today is the 2nd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. If you have a chance, visit the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund site for a moment. (It's also my sixth anniversary as a homeowner, and I'm still lovin' it.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Famous Restaurant is Ducking Out

I was quite dismayed to read over the weekend that the Duck Inn in Lake Dallas is closing its doors on December 1 unless a new owner can be found:
Just as renovations of the hush puppy room at Tierney's Duck Inn are complete following a fire last year, the doors of the well-known restaurant are about to close.

Greg Tierney, who reopened the restaurant in May 2002, is planning to close in Lake Dallas by Dec. 1 and open the Old Town Café and Tavern in Lewisville.

[...]The 8,424-square-foot building is now up for sale for $639,500, according to Steve Howard, whose grandmother, Nellie Howard, opened the catfish restaurant more than 60 years ago.

With the rights to the restaurant's name, Duck Inn, and the knowledge of family recipes, Mr. Howard said he hopes to find someone to reopen the restaurant that is the family's legacy.

"Help me find somebody who wants to keep it alive and I'll do like I did with Mr. Tierney and I'll come and show them how to do the hush puppies," he said. "I'm one of the only people who know how to cook them."

Mr. Howard said that Mr. Tierney, who was leasing the building, wanted to purchase it, "but he didn't have the funds to purchase it for what it was appraised for." Mr. Tierney said he made an offer to Mr. Howard, but it was less than the amount the family was seeking.

The building needs renovation, he said, and the cost of the building was too much.

"It's a gamble I'm not willing to take," Mr. Tierney said.
Besides having great catfish and hush puppies, the Duck Inn has recently been home to the Original Texas Jazz Orchestra, a big band of UNT faculty and other alums, led by my former professor Jim Riggs. (Among the many highlights have been the regular appearances by Leon Breeden, Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at UNT.) The once-a-month gigs are resuming this weekend, and the excitment about their return has now been tempered by the news of the Duck Inn's impending closing. I really hope that either someone will be able to buy the restaurant and keep it open without interruption, or that the band will be able to find a new home in the area.

A good walk spoiled by a not-so-good ride: Across the country, golfers are getting upset at courses that have instituted mandatory cart requirements in order to speed up play.

Somebody give this guy a hand: A London teenager went to visit his girlfriend, parking his motorcycle outside her house and leaving his prosthetic hand attached to the bike's grip. When he came back out ten minutes later, the bike was still there, but the hand was gone.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Evidently, These Guys Didn't Learn from Dallas

On this, the first day of school (i.e. the day I have to start wearing long pants and real shoes again), it's only appropriate that my post is one that tweaks somebody for trying to impose a dress code where it probably doesn't belong.

At this time last year (one year ago yesterday, to be precise), I blogged a story about a Dallas school board member who tried to get the City Council to ban saggy pants. That's right--not just in school, but in the city at large. Efforts like this (as well as a more recent effort by a small-town mayor in Louisiana) never seem to actually be made into law--and they tend to get splattered all over the Internet, making a laughingstock out of its originator in the process--but that never stops people from trying the same thing somewhere else.

This time, it's happening in Atlanta, and the City Council is behind the effort. It's pretty much the same old song and dance:
Baggy pants that show boxer shorts or thongs would be illegal under a proposed amendment to Atlanta's indecency laws.

The amendment, sponsored by city councilman C.T. Martin, states that sagging pants are an "epidemic" that is becoming a "major concern" around the country.

"Little children see it and want to adopt it, thinking it's the in thing," Martin said Wednesday. "I don't want young people thinking that half-dressing is the way to go. I want them to think about their future."

The proposed ordinance would also bar women from showing the strap of a thong beneath their pants. They would also be prohibited from wearing jogging bras in public or show a bra strap, said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The proposed ordinance states that "the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments" would be unlawful in a public place. It would go in the same portion of the city code that outlaws sex in public and the exposure or fondling of genitals.
The penalty would be a fine in an amount to be determined, Martin said.
I only have two points in response to this. First, as the ACLU's Seagraves points out later in the story, such a dress code would be unlikely to survive a court challenge, because it targets a style that comes from black youth culture. (Whether I agree with this logic or not is immaterial, but that's probably how it would go in court.)

Also, let me repeat something I said in the earlier post:
Is this style of dress annoying? Sure. But do we really need to get the police involved in enforcing it? Surely not. The time when the council should be devoting the city's resources to something like this would be when crime levels are nonexistent, when all the potholes are fixed, there's not a homeless problem downtown, the police and firefighters are paid the same as their suburban other words, not anytime soon.
I may not know firsthand whether Atlanta has all of the above issues, but you get my point: This is a waste of city time and resources to be talking about this when so many truly serious problems are out there.

More dress code cluelessness: In an effort to tweak administrators who had instituted a new "business casual" polo-and-khakis dress code at a Florida high school, one student, Austin Perkins, decided to go "above and beyond" the code by wearing a coat and tie to class. The principal suspended him. (Check out the comments at that post--especially the ones by a commenter named "PrisonPlanet" from yesterday at 11:40 and 11:41 a.m. They offer some historic reinforcement of what I've been saying all along--dress codes in schools have very little to do with safety and a lot to do with control. Hat tip--Dave Barry's Blog, where there are also some good comments, including an appearance by yours truly.)

Better saggy pants than none at all: Last Thursday, for no apparent reason, a guy decided to get naked in the Dallas County Courthouse.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Summer of Broken Stuff

It doesn't matter what the calendar might say; for myself and many other educators, today is the last day of summer. Since the public schools were required to start no earlier than tomorrow by the Legislature, both the schools and my college start on the same day--no more buffer week, where the former started before the latter. I haven't been able to do too much with the Dread Sked yet, as everyone's loads are still being solidified at the college, so I'm just taking each day as it comes, knowing that it will all be settled soon.

It's really been quite an enjoyable summer--lots of time to relax and hang with friends--but there has been an unusual underlying theme from almost the beginning: This has truly been the Summer of Broken Stuff. Never can I remember a time when so many things have fallen into disrepair. Here's the list as I can remember it at the moment:
  • The main entrance to my neighborhood has been closed since mid-June. They're widening the main road next to us, so some downtime was not unexpected, but they closed it with little notice, requiring me to scramble and email all the students for the rest of the week to give them alternate directions. (Some people missed the email or got lost anyway.) Despite the fact that another street farther down in the project (to a neighborhood which has many more options for ingress and egress*) was only closed for a month or so, we remain blocked off and seemingly forgotten-about. An email to the city yielded not even a response; my council member is the next one to hear from me.

  • Kevmobile 1.2 broke down on two different occasions over the summer. It really got to the point for a while there where I wasn't sure I could trust it, but, after an uneventful month and a half (and last weekend's roadtrip to Austin), things are finally back to normal for a while. *knocks wood*

  • My cable went out at pretty much the exact moment that Dad and I completed the contstruction of a new entertainment cabinet in my living room; it would be out for over two weeks. The repair to the outlet was quick and easy, and my Internet wasn't affected, but the bill would get messed up; that's just now getting resolved.

  • The heavy rains we had in June and July made the ground so saturated at my house that it messed up my underground power lines, and I started having brownouts. After a call to the city, the lines had to be rerouted to above-ground, encased in something that looked like a vacuum-cleaner hose (with special plastic barriers across the driveways of my house and the one next door). They didn't get returned to their underground location for nearly a month.

  • My alto case was already broken and basically being held together by the custom-fit case cover that goes over top of it. During the summer, the zipper on that case cover broke as well.

