1/19/2002

The march of technology So the other day my wife is watching Home and Garden Television when all of a sudden I hear her cry out "Come quick! You've got to see this!" I ran in to the living room, and there on the screen is a brand new, fully modern Kitchen Triever.

The house we live in has a Kitchen Triever in it. Made by Sperry Rand and installed in 1973, it's something you'd have seen on a "Homes of the Future" newsreel from the late 1960s. You can see a complete schematic at the Kardex site linked above, but basically it's a big Ferris wheel of shelves, fourteen in all in our case. Most people, ourselves included at the time we bought the house, have never seen anything like it. Tiffany's mom says they use a similar device for document storage at the Harris County courthouse.

Anyway, HGTV was at the International Builders' Show 2001, which is where they found the updated Triever. This one has a numeric keypad so you can enter the number of the shelf you want it to rotate to. It even has a bar code scanner. You can program it so that if all canned goods are on a particular shelf, then when you come home with a bag full of groceries you scan a can and it goes right where they belong. Hey, we may not have flying cars yet, but by God we've got bar-code automated shelves.

By the way, the keynote speaker for this year's show is Rudy Giuliani. I don't really have a point to make about that. I just found it amusing.
Enquiring Minds Dept. An Australian TV reporter was fired for asking Aussie swimming star Ian Thorpe an "inappropriate" question. Nicki Voss had an interview with The Thorpedo, and noting that he wears a size 17 shoe, she asked "if it was true what they say about men with big feet". Thorpe apparently didn't care for the question and complained to station management, who gave her the gate.

Make of that what you will, I guess. On the one hand, a male reporter who asked a female athlete about her breasts would surely get in trouble for it. On the other hand, firing seems a bit extreme to me. Voss wound up getting a settlement from the station, so maybe they weren't sure they could win a lawsuit. In any event, I suppose the lesson is that unless it's your business to ask about such things, it's none of your business.

1/18/2002

So you don't like it, then? Guess Tim Cavanaugh doesn't much care for blogs, or at least for most bloggers. Whatever. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'll repeat what I said in my first entry: I'm doing this for fun, for the exercise of regular writing, for the sheer ego of seeing my words in print, and for the occasional thrill of feedback from a reader whom I don't already know.

Ultimately, if no one besides my wife and parents read this, I'll still consider it to be time well spent. It's helped me clarify my own thoughts, helped me to understand certain issues better, and absolutely exposed me to a much wider range of opinions than before. I've also connected with some local folks. All this in less than three weeks.

I do agree that some bloggers have an overinflated sense of their own importance in the world. But so what? So do a lot of folks who do get paid for what they write. I have no illusions that my words will change the world. I have a hard enough time keeping my dog from eating the mail.

So I don't really care what Tim Cavanaugh thinks of me. He didn't quote or mention me in his piece anyway. I'm doing this for my own reasons.

Some people were not terribly bothered by Cavanaugh's piece. Others really let him have it. By the way, I think the ironic thing is that I'd have never heard of Tim Cavanaugh or OJR or this particular article had it not been for bloggers, and I won't be the least bit surprised if that's true for a fair number of other folks who hit that page. Hey, Tim, how many times does your referral log have to show a blog as point of origin before you rethink your assessment?

One last thing: If blogging is such a silly little hobby that no one who isn't a blogger cares about, then why would such a Serious Jounalist as yourself spend so much time and effort taking it down?
Only the little people pay taxes So another nugget which was carefully obscured by Enron's opaque accounting was the fact that the company paid no income tax for four of its last five years. They took advantage of numerous loopholes which allowed them to launder profits through offshore tax havens, and actually wound up with $382 million in tax rebates.

The ironic part of this story is that the new Bush-appointed head of the SEC, Harvey Pitt, is saying that the need to do something about the inadequacies in financial reporting rules "cannot be ignored any longer". Pitt, in case you've never heard of him used to make his living fighting the SEC as a securities lawyer. Our president has a long and not-distinguished career of putting foxes like this in charge of the various regulatory henhouses. There's more than one way to reach Deregulation Nirvana.