  • About a month or so ago, I developed a small crack in the corner of my windshield. Thankfully, it hasn't gotten any bigger for a few weeks now.

  • And finally, my washer hasn't been agitating or spinning for several weeks now. It appears to still get clothes clean, but it's definitely not working right.
The latter three things aren't fixed yet due to the diminished finances of summer. The ironic part is that, now that I'll have money to fix everything, it'll be tricky finding time to do it while I'm teaching in schools all day. I'm betting that a windshield-repair place might do weekends, but I'm less confident that a washer could get fixed in that time frame. At any rate, I hope that all my stuff will be considerate enough to not break down quite so much at once in the future.

*I love using words like those because of the "exotic" factor; they just sound fancier than "entrance" and "exit." But I still say that "egress" could also be the name for a female egret.

This guy took the "Boomer" part of "Boomer Sooner" a bit too seriously: An Oklahoma University fan became verbally and then physically abusive to a guy who committed the egregious "offense" of walking into an Oklahoma CIty bar wearing a Texas Longhorns T-shirt.

When Grandpa goes bad: William Tinnen was charged with cocaine trafficking this week, which wouldn't be all that unusual except for the fact that the North Carolina man is 93 years old.

Unfortunate criminal of the week: A guy who was already on probation for drugs was set to be arrested for questioning in a new case. When officers arrived to take him in, he asked if he could put his pants on first; they obliged and followed him to his room. Unfortunately, the dresser drawer where he kept his pants also contained his bag of pot.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Check out Grip, a live video with professional trampoline gymnasts who simulate various computer effects.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Doctor Will See Play For You Now

Remember the rock group Queen, and its guitarist, Brian May? Well, it's Dr. Brian May now; the rocker has finally completed his doctorate in astrophysics this week from London's Imperial College. He had started working on it in the '70s, but he had to put it on the shelf when his band started to take off.

His 48,000-word thesis, incidentally, is called "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud," and he noted that submitting and defending it to his examiners was, at least at first, as nerve-wracking as playing any stadium gig.

In other rockin' news: Enjoy a list of the Ten Best Bands That Never Existed (think Spinal Tap, the Rutles, etc.). The band in first place may surprise you...

For really lazy music lovers: Japanese engineers have come up with a piece of gear that lets iPod users start the device hands-free by clenching their teeth.

Maybe he should have stuck to doing his homework: A Finnish high school student has been fined for posting a video of one of his teachers singing karaoke at a school party. It wasn't the singing part that caused the trouble, but rather the fact that the student labeled the video as taking place at a mental hospital.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Smorgasbord

So many unusual stories, so little time to post this week...
  • Stupid criminal of the week: A woman, upset that the cocaine she bought turned out to be a fake, calls the police for assistance.

  • Stupid crime of the week: A 12-year-old boy was accused of assaulting a senior citizen...with a cocktail sausage. (A court later threw out the case and gave police and prosecutors a lecture for pursuing it.)

  • In the same vein--and also in England--charges were also dismissed against a pair of female sunbathers who flashed a TV camera in a public beach area.

  • One more from across the pond, and this one hasn't been dropped yet: A man was arrested in London for surfing the Web using someone else's unsecured Wi-Fi connection.

  • Weird technological item of the day: A urinal for women.

  • An interesting day, and a good name for a heavy-metal band: Goth Day at Disneyland. (I always got a kick out of the Goth kids that showed up to outdoor rock concerts; their skin was so pale that they burned in an instant. And here's a Fun Fact about me: My last Halloween costume--save for the Chipotle burrito thing, of course--was as a Goth, in 1998.)

  • Speaking of Fun Facts, some of you know that I was an extra in the movie Necessary Roughness, which was filmed on my campus while I was in college. Among the players on the ragtag Texas State Armadillos (before an actual university assumed that name) was a 35-year-old quarterback. But now another Texas school can do that one better: Sul Ross State University in Alpine will include a 59-year-old cornerback on its fall roster. (Another piece of trivia that I just found out while researching this article: Among the cast members of Necessary Roughness was former Senator and possible Presidential candidate Fred Thompson.)

  • I'm in ur iPhone, hax0ring ur networkz: A 17-year-old from New Jersey has figured out how to hack the iPhone in order to get it on other networks besides AT&T.
I'll have a more topical post or two over the weekend.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I listened to a bit of the Rangers game last night on the way to a faculty meeting at the college. When I went inside, our boys from Arlington were doing well--they were ahead of the Orioles, 14-3 in the seventh inning. So I was quite shocked to get in the car about an hour later and learn that the Rangers had tacked on sixteen more runs in the last two innings! That's right, thirty runs--the most scored by a single team in a single game since before 1900.

(Incidentally, this game was the first of a doubleheader, and the Rangers entered the nightcap already holding the record for most runs in a doubleheader before the first pitch of that game, which they would also win, 9-7.)

The Rangers haven't had a great season so far, but it was great to see a bright spot like this--one that won't be forgotten for quite some time. (The funniest stat connected with the game was provided by KRLD's Victor Rojas, who pointed out that the Baltimore Ravens, who play next door to Camden Yards, haven't given up 30 points since Game 10 of the 2005 season. You have to admit that 30-3 really does sound like a football score.)

Here's hoping that the team can build on this and salvage a respectable finish this season.

UPDATE: Here's a great essay from the Dallas Morning News writer Jean-Jacques Taylor on the magic of sports; it's true that you really never know when something special will happen during what might otherwise be a completely ordinary game.

A Fairly unusual snack: It's way too hot for this in Texas, but a lot of other places are having their state fairs right about now. Over at, James Lileks will be making live appearances and blogging the Minnesota State Fair for its duration. Meanwhile, in Illinois, the food vendors are going beyond the everyday corny dogs, fried Twinkies and fried Coke for an unusual sensation: Breakfast on a Stick.

A fair trade? A Malaysian man who married two wives has to give his original family a buffalo and a pig as compensation

I has a donut! Nooo, they be stealin' my donut: Senior citizens in Putnam County, New York were up in arms because the city decided to stop allowing day-old donuts to be donated to senior centers, citing health worries. The seniors decided that they were old enough to make that decision themselves, and the donuts will be coming back, though still not stored at the centers.

Grilled bird? It's not on the menu quite yet: A wild bird was hit by a car in Michigan and then spent two days trapped behind the vehicle's grille. Amazingly enough, the bird surivived and is recovering at a local residence.

Another story: Last week, I posted a story about a Chinese couple who wanted to name their baby with the "@" symbol. Now comes word that some couples here in the U.S. are choosing baby names based on availability as a domain name, which they are then securing for the baby upon its birth.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chocolate Reigns

Unless you have either 1) been in a cave for the past few weeks, or 2) don't have a computer, you've probably heard the song "Chocolate Rain" by Tay Zonday (if you haven't, click here). The song has taken on quite a life as an Internet meme over the past several months. The song actually has a really deep message about racism, even if, upon first hearing, it almost comes off like a parody. (Between the extremely deep voice coming out of Zonday--he's actually a 25-year-old Ph.D student at the University of Minnesota, but he looks so young that I'd probably card him if I worked at a movie theatre--and the random graphic messages such as "**I move away from the mic to breathe in" superimposed over the top of the video, it takes a while to realize that he's serious.)

But the song has spread like wildfire. I've had friends tell me that they'll break into that song in random public places and always gotten a laugh out of someone. And the parodies are great; the song has "performed" by Darth Vader and McGruff the Crime Dog, spliced into a really old McDonald's commercial, mashed up with Radiohead and Snoop Dogg and sung by someone using a helium balloon. But the funniest by far are the individual parodies, the best of which is Vanilla Snow. (Not so successful, but still funny, is the song being sung rather badly by a fat white guy.)

UPDATE: How about a DDR remix?

Among all the hype, Zonday actually is a serious musician; other songs (with more than a single looped chord progression are on his MySpace page. A recent article about him from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune appears here.

This place was so secure, it made her feel insecure: A woman in California, examining her safe-deposit box, was accidentally locked in the building for six hours after closing time.

Some people blew their tops over this: Signs advertising a "topless car wash" in New York state were quite disappointed when they arrived to find that all the car-washers were shirtless male firefighters.

Thinking way outside the bun: Police were called to a Taco Bell parking lot in Arkansas after patrons noticed a couple apparently having sex in a van. (The guy was also busted for pot at the same time.)

When animals attack...each other: Croc vs. shark.

The most tabloid-sounding story of the day that's actually true: Elvis's stolen handgun found in portable toilet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Putting Up the "Gone Fishin'" Sign for a Day

Two hours of teaching this morning. Five-and-a-half hours of auditions at the college this afternoon and evening. Another hour and a half of discussion thereof.

In other words, I'm beat. Regular posting will resume tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spam? A Lot! Part 3

A while back, I posted on the subject of spam, and the noteworthy element that time was unusual word strings (such as "nadiaprovisiondonahue") that were used for the "name" of the alleged sender. (An even earlier post covered the nonsense combinations of words used in subject lines.) And now, being inundated with spam once again on the two listservs which I manage, the creativity continues, as the subject lines have now become (sometimes rather lengthy) sentences of their own:
  • If your browser supports Java, you should see an animated image above (generated by a Java applet embedded on the page).

  • Can you take me to her.

  • Extended features are available through modules which can be loaded into Apache.

  • I've also had to do this to ease the communication between mappers and packers several times.

  • A lichnyj transport vsjo-taki, na dannom etape, predstavljajet soboj tupik civilizacii, jesli ispol'zujet iskopajemyje vidy topliva. (from a Norwegian address)

  • I often get drunk these days, there's no denying it, but that's the only way I can stomach the thought of what we're doing over there.

  • Due to the side effects performed by this intrinsic, the function form is not recommended.

  • This option is always enabled by default on certain machines, usually those which have no call-preserved registers to use instead.

  • It was some fiend.

  • No, my old friend, don't worry.
I'll see if I can find a Norwegian translation engine later.

This would have been a great SNL skit in the old days: Samurai Gas Station Robbers.

It hasn't super-sized them yet: A British couple has eaten lunch at McDonald's every day for 17 years.

Talk about a frivolous lawsuit: A South Carolina prison inmate is suing Michael Vick for $63 quintillion dollars, claiming that Vick stole his pit bulls and sold them on eBay to "use the proceeds to purchase missiles from the Iran government." (This guy has filed other wacky lawsuits in the past.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Sign of the Times

While I was down in Austin yesterday, I stopped at an intersection where there were panhandlers on three of the four corners. The one closest to me--looking every bit the part, with long hair, scraggly grey beard, tattered clothes--was holding up the funniest sign I've ever seen a panhandler use:

Being near the end of the down side of my business cycle, I didn't actually have any "gas money" for him, but I did get a good laugh out of it. (And one of my friends pointed out later that I should have told him he could have sold the jet and gotten quite a bit of money out of it!)

Those T-shirts don't say "KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD" for nothing...

Best excuse, used by an adult, that could have come from a middle-schooler: The goat ate my euros!

I'm in ur atmusfeer, defyin' ur gravities: A cat fell out an 18th-floor window of a Chicago highrise...and survived. Eight lives to go...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Travel Advisory

I'm taking a quick day trip to Austin to help celebrate my nephew Micah's first birthday. Too much work left to stay more than a day, so I'll be back tonight and might even have another post for the day.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tax Takes a Holiday

If you're here in Texas, enjoy the sales tax holiday this weekend. Here's a list of what is and isn't exempt from the tax.

Looking at the list...does anyone buy handkerchiefs anymore? Does anyone in Texas buy gloves in August? And how would anyone consider personal flotation devices (which aren't on the list) or cowboy boots (which are) a necessary back-to-school item?

Me, I might snag a few pairs of pants over the weekend, but otherwise, I'm good. My only issue this weekend is the Dread Sked, which is even more complicated than usual. Too many people, not enough slots, just like always. Thankfully, there's still a week to tweak it.

(Lack of) Fire Safety 101: It's bad enough when your lawnmower blows up as you try to start it. It's even worse when you try to throw the gas can out of the garage to avoid the flames, but you miss.

Sticking it to the man, in small denominations: An Indiana man showed his frustration with having to pay a large (as in over $12,000) tax bill by doing so in $1 bills and coins.

Tour de Amputation: A Japanese bicyclist got so caught up in the race he was riding that he didn't even notice that one of his legs had come off during the ride.

This would be even funnier if they added ".com" to the end of their last name: A Chinese couple has rankled government officials by choosing "@" for the name of their new baby.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday Smorgasbord

All the news that's fit to print type and hit the "publish" button:Blowing out the candle (singular): Happy birthday to my youngest nephew Micah, who's a year old today. Cute baby picture here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Supermarket Loyalty Programs: Is Something Bad in the Cards?

Longtime reader Gary P. left a couple of interesting comments in Sunday's post (about the adulterer who was "caught" by an online floral company) that I thought deserved further discussion here. This was his original comment:
The purchase records of supermarket "loyalty" cards are another data source being mined in legal proceedings. Folks in divorce proceedings who bought condoms or pregnancy tests on a "loyalty" card without the other spouse's knowledge, or people in child custody cases who bought cigarettes or liquor or lots of fatty foods on their "loyalty" cards wind up with lots of 'splainin' to do in front of the judge regarding their fitness for custody. had a link to a story some time back of a Seattle-area firefighter who was convicted of arson primarily based on the evidence that he used a "loyalty" card to buy some firestarting material similar to what was used to burn down his house shortly after. Just before he was to be sent to jail, someone else stepped forward to claim responsibility for the fire and the innocent firefighter was freed.

But hey, "loyalty" cards are all about "convenience" and "great price savings," right?
The story he's referring to is here, and the writer notes that "The moral of this story is that even the most innocent database can be used against a person in a criminal investigation turning their lives completely upside down."

(I've been trying to find a link for the story I heard on the radio several years ago, where someone sent a reporter out to pretend that they had found a set of keys with a card from a local chain attached to the keyring. If I recall it correctly, they called the store and were able to get the person's home address from the number on the card, despite not being asked to verify that they were in fact the card's owner. If memory also serves, the person at the store who did that got in quite a bit of trouble.)

Some of the stories at are certainly enough to make one think twice about using these cards. I don't have that big of a personal dog in this fight, because I do the bulk of my food shopping at Super Target, which is cardless thus far. I'll occasionally get gas at Tom Thumb with their card, or maybe some breakfast stuff if it's late and ST is closed, and I use my Albertson's card far less than that. Still, the question is this: Should companies like this be required to turn over such information to law enforcement officers and/or attorneys of other parties in lawsuits? And will people cut up their club cards well in advance of the time when, say, insurance companies start monitoring one's purchases (of, say, junk food, beer, cigarettes, etc.) and using that information to deny a claim? How much paranoia is healthy in this situation? Feel free to chime in using the comments.