In fairness, Pitt is saying the right things about reforming oversight accounting. We'll see.

Many people have said it by now, but the real scandal in the Enron case is that pretty much every sleazy thing the company did was perfectly legal. Keep all this in mind when you hear a business lobbyist pushing for deregulation and less oversight in his industry. Whatever case can be made for dereg (and there often is one), the question we should be asking is how are we going to ensure that the market will not be gamed?

Oh, and by the way, it looks like the claim that Enron's fall was a surprise to one and all has been pretty much debunked. Salon has a piece on just how much pre-collapse warning there was down on Smith Street.

1/17/2002

Yesterday I wore a turtleneck shirt to work. It was a new shirt my wife had bought for me. I've never been a turtleneck kind of guy - I think the last one I had was a sweater when I was 12 or so. It was a bit odd - half the time I felt like Mort from the Bazooka Joe comics, the rest of the time I thought I needed a tweed jacket with elbox patches and a pipe. Well, my wife liked how it looked on me, so that settles that.
Did you sleep well last night? No, I made a few mistakes Students at Princeton have been having trouble staying in their bunk beds recently. I'm not exactly sure how one can "exercise more care while sleeping", but whatever. I slept on the top bunk my sophomore year, and my roommate and I built a loft for our junior and senior years which was even higher off the ground than a standard bunkbed. I managed to avoid falling out, even when I was drunk. Kids today, I just don't know.

1/16/2002

Hooray for Houston I'm the newest member of H-Town Blogs. It's a little weird to make a local connection through a so-global-it's-a-cliche medium like the Internet, but I mean that in a good way. Thanks to Elaine, the group's fearless founder, for finding me.
Sauce For The Goose Dept. Damian Penny talks about why he so dislikes the far left. He's right, of course, but I hope he recognizes that the same is true of the far right. I always have one of those it'd-be-funny-if-it-weren't-so-sad moments whenever I hear a Falwell type complain about how Christians in America are put upon, even oppressed. Never mind the fact that 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christian and each of the major Presidential candidates for the past I don't know how many elections have courted churchgoers and played up their own faith. Similarly, I can only chuckle when a David Horowitz goes on every news show on the dial to proclaim his victimhood when a few college newspapers refuse to print his ad about reparations for slavery. The man has his own magazine fer chrissakes, and he gets mileage by saying he's been muzzled. Gimme a break.

The problem here, and it's one that's found on both ends of the spectrum, is that the bigmouths and blowhards need to feel like they've been victimized. It validates their worldview when they're feeling put down by Big Gummint, or Secular Humanists, or The Patriarchy, or whatever. It's the same reason why a lot of advocacy groups become marginalized as they become successful, and a big part of the reason why the biggest enemy of these groups is often some of their own leading spokespeople - think feminists and Andrea Dworkin, blacks and Al Sharpton, the NRA and Wayne LaPierre.

Those of us who like to believe we inhabit the pragmatic center hate being tied to folks with nominally similar beliefs who live out on the fringes. I'm a liberal, but I am not Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Alice Walker, Katha Pollit, or Gore Vidal. I'll listen to and respect your views a lot more if you'll respect mine by not lumping me with people like that. That's why I agreed with Jacob Wesiberg's oft-derided piece in Slate about the anti-war left. Yes, Weisberg missed the boat in defining the scope of the anti-war left, but the point I took from his column is still the same: If you want me to see what you're saying, starting with a strawman attack on my views is not going to help.

For my part, I promise not to lump my colleagues on the right side of the pragmatic center with fools like Ann Coulter, Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan, Dan Quayle, and Phyllis Schlafly. Deal?
Pause for perspective Will Vehrs cites some sobering comments from Joseph Britt about Enrongate and its magnitude as a news story. I've had my fun piling on Enron and will continue to do so, but Britt is dead right - In the end it's just a distraction from what's really important in the news, and if we lose our focus or let the government lose its focus, bad on us.

Guess saying "Enrongate" means Matt Welch won't be reading this. So I like shorthand - sue me.