A view from the other side of the checkstand: One of the things I discovered while researching this post was the Mad Cashier blog. It appears to be written by a DFW-area worker who was a casualty of the recent Albertson's downsizing.

(More links later, or tomorrow.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Floored by the Tone

I had a Big Serious Post about a major social issue planned for today, but things took a wonderful detour instead.

The distraction came in the form of a simple MySpace bulletin from whomever runs Bill Frisell's site (maybe the man himself?), announcing today's release of a CD from a group called Floratone, featuring Frisell on guitars and effects, UNT and SNL alumnus Matt Chamberlain on drums, and...two producers? OK, now I remember reading about this group.

Here's what happened: In much the same way that the legendary Teo Macero assembled the Miles Davis masterpieces Bitches Brew*
and On the Corner, Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend took raw material generated by Frisell and Chamberlain's studio jams and ran with it--editing, looping and processing it until they came up with a set of "songs." From there, bassist Victor Knauss (of Frisell's West Coast group) came in and added bass lines, and Frisell wrote horn and string parts to be played by Ron Miles (cornet) and Eyvind Kang (violin/viola). Chamberlain and Frisell added some more tracks of their own, and, two years after the initial studio jams, Floratone was born.

This isn't music that's easy to describe with one or two simple words, as it doesn't really fit into a specific genre. John Kelman of All About Jazz calls it Ambient Americana Sound Sculpting, while co-producer Townsend chooses "futuristic roots music." All I can say is that it's a fascinating combination of sounds--not 100% jazz, but there's a strong element of that in there, along with Chamberlain's catchy grooves, Frisell's trademark sound painting and the cool, skronky effects added by the producers. (Incidentally, the band's name is a hybrid of Martine's Flora studio and Townsend's Tonefield Productions.)

The band's website generously allows the first five tunes on the CD to be played in their entirety, and I heartily recommend checking them out. Having just seen Frisell in concert recently and purchased one of his CD's, I've been getting into things that have been a bit off the beaten path. The CD has already been ordered, and the website will keep me sated until the package arrives.

*Uh-oh...there goes my blog's "G" rating, I bet...

Weird gadget of the week: As the temperature continues to top 100 degrees in the Metroplex this week, office workers who are not fortunate enough to work in casual settings might enjoy this device: A USB necktie cooler that plugs right into a laptop! (It's a Babelfish translation from a Japanese site, so the instructions contain a wonderful helping of Engrish. Hat tip: Lileks, over at buzz.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The iBill is a New Kind of iBook, In a Way

Now that the iPhone has been out for a bit over a month, people are starting to get their first bills for the new service...and evidently, they're huge--not necessarily in price (though that could be the case as well), but in sheer volume. Ben at Ars Technica posts that his bill was 52 pages in length:
As you enjoy your weekend, ponder this bit of humor: while the iPhone may be master of the digital mobile experience (for now), dead trees come in for a flogging, as AT&T's iPhone bills are quite impressive in their own right. We're starting to get bills for the iPhone here at Ars, and while many of us have had smartphones for some time, we've never seen a bill like this.

One of our bills is a whopping 52 pages long, and my own bill is 34 pages long. They're printed on both sides, too. What gives?

The AT&T bill itemizes your data usage whenever you surf the Internet via EDGE, even if you're signed up for the unlimited data plan. AT&T also goes into an incredible amount of detail to tell you—well, almost nothing. For instance, I know that on July 27 at 3:21 p.m. I had some data use that, under the To/From heading, AT&T has helpfully listed as "Data Transfer." The Type of file? "Data." My total charge? $0.00.

This mind-numbing detail goes on for 52 double-sided pages (for 104 printed pages!) with absolutely no variance except the size of the files.
Read the whole thing; there are pictures.

As I've said before, I'm in no hurry to get one of these things, though I'm sure it'll happen sometime down the road. And when it does, I'd have to think seriously about taking the plunge into e-billing if they're going to mail me War and Peace every month. (My reasons for not doing e-billing thus far? Among other things, I would be nervous about somehow missing a bill; I have a separate email address for "commercial" concerns, and it gets more than its share of spam. I'd also have to figure out a different system besides the old-fashioned bill holder--with its numbered slots for each day of the month--that sits above me on the computer desk, and I'd have to print the e-bills out using my own paper and [overpriced] toner. For now, I'll kick it old-school on this one.)

I'd hate to see the printout for this one: Meanwhile, in Malaysia, a wireless company sent a dead guy a bill for $218 trillion dollars--this despite the fact that the man's son had gotten the service disconnected in January.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cheating Spouse Tripped Up by Toll Tag

People who feel that they might be the victims of a cheating spouse have plenty of tools at their disposal to find out the truth, be they old-school (spy supplies, actual private detectives, credit card bills) or new-school (GPS records, cell phone records, surveillance cameras). But I bet that a philandering spouse would never expect to have been caught in the act by electronic toll records:
Adulterers, beware: Your cheatin' heart might be exposed by E-ZPass.
E-ZPass and other electronic toll collection systems are emerging as a powerful means of proving infidelity. That's because when your spouse doesn't know where you've been, E-ZPass does.

"E-ZPass is an E-ZPass to go directly to divorce court, because it's an easy way to show you took the off-ramp to adultery," said Jacalyn Barnett, a New York divorce lawyer who has used E-ZPass records a few times.

Lynne Gold-Bikin, a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer, said E-ZPass helped prove a client's husband was being unfaithful: "He claimed he was in a business meeting in Pennsylvania. And I had records to show he went to New Jersey that night."

Generally mounted inside a vehicle's windshield behind the rearview mirror, E-ZPass devices communicate with antennas at toll plazas, automatically deducting money from the motorist's prepaid account.

Of the 12 states in the Northeast and Midwest that are part of the E-ZPass system, agencies in seven states provide electronic toll information in response to court orders in criminal and civil cases, including divorces, according to an Associated Press survey.
The obvious way to avoid get caught cheating is simply to not cheat in the first place, but, as the article makes obvious, it's best to cover one's tracks carefully when doing so. In fact--despite some justifiable concerns about privacy, common sense is the best way to go:
Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia turned Libertarian and privacy rights advocate, said people who want to protect their privacy shouldn't use electronic toll systems.

"People are foolish to buy into these systems without thinking, just because they want to save 20 seconds of time going through a toll booth," he said.
But for those of us with nothing to hide, they sure area convenience, aren't they?

(It's important to point out that I "misspelled" the term "toll tag" on purpose; "TollTag" as all one word is the trademark of our local North Texas Tollway Authority, which was not profiled in the article, and their policy in this area is unknown to me. Even though it's tempting around here to use that term generically, like Thermos, Kleenex or Dumpster, I didn't want anyone from the NTTA reading this and getting the wrong idea. OK, there--the legal stuff is out of the way. 5.7% APR, all products not available in all areas, your mileage may vary.)

1-800-YOU-BLEW-MY-COVER: In a related story, a man here in Texas is suing 1-800-FLOWERS for inadvertently revealing an affair to the man's wife. He bought flowers through the service for his girlfriend and, citing the company's own policy, asked them to keep the purchase private, but the company sent a thank-you card--with a record of the name of the recipient and the "I love you" message to her--to the man's home, where the wife read it, turning what had been an amicable divorce between the two into something much less so.

A possible movie sequel for next summer: Snakes and Crocs on a Plane (and by "crocs," they don't mean the shoes).

The shape of even more jazz to come: Ft. Worth native Ornette Coleman--still going strong at age 77--gets a front-page profile in the GuideLive section of today's DMN. Among other things, the article notes that he's doing much better since he collapsed from heat exhaustion at the Bonnaroo Festival in June. There's video and audio of Ornette here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Heat Is On

According to tomorrow's newspaper (ahh, the wonders of the Web), it finally broke 100 degrees at DFW Airport for the first time this year, at 2:56 this afternoon. That's the sixth-latest first occurrence of the century mark since such things have been recorded.

It really has been a nice, mild, rainy summer up to this point, so I won't complain. I do feel bad for my high-schoolers, who must be cursing the fact that it waited until they started marching band practice to get really hot. But overall, the utility bills at Casa de Kev have been low this summer, and, despite having to run the car A/C almost constantly, gas is even going down at the moment (I paid $2.56 for regular unleaded earlier this afternoon), so I won't begrudge Mother Nature a little hot streak.

And besides, this would appear to be good news:
While 100-degree temperatures are common enough well into September, the slow decline of daylight that began with the summer solstice almost two months ago is beginning to have its effect.

Statistically, normal daily highs begin falling next week, marking the long drift toward autumn. Although the relief exists only on paper, [National Weather Service Meteorologist Alan] Moller said it would take another strong high-pressure ridge to trigger another string of 100-degree days.

“For the moment, we don't see anything that strong,” he said.
Being a Lileks fan, I'm a regular reader of the site, and it was amusing, as we approached our first triple-digit day, to read that the trees are already starting to turn in Minnesota.

A ZZ Top song come to life: Remember the old song "Arrested for Driving While Blind"? It really happened in Estonia not too long ago. Even worse--he was also drunk.

I guess every teenager is trendy now: The latest interior design craze unmade bed.

Creature feature #1: A crocodile in Russia fell out of a 12th-floor window and lived.

Creature feature #2: A man and his son found a rattlesnake on their property. The man decapitated it with a shovel, and its severed head bit him anyway.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sonic Sign Silliness Returns

In the early days of this blog, I used to make fun of the bad grammar, spelling and punctuation on the marquee sign of a local Sonic drive-in; it happened many, many different occasions. It had been a long time since I'd seen an error-filled sign, but this week, a local outlet had the following message:


This was not the same location that had all the mistakes in the past, but the same sign did invite us to TRY A ORANGECOOL BREEZE a few years ago. (It's fun to bring back an old topic every now and then.)

Silly criminals, part 1: A would-be motorbike thief in England was caught after he left his severed finger at the scene.

Silly criminals, part 2: Meanwhile, in New Zealand, another criminal was caught after people recognized him in a YouTube video.

Silly criminals, part 3: A woman in Wisconsin was arrested for barking at a police dog.

Everybody sing: "I wish that I had used a parking meter; then my boss would not be mad at me-e-ee." Chicago police ticketed the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile for illegal parking.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Town vs. Students, Part 2

Earlier in the year, I posted about a situation brewing in the Dallas suburb of University Park. The controversy stemmed from the city's desire to start enforcing an old ordinance prohibiting more than two unrelated people from sharing a dwelling. The big problem with that is that there are plenty of SMU students (since that's the university for which the city is named) living in condos in the city...and most of said condos are three bedrooms.

On Monday, City Council revisited the issue. There's certainly a good reason for them to modify the ordinance to fit the three-bedroom condos:
About 1,130 students list a mailing address in one of the two University Park ZIP codes, an SMU official said, though one of those ZIP codes includes part of Highland Park.

"You've got all these apartment developers wanting to build three-bedroom apartments," said Dan Sefko, a planning consultant hired by the city. "Are you going to have two people living there? Probably not."

Mr. Sefko said the ordinance is extremely difficult to enforce anyway and would be based primarily on complaints from neighbors. Mr. Sefko said that his research shows the definition varies in other cities that are home to major universities, but that his firm never recommends a definition lower than three.
But on Tuesday, the council decided to delay the vote, sending the measure back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for more work:
Mayor Blackie Holmes and other council members said they were concerned about how the change would affect residents in areas zoned for single-family housing.

"We want to be sure that we get this right and go at it the right way," Mr. Holmes said. "And we've gotten several letters – more than that – with respect to three [unrelated] individuals living under the same roof in single-family districts."

Last month, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended a compromise measure to change the definition of family in areas zoned for multifamily uses but leave it alone in single-family neighborhoods. But city attorney Robert Dillard rejected that recommendation, arguing that it's not legally sound to have two definitions of the same word in one city.

Mr. Holmes said Tuesday that he hopes the commission recommends a new measure that would accomplish the same goal without any definition of the word family.
Ahh, they're caught up in the micro-details. So there will be another sequel to this post after the council votes again, which will likely be in two months. But my hat is off to the council for taking the students' needs into consideration instead of just automatically siding with the moneyed homeowners. Further kudos go out to them for agreeing not to enforce the ordinance until the vote, and it's my hope that, if it is upheld in that vote, that no students will be forced to move out until the fall academic term is over.

An unconventional way to gather evidence: A man in India was suspected of snatching a gold necklace and then swallowing it, so police forced him to eat 40 bananas in the hopes that he would, umm, pass on the evidence. But believe it or not, the bananas didn't do the trick; the police weren't able to retrieve their booty (so to speak) until they fed him a big meal of chicken and rice.

Cool gadget of the week: It's a printer! It's a table! No, wait...It's both!

Really cool gadget of the week: Fujitsu has come up with a 231-inch TV. It's almost 20 feet across, which means that if I started at the near end of my living room wall, it would go out the door and take up most of my (admittedly rather small) backyard. (Also, its recommended viewing distance is about five-and-a-half yards, so that would be the end of my bedroom wall as well. But that's all rendered moot by the fact that I can't afford its $531K price tag.)

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to James Lileks, one of my favorite writers, and proprietor of the buzz and Bleat (which, said together, sounds like a charming little country tavern).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

#756? My response is: "Meh."

I'm a huge baseball fan. When Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's record for most home runs in a season, I followed it religiously. When Barry Bonds broke that same record a few years later, I have to admit to a certain lack of unenthusiasm; the steroid allegations hadn't really come out yet, but Bonds had always come off as so completely unlikeable (and, at the time, McGwire was such a great story) that I never really warmed to him.

This summer, as Bonds came closer and closer to the remaining "unbreakable" baseball record--Hank Aaron's 755 homers in a career--I found myself unable to get very excited about it. I didn't tune into Giants games to see if another one would leave the park. At times, I found myself hoping that maybe his knees would give out, forcing his retirement when he was maybe one or two shy of Aaron's mark; that seemed like poetic justice to me. (I certainly wasn't alone in my lack of enthusiasm; read any article about the home run chase from the past few weeks, and you'll see people holding signs with asterisks on them, read about the boos mixed in with the cheers, and so on.

But it's all moot now, of course, because Bonds did break the record last night. And again, I find myself saying....meh. It's just hard to generate a lot of enthusiasm when the record was broken by someone who has a cloud of allegations hanging over his head and who has seemingly never made an effort to connect with the fans who help pay his salary.