1/15/2002

First scapegoat sacrificed, more to come Today Arthur Anderson fired the lead Enron auditor, citing the "massive destruction of documents" as the SEC started investigating Enron. Other accountants on this team were recalled from Houston and/or put on administrative lead.

Stay tuned, kids. It's gonna be even more fun from here on out.

By the way, even if nothing illegal is ever tied to Team Bush (and I don't think anything will, nor do I really think there's anything there), the following paragraph from this story is a reminder why Enron's incestuous ties to Dubya really are a Bad Thing:

Repeal of the alternative minimum tax sought by Enron was included by President Bush as part of an economic stimulus package that stalled in the Senate. The measure earlier passed the House, where a provision was added that would have given Enron a $254 million infusion of cash if the legislation had become law.

Raise your hand if you think any of that $254 mill would have gone to the now-former employees. Didn't think so.
Reality game show death match! Two new game shows on ABC and Fox battle it out in court over who had the idea first. Apparently, both shows require contestants to answer questions under extreme conditions, like 150 degree heat and high winds. That sort of makes them a "Who Wants to Survive the Fear Factor to Become a Millionaire?" kind of thing. Add in John McEnroe as the ABC show's bitchy host and you've got a "Weakest Link" tie-in. If I'm Fox and I want to differentiate my show, I'd make one of the adverse conditions be answering questions while getting a lapdance from busty bikini babes, so as to tie in with "Temptation Island". Or maybe make the penalty for answering a question wrong be marriage to Rick Rockwell or Darva Conger. Hey, it's not like Fox would be violating their standards, right?
Yeah, but does she have TiVo? The always entertaining Tuesday Morning Quarterback goes off on a tangent about pickup lines, noting that "Hi" and "Would you like another beer" work over 90% of the time on women at the University of Louisiana. He then speculates on lines women could use to pick up men:

But should DirecTV be part of any female pickup strategy? Reader Jack reports that on a recent episode of Boston Public, former Star Trek mega-babe Jeri Ryan—freed from the prissy Trek realm and now specializing in gratuitous cheesecake scenes—tried to pick up another character with the line, "I have a great body and a satellite dish." TMQ guesses that 100 percent of heterosexual males, including Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh, including all men on their wedding days with their brides standing at their sides, if offered Jeri Ryan's body would immediately agree. The question is, what would happen once you got back to Ryan's apartment and were forced to choose between her bod and the satellite dish? There might be some really good games on.

1/14/2002

It's already here! Tom Tomorrow takes us back to "those fabulous days of yesteryear, The Eighties!" I can't speak for the bad hairdos and shoulder pads, but the music is already here and has been for awhile. I know I'm not the only person in Houston to be a regular listener of the all-80s station KHPT, which showed up on the airwaves with an awesome 10,000-songs-in-a-row commercial free block last year.

Surely I'm not the only person to ever notice that we've been fetishizing and reliving the antepenutimate decade for awhile now. In the 70s, we all worshipped the 50s - think "Happy Days", Sha Na Na, "American Graffiti", "Grease". In the 80s, it was the 60s, with all of the Vietnam War-related movies. In the 90s we went back to the 70s, with "That 70's Show", "Boogie Nights", and that whole inexplicable revival of disco and bellbottoms. Now that we've crossed into the 2000s, 80s nostalgia has begun. In addition to 80s music appearing on your radio, "That 70's Show" has spawned the spinoff "That 80's Show". It's just a matter of time before parachute pants and feathered haircuts make a full-fledged comeback. Hmmm - it may be too late.

By the way, I'm just assuming that this trend started in the 70s, mostly because I can't imagine anyone wanting to relive the decades that included World War II and the Depression. I can't speak from personal experience, so if you know better, please drop me a line. Also, while movies like "American Graffiti" and "Animal House" were technically set in the early 60s, they were really about the 50s. The 50s as we nostalgize them lasted until 1964.