I'm not alone in this feeling; Mark Kriegel of is feeling the same way::
If you didn't know better, it might have been a perfect moment. The pitcher, Mike Bacsik, issued his gallant challenge with a fastball on a full count. Bacsik's father, a former big league pitcher himself, had told him to go after Barry Bonds. Don't worry about giving up the big one, he told his son.

Bacsik gave up the big one, of course. Bonds would recall his own father's advice: "Load your back leg." By now, the swing is familiar: a violent swivel of the hips and torso, bat meets ball, redirecting its path in a grand parabola. Ferocious physics. Then, the ecstatic moment, as Bonds raised his arms in triumph. He knew. Everybody knew.

[...]Now Bonds took the microphone. He thanked his teammates. He thanked his family.

"My dad," he said.

There was a clearly audible voice from the San Francisco crowd: "We love you Barry."

Bonds was already done, though. He had begun to choke up at the mention of his father. He was holding back tears.

It took him only 22 major league seasons to demonstrate his humanity.

"My dad taught me everything I know," Bonds would say later.

Fathers and sons and baseball. I wanted to cry.

But I couldn't.

I want to believe in Barry Bonds. But I can't. I don't think I'm alone, either.

It seems more prudent to save your tears for the looming indictment.
Is that too cynical? Only time will tell. I know there are a lot of people with me in the "meh" crowd--assuming they're still paying attention to baseball at all.

I've posted before about how I believe that baseball exemplifies a lot of things that are good about America, and I haven't stopped believing that. I'm just waiting for the steroid era to pass, for its protagonists to retire, and I hope that when it's over, people will still believe. I wish it had been caught sooner; Kriegel does too:
Of course, Major League Baseball didn't catch on to the steroid scam until it was too late. By then Mark McGwire was out of the game, and the home run totals were hopelessly tainted. Shame on Bud Selig. He should have seen it coming.

The evidence that Barry Bonds did steroids, among other illicit substances, is overwhelming. Steroids are illegal. Steroids are cheating. And unlike so many others, Bonds — the best player of this tainted era — didn't need drugs to be great. Still, great as he is, he's human. If you could trade places with him, you might have done steroids. Baseball players weren't the only ones, of course. All the sports got big. It got to the point where even those skinny little bike riders couldn't be trusted.

What, you believe in the Tour de France?

The problem is, getting big has a price. It compromises your faith.

Now Barry Bonds has broken the most famous record in sports. It should be the perfect story: a tale of fathers and sons and baseball. It should bring a tear to your eye.

You want to believe, but you can't. Welcome to the new world.
Is it asking too much for our would-be heroes to hold themselves to a higher standard in how they conduct themselves, both on and off the field? I still say yes.

Hank Aaron wasn't there last night, as had been expected, but he did send a video message of congratulations. It ended with this sentence: "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams." And may the next guy be someone whom all of America can rally around once again.

Heh. Indeed: Happy six-year "blogiversary" to Instapundit. Here's his first weeks' worth of posts.

What's Next, Saxophone Hero? I'm Game...

The video game Guitar Hero has become quite popular over the past few years, so it was bound to spawn both imitators and spoofs. Here's the best spoof so far, from a recent Onion article: Sousaphone Hero:
Despite a catchy 1890s soundtrack and realistic-feeling game play, Sousaphone Hero, the third installment of Activision's massively popular Guitar Hero video game franchise, sold a mere 52 copies in the United States in its opening week, the company reported Monday.

"In the wake of Guitar Hero's success, we thought the public was more than ready for additional popular American musical genres in a simulated-performance format, but people don't seem to be responding to marches as well as we had hoped," said Activision spokeswoman Melissa Hendleman, whose company spent an estimated $25 million developing the game for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii consoles.

Sousaphone Hero offers two dozen public-domain marches, including 1893's "The Liberty Bell," 1896's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and 1897's "Entry of the Gladiators." The bulky sousaphone-shaped controller coils around the body, and players wear white spat-like foot coverings fitted with sensors that monitor synchronized marching steps. As with the fret buttons on Guitar Hero's guitar peripheral, the sousaphone controller's three valves are color-coded to match on-screen notes the player must hit.
Read the whole thing, which is equally hilarious, especially the picture of the guy using the "new wireless controller."

And if that doesn't tickle your fancy, there's always Accordion Hero, whose website makes it almost look real.

But this one is real: In a new Japanese video game called ICED!, players can assume the role of an illegal immigrant who runs afoul of the U.S. system.

When this lady said "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache," she wasn't kidding: A woman got a pencil stuck in her head in a childhood accident, and it stayed there for 55 years.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Redshirting--It's Not Just for Athletes Anymore

There was an interesting article in the paper this weekend about the growing practice of having kids start school late rather than early, due in part to studies that show higher academic achievement among the late-starters.

The "birthday cutoff" is usually set by the school district, and tends to work like this:
The birthday cutoffs span six months, from Indiana, where a child must turn 5 by July 1 of the year he enters kindergarten, to Connecticut, where he must turn 5 by Jan. 1. Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early. As a result, when the 22 kindergartners entered Jane Andersen's class at the Glen Arden Elementary School near Asheville, N.C., one warm April morning, each brought with her or him a snack and a unique set of gifts and challenges, which included for some what's referred to in education circles as "the gift of time."
So how is this extra time a gift? Here are some examples:
Gaps in achievement have many causes, but a major one in any kindergarten room is age. Almost all kindergarten classrooms have children with birthdays that span 12 months. But because of redshirting, the oldest student in Ms. Andersen's class is not just 12 but 15 months older than the youngest, a difference in age of 25 percent.

Ms. Andersen walked her kindergartners single-file to P.E. class, where the children took turns running laps for the Presidential Fitness Test. By far, the fastest runner was the girl who had been redshirted. She strode confidently, with great form, while many of the smaller kids could barely run straight. One of the younger girls pointed out the best artist in the class, a freckly redhead. He had been redshirted as well.
And one of the other advantages of redshirting is that the high-stakes standardized tests are cropping up earlier and earlier, so kindergarten has become more academically demanding. (Ugh--that's a sentence I thought I'd never have to write. But I'll save my standardized-testing rants till February, like I always do.)

Read the whole thing; there's sort of a "dark side" to all of this, as it's also been shown that part of the mindset behind redshirting has to do with how society tends to value self-esteem over individual achievement; the parents are hoping that the extra year of maturity before starting school will shield them from some of the problems faced by the youngest kids in the class. (But in the parents' defense, the things being taught in kindergarten now--thanks to the standardized tests--are the same as what was being taught in first grade a generation ago, and some parents may well feel that their kids aren't quite ready for that type of material at not-quite- or just-turned-5.) And, needless to say, the dynamic may be totally different in less-affluent areas, where it would often be best to get the kid out of expensive day care and into public school as soon as possible.

I grew up in exactly the opposite system as the one discussed in the article; many of my friends started school in systems where a kid could start kindergarten as long as he/she turned five during the fall semester. With a June birthday, I was the second-oldest of my group of friends, with one of them not turning 18 until the end of his first semester in college. While I don't have a personal dog in this fight, I do have two nephews with late-summer birthdays (one in mid-August, the other in mid-September), so this may be an issue for them in the future, even though their private school may have a completely different cutoff date.

So how about you--did you start school early or late compared to your classmates? And if you have kids, what did they do? Do you see any advantage to one method over the other? Please respond in the comments.

Best wishes to Joe: Our thoughts go out to Joe Zawinul, who's hospitalized in Vienna with an undisclosed illness. He's the fusion pioneer who made his name with Cannonball Adderley and co-founded Weather Report with Wayne Shorter; he's also known as the composer of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Birdland."

The dog bites back: A company in Florida has come up with a dog chew toy that looks like Michael Vick.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Helping the Music--and New Orleans--Keep Playing

It's easy to forget that there's still a lot of rebuilding left to do in New Orleans; nearly two years after Katrina, the plight of the Big Easy has faded from the top of the news for most people who aren't at least indirectly involved with the effort.

One of the biggest symbols of New Orleans is its music, and among those hardest hit by Katrina were the local musicians, many of whom have yet to return. But those who remain do have a few things working in their favor.

In yesterday's New York Times, Andrew Park takes a look at the music scene through the eyes of the Tipitina's Foundation, one of several local charities that are helping musicians get back on their feet. He describes a typical day behind the scenes at Tipitina's:
[U]pstairs, past balconies smelling of stale beer and cigarettes, past walls plastered with yellowed concert posters, musicians are working. Some edit concert fliers, tweak Web sites or research overseas jazz festivals; others get legal advice or mix audio and video; others simply chatter about who has found gigs and who is still struggling.

Since late 2005, just a few months after Hurricane Katrina tore through this city, more than 1,000 New Orleans musicians have become members of Tipitina’s three cooperative music offices. “I go in sometimes and all I’m doing is checking my e-mails,” says Margie Perez, an effervescent blues singer.

For Ms. Perez and others trying to rebuild fragile livelihoods as artists, grass-roots efforts like the co-ops have been a boon, helping them to replace lost or damaged instruments and sound equipment, arranging and subsidizing gigs and providing transportation, health care and housing. The Tipitina’s Foundation, the club’s charitable arm, has distributed about $1.5 million in aid; in all, Tipitina’s and other nonprofit groups have marshaled tens of millions of dollars in relief from around the world to help bolster the music business here.

But it remains to be seen how long a loose-knit band of charities can stand in for coordinated economic development in one of New Orleans’s most important business sectors. Although New Orleans is one of the country’s most culturally distinct cities, a large-scale recording industry never took root here, even before Katrina. Yet the informal music sector, the kind visitors find in clubs and bars, and large-scale musical events like Jazz Fest, is a mainstay of the city’s tourism business.
It's a mixed bag these days; convention business is back to 70% of pre-Katrina levels, but tourism is still way down, probably in no small part because of the constant reports of rampant crime. Still, it's good to know that private groups like the Tipitina's Foundation and Renew Our Music (formerly the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund) are stepping up to the plate when the government's resources have been directed elsewhere. But ultimately, the city will need to get involved as well:
[It's] an article of faith among New Orleanians that the music scene is an indelible part of the city’s appeal. But the city and state historically haven’t recognized the role that musicians and other creative workers play in driving tourism and improving the quality of life, advocates say. As a result, they say, the city and state have underinvested in the cultural sector of the economy.

“People don’t think of artists as a category of workers,” says Maria-Rosario Jackson, director of the Urban Institute’s Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program, which found that the city’s infrastructure for “cultural vitality” even before Katrina rated in the bottom half of the country’s metropolitan areas.

Figuring how “to translate that authenticity to economic development has been the challenge for all these years,” says Scott Aiges, who headed the city’s music office before Katrina and is now director of marketing and communications for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, which owns Jazz Fest.
So progress is taking place, even if it's sometimes in baby steps. Hopefully, the powers that be will realize what a major contribution music and its makers are to the life of this city and do what they can to help the scene flourish again.

Hello embarrassment: Police officers in Thailand who break the rules--litter, commit parking violations, show up late, etc.--will be forced to wear hot pink "Hello Kitty" armbands for the rest of their shifts.

Speaking of cats, this kid landed like one...or he might have nine lives: Give it up for Matthew Savage; the Georgia teenager fell six stories from a hotel balcony and escaped with only cuts and bruises.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Nanny State Expands Again
(or, Prosecutors Gone Wild)

As if the story in yesterday's post wasn't enough, here's another example of, IMHO, a prosecutor overstepping his bounds. In what is inarguably a tragic case where a college student drank himself to death, the local prosecutor sought--and a grand jury returned--indictments against not only the fraternity officers but also the dean of students and the director of Greek life at the college:
Two Rider University officials, including the dean of students, and three students were indicted Friday in the death of a freshman after a drinking binge at a campus fraternity house.

The school dissolved the Phi Kappa Tau chapter Friday, and authorities said the charges should send a message to students and administrators alike.

"The standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully," prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. said.
I won't argue with that in principle, but I have a huge problem with the prosecutor's actions here. Eric Scheie of Classical Values has more on this story, and I echo his reaction to the prosecutor's statement:
Come again? A student acts like an idiot and drinks himself to death, and the dean is arrested?

Not in America. Please, someone, say it's not true!
Sadly, it appears that it is. Here's more from Scheie:
All I can see is a statement that "the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully." Is "not policing carefully" now a criminal offense? What is the exact charge?

When I was a landlord in Berkeley I rented to students, and plenty of them drank, I'm sure. Was that my fault? How far does this "policing" go? Should the students' residences be subject to search? (Remember, these are not children; they are legal adults.) What is the dean supposed to do, and why stop with booze? If a fraternity threw a party where sex occurred and condoms weren't used and someone got an STD (say, AIDS), would they charge him with "not policing carefully"? Should the dean go into the students' bedrooms and crawl around with a flashlight?
If convicted, the dean and Greek affairs director could face the exact same penalties as the fraternity members: 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Yet the only charge being levied appears to be "aggravated hazing." Surely the prosecutor's not saying that the dean is guilty of hazing simply by allowing it to occur on his campus, is he? If that's the case, then, as one of Scheie's commenters points out, police officers should be arrested whenever a crime takes place on their beat...after all, they're guilty of "not policing carefully" as well, aren't they?

I'll let another one of Scheie's commenters have the last word; this one calls himself "John Q Liberty," and I hope he's right: "The only silver lining here is that this may give a few college administrators pause to consider whether the nanny state and it's attendant failure to hold individuals accountable for their own actions is really such a great idea."

Holding individuals accountable for their own actions--what a concept! I think it's an idea that never should have gone away in the first place, and definitely one whose time has come again.

They'll stop having kids when they run out of "J" names: The famous (or infamous) Duggar family of Arkansas just welcomed its 17th child into the world this week. All the kids' names start with J, and the new arrival, Jennifer, is no exception. I'm not sure which is the more amazing fact--that mom Michelle has been pregnant for a total of over ten years (!), or that she's looking forward to even more kids. (And to go with my last paragraph above, I should point out that the family is taking responsibility for their actions and not expecting help from the government; according to the their website, both of the parents are licensed real estate professionals and built their own house debt-free as a family project.)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Is This An Overreaction? Yeah, Like Using an Uzi to Kill a Fly...

David Harsanyi (author of the book Nanny State) relates the latest story of Big Entertainment using heavy-handed tactics against consumers it accuses of ripping them off. In this case, a Virginia woman is facing up to a year in jail and a $2500 fine for videotaping 20 seconds of a movie in a theatre.

The full story is here. A sample:
A 19-year-old woman is facing up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500 when she goes to trial this month on charges of illegally recording part of a motion picture.

Jhannet Sejas readily admits she used her digital camera last month in an Arlington theater to film about 20 seconds of the climax of the hit movie "Transformers." She said she wanted to show the clip to her little brother and had no intention of selling it.