The real question to me is how will this work when it's time to remember the 90s? I'm really too young to remember most of the pop culture of the 70s, though there will always be space in my brain for roller skating and K-Tel commercials. Most of the pop culture in the 80s that I actually noticed I didn't care for - it's amazing that I listen to and like the all-80s station, because I had some pretty violent hatred for Madonna and Depeche Mode back then. I'm a wee bit old to be Gen X, so by the time the 90s hit, pop culture had passed me by. Still, when I think of the various flavors of "oldies" radio today, it's pretty amusing to imagine that someday a fortyish DJ is going to be spinning Eminem and Kid Rock for the minivan crowd.

So, ready or not, the 80s are back. Is there a Miami Vice reunion movie in the works? Get my agent on the phone, I've got a script to pitch!
How are they gonna fit those egos into the stadium? Redskins owner Dan Snyder has fired coach Marty Schottenheimer one year into his 4-year $10M contract. Looks like Steve Spurrier will step in, for five years an $25M.

Considering that Snyder and Spurrier are two of the most egotistical jerks in all of sports, this has serious amusement potential. It's possible that one or both of them will some day spontaneously combust after being sufficiently annoyed by the other. What red-blooded American doesn't look forward to that?
While you're at it, could you digitize in some better hair for me, too? So apparently Steven Speilberg is going to digitally remove guns from the FBI agents' hands in the upcoming re-release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Seems Drew Barrymore, who's Spielberg's godchild, asked him to do this because she's "fanatically opposed to weapons of any kind".

Man, you can hear the NRA propaganda machine whir into action from here. How often do they get a juicy straight line like that? I can't believe Glenn Reynolds isn't peeing his pants over this, but so far I've not seen a mention from him.

One thing that we should keep clear before any feeding frenzy occurs. "E.T." is a movie. It was made by Steven Spielberg. It's his work of art, for some value of the word "art". He has the incontrovertible right to do what he wants with his art. If he wants to add in deleted scenes, update F/X with newer technogadgets, or digitize out guns, that's his right. He could digitize in clown makeup for Dee Wallace, or replace the six-year-old Drew Barrymore with the version that got nekkid in Playboy if he wants. The fact that he chose to remove the guns may well be ridiculous and worthy of whatever razzing he gets for it, but it doesn't mean Rosie O'Donnell is gonna break down your door and confiscate your guns. Just give it a snort of derision and organize a Joe Bob Briggs Drive-In Movie Festival, and the world will continue to spin on its axis.

1/13/2002

Recycling in action Read all about the Houston Beer Can House and the efforts of the Orange Show to restore it. Houston is not known for its public art, so it's always encouraging to see this sort of thing. And if you ever get a chance to see the Beer Can House, you should do so. It's a hoot.
You keep using that word... Damian Penny gives a spanking to The Globe and Mail's Heather Mallick for getting into a snit over Dubya's use of the term "Pakis". I've read enough British books to know that "Paki" is frequently used derisively over there, but then the Brits often use words like "French" and "Irish" with equal derision. In other words, just because a word can be used derisively doesn't mean it's an insult per se.

There's also the fact that Pakistanis call themselves "Paki". One of the most colorful stars in the world of tournament bridge is Zia Mahmood, a Pakistani now living in New York. In his vastly entertaining memoir Bridge My Way, he refers to himself and his countrymates as "Pakis". He even jokes about their variation on the popular ace-asking convention, which he calls "Paki Blackwood". I can't imagine Zia working up a sweat over Bush's use of the word.

Penny goes on:

This whole kerfuffle reminds me of an incident which occurred here in Newfoundland a couple of years ago. The provincial community college changed its name to "College of the North Atlantic", with the acronym "CONA", naturally. T-shirts, jackets and other trinkets were printed up with "CONA" written on them. Then, someone raised a major stink about what how shocking and offensive the acronym was - it turns out "Cona" is a slang term for the female anatomy.

In Norwegian.

Which reminds me of an old schoolmate who lived in Denton, Texas. Denton is the home of the University of North Texas, known as UNT. At the time we were in school, though, it was called North Texas State University, or NTSU. The call letters for their radio station were KNTS. When he told me that NTSU was to become UNT, we had a good laugh at the thought that KNTS would have to change its call letters to reflect the new school acronym. (In case you're wondering, they changed it to KNTU).