But minutes after filming the clip, police showed up in the theater, shining a flashlight in her face. Sejas and her boyfriend were ordered out, and the camera was confiscated.

Sejas said the theater's assistant manager saw her holding up the digital camera and reported it to the general manager, who called police.

The Marymount University sophomore was charged with a misdemeanor and was banned for life from the Regal Cinemas Ballston Common movie theaters.
It's interesting that the theatre itself is the one pressing charges and consideing itself the victim, when it's the movie studio that holds the copyright. As some of the commenters to Harsanyi's post point out, it's not like Sejas could sell a 20-second clip from a movie if she wanted to, and even if it did end up on YouTube, it would probably end up drumming up more business for the movie than anything else.

It may well be time to do some overhauling of copyright laws so that they are more relevant to today's technology. But in the meantime, the entertainment industry should be more careful with how it goes after people it feels has wronged it; there's no reason to use a big hammer in cases where a prod with a small stick would be more appropriate. And, like Harsanyi and many of his commenters, I lament the death of common sense in this case and others like it.

(Hat tip: Instapundit, who adds, "I'm beginning to think that we need a lot more oversight over prosecutorial discretion, and more consequences for its abuse." Indeed, as the man himself would say.)

Speaking of killing a fly with an Uzi: A woman in Alabama was tired of a mosquito problem that she blamed on the vacant house next door, so she set the place on fire.

Farewell to a (mostly) unsung hero: R.I.P. Art Davis, whom writer Nat Hentoff referred to as "Coltrane's favorite bassist." In addition to Trane, his resume included Monk, The New York Philharmonic and Bob Dylan.

I think it's time to move out now, Son: A mother in Sicily cut off her son's weekly allowance and took away his house keys because she was tired of his "misbehavior." The kicker? The son is 61 years old. (The article also notes that "[m]ost Italian men still live at home late into their 30s, enjoying their "mamma's" cooking, washing and ironing." Talk about some serious apron strings...)

Eww: Thanks to a plumbing mixup, students at Hiroshima University have been accidentally drinking water that was intended for use in toilets. The scary part? This has been happening since 1993.

Friday, August 03, 2007

People Will Stop Making Fun of You When You Stop Doing Things for Them to Make Fun Of...

This story out of New Zealand got buried over here in last week's busy-ness, but I felt like it deserved some comment: That nation's Parliament has voted to outlaw satire of its members:
New Zealand's Parliament has voted itself far-reaching powers to control satire and ridicule of MPs in Parliament, attracting a storm of media and academic criticism.

The new standing orders, voted in last month, concern the use of images of Parliamentary debates, and make it a contempt of Parliament for broadcasters or anyone else to use footage of the chamber for "satire, ridicule or denigration".

The rules apply any to broadcasts or rebroadcasts in any medium.

They also ban the use of such footage for "political advertising or election campaigning", except with the permission of all members shown.

The new broadcasting regime coincides with the introduction of Parliament's own continuous in-house TV feed, which will be made available to broadcasters.
Oh, that's convenient now, isn't it?

I'm really glad we have the freedoms we do here in the United States. Here in the YouTube era, it's hard for a politician to get away with anything, because such a gaffe will probably be online within hours (and indeed, as the story points out, it will be nearly impossible to punish someone who posts a satirical video anonymously on YouTube). There are also concerns that the no-satire rule will remove a key component of legitimate debate, and it's even possible that the orders violated the country's own Bill of Rights Act, to which such orders are of course subordinate.

The chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, Vernon Small, sums things up pretty well: The new rules have been widely panned in the media. Vernon Small, chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, pointed out that MPs ridicule each other as often as the media join in, and said the rules seemed to be aimed at trying to protect MPs from themselves.

"If MPs want to improve the reputation of the institution, and of themselves, the answer is surely in their own hands, through improved behaviour."

Arch deluxe: During the three times I've visited the St. Louis Arch in the past year, I've been trying to get a picture of the Arch from the side angle as seen from Laclede's Landing, but the sun has always been in just the wrong place and the Arch never shows up in the picture. Today, I noticed that someone else has had better luck with the shot.

Got tickets? Anyone need tickets? Lost in the news of the Minneapolis bridge collapse was this interesting story from earlier in the week: It's no longer illegal to scalp tickets in Minnesota.

To sun or not to sun? That is the question: It's now being reported that a little exposure to the sun isn't as bad as was once thought (and in fact, a lack of exposure causes its own set of problems.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: A "manualist" plays Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" on his hands. (He may well have been inspired by this ancient practice.)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Classical Music As Gang Repellent, Part 2

Last year, I posted about the use of classical music as a deterrent to drug dealers in a Connecticut neighborhood; there was similar success in repelling gang-bangers at the downtown Dallas McDonald's. Now a similar tactic is being used in a transit mall in Tacoma, Washington:
City authorities, fed up with gang activity in public places, are taking Bach their bus stop.

Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle's KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.

The attack by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven follows the theory that prompted the city to stage pinochle games on dangerous street corners: Jolting the routine in such spots throws criminals off balance.

"It's based on routine activity theory and situational crime prevention. You mix different types of activities in locations that are crime-ridden to change the composition of the environment," said psychologist Jacqueline Helfgott, who chairs the Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University.
Some people are skeptical, of course, including a bus driver who thinks it will actually raise tensions, but the idea has met with success in other places, so it's worth a try. (And unlike the situation in my previous post, no riled-up musicologists--insulted by the use of music in this manner--are quoted.)

And if Bach doesn't work, there are other ways to get rid of a gang problem; some cities (including Ft. Worth) are suing them.

Department of the Obvious: Researchers have come up with a list of 237 reasons why people have sex. The number one reason? It's fun. (And someone probably paid them money to come up with that conclusion.)

Don't read this if you're about to eat (unless you're a fan of game): A list of recipes for squirrel (meaning that the squirrel is being cooked, not doing the cooking).

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Popeye vs. Anime

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More People to Keep in Your Thoughts and Prayers

Other posts can wait, but I'm sure that by now you've heard about the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis this afternoon. My heart goes out to that city tonight.

When I think of Minneapolis, I think of James Lileks, and I'm happy to report that he and his family are OK. (I'll admit that I have refreshed the site quite a bit in the last few hours before he posted.) Please join me in keeping everyone up there in your thoughts and prayers today.

UPDATE: The Lileks post I linked earlier has been updated extensively, and the comments section brings out the best and worst in people. (Best: all the concern for James and his family from around the country. Worst: people who can't resist throwing politics into the mix before everyone is even rescued.) One crass commenter predicts that this disaster will help Lileks "sell a lot of books," but our host--very much the bigger man--suggests donating the cost of a book to the local Red Cross instead--(651) 291-4680.

Also, here's an eyewitness report of the collapse from someone who lives pretty much within rock-thrpwing distance to the bridge. And there are lots of updates and photos at the Star-Tribune site.

For now, I'll let Lileks have the last word:
I’ve driven across this bridge every few days for thirty years. There are bridges, and there are bridges; this one had the most magnificent view of downtown available, and it’s a miracle I never rear-ended anyone while gawking at the skyline, the old Stone Bridge, the Mississippi. You always felt proud to be here when you crossed that bridge, pleased to live in such a beautiful place. Didn’t matter if it was summer twilight or hard cold winter noon - Minneapolis always seemed to be standing at attention, posing for a formal portrait . We’ll have that view again – but it’ll take a generation before it’s no longer tinged with regret and remembrance.